Atlanta Braves, MLB Postseason

Freddie Freeman, Mike Foltynewicz will decide if Braves advance in Game 5

The St. Louis Cardinals forced Game 5 on a Yadier Molina walk-off sacrifice fly. With the game back in Atlanta, here is what the Atlanta Braves need to do.

After the late-inning heroics on Sunday night, the Atlanta Braves didn’t do enough to close out the St. Louis Cardinals on the road in Game 4 on Monday evening. Atlanta had a 4-3 lead thanks to a two-run bomb off the bat of second baseman Ozzie Albies in the fifth inning, but couldn’t get another runner across in the next five innings.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was able to tie it up on a single in the bottom of the eighth, plating first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. After going into extra innings, Molina would come up clutch again, as his deep fly ball to left field would score second baseman Kolten Wong from third base on the sacrifice fly. The Cardinals would win, 5-4, to force Game 5 down in Atlanta.

So St. Louis lives to fight another day, while Atlanta let its first potential postseason series victory since 2001 slip through the cracks. For the chance to face the winner of the Washington Nationals-Los Angeles Dodgers series, a pivotal Game 5 between the Cardinals and the Braves will occur at SunTrust Park in Marietta on Oct. 9. What must the Braves do to advance?

Atlanta will have the home crowd in its favor on Wednesday evening. Braves Country will have the back of its starting pitcher in presumably Mike Foltynewicz. He threw seven innings in Game 2’s 3-0 shutout of the Cardinals back on Oct. 4. Foltynewicz outdueled Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty, who will be likely combatting against him once again from the visiting dugout.

Outside of a shaky inning or two from Game 1 and Game 4’s starter Dallas Keuchel, the Braves’ rotation has marveled in this best-of-five series. Foltynewicz dominated the Cardinals’ lineup in Game 2. Mike Soroka was outstanding in his no-decision in Game 3 on the road in St. Louis on Sunday night.

The Braves bullpen has had its issues in this series, but may not need more than three innings out of it, as Foltynewicz will be well-rested. It will be five days from his last start for Atlanta. So the Braves have the recipe for success with the pitching staff on Wednesday. St. Louis will do its best to keep pace. What will end up deciding this best-of-five series is whose bats will get hot.

Simply put, Atlanta needs better production out of the middle of its batting order. Besides a late-inning home run in Game 1’s loss at home, first baseman Freddie Freeman has struggled mightily at the plate in this series. Though he hit well on Sunday, third baseman Josh Donaldson can’t afford to swing at the first pitch and pop it up for an easy out for the Cardinals.

These two hitters can’t go 0-for on Wednesday if Atlanta wants to advance to the NLCS for the first time since 2001. It’s a shame because the Braves got great production out of the top of the order on Monday evening. Center fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. went 4-for-5 at the plate, including a double and a triple. Albies had that go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the fifth to make it 4-3 Braves.

Atlanta has also gotten production later in the order from the likes of left fielder Adam Duvall and shortstop Dansby Swanson. Right fielder Nick Markakis and catcher Brian McCann have unfortunately struggled at the plate for much of this series.

So there are four guys Braves manager Brian Snitker can count on to get a hit in Game 5. Acuña, Albies, Duvall and Swanson have shown up more than once in the first four games. If Atlanta wants to advance, Freeman needs to lead by example and be the star player this team and this city thinks he is. This the biggest game of his life. He needs to show up in a big way and deliver.

His first base counterpart in Goldschmidt has outplayed him all series long. That’s no slight on Goldschmidt, as he has been one of the best first basemen in the National League for close to a decade now. Neither of these perennial All-Stars has any postseason success to date. It’ll come down to which of these faces of the franchise wants it more. Who wants to be a champion?

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Acuña may be more talented than Freeman, but he is the player that Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has built this contending team around. October is when legends are made. If Freeman wants to be held in high regard to other elite Braves heroes from yesteryear, he needs to support Foltynewicz with his bat and glove for nine innings. He can do it because he’ll have to.

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