Another division title, now what for the Braves?

Associated PressAtlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman, center right, celebrates at home plate as he scores a winning two-run home during the 11th inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Atlanta.

Sixty games and two months of baseball is in the books for the 2020 Major League Baseball Season. The most unusual of baseball seasons led to a familiar result for the Atlanta Braves; another year, another division title for the Braves. 

It wasn’t easy. Their best player, Freddie Freeman turned in an MVP-caliber season despite overcoming a serious battle with COVID-19 prior to the start of the season. They lost their ace starting pitcher Mike Soroka to a torn ACL. The Braves persevered in a season where perseverance meant the difference between a division title and missing the playoffs.

With the playoffs set to begin Wednesday, the question now becomes what is next for the three-time National League East Division champions?

With the Braves locking up another division championship, what can their fanbase expect this postseason? 

Can the Braves actually win a playoff series? A playoff series victory two years ago was probably too much to expect against a loaded Los Angeles Dodgers team. Last year, though, it was inexcusable against a lesser St. Louis Cardinals team. A third straight first-round exit should make Braves fans question the process and worry that the organization is wasting prime years of some of its best players like Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. 

Another question is how far can the Braves advance this postseason with a depleted and unproven starting rotation? They have proven to be able to outscore teams with home runs but can we really expect similar production come playoff time; especially when teams are better and pitchers are nastier?

I’m not sure the Braves can expect to win a pitcher’s duel, even if their pitcher is Max Fried, a serious contender for the Cy Young Award this year.

It’s playoff time for our beloved Braves but lets face it, who’s excited to just talk about being in the playoffs if you’re a Braves fan? When you consistently make the playoffs like the Braves have in recent years, you need to see steps of progression. Now mind you, those steps can be baby steps but there needs to be signs of the team taking steps forward. Last year was supposed to be that year against the Cardinals but we all know how that series ended.

Braves fans have been patient over the years with this most recent rebuild. They saw fan favorite players be traded away to get younger and unproven potential. The Braves forced their fanbase to live through years of unwatchable baseball. Now that we’ve come out on the other side of that rebuild, the Braves owe their fanbase the belief that this team is still on the rise. 

Division titles should no longer be what this organization desires. The Braves should aim for loftier goals. Anything short of a NLCS berth will be a failure this year.

Clint Thompson is a special contributor to the Valdosta Daily Times.

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