The Braves didn’t even come close. A year after winning the World Series, they won one game against the Phillies in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
The Phillies won 8-3 on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. They are headed to the NL Championship Series to face either the Padres or Dodgers (they were set to play Game 4 of their NLDS series late Saturday). The Braves are headed to the offseason after failing to become the first repeat Series champions since the Yankees won three consecutive titles from 1998-2000.
Another division title was a fine accomplishment for the Braves. The way they did it makes it even more impressive. Down by 10-1/2 games at the end of May, the Braves reeled in the Mets over the final 112 games. The closing statement was a three-game sweep of the Mets at Truist Park on the season’s final weekend to take the division lead for good.
The Braves won 88 games last season and went on to win the World Series. They did it by getting unexpected performances from players who aren’t stars. This year the Braves won 101 games and lost in the NLDS. Four of their six All-Stars didn’t play well against the Phillies.
That’s how it goes sometimes.
“That’s why baseball is hard,” Swanson said. “You play 162 games to get to this point, and then anything can happen. It’s not fun (to lose).”
The Braves still had a very good season. That’s my perspective because I place more value on winning over the long haul of a baseball season than getting hot at the end. But I suspect many Braves fans feel the same way as Swanson. The Braves made it this far only to flop against the Phillies, who outscored them 24-13 in the series.
If it’s all about the postseason, then Swanson is right. This year was a failure for the Braves. They were the NL’s No. 2 seed and lost to the Phillies, the lowest-seeded team to make it out of MLB’s wild-card round. And the Braves couldn’t say they got many bad breaks in the NLDS.
The Phillies won 87 games, won the best-of-three wild card in two games at St. Louis and then dominated the Braves.
“We ran into a really hot team,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They are hitting on all cylinders, playing good baseball, getting big hits. They shut us down offensively. All credit goes to the Phillies.”
The Braves got a bye to the NLDS, so Snitker was free to line up his pitchers however he wanted. Kyle Wright ended up being the only effective starter. The Phillies knocked around Max Fried in Game 1, Spencer Strider in Game 3 and Charlie Morton on Saturday.
Said Morton: ”The Phillies did a heck of a job coming out early and not being overly aggressive and being patient, just taking singles and grinding out at-bats. They were just doing what they could to get on base.”
Braves All-Stars Ronald Acuna and Travis d’Arnaud produced at the plate in this series. So did Matt Olson, Freddie Freeman’s replacement at first base. All-Stars Austin Riley and William Contreras struggled to generate offense, though Snitker erred by giving Contreras only nine plate appearances during the series.
The Braves’ power-fueled offense sputtered in the NLDS. The Braves hit five home runs during the series, but four were solo shots. The Braves struck out 44 times and hit .273 with runners in scoring position, compared with .371 for the Phillies.
“Playing our game, we won 101 games, so it’s tough to be nitpicky with how we went about our business,” Riley said.
The Phillies had to wait to use their best arms after they pitched in a three-game wild-card series last weekend. The NLDS got off to a good start for them when Ranger Suarez, a mid-rotation starter, was better than Fried. The Braves scratched out three runs against tough right-hander Zack Wheeler to win Game 2. Then the Phillies held them to a total of four runs over two games in Philadelphia.
Phillies 8, Braves 3 (box score)
Snitker turned to Morton to start Game 4. He has a long history of postseason success. That track record including effective starts for the Braves in October last year before a fractured leg knocked him out of the World Series in Game 1. This time Snitker ended up lifting Morton from the game after Alec Bohm’s batted ball hit his right elbow in the second inning.
Morton initially stayed in the game after that play. Three batters later, Brandon Marsh hit a three-run homer that put the Phillies ahead for good. Morton retired the next two batters after Marsh and came out to pitch the third, but Snitker pulled Morton before he faced a batter. Snitker said Morton wanted to continue, but the manager “didn’t like the eye test” when he warmed up.
Collin McHugh replaced Morton. The first batter he faced, J.T. Realmuto, smacked a hard line drive that center fielder Michael Harris chased to the warning track. The ball went over Harris’ glove and bounced off the angled wall in center. Realmuto, one of MLB’s fastest catchers, kept running until he had an inside-the-park homer.
The Phillies led 4-1. That ended up being all the runs they needed. The Braves tallied runs on solo home runs by Olson in the fourth and d’Arnaud in the seventh, but Philly scored three more runs in the sixth. There would be no comeback magic for the Braves.
These Braves are built to win for the long term. All the pitchers in their starting rotation are under contract for next season. Closer Kenley Jansen is set to become a free agent, but the Braves acquired his likely replacement, Raisel Iglesias, with a midseason trade. Swanson is the only lineup regular who’s headed for free agency.
The Braves will have a good chance to win the division again in 2023.
Said Olson: “It’s nice to look forward to next year, but right now, it sucks.”
Swanson: “You never think the season is going to be over until you’re the one celebrating. That’s the mentality we have. (The Phillies) were the better team this series. I tip my cap to them.”
That’s all the Braves could do after a good season ended badly in Philadelphia.