The Atlanta Braves evened the playoff series with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday despite a preemptive burial in my own mind.
Confession time. My name is Scott and I am a hopeless Braves pessimist.
Point of clarification, this pessimism pertains only to teams that I care about. Without any vested interest and journalistic detachment, there is no doubt in my mind that anybody can win anything. For instance, I have no trouble visualizing all of the prospective paths that Clemson, Georgia and even South Carolina can take to win their respective conferences and bring home the BCS Championship trophy.
Any of those things could happen. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if one or two of them were in Pasadena, Calif., in January. I truly believe it.
But the Braves winning anything in the postseason is a non-starter in whatever parts of the brain scientists believe might generate optimism. After years of abuse, those synapses just don’t fire.
Admit it, fellow Braves fans, there was just no way the Braves were going to get out of Atlanta with a victory against a pair of Cy Young Award winners – Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. No way. Forget the best-home-record-in-baseball nugget that the Braves carried through the regular season. This is the postseason, those guys are Cy Young winners with sub-2.7 ERAs and these are the Braves.
Atlanta does a lot of great things in the regular season. An argument could be made that the Braves are the greatest modern regular season franchise. What they have accomplished since 1991 is truly astonishing and should not be diminished. Braves fans should count their blessings at being able to have a relevant team to care about on a nearly annual basis. Call up somebody in Kansas City or San Diego (or even presently giddy Pittsburg) and see if they’d trade the baseball results of the past 22 years with Atlanta.
So, just getting to 17 of the past 22 postseasons is not something that should be taken for granted.
But those postseasons are another story. With the exception of 1995, it’s always ended in disappointment – the degree of which seems to keep getting worse.
Recent vintages include a rash of errors in 2010, a massive September collapse in 2011 (counts in my book as postseason because the odds of not getting there were so astronomical) and a one-game, home wild-card dismissal in 2012 after a bogus infield fly call prompted disgruntled fans to litter the field.
That’s what leads to cases of chronic pessimism.
It’s possible that this pessimism reflex is completely normal. Perhaps Yankees fans naturally felt a tad queasy over the last two decades every time Mariano Rivera came to the mound. There might even be Alabama fans walking around worried that their beloved Crimson Tide might actually lose to a Georgia State (or anybody else). Who am I kidding, all ’Bama fans have insufferable egos that can’t comprehend the Tide not being the best at everything.
As any Braves fan (my pedigree goes back to Triple-A Richmond when Dale Murphy was a catcher who could hit anything but the bag at second base), you like to think this team is different. And it is.
The Braves played inspired baseball to run away with the NL East since the All-Star Break. They led nearly wire-to-wire (they last trailed on April 4, three games into the season). They have a terrific bullpen. They have one of the greatest defensive shortstops you’ll ever see. They have the toughest catcher you never want to meet on the third-base line. They’ve got a knack for rallying with a big two-out hit. They didn’t buckle when Tim Hudson went down gruesomely in July or even when Jason Heyward had his jaw broken in August. And they didn’t shut down just because their two highest paid bats (Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton) were duds.
These Braves are a marvel of inspired mediocrity that just might go into L.A. tonight and get the six quality innings they need from Julio Teheran to call on the bullpen and sneak out with a win. They just might be able to force a Game 5 back at Turner Field and find that elusive dollop of essential postseason luck against Kershaw to advance to the NLCS.
These Braves – the “least scary 96-win team I’ve ever seen” according to one veteran baseball writer – might just be worth investing a little optimism in after all.
They’re not dead yet … right? Of course, in eight consecutive Atlanta playoff series (including this one) dating back to the 2001 NLCS, the Braves have lost the series opener and come back to win Game 2. The previous seven times, the Braves were eliminated in the end.
And there it is, the Braves fan’s constant postseason companion – pessimism.