The best way to spread Christmas cheer, an incredibly joyous elf once told us, is singing loud for all to hear.
While the lockout has put baseball into a winter deepfreeze, the lack of transactions and seemingly any good vibes between the league and players can’t dampen our holiday spirits ... right? So, gather round, as we go caroling with a rendition of that classic, the Twelve Days of Bravesmas.
On the first day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to thee, a world championship under ever tree
Back in 1985, when the Nintendo Entertainment System launched, my parents — a la Ralphie’s dad hiding the Red Ryder BB gun — waited until all the other presents had been unwrapped before having me peer back behind a chair to discover that life-altering gift. This Braves title was just like that, a complete surprise. It was in overcoming the losses of Ronald Acuña Jr. and Travis d’Arnaud, waiting until Aug. 6 to finally get over .500 and on and on with the obstacles. Literally no one saw it coming, and all that championship gear that will be under trees will make it a topic of every Christmas celebration throughout Braves Country. But moms and dads, don’t hide that jersey with the World Series patch until the end, making your kid think it’s not coming. That’s just cruel.
On the second day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to thee, two 14-game winners
We’ve evolved past the point of putting everything into the number of Ws on pitcher’s stat line, but then again, being on the mound when a team is winning is still an indication of what a starter brings to the equation. Max Fried and Charlie Morton gave the Braves a pair of 14-game winners, making them one of only two teams with players that spent the duration of the season on their roster to hit that win total (technically, the Dodgers had three in Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer and Julio Urias, but Scherzer did get half of his wins with the Nationals, so we’re not counting that). Atlanta hadn’t had two pitchers reach the 14-win plateau since Ervin Santana and Julio Teheran in 2014, and, if you like historical notes, when the Braves won it all in 1995, they also had two 14-game winners that year in Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
On the third day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to thee, three more year of Snitker
Back in 2018, when the Braves announced, they had agreed to a two-year extension with Brian Snitker, the manager noted it was the first multi-year deal he’d been given since 1985, when Bobby Cox was general manager. Snitker’s future is even more secure these days, as in November the National League’s oldest manager at 66 years old, was given a three-year extension. With 441 wins, Snitker is fifth on the franchise’s all-time wins list, but among those who have led the team since its move to Atlanta, the only manager Snitker is looking up at is his mentor Cox, and his 1,792 wins.
With Ozzie Albies' home run tonight, the #Braves are just the second team in MLB history to have all four infielders hit at least 25 home runs in a season. They have about 4 weeks to become the first infield group to each hit 30 home runs. pic.twitter.com/ckuG9AO2x4— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) September 5, 2021
On the fourth day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to thee, four infielders with 25 or more homers
The Braves infield wasn’t just potent, it was historically potent. Third baseman Austin Riley hit 33 home runs, first baseman Freddie Freeman had 31, second baseman Ozzie Albies finished with 30, and shortstop Dansby Swanson bashed 27. That made Atlanta the second team in history with all four infielders to go over the 25-home run mark, joining the 2008 Marlins with Jorge Cantu, Mike Jacob, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. No infield has ever had four 30-home run hitters, and it could have been even more historic had Swanson not had a power outage that included one home run in the last 27 games ... but we digress. With Acuña sidelined, this group’s production was a major part of the Braves’ path to a fourth straight division title, and eventually much more.
On the fifth day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to thee, a new contract for No. 5
It’s not going to get done any time soon with the lockout freezing transactions but locking up Freddie Freeman is on everyone’s wish list. The fact that we got through spring training, the season and the aftermath of a championship without a new contract for the 2020 NL MVP is mind-boggling, as is the reported point of contention on a sixth year. The door is open, with the Dodgers and Yankees reportedly expressing interest, but with a believed asking price of $180 over those six years, it seems more than reasonable for a franchise centerpiece who wants to spend his entire career with the Braves. If you’ve still got time before Christmas, put in a good word with Santa to wrap this up as soon as the lockout ends.
On the sixth day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to three, six trades that changed everything
General manager Alex Anthopoulos didn’t win Executive of the Year — that went to Farhan Zaidi, whose Giants won a league-best 107 games — but the Braves aren’t winning the division, let alone the World Series, without their GM’s machinations. No one would have criticized had Anthopoulos sold off pieces after Acuña’s injury just before the All-Star break. Instead, he completed a flurry of trades, remaking the outfield with
Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler, and added catcher Stephen Vogt and reliever Richard Rodriguez. The new-look outfield led the NL with 45 second-half home runs and had some of the defining moments of the title run between Pederson’s pearls and pinch-hit homers, Rosario’s NLCS magic and Soler’s World Series MVP run. He may not have that top executive award, but Anthopoulos can take solace in clutching the Commissioner’s Trophy instead.
On the seventh day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to three, Tyler Matzek’s seventh inning in Game 6 of the NLCS
This was the moment. All those specters of past Atlanta sports setbacks may have started to creep in when Luke Jackson left with no outs and runners on second and third with the Braves clinging to a two-run lead over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, but it was late night at the sterile shopping mall, and the Nut Shack was open for business. Tyler Matzek stepped in, striking out Albert Pujols, Steven Souza and Mookie Betts, the last of those coming on three pitches. Matzek screaming as he walked off the mound, getting out of a jam that could have altered the course of the Braves’ postseason, was a a statement: the narrative had indeed changed.
On the eighth day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to three, Luke Jackson/A.J. Minter in the eighth
Despite that aforementioned trouble in Game 6 of the NLCS (and that home run by Cody Bellinger in Game 3), Luke Jackson put together an especially strong season, rebounding from a 6.84 ERA in 2020 to a 1.98 in 2021. A.J. Minter had his own in-season bounce-back, going from being demoted to Triple-A in July to a postseason in which he had a 0.83 ERA through his first seven appearances. Jackson and Minter saw the most of their innings come in the eight, where the former pitched 26 2/3 innings and the latter had 19 innings. They were a big reason why after the All-Star break the Braves’ relief corps allowed the second fewest runs (18) in the eighth inning.
On the ninth day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to three, Will Smith in the ninth
It wasn’t always a straight line, as Will Smith faced more than three batters 18 times, blew six saves and allowed a .977 OPS in August. But the left-hander, who was fourth in MLB with 37 saves, was on another level in the postseason, not allowing a single run in his 11 appearances with a .139 average and .344 OPS, and it was Smith that was on the mound to deliver the championship as he got Yuli Gurriel to ground out to Freeman (an inning, that, in true Smith fashion, included four batters going to the plate). Smith is one of only two relievers to ever appear in more than 10 games in a single postseason without allowing a run, joining Jeremy Affeldt for the Giants in 2014.
On the 10th day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to three, No. 10 showing off the “hands”
Chipper Jones accomplished quite a lot during his 19-year career. He was an eight-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, a batting champion, and MVP and, ultimately, a Hall of Famer. He’d never win a Gold Glove, and across Jones’ 2,499 games, he had a minus-0.9 dWAR. Chipper’s defense came into focus again in Game 3 of the NLDS, when he dropped a foul ball while sitting next to the Braves’ dugout, the ball bouncing off his hands. Making matters worse, Chipper was sitting next to one of the greatest defenders of all time, his former teammate Andruw Jones.
On the 11th day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to three, 11 postseason victories
The NLDS provided Pederson’s two home runs off the bench, Freeman’s go-ahead shot off Josh Hader. The NLCS followed with walk-offs from Riley and Rosario — the winner part of Rosario’s historic MVP run — and Matzek’s aforementioned shutdown of the Dodgers. The World Series had Ian Anderson flirting with a no-hitter, Fried’s dominance and Soler flashing the power again and again. Pick your moments from the 11 wins in the title run, because there were plenty.
OH MY— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) November 3, 2021
Jorge Soler hits a 3-run BOMB OVER THE TRAIN TRACKS!!! pic.twitter.com/pOAZfLRUYz
On the 12th day of Bravesmas, the franchise gave to three, No. 12’s moonshot
The ball was out celebrating before the Braves, as the one Soler sent 446 feet over the train tracks at Minute Maid park wound up at an apartment party. It was a monster shot, a three-run homer in the third inning of Game 6 that gave the Braves all the support they needed to back up Fried’s gem. The homer was the exclamation point on Soler claiming World Series MVP, as he hit three homers in all, and only helped to amplify a prevailing storyline with this team. The outfield, remade after losing Acuña, saw Rosario step up in the LCS and Soler deliver the biggest offensive moments in the World Series, starting with a leadoff homer in Game 1, and moonshot in the clincher.