Historic season ends on sour note for Braves

Ronald Acuña Jr. became the first player ever to hit more than 40 home runs and steal more than 70 bases in one season. // Photo courtesy of Dale Zanine USA Today

After one of the best regular seasons in Braves history, full of new MLB and franchise records, Atlanta squared off against the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series.

Since the Braves held the best record in Major League Baseball, they were awarded home field advantage for the entirety of their playoff run. Atlanta began the series at Truist Park with MLB strikeout leader Spencer Strider on the mound facing off against the Phillies’ Ranger Suárez. Both pitchers traded scoreless innings until the top of the fourth inning where Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott hit a one run single to left field. Then, Phillies Manager Rob Thomson made the bold decision to pull Suárez in the bottom of the fourth and force the Braves to score off the Philadelphia bullpen. The Braves offense would only tally five hits and no runs despite rallies in multiple innings. A Phillies home run in the sixth increased the lead and Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel held onto the 3-0 score as Philidelphia took game one in Atlanta. 

Atlanta needed to bounce back in game two to have any shot to win the series. Under the lights of Truist Park, Max Fried trotted out to the mound to try and shut down the Phillies lineup. His outing was rough, throwing four innings and allowing three runs and four walks. On the other hand, Phillies ace Zack Wheeler began his night not allowing a hit until the sixth inning and striking out 10 batters. With the Phillies up 4-1 heading into the seventh, the Braves knew they needed to strike if they wanted a chance in the series. Thomson kept Wheeler on the mound to start the seventh and MVP candidate and Braves first baseman Matt Olson, roped a single to center field. After striking out Marcell Ozuna from the Braves, catcher Travis d’Arnaud stepped into the box with a mission in mind. On the first pitch of the AB, he smoked a deep fly to left field, shrinking the Phillies lead to one. Immediately, Truist Park erupted and the Braves had all the momentum. In the following inning, it was Austin Riley’s time to be the hero. After Acuña got on base following a hit-by-pitch, Riley stepped up to the plate with a chance at the go-ahead run. On a 3-2 count, Riley golfed a slider into left field that floated into the Braves bullpen, giving the Braves their first lead of the series. In the bottom of the ninth, Castellanos drove a fastball to deep right field, but Braves center fielder Michael Harris II made the grab at the wall. Harper had already taken off and Harris II easily doubled up Harper to end the ballgame. An incredible come-from-behind win from a team that needed it, the Braves tied the series at one game.

Needing to win at least one of the next two to bring it back to Atlanta, the Braves started pitcher Bryce Elder. Elder started off hot, laying off the Phillies lineup. In the top of the third,  an RBI single by Ozzie Albies off Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola put the Braves ahead; however, outfielder Nick Castellanos immediately leveled the score with a solo shot to left. Elder continued to pitch well, but after an infield single by Trea Turner, Harper stepped up to the plate and on a 2-1 curveball, Harper launched it into the second deck in deep right field to give the Phillies an early 4-1 advantage. Snitker then pulled Elder, but Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto hit a two-run double off reliever Michael Tonkin. The Phillies continued to hit and the Phillies took game three by the score of 10-2.

With the Phillies now holding a 2-1 series advantage, the Braves turned once again to ace Spencer Strider to try and bring the series back to Atlanta for a game five. However, Strider had a quick first inning. In the second inning, Harris II had another phenomenal catch to save at least one run from scoring for the Phillies. Then, in the fourth inning, Riley put a solo shot down the left field line that just crept over the wall to give the Braves an early 1-0 advantage. Then Castellanos crushed a deep drive to left field for a solo home run to tie the game. Then in the following inning, Turner gave the Phillies the lead on his third hit of the night, a solo shot into the left field seats. The Braves kept allowing solo shots, but even so, Strider kept the Braves well within striking distance of the lead. Phillies left-handed reliever Jose Alvarado entered in the seventh to try and hold onto the lead. After Alvarado walked multiple batters, closer and former Brave Craig Kimbrel entered the game and walked d’Arnaud to bring up Acuña with the bases loaded and two outs. On a 2-2 pitch, Acuña hit a deep drive to left center, but the Phillies made a leaping grab to finish off the inning and preserve the two-run lead. Now in the top of the ninth, the Braves needed to rally get a victory. After Ozuna drew a walk and Murphy had a weak single to right, the Braves had the go ahead run at the plate. Phillies’ Lefty Matt Strahm relieved Gregory Soto, needing to prevent more than one run from scoring. After Pillar hit a weak pop up to shortstop and Rosario hit a weak fly ball to left, utility infielder Vaughn Grissom was the Braves last hope of continuing their historic season. On a 1-2 count, Grissom attempted to check his swing but the first base umpire rung him up, resulting in the Braves falling 3-1 in a Phillies series win. 

While the Braves season ended on a grim note, the regular season was full of record breaking performances. Acuña will likely be the MVP of the season after being the first ever player to reach 40 home runs and 70 stolen bases. With 73 stolen bases, Acuña broke the 30-year-old franchise record for most stolen bases in a season. First baseman Matt Olson broke the franchise record of home runs with 53 homers and also took control of the season long RBI record that was set in 1951. Spencer Strider crushed the franchise record for strikeouts with an MLB best 281. Most importantly, this historic season for the Braves was represented in their increased fanbase as Truist Park home attendance spiked and hit a record high. Even with all these incredible accomplishments, the 2023 season will linger as a championship level season  that got away from the team. The Braves will look into various offseason additions and re-signings that could bring them back to the NLDS.