Braves run and stumble their way out of the NLCS

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The Atlanta Braves had a pennant lined up this year. They blew it.

The Atlanta Braves had a pennant lined up this year. They blew it.
Illustration: (Getty Images)

Even a make-believe or mutated season can make for memories that will haunt for years. As the Braves and their fans stew over yet another playoff flameout (the Braves may have to join the A’s and Twins on the playoff-banned list), they’ll look back at the 2nd inning of Game 6 and the 4th inning of Game 7 and know their failure pivoted right there. On such tiny moments do big dreams collapse and all that.

On Saturday the Braves had the base loaded with no outs in the 2nd. They were already down three, but this was their chance to get back into it, perhaps knock Walker Buehler from the game, and force the Dodgers to bullpen their way through two games. Austin Riley and Nick Markakis struck out, Christian Pache grounded out, and that was basically as close as the Braves got.

Last night in Game 7, the Braves had taken the lead in the 4th, and had runners on 2nd and 3rd with no out. Nick Markakis grounded to third, Dansby Swanson attempted to get in a run-down to allow Austin Riley to get to third, except Riley wasn’t done hitting the nitrous tank he apparently hid at second and picked just about the worst moment to try. He was meat at third, the rally was essentially over, and the Braves never really threatened again.

And that’s just about the series. It would be just as easy to point at the depth of the Dodgers’ lineup winning out. Their big ABs fell to Cody Bellinger batting sixth or Will Smith batting 5th or Kike Hernandez pinch-hitting in the 7-spot, while the biggest Braves’ ABs fell to Pache or Riley or Markakis at the bottom of the lineup, three simply not up to it aside from one big Riley homer in Game 1.

Or it would feel just as easy to suggest that the biggest pitches of the series for L.A. were thrown by their starters — Buehler in Game 6 in the 2nd and Julio Urias snuffing out the Braves both in Game 5 and then the end of Game 7 for three innings when the Dodgers took the final lead. While the Braves tried to run their pen to the end, but found throwing Chris Martin in Games 1,2,4,6 and 7 a bridge too far, as he couldn’t put Bellinger away with two strikes until Bellinger put him and the rest of the Braves away. Or Will Smith’s immolation in Game 5 was already his third appearance in five games. The more you throw your relievers in a series, the more it has just about the same effect as allowing your starter a third time through the lineup in one game. They’re your relievers for a reason. They are, aside from the top two or three, the bottom of your roster.

All of that is true. But really, the Braves had this series in their hands the last two games. And yet they made a habit of running into the wall painted like a tunnel. And because of that, they’ll be going home.

But apparently, this just might be the natural state of any sporting entity in Georgia.

Once again, trying to show that you know anything about what might happen in the NFL is an excellent way to look like the mayor of Doofusville.

The Packers proceeded to get clobbered by Tampa Bay yesterday, where Aaron Rodgers definitely looked as old as he ever had and at times the rest of his team didn’t look all that interested.

Their loss leaves the two best records in the NFC to the Seahawks, who are probably genuinely good (you can never be sure in the NFL), and the Bears, who are probably genuinely bad, but have somehow Forrest Gumped their way to five wins. That’s a team that not only managed to take a delay of game coming out of a timeout, or fell for a hard count on 4th down out of a timeout, but also managed 12 men on the field on defense two out of three plays (they jumped offside on the play in the middle for a particular pungent icing on this particular shit-cake) and still won. Why should anything make sense?

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