ATLANTA -- The Braves weren’t searching for silver linings in the home clubhouse at SunTrust Park on Wednesday night. Players consoled each other in front of their lockers after their shocking 13-1 loss to the Cardinals in a winner-take-all Game 5 of the National League Division Series. Some said their
ATLANTA -- The Braves weren’t searching for silver linings in the home clubhouse at SunTrust Park on Wednesday night. Players consoled each other in front of their lockers after their shocking 13-1 loss to the Cardinals in a winner-take-all Game 5 of the National League Division Series. Some said their goodbyes and left quickly. Others lingered and wondered how many of their teammates would be back next year.
The departures began immediately after the game, with veteran catcher Brian McCann announcing his retirement. Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel are among Atlanta’s pending free agents. Nick Markakis, Julio Teheran and Tyler Flowers all have club options for next season. The 2020 edition of the Braves will be different from the ’19 group.
“This is a tough one, because we had a really, really good group. The next four months is going to be a little different,” Freddie Freeman said. “I think we have 8-12 guys on one-year deals. It’s going to be pretty much a whole new ballclub next year, so we’ll see what happens.”
But it won’t be an entirely revamped team next season. Most of the Braves’ best players in the NLDS were part of their young core, which will be together for years to come. It was hard to take comfort in that thought on Wednesday night, when players were still trying to wrap their minds around the abrupt end to their season, but perhaps they’ll find reassurance as they enter the offseason.
“This organization is set up for a long, long time. There’s so much talent in this clubhouse,” McCann said. “I hate to see the way it ended, but it’s on the rise. I’ll be watching these guys do their thing.”
Outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. was the best player on the field for five games, going 8-for-18 with a home run and four walks. Second baseman Ozzie Albies manufactured a run in their Game 2 win and homered in Game 4. Shortstop Dansby Swanson went 7-for-18 and delivered a handful of clutch hits in Atlanta’s two victories against St. Louis.
“We had so many opportunities that we just didn’t grasp. You hate to say it, but going forward it could be a huge blessing for us,” Swanson said. “You don’t know the reason right now. But that’s how you’ve got to look at it.”
Rookie starter Mike Soroka shined in his postseason debut, leaving fans wishing that he’d made more than one start in the series. Left-hander Max Fried moved to the bullpen and dominated in his first two appearances before wearing down in Game 3 and struggling when he was called upon early in Game 5.
“I know that this organization has a bright future ahead of it,” Donaldson said. “I don’t know if it exceeded [expectations] because I had high expectations for our team. I know that being around these guys each and every day, it was a joy to be around. As a ballplayer, you live for teams like this. We all fed off each other, and it was fun to be a part of.”
When the Braves lost to the Dodgers in last year’s NLDS, they went home for the winter with a sense of optimism. They might have arrived a year early in their first trip to the postseason since 2013, and they knew they had a young core to build around over the next few years.
This season was different.
They entered with lofty expectations, more experience and a ton of talent. General manager Alex Anthopoulos acted opportunistically to sign veterans like Donaldson and Keuchel, and he bolstered the Braves’ bullpen at the Trade Deadline. Just getting to the postseason wasn’t going to be enough this time around.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, we didn’t achieve our objective, which was to advance to the next round,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “Unfortunately, we failed at the end.”
That was the prevailing sentiment in the immediate aftermath of the Braves’ eighth Division Series defeat in the last eight tries. No matter how bright their future may be, they expected better in the present.
“Yeah, complete 180. We all know we had a good enough team to win this whole thing,” Freeman said. “Last year was, ‘Hooray, we proved a lot of people wrong.’ This year we knew and expected to win the division and go far in the playoffs, and we didn’t do it.
“That’s what makes it so tough. This was a special group. We knew it from the get-go. We knew it from Day One of Spring Training. We had a really good team. We just didn’t put it all together in the five games that we needed to this year.”
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.