When the Atlanta Braves traveled to Citizens Bank Park for a four-game set against the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, Aug. 8 it hardly felt like Freddie Freeman was going to have an MVP-caliber season. Frankly, it didn’t even feel like Freeman was on pace to have a good season.
In early July, Freeman fought a battle with COVID-19 that made him wonder if his life was in danger.
“That [July 3] was the scariest night for me,” Freeman later told the collective media. “I spiked to 104.5 fever. So thankfully…two minutes after that, I gunned my forehead again, I was 103.8, I was 103.2 then 103.6. I was like, ‘If I go above 104 again, I’ll probably just start ringing the phone, try to figure this out.’
“But I said a little prayer that night, cause I’ve never been that hot before. My body was really, really hot so I said, ‘Please don’t take me.’ I wasn’t ready.”
Phillies infielder/outfielder Scott Kingery had a bout with COVID-19 in June, and his season never got on track. When Freeman and the Braves arrived in Philadelphia for the aforementioned weekend series, he was hitting just .217, and seemed headed for a similar fate. The Braves were already 14 games into a 60-game sprint of a season, so it seemed as though there just may not be enough time for Freeman to get back on track in 2020.
In perhaps his best start of the season, Jake Arrieta pitched six shutout innings for the Phillies in the first game of the series, with Freeman going 0-4. A quarter of the 2020 season was gone, and Freeman was hitting .200.
Things would change dramatically in a doubleheader the day later, one where the Braves curbstomped the Phillies, winning both games by a combined score of 13-2. Ronald Acuña Jr. homered three times in the two games, but the real takeaway was that Sunday, Aug. 9 was the day that Freeman got back on track. Over the course of two seven-inning games, Freeman went 6-8 with a home run and three RBIs, raising his batting average 76 points.
In Philadelphia that doubleheader served as a precursor for how much the Phillies would struggle in the seven-inning format in 2020, and a reminder of how much of a gap there was between Joe Girardi’s squad and the Braves. But for Freeman, the doubleheader was the moment where 2020 went from a down season to a career year. After bottoming out at a .200 batting average the day before, Freeman would finish the season on a torrid stretch, helping the Braves to win their third consecutive National League East title and eventually finish within a victory of reaching the World Series.
Thursday, Freeman edged out Los Angeles Dodgers’ right fielder Mookie Betts and San Diego Padres’ third baseman Manny Machado to win the National League MVP. What once appeared like it could be a lost season for Freeman turned on its head in Philadelphia, and he ended up slashing .341/.462/.640 with 13 home runs, 53 RBIs, 45 walks, a 1.102 OPS. Freeman finished in a tie with Cleveland Indians’ infielder Jose Ramirez for the league lead with a 3.4 fWAR, while leading the entire spot in doubles and runs scored.
It really shouldn’t come as much of a shock that the turning point of a career-defining campaign for Freeman came against the Phillies. If he isn’t already on it, Freeman has a legitimate chance to be on the Mount Rushmore of Phillies killers before the end of his career. In 175 career games against the Phillies, Freeman has slashed .303/.401/.489 with 23 home runs, 106 RBIs and an .890 OPS. With an MVP award now on his resume, Freeman, still only 31, is building an intriguing case for the Hall of Fame. Certainly, he won’t have a hard time convincing Phillies fans at the conclusion of his career that he’s been one of the most complete players of his era.
One of the better pure hitters that the sport has seen in the last 20 years, Freeman has spent all 11 seasons of his major league career with the Braves. He’s due $22 million in 2021, the final year of an eight-year deal. If he leaves Atlanta after next season, there’s a host of people in Philadelphia that would be happy to drive him to wherever his next destination is, assuming it isn’t with another National League East foe.
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