Twenty years ago I was trying to explain to a couple of friends, who were not sports fans, why I was so passionate about baseball. It was the consistency, I said. It was the assurance that for eight months a year, baseball of some kind was being played almost every day.
The Braves were still in their run of divisional titles at the time, with Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Javy Lopez, and Gary Sheffield powering the Braves and the Big Three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz playing in their last season together.
The Braves were good. Every dang year.
We came to expect excellence with the Braves. Frankly, we took it for granted.
When “the streak” stopped in 2006, it was a moment; but in retrospect, it didn’t move the needle that much because everyone know it was going to end. It was a matter of when not if.
It took five years for the Braves to return to the playoffs, losing to the San Francisco Giants in Bobby Cox’s final season in 2010.
In 2009, when the season ended for Atlanta, after winning 86 games, were we up-in-arms that they Braves had missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons?
I’m asking, because honestly, I don’t remember.
I bring this up because after the Braves lost in the NLDS in 2013 - a season in which they won 96 games - the wheels began to fall off in 2014. The team bottomed-out with three straight 90+ loss seasons before they made the out-of-nowhere run to the playoffs in 2018.
Between 2015 and 2017, Atlanta “only” lost an average of 93 games. Contrast that with the three seasons before the Braves worst-to-first 1991 season when the team averaged 100 losses from 1988 to 1990, and the depth of the deconstruction doesn’t seem as deep.
But now, six years after that last, awful season in 2017, it seems like those losing seasons were a desert bigger than the Sahara.
When Ronald Acuna, Jr. squeezed the ball for the 27th out of game 161 last night in Miami - less than 20 feet from where his season ended with a knee injury barely halfway through last season - the Atlanta Braves won their fifth straight NL East Division title.
Oh, the jubilation.
This is the Atlanta Braves 22nd post-season appearance since 1991 and their 20th Division title in that same span.
That means 69-percent of the time, since 1991, your Atlanta Braves have played at least one playoff game.
Good grief, that’s incredible. It was incredible last season and it will never not be incredible.
The Braves will have a chance to win 102 games if they can beat Miami this afternoon. If they do, it will be the most wins since the 103 victories the 1999 team produced.
Oddly enough, this season I’ve watched less Braves games that any season I can remember. That doesn’t mean that I don’t keep up with every game, but it isn’t easy to make time to watch every game - much less try to watch every inning of every game. There are way too many life obligations and impediments to make that happen.
Twenty years ago, I probably watched 130 games a season, and watched almost every inning of every game at least 100 times (or at least close to every inning).
That doesn’t change anything about my happiness of the this 2022 team’s division win. If anything, I’m happier this year than any other season since the early ‘90s.
This year’s Division win really is monumental. Coming back from 10.5 games back, and doing so not because the team you were chasing imploded, but because for more than half the season you were that much better?
Yeah, that’s worth celebrating.
I feel like fewer people are taking this run of Division titles for granted as they did in the past. If anything, Braves fans seem more excited with this year’s NL East title than they did last year.
In 2012, the Braves lost in that first-ever Wild Card play-in game. We have no idea, yet, how this new expanded playoff format will work. But personally, I am glad the Braves have a bye to the next round. I’ll take being in the NLDS than risking not getting there by playing in this new first-round format.
You know what I still love about baseball? That for eight months a year, it’s there.
You know what I love even more?
The Atlanta Braves winning their Division and being in the playoffs. Again.
And Again. And Again. And Again.
A lot of things have changed in the last three decades. But thankfully, the Braves winning culture hasn’t.
Now, time to get busy defending that 2021 World Series Championship.