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October was once again too big for the Braves

If this happens one year, it’s a fluke. If it happens two straight years, it’s a trend. The Phillies showed up and showed out for the second year in a row, so why did the Braves shrink again?

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Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Four Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Welp! If you had told me heading into this series what would’ve doomed the Atlanta Braves in their second-straight NLDS loss to the Philadelphia Phillies was their offense not showing up, I definitely would’ve been shocked! I’ve spent a lot of time and words on this particular website talking about how this lineup has proven time and time again that they can swing with anybody (and better than anybody, at that) and it was as if the other team scoring runs was a challenge instead of it being an omen of doom.

Instead, for the second season in a row, the Braves had to watch idly by as the Phillies did in October what the Braves were used to doing from late-March through September. The Phillies were the ones who came into this series locked in and confident. The Phillies were the ones who came up with nearly all the big hits that they needed and seemingly whenever they needed them. The Phillies were the ones wreaking all types of havoc on the basepaths — even when their risks didn’t work out for them (in infamous fashion), they were still at least confident enough to take those risks. The Phillies were in complete control of this series for all but four innings in Game 2. Other than that blip where the Braves actually looked like the Braves, the Phillies were the team setting the tone and it all looked awfully familiar to what happened in 2022.

Now, the situation for the Braves isn’t as dire as it feels like. This is a team that did, in fact, win a World Series in 2021. That was a thing actually happened and I have the Blu-Ray sitting on my shelf that proves it. That’s also the only thing that’s keeping this group/era of Braves baseball from being a total and complete disappointment. After pulling an utter capitulation in Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS, a 3-1 NLCS collapse in 2020 and now two-straight chin-checks at the hands of their divisional rivals (who finished more than 10 games behind them in the standings in each of the past two seasons), it’s clear that something has got to change with this team when it comes to the Postseason.

Yeah, it’s a crapshoot and nothing like what regular season baseball is (and we’re absolutely not going to just pooh-pooh away 101 wins in 2022 and 104 wins in 2023, that’s still an incredibly impressive two-year span of work) but that’s just it — the Postseason is nothing like what regular season baseball is and that is the crux of the whole issue. The Phillies have figured that out and I think the whole baseball world has figured that out as we’ve spent the past two seasons now talking about how Philadelphia is a team that’s built just to get to October and make noise.

That hasn’t been just a theory or just a narrative, either — they’ve gone out there and done it and they’ve sent the Braves home packing in the NLDS for two straight seasons now. It’s high time for the Braves to figure it out in the Postseason. We were all hoping that 2021 may have been a sign that this franchise may have actually found a way to translate lavish regular season success into the same thing come October but as it turns out, that 2021 Braves team has more in common with the 2022-2023 Phillies than anybody else. They do enough to get into the tournament, then they shine once it’s actually tournament time. The Phillies as currently constructed and as their clubhouse makeup is set up are just made for moments like this. The Braves haven’t figured it out yet and it’s very annoying to see a team that’s this talented just fail to meet the moment when it matters the most.

I’d imagine that we’re probably going to hear all the right things from the Braves once we get closer to spring training next season. Spencer Strider’s comments following the game seem to indicate that he’s in the right space and here’s some what he had to say after the game [via The Athletic and emphasis is mine]:

“We’re not a group that makes excuses,” Strider said. “I’m not a person that makes excuses. I’m sure there’s a lot of Braves fans out there that are not happy, and they have every right to be that way. We’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves. Me personally, I wasn’t good enough.”

We’ll probably be hearing a lot more of that as the offseason rolls along. This is a franchise that is good about saying the right things but at this point, it can’t be lip service anymore. There has to be an actual change that happens so that this team can find a way to bridge the gap from the regular season to the Postseason. There is no reason why this lineup — a lineup that included the presumptive NL MVP, the MLB leader in home runs, one guy who hit 40, two other guys who cracked 30 and an overall lineup that could boast at least 9 hitters with 99 wRC+ or above — should get outhomered 4-3 not just by the Phillies team but by Nick Castellanos by himself. That’s an inexcusable no-show from this lineup and it’s happened two straight years now, so something’s got to change about how this team approaches Postseason baseball because this just ain’t working anymore.

What does that change need to be in particular? I can’t tell you. It’s clearly a clubhouse thing and obviously I’m not in there enough to get a real finger on the pulse of what’s going on. The way a lot of those guys reacted to the Postseason spotlight and the ramp-up in coverage sure wasn’t a good sign and it’s indicative of the fact that maybe the lights and the attention got to be a little too much for this crew.

That’s not good, since it’s only going to get bigger and brighter and the spotlight is only going to get hotter and hotter with each passing season where this team continues to trip up in October. They’re going to have more chances — the window is still wide open and is going to be wide open for the foreseeable future. There’s too much talent on this team from top-to-bottom, the core is still absolutely stacked and they’ve quite clearly cracked the regular season code so they’re absolutely going to be back in the Postseason and have another shot at this thing.

Still, something needs to change. It’s not on me to figure out though — it’s up to Brian Snitker to figure it out and it’s ultimately down to the players finding a way to get it done in October. Everybody knows it’s not good enough and they don’t need some random nerd in the suburbs telling them that on the internet. With that being said, everybody knows what the problem is. If they’re really sick of the Phillies doing to them in October what the Braves do to the Phillies from April to September, they have to find a way to do something about it.

Again, I’m not going to sit here diminish 205 wins over two seasons — it’s a brilliant achievement and proof that the talent on this team is there to do something special. The run that this lineup got on in 2023 was something special as well. But at some point, there has to be October success to go with it. This simply isn’t good enough and everybody knows it and it’s time to start acting like it. If the Braves are tired of the Phillies celebrating at their expense, then it’s time for them figure it out, live up to the moment and do something about it.

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