It’s been about four days since the Atlanta Braves last won a playoff series.
Goodness, that sounds much better than what we were saying a week ago. After going almost two decades without advancing in the MLB Playoffs, the Braves took down the Cincinnati Reds in consecutive games in the Wild Card round.
Following that brief foray against a new opponent in the Reds, the Division Series brings with it a very familiar foe in the Miami Marlins. By knocking off the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs, the Marlins kept their unblemished playoff series record alive to set up a matchup between NL East foes.
That’s right, in case you somehow hadn’t heard, the oft-maligned Marlins have still yet to lose a playoff series, having won the World Series in both of their previous postseason trips in 1997 and 2003.
But all that is in the past. How do the 2020 Marlins line up against the this year’s Braves?
The Braves went 6-4 against the Marlins this season, and it’s tough to say what the more notable achievement was within that. It was certainly impressive that the Braves solidified their third consecutive division championship by taking the first three games of a four-game set in Atlanta during the season’s final week. On the other hand, it’s hard to overlook the 29-9 shellacking the Braves put on the Marlins earlier in September.
Either way, the Braves had the upper hand this season over the Fish.
Much like they had in the last round, the Braves have a pretty clear edge over the Marlins when it comes to offense. While the bats were fairly stifled for most of the 1-0 win in Game 1, they came to life late in the second game to put away a 5-0 clinching victory.
And as should be expected, it was some of the marquee names doing the heavy lifting. Ronald Acuna Jr. drove in a run with two doubles, while Freddie Freeman had the game-winning RBI in the 13th inning of Game 1 and Marcell Ozuna put Game 2 out of reach with a 2-run home run and selfie Marcellebration.
Three home runs made the difference for the Marlins in their opening series, with Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar providing the power in the first game and Garrett Cooper putting Miami over the top in Game 2.
Over the course of the season, Atlanta has the much higher-powered offense here. The Braves hit .280 off Marlins pitching this year with an .851 OPS and 17 homers in 10 games, while Miami managed just a .717 OPS with 10 homers in those games. But Braves’ pitching will need to be wary about Aguilar, who posted a .997 OPS against the Braves this year with home runs off Max Fried and A.J. Minter, the only one Minter allowed this season.
These matchups should be almost as fun as the ones from the last round.
After coming out on top in a duel with Trevor Bauer by tossing seven scoreless innings, Fried will get the game ball against Sandy Alcantara. All the Marlins’ righty did in his postseason debut last week was throw 6 2/3 innings with a single run allowed on a solo home run.
In the second game, one would expect that Ian Anderson – the Braves’ rookie that carded six scoreless innings of his own to outmatch Luis Castillo last week – would face the Marlins’ Sixto Sanchez. Also a rookie, Sanchez blanked the Cubs for five innings as Miami sent Chicago packing last Friday.
The third game is a bit of a question mark for Miami at the time of writing. Kyle Wright will be getting the ball for Atlanta after settling in nicely in his final three starts of the year, which saw him pitch 19 innings and show much better command. Pablo Lopez would seem a likely candidate to face him for the Marlins after posting a 3.61 ERA for the season with a 1.186 WHIP, but he was also the starter for that 29-9 thrashing, giving up 7 runs in 1 2/3 innings.
If the series goes beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess who we’ll see for either team in Game 4. Were there a fifth game, I’d expect Fried vs. Alcantara again, but let’s hope it doesn’t get to that.
The Braves’ bullpen has been special all year, and the relievers stepped up again to eliminate the Reds. Pitching a combined 9 scoreless innings in two games, the trio of Will Smith, Chris Martin and Mark Melancon really shone in the second game. Not a single Cincinnati hitter reached base in the game’s final three innings, and those three needed just 38 pitches to close out the series.
Smith was especially brilliant. After a rocky start to his Braves’ career following COVID-related issues to begin the season, Smith showed fans why he was such a target last offseason. The lefty appeared in both games, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and no baserunners allowed.
The Marlins’ relievers did their part, too, though. In a two-game sweep, the Miami bullpen threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings and allowed just two baserunners, both doubles off Brandon Kintzler.
Both of these units have been reliable this year and especially in the postseason, but the Braves’ bullpen is just on another level.
Last round, I chose not to make a prediction, but now I’ll say that I was surprised at how resilient the Braves were against some stout pitching. I would’ve picked the Reds in three games.
This time, I’m not going that cowardly route. The Braves are the better team in every phase of the game when compared to the Marlins. Especially in a power-friendly park in Houston, the advantage is all on the Braves’ side to make a return trip to the NLCS, a formerly annual occurrence that hasn’t happened since 2001.
I’ve got the Braves in three games.