The Atlanta Braves are a team that nobody expected much out of. For four years in a row, Braves fans had to listen as their team was underestimated. Each of those years, the Braves rose to the occasion, taking home a division title. This season was no different. Now, the team finds itself back where it was a year ago: in the National League Championship Series. Last season, they ran into the Los Angeles Dodgers. Taking a 3-1 series lead into Game Five, it appeared that the team was on the verge of their first World Series since 1999. Unfortunately, they collapsed, and the Dodgers wound up the eventual World Champions. This postseason, the team has unfinished business, and their first obstacle was the Milwaukee Brewers.
When it comes to divisions, the National League Central isn’t exactly the strongest. The Cincinnati Reds had a respectable season (83-79), finishing in third place. The St. Louis Cardinals came out of nowhere to win 17 in a row and lock up the second NL Wild Card spot. However, they still finished five games back in the division. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs had abysmal seasons. This left the door wide open for the Brewers to claim their first division title in three years. Fate played an interesting hand here, as Hank Aaron had played for both the Brewers and Braves in his illustrious career. Atlanta Braves radio broadcaster Ben Ingram made note of this in one of the games. He went on to speak of how apropos it was for the series to happen in a year where the baseball world lost Aaron. The teams certainly made everything worthwhile.
Game One: An Offense Derided
Game One took place on a sunny Friday in Wisconsin. American Family Field hosted over 40,000 fans, eager to see what would transpire. NL Cy Young Award candidate Corbin Burnes took the rubber for Milwaukee. The Braves responded with postseason veteran and ace Charlie Morton. The two traded pitching haymakers for the first six innings, notching zero after zero. However, the Braves squandered multiple opportunities. In the first inning, Burnes issued back-to-back walks to Jorge Soler and Freddie Freeman. Ozzie Albies promptly hit into a double play. In the top of the fifth, Eddie Rosario led off with a base hit. Burnes then induced a ground ball off the bat of Travis d’Arnaud. Wasted chances seemed to be a theme of this game for the Braves offense. Unfortunately, Morton could only battle so long. Rowdy Tellez hit a two-run homer in the seventh to give the Brewers the lead. Not even a Joc Pederson solo home run could save the Braves from losing Game One, 2-1.
Game Two: Pitching Surprises and Shines
In Game Two, the Atlanta Braves pitching staff took center stage. Young hurler Max Fried threw six innings of absolute brilliance, shutting out the Brewer offense. He scattered three hits and struck out nine men. He was supported by RBI hits from Freeman and Albies. Austin Riley’s solo home run provided a third run. When Fried was taken down in the seventh and replaced with Luke Jackson, things seemed to be going well. Jackson struck out the first two batters he faced. However, he ran into trouble, and Tyler Matzek came in. He pitched out of Jackson’s jam and then got into and out of his own mess in the eighth. Former Brewer Will Smith came in to try and save things in the ninth. It wasn’t easy, but he wound up getting the job done. Final score: Braves 3, Brewers 0.
Game Three: Atlanta Braves Clutch Homer #1
Game Three took place back in Atlanta. Once again, the pitching was the story of the day. Ian Anderson posted five innings of three-hit, shutout ball with six strikeouts. Jesse Chavez, Jackson, Matzek, and Smith all combined to keep the Brewers off the board. Normally, the Braves’ bullpen is a source of heated discussion with regards to reliability. While that may be true, they definitely put their best foot forward in this contest. Those four pitchers hurled four innings, allowing a mere three baserunners. Unfortunately for the Braves, the offense just could not find a gear. More missed opportunities began to pile up for the team. However, in the fifth inning, Pederson came off the bench with a clutch three-run homer. That was all the dominant pitching staff needed. The Braves took a 2-1 lead into Game Four.
Game Four: Atlanta Braves Clutch Homer #2
The fourth game came around and, once again, Truist Park was full to bursting. Over 41,000 fans witnessed the Braves make their second NLCS in a row. The difference here was the sheer difficulty of the game. Where both teams had meager offensive performances in the first three games, this one was an explosion of sorts. Morton started for the Braves and gave up two runs in the fourth inning. In the bottom of the frame, the Braves loaded the bases. Rosario came through with a pinch-hit two-run single to tie things. Huascar Ynoa was brought in out of the bullpen and gave up a two-run homer to Tellez. Then, once more, the Braves responded with two in the bottom of the inning.
The game remained tied at four until reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman strode to the dish in the eighth to face Josh Hader. Hader, one of the best closers in the game, had struck out his first two batters. Going into this matchup, he had only given up three home runs all year. The last was on July 28. He had also not given up a home run to a left-handed hitter. Freeman promptly went against these statistics, hitting a home run that sent the park into a frenzy. The ninth inning came and went as Smith picked up his third save of the series. Final: Braves 5, Brewers 4.
The Battling Braves
All season long, the Atlanta Braves have dealt with doubt. Winning this series is yet another step in proving the doubters incorrect. Injuries and hardship plagued the team all season. Even so, they have not allowed it to stop them. This writer might be crazy, but underestimating the Braves could prove to be lethal to an opponent’s playoff hopes. True, the tougher challenges are still to come. The team could very well collapse in the NLCS. That said, there are a lot of words that can be used to describe what this squad does. Their choice of a postseason theme is probably the most perfect out of all of them: simply battle.
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Hank Aaron, Corbin Burnes, Charlie Morton, Jorge Soler, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Eddie Rosario, Rowdy Tellez, Joc Pederson, Max Fried, Austin Riley, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, Will Smith, Ian Anderson, Jesse Chavez, Huascar Ynoa, Josh Hader