Braves fall in NLDS after historic regular season

Braves starter Kyle Wright threw for six innings without allowing a run on the way to a combined shutout victory of the Phillies in the NLDS. It would be the Braves’ only win of the series. // Photo courtesy of John Bazemore/AP Photo

The Atlanta Braves were baseball’s hottest team in the second half of the regular season, but they made a quick exit in the postseason. After receiving a bye in the first round of the playoffs, the Braves fell to the Philadelphia Phillies, who were the sixth seed in the National League (NL). 

The Braves looked like the reigning world series champions at the end of the regular season after making a miraculous comeback against the Mets to secure their fifth-straight NL East title. However, the Braves looked run-down in the postseason, and they seemed to have run out of luck. 

As the second seed in the NL with a record of 101-61, it was a surprise to analysts and fans alike when the Braves were defeated by the sixth seed Phillies with a record of 87-75. All things considered, the Phillies’ postseason run is a familiar story for the Braves as they made their 2021 World Series run with a record of 88-73. 

Since Atlanta was the higher seed, they hosted the first two games of the series which should have given the Braves an advantage, but the Phillies came out strong whereas the Braves were lackluster. 

Game one of the best-of-five series was played at Truist Park, and the fans packed in for the first game of the postseason back in Atlanta. The Braves put their ace, Max Fried, on the mound for game one and the Phillies sent out Ranger Suárez to face the familiar NL East rival. The Phillies were ready for Fried, scoring six runs in four innings before he was relieved by Jesse Chavez. After the top of the fifth inning, the Phillies were leading the Braves 7-1, and it seemed as if Atlanta was out of the game altogether. The Braves managed to score two more runs in the bottom of the fifth and three runs in the bottom of the ninth on a Matt Olson home run. The push in the second half of the game was not enough for the Braves to overcome the early deficit created by the Phillies. Historically, the team who wins the first game in a best-of-five series tends to win the series, and the most recent team to defy this assumption was the Braves in the 2021 NLDS. 

Atlanta was hopeful for game two as they sent Kyle Wright to the mound. Wright is a Cy Young hopeful who led the NL in wins this year, and he performed when his team needed him most. Wright faced opposing pitcher Zack Wheeler, and both pitchers had near-perfect outings. Wright did secure the win with three consecutive two-out singles by Olson, Austin Riley and Travis d’Arnaud after Ronald Acuña Jr. was hit on the elbow by Wheeler. The Braves went on to win the game 3-0 after lights-out pitching by A.J. Minter, Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen out of the bullpen secured the shutout. 

The Philadelphia fan base, who had not witnessed a postseason game since 2011, was ready for the Phillies to come back home. The atmosphere of game three was electric, and the Phillies showed out for their hometown crowd. Phillies star Aaron Nola was on the mound and dominated the Braves’ bats. Atlanta rookie of the year candidate, Spencer Strider, took the mound for the first time in about a month versus the Phillies and through the first two innings, he was near-perfect, however, disaster came fast and hard in the third inning. 

Brandon Marsh walked and Jean Segura struck out, which would have been manageable for the Braves, but an error on a pickoff attempt by Strider and double by Phillies rookie Bryson Stott led to a run by Marsh. Strider stayed in the game and intentionally walked Kyle Schwarber, the NL leader in home runs, but Rhys Hoskins homered in the next at-bat and the lopsided 4-0 score got the fans into the game. J.T. Realmuto singled and Strider was replaced by Dylan Lee, who gave up a two-run home run to Bryce Harper. The Braves scored one run in the sixth inning, but that was all they could come up with against the Phillies. Jesse Chavez gave up three more runs to Philadelphia in the seventh inning making the final score 9-1 and giving the Phillies a 2-1 series lead. 

Game four was an elimination game for the Braves and a series-winning game for the Phillies. Charlie Morton pitched for the Braves, but after being hit by a line drive, he was replaced by Collin McHugh before the third inning started. Noah Syndergaard made it through three innings before being replaced by a number of Phillies relievers in a bullpen game for the Phillies. The Phillies outscored the Braves 8-3 in the final game of the series with the only Braves runs coming from solo home runs from Olson, d’Arnaud and Orlando Arcia. 

The Braves struggled offensively as a whole. d’Arnaud, Olson and Acuña Jr. had the best batting averages through the four games, all batting above .300, but the rest of the crew, which was hot coming out of the regular season, cooled off significantly. Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley shined defensively for the Braves while Acuña Jr. struggled in right field. All things considered, the Braves fell significantly short of their expectations for the 2022 season, but things are trending in a positive direction for the franchise as they have secured most of their talents for the foreseeable future. 

Atlanta has a lot to look forward to in the future as they have a relatively young roster and some of the best players in the league. Four Braves players are finalists for Gold Glove awards. Swanson, who has always been a great defender for the Braves, is the favorite to win at the NL shortstop position. Olson is a candidate for NL first base and d’Arnaud is a candidate for NL catcher. Fried is in position to win his third Gold Glove in three years. 

Wright and Fried are both expected to receive votes for the NL Cy Young award with Wright being the NL leader in wins and Fried putting together another dominant season. Riley’s name has been in the conversation for NL MVP. 

Perhaps the most intriguing award amongst the Braves staff is the NL Rookie of the Year. Both Strider and Michael Harris II have dominated the Rookie of the Year conversation all season with each athlete being the favorite at some point. 

Harris cooled off considerably at the end of the season and Strider missed the end of the season with an oblique injury, so only time will tell which athlete performed better throughout the season.

As a result of the jaw-dropping performances from this season, the Braves signed Strider to a six-year deal and Harris to an eight-year deal, keeping each with the team until the 2030 and 2033 seasons, respectively. 

Harris and Strider were not the only Braves signed to long-term contracts. Riley signed a ten-year deal with the Braves, staying with the team until 2034. Morton signed a one-year deal. Other notable players who will return to the Braves in 2023 are: d’Arnaud, Olson, Ozzie Albies, Wright, Fried and Iglesias. 

While the Braves made an impressive amount of moves during the season, Swanson has yet to be signed. Swanson has played his entire career for the Braves starting in 2016. Since his appearance in the league, he has been one of the best defensive players and one of the most hardworking players, only missing two games in 2021 and playing in every game in 2022. 

Swanson makes the team better when he is on the field and during the course of 2022 he put up great offensive numbers beside his great defensive stats. 

If the Braves choose to forgo a contract extension for Swanson, they will return rookie Vaughn Grissom, who had quality at bats this year. 

Regardless of the outcome of the offseason and the disappointing exit from the playoffs, the Braves and their fans should be excited to see where the franchise will go over the course of the next few years.