On Wednesday, I put together a slideshow looking at 5 players who could carry the Atlanta Braves to a World Series championship, discussing first baseman Freddie Freeman, outfielder Justin Upton, third baseman Chris Johnson, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and catcher Brian McCann.
But after a 5-for-5 performance by outfielder Jason Heyward, who led off and played center fielder in Thursday’s 7-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies less than a week after returning from a broken jaw he suffered when he was struck by a fastball from New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese on Aug. 21, I feel like I may have left an important name off my list.
I am guilty of thinking it would take more time for Heyward to get his timing back, but after his career game against the Phillies, which began with a solo home run on the first pitch of the bottom of the first inning and ended with an infield single in the bottom of the seventh — with three doubles sandwiched in between — I think it’s quite obvious that the Braves may have found their key to a lengthy playoff run.
During the time that Heyward was serving as the club’s leadoff hitter prior to his injury, Atlanta won a season-high 14 games in a row, a streak that included sweeps of the St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies, Phillies and Washington Nationals. And the 24-year-old native of Ridgewood, N.J. was right in the middle of all the action, just as he was on Thursday.
If Heyward continues to put up those types of performances in the playoffs — granted it’s almost a given that he won’t record five hits a game — the Braves could find themselves celebrating again in about a month.