In each of the last two seasons, the Braves have won 100+ games and fallen flat on their face in the NLDS against the Phillies.
2023 was especially grueling for the Braves and their fans. They finished the season with 104 wins — easily the best mark in Major League Baseball — led by one of the greatest offenses of all time. Then the postseason came around, and the bats went silent as their division rival advanced to the NLCS after beating the Braves three games to one for the second consecutive season.
Baseball is a game full of randomness. For the Braves to win the division title once and fall to a team that was significantly worse than them in the regular season, it can be viewed as an anomaly. But when it happens twice in almost the exact same fashion, that is no coincidence.
There’s been something missing with the Braves over the last couple of years that wasn’t in 2021 when the team won the World Series in six games over the Astros. That much is clear, but identifying the missing piece of the puzzle is the more challenging aspect.
A number of factors could be pointed at, but one that has been stated on numerous instances by players on the team and people around the organization is the lack of fire in the clubhouse, or that “F-U attitude,” as A.J. Minter described it when talking about what Chris Sale is going to bring to the Braves clubhouse.
“I think he’s just gonna bring so much more in the clubhouse,” A.J. Minter said on Foul Territory. “He has that dawg in him, and I spoke on, we have such really good guys in the locker room, and I think we need a little bit of that F-U mentality. I think Chris is going to bring that.”
"He has that dawg in him" says AJ Minter of new teammate Chris Sale
— Foul Territory (@FoulTerritoryTV) January 31, 2024
Perhaps it was the longer layoff because of the newly introduced byes for the top seeds that slowed down the Braves offense. Luck and randomness could also be the culprit, but I’m with Minter here.
The Braves World Series team had a nice mix of leaders, like Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman, and fiery personalities like Joc Pederson. With all of those players onto greener pastures, it seems to have had a negative effect on the Braves when it matters most in October, which former Brave Jeff Francoeur echoed on Foul Territory.
“Well, I think you gotta have some attitude, man. You can’t just be the nice guys,” Francoeuer said.
I couldn’t agree more with those statements, but what Francoeur said next is where things get really interesting regarding the past relationship between Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman.
“I think you have to play with an edge. You have to have a couple of guys. I do think Austin Riley can take over that leadership a little bit and be that guy. Because that is one thing I’ll say about Freddie (Freeman), Freddie would get on guys. He would ride guys. When he kind of left, you remember that whole Acuña/Freddie thing, let’s be honest, the reason he didn’t love Freddie is because he rode him. He got on him. I think Austin Riley needs to step up in that role, and I think he will. He’s a good one to do it.”
“Let’s be honest the reason he didn’t like him(Acuna) was because Freddie got on him” “I think Austin Riley needs to step up in the role and I’m sure he will” Frenchy on the Braves needing that f you mentality pic.twitter.com/OWU0E2e8YI
— Dillion Harper (@og_yungdilly) February 6, 2024
Matt Olson has made most fans forget Freddie Freeman exists after blasting an MLB-leading 54 home runs last season. There’s no question Olson can replicate the production, but somebody has to step up in the clubhouse moving forward. Whether it’s Austin Riley, as Francoeuer suggests, or someone else, the Braves need someone or a group of guys who understand nothing short of domination is acceptable on any given night with this group of talented players.
Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire