As much as there will be grand proclamations Friday night — because that’s just the way things function in this 24/7, hyperventilating, turbo-Tweeting sports world — let’s start with a little perspective:
If the Braves defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card game — a best-of-one? — it shouldn’t be taken as a sign that they’re absolutely destined to win 11 more postseason games and the World Series and will make people forget the ’27 Yankees, and if they lose to the Cardinals it won’t wouldn’t affirm that the Kenshin Kawakami signing has forever cursed the franchise (although that one might be worth studying for a while).
It’s just one game.
But isn’t it about time for a new script?
We’re all familiar with the mixed-emotions math of the Braves in the 1990s and 2000s: 14 divisions, 5 pennants, 1 World Series. Too small a number at the end for such a big number at the beginning.
But particularly alarming of late is where a string of miserable Octobers has gotten them. The Braves haven’t won a playoff series since 2001. Chipper Jones is the only holdover from that club, which swept Houston in the divisional playoffs but lost to Arizona in the NLCS. Jason Heyward was 12. Kris Medlen, tonight’s starter, was a largely ignored high school shortstop and pitcher in California.
The roster has almost completely turned over. So associating this team with most of the previous 10 — save last season’s — really isn’t fair.
But a win certainly would act as some sort of spiritual cleansing for everybody else.
“We can’t worry about all that,” catcher David Ross said following Thursday’s workout. “We’re just trying to win a game. We know we’re good. We won 94 games. Everybody in here thinks we have a chance to win a World Series. But we have to win this one.”
Through the roster transition, the Braves have had a steady uptick in regular-season victories over the past five years: 72, 86, 91, 89, 94. At some point, there needs to be success in October to validate all this, certainly for general manager Frank Wren. But the question is whether we can draw many conclusions from this playoff-ette against the Cards.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez is calling it, “Game 7.” But it’s Game 7 without six games of buildup and six games of revelation about what this team is, or can be.
“I think it’s unfair, win or lose, to draw a conclusion,” Gonzalez said. “I think you judge a team over the course of 162 games, and the way they’ve battled some adversities, the critics, all the [things] that have been thrown at us for the last year, really. That’s the way you judge a team. [Friday’s] game, anything can happen – a bad hop over somebody’s head, a ball lost in the shadows, somebody gets hit with the bases loaded. Crazy stuff.”
This much is certain: Too often the story has been: They lost. Seldom has it been: Wow, look at what they did in October. Fair or unfair, one win would begin to change that perception.
Ross is correct: This is a team capable of winning it all. It’s certainly not worse than the St. Louis team that made it in as a wild card with the final spasm as the Braves were completing a 10-20 implosion, then went on to win the Series.
They have the starting pitcher (assuming this Medlen fantasy ride continues). They have enough offense, even with Brian McCann banged up and struggling. They have Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen. They have Heyward, Martin Prado, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla playing well. They have Michael Bourn and Andrelton Simmons back from injuries.
Now they just need to win Game No. 163. It wouldn’t mean everything for the future. But it would provide at least a hint of affirmation about what they’re headed.
The Braves won six more games than the Cardinals, but they’re not going to complain about a one-game series.
“We would’ve been in this game last year,” Eric Hinske said. “So you can’t hate on it too much.”
When the Braves didn’t make it last year, we wondered what it meant. It turned out the team that came back this season was pretty good. But a loss on Friday would extend a streak that already has lasted far too long.
By Jeff Schultz
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