I picked the Braves to beat the Phillies in four. Why wouldn’t you pick the team that won 14 more games than its opponent? Was I shocked? No. This is October baseball. Nothing is shocking. To suggest this reversal proves the Braves are intrinsically flawed is to ignore a glaring truth: They won the 2021 World Series with a record not dissimilar to Philadelphia’s.
Yes, they allowed Freddie Freeman to leave, but Freeman’s Dodgers fell in an even bigger upset. L.A. finished 22 games ahead of San Diego; the Dodgers were 14-5 against the Padres. Didn’t matter.
The Braves were undone by their starting pitching. Max Fried wasn’t himself in Game 1, the same Fried who hadn’t yielded a run in Houston on that glorious night of Nov. 2, 2021. Was Fried feeling the effects of a lingering flu? Maybe. Did he tell his manager he was too weak to go? No.
The Braves chose Spencer Strider to start Game 3 in Citizens Bank Park. That was a mild surprise, at least to me. Strider is a rookie; he was coming off an oblique issue. Charlie Morton is 38 and has a postseason pedigree. The Braves picked Strider over Morton because the younger man has electric stuff. Strider was gone in the third inning. The next day, after taking a liner off his elbow, Morton was likewise gone in the third.
Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley went 3-for-31 with 12 strikeouts. Their outfield contrived to play a ball off the wall into an inside-the-park home run by catcher J.T. Realmuto. Only Matt Olson and Travis d’Arnaud, who had four of the Braves’ five homers and 10 of their 13 RBIs, did much hitting. Michael Harris was 1-for-14. Eddie Rosario, the 2021 NLCS MVP, was 0-for-8.
If this happens over a four-game series in June, you shrug and say, “Who do they play next?” In October, there is no next. The Phillies weren’t better than the Braves – weren’t even close – over 162 games. The Phillies were better than the Braves – and not just by a little – over four games.
It’s disappointing, sure. These Braves were good enough to win the World Series. So were the Dodgers, who’ve made the playoffs 10 years running, prevailing only in COVID-shortened 2020. Sometimes you win it all when maybe you shouldn’t, which is why the Braves’ triumph of 2021 set off such glee. Sometimes you don’t when you should. As they say in baseball, that’s baseball.
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