• Atlanta Braves left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (right) celebrates with second baseman Ozzie Albies after the Braves defeated the New York Mets 7-3 Sept. 25. Photo by BILL KOSTROUN/Associated Press
    Atlanta Braves left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (right) celebrates with second baseman Ozzie Albies after the Braves defeated the New York Mets 7-3 Sept. 25. Photo by BILL KOSTROUN/Associated Press

Braves chopping their way into playoffs

    Marietta, Ga. – Make no mistake about it, the Atlanta Braves are riding high.
    After clinching the National League East crown Sept. 22, Atlanta (90-72) is gearing up for its first postseason appearance since 2013.
    But it has been a tough stretch in between, with the Braves needing five years to get back to the top of their division.

Cleaning up a mess
    Snitker has presided over the Braves since May 17, 2016, when he was named interim manager in the wake of the dismissal of Fredi Gonzalez.
    A constant in the Atlanta organization, Snitker played in the Braves’ farm system from 1977-80, before managing various minor league affiliates from 1982 to 2016. He also was the Braves’ bullpen coach in 1985 and again from 1988-90, while also assuming the third-base coaching role from 2007-13.
    “I sat beside Bobby (Cox) and Fredi (Gonzalez), and saw what they went through,” Snitker said. “I enjoyed my time and those responsibilities, but when they called and offered me this job, I was shocked.”
    Snitker adopted a challenge when he got his first Major League managing role: Atlanta had not posted a winning record since 2013 and finished 2015 with just 67 wins.
    The transformation was not overnight. The Braves finished 2016 with just one more win than the previous season (68), but the wheels were in motion for a turnaround. Atlanta’s new stadium, SunTrust Park, opened in time for the 2017 campaign. Seventy-two wins awaited the fans who traveled to suburban Atlanta for the Braves’ latest endeavor, but optimism remained high.
    Then, 2018 happened. The team clicked. They defied the expectations of media outlets across the United States, who instead picked Atlanta to finish third (Bleacher Report) and fourth (both SBNation.com and Baseball America) in the division.
    But a mix of the stars of tomorrow (Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Dansby Swanson, Johan Camargo) and the established veterans (Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran) proved the naysayers wrong.

What’s next?
    A potent offense that features both Freeman (191 hits) and Markakis (185) finishing in the respective No. 1 and 2 spots in the National League hit race, Acuna, Jr. mashing 25 home runs in his rookie season (and according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, becoming only the fourth players in history to hit 25 home runs and 15 stolen bases in an age-20-or-younger season), with a neat .257 average fleshing out the remaining batters, has often been the bright spot of the Braves this season.
    But you can’t have one without the other; thus, Atlanta must be cautious with its pitching staff.
    Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman and Anibal Sanchez anchored the rotation during the season. Despite a shaky bullpen, the Braves’ staff finished the year with a 3.75 ERA.

Hello, Dodgers
    Atlanta will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
    Los Angeles will host Games 1 and 2 on Thursday and Friday. Atlanta is guaranteed to host Game 3 on Sunday, the first postseason game in SunTrust Park history.
    The Dodgers were the last team to defeat the Braves in the postseason, defeating Atlanta in four games in 2013. The Braves have not won a postseason series since 2001.

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