The idea that a team can come from the brink of elimination after dropping the first two games in a best-of-five series seems daunting, but it has happened more than you might think. Cliff Corcoran provided an informative article at about this time last year for SportsOnEarth.com. In it, he detailed the nine comebacks from a 2-0 hole in the playoffs. That included instances when the Championship Series was five games or the split-season 1981 season – the first time there was a division series.
The article was timely not only because it was playoff baseball, but when it was published, the Yankees and Red Sox were both in 2-0 holes. Both teams staved off elimination in Game 3, but the Red Sox lost against Justin Verlander and the Astros in Game 4. The other ALDS? Well, that’s the tenth time a team has come roaring back to win a best-of-five playoff series while down 2-0.
Let’s re-consider that series between the Indians and Yankees, by the way. For much of 2017, the Indians were considered the best team in the American League. They were the reigning AL Champs, having pushed the Cubs to a memorable seven-game Fall Classic in 2016. They followed that up by leading the AL with 102 wins in 2017. The Indians could pitch – their team ERA was 40 points lower than second place. They could score runs – third most in the AL. If they had a bit of an Achilles Heel, it came down to defense.
On the other hand, the Yankees surprised a lot of people to even make the playoffs. After being one of the oldest teams in baseball during a fourth-place finish the previous season, the Yankees invested into the future behind Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Judge. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery, a pair of starters under the age of 25, led their staff. These weren’t your father’s Yankees and many thought 2017 would go down as a rebuilding season for the Bronx Bombers. But the Yankees didn’t care. They shook off the cobwebs after an average run from June-to-August to win 20 of their final 29 games. They then won the Wild Card play-in game over the Twins.
But the Indians were something else. At the end of August, New York was swept right out of Cleveland over a three-game set. A year after coming up one game short of a World Series title, Cleveland was a favorite to win it all and it looked like they would cruise into the ALCS after beating the Indians 4-0 and winning Game 2 on a walk-off single by Yan Gomes in the 13th.
The Yankees didn’t roll over in Game Three. Masahiro Tanaka outdueled Carlos Carrasco until Greg Bird hit a solo homer off Andrew Miller in the seventh. It was the only run of the game as New York won 1-0 in the Bronx. In Game Four, using a four-run second off Trevor Bauer, New York pushed the series back to Cleveland with a 7-3 win. And in Game Five, the Yankees never trailed, winning 5-2.
Now, I’m not saying the Braves are definitely going to win the NLDS and a part of me dies when I compare them with the hated Yankees, but let’s be honest here – there are some parallels. Like the Yankees, the Braves were a young team led by a likely Rookie of the Year outfielder. Also quite like the Yankees, the Braves weren’t supposed to be in a contender this quick. The Yankees certainly had extra financial assistance, but they were coming off a year in which they traded off Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova. Every one of these trades was focused on the future, not necessarily 2017.
Both the 2017 Yanks and 2018 Braves faced off against defending league champions who were coming off legendary Fall Classics the previous year. Both the 2017 Indians and 2018 Dodgers were seen as World Series favorites before their respective seasons begun and while the Dodgers struggled out of the gate, by the end of the season, both were still World Series favorites.
The young squads opened their first playoff series on the road and both lost two straight. Both won a dramatic Game Three. And both turned to their young ace in Game Four to force a fifth and deciding game.
With any luck, the comparison between the two teams will continue through Game Four and into Game Five and beyond. Maybe, just maybe, the Atlanta Braves can dethrone a defending league champion with three consecutive victories in win-or-go-home games.
If you’ve watched the 2018 Atlanta Braves for very long and you don’t think there is a chance – not a single chance – that the Braves can do this, you haven’t been paying attention. Again, I’m not saying they will. I am too entrenched in science to make such a claim.
I’m just saying that it’s possible.