CORRECTION: I wrote last week that UGA quarterback Jake Fromm was a senior. That was a “rare” mistake on my part, HaHa, and I knew better. Fromm is a junior.
Here we are in the middle of football season, in the middle of football country, and it is easy to forget about the Atlanta Braves. It does not help that some of you have been unable to see the Braves on television due to conflicts between the regional sports channels and certain TV providers. Just when the Braves were catching fire mid-summer, they were here today and gone tomorrow for too many of you. Those TV wars seem illogical to me.
The Braves will play a best 3-out-of-5 National League Divisional Series against the Cardinals, the champions of the Central Division. The first two games will be played in SunTrust Park Thursday and Friday. Game three will be played on Sunday in St. Louis, as would an IF necessary game four on Monday. An IF necessary game five would be played in Cobb County on Wednesday, October 9. Every game will be carried on TBS. That’s Channel 217 on Comcast, 247 on DirectTV and 139 on Dish Network, according to Google.
It took only 90 wins for the Braves to win the NL East last season and signing 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann were the only major acquisitions of the off-season while the Phillies spent big on star power. The experts tabbed the Phillies as the favorite, and many expected the Braves to slide back into oblivion. I predicted that 90 wins would not be enough to repeat as division champs, and it would not have been. The second place Washington Nationals won 93 games. The Phillies finished fourth at 81-81.
Donaldson became a spark plug batting cleanup and a defensive wiz at the hot corner. He, along with Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Nick Markakis and rookie Austin Riley were smoking hot until the All-Star break. When the bats started to cool, the pitching suddenly got better. Adding free agent Dallas Kuechel on June 7 provided an experienced starting pitcher for the rotation. Three new relief pitchers were added in late July.
When injuries hit the starting lineup, General Manager Alex Anthopolous cherry-picked the waiver wire for fill-ins and came up all aces. He and manager Brian Snitker must be credited with juggling a revolving door roster. Several of the mid-season pick ups repeatedly came up big in the clutch, preventing long losing streaks. Depth was developed to the point that key contributors will get left off the 25-man postseason roster.
The fact that the Braves won 97 games but lost 11 out of their last 19 will now mean nothing. Neither will their 4 out of 6 wins against the Cardinals, all in May. The postseason is a different animal where every pitch is tension filled and mistakes are magnified. So, what are the Braves chances of advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2001?
This has been the year of the homerun, so the Braves’ pitchers must keep the ball in the ballpark. They can’t give up walks ahead of fly balls that can easily rocket over the fence either. The Braves are not the offensive juggernaut they were back in June and July so the pitching staff will determine how far they go. That’s the easiest analysis in baseball.
Gene Walker is a retired educator who lives in Thomson. His column, “Sports Talk,” appears regularly in weekend editions of The McDuffie Progress. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.