Looking back on Braves' historic 2023 regular season

October 16th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Though many endings conjure similar feelings of disappointment, no two seasons are ever the same. This reality stirred the pain that many Braves fans felt last week, when one of the most historically successful seasons in franchise history ended prematurely with a loss to the Phillies in the National League Division Series. 

An offense that produced a previously unthinkable .501 slugging percentage while averaging 5.8 runs during the 162-game regular season totaled eight runs over four games. Yeah, the Braves had to scramble for a Game 3 starter and Max Fried wasn’t at his best in what still turned out to be a Game 2 win. But this might not have been enough offensive support for Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz back in their heyday.

The Braves will aim for a seventh straight National League East title and the chance to get a bye to the NLDS again next year. At the same time, they’ll evaluate how to best utilize their time between the end of the regular season and start of the postseason. 

But before looking ahead, let’s look back at what was an incredible season full of achievements:

Defining moment: Ronald Acuña Jr. slid into second base with his 70th stolen base and raised the bag above his head in a triumphant manner during a Sept. 28 game against the Cubs. Acuña had just put a cherry on top of his incredible season by become the first player to ever hit 40-plus homers and tally 70-plus stolen bases in a season. No player in MLB history had ever recorded more than 46 steals during a 40-homer season. Acuña’s ridiculous production fueled the greatest offensive season any MLB team has ever had.

What was learned: As the Braves matched an MLB record with 307 homers, opponents might have learned this bunch might be even better than expected. Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Orlando Arcia, Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, Marcell Ozuna, Acuña and the catching duo of Sean Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud will all be back next year.

Olson, Albies, Arcia, Riley, Harris, Acuña and Murphy are all controllable for each of the next four seasons. Albies is the only member of this group not controllable through at least 2028.

Best developments: Spencer Strider proved he was something special during his 2022 rookie season. He took his game to another level as he became a 20-game winner and set the club single-season strikeout record (281). But he truly showed he was the ace of the future with the determination he showed during his two NLDS starts. 

Strider was expected to have a good season, but Bryce Elder came out of nowhere to also become an All-Star. The right-hander fatigued near the end of his first full big league season. But he spent the summer giving the Braves confidence he can be a middle-of-the-rotation piece for many years to come.  

Areas of improvement: Other than joining with the Orioles and Dodgers to figure out how to best benefit from the first-round bye that accompanies most 100-win seasons, the Braves don’t have many glaring needs. Building a bullpen that includes more optionable relievers might be on this winter’s to-do list. Finding a right-handed power hitter who could play left field or at least platoon there may also be on the wish list.

On the rise: There’s a chance Charlie Morton will return to be with the Braves during his age-40 season. But if he doesn’t and the Braves don’t sign a frontline starter this winter, AJ Smith-Shawver, Darius Vines and Allan Winans spent time this summer looking like a capable fifth starter.

Team MVP: Olson set a franchise record for home runs (54) and a modern era club record for RBIs (139). It was one of the greatest seasons ever recorded by a Brave. But it wasn’t quite as great as the one produced by Acuña, who spent this year proving he is the most talented player to ever wear a Braves uniform.