This was part of the conversation at Saturday’s Braves Fest, where the team connected with its fan base weeks before it reports to spring training next month. Players, coaches and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos all made appearances.
In 2023, the Braves had a prolific regular season full of records and milestones. One moment after another, they authored one of the better seasons in franchise history – until October. They believe they can repeat their stellar regular season, perhaps even exceed it. But their bar is higher than that.
“I think that there should be no acceptance of anything less than winning a World Series in this organization,” Spencer Strider said. “I said it a little bit ago, and I believe it, and I’m biased, but this is the most talented team in baseball. We need to set our bar as high as possible, and anything less than that is an underachievement for us.”
World Series or bust.
This is how it is when you field Strider and Riley. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson, Max Fried and Ozzie Albies, and on and on.
The team that won 104 games added Reynaldo Lopez, Chris Sale and others. This club has a better bullpen and a left fielder that could upgrade the position. And in the process, the squad didn’t lose depth.
“Absolutely,” Sean Murphy said – he didn’t need to add any other words – when asked whether this is a championship-caliber ballclub.
Last season, the Braves’ offense broke individual and team records. It might not be realistic to expect this group would do the same this season, in terms of all the records, but perhaps it’s reasonable to believe these bats will do similar damage.
“Yeah, I definitely think so,” Riley said. “I think guys are still hungry and ready to get after it. Anything can happen. You just gotta go out there and play your game. I think we got a really good, special group again. The (amount of) really talented pieces that (president of baseball operations) Alex (Anthopoulos) has brought in is great. I expect a lot of good things this year.”
Added Matt Olson: “I’d put our lineup up against anybody in baseball, and I think that’s kind of how everybody views it. We got a lot of confidence. Hopefully we can repeat and put up some good numbers and try to win a bunch of games in the regular season and be that team that’s hot in the playoffs this year.”
The Braves should be considered the favorites to win the National League East for a seventh season in a row. Their offense is dangerous. The top four starters in their rotation are Max Fried, Strider, Charlie Morton and Sale. The bullpen has more velocity and stuff.
Somehow, they seem … better than last year?
“We have a great team,” Ozzie Albies said. “Alex did an incredible job on the moves he did. … We have an outstanding team. We’re just gonna go play hard like we always do.”
But as the Braves know all too well by now: The season, fair or not, is defined by how and when it ends.
Strider started Game 4 of the Division Series in Philadelphia. He pitched well, but the Braves went home. He wants another opportunity.
“That’s all I’ve thought about,” he said. “That’s the conversations that we’ve had as a team, whether it’s in groups or one on one throughout the offseason. It’s just, ‘How do we put ourselves in a position to have a better outcome in the postseason?’ Not to say we have the regular season down – I’m certainly not insinuating that, you never know what’s gonna happen. But we gotta make the most of everything that happens throughout the regular season so that we’re in the best position possible in the postseason, and I think that last year was a big learning experience, for me and just for everybody.”
One such lesson: rhetoric. Strider used the example of how the Braves clinched so early in September last year. They still had more for which to play. He said the Braves have talked about changing the way they talk, the goals they set and what they verbalize.
Another thing the Braves learned?
“There’s obviously a lot of noise and a lot going on in the postseason that’s not essential to performing on the field,” Strider said. “We dealt with that a little bit last year, and it was a learning experience. That’s the best thing about failure is that at least it gives you the opportunity to improve. There’s no guarantee of anything happening this year – we only have the opportunity. But we’ve got everything we need to achieve what we want to.”
Strider didn’t mention this specifically, but something comes to mind here: After Game 2, a national baseball reporter wrote that he overheard Orlando Arcia say, “Atta boy, Harper” about the Phillies’ Bryce Harper, who made the final out on the bases. This became a story, and the Phillies and their fans rallied around it. The Braves’ players weren’t happy with Arcia’s remarks, said in the clubhouse without any recorders or cameras in front of him, were published.
Did the Braves let that situation get under their skin? Did it affect their performance?
Who knows? The answers to those questions – which are difficult to come up with – don’t matter now.
All that’s important is that the Braves possess what arguably is the best roster in baseball – again.
This time, they hope to make it count in the end.
“That’s the best thing about failure is that at least it gives you the opportunity to improve,” Strider said. “There’s no guarantee of anything happening this year – we only have the opportunity. But we’ve got everything we need to achieve what we want to.”