When the Braves were in the midst of their miserable run of getting knocked out of the playoffs at their first point of entry 10 times in a row, one thing that helped to contribute to that misery was the fact that the Braves never won the first game of any of those appearances. That included one NLCS, eight NLDS, and one Wild Card Game. Not once during that awful span were you able to turn on ESPN or MLB Network to look at the news and scores scrolling at the bottom of the screen and see something akin to “ATL leads series 1-0.” It didn’t matter if they had home-field advantage or not — the Braves were always having to start the series on a low note and scrambling to fix things afterwards.
The Braves have now played two Game 1s this October and they’re 2-0 in both of them. If they’re going to start a new streak of going 1-0 in playoff series, I wouldn’t be opposed. It would be really nice if they started off 1-0 in two more postseason series this month, but they’ve still got to take care of some business in order to start worrying about that. But for now, the Braves now find themselves in the relatively new position of actually being the team who sets the tone for how a series is going to be played. It really feels like the Braves are going to be heading into the middle part of a Divisional Series feeling like the aggressors for a change.
This current Braves team is usually a crew that carries themselves with plenty of confidence, but it really feels like they’re comfortable with the big stage that they’re on. The expectations don’t appear to be weighing on them like they did over the past couple of seasons when they made brief postseason appearances. Indeed, when the Marlins raced ahead of the Braves in the third inning (and doing so in typical Marlins fashion where a couple of soft hits turned into a run-scoring rally), it didn’t look like the Braves were panicking or pressing at that point. Even though it was a rare case of Max Fried hitting a wall a few innings deep into a start, there was no reason for the Braves to start getting worried or anxious since this is a scenario that they’ve dealt with plenty of times during the regular season.
Personally, even when the Braves were down 4-1 and especially when they were down 4-3, I was thinking that the Marlins were going to be in some trouble if the game was still close once Sandy Alcantara started to get tired and/or Miami’s bullpen entered the game. The Braves have proven time-and-time again that they’re capable of putting together a big rally at any moment in the ballgame. Turning the score around was not a task that was too tall for this lineup. The Braves proved it in the third inning when they clawed back to within one run and then they proved it again when they had the game-breaking rally in the seventh inning.
It’s that familiarity with the situation that probably helped to carry the Braves from a three-run deficit to an eventual three-run victory. We’ve already seen multiple scenarios where the Braves starter has a short stint, which results in the bullpen picking up the slack while the offense rakes its way into the game and eventually into the Winner’s Circle. It’s actually similar to what I mentioned in the wake of Atlanta’s second win over Cincinnati. The Braves have won games like this during the regular season, and now that that they’re seemingly getting the hang of winning in October, it felt like it was simple to just move the successful formula from the regular season to the postseason.
So it was all familiar. Ronald Acuña Jr. hitting a leadoff homer against the Marlins is very familiar. A Braves starter having a somewhat rough day is also familiar. Guys like Marcell Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud, Dansby Swanson, and the rest of the heart of the lineup coming up with big hits to do big damage is a familiar sight for Braves fans. They’ve been doing it all season against pitchers of all levels of quality, so it’s not shocking that they managed to turn on the power when they needed to do it. They’ve gotten familiar with having a successful offense, and now they’re getting familiar with doing it when it matters the most in an intensely competitive environment.
Most importantly, the Braves are starting to get familiar with winning the first game of a postseason series. It’s important in any series to get off to a winning start, but it’s especially important to do it during a best-of-five. Since the postseason expanded to the Divisional Series in 1995, there have been 100 Divisional Series played since then. The winner of Game 1 has gone on to advance to the Championship Series seventy-three (73) times. As a bit of a side note, I’d like to thank Time Magazine (yeah, seriously) for doing the heavy lifting on that stat.
In addition to history being on their side, the Braves are the better team on paper and FanGraphs bumped their odds of defeating the Marlins in this series from 76.8 percent before the series started to 87.2 percent now that they’re up 1-0 in the series. Simply put, the first game of any Divisional Series is huge and one thing that contributed to the Braves having a miserable time in October is the fact that they just couldn’t seem to get that early series lead. They’ve done themselves a huge favor just by winning this first game, and now it’s time to take care of business for the rest of this series.
With that being said, baseball games aren’t played in history books and they aren’t played on spreadsheets. As long as this is still a game being played by human beings, anything can still happen from this point forward. It’s on the Braves to make sure that when it comes to “anything” happening, it still equates to them advancing from the NLDS and into the NLCS. They’ve got the squad to do it. They’ve got the confidence — good grief, do they have the confidence. It’s on them to make sure that they put it together to keep this thing going and turn what was an ugly and depressing postseason series losing streak into a beautiful and inspiring postseason winning streak.