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Braves reeling from playoff failure but excited for the future

More than four months of sparkling baseball led the Atlanta Braves to their fifth straight NL East title. Their hopes of repeating as World Series champions were dashed in less than a week.

The season came to an unimaginable end with two poor performances in Philadelphia, where the Braves went 17-4 and lost the Division Series 3-1 to a Phillies team that had won 14 games during the regular season.

“Man, I’m disappointed,” manager Brian Snitker said Sunday, less than 24 hours after the final game. “Just thinking back to what we went through this year and expecting to (win the World Series) again.”

Instead, the Braves made their first postseason exit since 2019.

The wild-card Phillies now head to the Championship Series, their title hopes still alive, while the two 101-win teams battling for the division title are over.

The Braves came back from a 10 1/2 game deficit to chase down the Mets, sweeping New York on the season’s final weekend and winning a dramatic tiebreaker pennant race to earn a first-round bye.

The Mets were upset in the first round by the San Diego Padres. Atlanta fell next, doomed by poor starting pitching, an offense that suddenly went cold and a bullpen that couldn’t keep it close to the season on the line.

“We didn’t do a lot of things well,” Snitker said. “We’re a better team than the way we played in this division series.”

For good measure, the apparent lack of hustle from one of the team’s best players, Ronald Acuna Jr., marred the deciding game and prompted a tirade from team radio announcer Joe Simpson, who called it “embarrassing.”

Still, Snitker said his greatest memory of this team will be the way it came back to catch the Mets. The future certainly looks bright, with most of the young core under long-term contracts and nearly all due to return in 2023.

“We have a great team. We really do,” said CEO Alex Anthopoulos. “At some point you have to turn the page.”

Snicker is also excited about what the future holds.

“We have talented players,” he said. “We will meet again in March and the aim will be to win the division again.”

SWANSON’S FERWELL?

The biggest question heading into the offseason is the status of shortstop Dansby Swanson, who is set to become a free agent.

After winning the World Series a year ago, the Braves lost longtime first baseman and team leader Freddie Freeman in free agency.

Another Atlanta power hitter could be on the way out this winter, though both the Braves and Swanson have expressed a desire to strike a new deal.

That was the case with Freeman, but he now plays for the Dodgers.

BABY BRAVES

The Braves have two leading candidates for NL Rookie of the Year — outfielder Michael Harris II and pitcher Spencer Strider — and they’ve signed both to long contracts despite being years away from qualifying for free agency.

Harris, 21, was brought up from Double-A to shore up the team’s defense and ended up being one of the Braves’ best players. He hit .297 with 19 homers, 64 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

The powerful Strider, days away from his 24th birthday, anchored the rotation and became the first pitcher in baseball history to record 200 strikeouts and give up fewer than 100 hits.

WHO IS CLOSER?

Kenley Jansen had a great season, leading the NL with 41 saves after signing a one-year, $16 million contract with the Braves.

Anthopoulos said he would like to bring Jansen back, but the Braves have other options if the 35-year-old signs elsewhere.

Raisel Iglesias, a former Angels closer, was acquired at the trade deadline and has thrived in the role of setting up Jansen. He also had a pair of 30-save seasons and is under contract with the Braves for three more years at $48 million.

Another option is Kirby Yates, who has struggled in limited appearances coming back from Tommy John surgery but also has experience as a closer. He was an All-Star who led the NL with 41 saves while playing for San Diego in 2019.

INITIAL QUESTIONS

Kyle Wright led the majors with 21 wins, Max Fried had another strong season, and Strider looks to have an extremely bright future.

In addition, there are questionnaires in rotation.

Charlie Morton will return to the Braves on a one-year, $20 million contract, providing plenty of experience but must improve in an up-and-down season.

All other entry-level candidates come with baggage.

Former All-Star Mike Soroka hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2020 after tearing his Achilles tendon twice, while Ian Anderson endured a miserable season that prompted the Braves to send the former star back to the minors.

Bryce Elder and Kirk Muller have a lot of promise but little major league experience.

ACUNINA’S MATURITY

It’s time for Acuña to fulfill his potential.

He may be one of baseball’s biggest stars, but his numbers since his 2021 season-ending knee injury have been pretty ordinary (15 homers, 50 RBI, 29 stolen bases).

Also, his lack of hustle in the final game of the season wasn’t the first time his work ethic and brash style of play has drawn attention.

In the NLDS, Acuña failed to support the game from his right field position, barely moving until it was too late to prevent JT Realmuto’s inside-the-park homer as Philadelphia went on to win the series 8-3.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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