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.
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.
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.