Braves can breathe after finally breaking postseason drought

100120 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker (left) tips his hat to the few family members and employees in the stands leaving the field after defeating the Cincinnati Reds 5-0 in Game 2 of the National League wild card playoff series Thursday, Oct 1, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta. The Braves advanced to the division series. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The celebration was appropriately muted. The Braves want to win more than just a wild-card series. Yet it was silly to talk much about that until they won a series of any kind.

The Braves hadn’t done that since sweeping the Astros in the 2001 National League Division Series. They lost their next 10 postseason series. The Braves finally ended that streak by closing out the Reds with a 5-0 victory Thursday in Game 2 of their wild-card series.

“Now maybe we can put that behind us and go ahead,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who’s been part of the organization since the 1970s.

The Braves don’t yet know if they’ll face the Cubs or Marlins in the neutral-site NLDS in Houston. The Marlins won Game 1 of their wild-card round. Game 2 was postponed Thursday because of threatening weather. After so many years of bitter endings, the Braves will get to relax and wait for the next round.

Snitker regularly points out that hardly any current players were around for most of those series losses. But most of these Braves were there in October for the 26 minutes of misery in the NLDS. The deciding Game 5 essentially was over once the Cardinals scored 10 runs in the first inning. The Braves won another NL East title this year, returned to the postseason and changed their story.

All-Star pitcher Mike Foltynewicz didn’t give the Braves a chance in Game 5 against the Cardinals. Young Braves pitchers Max Fried and Ian Anderson shut down the Reds in this series.

Freddie Freeman’s fielding error factored in the collapse against the Cardinals. His RBI single beat the Reds in the 13th inning of Game 1 on Wednesday.

Ronald Acuna’s teammates criticized the Braves outfielder for not running out a probable double in Game 1 against the Cardinals. His RBI double in the fifth inning Thursday put the Braves ahead for good.

Two years ago, the Braves scored only eight runs over five games and were shut out twice in an NLDS loss to the Dodgers. They beat the Reds while scoring one run in Game 1. That ended a streak of nine consecutive Braves losses in the openers of multi-game series.

After his game-winning hit Freeman, who was part of three of those nine losses, mentioned the significance of ending the trend. That was the first sign things might be different for the Braves this time. They backed it up with another win Thursday. Now they are headed to the NLDS.

It’s not quite right to say the Braves relieved the pressure because, as mentioned, they want more than this. First thing’s first, though.

“It’s not, ‘Well, if we win the next round, we’ll be further than we’ve ever been since ’01,’” Duvall said. “It’s just about winning every series you’re a part of from here on out.”

The odd circumstances of this series shouldn’t diminish what the Braves did. It’s true that the Reds wouldn’t have been in the playoffs during a normal year. They got one of the extra bids in the expanded postseason. But that also meant the Braves had to win a series to make it to the NLDS despite finishing with the NL’s second-best record.

It’s also true that this was a three-game postseason series, which is the dumbest thing in baseball behind a one-game wild-card round. The Braves lost one of those during their streak of futility. Chipper Jones deserved much better than going out like that.

But there was nothing random about this series win for the Braves. They didn’t get lucky in a small sample of games. They beat the Reds fair and square. They engaged the visitors in the kind of game the Reds wanted, where pitching is at a premium, and the Braves ere better at it.

Braves pitchers didn’t give up a run in 22 innings. The Reds sent out two starters more accomplished than any of the Braves'. In Game 1, Fried nearly matched Cy Young Award candidate Trevor Bauer. In Game 2, rookie Ian Anderson was better than All-Star Luis Castillo.

It was just two games, but the Braves had to put in a lot of work to break their postseason drought.

“It’s exciting,” Anderson said. “Obviously, it’s not the first thing on guys' minds in there (the clubhouse). We are trying to take it game by game and win each game. We think we have a good ballclub in there, and we have a lot of confidence.”

The Braves may have been in trouble if this series went to Game 3. The Reds had another dominant strikeout pitcher, Sonny Gray, lined up. The Braves likely would have started Kyle Wright, who was demoted to Gwinnett in August.

That scenario essentially became moot once Marcell Ozuna smashed a two-run homer in the eighth inning Thursday. The 3-0 lead felt a lot safer than 1-0. Duvall added to it with another two-run homer off reliever Raisel Iglesias.

“It was unbelievable to break out there at the end and finally get some runs on the board because, man,” Duvall said.

The Braves had some fun in that inning. Ozuna paused his home-run trot before reaching first base and pretended to take a selfie. When Duvall made it back to the dugout after his homer, his teammates convinced him to snap his own fake selfie. The stress was relieved.

The NLDS is best-of-five. Two good starters may not cut it for the Braves. Then again, neither the Cubs nor Marlins have two good pitchers as good as Bauer and Castillo. The Braves should score more runs. And their bullpen is even stronger now that lefty Will Smith has rounded into form.

That analysis can wait. After finally winning a postseason series, the Braves were celebrating.

“It was good,” Snitker said. “It was a controlled chaos or however you want to put it. Like I told them, we are just checking a box off on what we want to do.”

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