[Photo of Braves sign at entrance to Truist Park: Larry Johnson/Cobb County Courier]
By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College
As my son and I attended the final game of the 2023 Atlanta Braves, we were all treated to posters titled “A Historic Season,” featuring the exploits of Spencer Strider, Matt Olson, and of course, Ronald Acuña. Marcel Ozuna hit two home runs, including one that tied the record for the Atlanta Braves for most team homers in a season.
But it’s going to take more than these stars to help the best team in baseball win the title this year. To win it all, the Braves are going to win it the way they did in 1995 and 2021. And that means relying on an eclectic cast of characters, ordinary players playing extraordinary roles for one shining career moment.
Hitters: With Acuña, Olson, Ozuna, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, along with Michael Harris II, there doesn’t seem to be a weakness in the Braves lineup. But time and time again, even the best lineups find themselves going cold, or having two on with two outs and being one run down, needing that clutch hit.
Those who cheered the recent Atlanta Braves 2021 title team will definitely remember NLDS MVP Joc Pederson, NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario, and World Series MVP Jorge Soler. All will remember these “Johnny-on-the-Spot” clutch hitters that propelled the Braves to that historic run. But they’re not the only ones. There’s 1995 NLCS MVP Mike Devereaux as well as Marquis Grissom. Who will be this year’s star? Look for Kevin Pillar, Orlando Arcia or even Rosario himself, to play that part.
Catchers: Why does it seem that catchers rise to the occasion in the postseason, like Gene Tenace with the Oakland A’s in the 1970s, Darrell Porter with St. Louis Cardinals, and Rick Dempsey with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1980s, and Francisco Cabrera and Eddie Perez with the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s? Sean Murphy and Travis D’Arnaud have been hotter earlier in the year, but their plate appearances have recently gone cold. One or both need to rediscover the magic to carry Atlanta to another deep run in the postseason.
Starting Pitching: There’s nothing wrong on paper with Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, and Charlie Morton, except that Fried and Morton have been hurt, Elder needs to regain his All-Star form, and Strider needs his ERA to find the same success his strikeout rate has. In the past, Steve Avery rebounded to seal the deal for the Braves in 1995, a true World Series. This year, I’m thinking Kyle Wright could mean the difference, in a spot start or long relief, saving the bullpen, and maybe regaining his form from last year.
Relief Pitchers: When classic World Series moments come to mind, they involve great relievers with rockin’ songs charging in to strike out the side. Most fans outside of Cobb County and the state of Georgia probably wouldn’t think of Jesse Chavez, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith, but those guys seemed to own innings seven, eight and nine in the 2021 postseason. And in 1995, the Braves probably couldn’t have made it all the way without the likes of Brad Clontz, Pedro Borbon, Jr. and Greg McMichael owning the middle relief, and even bailing out the team in tough spots. In 2021, I’d count on A. J. Minter, from that 2021 team to provide the experience, along with Chavez returning from the injury, plus Joe Jimenez and Kirby Yates, keeping things going until Raisel Iglesias is ready to cement his legacy as one of the great Braves closers.
Yes, the Braves will need the same luck and pluck as their team had in 1995 and 2021, but those two teams averaged 89 wins (88 and 90), finding ways to win that went beyond statistics. If these underlined Atlanta Braves players want their place in franchise lore, they merely have to conjure up the ghosts of unlikely heroes noted here, forever fawned over by fans of the Braves.