I was wondering how long it would take. Answer: one week. The Braves just announced that Freddie Freeman underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery in New York on Wednesday. From the release: “Dr. David Altchek explored and cleaned out the entire right elbow joint during the procedure, removing three fragmented loose bodies and cleaning up multiple bone-spur formations that had developed.”
Asked after Game 4 of the National League Division Series how much his elbow had affected his postseason production, Freeman said: “Zero.” I was standing there when he said it, and you could tell he was fibbing. At that moment, he was 2-for-16 against St. Louis, both hits having come in Game 1. He’d had one extra-base hit – a ninth-inning home run in Game 1 – and only the one RBI. He’d walked once, striking out five times.
He would have two hits – one a double – in the so-bad-it-was-funny Game 5. He also committed an error on a ground ball that should have ended the historic first inning with the Cardinals leading by an un-historic 1-0. (With Yadier Molina running, any ground ball should be a double play.) Maybe Freeman was distracted by Marcell Ozuna, who was moving from first to second. Maybe his elbow interceded. Maybe he just flubbed the play. That happens. It doesn’t happen often to Freddie Freeman, though.
He wasn’t the only Brave not to do much over the five games. Nick Markakis and Matt Joyce weren’t very good, and Brian McCann looked like a guy ready for retirement, which indeed would come after Game 5. Even Josh Donaldson, maybe the Braves’ MVP over the regular season, went quiet. But Freeman bats third for a reason: He’s the best pure hitter on the roster. With him going 4-for-20, nothing looked as good as it should have.
And it didn’t. The Braves scored 17 runs over five games, an average of 3.4. They averaged 5.4 runs over the 162-game season. We say yet again: Nobody hits as well in the postseason because there are no bad pitchers getting postseason work. Still, the Braves’ robust offense turned puny come the playoffs. They nearly got away with it, but Molina’s wrong-way flare tipped off the top of Freeman’s mitt to tie Game 4, and from there everything went to Hades in a handbasket.
Not sure if the elbow had anything to do with the Molina hit. (“I needed to be 6-7,” said Freeman, who’s 6-foot-5.) He throws right-handed, which means his glove was on his left hand, and the elbow in question was his right. But something was clearly off.
He was removed from a game against Washington on Sept. 15 because his elbow was hurting. He skipped the trip to Kansas City during the season’s final week. He pronounced himself ready for October, but you were never sure if he was telling the whole truth.
He’s the Braves’ leader. Of course he was going to play. Great players live for such times, but the Freeman of October 2019 wasn’t himself, which leaves us with another what-if in this club’s extensive series of postseason what-ifs.
Had Freeman’s elbow been free of loose bodies, would the Braves still be playing? Maybe. Possibly. All we know for sure is that the best Brave since Chipper had a series he’ll try to forget but never will. There is, however, one sliver of light. From the release: “Freeman is expected to be ready for spring training next season.”
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