For most of the season, Brian Snitker and Will Smith have been the scapegoats for the Braves struggles, and I’ve been among the herd. Some of Snitker’s decisions throughout the season have been questionable, to say the least, and after three straight disappointing playoff exits, it was fair to begin to wonder whether he was the man to get this team over the top. On the other hand, watching Will Smith can force the healthiest person into cardiac arrest. Both have been far from perfect over their tenures with the Braves, but in the NLDS, they were pretty damn close to it.
I must admit, there’s not really a single move I can point to all series where I would say Snitker blew it. Personally, I would have started Max Fried in Game 1. He’s the ace of the staff and has earned that right. However, Morton is equally as reliable, and he has tons of postseason success. Perhaps pinch-hitting Orlando Arcia in the 9th inning of Game 1 was a bit questionable, but again, it wasn’t egregious. After that, though, Snitker was flawless.
He consistently pulled pitchers at the right moments, pinch-hit Pederson and Rosario at opportune times, and he rode his horses — Morton, Matzek, and Jackson — until the very end. Kudos to him, and the Braves needed it desperately. I said before the NLDS that Snitker’s piss-poor decision-making throughout the season will all be forgotten if he can pull the right strings in the playoffs. So far, he’s done just that.
Frankly, a lot of the hate on Will Smith, especially lately, is unwarranted. I don’t blame him for being overpaid; that’s Anthpolous’ fault. It’s also Anthopoulos’ fault that the Braves are even using Smith as a closer in the first place. He’s been a set-up guy for most of his career. That’s where he has thrived, and he seems a little out of place — at least he did — pitching in the ninth inning. However, that’s changed completely of late.
In September, Smith was pretty much unhittable, allowing just two runs over 13 innings — good for a 1.38 ERA. That success continued into the NLDS. He allowed a couple of runners in his first save opportunity in Game 2, but like he usually does, he got out of it without any damage. Smith then followed it up with a perfect inning to end Game 3 and shut the door again in Game 4 when Milwaukee was trailing by just one run and had the top of their lineup coming to the plate. It may not always be pretty, but it’s way past time to put some respect on Will Smith’s name.
Even without Ronald Acuña Jr., the Braves are a fantastic team, one that is more than capable of winning a World Series. They proved that against the Brewers. However, without their best player, the margin for error — which was already minute to begin with — is razor thin. They will need Brian Snitker and Will Smith to continue to be nearly flawless if they want to get the job done for the first time since 1995.