It’s time, ladies and gentlemen.
All of our fighting, heartbreak, injuries, and determination paid off in the form of 97 wins. The Braves got the crown back in 2019 despite every analyst counting them out before the season began, which only fueled a team loaded with youthful stars.
Now here we are. A few mere days away from Game 1 of the NLDS against a familiar opponent.
Last year’s foray into the postseason didn’t end with champagne and ski goggles. Instead, the Braves saw their conquerors ride the momentum to the Fall Classic, only to fall short of the Commissioner’s Trophy…again.
However, a lot can change in 12 months, and the Braves have a different opponent in this year’s NLDS.
Atlanta will go head-to-head with a memorable team. It’s been a while since we saw the stage set for these two in such a meaningful way.
That last battle…didn’t go as planned.
You remember. I remember. My dog remembers. We ALL remember…
Why is it that when you know an umpire by name it's never because they're great at, you know, umpiring?
Case in point: Sam Holbrook
This was 237 feet from home plate. pic.twitter.com/NQH547IhPK
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) September 30, 2019
I just…why? And how?
Anyway, that costly call saw the end of the line for the Braves in the 2012 postseason; and the last time we faced off against St. Louis in the playoffs.
That controversial miscall may be enough to properly motivate the Braves to push past St. Louis 3-0. But, as we VERY well know, anything can happen; and everything will be decided in a quick five-game series on the diamond.
This year’s fight, while familiar, brings its own set of obstacles along with it. The confidence and belief are, at least, very well in place; the Braves have a magnificent opportunity to reach the NLCS for the first time since 2001. But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment, though. The Cardinals are an excellent baseball team. They might have the best pitching staff in the National League, and their lineup has come around down the stretch.
The Braves may be a better team, but the postseason is a different beast in the MLB.
Game 1 is nearly 48 hours away. What do you need to know? What are the keys to victory? Let’s take a look.
The Braves went 4-2 against St. Louis in 2019
The Braves had St. Louis’s number essentially all season, minus two forgettable games.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; they got to us once. What’s to stop them from getting to us again?
Well, there’s a couple of reasons.
1. Healthier Folty
Our first loss came on the heels of a Mike Foltynewicz who is more than long gone. Coming right off the IL with very little practice time under his belt, Folty did more to the ball than just drop it; he let the Cardinals send it into orbit, giving up 8 ER in 4.2 IP that fateful day.
Remember that Folty? Don’t worry; he’s dead now.
The Time Paradox
Now, it wasn’t a shock that Foltynewicz was not his usual self right away. Time off, especially from injury, requires a bit of a curve, in a sense; almost like a grading curve.
It was a rocky stary. I don’t think anyone expected it to be THIS rocky, however. Once the temperatures of early June hit to turn our great state into the aptly-named HotLanta, Folty sat at an abysmal 1-5 with a 6.02 ERA.
Wanna know how badly your ace needs to perform to get sent down to AAA? About that badly.
That time in Gwinnett changed Folty, though. He turned from a frustrated, struggling, beaten up arm into the thing he always knew he was – an ace.
Mike Foltynewicz owns a 2.35 ERA since returning to the majors.
The @Braves have not lost one of his starts since June.
Give him a playoff start. https://t.co/tVEHfnarxC
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) September 23, 2019
It’s true, too. Well, almost; the Braves lost on Saturday with Folty on the mound. But, I think the 7-1 record since June 16th speaks for itself, don’t you?
Anyway, that was the old Foltynewicz. He’s back to his 2018 form and ready to help carry the Braves through the playoffs.
2. The Improved ‘Pen
Remember how bad our bullpen used to be? Yeah, I try not to either.
Our second and final loss came on the heels of Daniel Winkler, who gave up 4 ER in 1 IP to hand St. Louis the win.
It was a rough game; and a prime example of the Braves’ biggest blight as an organization.
BUT…we don’t have to worry about him anymore. We went and got ourselves a bonafide reliever and shipped Danny boy out west to San Fransisco.
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) September 21, 2019
The first few games for Melancon and Shane Greene were…hard to watch. After a few forgettable innings; however, they regrouped, made a few adjustments, and found their All-Star forms.
Since Melancon’s last forgettable outing in mid-August, which ended in him surrendering 4 ER to the Marlins, he has only given up 5 runs since August 14th and has not blown a save.
Now Melancon, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, and the Braves are headed to October, while Winkler is headed to Fisherman’s Wharf, probably. I don’t know. I wouldn’t blame him; I hear it’s pretty cool there.
While the living is easy and the spirits are high for the Braves, it’s not ENTIRELY sunshine and rainbows. The Braves had a few injury scares from some of their biggest stars in the last couple of weeks.
Needless to say, a fully healthy squad is a must for a successful postseason.
SO…how are our boys looking leading up to Game 1?
Ronald Acuña Jr.
As you may very well know, our Kñight iñ shiñiñg armor suffered a setback in his journey to 40-40.
Ronald Acuña Jr. has been shut down for the remainder of the 2019 regular season with a sprained hip.
Baseball's next 40-40 season will have to wait.
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) September 25, 2019
This was a blow not only for Acuña, but for Braves fans everywhere; at first glance, our hopes for postseason success hung in the balance.
Luckily, according to Mark Bowman, Acuña appears to be just fine and ready to go for Game 1.
Atlanta’s support beam (yeah, that’s what I call him) posted a 2019 campaign that is undoubtedly the best of his career. As the season wound down, echoes of his name were heard in MVP conversations.
Then our support beam started to splinter a bit.
Freeman tweaked his elbow bad enough to sideline him for a few games. He’s been back in the lineup (taken out early as a precaution), but the concern is still very much there, as is the pain in his elbow.
Before the Braves were swept Sunday, Freeman said what happened this week wouldn't matter once adrenaline is felt at the start of the NLDS. Likewise, all the good felt over the past six months will be dampened if Freeman's elbow continues to be a problem https://t.co/6oRPo8cqyp
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) September 30, 2019
Possible unpopular opinion: the Braves cannot survive the latter of the postseason without Freddie Freeman. The ceiling for this team is limited without him healthy. But if he can look like the player we saw all season, Atlanta can match anyone blow-for-blow.
The defensive angel out in centerfield just couldn’t figure out how to stay healthy this season. Unfortunately for the Braves, it’s carrying over into October ball, too.
Freeman returned to the lineup last night and Acuña appears to be fine. But the Braves will be without Inciarte during the NLDS https://t.co/bl26itfCsz
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) September 28, 2019
At first look, a roster without the defense of Inciarte, Johan Camargo, and the clutch factor of Culberson would spell trouble for a Braves team eyeing longevity in the postseason.
Luckily, the waiver wire proved fruitful for Atlanta, so our secondary options should be enough to help keep Atlanta on track (Duvall, Riley, Hechavarria, Cervelli, Hamilton).
But really, let’s hope we see some better calls this go-round.
How to Watch
The Braves and the Cardinals face off in the ever-exciting best of five series, starting Thursday night at 5:02 PM. Like most National League playoff games, you can catch all the action through your local cable provider on TBS.
For detailed play-by-play simulation, go here.
For continued coverage, including game previews, recaps and updates as they happen, stay keyed in to SportsTalkATL.