See, I don’t mind losing to the team that eventually wins it all, but in my mind, the Dodgers weren’t much better than the Braves. And that would have killed me to see them advance to the World Series.
What? I never said I was a good loser.
However, in the aftermath of that (wonderful) loss, it’s time to start analyzing this team and finding out what went wrong if there’s any chance of turning things around next year. This isn’t such an easy challenge, considering all the things that went right and wrong for the Braves throughout the 2013 season. There are places one could point the obvious finger, but even that wouldn’t cover all the bases.
Although, after watching them be simply outplayed by the Dodgers, there certainly is a clear place to start. Here are three:
Until the Miami Marlins traded off their entire franchise except for Giancarlo Stanton, the Braves were the clear winner in the “Who can have the most kids on one team” contest. The team average was already low before Tim Hudson went out for the season, making Paul Maholm the oldest player on the roster. And I desperately wanted to believe it wouldn’t have anything to do with the final outcome, but by game 3, it was fairly obvious that youth may have gotten the better of much of this team. To be fair, it wasn’t the same sort of jitters that sunk the Braves last season in the Wild Card game, but it seems the hype surrounding ESPN’s baby – The Most Dominating Team the World Has EVER Seen – may have been too much to handle.
Kris Medlen, who basically owns the month of September didn’t display the same kind of poise he had for the previous month. Same deal with Julio Teheran, who had a very commendable rookie year. In fact, it was Mike Minor and Freddy Garcia displayed the type of ice-in-the-veins attitude that the Braves wanted to see (or the Atlanta Braves weakness could handle). Not that Minor was necessarily a surprise, but his first-inning woes had become problematic and holding the Dodgers to one run through 6 1/3 innings was a welcome change of pace. Garcia, on the other hand, showed what being a veteran really means. Doubted by almost everyone as to whether he still had his stuff, Garcia held the potent Dodgers to two runs over 6 innings and showed that a guy who knows the post season can still handle the pressure. Even against Clayton Kershaw.
I truly believe this is what ultimately sank the Braves in the postseason. It had the chance to sink them during the regular season too, but they had the help of a sub-par NL east to keep it from ever becoming a reality. I’m certainly not taking anything away from a 96-ou win season, mind you. The Marlins were the only team in the NL to have a truly forgettable year, losing 100 games. But had the Nationals or the Phillies been more competitive, there were a couple points in the season where the Braves’ lead could have been in jeopardy.
The only reason for that is besides two dominant runs in which the Braves won 11 and 14 games straight, there was definite trouble. Their record at home was the best in baseball, but their road record was at or under .500 for the entire season. The offense was hot and cold. The only piece of the puzzle that consistent through most of the season was pitching, and even that stumbled during the month of September.
To be clear, I’m not forgetting the injuries that plagued this team after a relatively healthy April. I say
“relatively” because they lost Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty within the first month, which called the effectiveness of the bullpen into question immediately. Those injuries added to the inconsistency of this team, particularly to their comfort of playing with the full roster. In fact, the team only played with Fredi Gonzalez’s “ideal” roster about 25 times during the year.
What’s strange is that despite all the injuries and the Atlanta Braves weakness is they still won 96 games, which is impressive, no matter who you ask. They won their division. They were in first place on April 7 and never gave up that spot. However, it makes me wonder the affect the flow of the team hitting the field with a new roster almost every day. There never was a clear rhythm to this team, except for one stretch when Jason Heyward moved to the lead-off spot.
That team, the one that won 14 straight games and put together an excellent record while scoring a boatload of runs, was the team I wanted to see in the playoffs. That team was destined for glory in October. But that team wasn’t the one that showed up to play the Dodgers.
I’m not going to deep into this piece. I plan on another article dedicated to Fredi G and his choices, and not just “the one” in game 5. But there was an inconsistency to his managing this season that may have played a role. Granted, he was the shot caller who had to fill holes, oversee the Atlanta Braves weakness and rearrange two levels of this team while his players were dropping left and right. I think it’s safe to say he had a fair amount of improvising to do.
Geez, I can feel the mood in the room being sucked out. My bad.
There is a flip side to the whole youth thing, though, that can’t be overlooked. Unlike some teams who will be losing veteran players to retirement or bigger and better things, this team will be back next year. Besides (most likely) losing Brian McCann, and potentially a couple small moves, this team will be the one that takes the field in April. They won’t have aged more than a year, but they’ve got five playoff games under their belt now. They aren’t wide-eyed youngsters anymore. Well, not as wide-eyed, anyway. Not only that, but they’re going to be hungrier, having gotten a real taste for October. That same fire that had Craig Kimbrel pacing the bullpen like a tiger in a cage is going to be there from game one through the end of the season. And maybe they’ll get lucky, too, and not lose players to emergency appendectomies, kidney stones, broken jaws, and crushed ankles.
Don’t despair, Braves fans. I know it hurts. But there is much to look forward to next year.