Braves report with eyes on WS title: 'That's all I've thought about'

February 14th, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- If you’re wondering if the Braves might still have a sour taste in their mouths, read what said when asked how much he is looking forward to pitching in the postseason again.

“That's all I've thought about,” Strider 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?

“I'm not saying we have the regular season down. I'm certainly not insinuating that. You never know what's going to happen. We’ve got to make the most of everything that happens throughout the regular season so that we're in the best position possible in the postseason. I think that last year was a big learning experience for me and just for everybody.”

Consecutive 100-win seasons have concluded in the same disappointing manner, with the Braves losing to the Phillies in the National League Division Series. With Max Fried dealing with a virus and Strider weakened by a late-season oblique strain, the first premature ouster wasn’t a complete shock.

But it’s still hard to explain what happened last year. Yeah, Charlie Morton was unavailable to make a start. But how could one of the most productive offenses in baseball history total eight runs and four extra-base hits over four games? How could a 104-win season end in such painful fashion?

“There should be no acceptance of anything less than winning a World Series in this organization,” Strider said. “I’m biased, but this is the most talented team in baseball. We need to set our bar as high as possible. Anything less than that is an underachievement for us.”

Excitement about the upcoming season was visible on Wednesday, as the Braves welcomed pitchers and catchers to Spring Training. Position players aren’t required to report until Monday. But Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Michael Harris II and Jarred Kelenic were among this year’s early arrivals.

“We know we’re a good team and anything can happen in baseball,” Harris said. “So we’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing and try to fix some little things to give us that extra push.”

Kelenic, who was acquired from the Mariners in December, is the only newcomer to an offense that produced a AL/NL record .501 slugging percentage and matched a MLB record with 307 home runs last year. The former top prospect is certainly capable of matching the production of Eddie Rosario, who is the only starter not returning to the lineup.

But it’s not like he should be overwhelmed with pressure as he joins a lineup that includes three MVP candidates: Olson, Riley and last year's unanimous NL MVP, Ronald Acuña Jr.

“You see the talent in [the clubhouse] and you see the people in there,” Kelenic said. “I think anytime you put somebody new in there, they’re just going to adapt to that environment. It’s already a winning atmosphere. So to come from a different organization and now to this, I couldn’t be more excited.”

While Kelenic is the key offensive addition, Chris Sale highlights the pitching staff’s list of newcomers. The veteran lefty isn’t the perennial Cy Young Award candidate he was throughout the past decade. But if he can stay healthy and strong throughout the regular season, he will be among the reasons the Braves enter this next postseason confident the results will be far better.

“His personality on the field, he’s an animal,” Morton said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about him off the field. As soon as the Braves traded for him, multiple people said, ‘You’re going to love this guy.’”

There’s certainly plenty for the Braves to love as they begin their pursuit of a seventh straight National League East title. A third straight 100-win season would be a great accomplishment. But as great as the past two regular seasons have been, the disappointing postseasons have left this star-studded club wanting far more.

“You could sit there and feel sorry for yourself, or you could try to learn from what happened and try to get better,” Riley said. “That’s the way I’ve looked at it this offseason. I’m just trying to improve some stuff from the hitting side and defensive side. That’s the mindset of a lot of the guys. We want to continue to try to win the division and get to that point where we know what we have to do to take care of business.”