Young: For frustrated Braves fans, October success is the only goal

AP photo by Brynn Anderson / Atlanta Braves fans react during the team's home game against the Philadelphia Phillies in the opener of their NL Division Series on Oct. 7, 2023.
AP photo by Brynn Anderson / Atlanta Braves fans react during the team's home game against the Philadelphia Phillies in the opener of their NL Division Series on Oct. 7, 2023.

Another "World Series or Bust" season for the Atlanta Braves begins Thursday, and while the team talked openly about the subject in the early days of spring training, it's pretty much been the theme for Braves fans on and off for two decades.

It's refreshing, at least, to see comments like this from pitcher Spencer Strider: "I think that there should be no acceptance of anything less than winning a World Series in this organization. I said it a little bit ago, and I believe it, and I'm biased, but this is the most talented team in baseball."

Considering the megamillions the Los Angeles Dodgers handed out in securing three major additions to an already elite roster, the "most talented team" label is debatable. What's not in question, though, is the absolute necessity of the win at all costs goal — if not for the team, then at least for a fan base that is understandably growing impatient.

And who can blame the fans, all 6-million-plus of them who attended games at Truist Park the past two seasons and the many more millions who watch and listen on a daily basis.

It's time, right?

But it's not that easy. No championship is more unpredictable than Major League Baseball's, where the most talented team often comes up short. That's especially true in the National League.

In fact, take away the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and only the 2016 Chicago Cubs have won 100 or more games and followed through with an MLB title as an NL club. Otherwise, the average win total of World Series champions from the NL is barely over 90.

The Braves won 88 games in 2021 before going on to win the World Series. The past two Atlanta teams won a combined 205 games.

And nothing else. Hence the frustration.

The Braves have won six consecutive National League East Division titles, but aside from 2021, they have not advanced to the World Series during that run. In fact, they lost in the divisional round four times, including the past two years.

Longtime Atlanta fans have it worse. You know, the whole 14 consecutive division titles and one World Series title thing from 1991 to 2005. Six of those nonchampionship teams won 100-plus games.

Baseball is flukey, for sure, and if there was a formula for postseason success, someone would have perfected it by now (well, Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy has come close to cracking the code).

  photo  AP photo by Chris Szagola / Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider and catcher Sean Murphy head back to the dugout as the Phillie Phanatic mascot watches before Game 4 of an NL Division Series on Oct. 12, 2023, in Philadelphia.

There are, however, steps the Braves can take this year to bring home the golden goose — and it's a plan they should have implemented a year ago.

They need to realize nothing matters except October.

If that means winning 10 fewer games during the regular season, so be it. If that means no member of the starting pitching staff eclipses 25 starts, that's OK. If that means no member of the regular starting eight in the field plays in more than 150 games, let's do it.

By choice, of course, and that starts with manager Brian Snitker and his staff. Whether the Braves were tired last October against the Phillies is anyone's guess. They certainly played like it, and if you look at Snitker's usage of his everyday players and starting pitchers during the regular season, it's not hard to believe that theory.

It was also widely discussed that the layoff between the end of the regular season and the start of the NLDS caused the Braves (and other elite teams) to lose their edge while the wild-card Phillies were able to stay sharp by playing.

The same five-day layoff in 2021 didn't seem to hurt.

Anyway, keeping the veterans on this Atlanta team — especially starting pitchers Charlie Morton and Chris Sale, who was an offseason pickup — as fresh and healthy as possible has to be a priority.

There's very little help coming from the minor leagues, and the team is, by all accounts, capped out financially. This is a championship-caliber roster, though, and the hope is an actual plan to prepare for October baseball is in place.

To sum it all up, let's turn to Strider once again, who said this shortly after the Braves were eliminated last October: "You look at the playoff format and everything, you don't need to be a great team all year. You need to get to the playoffs, and then it's a different game. We did a lot of good things in the regular season, but ultimately we've got to find a way to make the next step in the postseason."


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