The Atlanta Braves went through 2023 seeming as though the sky was the limit for them, winning game after game and smashing record after record.
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But they could not punctuate the past winning year with another World Series Title. Or even a National Leauge Pennant.
The Braves prepped up for the 2023 season loaded up with bat power: Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Marcell Ozuna, and others were poised to make major offensive noise in 2023. The pitching, although first-rate for any major league ballclub, was not as surefire for the Braves, a team with sights set on a championship.
Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, Max Fried, and others made up the pitching staff for the Braves. There was a lack of comfort among Braves fans and observers about the ability of the pitching staff to deliver championship-level performance, especially since many of those pitchers this year were either injured or not delivering on expectations.
Braves General Manager Alex Anthropolos told The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz in September, just before the team looked ahead to postseason play. “You never feel comfortable with your team. Because there’s no guarantees, there’s injuries and dips in performance,” he said. “Unless you have 26 guys performing at MVP or Cy Young level, you worry.”
Anthropolos didn’t have to worry about the Braves hitting. That was well taken care of for the regular season. In fact, the regular season was Offensive Baseball 101 at Truist Park and anywhere else the Braves played. One Brave hitter, in particular, put up a hitting showcase.
Ronald Acuna Jr., was by himself an offensive powerhouse, with 217 hits, batting in 129 runs and driving in 41 runs this season himself. Acuna became the only player in the MLB with 40 stolen bases, 20 home runs, and 50 RBIs to his credit before the All-Star break. He only got hotter as the regular season progressed. He became the only MLB player IN HISTORY to get 40 home runs and 60 stolen bases in the same season. He even broke former Brave Otis Nixon‘s stolen base record of 70 stolen bases, with Acuna the new record holder at 73.
Acuna and other’s hot bats powered the Braves to 104 total wins, the most of all of the MLB teams this year. They had 58 losses, and finished the regular season at .642, towering over other teams this year. Their home record was 52-29, and their road record was 52-29. (That’s no error, they are both identical standings.)
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Just before the start of postseason, the Braves got a visit from a member of their championship past. Ex-Brave Dansby Swanson, who helped the Braves secure their 2021 World Series Title, met with his former team when his new team, the Chicago Cubs, played his old team at Truist Park. Swanson told the Atlanta sports press he had “nothing but love” for his former team. And that love was reciprocated back from his former teammates and fans.
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The Braves defeated the Philadelphia Phillies for the National League East title, punching the Braves ticket for postseason play. The Braves would be the first MLB team to clinch a playoff berth. It seemed as if the Braves were unstoppable and headed for another dominating performance in the postseason.
But events proved otherwise.
Ironically, the team they would face in the National League Divisional Series was the team they defeated to get into postseason play, the Phillies.
Overcoming the Phillies was not as easy as it was the last time they met. The Phillies offensively kicked up their game while the Braves bats cooled against hot Phillies pitching. Worse yet, Braves pitching failed to keep the Phillies off the bases. Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, and Trea Turner were among the Phillies batters who found success against Braves pitching. The Braves found themselves in a 1-2 hole in a best-of-three series. It didn’t help that Braves’ locker room trash talk got blown out in the open and became rivalry fodder for the Phillies, who would take the series 3-1 and the NLDS championship. (They would lose to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLCS.)
The disappointment among Braves fans was palpable after the NLDS loss, particularly in front of such an explosively successful regular season for the team. Manager Brian Snitker and Anthropolos found themselves on the hot seat due to not just the lackluster pitching, but the unexpected silence of the Braves once noisy bats during the NLDS.
The Braves soon went to work to fortify their pitching in the face of the NLDS debacle. They conducted trades with the Seattle Mariners, L.A. Angels, and the Chicago White Sox for more pitching strength. Those moves brought in new arms like Aaron Bummer and Penn Menefee. Longtime Brave pitcher Mike Soroka would be sent to the White Sox after four years with the team.
The Braves made it clear that they weren’t putting down big bucks for talent, however. Anthropolos shot down rumors the Braves were interested in hot MLB prospect Shohei Othani, who would sign with the L.A. Dodgers for a reported $700 million.
Cash was no problem for the Braves in 2023. The team became a separate entity from their parent company, Liberty Media, with a new ownership structure that includes not just the team, but its many real estate properties in and around Truist Park. It was announced in November that billionaire investor Warren Buffett, through his Berkshire Hathaway firm, owns $8 million in Braves Holdings, Inc. shares. Macrotrends reports the Braves’ net worth as of late December 2023 at $2.81 billion.
The Braves are spending their offseason time trying to configure the team to be more competitive both in regular and postseason play. Baseball is unpredictable so it remains to be seen whether the Braves will be setting records and re-writing the history books in 2024 as they did this season. Could they make another run for the championships or even the World Series? The Braves are working on an answer to those questions now as this successful regular season, and disappointing postseason year ticks away.
By Brian Allen, editor and founder, Sports In The ATL
Coming up Thursday, The Atlanta Falcons.
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