2. Given the aggregation of youngish players on long-term contracts, this organization shouldn’t have peaked.
Again, we emphasize caution. When the Cubs won in 2016, a decade of dominance seemed at hand. They haven’t reached another World Series, and now they’re rebuilding. The Astros are stuck where the Braves of the ‘90s were – on a great run but only one Series title. The Dodgers are bound for an 11th postseason in succession; their one title came in COVID-shortened 2020.
The Braves have played their way back into the tournament, which really is all a team can do over the six-month regular season. They won’t sneak up on anybody in these playoffs. They should be one of four 100-game winners. FanGraphs gives four teams a better than 10% chance of winning it all, the Braves among them. (No team, not even the Dodgers, is afforded more than a 17.1% chance. The playoffs, as you’ve heard, are a crapshoot.)
Credit these Braves for consolidating the gains of October 2021. Even without Freddie Freeman, this is a batting order without real holes. (Though Matt Olson has lately done little.) They have enough starting pitching. Recent fears about Kenley Jansen notwithstanding, this is among baseball’s best bullpens. They might have to beat the Mets and Dodgers to reach the World Series, but somebody will have to beat the Braves, too.
The Nationals, who haven’t beaten many people, beat the Braves 3-2 on Wednesday. Ahead 2-0, the home team stopped hitting. Jesse Chavez threw a 1-2 change-up that Joey Meneses hit a mile to put the Nats in front. A 12-pitch Dansby Swanson at-bat ended with him striking out into a double play. On Michael Harris’ eighth-inning single, third-base coach Ron Washington flashed a late stop sign that Austin Riley obeyed; William Contreras, alas, had nowhere to go but backward into a key out.
Said manager Brian Snitker: “As a base runner, you’ve got to focus on the guy in front of you, nowhere else. … We can control our base running.”
Ah, well. The Braves were 13-4 in September. They had won 11 of 12 against Washington. They were due a clunker.
Back to the bigger picture. Last year’s Braves won 11 postseason games without Ronald Acuña. He’s back. Harris and Spencer Strider will finish 1-2, or 2-1, in Rookie of the Year voting. Vaughn Grissom’s arrival came a year or two ahead of schedule, but he’s a keeper. Contreras played almost no role in last year’s autumnal run; he’ll be a huge part of this one. Kyle Wright worked two games, both in relief, in the 2021 postseason; he’s on the verge of his 20th win.
It wasn’t until they beat L.A. in Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS that Snitker believed last year’s Braves could go the distance. After what happened then, and what has been happening these past four months, he has a better feeling about this team.
“I have confidence in these guys,” he said. “Even when a guy’s not going great, you know there’s something really good on (the) back end. These guys have been through the wars enough. There’s not going to be any panic in them. They know what we’re capable of doing.”
They’re capable of winning it all. They did last year. This team is better than that one.