Atlanta Braves 2020 Season in Review
“Wait ‘til next year.” These four words are very familiar to baseball fans from the 1950s. It was the rallying cry for the Brooklyn Dodgers. From 1947 to 1955, they went to the World Series five times. The first four times were defeats, and thus the saying began. “Wait ‘til next year.” It echoed around the borough, driving fans forward. “Wait ‘til next year.” Then, finally, in 1955 “next year” became a reality. The Dodgers defeated the hated New York Yankees and came away champions.
Ironically enough, this has now been adopted by fans of the Atlanta Braves in 2020. On October 18th, the Braves were defeated by these same Dodgers. Many in the Braves community were heartbroken, frustrated, angered, and depressed. Some may have woken in a state of shock, wondering just what happened to cause this loss. So, the question of “next year” becoming “this year” still remains. But, if we look back at the team’s 2020 campaign, we may still find something to cheer about.
Spring Training & COVID
Spring Training began with a lot of promise. General Manager Alex Anthopolous had brought some fairly big names into the fold. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna was signed to a year’s contract. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud was plucked from free agency. Former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez also joined up, as did southpaw Cole Hamels. Finally, Will Smith was brought in to help tighten the bullpen. In short, the Braves made some substantial noise during the offseason.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit and the world changed dramatically. Baseball was all but shut down as the league and union attempted to reignite the season. Some of the players opted out, including Hernandez and outfielder Nick Markakis. First baseman Freddie Freeman became deathly ill but recovered. Hamels injured himself during Spring Training and did not return until well into the regular season. The once promising year was spiraling out of control. But finally, after months of deliberation, a 60-game season was set. The teams returned home for “Summer Camp,” with the primary feature being intrasquad games. Through this, the Braves were able to get a better look at what they had to work with.
July & August
The season began on July 24th. Young ace Mike Soroka started for the Braves, waging war with New York Mets superstar Jacob deGrom. A Yoenis Cespedes home run was the difference, and the Mets won 1-0. In fact, the Braves struggled out of the gate, winning two of their first five contests. Primary concern lay in the pitching, especially veterans Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb. But a 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Soroka’s second start lit a fire. To add to it, Markakis changed his mind and returned to the team. The Braves reeled off five consecutive victories before facing their first major obstacle.
On August 3rd, Soroka was attempting to field a ground ball off the bat of Mets designated hitter J.D. Davis. He stumbled off the mound and fell over. When he tried to return to his feet, he crumpled back down in obvious pain. He had to be helped off the field, and it wasn’t long before news broke of a torn Achilles. Soroka missed the rest of the season, undergoing surgery on August 7th. Left hander Max Fried took over the role as ace, guiding the team through the campaign.
The loss of Soroka caused a new bevy of questions for the month. The trade deadline was just around the corner. Pundits and fans alike wondered what the Braves planned to do. Hamels was still not ready to come back. Many called for the team to deal for Mike Clevinger or Dylan Bundy. But the Braves only made one move, bringing in left hander Tommy Milone. After a few disappointing starts, he was released on September 30th. Overall, the Braves finished August at 20-14, three games up in the division.
The team then launched headlong into September. With the Miami Marlins hot on their heels, time was of the essence. They began the month by ending a successful road trip to Philadelphia and Boston. However, they stumbled during their next home stand with Miami and the Washington Nationals. They went 2-4, but one of the games was historic.
On September 9th, the Braves recorded 29 runs in a bashing of the Marlins. The offensive barrage put the team in the record books, setting a new National League record for runs in a game. Outfielder Adam Duvall launched three dingers, including a grand slam. He had a similar game in Boston the week before, making him the first to have two three-homer games in Braves history. The team went 10-7 over their final 17 contests. Within this stretch lay two more offensive bombardments. On September 18th, the Braves bested the Mets, 15-2, and on September 22, they beat the Marlins, 11-1. They clinched the division with this victory. Overall, the Braves posted a 15-11 mark in September to finish the season at 35-25.
A Deep Postseason Run
The postseason was next, beginning with a first round matchup against the Cincinnati Reds. They won the best-of-three series without giving up a run. Then, with the league’s COVID bubble policy, they jetted to Houston to play the Marlins. But they were not alone. The city of Atlanta turned out in droves to both the team-hosted watch parties and The Battery Atlanta. Social media accounts were inundated with the hashtag “mix it up.” In short, the entirety of the fanbase was behind the team. Their scoreless streak was snapped in Game One, but that did not stop them from sweeping Miami in the end.
Then, it was off to Arlington for the NLCS against the Dodgers. After winning Game One handily, Game Two’s final frames proved somewhat crucial. With an 8-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth, the bullpen allowed four runs. This gave the Dodgers valuable momentum, leading to an 11-run first frame in Game Three. Game Four saw the Braves respond with a double-digit total of their own, winning 10-2. Unfortunately, the Dodgers reeled off three straight wins to take the series and end the Braves season.
Overall, the team experienced its fair share of ups and downs this year. What looked promising turned disastrous and then became promising again. Their rock solid steadiness helped them achieve a massive level of success. True, the goal of winning a World Series was not reached. But, at the same time, there is still a lot for Braves fans to be excited about. “Next year” may actually be next year, after all.
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