Even with a pitch-perfect roster and playoff pedigree, baseball ain’t easy. If you need more proof, take a look at the divergent paths of the Dodgers and Braves, two teams that met in an evenly-matched NLCS in 2020.
Last October, the Braves were the ascendant franchise up three games to one, on the verge of dealing the Dodgers their latest postseason death blow.
Against the ropes, Los Angeles made the necessary adjustments, riding several clutch homers and special starting pitching performances to a series win and, ultimately, a World Series triumph.
Since then, Dodgers fans have been frustrated that their 2021 team has looked occasionally hungover, and has needed reinforcements to stay within range of their preseason projections in a competitive NL West. The Braves? Ooooooh boy. It could be so much worse, Dodgers fans.
Atlanta has not exactly looked the part of an NL East-leading juggernaut this year, instead weathering myriad injuries, unexpected catastrophes and collective steps back to remain under .500 and well back of the Mets.
In fact, they’re one of only three MLB teams to have never set foot above the .500 mark at any point this season.
Think the Dodgers have it bad? Look at the Atlanta Braves.
Since Opening Day, Atlanta’s been forced to spend time without Travis d’Arnaud, Touki Toussaint, Cristian Pache, Mike Soroka and Marcell Ozuna, and also survived a serious-looking Ronald Acuña Jr. injury scare.
Things got so bad that even standout starting pitcher Huascar Ynoa, one of the early season’s best stories, became so frustrated in the dugout that he fractured his hand in anger; he remains on the 60-Day IL (self-inflicted wound).
Things are, of course, the bleakest for Ozuna, who was re-signed this offseason to a four-year, $65 million deal after an exemplary 2020 regular and postseason. Shortly after hitting the IL with dislocated fingers in late May, he was arrested in a violent domestic incident, and it’s now more likely his name would be searched in conjunction with “voidable contract?” than any other attribute.
Soroka, Atlanta’s ace-in-waiting who suffered an Achilles injury that required surgery in early August 2020, still isn’t on the mend, battling a setback to the area. Word is he could be ready by late summer, but it’s getting late early out here for a team that quite recently held the upper hand in the postseason with the Dodgers.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, things haven’t gone by the book, but after a tough early May, they’re certainly not off the rails.
Did we anticipate Albert Pujols socking dingers? We did not. Did we think the lows would get as low as they did with Alex Vesia and Mitch White trying to hold down late-and-close leads on the road? Also no.
But as we round the corner into mid-June, the Dodgers sit in second place, 13 games over .500 and just behind the surprising Giants in the West. The record doesn’t look as spotless as we anticipated, but only a nitpicker (aka a passionate Dodgers fan) could really quibble with the position we’re in.
An Atlanta rooter? Uh, answer hazy. Try again later.