The matchup to watch leading up to this Wild Card Series against the Reds was the Braves’ bats versus the Reds’ starting pitching, and through one game, Cincinnati’s starters hold a significant advantage. Although it didn’t affect the outcome — thanks to Max Fried and the Braves’ bullpen holding the Reds scoreless for 13 innings.
I went into detail about this aspect of the series yesterday, and I concluded that Atlanta’s offense should hold the advantage over Cincinnati’s rotation. My reasoning was rather simple: while the Reds’ starting pitchers have been fantastic, they have not seen an offense like the Braves, or very many good offenses at all, this season, playing against the NL and AL Central. That didn’t seem to matter to Bauer, who looked like a worthy Cy Young candidate, striking out 12 over 7.2 scoreless innings. However, while Bauer deserves tons of credit, the Braves’ offense must also shoulder some blame.
Like clockwork, the postseason shows up, and Atlanta’s bats went silent. The offense that led the majors in OPS and extra-base hits while finishing second in batting average, slugging, and home runs, could only muster two measly hits off Bauer, and the few times they had opportunities to score, they completely shut down. And it wasn’t just Bauer either. The Reds’ bullpen, which has been nothing more than average this season, relieved Bauer with two outs in the eighth, and Atlanta could barely muster a scoring opportunity until the 13th inning.
Frankly, I don’t think it mattered who was on the mound today, The Braves’ offense looked uneasy and under pressure — like the weight of the world was crashing down on them — every at-bat. There wasn’t a single player outside of Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña that appeared prepared for the moment, which is puzzling because almost everybody in Atlanta’s lineup has been here before. However, this is nothing new for the Braves, who have a lengthy history of being unable to score in the postseason.
In their five-game loss in the divisional series last year, the Braves only managed to score an average of 3.4 runs per game. Meanwhile, the Cardinals — who had a significantly worse offense — scored 13 runs in Game 5 alone. The year before, against the Dodgers, the Braves were held scoreless in Games 1 and 2 before scoring eight runs in the final two games — good for an average of two runs per game. But wait, there’s more.
Before the Braves began this streak of three consecutive NL East titles, they had last made the playoffs in 2013 when they faced off with the Dodgers again. This time they were a little more productive offensively, but not by much, scoring only 3.5 runs per game, resulting in just one win. The year before that, they were in the Wild Card game against the Cardinals and lost 6-3. In 2010, they faced off with the Giants in the Divisional Series, scoring just 10 times over four games (2.5 runs per game).
I could go on, but I’ll stop there. There’s a reason the Braves haven’t won a playoff series since 2001. When October arrives, their offense disappears. I didn’t think that would be a problem with this bunch, given this is one of the best offenses they’ve put together in franchise history, but through one game — even though it was a win — they sure didn’t inspire much confidence.
The Braves don’t have nearly enough pitching to carry them through the postseason. They are lucky they aren’t down 1-0 and staring elimination in the face tomorrow. You can talk about Trevor Bauer and how great he was, but he — and the rest of the Reds’ pitching staff — left plenty of balls out over the middle of the plate that the Braves have crushed all season. This is an unbelievably talented group that looked almost as if they had lost confidence at the plate in Game 1. That needs to change, and fast, or this will be another short playoff run for Atlanta — something Braves’ fans have become all too familiar with.