For the second night in a row, the Braves failed to seal the deal on a potential trip to the World Series. In Game 5, the Dodgers lineup proved to be too formidable on the night for the Braves bullpen to keep quiet over the course of nine innings. In Game 6, Max Fried had one bad inning where he gave up three runs. In previous games this season, that was usually the lineup’s cue to start rallying in order to put some runs on the board. That wasn’t the case yesterday afternoon. Walker Buehler showed up in a big way. The Dodgers bullpen continued to step up. Their outfielders were going into full circus mode and making absolutely ridiculous catches left-and-right in order to rob the Braves of hits. All of this plus some rotten BABIP luck for the Braves made for what was a second straight day of frustration. What was a commanding 3-1 series lead for the Braves has now suddenly turned into a win-or-go home scenario for them in Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS.
If you’re reading this and you’re expecting to see me angrily air out the Braves for letting it come to this, then you’ve come to the wrong place. I’d like to imagine that if you’ve been reading these articles from me throughout this entire postseason run, then you’d know that I’m very much an optimist. I’m not a “gloom-and-doom”-type of fan — especially when we’re talking about a team having a season where they’ve already met expectations. Finally getting past the NLDS was the goal and when I said that the Braves were playing with house money going into this series, I meant it. Anything that happens from here on out is bonus.
If this means that the Braves end up losing today, it’s absolutely going to suck but it won’t be the end of the world for the Braves. If they go on to win, they’ll be playing with an even larger stash of house money in the World Series. I definitely want the Braves to keep on playing, but if a time-traveler told me before this season started that the Braves would make it to the seventh game of the NLCS against the Dodgers, I’d take it. I’d also be begging the time-traveler to find a way to change the timeline so that we’d be assured of a Braves victory, but that’s another science-fiction plot for another day.
So while I’m personally at peace with whatever result comes tonight, that’s not to say that this means that the Braves themselves should be resigned to their potential fate of being second-best in the National League. It’s not like this is a David vs. Goliath situation when it comes to these two teams. If it was, then this series would’ve been decided way earlier this week. These two teams have basically been neck-and-neck for this entire series. The Braves have had a pair of comfortable victories with a close one squeezed in there. The Dodgers have had a pair of comfortable victories with a close one squeezed in there. The Braves have an offense that can break out at any given moment. The Dodgers have an offense that can break out at any given moment. It’s basically going to come down to whoever capitalizes on the chances they get and which pitching staff can bend but not break. It’s that simple.
Perhaps, the only real advantage that Los Angeles may have on their side is recent history when it comes to being in this particular situation in the playoffs. The Dodgers only have to look back to 2018 to find themselves in a Game 7 situation in the NLCS. They ended up winning comfortably, and a lot of the players who were on that 2018 team are back for 2020. The same can’t be said for the Braves, who are in their first NLCS Game 7 as a franchise since 1996. Back then, that 1996 team ended up blowing out the Cardinals (ah, the good ol’ days) on their way to the World Series. If the baseball gods would like to bless the Braves with another blowout victory in an NLCS Game 7, then we’d all be very appreciative.
If you’re into nailbiters, then the pair of NLCS between the Braves and the Pirates in the early 1990s may be more attuned to your speed. 1991 was significant because that was when a 24-year-old pitcher in his first postseason tossed one of the great gems in playoff baseball history to help usher the Braves into their first World Series since coming to Atlanta. You might know him now as the curmudgeon who uses nationally-televised baseball games to complain about baseball, but John Smoltz probably earned the right to say whatever he wants after tossing a Complete Game Shutout in Game 7 of a NLCS. I highly doubt that Ian Anderson spent Saturday night watching clips of Smoltz dominating Pittsburgh nearly 30 years ago, but if y’all want inspiration and proof that a young Braves pitcher can get it done in a Game 7 situation, then there you have it.
1992 could also be relevant to your interests if you’re currently biting your nails. In that series, the Braves went ahead of the Pirates 2-0 to kick off the series. They lost Game 3 in depressing fashion, but bounced back in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead at that point. Then the Pirates rallied, and let me tell you, they rallied. Pittsburgh bopped the Braves 7-1 in Game 5 and then roared into Game 7 with a 13-4 victory in Game 6. If anybody had the precious momentum that we’ve heard so much about here in mid-October 2020, it was those mid-October 1992 Pirates. They’d outscored the Braves 20-5 over the past two games and were riding a wave of confidence heading into the winner-take-all matchup in that NLCS. So what happened?
I think y’all have a very good idea of the game that I’m referring to, here:
These past two games have been a bummer. Nobody wants to see a 3-1 lead turn into a 3-3 tie in a seven-game series where you’re playing for the right to go to the World Series. Nobody ever knows what’s going to happen during a Game 7 — other than the fact that someone’s season is going to end once it’s over. If the Braves season ends tonight, fine. It was a good year with a deep playoff run that we haven’t experienced for nearly 20 years. If the Braves channel the spirit of Sid Bream and pull off a big win and finally capture the Pennant, that would be fantastic. Ultimately, it’s completely out of our hands as fans. It’s up to the guys wearing the “A” hats to decide if this is where the road ends or if the road to glory continues forward this season. Let’s see what happens.