Braves looking to win their first playoff series in 18 years

When the Braves last won a playoff series, Ronald Acuna was 3 years old, Turner Field was four years old, AOL Time Warner owned the team, and Brian Snitker was manager of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

It has been 18 long years.

The Braves last advanced in the playoffs when they swept the Houston Astros in a 2001 National League Division Series. Since then, the Braves have lost nine consecutive postseason rounds, the second longest such streak in MLB history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only one longer is by the Chicago Cubs, who lost 10 consecutive postseason series from the 1910 World Series through the 1998 NLDS.

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When Snitker was reminded that he was managing in the Carolina League in the year the Braves last won a playoff series, he admitted surprise at how long it has been.

"Yeah, really, it is (surprising), for all the ones we've been in," said Snitker, the Braves' manager since mid-May 2016 and a member of the organization for 43 years. "My last year at Myrtle Beach — that was a while ago. Golly, there you go, I was feeling good about myself until (you mentioned that). Now, I feel old."

The Braves’ postseason losses have gotten old.

An organization known for its 14 consecutive division championships from 1991-2005 has become known also for its 18 years since winning a playoff series.

On Thursday at SunTrust Park, the Braves will open the NLDS with an enthusiastic, energetic team that has the potential to write its own new chapter of postseason history.

Catcher Brian McCann, with the Braves when they were quickly ousted from the playoffs in 2005, 2010, 2012 and 2013, rejoined the team this season after a five-year absence and is as optimistic as anyone about this group's postseason chances.

“We’re ready,” said McCann, who was on the Houston team that won the 2017 World Series. “We’ve got it all covered. We’ve got guys that want the big moment. When you get into the postseason, you need the guys that when the lights shine the brightest, they show up. This team has a bunch of those kinds of guys.”

The Braves’ postseason slump started in the 2001 NL Championship Series, when they were eliminated in five games by the Arizona Diamondbacks. That was followed by Division Series losses to the San Francisco Giants in 2002, to the Cubs in 2003, to the Astros in 2004 and 2005, to the Giants in 2010 and to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013 and 2018. And there was a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2012 wild-card game.

Over the course of those nine postseason rounds, the Braves played 37 playoff games, winning 11 and losing 26. That’s a .297 winning percentage.

In seven of those nine postseasons, the Braves lost the deciding game on their home field, including NLDS Game 5 losses at Turner Field in 2002, 2003 and 2004. There also was the painful loss at Turner Field in the 2012 NL wild-card game, long lamented in Atlanta for the wildly controversial infield-fly call in left field. And there was the excruciating 4-3 loss at Dodger Stadium in the deciding Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS, when the Braves opted not to use closer Craig Kimbrel to protect a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning.

Mark DeRosa was a 26-year-old utilityman on the last Braves team to win a playoff series. Now he’s 44 and well into his post-playing career as an MLB Network analyst.

“That kind of shocks me,” DeRosa said of the Braves’ 18-year wait for a postseason series win. “Especially since all I remember, honestly, is just going to the postseason every year and how, the longer I was there, we didn’t want to fully celebrate the division titles because they were coming at such an epic rate.”

Winning early-round playoff series was so routine for the Braves at the turn of the century that “I couldn’t even tell you who we beat in ’01,” DeRosa said in an interview last week.

Heck, it has been so long that the team the Braves beat in the 2001 NLDS, Houston, no longer is in the National League. The Astros moved to the American League in 2013.

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MLB introduced the Division Series in 1995, and the Braves dominated the event for a while. They won the best-of-five NLDS in four games in 1995, in three-game sweeps in 1996, 1997 and 1998 and in four games in 1999. The Braves also won the NLCS five times in the 1990s and won the World Series in 1995.

The Braves haven’t gotten back to the World Series since 1999, when they were swept by the Yankees, or back to the NLCS since the 2001 series against the Diamondbacks.

There’s no reason to believe any of that history will have any bearing on this postseason.

In fact, of the current Braves, only McCann, first baseman Freddie Freeman and pitcher Julio Teheran were in the playoffs with the team before last season.

Freeman, on the Braves’ teams that lost in the 2012, 2013 and 2018 postseasons, acknowledged he’s aware of the history. But he said most of his teammates don’t think about it at all.

That rings true to DeRosa, who played part or all of 16 seasons in the big leagues for eight teams and remembers contemplating only one of his team’s playoff histories.

“The only time was with the Cubs, just because that narrative was pushed down your throat so much,” DeRosa said. “It was really the only time you went into a postseason saying to yourself, ‘Wait a minute, this is bigger than just this Division Series. This means stuff to, like, grandmas and grandpas that are not even here anymore.’”

The Cubs won their first postseason series since 1908 when they beat the Braves in the 2003 NLDS. DeRosa was with the Cubs in 2007 and 2008, when they were swept in the NLDS both years. In 2016, the Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years.

The Braves approach this postseason convinced they’re ready to win in October.

Relaxing in the dugout at SunTrust Park several hours before the next-to-last home game of the regular season, Snitker said: “Our first goal was to win the East, and we did, but I think that’s not good enough. These guys know we’re capable of a lot more than that. The goal now is the big prize.”



A look at the Braves’ past nine playoff rounds:

Year / Round / Opponent / Series result

2018 / NL Division Series / Dodgers / L, 3-1

2013 / NL Division Series / Dodgers / L, 3-1

2012 / NL wild-card game / Cardinals / L, 1-0

2010 / NL Division Series / Giants / L, 3-1

2005 / NL Division Series / Astros / L, 3-1

2004 / NL Division Series / Astros / L, 3-2

2003 / NL Division Series / Cubs / L, 3-2

2002 / NL Division Series / Giants / L, 3-2

2001 / NL Championship Series / Diamondbacks / L, 4-1

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