Braves enter postseason poised for success

Joe Patrick
October 01, 2019 - 11:37 am
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“Last year we knocked on the door. This year we’re gonna kick that mother****er in.”

Brian Snitker’s last words before the bottles popped, the music played, and the suds were poured all over the Braves clubhouse were music to the ears of any Atlanta fan who heard them.

It’s not just that the Braves sealed their second consecutive NL East division title — something not even Braves fans predicted last year and national pundits poo-poo’d this year. It’s that Snitker, the Braves manager who’s been with the organization for decades — including the team’s unprecedented run of division titles in the 90s and early 00s — knows Braves fans are still longing for more.

“We went in and hoped we could win the series [vs. the Dodgers in the 2018 NLDS],” said a soaking wet Snitker in his office. “I think we’re going to go into the Division Series this year and expect to win.”

No one is more familiar with the age-old idiom “It’s the hope that kills you” more than Braves fans that lived through the most successful period in the organization’s history. Winning 14-straight division titles isn’t supposed to result in crushing disappointment. But considering the amount of talent amassed on those teams and the amount of times the playoff story repeated itself, it’s no wonder that Division Series playoff games at Turner Field weren’t even selling out by the late 90s. Those fans’ hopes had been crushed so many times that they were determined not to let it happen again.

It’s a different era of Braves baseball now. The team eventually dismantled itself and successfully endured a complete rebuild. During this dark era, new fans came of age — ones that were too young to remember the lone championship team of 1995 and much of the disappointment that followed in the years after.

But Brian Snitker remembers.

This Braves team is fun, young, dynamic and exciting. Maybe that’s the kind of team that’s needed to lift the dark cloud that hangs over the organization’s head every time the playoffs roll around. The Braves haven’t won a playoff series since 2001, when Braves legends like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were on the team. That’s eight consecutive postseason appearances — be them a Division Series or a Wild Card Game — in which the Braves have failed to advance past the first hurdle.

But last year’s team had the same youthful characteristics, and they were easily set aside by the Dodgers. The difference now is that those players like Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Max Fried, Dansby Swanson, and Mike Foltynewicz all know what to expect from playoff baseball this time around. But maybe more importantly, Alex Anthopoulos has done his best to prepare this team for the occasion. He hasn’t just bolstered the team with talent, he’s reinforced with talent that has a winner’s mentality.

Anthopoulos did it in the offseason by acquiring Josh Donaldson, a player who’s a relentless grinder who helped carry his 2015 Blue Jays to the ALCS on the back of an MVP-winning season. Anthopoulos did it in June when he signed 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner and 2017 World Series champion Dallas Keuchel. And Anthopolous did it at the trade deadline when he acquired three veteran relievers with closing experience to relieve an inexperience Luke Jackson and Sean Newcomb of late-inning duties.

This Braves team is poised for success. Now, as Brian Snitker often says, it’s time to play the games.