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Braves missed out on a storybook ending to the NLCS in Game 5

Had Atlanta’s bullpen held on before eventually collapsing in consecutive innings, A.J. Minter’s three innings of fury would’ve gone down in Braves postseason history as the stuff of legend.

League Championship - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Five Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Braves are going to have to play another NLCS game today. It would’ve been nice to have this article be one celebrating the newly-crowned National League Champions, but instead we’re having to look back on one game in this series while looking forward to another one. It would’ve been an absolute dream to see the Braves just finish off the Dodgers right then and there, but that ended up not being in the cards for Game 5, at least. As that lineup is wont to do, LA broke out over a span of two innings and ended up with a four-run victory over Atlanta.

The bullpen held strong for five innings on an Opener strategy, but the sixth and seventh innings ended up being a bridge too far for Will Smith and Jacob Webb. The sixth inning Gemini Man entanglement involving Will Smith taking on Will Smith ended up being too much for Atlanta’s version, as LA’s version ended up coming out on top with the go-ahead dinger for the Dodgers. Jacob Webb came agonizingly close to keeping it a 4-2 game in the seventh inning. Chris Taylor smacked a double with two strikes and two outs on the scoreboard. Mookie Betts brought Taylor home with a single on another two-strike count with two outs. Then Corey Seager pulled a Corey Seager and hit a home run, and that was that. It was a brutal turn of events for the Braves. There’s no excuses or complaints when it comes to the turn of events while those two were on the mounds — they just got beat by some talented hitters. It happens.

So while it absolutely stings to see the Braves end up losing a game that they led 2-0 (and should’ve been 3-0 had Marcell Ozuna properly judged a circus catch from Mookie Betts), there’s still something positive to take away from the game. Of course, I’m talking about A.J. Minter’s performance as the Opener for Game 5. In a game that ultimately ended in disappointment, it’s still going to be hard to forget the effort that Minter displayed for the first three innings of that game. It would’ve been nice if he put up one scoreless inning. Two would’ve been great. Three was absolutely unthinkable going into this game, so it was truly amazing to see Minter pull off what he did on Friday night in Arlington.

For A.J. Minter, those three innings were the culmination of what’s been a rapid redemption following a dreadful 2019 season and confirmation that he’s finally set to become one of the top relievers that the Braves currently have. While Minter had been one of the more reliable relief options for the Braves throughout this current season, it was very hard to envision that he’d pull out the type of performance that he would deliver in Game 5. Minter has had a few stints in his career where he’s gone 1.2 innings at the most and the last time that he went three innings at any level of baseball it, um, didn’t end well for him.

So there was no real reason to expect that he’d toss the three absolutely sparkling innings that he did. The Braves were unable to really put their foot on the gas when it came to offense at any point in Game 5, and it’s a real shame — it would’ve been a storybook way to end the series and clinch the Pennant for the Braves this year. A.J. Minter having the “start” of his life in the NLCS against a dangerously potent Dodgers lineup would’ve been huge reference point for future discussions of Atlanta’s postseason run in 2020. Instead, even if the Braves still clinch in the near future, A.J. Minter’s three opening innings may end up being just another footnote. That’s baseball for you — sometimes spectacular performances become dust in the wind.

League Championship - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Five
Let’s see you do this again next week, A.J.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Instead of A.J. Minter becoming the latest postseason hero for the Braves, the title is now up for grabs again as the Braves get ready for Game 6. The obvious good news for the Braves is that they’re still only one win away from getting to spend one more week in Arlington by playing in the World Series. It’s especially nice to know that they’re going to have Max Fried going again for Game 6. Fried in the postseason has been pitching eerily similarly to how Fried was pitching when he was at his best in the regular season — his postseason ERA and FIP of 2.65 and 3.13 respectively is very similar to his final regular season ERA and FIP of 2.25 and 3.10.

The same goes for his ERA- and FIP-, which in the case of ERA- he’s currently eight points (58) off of where he was in the regular season (50) while his postseason FIP- (71) is identical to his regular season FIP-. I’m saying all of that to say that he’s been very consistent, and that’s exactly what the Braves need from him this afternoon — consistency. If the same Max Fried that’s shown up for the regular season and three previous postseason starts here in 2020 shows up to the ballpark today, then the Braves are going to have a solid chance of leaving the ballpark today as NL Champs.

It’s still going to take a massive effort from not just Fried but the rest of the pitching staff that’s available and the lineup as well to finally knock off the Dodgers and get to the Fall Classic. Los Angeles has shown that they’re not going to just roll over and let the Braves do what they want en route to the World Series. Fortunately, we already know that this team is really good about bouncing back from big losses. They just got done proving that the other day. Now they’ve got to do it again, and this time the reward will be massive if they can pull it off this evening at Globe Life Field.

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