What Went Wrong?

The Braves were the favorites to win this series. Despite what some will tell you, you will find many more people predicting the Braves over the Cardinals. It’s a disappointment, without a doubt. And it really seemed like we were on a trajectory; last year’s team broke the playoff drought but shouldn’t expect much further, this team would beat the playoff series drought, and next year’s team would be prime to make a length run through the playoffs, maybe even win it all. That didn’t happen. What went wrong?

Starting Rotation

Couple of reasons this went awry. The first one is obvious: we didn’t get the starting pitching performance we needed. For me, the most disappointing was Dallas Keuchel, but maybe it shouldn’t have been much of a shock. In 9 postseason starts before this start, he never pitched over 6 IP. Somewhere along the lines, maybe perpetuated by the great salesman Scott Boras himself, Keuchel had established this reputation as an anchor of a staff. And in some ways, that’s true in the regular season. He’s pitched as many as 232.2 innings, he’s pitched over 200 innings three times, he’s won a Cy Young Award, but in the postseason, he’s been nothing special.

Obviously Braves fans may also never forget Mike Foltynewicz‘s doozy of a Game 5, even if it succeeded a brilliant Game 2. Which leads to the big reason, I think, the starting pitching performance wasn’t there: 4 of the 5 starts went to Dallas Keuchel and Mike Folynewicz. Only one went to Mike Soroka, and none went to Max Fried. Keuchel is really only nominally better than Julio Teheran for his career, and if it’s cemented into the consensus that Julio has no business starting a playoff game, why does Keuchel start two? These last two years, why has Max Fried found himself in the pen when the season is beginning, ending, and on the line? At one point is he going to be taken seriously as a talent lefty with a 3.83 ERA and 9.5 K/9 in 225 career innings pitched?

Middle of the Order

The triple slashes for the players receiving the most ABs:

.143./182/.190

.250/.304/.400

.200/.273/.400

.158/.273/.368

The first slash line is for Nick Markakis, who somehow never found himself on the bench during the entire season. I can’t say that there was a better option on the bench, but let’s just assume that Ender Inciarte and Johan Camargo. Don’t you, then, find it troubling that you’re not entirely convinced Markakis wouldn’t have started over them? That’s troubling. My position player goat is Nick Markakis, but I don’t blame the player; I blame the front office that signed him to be the primary right fielder, the manager who refused to get someone in there in place of him, and the injury environment that led to his irreplaceability.

Bullpen Usage

This is less of a gripe, but I’m going to make it anyway. Why didn’t Max Fried pitch more than 4 innings? Why not go multi-inning with Sean Newcomb? For crying out loud, why did Josh Tomlin get as many outs as Newcomb and almost as many as Fried? You might have won game 4 if we hadn’t burned through out pitchers so quickly, and if you didn’t want Julio in the game in that moment, then why was he on the roster anyway, since that was the only time you were ever really going to use him (extra innings in the playoffs)?

What Did I Miss?

This wasn’t meant to be exhaustive. A lot of things had to go wrong to lose this series. What did I miss?

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58 thoughts on “What Went Wrong?”

  1. It’s pretty hard to defend not giving your best pitcher two starts in a 5-game series when you had the luxury of setting things up the way you wanted. But the offensive shortcomings in the middle of the order were the biggest reason for the lost series in my view.

    Don’t know if this was said in the game thread (couldn’t really bear to go back and read it), but besides being an offensive goat, if Freddie fields that sharp grounder by Molina, it’s likely a double play and we are out of that inning with only one run scoring. Granted, pitchers have to work around mistakes, but that one misplay changed the entire complexion of the game.

  2. My largest gripe on the whole season is the lack of rest that was promised to happen. Deciphering a few interviews, it seems like Snitker bends to what the veteran players want rather than what should happen. I can’t say there’s much more that bothered me with this team other than that. With Duvall, Culberson, Camargo, Riley, and Joyce, there’s 0 reason why Markakis should’ve been in the lineup everyday prior to injury, or that Freddie Freeman finish with nearly 700 PAs.

  3. @2 With regards to rest, I think that the whole post-clinch slump IS an indication that the playoffs might not go so well. The Nats having to continue to fight allowed them to gain six games on us at the end. And they’re NLCS bound. Meaningless games, yes, but it’s no way to get ready to play.

    If we had given our players the proper rest during the season then maybe we get fewer late season injuries. Maybe our guys use the last few games to tune up instead of sitting out and we keep up our intensity. Bottom line – rest early and play late.

    It didn’t affect the young guys much. Note that Acuna and Albies and Swanson and Soroka were just fine in the playoffs (and Duvall having only played sparingly to begin with). It’s the older players who should rest early to be ready to play later.

  4. @Rog

    Well said and 100% agree. Rest has to happen throughout the whole year. It does more damage than good when it happens all at once.

  5. While I agree about the rest issue, I’d guess there is little evidence to support that being on a hot streak (or cold streak) at the end of the season is all that meaningful to post-season results, except to the extent it either helps you make it (or prevents you from making it). Often, it’s just a few little things that either go right or wrong that make the difference between advancing or going home.

  6. @6
    I’d have to find it, but there was a post by someone that had researched it and found that “keeping the gas slammed” was better than pulling off the pedal. IIRC, the piece seemed short-sighted and was heavy on recency bias. I’ll try to find it.

  7. It ended up not mattering with the unfortunate luck of losing Camargo, Ender, and Culberson at the same time, but you’ll never convince me that there isn’t some, however small, correlation between the division series collapses of the middle of the order and Snit not giving anyone a day off for the second year in a row.

    And even if there was not, what was gained by playing Freddie, Ozzie, Donaldson, Acuna, and Markakis towards the top 15 in games played (Markakis had he stayed healthy)? 29 other managers didn’t do that. Why is there any reason to think that Snit knows something the other 29 managers don’t? What was gained by doing that vs. the risk of not giving Camargo ample ABs? What does Snit know that the other managers don’t?

  8. You’d have to define what “keeping the glass slammed” and “pulling off the pedal” mean. Was anyone not playing as hard as they could be in September?

  9. Can we maybe entertain the idea that Markakis is just not good not matter how much rest we decide give him? I’d rest him 100% of the time.

    I agree that we kinda limped into October and were not hitting well, but how predictive is that? Look at Ozuna’s September – he was awful, and he had an amazing series against us. Dansby wasn’t good either, and ditto.

    Freddie’s bone spurs maybe are the deciding factor. But we had nobody on the roster to replace him, and they weren’t going to replace him no matter what. Losing Camargo is a non-issue, since he wouldn’t have seen the field much either. Snit was going to play his guys. Tenure trumps talent. I’d like to see how we do led by someone that doesn’t work that way, but I’d give it like a 10% chance of happening, maybe less.

  10. Markakis would’ve been fine as a 4th OF; or had he been the weakest starting link on a strong team, hitting 8th. As Rob alluded to though in the piece, the biggest issue is Snit doesn’t utilize him that way. Snit deploys him as if he’s a guy who’s going to produce middle of the order stats. Outside of his 2nd and 3rd seasons, all the way back in his Oriole days, he’s never been that. If they don’t cut bait with Nick, or with Snit, I just don’t know how you fix that. Maybe the Goat is Snit?

  11. As an aside, looking ahead a bit, I can see this team taking quite a step back next season if they aren’t able to retain Donaldson. I don’t believe they’ll acquire an OF because they won’t want to block Pache or Waters, which isn’t the worst thing. If you’re going to endure Riley’s growing pains hitting 4th, with Kakes 5th, how can you not figure on looking at a 3rd or 4th place finish? And maybe that brings a close to Snit’s managerial tenure, and they just play for 2021?

  12. I believe the Bobby Cox lineage continues to haunt this organization in the postseason. The common thread since 2001 is Bobby Cox and his acolytes in the dugout. Bobby was a hell of a leader and manager of a pro clubhouse, but a pretty lousy tactician. I don’t foresee much postseason success until the culture changes. The “Braves way” is — at least to me — what’s in the way and it’s not something I can quantify except to say something under the umbrella of the culture of this franchise

    As a Clemson alum, I liken it to Clemson football before Dabo Swinney. The football team was always above average, sometimes good, but never great. It took a big change in the culture and mindset of the football program before the program took a leap forward. I think something similar will eventually have to happen in Atlanta.

  13. @14
    With the signing of Donaldson and the celebratory atmosphere of the entire team, the Braves Way, at least on the field, was no more. AA seems to also be paving his own path. Snitker being a not so great in-game manager and a good clubhouse leader is reflective of Bobby Cox, sure, but what else is there left?

  14. Markakis played in 116 games this year. Second fewest of any year he’s been in the bigs. If he sucks it’s not because he didn’t get enough days off.

  15. I wonder with Soroka’s shoulder history if they were trying to limit his innings or alternately if they were worried about bringing him back on 3 days rest?

  16. I’m sure it was all about the home/road splits. I can see Snitker being all about that voodoo science.

    I am fully aware that Soroka and Fried might have gotten lit up in games 1 and 2, but we’ll never know. I’d just like to see how our two best arms do in a 5 game series. With the Braves you almost never have the best players playing the most important innings. Until that changes we’re gonna be in this endless Groundhog Day.

  17. I was counting on my traditional playoff survival technique of “I’ll know who I hate when the game starts” to kick in, and it did. I will be against the Cardinals.

  18. Blech. Watch us lose Wash and Weiss to the 42 managerial openings, next year Snit and AA have a “mutual parting of ways”, and we end up with Phil Wellman as manager and Curt Schilling as bench coach or some crap.

  19. Analysis beyond game 4 is irrelevant. There should never have been a fifth game. We lost because of the pathetic middle order performance in the fourth game following on, THREE TIMES, exemplary extra base production by the top of the order ahead of them. Pitching was an afterthought in retrospect, perfectly adequate.

  20. I’m wondering what a poll of paying Braves fans at SunTrust of The Chop would look like. I feel this place is out-of-touch with the general public.

  21. @22: My personal opinion is the turning point of the series was when Acuna got that “gift” triple to lead off an inning in game four, and Albies, Freeman and Donaldson failed to drive him in. If Acuna scored there, the Braves would have won the game and the series.

    It’s extremely difficult to envision a scenario in this past series wherein Dexter Fowler got a leadoff triple, and the Cardinals’ 2-4 hitters failed to bring him home, isn’t it?

  22. Game over…2-0 Nats and well worth it. Anibal sent Goldy and Osuna down all evening till the venerable Goodfellow got the three outs in the ninth. Bliss to watch the disconsolate crowd leave their seats. The Nats had made what we couldn’t do look easy.

  23. All we have left is Schadenfreude. Nobody fucks with us! Ever. Ever! Uh ok. The Nats gonna win this without any drama, aren’t they.

  24. I’ve followed BJ (heh) for years now but Jesus you people have become insufferable. Baseball is a weird game. The playoffs are a crapshoot. If Melancon closes game 1 we are all happy. He blew it, and we started a known head case in the biggest game of his life which was… a bad idea. But hell, we won 97 games. How many of you had the over on that when the season started? I know we need to blow off steam, but do you really want to get rid of Freddie? Chipper won one WS, was he a failure? We are a mid market team, punching above our weight in a wealthy division. Yeah the breaks broke the boys this year, but it’s only a game. We are set up for a great run, let’s go get that one starter we need and take another run next year.

  25. I don’t believe for a moment there’s anyone here who wants to get rid of Freddie. What needs to happen is he must take a step back, reflect on his dismal performance levels right at the end of a great season and draw some obvious conclusions.

    He needs to cast off the burdens of team leadership, he is not a natural leader when it comes to yakking with the press. Let Swanson have it plus a new contract, he’s a natural and also, given a full season of good health, quite capable of special WAR numbers, field and plate, base running.

    A few weeks into the new season Freddie would relish the freedom that would come to him, that burden lifted off his back. This only leaves the thorny question of his health, the rest he must have during a season.

    One last thing – he must not repeat trying to tell us his injuries are ‘perfect’, the exact word he used at the beginning of post season play. That was a huge mistake, above and beyond the normal player BS. We love Freddie, he could have/will have a great and happy season next year.

  26. And yes, one other sacred cow that needs to go from the Braves lexicon. The last ten games don’t matter. O yes they do. See Nationals, Washington. We settled for mediocrity and couldn’t relocate the gas pedal. Never again, please.

  27. @34

    Yes, amazing to watch him into the seventh with his no hitter. Sad too, what we had let go. What do we learn from this, there were some of us who hated to see him leave, others dismissive. Payroll you might say, did we even try?

  28. @35

    Ten game lead, down to 4. That’s hardly cathartic. They must have loved it.

    And who will be our Howie Kendrik?!

  29. @17, sure. But he still wasn’t playing and, presumably, wasn’t getting fatigued from not getting enough time off. Clearly he was terrible against StL, but i’m not buying the narrative that it was due to fatigue.

  30. Tactics aside, I reject the notion of Snitker being a great clubhouse guy. He is either not a leader, or not leading towards success in the playoffs.

    There is a very obvious communication barrier between him and RAJ. Where is his Pat Corrales?

    There are several possible reasons why he’s not resting players appropriately, and many of them can be explained by a lack of leadership.

    When the pressure was on, there was no family, no loyalty, no circling the wagons. Instead, we’re letting opponents throw at our guys and helping the press roast them.

    He is less stupid than Fredi, but that just makes him a tall midget.

    Get a real manager, Braves!

  31. In fairness, Bill, I had the over, and I’m still frustrated about the first round loss. Who wouldn’t?

  32. @23 I do agree that whether you go to a lot of games may have an impact. I don’t get to many, but when I am able to, the chop is a big part of the experience. In game 3 of the NLDS last year (two years ago?), the stadium shook when they did the chop after Acuna’s GS. I don’t think it’s good for business to remove that.

  33. I don’t think it’s a mutiny. I think it’s questioning just about everything about the team to understand what the heck happened. I don’t think Snit is such an accomplished manager that he’s above reproach. If Bobby can be criticized, why not Snit?

  34. It’s natural when any organization fails to reach its goals, that you pull the pieces apart to examine how you can do better in the future. The off-season is long, and part of making the time pass will be many many examinations of what the team could have done better to achieve more success.

    For those of us who have been around since the 1991 series, there have been many exercises of this. The hardest thing to face is that the Braves have failed more at the playoffs than they have succeeded, and that’s tougher take as a fan of the team.

  35. For me it’s loss of Culberson, Inciarte, Martin and Freddie’s elbow. I am going to believe if Martin doesn’t pull his oblique then we win games 1, 2 and 3 and games 4 and 5 never have to happen.

  36. @42 And that’s sorta my thing… when you think of all the big moments in Braves history over, what, the last 25 to almost 30 years, how many had the chop going in the background? It’s a tradition, tied to some really memorable moments. It’s done in celebration. A generation of Braves fans have grown up with it. That’s why I’m very much for keeping it.

  37. @43 Agreed. I didn’t have a huge issue when they retained Snitker coming off ’18 because he’s supposed to be a players’ manager, and the guys liked him. In baseball, I generally feel a manager’s role is more of a motivator; versus in a sport like football, where a coach is more X’s and O’s. When a baseball manager who isn’t a great in game tactician though starts maybe faltering in protecting a young franchise cornerstone, what’s his value to the team then become? That’s where I’m at now. It’d have been really easy for Snitker to publicly defend Acuna for being excited in a big game 1 moment, while privately still having a conversation with Acuna about the need to run.

  38. @39 – That is a huge overreaction to a much better season than expected followed by a disappointing playoff loss. Snitker has his faults, which have been discussed in detail here. However, so does every other coach or manager.

    Bottom line is his fatal mistake in the playoffs was buying into overanalyzing starting pitching. “Real managers” have made bigger mistakes. Dang, I guess we should expect nothing less than perfection and all decisions to always work perfectly.

  39. @42 Next year, when Helsley appears in a game in Atlanta, do you think fans will mock him with the chop?

  40. I hope not. Helsley was asked his opinion and gave it. He’s also given everybody a reason to scale back the Chop. I hope people don’t degrade him, but I bet some will.

  41. That’s the thing. If I’m Terry McGurk, I’d be thinking about how to ensure that it doesn’t happen. That would be a national story if it did. Not a good look for the Braves or their fans, or MLB. Or the whole region.

  42. I think it should be a slow roll to scaling back and phasing out the chop. Maybe next year you stop the playing the chop anthem. If fans start the chop spontaneously, then fine (assuming it’s not spitefully targeted towards certain players). In the next two-to-three years, maybe you begin slowly removing the tomahawk from auxiliary branding and scale back chop-related hashtaggery. What do you do with the Chop House, though? Rebrand it as the Thyssenkrup House? The point is, it’s so embedded in the branding, it’s hard to just remove everything immediately.

  43. @49

    As I said the other day when this was breaking, some people may disagree, but I don’t think it’s an especially ugly thing when directed at no one in particular or with the sole purpose of cheering on the team.

    When directed at somebody of American Indian ancestry, though (particularly one who’s said he’s uncomfortable with it), it suddenly becomes extremely ugly IMO.

  44. Juan Soto offended the Cardinals last night with his antics at the plate, so maybe it’s not an Acuña problem.

  45. Well, the Cardinal way is now to cry about basically everything. After almost getting no hit last night, now they have an issue with the baseballs because they’re traveling 4.5ft less than they were in the regular season, according to their front office.

    I can’t believe I’m rooting for the Nationals, but I am.

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