It was a great season, despite how it ended. The Braves did something that nobody outside of Georgia expected them to do, and that was win the division. The Nats absolutely fell apart, the Marlins were the joke we all expected them to be, and the Mets continue to try to avoid their creditors. I'm not sure much will change as we go to next season, seeing that the Braves and the Nats have the highest and best chance of competing in a division that's mainly a two horse race until the other teams can spend some money.
What went wrong? That's what everyone seems to want to focus on first, so I'll look at that right off the bat. Well for starters, what went wrong was the health of the team. The bullpen suffered the losses of O'Flaherty and Venters immediately. Then Christian Martinez, Tim Hudson, and Brandon Beachy followed in the wake of season-ending injuries. But that wasn't all. Ramiro Pena suffered an injury just as he was hitting his hot streak, as did Tyler Pastornicky right when he was ready to make a contribution to the squad. It was just a MASH unit of wounded by the time the Braves crossed the finish line, and I'm not even addressing the two times Jason Heyward was out with both appendicitis and a broken jaw.
What else went wrong? Two of our highest price guys, BJ Upton and Dan Uggla, both finished the season with averages well below .200, and with strikeout totals well above 150. It's the two single worst performances by any two baseball players on the same team that I've ever seen without injury. What made it that much worse was the fact they were under contract for a combined $25.5 million. If they weren't, they would have been cut. They weren't the only issue though. The Braves struggled mightily with RISP all year long, and certain players just never picked up the pace in time to make a difference. Two of the other guys in that regard were Andrelton Simmons and Brian McCann. Simmons only had a .206 average with RISP, and BMac only managed a .227 with 34 RBIs. The McCann one is the most disappointing, because there were so many runs we left on the table with him at the plate in the post-season. He covered a lot of sins with his power, but his situational hitting simply wasn't up to par this season.
What went right? Chris Johnson is probably the most obvious choice. He was a kick-in on the Justin Upton trade, and he turned into a guy that was chasing the NL batting title down the stretch. What a pickup by Wren in that trade. Just don't look at the BJ trade with it. Freddie Freeman also was very right. I don't think I'll ever forget the All-Star voting battle of Braves Country versus ESPN trying to cram Puig down our collective throats. Freeman won that battle, but I guess ESPN won the war when the Dodgers knocked us out of the playoffs. Still, Freddie deserved every accolade as he finished with a .319 average, 109 RBIs, and 27 homers. What a season by our first baseman. The Justin Upton trade was also right for the most part. He carried this team for two months this season, and had hot streaks that saw him put a total of 27 homers on the board for the team lead. While he finished with a respectable .263 average and a robust .800+ OPS, I think we all looked at it with sad reflection, because we know he was capable of so much more. I think while Justin was streaky, he can continue to improve his game as he heads into next season with a little more consistency at the plate.
The pitching went very right for the majority of the season. They lead the league in ERA, and they wildly outperformed expectations even in the face of massive injuries to the rotation. I can't think of another team that could weather that storm and still manage to carry a team that was supposed to be known for hitting, but somehow slumped for 10 games at a time at the plate. The pitching, especially guys in the bullpen like Avilan, Carpenter, Varvaro, and Walden, kept the games on lockdown late in the year. It's a shame that disappeared in the playoffs down the stretch. However, one thing that didn't waiver was Craig Kimbrel, and if I'm looking at the best pitching story for 2013, it's him. Craig finished with 50 saves, a feat only touched by 11 relievers now in MLB history. The amazing part was that he finished with a paltry 1.21 ERA while doing it, and 4 wins to boot. He is and will continue to be the most feared part of the Braves pitching staff, until the Braves find that mythical starting Ace.
What moments will we always remember about this season? I'll always remember Jason Heyward laying out for that impossible catch to save the game against the Mets in the 9th. I'll always remember Evan Gattis tomahawking a neck-level fastball from Strasburg into the deep seats. I'll always remember Brian McCann meeting Carlos Gomez halfway up the third base line after the classless Gomez wouldn't stop cursing Maholm as he rounded the bases. I'll always remember the Freddie Freeman All-Star Twitter War. I'll always remember the questionable feeling in my gut when we had a runner on second and BJ and Dan were due up at the plate. I'll also always remember the time that Justin and BJ went deep back-to-back that proves they can get it done.
Mostly I'll remember the journey of this season, even as it drew to a close and we sort of knew we were too banged up and had too many hitting issues to get far. I'll remember the comments from all of you on and off the blog, and how you inspired me to hang with it every game. I'll remember the good times as we head into winter and wait for next year's team to come together.
See you in 2014.