Do you feel that? That calm, peaceful feeling that started early in the evening last night? This is the eye of the storm, friends. The madness of the regular season is now behind us and the chaos of the postseason is cresting the horizon. Get your deep breaths in now, though. Because of a late season race, October baseball starts tonight when the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays battle it out for a chance to have one more game in the postseason.
For the Atlanta Braves, the last game of the season turned out to be slightly bittersweet.
Sure, they smashed the Phillies into the ground and took their final series of the season. But Saturday night’s tough-luck loss cost them the number-one seed in the NL, allowing the Cardinals slip past them by one game. Oh, those Cardinals are going to be a thorn in our side for the foreseeable future too. I had to schedule an extra session with my rage counselor just to talk me off the ledge.
There are bright sides to this story too. One is that the Braves don’t have to play the ridiculous coin-flip game again this year. The other is that they won’t have to face the Cardinals in the first round either. Instead, they’ll take their chances against ESPN’s sweetheart — the LA Dodgers. And I know how much y’all love lists, so here are the reasons why the Braves will emerge from the NLDS, hopefully playing anyone except the Cardinals.
10. They look better on paper
Can you believe it? For most of the season, we’ve all had to concede that other teams looked better when you take in nothing but the numbers. It’s a different story this time! Now, it’s not by much. And it’s not across the board. But this is number 10, it’s not my best point anyway. Here are the important ones, though. The Braves finished four games ahead of the Dodgers, although that doesn’t mean a whole lot now, as the postseason resets everyone back to zero. The Braves lead the Dodgers in ERA also, even if by a slim margin. While the Dodgers have two aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, Atlanta’s bullpen pulls their team average down enough to lead in this category. The Braves also have hit almost 50 more homeruns than the offense-heavy Dodgers, and, considering how important the long ball is to the Atlanta Braves postseason (as well as the entire team), this is a big stat. I’ll also throw in fielding percentage, which again, the Braves lead by a small margin. I think I am ready for a fun Atlanta Braves postseason.
While we’re on the topic, the Dodgers may have Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu as their starting three, but when the Braves swept the Dodgers back in May, it was LA’s bullpen that gave up the ghost. They’ve certainly gotten better since then, but late-inning heroics are the Braves’ bread and butter, so getting to the bullpen will be their number one priority. But there’s one thing the Dodgers don’t have, and that is…
8. Craig Kimbrel
It’s been said before, but it’s so good that I’ll say it again. The Braves play 8 inning games. If they can take a lead into the 9th and hand the ball to Kimbrel, it’s as close to over as anyone in the league can get. As Mariano Rivera hangs up his spikes, it’s only fitting that the circle complete itself. Kimbrel is ramping up to be the next guy who can add his name to the list of the best closers in the Majors. He’s now the second Brave since John Smoltz to nab 50 saves in a season and considering he wasn’t far off the mark over the last two years, it’s fair to expect this trend to continue. He’s not foolproof, as he blew four save chances this season, but if you’re giving him the ball in the ninth, you’ve got to like your chances. Kimbrel will be money for the Atlanta Braves postseason.
7. Home-field advantage
I know, the Atlanta Braves postseason will not remain at home, but as they came in second, they will have homefield advantage through at least this series. They will need to be able to perform on the road, certainly, and some might argue that the advantage doesn’t mean much, but to a team that finished 56-25 at home, one can’t help but think it will play a factor.
Speaking of home, Atlanta is a city that’s received a fair amount of hate for their sports fans, with the biggest complaint being their high number of fair-weather friends. I’ve definitely known a few people who couldn’t help but complain about the lack of championships during the Braves’ 14-year run of division wins. Well, guess what? The weather here is quite fair (literally and figuratively), so expect the Ted to be rocking the chop in full force* at all their home games this October. Which brings us to the top the five!
5. The fragile Dodgers
The Braves weren’t the only team to have their share of injuries this year and while they move into October looking fairly healthy, the Dodgers received some bad news over the weekend. Matt Kemp will likely miss the entire postseason and Andre Ethier may not be far behind. Hanley Ramirez looked like the Glassman this season, and is a threat to miss time at any point. The Dodgers are pretty stacked, I know, and did just fine while Kemp was out, but it stands to reason that it might hurt more than they think.
4. Jason Heyward is back
I’ve covered the importance of Heyward to the Braves this season. Other people have mentioned what a force he is in their lineup. It’s no secret – the Braves play better with Jason Heyward. The end. Not only did he recover in time to make the playoffs, he made it back in time to hopefully have gotten into a groove, which was made pretty clear when he went 5-5 with a homerun and three doubles against the Phillies this weekend. Simply put, with him powering the Braves lineup, their offense looks to be a serious force for the Atlanta Braves postseason.
3. Kris Medlen loves September and, hopefully, October
Medlen started the season 1-6 and had many people wondering if last year’s heroics were just a flukey fluke that he’d never repeat. Wonder no more, friends. In his final 10 games, he posted a 1.64 ERA (by my calculations, feel free to argue) with 52 K’s in 66 innings. That even includes his appearance out of the bullpen in the bizarre-o 15 inning game against the Nationals back in August. Most recently, he went head-to-head with Cliff Lee and threw a two hitter over 8 full innings and picked up the win. The Phillies had nothing to play for, but Lee went 8 innings, giving up only three hits. The difference between the two? Lee made one mistake, a low inside pitch that Chris Johnson knocked over the left field wall. Medlen made no mistakes. He’s hot at the right time and definitely wants the chance to fix what happened last year, in his only postseason appearance – the one game #$&$^ing play-in against the Cardinals. I expect a better outcome this time around, even if it is against Kershaw.
Like many other Braves fans, I desperately wanted the guarantee of homefield advantage as the top seed in the NL. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. I mean, who doesn’t want to have every possible advantage on their side when everything is on the line? But the Braves are no stranger to adversity this year, losing Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Tim Hudson, and Ramiro Pena for the season. Or playing the first month of the season without Brian McCann. Or losing Heyward for two DL stretches. Or any of the other injuries that plagued this team. Yet, they finished with a tie for the second-best record in baseball. It seems as though this team thrives with some pressure, so maybe having the deck stacked slightly against them is a good thing. At least that’s what I’m going with.
1. Because Atlanta
I mentioned the 14 years of division wins with only one championship ring. I mentioned the hate of Atlanta fans. I’ve mentioned before that the Braves have a payroll that comes in at about 1/3 of the Dodgers. And I’ve mentioned (against my rage counselor’s advice) that horrid, infamous wild card game of 2012. Many times. The Braves have something to prove here, and I think it’s a better something than the Dodgers have. LA wants to do what the Yankees have done for years – snatch up as many good players as they can, proving simply that money can buy you a ring. Atlanta wants to prove that years of hard work and developing young talent, playing the game the right way, and having a lot of good team chemistry earns you a ring. Does that sound like snobbery? Maybe. I call it having a chip on your shoulder. But as a diehard Braves fan, I can say with confidence that those are the ideals on the line in the Braves clubhouse. As they move into October, that’s what they are setting out to prove. For better or worse, they will lay it out on the line this week, against a very good team in the Dodgers and hopefully come out on top. And no matter what happens, this has been a great season that was fought by a lot of young talent who should feel extremely proud to be counted among the best in baseball.
This is #Choptober, Braves fans! It’s time to go to work!
*for those unfamiliar, that means Braves fans will perform the Tomahawk Chop in the stands of Turner Field in large numbers.