‘Show them who we are’: Braves excited for Dodgers series that affects playoff seed

Braves outfielder Eddie Rosario (right) looks at upcoming batter Ozzie Albies and reacts to his three-run homer that proved to be the game winner while Braves fans erupt for the 4-1 lead over the Dodgers during the fourth inning in Game 6 of the NLCS on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Braves outfielder Eddie Rosario (right) looks at upcoming batter Ozzie Albies and reacts to his three-run homer that proved to be the game winner while Braves fans erupt for the 4-1 lead over the Dodgers during the fourth inning in Game 6 of the NLCS on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

LOS ANGELES – Ahead of a massive series between the Braves and Dodgers – one of the biggest remaining series in all of baseball – A.J. Minter can confidently say one thing as he reflects on the past.

“I don’t think we win the World Series in ‘21 if we didn’t have home-field advantage against the Dodgers,” he said.

When the Braves walk into Dodger Stadium on each of the four days this weekend, they will be playing for home-field advantage in the postseason – which is based on record. Barring a massive collapse, they will win a sixth straight National League East crown. But to maintain their cushion in the race for the top seed in baseball, they must hold off the Dodgers.

The Braves left Coors Field with a four-game lead over the Dodgers for the best record in baseball and, thus, home-field advantage in October.

The Braves treat each day as its own entity. It’s one reason they’ve been so successful. They don’t get caught looking too far ahead.

They can agree on this obvious point, though: Home-field advantage is important.

“Oh, it’s huge,” Austin Riley said. “You realized it in Philly last year (in the NLDS). That was a good crowd. That place was loud, electric. I think it definitely plays to (have) home-field advantage. Especially us at home, our fans are very passionate and it gets loud, they get into it. I definitely think it plays.”

“I think it’s good,” manager Brian Snitker said. “If you have your druthers, you’d rather have it. And if you don’t, you know what, you’re glad to be there, make do. But I think it’s good.”

Just look at 2021 NLCS: The Braves, who finished the regular season with 88 wins, hosted the mighty Dodgers, who won 106 games in a division with a team that won 107. Division winners received home-field advantage, and the Braves made it count by winning the first two games of the series in front of a raucous Truist Park crowd.

It set them up well for the rest of the series.

“Going to L.A., I think the mindset was, ‘If we can just get one in L.A. and bring it back home, I like our chances,’” Riley said. “We did that. Getting two there in Atlanta against the Dodgers, you couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”

The Braves, as you know, punched a ticket to the World Series by beating those Dodgers. Then they brought Atlanta a championship.

When the Braves left Coors Field after sweeping the Rockies, 30 games remained on their regular-season schedule. This has been a long and grueling season, like every one that preceded it. But there are some series that simply have extra juice.

This weekend is one of them.

Braves. Dodgers. The teams with the two best records in baseball. Dodger Stadium.

“I think coming in there and just setting the tone,” Minter said of the meaning of this series. “Just kind of coming on a good foot. Just setting the tone for the postseason. I don’t wanna look too far ahead to the postseason, but it is very crucial to come out there and get on a good foot, and just kind of show them we are who we say we are. We’re a good team this year, and so are they. I think us and the Dodgers are the two best teams in baseball right now. So, yeah, you wanna come in there and show them who we are.”

Added Riley: “You definitely get excited. Any time you play one of the best teams in the league, and four games at their place. It’s gonna be some loud games, and on the weekend. You’re gonna get probably a little taste of what October baseball is gonna be about.”

It might be a preview of a postseason series. The Braves are hot. The Dodgers have matched them recently. Both teams feature stars. There are tons of storylines – of course, Freddie Freeman will always be one of them.

The big-picture one might be this: Once an up-and-coming team, the Braves have reached baseball’s top tier. They no longer look up at the Dodgers. They are right there with Los Angeles.

“We’re definitely setting the tone as far as how to run an organization, and I think people want to be like us,” Minter said. “And we just have good guys in the locker room. There’s no secret formula. It’s just finding good guys that you want to play with every day, and we definitely have that here. It’s good to see that it’s starting to pay off.”

Since 2018, the Braves have ascended to juggernaut status. They used to hunt the top teams. Now the target is on their own backs.

In recent years, you have heard and read a lot about the Dodgers and Astros.

This season, the Braves seem to be garnering that attention. They aren’t surprising anyone.

They kept taking one step after another.

It took them to baseball’s upper echelon.

“I mean, they’ve proved it,” Snitker said. “They’ve been in all the highest-pressure situations that the game has to offer. All of these guys at a young age have been there. They’ve won a world championship, they’ve been National League champions, they’ve been to game sevens. There’s really not much that’s going to faze them because they’ve experienced all the high-level games that you could play in the sport.”

The Braves are proud of what they’ve accomplished since they lost to the Dodgers in the 2018 NLDS.

They also don’t believe they’re done. They don’t think the 2021 World Series was their peak.

They want more for Atlanta fans.

“It’s good just to give them something to root for now, because I know it’s been rough the past 20 years,” Minter said. “And here recently, I feel like we’re just now getting started. We can continue to keep doing something special for years to come. It’s always important to give back to Braves Country because they do so much for us.

“We definitely want to bring home another championship for them, because you can argue back (with) the late-90s Braves, they were obviously the standard in baseball back then, they were the best team. But they only walked away with one World Series. If you speak to anyone, that’s a disappointment for them. And for us to only walk away with one would be a disappointment for us as well, so we want to win another one.”

The Braves hope most of their postseason games are played at Truist Park. They understand home-field advantage is just that – an advantage. Especially at Truist Park, where the Braves feel the love.

“There’s always a storyline that goes along with a winning team,” Minter said. “There’s always something that drives a team outside of a locker room. There’s always a bigger picture in mind, as far as the city, your fan base. think Atlanta, they’ve went through so much heartbreak the past 20 years that they wanted a World Series so bad. For us to finally give that to them, hopefully it was worth it for them.”

This weekend is another series for the Braves. They still have all of September to play. They will soon clinch a postseason berth, and then will capture another division title.

These are only four games against the Dodgers.

Then again, if the series doesn’t go well, the Braves might find themselves in a dogfight for home-field advantage in the postseason.

“I mean, I definitely think you keep tabs on it, but at the same time, it’s more or less (that) we try to go out there and play every day for what it’s worth, and not try to look too far ahead or anything like that,” Riley said. “If you do that, you get caught up in those things and you lose focus in what’s in front of you and what’s going on right now. I don’t think (home-field advantage is) our number one priority, but I think you definitely keep an eye out on it.”

And this Dodgers series, for what it’s worth, is a small part of the larger picture.

The Braves might be focused on the day at hand, but they have World Series dreams. And their aspirations are realistic because they have the talent and depth to win it all, along with a terrific clubhouse environment.

And they want to do it all for Braves Country.

“There’s just always something that drives a team more than everyone in the locker room,” Minter said. “It’s more than just a sport.”

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