Analysis: Braves season was success and failure, but should be remembered fondly in time
Atlanta Braves players, from left, Tyler Matzek, Marcell Ozuna, Freddie Freeman and Travis d'Arnaud watch from the dugout against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the ninth inning in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
Dallas — The Braves' season is a failure if viewed through a black-and-white lens. With added context, it’s hard to sit here the day after Game 7 and consider this team a bust.
A season that at one point had a coin-flip chance of even happening transformed into the Braves' best campaign in two decades. As much as the ending stings, the bigger picture can’t be ignored. And in time, this run will be remembered more positively than at this moment.
The Braves gave their fans a season to remember. They produced the best offense in team history. They assembled one of their greatest bullpens. Young players contributed throughout the regular season and postseason. They won two postseason series after failing to win even one in the past 19 years.
They won their third consecutive division title and cemented themselves among the NL’s upper class, which at this point seems to be a two-member group. And yes, they blew a 3-1 series lead to the mighty Dodgers. It showed the difference between an experienced team and one that simply wasn’t ready to close. They deserve the criticism they’ve received and will continue to receive for their inability to finish.
Finer details separated the Braves from the Dodgers, who’ve been the class of baseball for five seasons despite failing to win the ultimate prize. The Braves were a couple routine plays, a couple hits away from wrapping the series up before it reached a seventh game. It’s the simplified difference between a championship team and a great one.
“We made some mistakes,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times. In games like these, where runs are hard to come by, you pretty much have to play flawless baseball.”
Credit: Atlanta Braves
The Dodgers weren’t flawless at first, hence the 3-1 hole. In fact, the Braves were 10 outs away from eliminating them in Game 5. But the Dodgers pulled it out. They won three in a row, playing near perfect baseball with their backs against the wall. Whether it was Mookie Betts' defense or Cody Bellinger’s clutch homer, they knew how to finish. The Braves didn’t.
As you’ve seen written, this wasn’t a 28-3 debacle. There was no Tua Tagovailoa emerging from the Dodgers' bullpen. This was a better, more experienced and more refined team hitting its stride and taking the series. The Dodgers might finally capture their elusive title this year, and for a Braves team that overcame so much, there’s little shame in losing to perhaps the best team in baseball.
Two statements can be simultaneously true: The Braves had a an excellent season, went further than expected and deserve applause. They also blew too many opportunities when it mattered most and warrant the criticism.
The Braves were probably the third best team in the sport, behind the Rays and Dodgers, who will play for the title beginning Tuesday night. They did that missing Mike Soroka. They did it with essentially two starters, really. They’re getting blasted for blowing the series, but the Dodgers deserve a chunk of that credit, too. It doesn’t always have to be one or the other; it’s often a combination of factors.
As for the future, Cristian Pache can be penciled into the 2021 starting outfield. Ian Anderson isn’t just in the rotation, he’s part of an impressive frontline trio with Max Fried and Mike Soroka, whose injury didn’t derail the season as many expected at the time. Kyle Wright, despite his final outing, could be in for a breakthrough 2021. Bryse Wilson’s outstanding Game 4 showing creates intrigue.
Braves fans are tired of hearing about “next year.” That’s understandable, but only one team wins the World Series every year. Going into the postseason, there probably weren’t many Braves fans, if any, who expected this team to win the whole thing. For them to take the Dodgers down to the final few innings can be viewed as an achievement and failure, as odd as that sounds.
Betts said after the game: “Everything about the Dodgers is winning and that’s in my DNA. It’s why I chose to stay here (and sign a long-term deal).” The Braves aren’t quite at the Dodgers' level yet, but they can confidently say similarly that everything about their organization is winning. Like the Dodgers of the past eight years (and present), the Braves will now try to overcome that final hurdle.
It’s been a difficult year for everybody. These Braves provided an enjoyable distraction from real-world problems. They took a major leap forward as a franchise and created legitimate World Series aspirations. It’s one thing to talk about it and hope for it only to flop in the postseason each year. It’s another to actually experience October success and set the new standard.
That’s what these Braves should be remembered for: Moving past decades of disappointment and setting the World Series standard. All while giving their fans a needed break from their daily realities. It didn’t end in a championship, and by the World Series or bust mantra, the season wasn’t good enough. But it doesn’t feel like a failure. It feels like a step toward something grand.
Gabriel Burns is a general assignment reporter and features writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After four years on the Braves beat, he's expanded his horizons and covers all sports. You'll find him writing about MLB, NFL, NBA, college football and other Atlanta-centric happenings.