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Austin Riley took his chance and became an unlikely postseason hero for the Braves

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Brian Snitker nearly emptied his bench looking for someone to come through for the Braves. The breakthrough ended up coming from the ninth man in the lineup.

League Championship - Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Braves have continued their quest into uncharted territory and done so by winning games in familiar fashion. Thanks to a great start from Max Fried and the bullpen continuing to impose their will upon opposing batters, the Braves stayed in the game long enough to finally do some damage against the other team’s bullpen. They’ve won plenty of games using that formula, and now they’ve used it to win their first NLCS game since 2001 and their third consecutive Game 1 victory in this postseason run, alone. After spending the better part of two decades in the proverbial wilderness when it came to the playoffs, the Braves suddenly can’t stop winning in October. It’s an extremely welcome change of pace from what we’ve become used to as fans, and it’s nice to see the OGs like 1999 NLCS MVP Eddie Perez getting hyped about the run that the current Braves are on.

Some of the most intriguing things to witness in this game were the managerial decisions on display from both managers — particularly in the eighth inning, which is when Brian Snitker decided to do some maneuvering in order to get one run across. With Marcell Ozuna in scoring position and Dansby Swanson getting first base for free, Snitker decided to take out Cristian Pache (who was only in the game due to Adam Duvall getting injured) and put in Pablo Sandoval. Dustin May subsequently reacted to seeing a ghost from Dodgers-Giants games from the past by hitting him, which loaded the bases and prompted Snitker into making another decision once Victor Gonzalez entered the game.

Brian Snitker made the right choice in substituting Nick Markakis from the game. Markakis has been scuffling and it only would’ve been exacerbated by having him go out there and try to come through in a situation against a lefty reliever. With an eye on the rest of the game in mind, the bat ended up in the hands of Charlie Culberson. The at-bat went about as well as you could expect from someone who went into this game with a grand total of seven (7) plate appearances in this season. Snitker pushed the right button, but it was a lose-lose situation — either you have Nick Markakis continue to struggle in a matchup that he usually struggles in or you put Culberson up there and pray for him to find some 2017 magic. It didn’t happen, but Snitker deserves credit for trying to get that run instead of going on auto-pilot.

National League Championship Series Game 1: Atlanta Braves v. Los Angeles Dodgers
A panda sighting! In 2020! Wow!
Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

While the decision-making didn’t result in a run, the Braves were eventually rewarded for their intention once the ninth inning rolled around. Like the Braves got exposed for having a bit of a weak bench past Pache, the Dodgers’ main “weakness” was put on display for all to see. In a tie game in a ninth inning as the home team, that’s usually territory for your closer to come in. With that being said, it’s understandable that Dave Roberts would go with Blake Treinen instead of Kenley Jansen. Treinen has had success as a closer, so he’s a prime candidate to take the ball in a situation where you absolutely need a scoreless inning. While he was still going to have a tough task ahead of himself with the likes of Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman looming, it sure seemed like Austin Riley was only going to be a bump on the road to the real threats.

As it turns out, Austin Riley decided to pick a fantastic moment to remind everybody watching the game that he can be a “real threat” as well, at times. While Austin Riley was hitting in the ninth spot in the lineup for very good reason (his wRC+ of 89 was tied for Nick Markakis for being easily the lowest wRC+ of any Braves regular), he’s got the type of power that people used to write tall tales about back in the Golden Age of baseball. It’s never been a matter of whether or not Austin Riley can crush a ball — rather, it’s been all about him putting together a good at-bat in order to get an opportunity to crush the ball. On the fourth pitch of his at-bat against Treinen, Austin Riley had a stone cold take on an 0-2 slider that was just below the strike zone. That’s a ball that we usually see Riley swing at before heading back to the dugout. Instead, he lived to see the fifth pitch of the at-bat. It was a hanger that Riley sent flying into the night and into the direction of the Whataburger sign in the left field stands.

The deadlock was broken and that was apparently all the Braves needed to break open the seventh seal of offense. Riley’s dinger ended up being the first of three extra-base hits in the ninth inning and four runs in that frame, overall. It’s almost as if Riley’s homer was a bit of a reminder that Freddie Freeman had set the tone way back in the first inning with his dinger and now that they had weathered the storm of a Walker Buehler start, it was time to start doing some real damage. The Braves may not have gotten it with Brian Snitker’s managerial efforts in the eighth inning, but it only took one more inning for the lineup to finally get things rolling. There was no real way to predict that Austin Riley would be the one to deliver what ultimately figured to be the game-winning shot in Game 1, but that’s what the postseason is all about. Sometimes a guy who you expect nothing out of comes up big — Brian Snitker was willing to put Pablo Sandoval and Charlie Culberson into that position, but it ended up being Austin Riley because that’s baseball for you.

Thanks to another comprehensive effort from the Braves, they’re now in position to keep it rolling. They’ve won three straight Game 1s, they’ve won six straight games overall, and now they’re in a 1-0 position that 70 percent of teams in NLCS history have converted. This series is likely going to get tougher and you should expect things to get tougher when the other team is as talented as the Dodgers are. Still, if Brian Snitker continues to manage with intent and guys like Austin Riley and other unsung players continue to come up big, then this could only be the beginning of yet another fun week for the Braves here in the postseason.