Powerful Braves host underdog Reds in playoff opener

MLB

Though the Atlanta Braves enter the postseason following a third straight National League East title, the Cincinnati Reds are currently playing as well as any team in baseball’s playoff field.

With two of the game’s top pitchers on the mound, the Braves and Reds open their best-of-three NL wild-card series on Wednesday afternoon in Atlanta.

Coming off a 35-25 regular season, Atlanta sits as the No. 2 seed in the NL in this unique 2020 postseason, having won three consecutive division crowns for the first time since a dominant 11-year run from 1995-2005. However, the Braves have dropped nine straight postseason series since beating Houston during the 2001 NL Division Series, not including an additional one-game 2012 NL wild-card loss against the St. Louis Cardinals.

That said, the 2020 Braves led the majors in OPS (.832) and ranked second in in batting (.268), runs (348), home runs (103) and slugging (.483). First baseman Freddie Freeman is an NL MVP candidate after batting .341 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs. Teammate Marcell Ozuna, meanwhile, hit .338 while topping the NL in home runs (18) and RBIs (56).

“There have been some crazy good seasons from some of our guys,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “You go look at the National League’s statistical leaders, and their names are everywhere up at the top.”

Ozuna hit .467 with three homers and nine RBIs in his last eight regular-season contests. Freeman, meanwhile, is 4-for-10 with three doubles against scheduled Cincinnati starter Trevor Bauer.

A Cy Young Award candidate, Bauer went 5-4 with an NL-best 1.73 ERA and 100 strikeouts. His work was a big reason why seventh-seed Cincinnati won 11 of its final 14 games to reach the postseason for the first time since 2013.

The Reds last won a playoff series in 1995.

“Teams that have built momentum going into the playoffs are a dangerous team, so we have a lot to prove,” Cincinnati reliever Michael Lorenzen said. “And a team that has a lot to prove is a dangerous team. We’re excited about it.”

Bauer went 2-1 with a 1.24 ERA in his final four regular-season starts, posting double-digit strikeouts in three of those contests. The 29-year-old right-hander last faced the Braves in August 2019.

The Cincinnati offense ranked last in the majors with a .212 average this season. However, the Reds were seventh with 90 home runs. Eugenio Suarez hit a club-leading 15 long balls and also topped the team with 38 RBIs. Teammate Nick Castellanos hit 14 home runs during his first season with the Reds, but he homered just four times while batting .170 over his past 27 contests.

Scheduled Atlanta starter Max Fried is 1-1 with a 5.14 ERA in three career games (one start) against the Reds, having last faced them in August 2019. The left-hander was stellar during the 2020 regular season, going 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 11 starts.

Fried sustained an ankle injury early in his most recent start on Sept. 23, but he appears good to go for Wednesday.

“He’ll be fine,” Snitker said.

Atlanta setup man Chris Martin is dealing with a right groin injury that leaves his status for this series uncertain. However, Braves leadoff man Ronald Acuna Jr. (14 home runs during regular season) is expected to be ready for Game 1 despite a wrist issue.

–Field Level Media

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