How the Reds Match Up in the Playoffs against the Atlanta Braves
The Cincinnati Reds are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Cincinnati is buzzing with more optimism than seven years ago. Joey Votto, the only remaining member of the 2013 postseason team, perhaps said it best in a post-game interview after clinching a berth: “We’re a (expletive) nightmare.” Indeed they are such a nightmare that no other team would want to play them. After a season in which they struggled early, by September things did not look promising. But all Cincinnati needed was one good week to be in the postseason conversation — and in the last two weeks of the 2020 campaign they went 11-3 to clinch the seven seed. Their reward is playing the Atlanta Braves, champions of the NL East. It is an interesting matchup.
A strong and deep rotation is the biggest reason for Cincinnati’s recent success. Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray could easily be aces on any other team and during a playoff series, especially in a short series. Bauer is most likely going to win the National League Cy Young award and Castillo’s success against Atlanta in the past is a good reason for Braves fans to fear the Reds. With how dominant Gray has been this season, he is the right guy for a series clincher if it goes three games. Furthermore, Gray has pitched well against Atlanta in his career. Tyler Mahle has also performed well of late and could be an excellent option if the team goes deeper into the playoffs.
Starting pitching poses some questions for the Braves. Max Fried has been their best pitcher all season, but he has dealt with an injury. How will he do in the postseason after coming off an injury? Ian Anderson has also been very good for Atlanta, but he is a rookie and how he responds to playoff pressure will be key. Moreover, although Fried is back from an injury, Braves hurlers Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels are out for the season. There really isn’t another reliable starter after Fried and Anderson, so the hope is that either Kyle Wright and Josh Tomlin will step up.
Cincinnati has the edge in starting pitching.
The Reds bullpen was horrendous until midseason. But once the team shed the unreliable arms, the relief corps got into a groove and became more and more dependable. Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Lucas Sims, and Amir Garrett have been excellent down the stretch. However, it was the acquisition of Archie Bradley that seemed to cement the bullpen. Even Tejay Antone has pitched well, but he might be used differently if Cincinnati goes deeper into the playoffs. The bullpen will even get Wade Miley, who can be used as long relief.
The Braves bullpen has been excellent all season long and may well be their biggest strength. In a short series, that strong pen could redound to Atlanta’s benefit. If it goes to a third contest, it could become a bullpen game. Mark Melancon, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, Darren O’Day, Chris Martin, and Shane Greene have all been dominant — and there is also a lot of experience. With Will Smith and Grant Dayton as options, there are many reliable arms for the Braves.
Atlanta holds the edge here, but the Reds might be able to go toe-to-toe with them.
Cincinnati had a strong lineup on paper coming into 2020, but offense was the most frustrating part of the club. There was a stretch where it seemed they couldn’t score, and when they did, it was usually one or two runs. But in the final two weeks the lineup suddenly began to live up to its potential. Even if it is not as imposing as once believed, the Cincinnati offense should not be dismissed. Reds bats could easily put up a lot of runs, or, in a close game, change the complexity with one swing of the bat. Jesse Winker, Mike Moustakas, Nicholas Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, and Brian Goodwin make for a tough lineup. Votto has also been hot of late despite a down year. Freddy Galvis, Shogo Akiyama, and Nick Senzel have the ability to get on base and to go deep.
The Braves, on the other hand, have a lot of thump in their lineup and are scary good. Atlanta’s most productive hitters, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, have each looked like NL MVP candidates. Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Travis d’Arnaud each can slug the ball and are not easy outs. Their lineup has hit 103 home runs — a challenge for Cincinnati pitching.
Atlanta’s bats hold the edge, but that doesn’t mean the Reds won’t be able to match them. With Cincinnati’s superior starting pitching, the Braves might have a hard time scoring runs, while the less-imposing Reds lineup could do well against Braves starters.
So, does Cincinnati match up well against Atlanta? Absolutely, and they actually should be considered the favorites in this series. While the playoffs are a crapshoot, facing the Braves was a favorable matchup. Sure, Cincinnati could also suddenly get cold, but this team believes in itself and will do its best to bring a championship to the Queen City.
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