Bradley’s Buzz: Could the Braves lose in the playoffs? Yes. Will they? No

Braves players celebrate their win over the Phillies at Truist Park, Tuesday, September 19, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Braves players celebrate their win over the Phillies at Truist Park, Tuesday, September 19, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Being baseball’s best team is nice, but baseball doesn’t always, or even often, reward its best team. Over the 28 seasons since the wild card was incorporated, wild cards have won the World Series seven times. The team with the best record over the regular season has won it six times.

The Braves aren’t a lock to finish with the best record. With 11 games remaining, their lead over Baltimore is two games; they’re 3-1/2 ahead of the Dodgers. (They hold tiebreakers over both.) You’d like to have Game 7 of the WS at your place. Then again, the road team is 3-1 over the past four Game 7s.

FanGraphs assigns the Braves a 28.5% chance of winning it all. By baseball standards, that makes them prohibitive favorites. By mathematical standards, it means they have a 71.5% chance of not winning. The NFL and NBA aren’t like this; in those sports, the best team tends to prevail.

As precedent, we look to the Braves. In franchise annals – this dates to Milwaukee and Boston – eight teams have won 100-plus games. One was the 1898 Beaneaters, before there was a World Series. Of the most recent seven, all Atlanta-based, only one reached the Series, wherein they were swept by the Yankees.

Being the favorite in October is no fun. You’re supposed to win, but baseball Octobers are strewn with failed favorites. The Dodgers have won 104-plus games in four of the past six seasons; only in 2020, the COVID year when they went 43-17, were they World Series champs – and that team trailed the Braves 3-1 in the NLCS.

That was the October of Marcell Ozuna’s selfies, of fledglings Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson – remember him? – throwing outrageous games. In what could have been the closeout Game 5 against the Dodgers, A.J. Minter started and went three innings, striking out seven. It remains the lone start of his professional life.

The next October/November was wilder still. Joc Pederson wore pearls. Eddie Rosario turned into Willie Mays. Tyler Matzek turned into Mariano Rivera. After missing most of the NLCS with COVID, Jorge Soler hit home runs that put the Braves ahead to stay in Games 1, 4 and 6 of the World Series. The playoff team with the worst record – the team missing Ronald Acuna – hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy.

The Braves of 2020 and ‘21 played like underdogs because they were. What’s notable now is that this best-in-baseball bunch looks no different than its irrepressible predecessors. Ozuna and Rosario still are here. Acuna appears robust. This team has grasped how good it is, but it hasn’t forgotten how to have fun.

It’s possible these Braves will lose. It’s less possible they’ll lose because the pressure grows too great. These guys – from Acuna to Fried, from Riley to Albies, from Olson to Morton, from Harris to d’Arnaud – are unflappable. This franchise is riding a World Series win that shouldn’t have happened, a follow-up season that saw the reigning champ improve by 13 games, and now this.

Of the eight other NL teams in playoff range, the Braves hold a winning record against six, and they were 3-3 against Arizona. (The Cubs are the exception, against whom they went 1-2.) Against those eight, the Braves are 39-20. That’s a winning percentage of .661. The Braves’ winning percentage against everybody is .642.

Yeah, they got swept in Miami, but they were 9-1 against the Marlins before that. Yeah, the Phillies play them tough, but the Braves are 20-15 against Philly, last year’s NLDS upset included, over the past two seasons. This team holds no fear for anyone.

Can I see the Braves losing? To re-reiterate, there are no shocks in playoff baseball. Do I believe they’ll lose? No. They’re the best team. They’ve been the best team all year. You’d like their chances against anybody. You’d like their chances against everybody.

The above is part of a regular exercise available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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