The Braves have a message for the rest of the National League: Bring it.
Fresh off securing the NL East title, the Braves were talking postseason while being drenched in champagne.
A common message: They don’t plan to take our foot off the gas. The Braves have eight games remaining, and while they’re three wins behind the NL-best Cubs, they’re only a single win ahead of the Dodgers for the second seed.
Unless they catch the Cubs, the Braves will likely face the NL West winner. Los Angeles holds a lead of 1-1/2 games over Colorado entering Saturday night.
The Braves don’t care which opponent they face. They’re aware they’ll be underdogs. They’re also aware they weren’t supposed to be popping bottles in late September.
“No one picked us to win the division this year, and I’m sure no one’s going to pick us in the playoffs,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “(But) that’s our goal. We’re going to try to get the most important 11 wins.”
Freeman’s assertion will be proved correct in just over a week. Either the Dodgers or the Rockies will be favored over the Braves. Both made the postseason a year ago, each was expected to be a contender in spring training.
But that’s what’s made these Braves so dangerous. There were little expectations. The plethora of kids who hadn’t experienced winning – or any major league baseball – don’t care about conventional wisdom.
The Nationals were going to run away with the East. The Mets had a rotation that made them a candidate to perhaps leap Washington. The Phillies were ahead of schedule and could sneak in.
Those were common preseason thoughts; the Braves were often ticketed for third place at best. Everyone was bullish on their future. Few expected it to arrive so quickly.
“Nobody put us in the spot where we are right now,” outfielder Ender Inciarte said. “We’ve just been battling every day since Day 1. We’re blessed to be in the position we are right now. We’ll do our best to be in the best position that we can, and then we’ll battle against whoever we face.”
There will still be skeptics. The Braves’ out-of-division record is mediocre, as are their home results. They’re oozing with talent, but most of their roster are postseason virgins.
That’s fine, according to the players. They would rather continue their surprise tour than be looked at like the Cubs and Dodgers, where being oust in the NLDS would be calamitous.
Most would opine the Braves’ season is already a success. They don’t share that mindset. They’re glued to the eight remaining games and best positioning themselves for what’s to come.
“The NL is still open I think,” said starter Kevin Gausman, who was traded from the MLB-worst Orioles to the Braves at the deadline. “So we’ll see. If we go to Dodger Stadium, that’s fine. If it’s Chicago – both good teams. It’s going to be fun. It’s playoff baseball. There’s going to be a great atmosphere anywhere.”
Gausman and his team shouldn’t be intimidated in the other venues. They boast a 45-30 road record, best in the bigs, with a trip to New York and Philadelphia remaining.
The postseason is indeed a different animal. But the Braves have most of their core locked up for the next five or so years. Many of their players have yet to scratch the surface of their peak.
Participating in the playoffs itself is a catalyst for development. The way the Braves see it, they’ve just opened their next contention window.
“You can accomplish a lot of things individually, but until you do it as one, together, you don’t start to feel the fulfillment aspect,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “I do feel that the season’s not over and we’re going to continue to prepare.”