The Atlanta Braves are World Series champions.
As Phillies fans, it’s a tough pill to swallow. Back in 2015, both organizations began a painful rebuild that resulted in a number of losing seasons that, at times, seemed never-ending.
In 2018, both teams began to emerge from their rebuilds. Both had farm systems ranked among the very best in baseball and some money to spend, although while Atlanta’s system was undoubtedly the stronger of the two, it was hoped the Phillies’ wallets and major cable TV deal would allow them to make up whatever gap existed and put together a championship-caliber club.
Over the last four years, however, it became apparent the Braves had passed the Phils in their rebuild, a reality based on Atlanta’s four straight division titles coupled with a decade-long playoff drought for Philadelphia. Last night, Atlanta scaled their mountain by winning their first title since 1995.
What can the Phils learn after watching their bitter division rivals leap into each other’s arms around the pitcher’s mound in celebration? Here are 5 key items the Phillies can take away from Atlanta’s World Series victory.
Survive and Thrive
It’s important to remember the journey the Braves embarked upon this year.
- They went their first 111 games before crossing the .500 mark, by far the most of any team who has ever won the pennant. The 1914 Braves were next closest at 91.
- Of the five NL teams to reach the playoffs, Atlanta’s 88 wins were the fewest.
- They lost their best young starting pitcher, Mike Soroka, for the season when he re-injured the Achilles he tore during the 2020 season. He never pitched for the Braves in ‘21.
- They lost the front-runner for NL MVP, Ronald Acuna, in mid-June to a torn ACL.
The conventional wisdom screamed at the Braves to tuck their heads into their shells and give up on the season. After all, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers were screaming towards 107 and 106 wins, respectively, not to mention a Brewers team that won 95 games and dominated the NL Central. Meanwhile, the Braves struggled for most of the summer to stay ahead of the Phils and, with just six games left in the season, were up by only two games over Philadelphia ahead of a key three-game series in Atlanta.
Despite those headwinds, Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos spent $8 million and swung deals for four outfielders at the trade deadline, all of whom were major contributors to a 44-28 second half, and two of those players won postseason awards: NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario and World Series MVP Jorge Soler.
In seasons past, the Phillies had been reluctant to go heavy at the trade deadline because they assumed they couldn’t beat a juggernaut NL team like the Dodgers, forgetting that in the MLB playoffs, everything is a crapshoot. Finding any way to reach the postseason is important, because you never know what can happen.
Farm Systems Matter
The Braves were able to deal with the loss of Acuna and make additions at the trade deadline because there was an existing core of quality players to supplement, players that were drafted and/or signed by the team as amateurs.
Freddie Freeman is a perennial MVP candidate. Ozzie Albies is one of the best second basemen in the NL. Austin Riley might actually win the MVP this year. Max Fried is a solid left-handed starter and pitched the game of his life in Game 6 last night, while Ian Anderson was one of the few starters to remain on the staff and pitched well in Game 3, the key game of the series. Huascar Ynoa is a 23-year-old who made 17 starts and was slated to play a big role in the Braves’ postseason rotation until an injury knocked him out in the NLCS.
Atlanta also relied on huge contributions from minor leaguer relievers like Kyle Wright, A.J. Minter, and Dylan Lee in October to help their pitching staff shut down an Astros lineup that was the best in baseball.
Meanwhile, the Phillies got virtually no production from Scott Kingery, Mickey Moniak, and Adam Haseley. Alec Bohm was supposed to be a lighter-hitting version of Austin Riley but couldn’t last the season in the Majors. All told, those four young, home-grown position players combined for -1.0 fWAR.
Not only did not help the team, they actively hurt the Phillies.
As far as pitching, Spencer Howard’s 2021 season never got off the ground and was dealt to the Rangers at the deadline. Only Ranger Suarez paid big dividends. Connor Brogdon was the best of the relievers (3.49 ERA, 0.7 fWAR), while Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sanchez showed a little something. J.D. Hammer, Adonis Medina, Enyel De Los Santos, JoJo Romero, Ramon Rosso, and Mauricio Llovera all pitched innings out of the ‘pen with largely disappointing results.
Dombrowski has begun an overhaul of the minor league system by bringing in Preston Mattingly to revamp everything, but if anything is going to get fixed, it won’t happen right away. Nevertheless, the Phils need more from the farm system or...
Go Over the Tax
...they need to go over the tax.
The four players the Braves added at the deadline cost them $8 million against the luxury tax. The three players the Phils added cost them less than a million. It’s fair to wonder if Dave Dombrowski would have done more at the deadline if they didn’t have to stay under the luxury tax. Of course, the Phillies front office denies there are any restrictions on payroll, but it’s no coincidence the players Dombrowski added essentially cost them nothing.
Kennedy and Gibson were somewhat helpful, and it’s unreasonable to think whoever they got would match the production Atlanta received from Rosario, Soler, Joc Pederson and Adam Duvall, but they didn’t give themselves an opportunity because, in their minds, they weren’t “one player away” from being World Series contenders.
Neither were the Braves throughout most of the season, and certainly not at the trade deadline. And while Atlanta didn’t go “all-in,” they spent more than the Phils and, at the end of the day, they’re the ones holding the trophy.
You Need Some Luck
Phils starters finished with 16.8 fWAR this season, 4th-best in MLB. The only other teams in the top-10 who didn’t reach the playoffs were the A’s (8th) and Reds (9th). They won just 82 games, and once Zach Eflin was lost for the season, throwing a bullpen game every fifth day during the stretch run was disastrous.
As mentioned above, almost no young pitchers in the bullpen came through. Ian Kennedy was not a good closer. Kyle Gibson was downright mediocre in the rotation. All their young position players struggled. Joe Girardi made one bad decision after another.
Every championship team gets a little bit lucky and, certainly, having only two starting pitchers, pitching back-to-back bullpen games, and relying on four also-ran trade deadline additions to power your lineup qualifies.
Over the last five years, the only luck the Phillies have had is bad luck. They could do more to give themselves a better shot at getting lucky, to be sure, but a little bit of good fortune wouldn’t hurt, either.