There’s nothing like heading into a postseason Atlanta Braves elimination game and expecting a different result than the one we’ve seen time and time again.
Mike Foltynewicz toed the rubber for the second time this series after shutting out the Cardinals over seven innings last time out. On the other side, St. Louis sent out their Ace, Jack Flaherty, who allowed three runs in that very same game, as the Braves were able to tie the series at a game apiece. But this matchup had a totally different tune. Before Flaherty even took the rubber and many Braves fans were able to make it to their seats, the Cardinals offense racked up ten runs on five measly hits without knocking a single ball out of the yard.
It was one of the single most embarrassing moments in Atlanta sports history, which there is a laundry list of, starting with blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. I’d put this game right up there with that one in terms of a total gut punch that will sit with me for quite some time. I don’t even have to talk about the rest of the game. The Braves offense sputtered like it did the whole series, and the Cardinals advanced to the NLCS, making it ten straight series losses in the postseason for Atlanta – tied for the longest streak in MLB history with the Cubs. However, it wasn’t this drubbing that made this particular exit from the playoffs so dreadful; it was all the opportunities Atlanta had to end it before a winner take all Game 5.
Here is what we can take away from this series.
Lack of depth killed Atlanta
There is no doubt in my mind the Braves were the superior team. I don’t think anybody watching it outside of St. Louis would disagree with that notion. However, this was not the same Atlanta team that won 97 games and ran away with the NL East, which eventually would have caught up to them at some point during the postseason.
One of the main focuses of the offseason was acquiring depth. Alex Anthopoulos did a phenomenal job of that and continued to add pieces throughout the season. Unfortunately, the injury bug killed the Braves leading into October.
First and foremost, it was apparent Freddie Freeman was battling an injury. There is no other explanation for his play. But after that, the Braves had to leave Ender Inciarte, Charlie Culberson, and Johan Camargo at home with season-ending injuries. All of those players would have added something to this roster over guys like Adeiny Hechavarria and Rafael Ortega for god’s sake. Miserable timing cost the Braves against the Redbirds.
Missed opportunities will haunt the Braves until spring training
The Braves will be thinking about this for a while – probably until they start playing baseball again. They had opportunity after opportunity to put this series away and just could not do it. They were 4-38 with RISP in Games 1-4 and were 1-20 in Games 1 and 4 combined, which they lost by one run each.
In particular, Game 4 will be in their heads for a lifetime. Ronald Acuña was on third with nobody out and the heart of the order coming up in the seventh inning. At the time, the Braves held a one-run lead, but the insurance would have salted the game away. They ended up leaving the bases loaded for the second straight inning. Then Acuña led off the ninth with a double – once again with nobody out and the heart of the order coming up, and once again, the Braves didn’t cash in.
Atlanta’s bats can’t blame anybody but themselves after this one, which was the Braves’ strength all season long.
The pitching was surprisingly good
Outside of last night’s debacle, the pitching for the Braves performed way above their expected standards. Mike Soroka was unbelievable in his first postseason start. Mike Foltynewicz tossed a shutout in Game 3. And the bullpen was pretty damn impressive the whole way through except for Game 1. Frankly, it is incredible that the heart of the Braves order struggled so mightily, and they were still able to make it to a Game 5. That’s a testament to this pitching staff – the part of the team that everybody expected to be the downfall.
The Cardinals and Braves are now legitimate rivals
I’m going to get into this more in a separate article, so I will keep it short here, but this series had some serious tension all the way through. From Carlos Martinez complaining about Acuña’s home run trot, to Yadier throwing the bat into the outfield after Game 4’s walk-off win, followed by Mike Shildt’s postgame speech in the locker room after Game 5, these teams now have some genuine beef that will carry into 2020. Oh, and not to mention, the Cardinals hit Acuña on purpose with the game out of hand last night. I’m expecting fireworks the next time these two teams play. Actually, I’ll go a step further – I guarantee it.
Following last night’s game, Brian McCann announced his retirement, and It doesn’t seem like he’s going to pull any Brett Favres. His tone was that of a man that was ready to hang it up and spend time with his kids. I’m thrilled we got to see him one last year with a tomahawk on his chest and wish him the best in his future endeavors. But McCann is only one of many Braves that could be on their way out. Atlanta has a lot of pending free agents, and Anthopoulos will have to decide pretty quickly what direction he wants to go.