They lost the next three games. Milt Thompson, a former Brave, made a tremendous catch of a Mark Lemke drive in Game 4, which the Phillies won 2-1. (Nick Castellanos made a tremendous catch in Game 1 last week; the Phillies won 7-6.) The final game saw the Braves’ starting pitcher, a guy named Maddux, struggle after being hit with a batted ball. (Told you this would sound familiar.)
And that was that. From team of destiny to one-and-done, though not exactly. The strike ended the 1994 season in August. The 1995 Braves won the World Series, going 11-3 in postseason. The ‘96 team led the World Series 2-0. There would be nine – nine! – more division titles before the Braves wound up finishing anywhere other than first over a completed season.
This isn’t to say these 21st Century Braves will win their division 14 years running. (Though they’re already at five.) This is to say these Braves aren’t going away. They have decisions to make about Dansby Swanson and Kenley Jansen, but even if both leave, their replacements – Vaughn Grissom and Raisel Iglesias – are in-house. Ozzie Albies will be back. Maybe Mike Soroka, who has started three big-league games since 2019, will return. And we shouldn’t forget Ian Anderson.
The bigger picture might be viewed as cold comfort over the next few weeks, when either the 89-win Padres or the 87-win Phillies will represent the National League in the World Series. (Phillies won Tuesday night. Kyle Schwarber finally did something.) It would be surprising if any team but the Astros win it all now, but three 100-win clubs have already been felled.
We weren’t complaining when an 88-win team brought home the Commissioner’s Trophy last year. We shouldn’t gripe overmuch now. The Phillies weren’t better than the Braves over 162 games, but they were lots better over four. The Braves deployed their four best pitchers over the four games; only Kyle Wright held up his end. Them’s the breaks.
As much as anything in baseball can be known, this we know: The Braves should be really good for at least another five years. Key players under long-term contract: Albies, Austin Riley, Ronald Acuña, Matt Olson, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider. Max Fried can’t become a free agent until November 2024. Wright and William Contreras aren’t yet eligible for arbitration. Grissom is 21.
No other organization has such a stockpile. Consider the Mets: Max Scherzer is 38; Jacob deGrom, 34, is about to become a free agent. Consider the Dodgers: Trea Turner and Clayton Kershaw will be free agents; Walker Buehler just had his second Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected back until 2024.
Sports carry no guarantee. All a team can do is keep putting itself into position to play for championships. Counting his final season with Toronto, Alex Anthopoulos’ past six teams have made the playoffs. His seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th should, too.
The above is part of a regular exercise, written and collated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d be obliged if you’d give it a try.
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