Well, I'm happy to say that this year I have a reason to really follow the post season because my Braves have won the NL East and are heading for the playoffs!!
Now to say this fan isn't worried going into the post season would be an understatement. While the Braves provided many exciting moments and highlights for all, our bullpen giving up so many walks, especially to the lead off batter and our inconsistent offense is a concern. The team also looked sloppy in the final few weeks of the season committing several errors. Even the uber talented Ronald Acuna, Jr. made a few errors in left field. Not too worried about him, after all, he's super young and rookies are expected to make mistakes here and there.
However all is not doom and gloom. The Braves exceeded just about everyone's expectations this season, including mine! While manager Brian Snitker would drive me nuts from time to time with some of his managerial decisions, kudos to the life long organizational guy and what he was able to do with his group of guys this year. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos did an excellent job picking up this team and making some adjustments throughout the season. Most of these transactions were very flashy, but they proved to be successful and benefited the team Win/Loss record. Many of the players also played their part well so let's take a look at them:
Freddie Freeman - MVFreee! Freeman turned in another excellent campaign, batting over .300 for a third consecutive season, lead the NL in hits with 191 and had 98 RBIs and 23 HRs. "Mr. Brave" is the cornerstone of this team and I'm so excited for him that he gets to experience the post season for the first time since the 2013 season.
Nick Markakis - Nick had a coming out season in 2018 posting some career best stats for the longtime Baltimore Oriole. Nick played all 162 games this season, only the 5th time in the team's history that a player played all 162 games. His bat came alive too posting a .297 average with 185 hits, 93 RBIs and adding 14 HRs. His glove was equally golden in right field. With Freeman, Markakis made a nice one-two punch in the Braves batting order.
Ronald Acuna, Jr. - What more can you say about what I believe is the NL Rookie of the Year that hasn't already been said? Acuna joined the team and made his MLB debut on 04/25/18 and ended up playing 110 games. I think you have to keep the number of games played in mind when comparing him to Juan Soto of the Nationals for the ROY award. Acuna provided a huge jolt in the offense in the second half of the season, causing a lot of excitement during his consecutive streak of games with a lead-off HR as well as home runs in general. Personally I love watching the guy play the game and interact with his teammates in the dugout. His smile is infectious and I look forward to watching him play in Atlanta for many more years.
I would be re-missed if I didn't give a honorable mention to fellow left fielders Preston Tucker and Adam Duvall. Preston started the season in left and provided adequate defense and at times a surge of offensive power. Duvall, a late season addition, also provided some depth and helped plug holes when needed.
Ender Inciarte - A flash of speed in center field and on the base paths for much of the season, Ender is a fiery competitor who played his heart out all season. Inciarte provided many highlights in center field. I also liked that he was a team player when Snitker decided to move him out of the lead off spot in the batting order (for Acuna). He had the right attitude and this is something I love to see in players.
Ozzie Albies - The other stand out rookie in 2018, Albies had a stellar first half and should have been the started the All-Star game at 2B in my opinion. He numbers may have dropped off a bit in the 2nd half of the season, but the future still looks awfully bright for this young kid.
Dansby Swanson - It seemed as if a lot of Braves fans were ready to kick Dansby to the curb this season for his lack of offense, however with the help of Braves batting coach Kevin Seizter, Dansby made some improvements and it showed at times at the plate. Injuries cost him some games, but he was still able to add a few points to his batting average over last year and his HRs more than doubled from 6 in 2017 to 14 in 2018. Of course with Dansby it's his defense that he is most known for and boy did he turn some impressive plays in the field this year. He's one of my favorite players to watch play the game. I felt horrible for him however when he partially tore a ligament in his left hand on Sept. 27th. At the end of the season the Braves are still unsure whether or not he'll be available for the post season.
Johan Camargo - Camargo didn't start the season on the field so Ryan Flaherty took his spot and performed well. All throughout the season there was talk and trade rumors abound regarding the Braves finding someone else to fill 3B or even Austin Riley being called up from AAA Gwinnett to eventually take the third base job. However Camargo began to silence a lot of those rumors with both his bat and his glove. He posted a .272 batting average with 126 hits, 27 doubles, 19 HRs and 76 RBIs...all in 134 games. Keep in mind this is only his second year in the majors as well. Camargo was a late inning sparkplug in many games when the Braves needed it. Personally I think he has won the job at third and I hope he is given that opportunity again in 2019.
Charlie Culberson - I didn't know who Culberson was when the season began, but it didn't take him long to introduce himself to Braves Country. Culberson was clutch for most of the season and would field just about any position on the field. He helped in the outfield early in the season as well as played some at short, second base and relieved Freeman a few times as well. Outside of his 2014 season where he played in 95 games for Colorado, this was the biggest opportunity he has had in the majors and he took advantage of hit. He posted a .270 batting average with 80 hits, 12 HRs and 45 RBIs. He has some playoff experience as he filled in for the injured Corey Seager last year for the Dodgers. It's still unknown if he'll be plugging the hole at short caused by Swanson's injury, but if he does I'm sure Braves fans will be OK. He may not be as good defensively as Swanson, but he can get the job done.
Kurt Suzuki - This guy became one of my favorite current Braves players during the season. We all know catchers get beat up and have a tough time behind the plate and Suzuki was no exception. I don't know how many pitches he was hit by, but I swear when you have your own hashtag on Twitter because you were hit by a pitch then you know it happened a lot! Love his positive attitude and hustle he put into every game. I believe he becomes a free agent in 2019 and I really hope the club brings him back.
Tyler Flowers - While not my favorite Braves catcher, Flowers had a great season and was ultimately rewarded with a late season contract extension. He isn't a flashy catcher or isn't going to put up offensive numbers like Yadier Molina, but he's a good, solid catcher who I don't mind seeing behind the plate. One of the questions floating around recently is whether the Braves are going to take 3 catchers into the playoffs because if they need to pinch hit for a catcher, you better have a back up. I could possibly see Flowers being a lifted for pinch hitter as he struggled at the plate at times this season.
Mike Foltynewicz - "Folty" had a rough 2017 and we really didn't know what we'd get out of him in 2018. As the season progressed he seemed to get sharper and sharper. He finished the year with a team leading 13-10 record with a 2.85 ERA and effectively became the team's new "ace". I won't forget watching his 2 hit, complete game shutout against the Washington Nationals on June 1st. I took my wife to the game in Atlanta for her birthday and we were treated to an excellent game. I'm pretty sure Folty will start game 1 on Thursday for the Braves. We just don't know where he'll be pitching or who he'll be pitching against at this time.
Julio Teheran - The former "ace" of the staff, it seems like a lot of Braves fans have a love/hate relationship with Teheran. He finished 2018 with a 9-9 record with an ERA of 3.94. Often he would get himselt into trouble early in the game before settling down. He gave up a team leading 26 HRs during the season, something he has to get better at or the team won't be in the post season for long. The second half of the season seemed to be nicer to Teheran and I hope he can take some of that momentum into the playoffs because they are going to need him to be at his best if they hope to advance to the NLCS.
Sean Newcomb - Newcomb was a little of an anomaly this season. He would go 12-9 with an ERA of 3.91, but late in the season started to have some problems with his control. This was thought to have been caused by perspiration. It does get hot in Atlanta in the summer and I remember watching many games at home where the bill of his cap would be soaked in the 2nd inning, sweat dropping of like it was raining. I believe he'll be used in the pen during the playoffs and I hope he can adjust. He still shows a lot of promise and could help anchor down the starting rotation for years to come.
Brandon McCarthy - He came over to the Braves from the Dodgers and the team would need his veteran leadership early in the season. He would only appear in 15 games before injuries kept him out, but he would post a respectable 6-3 record. Ultimately he would decide late into the season that this would be his final season in the majors, retiring at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Early on he would have the hot hand and helped lead the team while his fellow pitchers were still fine tuning their skills.
Anibal Sanchez - The other veteran in the starting rotation, Sanchez would go on not only to be a great mentor to some of the younger pitchers on the team, but also to post some of the best numbers since the 2014 season when he was with the Detroit Tigers. He would post a 7-6 record with an ERA of 2.83. I think the Braves will carry a 4 man starting rotation in the playoffs and Anibal could be 3rd or 4th on the depth charts. He was a nice addition to the team and it'll be interesting to see if the Braves bring him back in 2019.
Kevin Gausman - He was a late season acquisition from the Baltimore Orioles by GM Alex Anthopoulos. This was one of those non-flashy moves that would prove to pay big dividends for the team. With McCarthy going down the team needed another arm to help bolster the starting rotation so the club picked him up at the trading deadline. Gausman finished the season with a 5-2 record and a 2.80 ERA. He'll definitely be one of the starting pitchers on the Braves post season roster and I'm looking for him to go some good things in October.
Max Fried - If you follow me on Twitter then you'll know I've made a habit of picking up relics and autos of Fried (pronounced "freed") because I think the sky is high for this kid and I've liked what I've seen from him when he has had a chance to pitch. Coming over from the Padres, he has some experience coming out of the bullpen, something that will be valuable come post season play. I'd like to see him get more opportunities in 2019 starting games, but first he has to overcome these reoccurring blisters on his pitching hand that plagued him throughout the 2018 season.
Arodys Vizcaino - I didn't care for Vizcaino much in 2017, however he started to win me over as the Braves legitimate closer in 2018. The dude can throw some heat and seemed to pitch much better this year before injuries sidelined him for months later in the season. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise as he threw less innings than A.J. Minter, another young arm that was used in the closer role some during the season.
There are many, many more players that deserve to be mentioned (and deserve a baseball card, Topps!) and who helped make the 2018 season so much fun to watch. Part of the reason my blogging activity across all my blogs, not just this one, went down this year was because of the Braves. They kept winning. Young players kept doing remarkable things. Young kids would be called up from AAA Gwinnett to make their MLB debut and then they would win! For the first time in a long time, I didn't feel like if I missed a game I wouldn't miss anything. Most nights and Sunday afternoons I was glued to my couch and TV. When I wasn't at home, you better believe I had the game on my phone using the Fox Sports app.
2018 has been one fun rollercoaster of a season and now I can't wait for Thursday. Wouldn't you know that both the Dodgers and the Rockies would have an offensive explosion on this final day of the season and force a one game playoff to determine the winner of the NL West. I'm not sure who I'd rather the Braves face. The Dodgers have some good pitching and some scary guys at the plate, though they do struggle against left handed pitching. The Rockies also have some great players and can be a offensive nightmare...especially at Coors Field. The Braves struggled at times against both teams so at this point I'd just assume flip a quarter as either team will be a tough assignment...but one the Braves can handle if they play well.
Thursday can't come quick enough. Regardless of who they play, where they play, I'm just thrilled the Braves are back in the postseason and I hope they can make some noise and get on a run.