You can spin this however you want it. Actually, you can spin it however your brain will allow you to. That might be a more accurate depiction of the situation.
For almost the entire postseason, there has been nothing but positive things to think after the game. You can’t find anything bad to say about a shutout win or an offensive explosion. The Braves have won eight games, and you probably felt great after all eight. And the one loss, well, it was 15-0 in the third inning. Not much positive to find there.
But this right here? You’ve got a nice little fork in the road for your mindset as a fan. Probably for the first time all October, there are legitimately two ways you can take this.
There is a whole lot to feel good about right now. Even despite the 7-3 loss tonight that saw the series lead shrink to 3-2, the Braves really couldn’t have teed this up any better.
If I had told you before the series started that the Braves would need one win from a fully rested Max Fried and one win from a fully rested Ian Anderson to win the pennant, you would have taken that deal before I even finished the deal. And somehow it’s even better than that, because the Braves only need a win from one of them.
There is nobody you would rather have out there for the biggest Braves game of the 21st century than Fried. He outdueled Trevor Bauer down in game one of the Wild Card Round and didn’t blink. Heck, he already went toe-to-toe with Walker Buehler in game one of the NLCS.
Fried is the biggest reason the Braves are even here. He carried the rotation on his back for two months after Mike Soroka’s injury, just waiting for the cavalry to come relieve him even a little bit. This is the guy who will probably finish in the top five in NL Cy Young voting, and he gets to take the ball with a chance to slam the door. There are many worse positions to be in.
Not only that, but Buehler hasn’t gone longer than five innings in any of his three postseason outings this season. In all likelihood, the Dodgers are going to have to dip into their bullpen tomorrow.
The same bullpen the Braves tattooed for 16 runs in the first five games of the series. The same bullpen that might be missing Brusdar Graterol after he pitched two straight days and had to use Blake Treinen for two innings tonight. A fairly beleaguered unit the Braves have had good success against so far will need to cover a lot of the game tomorrow.
Huascar Ynoa will probably be able to return to the fold for the Braves tomorrow after back-to-back off days. Chris Martin and Mark Melancon both got a breather tonight in a bullpen game and should be available for at least an inning tomorrow. Darren O’Day has been the bridge man all season in the middle of the bullpen, and he hasn’t thrown a pitch since Tuesday.
When you take the last two days as a big picture game, a 1-1 split out of Bryse Wilson and a bullpen game is nothing to feel bad about. The middle of this series was always going to be the toughest part with the starting rotation being what it is, and the Braves managed to piece it together enough to get back to the top with the lead.
A lot of factors point to the Braves having an advantage in tomorrow’s game, and that’s not even taking into account the possibility to salvage the series on Sunday if Saturday doesn’t go according to plan. Objectively, there is a lot to feel good about right now.
But it’s still the Dodgers. And as long as the Dodgers are in the dugout, you’re never going to feel completely comfortable.
Corey Seager is going to hit several times tomorrow. His OPS for the series currently stands at a crisp 1.529, so the idea that the Braves might have to get him out in a big spot isn’t a very compelling thought. Max Muncy and Enrique Hernandez both have an OPS over 1.000 in this series. Mookie Betts is starting to get his legs moving again, and Cody Bellinger is capable of sending a baseball into the upper deck at any moment. The Braves will have to work around a lot of land mines tomorrow.
Buehler, even with his fairly mediocre postseason, is still Buehler. The Braves only picked up three hits against him in five game one innings. For as good as Fried is capable of being on his best day, Buehler has the ability to match him and then some.
And it’s hard not to look at tonight as a missed opportunity. The Braves led 2-0 early, and should have led 3-0 if not for a brutal baserunning mistake from Marcell Ozuna. They had a golden opportunity to deliver a hammer blow against Joe Kelly and let him off the hook. Will Smith was one strike away from escaping the sixth with a 2-1 lead on five occasions.
The Braves were 10 outs away from the pennant tonight.
Typically when you knock Goliath to the ground but let him live to get back up, bad things happen. Breathing a second life into an opponent like that is the first step on the road to disaster.
Remember game four of the 2018 NLDS against the Dodgers? When the Braves had the bases loaded with a 2-1 lead in the fifth, let Los Angeles off the hook by not scoring, and the Dodgers ripped off five unanswered runs to end the series?
It kind of feels like that, but in a broader, game-by-game sense as opposed to inning-by-inning within a game.
Of course, these Braves won’t be relying on Jonny Venters and Chad Sobotka to pick up the final 12 outs.
You might acknowledge all of the positive facts of the situation, but still be bracing for the worst. You might think the negative factors play more of a role than the positive ones, but still believe the Braves are going to find a way to win anyway.
One win away from slaying the dragon and reaching the pinnacle of the sport, two losses away from one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in franchise history. Enough things working in the right direction to believe in the former, but also enough forces pulling in the opposite direction to have you dreading the latter.
The teeter-totter between positivity and negativity is the most fragile it’s been all season, with one pitch ready to tip it in either direction.
One way or another, it’s going to move drastically again tomorrow.
Hold on tight.