Alex Anthopoulos and Braves search for answers on postseason exits, next moves
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Atlanta Braves left fielder Forrest Wall (center) and other players react after the postseason ended with Philadelphia Phillies’ win during Game 4 of the 2023 National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park, Thursday, October 12, 2023, in Philadelphia. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
By 4 p.m. on Friday, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos had already engaged in productive, meaningful discussions with some folks in his organization about the postseason and the way it ended. Less than 24 hours after the Phillies eliminated the Braves for a second straight year, Anthopoulos was already trying to dissect the National League Division Series disappointment and find answers to important questions.
Anthopoulos is only at the beginning of this process. As the days pass, he’ll gain more clarity on the missing ingredients. But ultimately, these truths will guide the Braves’ postseason path.
And it sounds like he already has an idea.
“As I sit here today – I’m not gonna share it, just because from a competitive standpoint, it’s gonna shape our offseason and some of the things that we do – but I definitely have a specific takeaway in terms of how we might approach the offseason, what we might do,” Anthopoulos said on a video conference call with local media on Friday.
Last season, the Braves won 101 games, then lost to the Phillies in four games in the National League Division Series.
This season, the Braves won 104 games – second most in franchise history – and then lost to the Phillies in four games in the NLDS.
Perhaps the Braves must take a different approach to the postseason. Or find a way to gain the attitude and edge necessary to survive in October. The Phillies have had it – whatever “it” is. The Braves have not.
“I think we always reflect on things, we review,” Anthopoulos said. “Look, nobody has an exact formula, otherwise somebody would be winning (every year). But I think that’s what makes baseball great, is that you’re constantly looking for answers, in terms of what gets you to a World Series. I can look back at every playoff run and take something away from it, and I’m already dissecting some of that now. I’m not ready to come up with any hard-and-fast answers.”
Plus, Anthopoulos said, each season, each postseason run, is different.
“They don’t mirror each other,” he said. “There’s all variances to the opponents, to the roster, to the health of guys, to how guys are performing. And like I said, unless someone is winning three, four in a row – I don’t know that there’s one thing you can point to. I do know that you need to get back in (the postseason) in order to give yourself an opportunity.”
We must mention this: The Braves won the World Series two years ago. Fans hope they don’t become the Braves of the late 1990s and early 2000s – dominant in the regular season, unable to conquer the postseason. But this skepticism might not be totally warranted yet.
No team has won back-to-back World Series since the Yankees captured three in a row from 1998-2000. The Giants won it all in 2010, 2012 and 2014. The Astros won it in 2017 and 2022, but they were disciplined for cheating to win the first one.
The point: The Braves won’t win the World Series every year. That’s not how this works.
But this is two years in a row that they’ve turned in lackluster performances in the season’s biggest series. It’s fair to ask why.
“I do think there’s certain things that are important in the postseason, BUT I don’t think that there’s a formula, right?” Anthopoulos said. “Because then, whether it’s the Phillies or any other team, they’d be winning the World Series each year, right? And there’s plenty of great teams. And you could talk about the Braves teams that got to the World Series, or other teams that got there and didn’t win.
“I’ve talked about this before: I think power is important. It’s hard to string together hits. We have a ton of power. It didn’t materialize. That doesn’t mean we don’t still have a ton of power on the roster.”
And this is where Anthopoulos believes this year’s NLDS went awry. The Phillies outplayed the Braves, whose historic offense didn’t show up to the series. The Braves hit .167 with runners in scoring position – the second-worst mark of any postseason team this year. They were in three of the four games, but couldn’t get big hits.
Credit: Sarah K. Spencer/AJC
They also homered only three times in four games. They finished with only four extra-base hits.
“Look, we’re a team that slugs, there’s no doubt about that,” Anthopoulos said. “I don’t think anyone would doubt that we have a lot of power on this team, we have a lot of slug on this team. We didn’t have a lot of extra-base hits, we didn’t slug in the series.”
From that standpoint, the Braves don’t need to change anything. Their lineup is talented. Perhaps they can get a boost in left field. But they’re loaded.
Still, something was missing. The Braves are searching for those answers.
“Look, it’s a four-game series that we lost,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s human nature that we all want to be able to pinpoint and say, ‘Here’s why, here’s the answer, change this, fix that, problem solved, you win the World Series.’ Well, the other 11 teams are going through the same thing. I think it’s pretty clear to me that we were in the majority of these games, we had opportunities in the majority of these games, save for Game 3.”
Since Anthopoulos took the job in Atlanta, the Braves have started slow in the majority of years. They fixed that this season. Anthopoulos said the Braves made adjustments. Perhaps the Braves will key in on something related to postseason performance.
In the last two seasons, the Braves have rolled through the regular season, only to come out flat in the postseason.
“I mean, it’s hard to explain,” Spencer Strider told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the Braves were eliminated on Thursday night. “To fans who would like an answer, I’d love to give them one. Ultimately, I think we gotta accept whatever we did, whatever we’re doing, wasn’t enough. If we truly want to win a World Series, if that’s our goal, then we’re gonna have to change something or add something, in the way we prepare and the way that we focus.
“What we do in the regular season seems to be working, but we’re gonna have to make an adjustment to the postseason approach. That’s tough to say. It’s a daunting thing to confront right this minute. But that’s something I’m gonna get to work on and we’re gonna get to work on as an organization the moment we get out of here.”
The Braves must gain clarity on the last two postseason exits.
But because of baseball’s weirdness, that may be difficult to do. How do you answer a question with so many variables, some of which aren’t quantifiable?
This is the challenge facing Anthopoulos and the Braves as they dissect another early exit.
“I don’t think anybody can tell you, ‘This is exactly what the answer is,’” Anthopoulos said.
Anthopoulos said Dylan Lee underwent a clean-up procedure on his left shoulder. He’s expected to be ready for spring training.
Fan-favorite Tyler Matzek, who underwent Tommy John surgery last fall, is also expected to be ready for spring training. The left-handed reliever has been going through his rehab.
Two Braves area scouts left the organization because they took jobs elsewhere. One is Billy Best, who scouted the Carolinas. He’ll reunite with Brian Bridges in Kansas City. Bridges, the Royals’ new scouting director, held the same position in Atlanta before the Braves dismissed him in 2019. With the Braves, Best helped find Strider, who went to Clemson, as well as Evan Phillips, who is now the Dodgers’ closer.