| USA TODAY
Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz never did this.
No, for all the Atlanta Braves’ rich and pitching-centric playoff history, they’ve never seen anything like the work put in by a young and increasingly dominant trio of starters, all first-round picks, none older than 26 and backed up by a seasoned group of relievers that similarly give no quarter.
And now, for the first time since that Hall of Fame trio was pitching for them, the Braves have advanced one step shy of the World Series.
They muzzled the Miami Marlins in the National League Division Series, finishing with a streak of 19 scoreless innings and completing the sweep with a 7-0 triumph in Game 3 Thursday at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
MLB PLAYOFFS: Full postseason schedule
Atlanta will head north across Texas to Arlington’s Globe Life Field for its first appearance in the National League Championship Series since 2001, with Game 1 Monday, likely against the Los Angeles Dodgers – who hold a 2-0 lead over the San Diego Padres.
The Dodgers would provide by far the biggest test yet for this young Atlanta staff. Yet with every passing round, the evidence suggests that it’s not the futility of the Braves’ opponents. Perhaps their pitching is just this good.
They pitched a pair of shutouts in eliminating a powerful Cincinnati Reds in the wild-card round. Against Miami, ace Max Fried had the temerity to give up four runs in an eventual 9-5 Game 1 victory, but that was it.
Ian Anderson followed with six shutout innings in Game 2 and Kyle Wright finished it off with six innings of three-hit ball, striking out seven in Game 3. Three relievers completed the shutout that rained more superlatives on this run of stinginess.
Only the 1905 New York Giants can also say they pitched four shutouts in their first five postseason games. With one more shutout, the Braves will equal the 2016 Cleveland Indians’ record five shutouts in a single postseason.
And the guys pitching most of the innings are barely old enough to rent a car.
Fried is the elder statesman, 26 and the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft by San Diego, with a six-player deal involving Justin Upton sending him to Atlanta.
Anderson, their most dominant pitcher this postseason, with 17 strikeouts in 11 2/3 scoreless innings, was the third overall pick in 2016 and is just 22. Wright, who turned 25 last week, was the fifth overall pick a year later, out of Vanderbilt.
They’re now providing the Braves a playoff pitching jackpot.
Not that their support was lacking. Travis d’Arnaud banged out his fourth extra-base hit of the series, a two-run double, to key a four-run third inning that broke a scoreless tie. Marlins rookie starter Sixto Sanchez used his 100-mph heat to escape a bases-loaded jam in the first, but was gone after the third.
The Braves blitz ended the Marlins’ improbable playoff run, coming after they had to replace 18 players three games into the season following a massive outbreak of COVID-19.
The Braves will move on – and at some point may run into a lineup capable of pressing their pitching staff.