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The Braves are finally figuring out how to win in October

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If there was a franchise that absolutely needed to win even just the Wild Card Series, it was the Braves. Now, they’ve got a brand new world of possibilities ahead of them.

Wild Card Round - Cincinnati Reds v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

I’m here to inform you that what happened yesterday afternoon at Truist Park in Cobb County, Georgia was not some result of a fever dream or a collective hallucination. The Atlanta Braves have, in fact, won a postseason series and did so in convincing fashion. They won the first game by simply outlasting the Reds in a 1-0 marathon and then they won the second by threatening to outlast them again before finally unleashing the power that we’ve seen this lineup display as a unit time-and-time again during the regular season. Shutting a team out once in the postseason is impressive on its own — doing it twice in a row leaves no doubt. The Braves went into this series as the better team on paper, and they’ll be exiting the series as a team that appears to be worthy of their current seeding in the National League bracket. They even left the series with plenty of swagger on the field and a little bit of spiciness in other arenas. These are exciting times!

A performance like the one we saw from the Braves over the past two days has to do nothing but breed confidence within the squad. This is especially important for this particular crew of Braves players. The core of this team that’s been around since 2018 should know how important this is. They spent a week in October 2018 figuring out how the game takes a huge jump in intensity once the weather gets a little cooler and every pitch has a ton of meaning, and then they took a huge amount of medicine when they returned to the playoffs in 2019. Personally, I choose to believe that those two series were lessons and that the main lesson that these Braves learned in those two series was simply how to win in the postseason.

So fast forward to 2020 and while the Braves may have ended up clinching their three-game Wild Card Series with the Reds in somewhat comfortable fashion at the end, it’s still a testament of this team coming together as a unit and learning how to win. The first game was proof enough — I touched on that yesterday when I mentioned that you really didn’t have to think hard about scenarios where the Braves end up losing a postseason heartbreaker in extra innings. However, they didn’t lose it — the pitching staff delivered an equal parts brilliant and gutsy performance, which kept the Braves alive long enough for Freddie Freeman to finally deliver the critical blow to give the Braves their first 1-0 postseason series lead in what felt like ages.

The second game seemed like it was going to be on track for a repeat. 22-year-old Ian Anderson was going toe-to-toe with Luis Castillo. Anderson was seemingly following Max Fried’s lead from the previous game when he was going pitch-for-pitch with Trevor Bauer. Atlanta’s two young starters saw that they have the stuff to hang with one of the best rotations in all of baseball and you could tell that both of them were pitching with more and more confidence as their respective starts went on. One starter set an example for the other, and now they can go forward knowing that it’s possible for them to pitch at a high level in the postseason.

Wild Card Round - Cincinnati Reds v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

We didn’t end up getting a repeat of Game 1 — that was thanks to Ronald Acuña Jr. giving the Braves their first RBI eight innings earlier in Game 2 than they did in Game 1. Despite the Braves going out in the first round in each of their previous two postseason appearances with their star outfielder on the roster, Acuña is no stranger to big hits during the postseason. He even picked up the hardest hit ball of the day off of Bauer in Game 1 when he nearly hit a homer and had to settle for a double. The Braves needed a big knock with a baserunner and if you give Acuña enough chances, he will deliver and he did just that on Thursday. He learned how to do it in previous Octobers, so he was surely confident that he could do it during this October. He’s likely going to keep on doing it for the Braves as the team hopefully goes deep into this postseason.

So with the game being 1-0 following the fifth inning, the bullpen appeared to be fully prepared to make sure that this game also ended 1-0 if it had to. After their efforts in Game 1, they knew that they had what it took to keep the Reds off of the scoreboard at all costs. The Braves went into this season knowing that the back end of their bullpen was more-than-capable of closing down a game at the end. That’s why they traded for Mark Melancon and Chris Martin last season and that’s why they signed Will Smith in the offseason. They were brought in for the exact moment that they were called upon in Game 2, and all three of them did their jobs to perfection. Will Smith may have struggled in the regular season, but he’s getting it together when the Braves need him the most. Chris Martin may have missed out on the 2019 NLDS, but he’s making up for it right now. Mark Melancon may have been prone to giving up a hit or two in previous outings, but he was lights out in the Wild Card Series. All three of them now know that they can get the job done in a postseason situation.

So while the bullpen was surely prepared to make Acuña’s go-ahead RBI last for as long as possible, the offense finally woke up and made sure to give them the valued insurance to make it possible for the team to cruise to the finish line. Nearly an exact calendar year after Marcell Ozuna helped to destroy the Braves, he returned to the scene as a member of the Braves and did the same thing to the Reds. Even though Ozuna’s two-run shot made it a three-run game, there was a strong feeling that his dinger was the dagger. Maybe it was the fact that Ozuna decided to have some fun by stopping midway up the first base line to celebrate it. I’m glad he did it because at the very least, that tells me that these guys were loose and confident that they were going to take care of business and close this thing out.

If Ozuna’s moonshot wasn’t the dagger, then Adam Duvall’s laser over the short fence in left field was. The former Reds outfielder showed his old team the door as his two-run shot left all doubt as to who was the better team. The Braves at this point had shown that they didn’t need to win a postseason game in nail-biting fashion. Instead, they emphatically closed this one out and ended the series with authority. They already figured out how to win in the postseason in one way and now they’re figuring out another way to do it as well. There are thousands of ways to win playoff baseball and the Braves are starting to learn the multitudes as they go.

Wild Card Round - Cincinnati Reds v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Hopefully, the Braves will continue to figure out new ways to win as this October continues to roll on. They’ll have to, since the big goal of making it past the NLDS still remains to be achieved and the ultimate goal of a World Series title continues to loom large. You can easily argue that winning a Wild Card Series during a shortened season doesn’t mean as much as winning a Best-of-Five or a Best-of-Seven series, and that might be true. What’s also true is that the Braves badly needed to win even just a Best-of-Three series to prove to themselves and everyone else that they have what it takes to win in October. Now that they’ve proven that they can indeed do it, all they have to worry about is just doing it three more times this month. They’ve got what it takes, so why not just go out there and do it?