Braves fall one game short of World Series, lots to look forward to in future seasons

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Logan Riely/ MLB Photos

Left fielder Austin Riley runs the bases after hitting a homerun in the 2019 season. Riley was a key piece to the Braves and their overall success in the shortened 2020 season.

William Randall, Sports Associate Managing Editor

And just like that, left fielder Austin Riley flew out to center field. The Braves lost the NLCS in a grueling seven-game series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

 In what appears to be a classic Atlanta professional sports team choke to some, Braves fans, like myself, see it as a token of improvement and excitement for years to come. 

In the biggest game the Braves have played in over two decades, they fell just three innings short of making a trip to the World Series. The game started fast for the Braves. Marcell Ozuna, who came up huge for the team countless times throughout the series, did it once again with the bases loaded in the top of the first. Ozuna hit an RBI single to send Ronald Acuna Jr. home, which put the Braves up one.

 After a scoreless half-inning for the Dodgers, shortstop Dansby Swanson hit a home run to increase the Braves’ lead to two runs. 

The Dodgers, however, responded in the bottom of third, with catcher Will Smith hitting a two-RBI single, sending in two Los Angeles runs to tie the game. The Braves responded quickly in the top of the fourth inning with a looping RBI single into center field from Riley, sending in Ozzie Albies. 

The Braves wouldn’t score again for the rest of the game, mainly from a top of the fourth inning baserunning error. With Swanson and Riley both in scoring position, Nick Markakis hit a routine ground ball to shortstop. Instead of staying on base, Swanson ran on contact leading to a pickle between home plate and third base. Swanson was tagged out and Riley, while trying to steal third, was tagged out as well. This play cost the Braves potentially two runs. To add just a little more salt in the wound, outfielder Mookie Betts robbed Freddie Freeman of a solo homerun in the top of the fifth inning. 

With a home run from Dodgers pinch hitter Keke Hernandez in the bottom of the sixth inning and another solo shot from outfielder Cody Bellinger in the bottom of the seventh to make it 4-3, the Braves season came to an end. 

The loss stings, and will for quite some time; however, this team, who hasn’t won a playoff series in a decade, filled with young, inexperienced players, who lost countless assets like star pitcher Mike Soroka to a season ending torn achilles, and other signings in the off season not exactly panning out like pitcher Cole Hamels who was banged up most of the season, and pitcher Felix Hernandez who opted out because of COVID-19. This team should feel very accomplished with how far they went. The Braves were three innings away from defeating the best team in the MLB during the shortened 2020 season, and if it weren’t for a simple base-running error or just being able to close out a series after leading 3-1, they might have gone on and won.

Throughout the season, the Braves showed they can compete with any team on any given day with a regular season record of 35-25, ultimately winning the NL East and having the third best record in the National League. This team is young and will make mistakes that come with adjusting to the majors. In a couple of years, however, I expect the Braves to be fully accustomed to life in the big leagues, leading to success in important games.

The Braves have built an incredible core of young players. The likes of Acuna, Swanson and Albies are some of the league’s top talent and all are 26 and under. In addition, the Braves have built an impressive pitching core of Soroka, Max Fried and two newcomers Ian Anderson and Bryse Wilson who were both excellent in the playoffs all of whom are no older than 26. The veteran presence is also key to the team’s success. Players like Ozuna, who could be leaving after this season because of contract negotiation, Markakis and Adam Duvall have proven their worth through this season and will continue to lead this team through their experiences in the league. 

Braves fans should also look at the center of the team. Throughout the season, Freeman played like the league’s MVP and is favored to receive the honor this year. At 31, some might say that Freeman’s age is around the beginning of an athlete’s digression, but I disagree. Freeman has shown he has many more years left in the tank, and while he might not ever play like an MVP again, he doesn’t necessarily have to for this team to succeed. 

This offseason is crucial for the Braves and their bullpen. Mark Melancon, one of the Braves leading relieving pitchers is a free agent this summer. Wether the Braves opt to stick with the veteran or lean on younger guys like Touki Toussaint and Sean Newcomb will be one of the bigger questions of the offseason.

Although things may look bleak for Braves fans now, look at the season for what it was: an incredible display bya young team that still has so much left to offer Atlanta. This team is beyond exciting, and this series loss will be used as a lesson and a source of motivation moving forward.

 

 

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