With three weeks left until the close of the Major League regular season, the Atlanta Braves became the first team to qualify for the 2023 postseason. “The Tribe” sealed their pass this Sunday after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 with tight closure from Cuban reliever Raisel Iglesias.
The Pinar del Río player came out in the ninth inning to preserve a 3-run lead and did not face any major complications to record his 29th save of the year. Iglesias dominated Jack Suwinski with a grounder to second, retired Dominican Liover Peguero with a liner to left and then allowed a single to Joshua Palacios’ center. But the fact of having a runner on the path did not bother the Cuban, who sentenced pinch-hitter Endy Rodríguez with a weak fly ball to third.
In this way, Raisel is on the verge of reaching 30 saves for the fourth time in his career, and only 5 saves away from equaling his best mark (34), set in 2019 with Cincinnati and equaled 2 years later with the Angels.
The Braves reached 93 victories and reaffirmed themselves as the winningest team of the season, with a comfortable lead of 15 games over the Phillies, their closest pursuer in the East Division of the National League. Atlanta leads the entire circuit in runs scored, hits, home runs, RBIs, average, on-base average, slugging and OPS, and they are in the Top-10 of the top stealers of the year. As if that were not enough, his pitching is the third with the most strikeouts and the fifth in effectiveness.
Individually, they have 7 men with more than 15 home runs (4 of them with more than 30) and 6 with more than 70 RBIs (3 of them with more than 90). First baseman Matt Olson leads the Majors in home runs and RBIs, while Ronald Acuña Jr. became the first player in MLB history with a 30-60 season (home runs-stolen bases).
Among pitchers, Spencer Strider is a genuine candidate for the Cy Young Award with his 250 strikeouts, the undisputed Major League leader. The ace has been supported in the rotation by Bryce Elder, Charlie Morton and Max Fried, while A.J. MInter, Kirby Yates, Joe Jiménez and Raisel Iglesias have been the horses of a bullpen that has lost important men such as Nick Anderson, Jesse Chavez and Colin McHugh due to injury.
As for Iglesias, his season has not been easy. The firefighter missed the final part of spring training and the entire month of April due to inflammation in his right arm’s shoulder. His recovery was slow and took longer than expected, until he managed to pitch in some rehabilitation outings in the Minor Leagues in the last days of April.
Finally, on May 5, the Braves activated the Cuban, who began his work in MLB a day later. In less than a week he had two difficult appearances against Boston and Toronto, in which he allowed 6 hits and 4 runs in just 1.1 innings of work. However, he finished the month of May with 5 saves and a .189 opponent average.
In June the panorama changed and he faced an unusual situation, as the opponents batted his ìtches with relative ease in several presentations. In total, he was batted .302 and allowed 3 home runs and 7 earned runs in 13 innings of work. Because of that punishment, his role as Atlanta’s closer was even questioned, but his 8 saves in the middle of the storm helped him keep his place.
Between July and August, Iglesias returned to the best version of himself, not only because of the 14 saves he achieved, but because he was able to limit rivals to an OPS of only .440 in 85 plate appearances. In 23 outings and 22 innings of work, Raisel struck out 28 opponents, did not allow home runs and only had 3 extra-base hits. Additionally, he had a 0.82 ERA in that span.
His high point came in August, when he posted a 0.85 WHIP in 13 outings, allowing no earned runs and averaging 11.8 strikeouts per 9 innings. Those numbers earned him being selected as the Reliever of the Month in the National League.
Raisel is headed to his third postseason appearance after playing against Atlanta in the 2020 Wild Card Series, when he was still playing for Cincinnati. Two years later, already with the Braves, he saw action in the Division Series against the Phillies. In neither case was his performances good and his teams were defeated.