The Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves will play a best-of-three series to kick off the first round of the 2020 Major League Baseball playoffs. On Wednesday at 12:00pm ET they’ll take the field in Atlanta with Trevor Bauer toeing the rubber for the Reds – coming off of the lowest ERA season he’s ever had in his career. He’s been among the best pitchers in the league all year, and is probably the favorite to bring home the Cy Young Award when the votes are revealed following the postseason.
The Atlanta Braves were one of the best offensive teams in baseball. Their wRC+ of 121 was behind just the Dodgers and Mets – who were tied at 122 atop of Major League Baseball. The Braves walk a lot (9th best walk rate in baseball) and they hit for a lot of power (.215 IsoP – 2nd best in baseball). Atlanta scored 348 runs on the season, just one less than the Dodgers, who led the Major Leagues.
“They’re good. They hit a lot of homers,” said Bauer of the Braves lineup. “I’ve faced them a couple of times before. I have a little bit of history with them. Obviously not this year – things change, lineup construction changes and all that. I haven’t done a deep dive on them yet, but we’ll be doing that today and tomorrow, obviously. So I’ll have more info later on.”
With the way that 2020 took place, there’s going to be match ups in seven of the eight playoff series of teams who did not see each other during this year. Only the match up between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays will have teams that faced each other in the regular season squaring off in the first round.
“I don’t know, really,” said Bauer about whether there’s an advantage in facing a team for the first time. “Like I said, I’ve faced these guys before – they have a general sense of who I am and what I do. When you face a team multiple times, you know the hitters better but they know you better. So I don’t really know where that advantage falls really. I’m facing the Braves, I know I’m facing the Braves, and I’ll prepare for the Braves just like I’d prepare for whoever else.”
Last week the entire baseball world saw Trevor Bauer put the Reds on his shoulders and shove. Taking the ball on short rest in a must-win game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Bauer struck out 12 batters over 8.0 innings and allowed just one run. He wanted that game. And he wanted the pressure, that big game, the challenge. He’ll get that opportunity again on Wednesday.
“Yeah I relish the big game whenever it happens. We’ve played a lot of big games in the last two weeks,” said Bauer. “I’ve enjoyed that extra adrenaline, pressure, or however you want to term that feeling – I guess the stakes of it all, you know, if there’s something on the line then that’s when I love the thrill of it. Whether it’s game one or game three, starting or out of the pen or whatever – I’m just looking forward to pitching in the big moments.”
This will be the fourth time in the postseason in the last five years for Trevor Bauer. He’s not foreign to pitching during October, or in big games. He’s pitched in three games of the World Series, one game in the league championship series, and six divisional series games in his career. Over his 10 games in the playoffs he’s posted a 3.81 ERA across 26.0 innings with eight walks and 32 strikeouts. Despite having that experience, he believes it helps but that perhaps it’s overrated a bit.
“It definitely helps. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as sometimes it’s made out to be,” Bauer said about having previous playoff experience. “The biggest thing for guys that haven’t been there before, the biggest thing is just locking in on just do what you do, and accept the fact that you’re going to feel a little bit differently, you’re going to have some more adrenaline, you’re going to be a little nervous. As long as you can accept that fact and be ok with it, it’s just baseball. It’s the same. I learned that lesson back in college, really, when we went on a deep postseason run in 2010. That was one of the things we talked about, with Ken Ravizza (UCLA Sports Psychologist), who has since passed away, but Ken was a big part of our team at UCLA. And he taught me that lesson back then, so it’s something I’ve had in my mental skills toolbox for a while.”
What does Trevor Bauer think about the Reds being, in Joey Votto’s words, an “f*******” nightmare” for other teams in the playoffs?
“Probably, the pitching staff is what gives confidence there. We’re either the best staff in baseball or the second best staff in baseball,” said Bauer. “In the postseason it’s been proven many times that pitching is what carries teams in the postseason – dominant pitching, guys that can miss bats, guys that can limit damage, guys that can throw hard, have good stuff. So we believe in our pitching staff. Also, our offense has been one of the most unlucky offenses in the last, who knows how long – you can’t stay that unlucky forever. So we’re due for some positive regression in that standpoint. We’re playing a lot better as a team, defensively. Putting together good at-bats. The bullpen is pitching great. We’re very confident with where our team is at. We feel like we’re peaking at the right time and coming into the season we felt like we could beat anybody. With the talent we have on the roster, the preparedness – all of that, we didn’t play up to our standards for ourselves for parts of the year, but we feel were playing that way now. We’re very confident in our team and what we can accomplish. That’s not to take anything away from our opponents, because they’re a great team as well that feels the same way about their team. So it’s going to be a fun series to get out there and compete and see who can get to two wins before they get to two losses.”
Tomorrow has been a long time coming for the Cincinnati Reds. The stretch from 2014-2018 was about as painful as it gets. There was a step forward in 2019, but expectations were higher than the results wound up being and it led to disappointment. In 2020, the expectations were even higher than the year before – a big offseason full of signings goes a long way to setting those expectations – didn’t quite lead to the kind of regular season everyone expected. Perhaps the team simply ran out of time because the season was just 60 games, but they have a chance to still do what they set out to do. Getting in the playoffs is what matters. Once you are in, anything can happen. Trevor Bauer and the Reds get that chance, but they’re going to need to take care of business in Atlanta and take that next step.