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The Braves Have Nothing To Lose And A Lot To Steal

Michael Zarrilli/Getty Images

If we heard it once we heard it 100 times in the first two games of the National League Championship Series: “This series will be decided on the margins.” Dave Roberts said that once, and the TBS broadcast crew have turned it into a mantra every time the Atlanta Braves slap on a balaclava and do something else more daring, reckless, and ultimately jaw-slackening than the last thing they did.

Sunday night it was trying to score on hits that shouldn’t have produced runs as they did in the eighth with Eddie Rosario and Ozzies Albies, unless it was going after bloop hits without sufficient caution, as they did in the top of the seventh when Guillermo Heredia charged, didn’t charge, and then missed Chris Taylor’s bloop single turned run-scoring double, unless it was manager Brian Snitker pulling starter Ian Anderson after three troublesome innings and then selling him (or at least trying very hard to do so) on the decision as he was sending Johan Camargo to hit for Anderson.

Then again, these are the Braves, who at the advent of the trade deadline in July looked very much like their more heralded internet twins, the Atlanta Barves. They were in third place in the worst division in baseball, six games behind the New York Mets for Christ’s sake, when someone (general manager Alex Anthopoulos, most likely) got the bold idea to stop acting like the 50-53 team they were. They had lost center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., their best player, to season-ending injury, and left fielder Marcell Ozuna was (and still is) suspended after being arrested on domestic battery charges, and they’d used six catchers because none of them stayed healthy or above .200 for long enough.

So Anthopoulos decided to rebuild his entire outfield in a month’s time. He traded with Kansas City for Jorge Soler (missing this series with vaccinated COVID-19), with the Cubs for Joc Pederson (who wears pearls and stole Aaron Judge’s bat), with Cleveland for Eddie Rosario (who was traded a month before he could play because of an abdominal strain) and with Miami for Adam Duvall (who was a Marlin). Any way you cut it, that’s four-thirds of a standard outfield, and it hit 44 homers in roughly two months.

And now, as the worst team in the postseason until you have to play them, they have also taken every base not surrounded by alligators, and home plate twice Sunday night when the gators were in plain sight. Fueled by third base coach Ron Washington’s world view on sending runners (which is essentially, “Screw it. I’m 69 years old. What’s the worst that can happen?”), Washington sent first Rosario home on all-planet second baseman Ozzie Albies’s single, and then Albies on a single by Austin Riley. Both were below-average percentage plays except in the world of Washington, who hits on 20 because there always might be an ace ready to jump out at you.

“I’m never doubting my sends,” Washington said after the game, repeating something he has said in Oakland and now Atlanta for nearly 20 years. “If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I’ve just got to eat it.”

Indeed, the entire game was played with urgency by the Braves, who were the first team to pull their starting pitcher last night when Snitker yanked Anderson after a two-run first inning and worrisome second and thirds. Indeed, the only time they acted tentatively was on Heredia’s hard-charge-turned-half-hearted-stab at Taylor’s bloop hit in the seventh, the one that gave the Dodgers and their 109 wins a 4-2 lead with their three nastiest pitchers still to come.

It made no difference, as Rosario’s slide around catcher Will D. Smith was a thing of old-school elegance and Albies simply outran Corey Seager’s hurried relay throw, and the Braves are now proud winners of their third consecutive last-at-bat victory. For a team that had to fight off the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies (have we mentioned the suffix “for Christ’s sake?” We have? Okay, good) just to be seen, the Braves are now the team with nothing to lose but its timidity.

Of course, not every runner is safe every time, and not every premature pitching change works, and the Dodgers didn’t get here on their porn mustaches alone. But we know which team is playing as though it being chased by wasps, and it’s the one up two games on sheer brassy daring and “If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I’ve just got to eat it.” This is why the new baseball postseason is so much better—because every inning is the ninth, and every pitcher works in short relief, and every third base coach who puts up a stop sign is court-martialed and shot for cowardice.

Now doesn’t that beat one more shanked field goal?