MILWAUKEE – The Braves have beaten the odds even to be in this spot. Why would they think less of themselves now?

A common theme expressed during the Braves’ meetings with media Thursday in Wisconsin was confidence. The Braves don’t see a gap between themselves and the Brewers, their opponent in the National League Division Series. The teams were separated by seven games in the standings – 95 wins vs. 88 wins – but that means little in a best-of-five.

ExploreTimes set for all games in Braves-Brewers series

That’s not to undersell the Brewers, who boast a fearsome three-headed monster atop their rotation and Josh Hader, the game’s best reliever, at the back of their bullpen. The Braves like how they match up, whether it’s with Charlie Morton and Max Fried leading their rotation, a well-rounded group of relievers or a deep lineup that was restocked at the trade deadline and helped the Braves mash their way back to this stage.

“This year, I feel good,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I like where our bullpen is. I like our starting options. And we’ve been kind of playing on edge for a long time now.”

It almost was a year ago the Braves fell just short of their first World Series berth this millennium. They took the eventual champion Dodgers to seven games in the NL Championship Series. They were ousted, but it provided experience the team will lean on now.

These Braves are quite different from the 2020 club. But each of the July outfielders acquired has postseason experience. Adam Duvall was part of last year’s Braves run. Jorge Soler was with the Cubs for two October runs, the latter of which resulted in a championship. Eddie Rosario had three postseason appearances with Minnesota. Joc Pederson, a long-time Dodger, knows nothing but playing in meaningful games.

In fact, every core player on the Braves has played in at least one postseason series. They’re individuals who won’t be struck by the pressure or atmosphere. The franchise has come a long way from its feel-good playoff berth in 2018. These Braves boast MLB’s longest active run of division titles with four consecutive NL East championships.

“We have the expectation to win now,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “In 2018, we just surprised everyone. We were just happy to be there again after going through a rebuild. In ‘19, it just didn’t work out for us. In ‘20, Ronald (Acuna) was a little banged up. Ozzie (Albies) was a little banged up. But we still got one game from the World Series.

“This year, even though we lost Ronald in July, we played with the group we have for the last two months. It’s been a whole different team. We’ve (had a) .630, .640 winning percentage. It’s just a whole different outlook for us and how we go forward the way we finished.”

Milwaukee was swept by the Dodgers during the expanded wild-card round in 2020. But they were in the NLCS as recently as 2018. Some of the key players for the current Brewers were part of that club, which also took the Dodgers to a Game 7.

The Braves will enter Friday’s Game 1 a more seasoned bunch, though. They eliminated the Reds and Marlins – two teams short on postseason experience – last October. They gave the Dodgers all they could handle at a neutral site (Arlington, Texas). They’ll be re-introduced to the challenge of playing in front of opposing fans Friday.

“It’s going to be loud,” Freeman said. “Some of the guys didn’t get to experience it last year. Texas, we only had like 10,000 people. But a lot of these guys have played in Dodger Stadium during the playoffs (2018). I don’t think it gets much louder than that, 50-plus thousand. It can be deafening. When you get that experience, you can stay the same. You don’t have to get all emotional. When you experience it once, it’s only going to help you out going forward.

“It’s going to be loud (Friday) at the beginning of that game. If you can just -- I know how loud this is. We’ve already done that. You just stay the same. Don’t let your emotions get out of whack and go. Because your emotions are going to be going all over the place. It’s the first one that can calm it down and get going. When you have Charlie Morton, whose emotions never go above a certain degree, I think it’s good for us.”

This will be considered the “other” series in the NL bracket, drawing much less coverage than the long-awaited Dodgers-Giants series on the other side. That’s how the Braves and Brewers would each prefer it, as both have operated largely under the radar during their division-title campaigns.

Pundits peg this a close matchup. As with any tight series, it boils down to who makes the plays in the crucial spots – a timely two-out hit, a pitch to escape a jam, a shrewd pinch-hit decision by the manager, a lucky break or two.

In those defining moments, the Braves will have experience on which to draw. They believe that could help push them back to the NLCS.

“We’ve been in that arena for four years,” Snitker said. “A game away from the World Series last year. It helps. It helps that there are a lot of unknowns that the players have uncovered. … And we talked about it last week, these guys haven’t known anything but playing meaningful games in September (leading into October), which is really good.

“As a group, they’re confident in what they’re getting ready to experience. There’s not as many unknowns. I feel really good about where our club is in that respect.”

About the Author

ajc.com

Editors' Picks