We on the periphery saw the 2023 Braves as baseball’s best team. They won the most games. They matched the MLB record for home runs. They set a standard for slugging percentage. Of their eight positional players, six were All-Stars. Three finished among the top seven in National League MVP voting.

By mid-October, here’s what the creator of this vibrant roster saw – half a great team.

On the morning of June 1, the Braves’ starting pitchers led the NL in ERA. Over the next four months, that rotation – though the rotation, week to week, rarely was the same – finished 23rd among 30 MLB teams. Over the first 56 games, the starters’ ERA was 3.41; over the final 106, it was 4.87.

For those not employed by the Braves, the six-month season was a thrill-ride. They scored in double figures 20 times. They hit 58 more homers than the second-best Dodgers. For those with skin in the game, the ride threatened to spin out of control.

The Braves’ rotation, such as it was, had a September ERA of 5.84, fifth-worst in the majors. Opponents scored eight-plus runs nine times over the regular season’s final 29 games. We recall the Braves taking a September series in Philadelphia to clinch the NL East; lost in the celebration was the Phillies scoring 22 runs over four nights. Over four games in October, those Phillies outscored the Braves 20-8. That was that.

Alex Anthopoulos has moved heaven and earth to secure this star-spangled roster, but how secure is a team that, in a postseason best-of-five that included two off-days, took forever to name a Game 3 starter? That starter, Bryce Elder, faced 14 batters. Six scored.

What befell the bashing Braves wasn’t just a function of MLB’s autumn crapshoot. This had been coming. Over Anthopoulos’ first four full seasons here, the Braves’ pitchers ranked seventh, 10th, eighth and fifth in ERA. The 2023 staff ranked 15th among 30.

Among position players plus the DH, eight Braves worked at least 138 games in 2023. Those same Braves deployed 16 starting pitchers over 162 games. Losing Max Fried for much of the season and Kyle Wright for nearly all of it took a toll, but the Braves got 31 starts from Elder, which few saw coming.

Over six dizzying weeks, Anthopoulos has made eight trades. Only one of the first seven netted a starting pitcher, and the one – Marco Gonzales – was off-loaded two days later. (Reynaldo Lopez, signed as a free agent, mostly is a reliever.)

On the penultimate day of 2023, the starter arrived. Maybe he’s not the starter of your dreams, but Chris Sale is a starter. Time was, he was among the best of starters.

In March 2019, Sale re-upped with Boston for $145 million over five seasons. The Red Sox will pay $17M of the $27.5M he’s owed for 2024, which tells us much. He’ll turn 35 in March. From 2012 though 2019, he worked 147 or more innings every season. Since 2019, he has logged 151 innings. He has been hurt often, though he did start 20 games – with a 4.30 ERA – last year.

Speaking Saturday, Anthopoulos said: “I would’ve loved to have done a deal for less.” Maybe you feel the same. Trading Vaughn Grissom, who’s 22, for Sale, who turned 22 in 2011, strips the Braves of their top position prospect. Like it or not, that’s where these Braves are. They don’t need position players. They need starting pitchers.

They need Sale to eat innings. They might need him more in 2025. (He’s under a club option.) This could be Max Fried’s final season here; it will surely be Charlie Morton’s. That would leave Spencer Strider, who’s very good, plus Elder, good for half last season, and AJ Smith-Shawver, good in increments. Pre-Sale, that left three starters, Spahn and Sain no longer being options.

Matters coulda/woulda been different had Michael Soroka not torn his Achilles twice and Wright not been lost to shoulder rehab. Both were Round 1 picks who Anthopoulos inherited. Both were dumped in November trades. Regarding everyday players, the Braves are built for the long haul. Regarding starting pitchers, they’d developed a dire need.

It’s unclear if teams can or should build for the postseason. (After beating the Braves, Philly crowed that it had; then it lost to Arizona.) This move, however, bears a playoff feel. The Braves will be happy if Sale works 20 times over the season’s first six months. If he takes four or five playoff turns, they’ll be ecstatic.

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