This one is going to hurt for a while.
For the tenth consecutive time – with three different managers, three different general managers, current Hall-of-Famers, potential Hall-of-Famers, and everything in between (and, oh, John Coppolella) – the Braves have lost a playoff series. It ties the record set by the Chicago Cubs. At least the Cubs didn’t have it all happen in a condensed manner of less than two decades. They spaced it out over nearly a century. They didn’t punch you in the gut year-after-year-after-year.
But it’s fall so that means pumpkin spice everything, football weather if it’s not 90 degrees, and the Braves crushing your hopes and dreams. They are literally the opposite of voting for Pedro.
With the best roster of players they’ve had in years, the Braves were ever-so-close to flipping that script, though. They needed just one hit from their super productive middle-of-the-lineup in Game 4 to end the series in St. Louis. Time-after-time, they couldn’t get it done. And then the first inning happened this afternoon and removed all doubt of who was going to advance.
It started with a bad omen. No, not the absurdity about the Chop and so forth. This all started with a foul tip that Brian McCann couldn’t hold onto. The batter, Dexter Fowler, would have been the first out of the game. Instead, he later walked and soon, a parade of Cardinals ran the bases as Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried seemed powerless to stop them. For an organization that has gone through October heartaches more times than seem possible since the 1995 World Series, today’s game was still something different.
The Braves usually got knocked-out later in the game. More often than not, it’s a late-round haymaker of a homer or a barrage of fastballs the team swings through. There are the ups-and-downs where you think this could be the game they do it! They might win this time! But something happens in the middle of the battle that takes away that hope. They don’t get knocked out in the first friggin’ round. Err, inning. Whatever the metaphor needs it to be.
Some will probably try to spin this in a positive manner – the young and dynamic core is going to be a year older and more hungry, and Mike Soroka threw the game of his life to push the Braves to a position where they only needed to win one or two games to advance. All of these things are true. The future looks great, but the future also looked great last October. Eventually, you no longer want to hear that it’s all going to be okay. You want it to just be okay.
Now the offseason awaits an organization that needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror at what they want to be. Last offseason, they made one real impact move – signing Josh Donaldson. They didn’t want to move prospects in deals and didn’t want to commit long-term to players. Donaldson will be a free agent. As will Dallas Keuchel, who, along with Foltynewicz, started two games during the NLDS. He never looked the part of the top starter the Braves wanted him to be. McCann’s game-calling remained a bright spot, though his bat went cold once the weather got hot. (adding this – McCann has announced his retirement)
A number of other veterans – Jerry Blevins, Darren O’Day, Billy Hamilton, Adeiny Hechavarria, etc. – also will hit the market. Fixtures like Tyler Flowers, Nick Markakis, and former franchise cornerstone, Julio Teheran, have options that will need decisions.
And then there is Freddie Freeman. He said his elbow was fine, but the results at the plate were miserable and his error today in the first inning on a hard, but makeable, play helped to contribute to the nightmarish result that the inning became. It didn’t help that he was publicly critical of Ronald Acuña Jr. after Game One before Freeman’s bat went quiet over the next three games. There was talk that he would be a contract extension candidate this offseason despite still having two years left on his deal. Those talks may be delayed.
Brian Snitker would seem safe. Some of the decisions he made can be questioned, but he won’t be a scapegoat for the failures of his star players to produce. But will the Braves move to replace Rick Kranitz despite just hiring him last winter? Ron Washington is a managerial candidate as well and could leave for another opportunity.
The 2019-20 offseason just began for the Atlanta Braves. It’s far sooner than any of us would have liked. There’s so much that can be written about the NLDS against the Cardinals – from the poor decision to start Soroka in Game 3 rather than in Game 1 when the team to the failure of NMarkakis for a second consecutive fall to be even remotely useful. The list really goes on from there. I may write about some of those things, but part of me is ready to move on.
Because quite honestly, like I said, this one hurt. It’s one thing to lose because you are overmatched. Many of the playoffs that ended in failure weren’t chokes. The Braves weren’t better than the Dodgers in 2018, nor were they better in 2013. With all the injuries they faced, the shell of the 2010 Braves was plucky, but over-their-heads against the Giants. But this Braves team should have won. There is no question in my mind that they are the better team.
But they didn’t get it done.
And that…most certainly is a familiar feeling this time of year.