The perception of the Atlanta Braves organization had changed. After 14 straight division championships, 5 World Series trips and of course 1 World Series trophy from 1991-2005, the Braves had become one of the most recognizable franchises in all of sports. The list of stars that donned the infamous Tomohawk across their chest for the better part of two decades was endless. The road to the World Series in the National League went through Atlanta. But if there is one thing that will always remain true in this world, it’s how quickly you can become forgotten, and the Braves had become forgotten.
Coming off four straight seasons of sub .500 ball and three straight seasons of more than 90 losses, nobody thought Atlanta stood a prayer’s chance in the NL East, and for good reason. The Nationals had become a perennial powerhouse, in the regular season of course, and were “All-In” for a World Series title in the final year of Bryce Harper’s contract. The Braves, on the other hand, were just trying to see what some of their young talent was made of.
It turned out, they were more of a headache than anybody could have ever imagined. From the opening game, this oddly put together group captured the heart of Braves fans all over the country. Admit it, how many of you turned off the TV on opening night thinking, “Same old Braves”, only to find yourself stunned watching a highlight of Nick Markakis blasting a walk-off homer the next morning.
— SWM (@sportswm) March 30, 2018
It set the tone for a season that was as magical as any since 1991. The Braves were tied for the National League in wins at the last at-bat with 20. Charlie Culberson earned the nickname “Charlie Clutch” by hammering not just one but two walk-off home runs in the same week.
🚨🚨WALK-OFF MAGIC 🚨🚨
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) May 28, 2018
— Today in MLB (@TodayintheMLB) June 3, 2018
Culberson also did a little bit of everything for the Bravos, playing every position on the field including pitcher. The ultimate utility man that served as the perfect representation of a scrappy and relentless ball club.
Everything came together in the second half, when the best prospect in all of baseball and future NL rookie of the year, came back healthy and lit the world on fire. Acuña launched 26 homers in 108 starts, and even beat the poor little Fish so bad that sad José Ureña pegged him with the fastest pitch of his career.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) August 15, 2018
Yea, we still remember, and that really doesn’t matter, because Acuña won’t forget. That’s not a problem any team wants to deal with for the foreseeable future.
Acuña is, without a doubt, the reason this Braves team went from average to playoff caliber, but if you look closely at that video, you’ll see the man who held it all together, leading the charge. Brian Snitker may wind up winning the NL Manager of the Year award. Regardless, he has done a fantastic job in a year that could have easily been his last.
Early on, Atlanta was starting the likes of Preston Tucker and Ryan Flaherty. The bullpen featured very few of the men who actually pitched for the Braves in the playoffs. They had every reason to be 10 games under .500 going into the All-Star break, yet they were sniffing first place. Brian Snitker is a major reason for that, which has made his 40-year journey throughout the organization, all the more special.
On September 22nd, with a week left in the regular season, the Braves officially clinched their first NL East title since 2013. A little over a week after that, they found out they would be playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, a rematch of 2013 which the Dodgers won. Los Angeles would enter the matchup a heavy favorite, but in a five game baseball series, anything is possible.
What handcuffed the Braves all season was their pitching, but more importantly walks. Atlanta actually finished 7th in all of baseball in team ERA and were just few points away from being in the top four. Their young pitchers really started developing into high quality options, starting with Mike Foltynewicz, who reached his first All-Star game. That’s all pretty incredible considering their pitching staff finished second in all of baseball in walks and led the National League with 635.
That number makes you cringe as a baseball fan, but where it really makes you sick, is in the postseason. Atlanta’s walk issue did not fade in October, and that’s something that just can’t happen when playing the Dodgers, who have guys up and down the lineup waiting to change the game with one swing of the bat.
In four games, the Braves walked a ridiculous 27 batters. Almost every run the Dodgers scored the entire series came from either a walk or a home-run. It was an unfortunate scenario, but one the Braves have been battling all season, and one the Dodgers have consistently taken advantage of.
But let’s be real: Los Angeles was clearly a better team. This is a squad that is on it’s way to it’s third straight NLCS, a team that was one game away from beating a fantastic Houston Astros team in the World Series last year, and they only got better in 2018. Their starting pitching was improved, they added more stars like Manny Machado, Matt Kemp and Max Muncy, and had another year of experience under their belt. It would have been an upset for the ages had Atlanta been able to pull it off.
The 2018 Braves accomplished everything they were supposed to, and then some, and then a little more. By the best projections, Atlanta was supposed to be around a .500 team. Instead, they reminded the rest of the baseball world: the Braves are back, and we are going to be around for a while.