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Matt Olson thriving for Braves after one of ‘lower points’ of career

The Atlanta Braves first baseman lead the majors in OPS and home runs since Sept. 30

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves
Over his last six regular season games and first two of this postseason, Matt Olson is 11-for-29 with five homers, a double and 11 RBI.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

While the rain fell on Truist Park, leading to a three-hour delay in Wednesday’s Game 2 of the National League Championship Series with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Matt Olson wasn’t wrapped up in the pressure of his Atlanta Braves trying to avoid an 0-2 hole.

He had other concerns, like trying to tweak his fantasy football roster.

“There was a lot of negotiations going on,” Olson said. “Myself being the GM, I decided I needed to make a move. I don’t know if I want to name the players. I don’t want to get roasted for it if it turns out bad, but I felt like it was the right move, the right time.”

Olson himself has been making the right moves at the right time. Since Sept. 30, a stretch that includes the final regular-season games and the first two of this postseason, there’s been no more productive hitter in baseball. Olson is 11-for-29 (.379) with five homers, a double and 11 RBI in that span. He first in home runs, first in OPS and third in average behind the New York Mets’ Brandon Nimmo (.438) and the Cleveland Guardians’ Jose Ramirez (.382).

It’s a turnaround that couldn’t have been more crucial with Olson in the midst of the worst stretch of his seven MLB seasons.

With six regular-season games remaining, Olson had the majors’ worst average (.151) and OPS (.532) among player with at least 99 plate appearances, and his 48 wRC+ was tracking toward the lowest of any full month of his career.

The Mets were looming in a pivotal series that was to decide the NL East, and the postseason was days away for a team that had designs on defending its world championship. Olson, acquired via trade and signed to — what was, at the time the richest deal in franchise — an eight-year, $168 million deal was a key cog in the lineup they needed to get going.

“It was probably one of the lower points of my baseball career, performance-wise,” Olson said. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to ride out the ups and downs the same. Try to be the same guy every day.”

That was what that stood out to teammates, that Olson didn’t allow what wasn’t happening at the plate to affect him.

“I think something that wasn’t seen necessarily was when he was going through that lull he was the same person every day,” said catcher Travis d’Arnaud. “(Olson) treated us all the same, and laughed around, joked around. Still made fun of everybody, even though in his mind he wasn’t playing good baseball.”

When it comes to Olson, things are still magnified and examined through a different lens. It’s of fault or his own but following former MVP and franchise icon Freddie Freeman comes with pressure and expectations. Freeman may have had to fight through tears and the emotions of dealing with a rocky breakup when he made his return to Atlanta in June, but when he and the Los Angeles Dodgers left town, that was an awkward reunion he could put behind him.

Imagine being the new guy in that relationship and seeing the love affair from both sides. Whether Olson left it affect him or not, it was in plain view. No one should be asking Olson to be Freeman, but Olson is still tasked with establishing the position as own for the next near-decade and doing so while a franchise icon is in another uniform.

It’s a tough situation, and through that, and through the struggles of September, manager Brian Snitker watched Olson’s demeanor and approach stay consistent.

“What I saw through him all year and everything, all the new experiences I think that were presented to him from the day he got here, and he just kept working late in the year,” Snitker said. “And it happens. You don’t know when, but these guys are going to have to fight through adversities and he did. He stayed within himself and continued to work and he wanted to keep playing. When those guys do that, usually if they handle it, there’s something really good on the other end of it.”

The Braves are reveling in that now.

Olson homered off Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Seth Lug on consecutive days in the sweep of the Mets that keyed Atlanta’s fifth straight division title, part of a six-game stretch in which he went 8-for-23 with four homers, a double and seven RBI in winning the final NL Player of the Week honors.

He’s stayed hot in the postseason, hitting a three-run home run off the Phillies’ Zach Eflin in the ninth inning of the 7-6 loss in Game 1, then got the Braves on the scoreboard with an RBI single on a hard-hit ball that got past the glove of first baseman Rhys Hoskins in the sixth inning of the 3-0 win in Game 2.

Olson is 3-for-6 with four RBI and three walks and is poised to do even more damage as the series heads to Citizens Bank Park for Games 3 and 4. He has a .927 OPS in the home of the Phillies, with four home runs and three doubles.

“It’s good,” Olson said of his tear. “Everything now is about getting the team win. But it’s always nice to have those moments.”

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