It took longer than anticipated after some mediocre play in September, but the Atlanta Braves can now officially set their sights on the 2013 playoffs.
While the Braves hope to wrap up the home-field advantage in the National League, the next step is winning a playoff series—something the organization hasn't done since 2001.
If the Braves are fortunate enough to advance, many players will have to elevate their play. But one man will need to be the hero if the Braves are to find success in the postseason—and that man is Jason Heyward.
At the start of the season, Heyward took over Chipper Jones' old locker in the clubhouse and led the team onto the field on Opening Day, signifying his new role as the face of the franchise. Now, he has returned from a broken jaw after taking a pitch to the face just in time for the playoffs.
The stage has been set for Heyward.
Many will be skeptical about whether Heyward can come back right away to his old form. But consider the following: Heyward returned in May after missing close to a month and was 7-for-23 (.304 batting average) in his first week back. He then proceeded to hit .312 with a .370 on-base percentage and .865 OPS in June.
He bounced back from missing a month the first time around quite nicely, giving Braves fans hope that he is capable of doing the same in October.
Heyward also adds a different dimension to the offense when he's hitting and getting on base. The Braves scored an average of 4.4 runs per game in the games Heyward played in August, recording a 14-4 record. Without Heyward in September, those numbers dropped to 3.2 runs per game and a 7-10 record.
He is truly the only five-tool player on the roster, and he has the ability to impact the game with his bat, speed, fielding and arm.
His adjustment to the leadoff spot (.333 average and .412 OBP) has shown his versatility at the plate and has allowed Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman to settle in nicely behind him in the No. 2 and No. 3 slots.
He is arguably the most patient hitter on the Braves, and each baserunner's value in the playoffs is heightened.
Heyward has also posted a .273 average and .948 OPS in late and close situations this season. In a close game in the playoffs, Heyward can put together a productive at-bat.
Not to mention he is the only starter who currently has a Gold Glove Award.
Quite simply, Heyward impacts the game in multiple ways. When he's right and clicking, the Braves offense becomes much more dangerous.
So if you're looking for a potential hero for the Braves this postseason, start with Heyward. I don't envision the Braves finding success if he slumps, but if he finds his rhythm at the plate, the Braves have as good a chance as any team to advance in the postseason.