If you’re the Brewers, you must be wondering. If not for one big swing by Rowdy Tellez in Game 1, you’d be sitting on two shutout losses. This is not to minimize the importance of the home run in 21st Century baseball, especially 21st Century playoff baseball. As Joe Sheehan, the esteemed scribe, is fond of saying: “Ball go far, team go far.”
Said Max Fried on Saturday, after authoring one of the best performances in Braves postseason annals, which is saying something: “It’s best-of-three now. Two of the three are at home. We like our chances.”
We see every October that merely scoring first takes on outsize importance. In the regular season, you see a substandard pitcher several times a week. In the playoffs, you almost never see one. As Braves manager Brian Snitker said before Game 2: “Teams that are in the postseason can pitch or they wouldn’t be here. So that has a way of equaling out that. It’s hard to string together hits in the postseason. Long balls, I think, always play such a big part of it.”
The Braves have 11 hits and four runs. The Brewers have 11 hits and two runs. Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell: “I didn’t think there was a lot of pitches to hit again. And that’s a credit to their pitcher. I thought Fried threw the ball really good. We had some pitches to hit against their bullpen that we just fouled off, frankly. A lot of foul balls on the pitches that we had to hit.”
The Brewers aren’t without offensive resources. Eight of their players hit more than 10 homers in the regular season. Nobody, however, hit as many as 30. Counting Adam Duvall’s numbers as a Marlin, four Braves topped 30, and Dansby Swanson had 27. So did Jorge Soler, counting his time with Kansas City. There aren’t many weak spots in this remade-on-the-fly Braves’ lineup. Travis d’Arnaud hasn’t been hitting, but that’s about it.
Still, if you’re the Brewers — an excellent team making its fourth consecutive postseason appearance and a winner of 95 games this regular season — you’ve surely noticed that you’ve played two games in your ballpark and thrown your two best pictures at the Braves, and the best-of-five is tied. The Braves can clinch it by winning twice at Truist Park.
It’s hard to say where the strong part of Milwaukee’s batting order is. Tellez’s homer off Charlie Morton was his first since Aug. 29. Going by Baseball-Reference WAR, the three best Brewers over the regular season were starting pitchers, and that’s fine. This team is here because of its pitching. But the Braves have just shown they can match that starting pitcher, and it’s unlikely the Brewers can outslug the Braves.
Unlikely, yes. Impossible, no. It’s baseball. It’s October. Strange things happen. Counsell again: “It’s been a tough series to score runs for both sides. It’s two games. It’s 1-1. It’s a two-out-of-three series now. I think hitters want to have good at-bats. Everybody’s going to be frustrated when you just miss a pitch that you feel like you had to hit. I think that’s natural. But I don’t think offensively there’s frustration.
One thing more: The Brewers got way ahead in the National League Central and stayed there. The Braves didn’t see first place or even break .500 until August. They played important games in September — those two Western trips were huge — and they arrived Milwaukee still feeling the exhilaration that comes from winning a division title that, for the longest time, wasn’t yours to win.
Said Duvall: “Playing meaningful games down the stretch always helps and that pressure of having to win. It almost simulates postseason baseball, because now every game means a lot.”
We know from 2019 that the best-looking team doesn’t always prevail. The Braves had won 97 games to St. Louis’ 91. The Braves led 2-1 after a Game 3 duel between Adam Wainright and Mike Soroka. They led in Game 4, and these fingers had already begun to type out the first paragraph of a Braves-finally-win-a-playoff-series missive. Like many such paragraphs over 37 years of following Atlanta teams, it never saw print.
Paul Goldschmidt hit a fluky double. Yadier Molina lofted a ball that the leaping (and also clearly hurting) Freddie Freeman couldn’t snag. That tied it. Yadi — he’s good at this stuff — won it in extra innings. The series shifted to Cobb County for Game 5. The Braves trailed 11-0 by the time they came to bat.
We sports writers aren’t always great at expressing what should be obvious: Games of skill often come down to luck. The better team can be undone by a bad bounce or a sprained ankle. It could be that the Brewers are a tad better than the Braves and could prevail on merit. This Atlanta-based correspondent sees it the other way. Like Max Fried, I like the Braves’ chances.
Mark Bradley is a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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