Braves in shock after playoff flop, but excited for future

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More than four months of dazzling baseball carried the Atlanta Braves to a fifth consecutive NL East title. Their hopes of repeating as World Series champion crumbled in less than a week.

The season came to an unimaginable end with two dismal performances in Philadelphia, where the Braves were outscored 17-4 and lost the Division Series 3-1 to a Phillies team they beat by 14 games in the regular season.

“Man, I’m disappointed,” manager Brian Snitker said on Sunday, less than 24 hours after the last game. “I just remember what we went through this year and I expect to (win the World Series) again.”

Instead, the Braves made their first playoff exit since 2019.

The wild-card Phillies now head to the Championship Series, their title hopes still alive as two 101-win teams that fought for the division title are all done.

The Braves came back from a 10 1/2 game deficit to chase the Mets, sweeping New York on the final weekend of the season and winning the dramatic pennant race on a tiebreaker to win the first round.

The Mets were upset in the first round by the San Diego Padres. Atlanta went down next, doomed by a bad tee shot, an offense that suddenly went cold and a bullpen that couldn’t keep it close with the season on the line.

“We didn’t do a lot of things well,” Snitker said. “We are a better team than the way we have played in this divisional series.”

For good measure, a flagrant lack of dynamism by one of the team’s best players, Ronald Acuña Jr., marred the deciding game and prompted a tirade from team radio announcer Joe Simpson, who called it “embarrassing”.

Still, Snitker said his biggest memory of this team would be how they fought to catch up with the Mets. The future certainly looks bright, with most young core players locked into long-term contracts and almost everyone expected to return in 2023.

“We have a great team. We really do,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos. “You have to turn the page at some point.”

Snitker, too, is excited about what the future holds.

“We have talented players,” he said. “We will meet again in March and the objective will be to win the division again.”

SWANSON’S FAREWELL?

The biggest question heading into the offseason is the status of shortstop Dansby Swanson, who is set to become a free agent.

After winning the World Series a year ago, the Braves lost first baseman and longtime team manager Freddie Freeman in free agency.

Another Atlanta mainstay could be out this winter, although the Braves and Swanson have expressed a desire to strike a new deal.

That was also the case with Freeman, but he now plays for the Dodgers.

BABY BRAVE

The Braves have the two leading candidates for NL Rookie of the Year – outfielder Michael Harris II and pitcher Spencer Strider – and locked them both into lengthy contracts, even though they were years away from being eligible in free agency.

The 21-year-old Harris was brought up from Double-A to bolster the team’s defense and ended up being one of the Braves’ best all-around players. He hit .297 with 19 home runs, 64 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

Strider, who throws hard, days shy of his 24th birthday, solidified the rotation while becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to record 200 strikeouts and give up fewer than 100 hits.

WHO IS CLOSEST?

Kenley Jansen has had a big season, leading the NL with 41 saves after signing a one-year, $16 million contract with the Braves.

Anthopoulos said he would like to bring Jansen back, but the Braves have other options if the 35-year-old signs elsewhere.

Former Angels closest Raisel Iglesias was acquired at the trade deadline and thrived in a set-up role for Jansen. He also had a pair of 30-save seasons and is under contract with the Braves for three more years at $48 million.

Another option is Kirby Yates, who struggled in limited appearances returning from Tommy John surgery, but also has experience as a closer. He was an All-Star who led the NL with 41 saves as he pitched for San Diego in 2019.

GETTING STARTED QUESTIONS

Kyle Wright led the majors with 21 wins, Max Fried had another solid season and Strider looks to have an extremely bright future.

Beyond that, there are question marks in the rotation.

Charlie Morton will return to the Braves on a one-year, $20 million contract, offering plenty of experience but needing to improve in a bumpy season.

The other outgoing candidates all come with baggage.

Former All-Star Mike Soroka hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2020 after twice tearing an Achilles tendon, while Ian Anderson endured a miserable season that led to the Braves sacking the star once a budding miner.

Bryce Elder and Kirk Muller have a lot of promise but little major league experience.

ACUNA’S MATURITY

It’s time for Acuña to realize its potential.

He may be one of baseball’s biggest stars, but his numbers after a season-ending knee injury in 2021 were pretty ordinary (15 homers, 50 RBIs, 29 stolen bases).

Moreover, his lack of fuss in the final game of the season wasn’t the first time his work ethic and arrogant style of play had drawn attention.

In the NLDS, Acuña failed to save a play from his right field position, barely moving until it was far too late to prevent the home run inside JT Realmuto’s park. that Philadelphia won an 8-3 series victory.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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