NLCS Preview: This is the way it has to be

This is the way it has to be, but you already knew that. Maybe you didn’t want to admit it, but deep down you knew.

You had optimistic visions about a path to the World Series that might avoid Los Angeles. Ideas in your mind about the Brewers catching lightning in a bottle for a best-of-three turned into dreams of the Padres riding an emotional wave into the NLCS before that finally turned into “oh no, it’s them.”

Yeah, it’s them.

Again.

The team where arguably the greatest pitcher of this generation isn’t even the staff ace, and where the 2019 NL MVP is batting sixth most nights.

They have a look of invincibility that just might be justified. The Dodgers are 48-17 in 65 games this season including the postseason, otherwise known as a pace of 120-42 across 162 games. And just to chuck one more log onto the fire, the Dodgers are 12-5 against the Braves over the last three seasons. The mere presence of the Dodgers in the other dugout might be enough to make you go “well, we had a good run.” and significantly lower your expectations for the series. I wouldn’t blame you at all.

But this is the way it has to be.

Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls lost three years in a row to the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs from 1988-1990. Of course they had to beat the Pistons before finally winning their first championship in 1991. The Boston Red Sox spent eight decades trying to knock the New York Yankees down a peg, including failed attempts in playoff series losses in 1999 and 2003. The Red Sox team that broke the Curse of the Bambino had to beat the Yankees four times in four days to get to the World Series. At every turn, the pinstripes were there.

For better or worse, the Dodgers have always been that team for this franchise.

The best era of Braves baseball until the 90s ran directly into the Dodgers twice. Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn led the Milwaukee Braves to four consecutive years either winning the pennant or coming within a game of it from 1956-1959. It only netted one World Series title though; the 1956 team finished one game behind the Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1959 team lost a tiebreaker series to the Dodgers in their second season after moving out west.

That was the way it had to be in Milwaukee, and it stayed true in Atlanta. On August 23rd, the Dodgers and Braves were two parts of a five-way battle for the NL division. The Braves went 20-6 over their final 26 to take the division, while the Dodgers tumbled into fourth place with a 12-19 finish. That particular Braves team was able to meet the challenge and win the first ever NL West title.

It took all 162 games to settle the matter when Dale Murphy‘s Braves got a shot at contention in 1982, but the Braves—who trailed by three games with 10 to play—rallied past the Dodgers to win the division on the final day of the season. The key game there was a 4-3 win at Dodger Stadium in 12 innings. The ‘82 Braves passed the Dodger test, and were rewarded with a division title. The ‘83 Braves didn’t. Those Braves had six series against the Dodgers that season, and Los Angeles won five of them. The difference in the division ended up being three games.

The most dramatic, improbable, downright incredible summer in Atlanta baseball history was almost ruined by Los Angeles. The Braves turned a 9.5-game NL West deficit around, lost the lead to the Dodgers again in the final week, but reclaimed it for the first of 14 consecutive division titles.

That was the year that changed everything; the pivot point from a quarter century of losing in Atlanta to the start of the streak. It was only right that team had to overcome the Dodgers to make it possible.

The 1996 team made short work of the test in their first playoff series as defending champs, sweeping the Dodgers. At that point, Los Angeles must have been wondering when it would get a chance to beat the seemingly invincible Braves.

2013, apparently. The best team of the Fredi Gonzalez era ran into the same team squad that every Braves team from Hank Aaron’s through to Bobby Cox’s did at one crucial point or another.

Freddie Freeman was around for that series, as was Clayton Kershaw. The Braves didn’t answer the bell, Gonzalez didn’t ask anyone in the bullpen to answer the phone, and that was that. Not only for 2013, but for that team’s window to contend. The Dodgers slammed the door shut and ushered in the doldrums of the rebuild—even if we didn’t know it immediately.

And who was there waiting for the first postseason series after a rebuild that featured everything from a general manager getting banned from baseball to a stretch of 162 games with a 53-109 record?

The Dodgers, of course. Because that was the way it had to be.

The Braves were overmatched in the 2018 NLDS, and the 3-1 series loss kind of flatters them. They scored eight runs in 36 innings, and four of them came on one swing of the bat. That team wasn’t ready, and it was pretty clear.

Is this team ready? We don’t know yet. That’s for this week in Arlington to determine. But we do know one thing.

If the Braves were ever going to do anything, the Dodgers would be involved. The first pennant in 21 years is going to have to come via beating the Dodgers four times out of seven. There is no path to winning a ring or having a (socially distanced) parade down Peachtree Street without getting through Los Angeles. Everything you want to see this team accomplish, the Dodgers are trying to stop it. But that’s the way it’s always been, even since before the Braves were the Atlanta Braves.

There’s nowhere to run, there’s nowhere to hide.

This is the way it has to be.

31 thoughts on “NLCS Preview: This is the way it has to be”

  1. Thank you.

    Watched a beautiful game of baseball last night, reduced to its bare elements, which made me believe if the Rays can do that to the Yanks we can beat the Dodgers.

    2-1 Rays. Very few hits in the game, all scoring via 3 solo home runs, one each middle innings. Cole all the way for NY, Rays bullpenning. Rays got their second bottom of the 8th, much drama.

    How are the mighty fallen.

  2. Hell yeah! If we want to be the champions, we gotta beat the Dodgers. So let’s go beat ’em.

  3. Thanks, Alan. Those of us who remember all those years when a lack of clout consigned us to the Western Division remember the Dodgers as THE nemesis. But it is no more hopeless than it was when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

  4. Covid note.

    If you or your spouse go to have flu shots and in particular shingles shots then beware of what is possible to be a false positive the following day with the two most common covid symptoms, fever/cough. Panic stations for us till midday when everything cleared up. It was the shots, almost certainly.

    by the way, surprise, surprise…I AM NOT A DOCTOR!

  5. Oh, gosh, that’s scary. My dad had shingles a few years ago and it’s a weird one, total camouflage — its symptoms look like so many different things. So glad all’s well that ended well!

  6. I think both teams are dreading the potential state of their bullpen by Game 4-5. Julio Urias is a much better fourth starter than whatever we’ve got, and that’s not even to mention Tony Gonsolin. But we’ve got a deeper pen. As long as we can avoid leaving guys in to get overexposed — Ynoa, Tomlin, and whoever else will be tasked with throwing multiple innings in any of these game — we’ve got way more options to get from the sixth inning to the ninth inning that just about any team in baseball.

    This is the way. Step inside.

  7. You know of the huge potential to get it wrong with a small 60 game sample, I think the Braves and Dodgers are the two best NL teams and that would be true in 60 games or 162 games. On the AL side, Houston is a little suspect, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them play a lot better in the last 60% of a 162 game season and end up as the 2nd best team.

    On the NLCS, I’m afraid the Dodgers are the better team but the Braves have a good shot. We definitely need Freeman and Acuna to have a much better series and I think Fried’s game 1 will be huge. Unfortunately I don’t think Wright would have made it 4 innings against the Dodgers.

  8. I could foresee a situation where both Fried and Ian start on short rest.

    Also, I think in order for the Braves to win this series, they have to be 2-1 after 3.

  9. I wonder if Flowers will get any starts, or if they try to ride d’Arnaud through a potential seven games? If d’Arnaud might DH a game, I’d like to see them add Contreras back to the roster.

  10. Yeah, it was always gonna be the Dodgers. We blew our shot to have a path to the World Series that didn’t feature them last year, there was no way that was gonna happen again. Having said all that, I say bring ’em on. There are advantages here, such as their home-field advantage being nullified and not having to endure multiple 5-hour flights in the course of a week and the resultant jetlag whiplash. Also, I go back and forth as to which team benefits most (or probably suffers least, more to the point) from the seven-day-in-a-row schedule, but it really might be us.

    Also, we’re finally allowed to be on primetime TV! Game 1 of the NLCS is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. Eastern on Monday! MLB hasn’t declared yet, but I would guess that they’ll rotate the ALCS and NLCS back and forth for the primetime slot. Perhaps not, though, as Fox Sports got the short end of the stick during the Division Series, with the Yankees-Rays series on TBS constantly in primetime. If they do rotate, though, our non-primetime games should be at 4 p.m. Eastern, so our entirely-within-the-workday games should be done.

  11. Having lived overseas for much of the time 1986-2013, I’m culturally ignorant, but I thought “This is the way it has to be” was a Harry Potter reference. From your picture, I guess it’s not.

    From the book discussion in the last thread, in one of Bill James’ Abstracts he wrote about reading Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 and being amazed at how many mistakes there were. He said it made him wonder about the accuracy of Halberstam’s other books, like The Best and the Brightest.

    Two of my favorite books about the Braves are Chop to the Top by Richard Sink (the ’91 season as told by Skip and Pete and Don) and The Braves’ First Fifteen Years in Atlanta by J. Hudson Couch (odd but interesting). The non-Braves division includes the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times, Ed Linn’s Veeck as in Wreck, and Marvin Miller’s A Whole Different Ballgame. Second string would include Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, Larry Tye’s Satchel, G. H. Fleming’s The Unforgettable Season, and Arthur Johnson’s Minor League Baseball and Local Economic Development.

  12. “The Glory of Their Times” is really special. It is, of all baseball books, my favorite, bar none.

  13. I’ve had a copy of Tim Wendel’s book about the 1991 World Series, Down to the Last Pitch, on my shelf for some time now without having picked it up, so I guess I’ve been afraid of getting my heart broken again? Wendel’s book Summer of ’68, which chronicled the amazing AL playoff race that year, was an excellent read. I just have to buck up.

  14. As much as I enjoy & respect Bill James’ work & studies on baseball, I’d sidestep his assessment of “The Best & the Brightest.” IMO, that’s his occasionally annoying contrarian nature at work.

    Yes, “The Glory of Their Times” & “When the Grass Was Real” (its sequel, of sorts) are great looks at early 20th-century baseball. Each chapter is a different ballplayer & loads of fun to read.

  15. @9

    Can’t disagree with your stated need for Freeman and Acuna to be significantly more productive at the plate. Ronald needs to be sat down and told he allowed his own ego to minimize his production against the Fish – and ultimately shown how selfish that was and must not be repeated.

    But I happily disagree with your concerns re Kyle Wright and his ability to go four against them. I refer you again to Ron Darling – ‘the best breaking stuff I’ve seen this season.’ that’s profound for me, the source is impeccable and, so far, he’s been proven exactly Wright.

    They haven’t seen him so I’m tempted to reverse what you wrote, viz. I don’t think the Dodgers can go 4 against Wright. They’ll be befuddled the first time through the order. Second time through and we’ll be in the fifth inning!

    I’ll go with Timo. Braves in 6. And root for the Rays to smash the garbagecanners. That would make for a heck of a World Series.

  16. Is there existing technology currently available at a nonprohibitive price that would enable an old fool to record his ramblings while he rambles AND convert that captured wisdom into printed documents?

    Asking for a friend.

  17. On the book discussion, my favorite has been for some time John Helyar’s Lords of the Realm. It’s not specifically about the Braves but Ted Turner features prominently. Also really enjoyed Baseball in ’41 as was mentioned earlier. Gorgeous book. Right now I’m reading Creamer’s Stengel: His Life and Times. I know a good bit of baseball history, but I never knew what a good player Casey Stengel was. Multiple hits off Grover Cleveland Alexander and Walter Johnson and even Babe Ruth when he was still pitching. Really interesting read.

  18. @21 Indeed we are but what’s new.

    And, forgive me, who is this ‘old fool’ you are now introducing into your affairs who is so in need of this hi tech gadgetry. Are we seriously supposed to believe he exists outside of your proprietary life?

    C’mon, we all know who he is! He’s one of our very favorite people. Can we all buy the book when it comes out?!

  19. “Stealing Home” by Eric Nusbaum would be a good choice for Book of the Week — it details the lengths that The Powers That Were went to displacing the residents of several working class neighborhoods in order to build Chavez Ravine. Impressively detailed research and engaging writing.

  20. My wife has a “talk to text” feature on her apple devices. I assume something similar is available for other formats as well.

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