COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Braves did not exactly steamroll their way into the playoffs down the stretch.
But as the wild-card-winning St. Louis Cardinals proved in 2012, it isn't always how you get there that matters, so long as you get there somehow.
Over the last month of the regular season, the Braves have been feebly crawling toward the finish line like a dying man in the desert in search of something to drink. Atlanta's 13-14 September record saw it lose five games off its divisional lead, and its sluggish finish caused the Braves to miss out on home-field advantage by one game.
Soon the calendar will flip and the bright lights of October will begin shining down on these players like the single-bulbed spotlight in a police-interrogation room. Let's analyze who will be most equipped to handle the pressures of the postseason by looking at the players riding a wave of success into the playoffs, as well as those who have plodded their way to the finish line.
Freddie Freeman: Like Chipper Jones in 1999, Freeman tried his best to use the month of September as a resume-filler for his impending candidacy as the NL MVP.
Freeman hit .379 with six home runs and 20 RBIs over the final 27 games of the year. His on-base percentage (.451), slugging (.632) and OPS (1.083) during September were all his best of the season. If those numbers were not already good enough, Freeman is also taking an eight-game hitting streak with him into the playoffs.
Evan Gattis: El Oso Blanco finished his rookie season by going 3-for-5 and belting home run No. 21, which led all NL catchers in 2013. However, the most promising sign for fans should be the fact that Gattis has started to put wood on the ball more consistently.
Gattis went 10-for-24 over the final six games of the season, striking out only twice. If the Braves are going to be able to count on him in the middle of their order in the postseason, he must continue to be a tough out for opposing pitchers.
Justin Upton: The eldest Upton started the month off miserably but has since begun heating up for October. Upton hit safely in 12 of the final 15 games, including ending the season with five hits in his final 10 at-bats.
Upton has been the quintessential hot-and-cold hitter for the Braves in his first season. He hit 12 home runs in April, and eight homers in August, but he hit no more than two in any other month of the season. Fans hope his latest exploits means he is warming back up at the exact right time.
Kris Medlen: Remember when Brandon Beachy was about to return from injury and people were suggesting Medlen would be better off in the bullpen? Oops!
Thankfully, Medlen stayed with the starting staff and turned his season around in a big way. Medlen went 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA over his last six starts, and he capped off his regular season by taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning in the Braves' 1-0 victory over Philadelphia Phillies on Sept. 27.
Medlen's hot September has pushed him from a potential middle-relief castoff to Atlanta's presumptive Game 1 starter in the playoffs.
Chris Johnson: It's hard to say a hitter batting .321 is in a slump, but maybe just a slump by his lofty standards. Johnson has hit a very respectable .286 during the month of September, but for a man for was in a dogfight for an NL batting title, this simply wasn't good enough.
He dropped 12 points off his batting average and surrendered his claim on the NL lead to Colorado Rockies right fielder Michael Cuddyer. Johnson managed only seven multi-hit games over the last part of the MLB schedule, which was his worst month since taking over for Juan Francisco full time as the starting Atlanta third baseman.
Johnson ended the regular season in a 2-for-23 funk.
Jordan Walden: With Walden acting as the bridge to Craig Kimbrel this season, it was as though the Braves had two closers. However, in September, his teammates had to start referring to him as Wile E. Coyote given the fact that he fell right off a cliff with nothing more than a tiny ACME umbrella for protection.
Walden surrendered six runs in his last three appearances and allowed his ERA to rise by more than one full run. He also gave up two home runs during his last 2 1/3 innings, which was the same number of long balls he coughed up over the previous 44 2/3 innings.
Brian McCann: Although he may be hot "under the collar" after rightfully going full-Hulk on Milwaukee Brewers hotdog Carlos Gomez for rounding the bases in a less-than-lady-like manner, McCann still finds himself on the cold side of the Braves' equation heading into the postseason.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez may have something to do with McCann's .170 batting average for the month of September as the Atlanta skipper decided to play his All-Star backstop very infrequently over the last portion of the schedule. McCann has played no more than three consecutive games this month, and he sat out 10 of the Braves' final 26 games. A groin injury shelved McCann for the final two games of the regular season, but he is expected to be ready to start Game 1 of the playoffs.
B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla: Atlanta's slugging second baseman had a three-game hitting streak in the middle of the month, but. unfortunately, that was the very thinly sliced meat in an otherwise mostly 0-for-sandwich. Uggla hit just .128 in September, which was technically 45 points higher than the .083 he hit in August.
Uggla's middling sidekick also kept up with his career-worst season as Upton hit .106 in September and has capped off his forgettable year with a 0-for-16 clip.
Uggla and Upton have struggled to even make it on the field of late as it appears Gonzalez has finally lost faith in the two highest-paid players on the roster.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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