One win away. That's how close the Atlanta Braves were to capturing a World Series berth that had eluded them for more than 20 years.
On three separate occasions in last year's National League Championship Series, the Braves failed to put away the eventual champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The Braves should return hungrier, more motivated and in some respect, better prepared for what is hopefully a long playoff run.
Welcome to the 2021 season Bravos fans.
Expectations have changed for these three-time National League East Division champions. No longer are fans content with their favorite team just returning to the postseason every year. No longer are fans satisfied with just another division title. No longer are we happy with just a playoff series victory.
We are expecting, hoping, wanting more from this year's team; maybe not a World Series championship but, at the very least, a World Series appearance.
It would mark the first such appearance for the Braves in the 21st Century. I was in college at the time. And don't forget, it wasn't long ago that the Braves were routine participants on baseball's biggest stage. It started in 1991. By the end of the decade, the Braves had made five World Series appearances.
One of the most anticipated seasons in recent years for the Atlanta Braves commences this week. The team that came within a win of the World Series berth last year, returns its main components in check while adding a few arms to provide depth for a fatigued starting rotation from last year.
While Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton aren't likely to contend for a Cy Young Award, they should help stabilize a rotation that figures to be among baseball's best this year.
The schedule is set up for the Braves to have a fast start to the season. The season's first nine games are against the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies; while division rivals, they are considered the bottom feeders in the National League East.
I do realize the Braves do not have the greatest playoff resume. I know that's not a shock to fans who have followed this team for as long as I have. Who can forget the blown World Series chance in 1991? Or how about the 1996 World Series against the New York Yankees when the Braves blew a 2-0 series lead? And even last year when the Braves held a 3-1 NLCS lead against the Dodgers, they couldn't close the deal.
I make my prediction with little confidence. The Braves will be back in the World Series ... maybe.
—Clint Thompson is a special contributor to The Union-Recorder.