The Atlanta Braves stunned many MLB fans by claiming the NL East division crown in the 2021 regular season, and the club is continuing to turn some heads in the playoffs.
After defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in four games in the NLDS, Atlanta will meet either the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants in the NLCS starting later this week.
The Braves are playing with house money, as very few people expected the team to get this far.
But make no mistake: Atlanta believes it can win it all.
If the team wants its run to continue, it’s going to need a couple of struggling hitters to turn things up a notch in the NLCS.
2. Travis d’Arnaud
Travis d’Arnaud has never really been known for his bat.
He’s a career .249 hitter with a .730 OPS, and in the 2021 regular season, he posted an underwhelming slash line of .220/.284/.388.
To his credit, he did have a really solid offensive year in the 2020 regular season and into last year’s playoffs.
Although the sample size was small, he registered an impressive OPS of .919 in the regular season and an OPS of .856 in the 2020 playoffs.
On that basis, we know what he’s capable of.
But so far in the 2021 postseason, he hasn’t been able to find his footing.
He went just 2-for-15 in the NLDS against Milwaukee and struck out six times.
His slash line for the series was .167/.333/.167.
Not sure about D’Arnaud lately
— FREE RICHIE GRANT (@shon8088) October 8, 2021
The 32-year-old would obviously love to flip a switch in the NLCS.
If the Braves were to get some unexpected production from him, it would likely go a long way toward potentially upsetting L.A. or San Francisco.
1. Dansby Swanson
Dansby Swanson has had an inconsistent MLB career so far, but one thing is for sure: When he’s hot, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
For evidence, just rewind to a couple of months ago.
From July 7 to August 18, Swanson — over a span of 37 games — was one of the best hitters in the league.
His numbers over that span: .338/.380/.629 with 11 homers and 11 doubles.
Moreover, at one point in August, the former first-round pick batted .395 with a 1.226 OPS over an 11-game span.
It’s clear that the sky is the limit for the youngster when he’s seeing the ball well.
But so far in the 2021 playoffs, he hasn’t delivered.
He went just 3-for-15 (.200) in the NLDS and finished the series with a WPA (win probability added) of -0.138.
The 27-year-old surely wants to get his first-ever World Series ring, but in order for that to happen, he’s going to need to carry his weight in the NLCS.
Another player who easily could have made this list is Jorge Soler, who went just 1-for-11 in the NLDS.
Thing is, he just tested positive for COVID-19, so he may very well miss the entire NLCS.
The roster administration re: COVID is different than usual injury rules in playoffs/WS. Once Jorge Soler gets through 10 days and tests negative for COVID, he theoretically could be activated — for Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS, perhaps. But it's more likely he misses all of NLCS.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 13, 2021
If he does return, it’ll likely be near the end of the series.
The 29-year-old would certainly love to return to action as soon as possible and put his rocky NLDS showing behind him.