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Braves erase Divisional Series pain by finally returning to the NLCS

A year ago, the Braves got blitzed out of the NLDS. This year, they responded by reaching relatively new territory in the postseason.

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Today is October 9. If you’re like me and you’ve been counting, then you know why this day is important. It’s been exactly one year since the Atlanta Braves hosted the St. Louis Cardinals at what was then known as SunTrust Park for Game 5 of the NLDS. We all know what happened in that one — the game was over by the end of the top of the first inning and the Braves squandered what was at that point their best chance to return to the NLCS since the 2004 NLDS when they took the Houston Astros to five games. It was a massive failure — one that prompted me to get mad online and write this:

This is not a situation that should be seen as “Well, they won the division!” As a fan, aren’t you tired of just winning the division? This is no time to enter next season on a victory lap and then complain about nobody predicting the Braves to win again if they choose to sit on their hands again. It would be great if they responded to this result as not just a “bad day at the office,” but something to make sure that it never happens again.

This can’t happen again, and when I say “this,” I mean losing in the divisional series. The fanbase is fed up. The sports fans in the city of Atlanta are fed up. It’s time for the right people to get fed up and push as hard as they can to make sure that this never happens again. Everybody in the organization should be as angry as I am and as angry as the rest of the fanbase is at the moment. This can’t be the acceptable standard. Divisional titles are nice and it’s something neat to look back on, but this can’t be the ceiling for this franchise.

I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that the Atlanta Braves read a blog post from a fan online and decided “Well, we’ve got to improve because this random dude on the internet told us to!” I think you and I both know that that’s ridiculous. Still, it’s safe to assume that the Braves were still motivated afterwards to make sure that the calamity that occurred in Cobb County last season would be the last time that we’d see such an embarrassing thing happen to them and that they’d try to make sure that the Divisional Series wasn’t this team’s ceiling.

So, what did the Braves do about it?

Okay, I’d say that they did something about it. Almost exactly one year after that horror show, the Braves swept their way into the NLCS by overpowering their divisional rivals in the Divisional Series. Just like it didn’t matter that it was a three-game series against the Reds in the Wild Card round, it doesn’t matter that this was against a Marlins team that ultimately proved to be overmatched in the NLDS — the Braves absolutely needed to win this Divisional Series after what happened last season. The franchise needed to prove both that they could put a team out there that could get over the NLDS hump and also that they could put a team out there that could take care of business when it mattered most.

That’s just what this team did, and there was an example of it in Game 3 of the NLDS. In the top of the second inning, the Braves led off that frame by picking up a single and two straight walks against Sixto Sanchez. The bases were loaded with nobody out, and situations like that in the postseason just have to be cashed in. A strikeout, a line out, and a groundout later, the Braves failed to cash in and a potentially lucrative opportunity had gone by boards. In previous years, that would’ve been seen as a cosmic signal from the baseball gods that this game was probably not going to go Atlanta’s way. It instead ended up being a warning signal to the Marlins that if Sixto didn’t get his act together, then Miami was going to be the team that was in trouble.

Sure enough, the Marlins ended up being the ones who were in trouble. After Kyle Wright kept the Marlins off the scoreboard in the bottom of the second inning, the Braves went out there and atoned for their missed opportunity in the previous inning. The first four Braves batters of the third inning all reached base and they all eventually came around to score. Franchise mainstays like Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman continued to link up with offseason acquisitions Marcell Ozuna,and Travis d’Arnaudespecially Travis d’Arnaud. All four of them and the rest of the lineup did what they’ve been doing during the regular season, which is springing an absolute blitz of an offensive attack on the opposing pitcher at any given moment. Instead of being rueful over missing out a bases-loaded situation, the Braves just kept mashing and eventually got those four runs anyways.

From then on, the Braves went into cruise control. They added on one run in the fourth and then two more in the fifth. The fourth inning was also when Kyle Wright took control of the game and ended up retiring 10 Marlins batters in a row before exiting with six shutout innings under his belt. He joined Ian Anderson in the “Young pitchers who are giving the Braves everything that they could ask for” Club and he also helped carry the Braves to what ended up being a comfortably convincing victory over the Marlins to clinch their place in baseball’s final four.

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins - Game Three
Feels good, y’all.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Now that the Braves are finally in rarefied air that they haven’t had a taste of since 2001, it’s safe to declare this season as a success. The Braves improved upon their progress on the past couple of seasons and now they’re on the doorstep of turning a good year into a special year. They’re going to be the underdogs against the Dodgers, but anybody would be an underdog against the Dodgers with the way that they’re currently constructed. With that being said, Los Angeles doesn’t have the invincible aura of inevitability that they’ve had in recent years and the Braves themselves have improved substantially since the two teams squared off in the 2018 NLDS. This is no longer about one team giving the other a lesson in how to win in October — The Braves should be going into Arlington with every intention to knock the Dodgers off of their perch. If that Nationals team from last season could do it, then why not the Braves?

The Braves should be heading into the series at Globe Life Field feeling confident, loose, and fully capable of making their stay in Arlington a long one. They’re playing with house money at this point, and they’re already hot to begin with. Of course you don’t want to lose, but the Braves have already done well getting this far. They may as well keep it going all the way to the top, then. The Braves are undisputedly in a better position now on October 9, 2020 than they were when the sun was setting on October 9, 2019 and it’s because the franchise decided that “good enough” wasn’t good enough.

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