Looking back at the Season and Ahead to October (and Game Thread)

On Tuesday night you went to a place you have been many times before, but also somewhere you never thought you would end up in.

You remember the division titles from the last two seasons and 2013; most of you probably remember some or all of the streak on top of that. Some of you might be able to recall Dale Murphy’s Braves clinching the ‘82 division title on the final day of the regular season, and maybe one or two of you out in readerland remember where you were when Aaron and Niekro led the ‘69 Braves to the top of the NL West in the first year of divisional play.

The point is, you’ve definitely been here before. You know what it’s like to see the Braves run the gauntlet of the regular season and end up on top of the division. They’ve done it more times than any other franchise in baseball, in fact.

But did you ever imagine it would happen in 2020?

Did you conceive of a scenario where the Braves would end up winning this division again when Mike Soroka’s season ended just three innings into his third start with a devastating achilles injury? When the lineup resembled a M*A*S*H* unit for a lot of August with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies both on the IL? When Robbie Erlin and Tommy Milone frequently offered opposing lineups the chance to turn the clock back to 2019 when batting practice was still allowed?

Even without the landmines the Braves have had to sidestep during the season, it looked like there wouldn’t even be a baseball season for over three months. The only thing more surprising than this Braves team winning the division title is the fact that anyone won a division title this year.

But nevertheless, here we are. The Braves will start a best-of-three series at Truist Park next Wednesday. If they hold off the Cubs for the No. 2 seed, they’ll face the third place team in the National League with the best record. If the Cubs overtake them and bump them down to the No. 3 seed, they’ll face the National League division runner-up with the worst record. 

Maybe that ends up being a battle with the Reds and their three-headed monster of Trevor BauerLuis CastilloSonny Gray. It could be the Brewers and the Corbin Burns-Brandon Woodruff 1-2 punch. The Marlins and Phillies are both hanging in the race with a chance to set up an NL East showdown. Gabe Kapler’s Giants are somehow still kicking with all of their even year magic trying to will them into a playoff spot.

And yes, that team with the birds on the bat still could end up being the opponent.

Regardless of the opponent, the Braves are going to have a lot of bullets in the chamber. We won’t know until after the postseason, but they just might have the NL MVP hitting second in the form of Freddie Freeman. His protection in the lineup Marell Ozuna is knocking in runs at a pace that prorates to over 150 RBIs in a normal season. Ozzie Albies might end up snagging the cleanup spot and your favorite unsung hero Adam Duvall will be lurking in the bottom half of the lineup. Runs shouldn’t be an issue for this group, not for the team with wins by scores of 14-1, 11-10, 10-1, 11-2, 12-10, 10-3, 15-2, 11-1 and 29-9.

The bullpen is there to mix and match with. You would have to figure some combination of Tyler Matzek and Darren O’Day will provide middle relief in an attempt to bridge the game to Shane Greene, Chris Martin, A.J. Minter, Will Smith and Mark Melancon. I named seven relievers you would probably trust in a big postseason spot just in one sentence there. It’s a whole new world from Chad Sobotka being asked to retire Manny Machado in a one-run game.

The starting pitching is what it is, and “it” is not good enough. Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson have 22 career big league starts combined, and very well might be lined up for games 2-4 of the NLDS if the Braves can survive the first round. The onus is going to be on Brian Snitker to get creative, but that’s hardly been uncommon for managers in recent years.

Joe Maddon realized he didn’t have enough relievers he could rely on in 2016, so his solution was to ride Aroldis Chapman in a way no closer has ever been in the modern era. AJ Hinch had the same issue in 2017, and he decided that using starters in long relief was the solution with Brad Peacock and Lance McCullers Jr. getting relief work. Alex Cora and Dave Martinez both decided to overcome deficient pitching depth by using superstar starting pitchers in one-inning relief spots with Chris Sale and Patrick Corbin both periodically showing up late in games.

Snitker is going to have to come up with something. It’ll be a very short postseason stay if he can’t figure out a way to cover the starting pitching holes with his surplus of talented relievers. There’s a scenario where the Braves don’t get their usual gem from Fried in game one next Wednesday, and then are immediately eliminated when two rookies can’t pull out two wins in two days to turn the series around.

There’s also a scenario where this scorching hot lineup stays scorching hot. Where the young pitchers can pull off a five and dive scenario every night and give the bullpen a chance to lock it down. Where getting to play the NLDS in a very hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park works as an advantage for the construction of this roster. And maybe they win a series. Maybe one of the other National League juggernauts trips up in a short series. Perhaps the road to the World Series that breaks favorably.

Maybe neither the first or the second scenario will come to pass, and something off the radar will happen this October. It would hardly be off brand for how the 2020 season has gone.

But the Braves are NL East champions for a third straight season. That means they have a chance, and right now that’s all they need. A chance.

Braves get Good News

In an interview, Anthopoulos reiterated the point but sounded skeptical about Fried being 100%. Time will tell.

Braves Lineup

Austin Riley sits for the 2nd straight day which isn’t tell until it is. This game might not happen anyway but that’s no good either because it means it would likely be made up on Monday. Ugh.

12 thoughts on “Looking back at the Season and Ahead to October (and Game Thread)”

  1. If you’re bored, listen to the latest 3 flags flying pod.

  2. Back in the last thread – on the discussion about whether 4 $6M players was better than 1 $24M player – I think you have to have more perspective. If you have several $500K players (i.e. pre-arb types) that project as stars or sign your best stars to long term cheap contracts, then you can add the 1 $24M player and have a real impact. If you’re trying to do a full rebuild in one year, then 4 $6M players might be better.

    Already the Braves have spent the 1 x $24M type of expense on one year contracts two years in a row. If that continues for 10 years then you’ve bought the equivalent of a 10y $20M player. The biggest problem with the Harper/Machado type contract is concentrating risk. But if you bring in a Greg Maddux then the cost is irrelevant; he makes any contract look cheap. The Braves have positioned themselves to be able to bring in the one big FA to get over the top.

  3. I’m guessing Riley had been playing hurt, after hearing Snitker comments after clinching and Riley being out for 2 games in a row.
    I really hope they can get this game in, win or lose.

  4. Hard to take the performance of either team incredibly seriously, but Anderson has looked fantastic so far.

  5. That was a really terrible relay to home. They should have had a play at the plate. Man, the defense has been awful this inning.

  6. Garbage defense by hechavarria on the dropped ball and albies on the relay throw.
    Too long a leash on anderson as well, those last 2 strikeouts both happened while he was missing his location considerably.

    The ump is missing strikes consistently, but is that really noteworthy?

  7. I guess tonight ain’t our night.

    By the way, on the radio just now, Ben Ingram was commenting about Tomlin’s facial hair and asking Joe if he ever did anything crazy with his facial hair. Joe replied that it was “kind of hard for an Indian,” so no.

    I knew Joe was from Oklahoma but I never knew he was Native American. Did we know that before?

  8. Midnight came and went and it was hard to grudge the Fish their single win after the three we took and needed. In the main they seem a plus bunch of guys and they play good ball. We’ll be seeing plenty of them in meaningful games the next few years.

    Meanwhile it’s probably right not to get too picky on our guys, the ones with four errors. Ian was great, over 100 pitches and seemed to be enjoying himself apart from the way it ended with the unfortunate splintered bat affair. Acuna had one of those games where I end up shouting at the TV but…you know. Minter’s control seems to be regressing, stop it. Good night, that was still fun.

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