The Braves are on another great run. We can’t yet know how great

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

They’ve been here before, and so have we. From the worst-to-first 1991 though 2005, the Braves finished first in the division over 14 consecutive completed seasons, which remains – and might forever remain – a record. Those Braves reached the World Series five times. They won it once.

The 2023 Braves will open their season Thursday in Washington, D.C. This club has won the National League East five years running. It won the 2021 World Series. These Braves have been good for a while. There are no guarantees in sports, but it would be surprising if they’re not good a while longer. Which sounds great.

Doesn’t it?

How the 14-in-a-row Braves are viewed is a function of geography. If you watched from afar, your memory is of the first-place finishes. When speaking of John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, the general manager and manager of those teams, baseball insiders always begin there: “How did they win that big for that long?”

If you’re an Atlantan, you might pose the question a different way: “How did they win that big for that long but win only one World Series?”

If you’re an Atlantan, you recall the final years of that era differently than the first blush of excellence. The early ‘90s gave us foam tomahawks and epic comebacks and Sid Bream sliding. The new century saw empty seats for October games at Turner Field and opponents holding champagne celebrations here on an annual basis. The really good stuff stopped arriving.

As Don Waddell, GM of the Atlanta Thrashers, said of his team’s corporate brother: “The Braves won too much. They spoiled people.”

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos was asked Tuesday if he worried his team might, er, win too much. He laughed. Then he said: “I wouldn’t use the word ‘worried.’ I’d be elated if we won like that. How many of them are in the Hall of Fame?”

At last count, seven – manager and GM included. Andruw Jones would make eight.

“Those clubs had a chance to win the World Series every single year,” Anthopoulos said. “Bobby Cox told me he didn’t think ‘95 was their best team. I can say, ‘I love our ‘21 team,’ (but) last year’s team was as talented, easily – maybe more talented. Things happen in postseason.”

The ‘21 Braves entered the playoffs with the worst record among qualifiers. They lost their opener in Milwaukee. They went 11-4 thereafter. They didn’t lose consecutive games. They didn’t face elimination. A team couldn’t climb above .500 until August celebrated a World Series clinching on Nov. 2.

Last year’s Braves won 101 games, 13 more than their immediate predecessor. They lasted four games in October, losing a division series to the 87-win Phillies. Said Anthopolous: “Winning the division doesn’t correlate to winning the World Series – we’ve won one (time) in five – but you have to get in first.”

Last week, ESPN listed MLB’s 100 best players. Eight of the top 74 are Braves. All eight are under 30. Seven are under contract through at least 2027. More success is all but assured. Right?

“I don’t take winning the division for granted,” Anthopoulos said. “Every year I think, ‘How are we going to get back to the postseason?’ Not ‘how can we win the World Series?’ It’s getting to the postseason. It starts there.”

Not long ago, Anthopoulos had to remind himself of that. After the Braves lost to the Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS, he was determined not to run low on starting pitching again. He signed free agents Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly. By the 2021 All-Star break, pitching wasn’t the issue. The Braves were out of outfielders.

Said Anthopoulos: “There was one offseason when I got ahead of myself a little bit. I was looking too far ahead to wins in the postseason. We were fortunate. We got back in. But I was looking to what would win in the postseason, and that wasn’t the right approach. I had to adjust on the fly.”

The 2021 Braves – with, in Freddie Freeman’s immortal words, “a whole new outfield” – became postseason kings. Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler, acquired minutes before the trade deadline, were MVPs of the NLCS and World Series. A team won it all in a year its architect chastised himself for trying too hard to win it all.

No, that makes no sense. But, as they say in baseball, “That’s baseball.” And yet again, Atlanta’s baseball team is about to take the field.