Posted on July 4, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Atlanta Braves have received the best Independence Day gift they could have hoped for: the return of Freddie Freeman. The Braves activated Freeman from the DL on Tuesday roughly six weeks after breaking his wrist. Of course, Freeman is not returning to be Atlanta’s everyday first baseman. As expected, Freeman will be moving to third base upon his return to accommodate Matt Adams.
Freeman’s return to the Braves comes much sooner than expected. When he went to the DL, the Braves expected Freeman to miss eight to 10 weeks. Such a timeline would have kept him on the shelf beyond the all-star break. However, Freeman was able to make it back a full week before this year’s All-Star Game. With his return on Tuesday, Freeman will be able to play six games for Atlanta before the break.
With the Braves rushing Freeman back from the DL, there was only time for him to play in two minor league rehab games. As a hitter, Freeman was 2 for 3 with two walks in those two rehab games. As one of the league’s best hitters before the injury, the Braves shouldn’t be too concerned about Freeman at the plate. On the year, Freeman is hitting .341 with an OPS of 1.209. Both would be career highs if he can continue to produce at such a high rate.
Of course, his accelerated return also means Freeman had less time to prepare for his transition to third base. Freeman had few chances at the hot corner during his two rehab games. To be fair, Freeman did play third base throughout high school and during his first professional season in 2007. However, that was a decade ago, and playing third base at the major league level may turn out to be a great challenge for him.
The silver lining for the Braves is that Freeman has been working out at third base for the past two weeks. It was also his idea to switch positions, so he’s not making the move against his will. Freeman recognized how important it was to keep Adams in the lineup. Adams was one of baseball’s hottest hitters during the month of June. Since joining the Braves, Adams is hitting .285 with 12 home runs.
The Braves have actually faired well without Freeman, to the surprise of many. When he went to the DL on May 18, the Braves were six games under .500. Atlanta entered Tuesday just one game under .500. The Braves are currently seven games out in the wild-card race.
Players like Adams, Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte, Brandon Phillips, and Tyler Flowers deserve a great deal of credit for keeping Atlanta’s offense rolling without Freeman. Now that they can add their best hitter back into the lineup on a daily basis, the Braves could continue to play winning baseball and remain relevant in the playoff race. There’s even talk of the Braves pursuing a frontline starter at the trade deadline to help out both short-term and long-term.
The odds are stacked against the Braves making a serious playoff push. However, they were five games over .500 without Freeman, and so his return from the DL could make them a dangerous team. It still remains to be seen whether the move to third base will work out. But the return of Freeman does give the Braves a fighting chance of making some noise the second half of the season.