PHILADELPHIA -- If this was one of the greatest teams the Braves have ever assembled, then this was one of the most disappointing conclusions in franchise history.
Less than a week after entering the postseason as the favorites to win their second World Series title in three seasons, the Braves bid adieu to a memorable 104-win season. Their historic offense was subdued throughout a National League Division Series that concluded with a 3-1 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park.
“Baseball is a gruesome sport,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “[Manager Brian Snitker] says it best by saying we’re a sick breed because we play it.”
Unpredictability reigned yet again, as for the second straight year, the Braves finished 14 games in front of the Phillies in the NL East and then were eliminated by them in the NLDS.
This was supposed to be different than last year, when two key starting pitchers, Max Fried and Spencer Strider, were both weakened by ailments. Veteran right-hander Charlie Morton (strained right finger ligament) was unavailable this year.
But the Braves had an offense that seemed quite capable of overcoming this absence. It set an AL/NL record with a .501 slugging percentage and matched an MLB record with 307 home runs. Atlanta’s offense in 2023 rivaled the 1927 Yankees in terms of production.
This group also scored just eight runs and notched only four extra-base hits during the four games played in the NLDS. The Braves’ lowest run total during any four-game stretch during the regular season was nine.
“Obviously, we're going to have to make an adjustment with the way we handle the postseason and the way that we focus and prepare for it,” Strider said.
The three intrasquad games played in the five idle days that separated the end of the regular season and start of the NLDS didn’t seem to help the Braves, who lived by the long ball during the regular season and died by it in this best-of-five series.
They were outhomered by eight (11-3) by the Phillies, who received a pair of multihomer games from Nick Castellanos. His four homers doubled top NL MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr.’s hit output over the four games.
“This year was a phenomenal year for our club,” Snitker said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted, but it doesn’t always do that in this game.”
The early ouster extended a frustrating trend for the Braves, who haven’t won a World Series during any of the eight seasons in which they’ve produced 100 wins or more in the modern era. The only club in franchise history to win more games than this year’s bunch was the 1998 team that was upset by the Padres in the NL Championship Series. The ‘93 team matched the 2023 team with 104 wins and was also upset by the Phillies, though in the NLCS.
“They played better than us last year and they played better than us this year,” Braves first baseman Matt Olson said. “It sucks to have the success during the season and come in and lose the series.”
Olson hit a franchise-record 54 home runs, and his MLB-leading 139 RBIs were a club record in the modern era. But he went 4-for-16 with no extra-base hits or RBIs during the NLDS. He’ll likely finish the MVP race a spot or two behind Acuña, who followed his historic 40-homer, 70-steal season by going 2-for-14 with one extra-base hit in the NLDS.
Acuña helped stir Atlanta’s Game 2 comeback win with his baserunning. But his bat was rather silent, and he flied out to deep left field with the bases loaded in Thursday’s seventh inning. The Braves ended 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position during the series.
“The playoffs is about who is hot at the time,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “I’m still going to remember how crazy this season was with all of the records being broken. We just came up short.”
Riley was Atlanta’s only consistent offensive contributor. He went 6-for-17 with a pair of home runs. He hit the game-winning homer in the Braves’ Game 2 win, and he provided an early lead with a solo homer off Ranger Suárez in Thursday’s fourth inning.
“That’s a really good team over there,” Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper said. “They had such a great year this year. I have so much respect for them and the way they go about it, the type of team they are.”
Riley’s homer gave the Braves the lead until Castellanos took advantage of a slider from Strider in the bottom half of the inning. Trea Turner also homered off a slider in the fifth. Strider allowed just four home runs against his slider during the regular season.
Strider’s determined night ended when Castellanos put a 100 mph fastball into the left-field seats. The 24-year-old hurler surrendered three solo homers over six innings. He turned it up a notch, as his four-seamer averaged 98.7 mph, up from the 97.3 mph average he produced during the regular season.
Asked what he’d remember about a season during which he became a 20-game winner and set the franchise’s single-season strikeout record (281), Strider said, “Just how much of a joy it was to come here with everybody that showed up to the park every day. The confidence we played with was fun.”
Strider allowed two runs (one earned) over seven innings in Game 1, when Suárez and six Phillies relievers blanked an offense that had been shut out only twice during the regular season, with the most recent occasion on May 12.
Had the Braves forced a decisive Game 5 on Saturday night in Atlanta, they would have hoped Max Fried would have been sharper than he had been in Game 2. His blister was fine, but he was rusty because he went more than two weeks without pitching in a real game after developing the blister on Sept. 21. Morton strained his ligament one night later.
So the Braves’ rotation was weakened down the stretch. But memories of this disappointing conclusion will focus on how a historically great offense awoke for just a few innings during Game 2.
“We left it out there,” Strider said. “The results are unacceptable and not what we wanted. But we’re happy with the way we competed.”