Braves' potent offense held in check throughout NLDS

October 13th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- After 162 games of brilliance, the Braves saw their postseason run end on Thursday night -- not with a bang, but a whimper, drowned out in a 3-1 loss by the sold-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. 

In a must-win game, the stars aligned for Atlanta to put itself in the best position to claw back. Spencer Strider was on the mound, battling to throw 5 2/3 innings to give his team a chance while working around three solo home runs. The bullpen delivered, pouring in scoreless inning after scoreless inning to keep the Braves in the game.

The final piece needed to stave off elimination, the cog that was present the entire regular season, was the offense. But similar to the majority of the NLDS, the Braves’ historic production that carried them the entire year was nowhere to be found.

“We thought we did everything possible during the delay, re-created things the best we could,” said manager Brian Snitker, whose club had a bye while the Phillies swept the NL East-rival Marlins in the Wild Card Series. “We can do everything right… Then you start a series, and you know what, your offense doesn’t get traction.”

The Braves were the best offensive team in baseball. They tied the MLB record with 307 home runs, became the second team in MLB history with five players with 30 or more homers and broke the record for team slugging percentage with a .501 mark.

But that offense was neutralized by the Phillies’ pitching staff. During the regular season, the fewest number of runs the Braves scored in a four-game span was nine. In the four NLDS games, Atlanta mustered just eight runs.

“Yeah, it sucks,” first baseman said. “We didn’t have a four-game stretch like that pretty much all year. Not to take anything from them -- they just pitched better than we hit the entire time. … We couldn’t get anything going.”

The Braves were either unable to get runners into scoring position or struggled mightily to drive them in at pivotal points. In the three defeats, they went a combined 2-for-17 with RISP and left 26 runners on base.

In their lone win, in Game 2, the Braves had one only opportunity with a runner in scoring position -- ’s eventual game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Riley provided the sole spark in Game 4. His second homer of the series, this one off Ranger Suárez, opened the scoring in the fourth inning. As Riley passed third-base coach Ron Washington, he could be seen gesturing and shouting toward Atlanta's dugout, trying to urge his teammates to keep their heads up.

“I was just trying to spark something,” Riley said. “I felt like that’s what we were missing the whole series. Trying to get the next man up and getting the ball rolling. … It was a start, but, obviously, it wasn’t enough.”

As hugs were traded in the Braves’ clubhouse postgame, there was an atmosphere of “what the heck just happened?” Credit was given to the Phillies’ pitchers, conceding that they “made it tough” for Atlanta's lineup for the entirety of the series. The hitters also refused to lay blame on the break they earned by being the No. 1 seed in the NL.

There was a lack of impact from the Braves’ NL MVP candidates, and Olson. They went a combined 6-for-30 with four runs, one extra-base hit and no RBIs in the series. Acuña and Olson were two of the main forces behind Atlanta's quick-start offense, and their limited production showed in the linescore. The Braves scored no runs in the first inning across the four games.

“I don't know against guys of that caliber,” Snitker said, speaking on his All-Star duo’s struggles. “But it’s magnified on this stage. … It happens, and it stinks when it does.”

The shortcomings, of course, weren’t for a lack of effort. In Game 4, Acuña became just the third player in the Statcast era (since 2015) to have four hard-hit balls (95+ mph exit velocity) and finish 0-for-4 in a postseason game. His final opportunity came with the bases loaded in the seventh inning with two out, and the Braves’ deficit at 3-1.

Acuña muscled an inside fastball from Craig Kimbrel to deep left-center field with a 97.5 mph exit velocity, as the boisterous crowd hushed for 5.2 seconds of hangtime. But it fell into the glove of center fielder Johan Rojas as he slammed into the wall, ending one of Atlanta’s final threats.

It was microcosm of the Braves’ offensive struggles in the series -- and their second consecutive unceremonious removal from the postseason at the hands of the Phillies -- falling frustratingly short of getting over the hump.