Entering play Wednesday, he led the league in batting (.352), on-base percentage (.465), doubles (18), runs batted in (46), total bases (115), and OPS+ (188). Plus he’s likely to win another Gold Glove for his stellar defense at first base.
Plus his team is in first place, three-and-a-half games ahead of the upstart Miami Marlins in the competitive National League East.
The long-time first baseman for the Atlanta Braves broke into the big leagues in 2010 but became a regular a year later. He had a 10-year bating average of .293 entering this season.
Freeman, who turned 31 earlier this month, has come a long way after a slow start caused by a bout with COVID-19 that cost him most of Spring Training 2.0. He told teammates and media members that his temperature rocketed to 104.5 during his illness, making him very aware of his mortality.
The disease left his body weakened, causing a slow start, but his performance lately suggests a rebound similar to Popeye after downing a can of spinach.
Without Freeman, who before this year has never led the NL in anything but hugs and doubles, the Braves would have fallen out of contention weeks ago.
Now, he’s part of the fun, including a 29-run game that set a National League record Sept. 9 in a game against the Miami Marlins.
To guarantee Freeman more at-bats per game, manager Brian Snitker moved the slugger into the lineup’s No. 2 spot, traditionally reserved for a speedster capable of stealing bases and executing hit-and-run plays.
Freeman, with one stolen base this year, runs the bases well but is far from a speed merchant. He is accomplished at beating the shift, however.Teams routinely stack three infielders between first and second – deploying one on the outfield grass – when the left-handed Freeman strides to the plate. But the moves may not be wise, since the contact-hitting Californian is adept at ripping line-drive doubles and more than his share of home runs to the opposite field.
Although San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. was an early favorite for MVP honors, Freeman may have overtaken him. Just as former Brave Chipper Jones won the trophy by pounding opponents during the 1999 stretch drive, Freeman is following that same formula.
The Braves tok a 29-20 mark into their final stretch but will play mainly against teams with losing records, including the Baltimore Orioles (1), New York Mets (3) and Boston Red Sox (3). Their other four games are against the surprising Marlins, who suddenly seem to have the best starting rotation in the division.
Freeman, like Jones, has become the Face of the Franchise, though he may soon face a challenge from magnetic outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., who bats directly in front of him.
Both should make room for MVP trophies to come, with Freeman’s perhaps around the corner.
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