The Principality

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3rd November 2020 - Reflections

Posted by theprincipality on November 3, 2020 at 3:20 PM

It’s been a few weeks now since the Braves’ season was ended by Cody Bellinger and the Dodgers. Proving too strong for the Rays, Los Angeles marched relentlessly to the World Series they have so coveted for so many years and so with the last out of the Series, as it always does, the baseball season ended. It’s fair to say that the 2020 season was like no other. For the most part, it has been memorable for all the wrong reasons. Deep into Spring Training, the virus that has caused death to so many and immeasurable suffering to everyone else halted the season in its tracks.

 

After the shutdown, a bitter dispute between players, owners and MLB followed over how to start the season, how many games to play, how much the players should be paid, whether fans should be allowed in, what health and safety protocols needed to be followed and so on and so forth to the point where it looked likely there would be no season at all. Then, once it did begin, an immediate outbreak in the Miami Marlins organisation undermined the new protocols and threatened to derail the season before it got going. After their opener, Miami didn’t play another game for over a week. The schedule was a mess. The liberal media blasted MLB for playing, whilst social media relentlessly mocked the sport - and yet baseball persevered.

 

Many people rightly asked what the point was. But baseball persevered. It persevered like Rocky Balboa in Moscow and in the face of deafening criticism, eventually started to get the same result as the Italian Stallion. The metaphorical boos began to die away, to be replaced with cheers. Miami came back and started winning some games, giving people an underdog to root for. The new protocols started to work and no more games were cancelled. People found excitement in the shortened season and expanded playoffs, as teams not used to reaching October suddenly found themselves with something to play for. Baseball was alive again and capturing the imagination of America.

 

It was no more evident than in Atlanta. For much of the late Spring and early Summer, Atlanta had been one of the major focal points of civil unrest following the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police in Minnesota. In an election year, Atlanta was a blue city in a red state and the great schism of division was being felt. It is easy to get carried away with hyperbole and suggest that baseball brought the city together. It did not. Tensions are still high (I write this on election day, with the winner as yet unknown) and unrest may well return. However, the Atlanta Braves did give the city some hope. So often have Atlanta sports been the butt of jokes around the country. Yet this year was different.

 

The Braves lineup was a juggernaut. As the rotation fell apart around it, the lineup kept producing night after night. The bullpen was incredible and bit by bit, the Braves brought home a third straight division title. In many respects that was the easy part. For a team with championship aspirations, but who had not won a playoff series since 2001, the expanded postseason threw in an additional hurdle to overcome: a best-of-three wild card round where they would have to face their opponent’s aces, countering with an untested, patchwork rotation. To make matters worse, Atlanta’s opponent was the Cincinnati Reds, who would send out likely Cy Young Award winner, Trevor Bauer.

 

As we know, Game 1 was an epic pitching duel that went scoreless into the thirteenth inning. Anything Bauer could throw, Max Fried could come back with. Since the Reds sent out the likely Cy Young winner, it was only fitting that the game was ended by the likely MVP, when Freddie Freeman got the walk off hit to win it 1-0 for Atlanta.

 

Game 1 answered the questions that were being asked over Max Fried, but the big question was who the Braves would send out after him. Ian Anderson got the nod. A rookie with only 5 Major League starts under his belt and tasked with ending a 19-year playoff drought, the pressure was on. Perhaps nobody expected him to do what he did, but Anderson’s playoffs ended up being historic and the Braves shutout the Reds for the second straight day to advance. The juggernaut rolled on and the belief grew and grew as they swept Miami and took a 3-1 series lead over LA.

 

The history books will show that LA proved ultimately a bridge too far and a juggernaut in their own right. Yet after insipid performances and tame playoff defeats in previous years, there was something about the Braves 2020 run that demanded attention and announced them as a contender for years to come. There was disappointment, but no sadness after their elimination. Through the chaos of a deadly virus and social unrest, baseball had survived and the Braves returned home to Atlanta as heroes. It had been a memorable season, often for the wrong reasons. But in the city of Atlanta, the 2020 season will live on in the memory as the year they emerged as a true force to be reckoned with. Expectations for 2021 are high and only a fool would bet against them going even further than they did this year.

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