This is what Stephen Strasburg, who’d end up being the MVP of the 2019 World Series, said a year ago about the Washington Nationals, when they were finishing their improbable run from winning just 19 of their first 50 games to winning it all:
“You can have a great year and run into a buzzsaw. Maybe this year we’re the buzzsaw.”
One of the teams that ran into it was the Dodgers, in the National League Division Series. The Dodgers were ahead of the Nationals two games to one, and then they were ahead 3-1 in Game 5 and lost. A year later, the Dodgers are up against the Braves in the NL Championship Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington. The two teams have only played Game 1, which the Braves won 5-1 on Monday night. So there is a long way to go.
But on Monday night, the Braves looked the same against the team with the best regular-season record in baseball as they did in the first two rounds of the postseason. They looked like a buzzsaw, breaking the game open in the top of the ninth, when Austin Riley tried to hit a home run all the way to Oklahoma.
The Braves have now played six postseason games so far. The combined score of those games is 29-6. In one of them, against the Marlins, the Braves won 9-5. That means that in the other five games they have played since the postseason began, the score is Braves 20, Other Guys 1. They are getting rather awesome starting pitching, at least so far, from the top three guys in their starting rotation -- Max Fried (Game 1 starter), Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright. Their whole staff, starters and relievers, has produced four shutouts in six games and gave the Dodgers that one run Monday night.
“They’re good,” Max Muncy of the Dodgers said before the series started. “They’ve put together good game plans against the teams they’ve been playing, and I’m sure they’re going to do the same thing [Monday night]. They’re going to go out there and execute. We’ve just got to stay within ourselves and execute our game plan and hopefully they make a mistake or two. And [we’ve got to] not let things get too out of hand.”
But it’s not just pitching. The Braves can mash, from Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman at the top of Brian Snitker’s batting order, all the way down to Riley, who hit the biggest home run of his career off Blake Treinen in the ninth before Ozzie Albies hit one off Jake McGee. The first Braves’ run of the game came on a home run from Freeman in the top of the first.
A few months ago I was talking to the great Hank Aaron about the things in modern baseball that give him the most pleasure, and one of the things high up on Mr. Aaron’s list was this:
“I love watching Freddie Freeman hit.”
So did Freeman’s manager on Monday night, watching him get the Braves on the board first with his shot to right off Walker Buehler. It was his first home run of the postseason, after a regular season in which he hit .341 and had 13 homers and 53 RBIs with an OPS of 1.102 to look like an NL MVP candidate.
“That was big,” Snitker said, speaking of Freeman’s first-inning homer. “But that’s what Freddie does.”
Freeman himself, of course, wanted to talk about Riley’s homer when it was over. Riley’s first big league home run came in May 2019. He hit that one 438 feet, with an exit velocity of 109. On Monday night against the Dodgers, he had the same exit velocity. And hit one 10 feet farther.
“That’s a pretty good nine-hole hitter we’ve got,” Freeman said.
“I couldn’t feel my legs,” Riley said about his trip around the bases.
Between Freeman and Riley, the Braves pitched beautifully. Again. Pitched the way they’ve been pitching since their Wild Card Series when their staff was shutting out the Reds in both games the teams played. Fried, who was born in Santa Monica, threw six innings of four-hit ball, striking out nine and walking just two. The Braves relievers took it from there.
“They made some mistakes that we just didn’t capitalize on,” Dave Roberts said.
For this one night (and remember, the Trailblazers won Game 1 against the Lakers not too long ago) the Braves did to the Dodgers what they’d already done to the Reds and Marlins. It means that with the exception of that one 9-5 win over the Marlins, the Braves rolled them. Game 1 against the Reds was 1-0 in 13 innings. Game 2 was 5-0. Their combined score in the last two games of their Marlins series was 9-0.
So now the Atlanta Braves are 6-0 in this postseason. Long way to go. Just starting a best-of-seven against the Dodgers. Still need seven more wins to win it all. But so far? So far this October, the Braves are the baseball buzzsaw.