The man in charge of the Atlanta Braves saw the same thing fans did this October.
For the second consecutive year, their season ended far earlier than anticipated.
Despite having the best record in Major League Baseball one of the greatest offenses of all time, the Braves were unable to score enough runs to stave off elimination at the hands of the National League East rival Philadelphia Phillies
Their second early exit in as many years raised questions about the club’s preparedness, their ability to execute, and how exactly they can avoid this kind of thing moving forward.
The onus to construct a team capable of winning it all falls on Alex Anthopoulos.
How do they fix it?
Anthopoulos must answer those kinds of questions — and more — while identifying solutions which could help the Braves avoid a similar fate in Octobers to come.
In the wake of his club’s disappointing finish, the Braves’ executive vice president and general manager discussed the bitter end and how they can once again reach baseball’s summit.
Not far removed from their World Series title of 2021, Anthopoulos and the Braves discovered just how difficult it is to replicate that success annually.
“Nobody has the exact formula. Otherwise, somebody would be winning,” Anthopoulos said. “But I think that’s what makes baseball great is that you’re constantly looking for answers in terms of what gets you into a World Series.”
It has been quite some time since Major League Baseball saw a repeat champion. The New York Yankees, who won three straight from 1998-2000, were the last club to win multiple World Series in a row.
Since then, 15 different clubs have claimed a championship over the past 21 seasons. Only four clubs have won multiple World Series over that stretch.
Regardless of the degree of difficulty those numbers suggest, the Braves set out to win another championship in 2023. Winning their sixth straight NL East title was supposed to be just the first step along the path to the World Series.
After a second straight 100-win campaign, Atlanta seemed poised to get there. The Phillies once again foiled that plan.
“I understand it’s two years in a row,” Anthopoulos said of the Braves’ ouster by the Phillies. “I just think the two years are very different. I think, just with the health of our rotation, with where it was and so on. I don’t remember the exact scores of all those games. I just feel like — take away Game 3 with what the final score was — we had opportunities in those other games, and (if) you get the big hit, you come through, and you feel really good with the players that we have.”
Those players were certainly capable, but simply did not come through. Some wondered if too much time off between the end of the season and the division series may have played a role in their sluggish showing.
The Braves were among the majors’ top teams to be eliminated from the postseason in the early rounds. The Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers were bounced in the wild card round, while the Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles were each handed Division Series defeats.
While the league could opt to revisit and revamp its current playoff format, Anthopoulos and the rest of the club refused to blame the system for the untimely struggles.
“I just don’t want to make excuses and I don’t because the bottom line is the format is the format,” Anthopoulos said. “That’s the way it is. I’ve said this many times. You want to go into the postseason feeling like you have a roster and a team that’s capable of winning a World Series. That being said, things have to occur and so on. … We had a bunch of opportunities.”
Those missed opportunities were tied largely to the Braves’ failure to score runs, something they did better than any other team in baseball over the course of the regular season.
Of course, the postseason is an entirely different creature.
While most of the questions surrounding Atlanta’s playoff chance hinged on the health of the rotation, an ongoing issue for multiple seasons, and the bullpen’s ability to hold leads, it was the historic offense that was unable to answer the bell against Philadelphia.
The Braves led the majors with 947 runs scored and tied the single-season record with 307 home runs, only to be outscored 20-8, get outhomered 11-3 and bat under .200 for the second straight October against the Phillies.
“We’re a team that slugs, there’s no doubt about that,” Anthopoulos said. “I don’t think anyone would doubt that we have a lot of power on this team. We have a lot of slug on this team. We didn’t have a lot of extra-base hits. We didn’t slug in this series, so if you’re looking strictly at that specific item, I would sit there and say, wow, this team lacks power. This team lacks extra base ability. It doesn’t.”
If anything, the Braves offense appeared to have fixed its major flaw of 2022. They upped their contact rate considerably while simultaneously cutting their strikeouts. Over the course of just one season, Atlanta went from second in the majors in strikeouts to just 25th in 2023.
Atlanta struck out 34 times while managing just four extra-base hits in 129 at-bats in the series, a showing that was a night and day contrast to their regular season exploits.
Some of that disparity speaks to the competition and how well the Phillies pitched, while some owes to the inherent unpredictable nature of the postseason and small sample sizes.
“Obviously, we have power in the lineup, (but) it didn’t happen,” Anthopoulos said of the team’s power outage in October. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have great players, but it will happen over the course of a series where guys aren’t always going to continue. Maybe, if we’d gone through this round, the next round it would have shown up, so I feel like these games could have gone some other way if you get the big hit. In some other years, and series, we got the big hit.”
The majority of Atlanta’s lineup is under contract for 2024 and beyond thanks to a series of extensions to lock in the core of the club. That makes identifying items for the winter shopping list a relatively straightforward exercise for Anthopoulos and his front office team.
While the sting of the Braves’ most recent elimination will justifiably resonate throughout the fanbase, Anthopoulos still believes in Atlanta’s powerful lineup. Going 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position during the NLDS did not help their cause, however.
“We did not have issues with runners in scoring position during the year,” Anthopoulos said. “Over four games, we didn’t come through. To try to extrapolate from that more than what it is, I don’t think would be a responsible thing to do.”
Though several players are eligible for free agency, Atlanta faces just one major decision on a lineup regular.
The club holds a $9 million option on left fielder Eddie Rosario, a key member of the 2021 title team. On the pitching side, veteran right-hander Charlie Morton, who injured his right index finger and was forced to miss the NLDS, has a $20 million option for 2023.
Decisions on Rosario and Morton will be among the first dominos to fall this winter.
“Within five days after the World Series, those will all be discussions,” Anthopoulos said. “We have to sit back and look at what the roster looks like for 2024 — things we want to do, how we’re going to allocate our dollars, all those things. But both of those players, we’re thrilled with the years that they both had.”
This article originally appeared in the Marietta Daily Journal. Find it here.