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For the Braves, 2023 was another tale of two seasons

Regular season success begot postseason failure, yet again, for the Atlanta Braves. That’s been a common theme for the past two decades.

MLB: OCT 12 NLDS - Braves at Phillies
2023 truly was the best of times and the worst of times for Atlanta.
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s an all-too familiar refrain happening again this October:

“The Braves win their division. The Braves exit from the postseason way too soon.”

Since 2000, the Atlanta Braves have lost in the postseason in the Wild Card or Divisional series a whopping 12 times. Outside of their World Series winning 2021 season, their only other two post-seasons ended in the NLCS (2001, 2020).

That’s a lot of premature post-season exits in the last couple of decades.

Long-time Atlanta journalist Jeff Hullinger posted on Twitter/X on October 11, 2023, “For Braves fans, it’s mostly, 32 years of ‘Beware the Ides of October.’” Hullinger has covered the Braves since before the team’s 1991 worst-to-first season, so his sentiment is one that many of us share.

It is a tale of two seasons for Atlanta, yet again. It’s the marathon of a regular season followed by the crapshoot of a postseason sprint.

Twenty-one times since 1991, the Atlanta Braves have won their division. They have won 100 games or more eight times during that stretch. From April through September, Atlanta has been spent the greater part of the three decades being the gold-standard for how a baseball team can excel in the regular season.

Yet for all that regular season success, the postseason has been equally unsuccessful.

No one is discounting the 2021 World Series Championship - nor the 1995 one - but all those first-round exits have compounded on each other to the point where it is hard to be overly optimistic when the Braves punch their ticket for the postseason no matter how good they were in the regular season.

This is the first time since this current team’s run of success that I - and many of you - are probably unapologetically upset about the team’s postseason failure. In 2018, no one expect the Braves to be there, so it was great just make it to the dance. The 2019 NLDS loss to the Cardinals stung but went to five games. The 2020 NLCS was an all-timer with the Dodgers, and although the Braves collapsed in that series, it was a successful next step in team progression and maturation that was made that much sweeter when the team defeated of Los Angeles in the NLCS in on the way to their championship in 2021. Last year’s loss to the Phillies was disappointing, but as has been written about numerous times, the fact that the Braves even made the postseason made the team’s exit more bearable.

But this year’s exit - with an offense that was historically productive in the regular season being completely shut-down in the NLDS - is maybe the most frustrating series loss since the late ‘90’s.

As a fanbase, it is easy to overreact on the heels of such disappointment.

Now everyone’s attention will be on the organization’s front office, to see if there will be tweaks or wholesale changes to the team’s roster. Although one would expect most - if not all of the team’s coaching staff to be retained - does the way the team lost in the post-season change the calculus for those overseeing the franchise?

There has been lots of general conjecture amongst both the media and fans about the ineptitude of all of the teams that got first-round byes this season. But anyone who thinks MLB would reduce playoff games to revert to a one-game Wild Card game is not living in reality.

For Atlanta, Friday the 13th was a day to lament how this record-breaking team’s offense became as putrid and rancid as a week’s old garbage left outside in the middle of July. Who will be held accountable for the failure? Will this year’s regular season success server as a pass?

It typically isn’t prudent to make rash decisions in the wake of failure. Long-term success is often predicated on an organization’s ability to withstand the low points through planning and consistency in approach and input.

It’s the classic 80/20 rule with the regular season playing the role of 80 and the postseason that of 20. There is no doubt that the Braves are doing the 80-percent right. But the 20-percent? Why is that typically such a dreadful outcome?

(It is no solace to know that this same level of handwringing is happening in Los Angeles where the Dodgers are working through similar angst.)

Is postseason success just dumb luck like playing roulette and betting on black 10 times in a row, only to hit on red nine times?

The odds say that shouldn’t happen. Yet, it does.

I don’t know that answer to the postseason question - and neither do you.

For all the success the Braves have had in the last two seasons - 205 regular season wins-worth - the doubt of the team’s ability to navigate the treacherous, postseason waters has never been higher.
Thus, for the first time since the late-’10’s, I am not excited for the off-season. I am interest in seeing what the team does, but I am not excited about it.

The air went out of that sail as soon as Vaughn Grissom was rung-up for the final out Thursday night.

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