Brian McCann has been a Brave far longer than anyone else on this year’s playoff roster, but he was still in high school the last time Atlanta won a postseason series in 2001.
That’s how long it’s been and also is an indicator of the distance between this young team and most of the Braves teams that lost the past six playoff series they played. McCann is the only current Brave — besides injured pitcher Tim Hudson — who even played in more than one of those playoff series, not counting last year’s Wild Card game.
These Braves enter Thursday’s Division Series opener against the Dodgers at Turner Field neither burdened nor buoyed by the history of the franchise.
“No one here has even been a part of it,” said McCann, who was brought up by the major league team during the 2005 season. “I caught the tail end of (the division-title streak), the last year, and at 21 years old, I didn’t know anything. I’m out there just enjoying the moment and hiding in the eight-hole in the bottom of the order.”
Unless they grew up in Georgia, like McCann or Jason Heyward, most current Braves know little of the five National League pennants (and one World Series title) in the 1990s, the 14 consecutive division titles through 2005, or the current streak of postseason series losses.
“I don’t think anybody thinks about it,” McCann said. “Once these games start it’s about us vs. them, it’s about (Kris) Medlen vs. (Clayton) Kershaw, and whoever plays the best is going to win.”
Hall of Famer Don Sutton, the current Braves broadcaster and former Dodgers pitching great, likes what he sees from Game 1 starter Medlen and the rest of the Braves’ pitching — and the variety of ways the Braves’ offense can beat you.
“If I were pitching against this team, they would concern me because of the unpredictability,” he said. “I like consistency. So you’ve got three guys who hit home runs? OK. You’ve got three guys that strike out, I know that. You’ve got one guy that will run. As a pitcher, I like knowing.
“But you can’t predict with this team.”
Medlen was playing shortstop and pitching for a California junior college in 2005, the last time the Braves won the division title before this season.
“Guys were probably 2 or 3 years old in the ’90s, some of the guys we have on our team now,” said Medlen, 27, a Los Angeles-area native who’ll face Kershaw in the series opener.
He can’t know what the confidence level was for Braves teams in previous decades, but knows the vibe in the clubhouse of this 96-win Braves team. They don’t care that prognosticators are picking the Dodgers, whose $220 million payroll is baseball’s largest and nearly 2 1/2 times the Braves’ $90 million payroll.
“We’re extremely confident,” said Medlen, who went 9-1 with a 2.04 ERA in 11 starts after Hudson broke his ankle in late July. “Wire-to-wire first place (in the National League East), the whole year. We have a lot of confidence going in.”
Sutton said of Medlen: “It’s almost like they took the spirit of Tim Hudson and injected it into Kris Medlen. And that’s a good thing. He’s doing all the same things I would expect Hudson to do, and that’s a real compliment.”
The Braves finished with the second-best record in the NL, one game behind St. Louis. Skeptics note the Braves started 12-1 and had a 14-game midseason winning streak, and were otherwise just five games over .500.
They went 5-2 against the Dodgers this season, and Braves players don’t really care if that came in games during the Dodgers’ 30-42 start, before manager Don Mattingly’s team became the hottest in baseball.
Injected with the arrival of Cuban rookie Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez’s return from the disabled list, and a rotation led by Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers had a blistering 46-10 run from June 22 through Aug. 23, posting a 2.43 ERA while batting .281 and averaging 4.75 runs.
Much like the Braves down the stretch, the Dodgers cooled. But the Dodgers, since they wrapped up the West early — and don’t have a recent September collapse to their names — weren’t questioned much for going 16-18 with an ERA nearly a run higher (3.40) and a scoring output a run lower (3.76) over their last 34 regular-season games.
The Braves don’t seem intimidated facing Kershaw, who led NL starters in ERA (1.83) and strikeouts (232 in 236 innings).
“He’s a great pitcher,” McCann said of the lefty, who didn’t face the Braves this season and has no decisions and a 2.45 ERA in four starts against them in the past, mostly against a different group of hitters. “He’s elite. He’s one of the best. But you play the game. He’s got to throw the ball over the plate.
“He’s a very talented pitcher. We’ve got a talented group of guys in here.”