When the Atlanta Braves embarked on their latest streak of National League East supremacy, it came on the heels of the club’s first true rebuild since the 1980s.
Several seasons of 90-plus losses gave way to five consecutive division crowns, capped by a World Series championship in 2021.
It would be nearsighted to say those events simply happened by design, given how difficult it can be to build and sustain a consistent winner. Clubs sometimes get caught in a vicious cycle of turnover before finally happening upon the right mix to find success in the standings.
While the Braves have accomplished that feat by building a contender on the field, they also believe that the culture in the clubhouse is what helps them maintain those winning ways.
Alex Anthopoulos took over as Atlanta’s general manager prior to the 2018 turnaround. He immediately set about the work of constructing a roster that had talent and depth while supplementing that group with the right veterans and a well-seasoned coaching staff.
Catcher Travis d’Arnaud is one of those men.
Signed as a free-agent prior to the 2020 season, d’Arnaud has enjoyed career-best production with Atlanta, becoming an All-Star and winning a Silver Slugger, all while helping the Braves reach the postseason and achieve the ultimate goal of winning the World Series.
He also became a leader and a steady voice on the club.
“It all starts with (Anthopoulos),” d’Arnaud said. “He learned that the clubhouse environment is the most important thing. He’s told me it’s because when times are bad, if you have a good clubhouse, you’re able to recover a lot quicker than if you have a clubhouse full of not-so-good people. Not only that, but he also built a coaching staff who believe in the same thing. They’re all great people. They have great attitudes all the time. They all understand this game and how there’s ups and downs.“
Navigating those ups and downs may be the most important daily battle for a baseball team.
Tyler Matzek was a reclamation project when he signed with the Braves late in 2019. He developed a mental block to throwing strikes — commonly referred to as “the yips” — after dealing with injuries while pitching for the Colorado Rockies.
With those issues behind him, Atlanta took a chance on him as a reliever and that move paid off for all parties.
Matzek became a postseason hero in 2021 as part of a bullpen group that dubbed itself “The Night Shift.” Currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Matzek spends his time around the club at Truist Park because he gets to do his work surrounded by his friends.
“Alex has done a great job of finding, I think, first off, good people, and then, second, good baseball players,” Matzek said. “When you want to hang out with your teammates, you want to win for your teammates. You tend to go out there and do just a little bit more than you could possibly think you could do. I think that brotherhood, that camaraderie that we have, has allowed us all to perform better on the field and we’ve got a good thing going because of it.”
The camaraderie the Braves share is apparent on the field, where Atlanta is once again thriving, in the dugout, where celebrations are the norm, and even to an outsider walking into the clubhouse before or after a game.
“In the clubhouse, we’ve got a good mix of people,” d’Arnaud said. “We’ve got the young guys, the vets, people who will lead by what they do and what they show. Then, we’ve got leaders who are vocal. We’ve got a good collective group of guys who will keep you accountable. You could learn from anybody. It’s pretty special, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”
Since Atlanta won its first of five straight division titles in 2018, only the Los Angeles Dodgers have won more games among NL clubs.
After proving they belonged among baseball’s elite, that belief created a strong foundation for winning.
Setting the tone and the expectations for this club is Brian Snitker. A former NL Manager of the Year Award winner, Snitker was an unlikely managerial candidate when he took over as the interim skipper at age 60 after Fredi Gonzalez was dismissed in May 2016.
Snitker, who has been in the Braves organization since he was a minor league player in 1977, parlayed that late-career opportunity into the job of a lifetime, becoming just the second manager to lead the Braves to a World Series title since the club moved to Atlanta in 1966.
“I think it takes a while to create that and to get that feeling,” Snitker said of his club’s personality. “It accounts for a lot of the success that the team has had. I think it starts with the core of your guys are just really good people. Their makeup is really good. They’re doing it for all the right reasons, and they like to win.”
The Braves have done a lot of winning in recent years. Their longest losing streak in any season has not exceeded four games since 2017.
“Snit always says, ‘We’re going to come out and play every day and see where we’re at the end of this thing,’ and I think there’s something to be said about that,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said.
Playing in his fifth season with the Braves, Riley experienced ups and downs while trying to establish himself as an everyday major leaguer. Buying into Snitker’s day-to-day approach helped Riley put the long season and everything that happens throughout into perspective.
“Sometimes, when everything is not going so well, you try to fix things versus (realizing) it’s a game of failure,” Riley said. “Let’s just continue to work every day. You’re going to go through those stretches. It’s just a matter of how you handle them. There is no panic ever, from top to bottom, and guys just trust each other.”
The team has definitely embraced Snitker’s calm and collected demeanor. Atlanta treats each day and each series an opportunity to either continue its success or to bounce back from adversity.
“Snit, he’s a steady runner. He keeps us going, right where we need to be,” Matzek said. “He points us in the right direction and the guys just start rowing. He doesn’t panic, doesn’t stress out. He’s very calm and understands it’s a long season. He’s been in baseball for so long that he kind of keeps that boat going, just tells us to row. We just keep doing what we’re doing, and we love doing it.”
First baseman Matt Olson, still a relative newcomer to Atlanta after arriving in early 2022, echoed those sentiments.
“You talk to Snit, and he’s about as even-keeled as you can find,” Olson said. “Snit expects you to show up and be ready to do your job that day. I think he does a great job of setting the tone that every day is new. We’re not going to get too up or too down, just keep playing our games and see where we’re at in the end.”
In addition to a coaching staff that boasts decades of experience, the Braves have benefited from veteran leadership and learning from their defeats. Though the faces change from season to season, those lessons keep getting passed down.
“I feel very fortunate that, in my short time, I’ve been on some really good teams,” Riley said. “Learning from guys that were here before me, guys like Freddie (Freeman), Brian (McCann), Dansby (Swanson), guys that have been here when there weren’t good teams, just how they carry themselves and how they approach the game, I feel like you can learn so much from guys like that.”
This article first appeared in the Marietta Daily Journal. Find it here.