The Braves can do this. They will do this

10/31/21 - Atlanta - Atlanta Braves fans react during the bottom of the ninth inning trailing the Houston Astros four runs in game 5 of the World Series at Truist Park, Sunday, October 31, 2021, in Atlanta. The Astros won game 5, 9-5. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
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10/31/21 - Atlanta - Atlanta Braves fans react during the bottom of the ninth inning trailing the Houston Astros four runs in game 5 of the World Series at Truist Park, Sunday, October 31, 2021, in Atlanta. The Astros won game 5, 9-5. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Remember the team that couldn’t get above .500? If that team can play .500 ball over the next two games, it will be a champion. There’s your sunny thought for the day.

OK, here’s another. That team will have its best remaining starting pitchers ready on full rest. Meaning: no more bullpen games.

And one more. The least devastated folks at Truist Park when Sunday’s Game 5 ended – which, after four hours, was technically on Monday, technically in November – were the Braves themselves. They’d lost a game. It happens. For them, it wasn’t an elimination game. It would have been great to end this at home and let the parade planners go to work. (Being based in Cobb County, would their procession begin at the Big Chicken?)

The pragmatic side of the Braves – pro athletes are nothing if not pragmatic – knew that winning consecutive games with unproven-to-say-the-least starting pitchers was too much to ask. Charlie Morton suffered a broken fibula in Game 1. Huscar Ynoa was shelved with a sore shoulder during the National League Championship Series, which seems months ago. Drew Smyly cannot be trusted. Someday our great-grandchildren will ask, “Why did Dylan Lee and Tucker Davidson start Games 4 and 5 of the World Series?” There’s why.

Said Braves manager Brian Snitker: “When we won (Game 4), it made it easier, I guess, coming into this one, but we knew it was going to be tough. That’s just a lot of innings to cover.”

The Braves were hoping Davidson could give them 70 pitches. He made it to 53. Of the 11 batters he faced, three walked; two got hits. His night was compromised when Dansby Swanson fumbled Jose Altuve’s grounder in the third, but the game changed when Alec Bregman – who was 1-for-14 in the Series, prompting Dusty Baker to drop him from third to seventh in the order – doubled home the Astros’ first run. Martin Maldonado’s sacrifice fly yielded the second.

After Adam Duvall’s first-inning grand slam, a shutdown inning would have consolidated gains. That their lead was halved by the time the Braves batted again was sobering. That it was gone by the bottom of the third told us that a game going their way no longer was, even after Freddie Freeman’s monstrous home run put them back in front, albeit briefly.

Said Astros shortstop Carlos Correa of the second inning: “That was the key to us winning the game right there, bouncing back right away, those two runs, Bregman getting the huge double. … From the moment we scored those two runs, we said, ‘All right, it’s time to go. Let’s fight. Let’s battle.’ "

The Astros can be streaky. They managed an aggregate four runs in their Games 1, 3 and 4 losses. Credit the Braves’ pitching for much of that, but this is a team that led the majors in runs and batting average and was second in OPS. This is also a team playing in its third World Series over five seasons. You really don’t want such an assemblage to get going.

That said, this is baseball, where momentum is – or is supposed to be – tomorrow’s starting pitcher. Fried had the sport’s lowest ERA after the All-Star Game. He’s capable of ending this in Game 6. Should Game 7 be required, the Astros will be still be seeking their first hit against Anderson. Baker deployed Jose Urquidy, his presumptive Game 6 starter, for an inning Sunday. Luis Garcia, the other remaining starter, lasted 3-2/3 innings in Game 3. It would be no great shock if Zack Greinke, who’s 38 but who worked four scoreless innings in Game 4, reappears soon. Ahead of Games 6/7, the Astros mirror the Braves heading into Games 4/5.

Not closing out the Series at home didn’t trouble Snitker much. “I’ll take it anywhere,” he said. “I don’t care where.” When first the Braves saw Minute Maid Park in 2021, they led 5-0 after three innings. That was in Game 1. They’re about to play Game 6, and here we do the If-I’d-told-you thing again.

If, at any point over the season’s first four months, I’d have told you the .500-or-worse Braves would be bound for Houston needing to win once in two games to become champions, would you have taken it? Sure you would – once you stopped laughing. Well, here they are, and it’s no joke. There’s still one win, but only one win, to go. They can do this. They will do this.

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