The Braves won 96 games despite a glut of injuries and led the National League East for all except one day in taking their first division title since 2005.
Still, the way things ended left a bitter taste in the mouths of Atlanta fans once again.
The Braves are 10-23 in the postseason since a National League Division Series sweep of Houston in 2001, dropping seven straights series and a wild-card game.
Much was made of the Braves winning just one World Series in five appearances during the 1990s. At least those teams got there, though.
“We haven’t been able to finish the job,” general manager Frank Wren said. “We play good baseball. We get in a position to win, but …”
Wren made some major moves last winter, including bringing in brothers Justin and B.J. Upton. But Justin was inconsistent, B.J. flopped and the Braves overachieved during the regular season when you factor in the injuries.
The Braves had 44 comeback wins — the most in the National League — and led the majors with a 56-25 home record. They were under .500 outside of winning streaks of 14, 10 and eight games, though.
To repeat as NL East champs, Braves need a healthy Brandon Beachy next season to fortify the rotation and bounce backs by B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla — if he is still around — to stretch out the lineup.
The Braves have an impressive young nucleus led by Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Andretlon Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran.
The big news in the offseason is likely to be who won’t be back in 2014. Brian McCann, a seven-time All-Star catcher, is considered likely to depart as a free agent and the future is uncertain for former ace Tim Hudson, who will turn 39 next season and is coming off a serious ankle injury.
The Braves led the majors with a 3.18 ERA in the regular season and topped the NL with 181 homers. The hit just one homer to seven by the Dodgers in the four-game NLDS, however, and had a 5.82 team ERA.
Four of the Los Angeles homers came in the deciding Game 4, including Juan Uribe’s two-run blast in the eighth inning off David Carpenter that turned a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 elimination loss.
“When you battle with these guys for eight straight months, to come up short, it’s just tough. I don’t know what else to say,” said Freeman, who batted .313 in the NLDS.
Fredi Gonzalez tried to put 2013 in perspective.
“There’s a lot of good stuff,” said Gonzalez, looking back on his third year as manager. “It’s going to be one of those seasons that you’re not going to appreciate for about a couple of weeks, and then you say, ‘You know what? It was a pretty darn good team, pretty darn good season.’”
The ending, though, was full of frustration once again.
“Chances are we’re not going to have this exact same squad back next year, so it is tough,” said Chris Johnson, who hit .321 during the regular season and .438 in the NLDS as Chipper Jones’ replacement at third base. “Hopefully, we can get a lot of guys back next year, try to make another run at this and get better, go farther.”
MLB Team Report - Atlanta Braves - NOTES, QUOTES
2013: 96-66, first place in NL East, lost to Dodgers in NL Division Series
TEAM MVP: Freddie Freeman hit .443 with runners in scoring position — second-best in the majors — and drove in 109 runs — tied for fourth. The RBI total was the best for a Braves player since Andruw Jones’ 129 in 2006 and the most by an Atlanta first baseman since Andres Galarraga’s 121 in 1998. Freeman was the constant in a Braves lineup that ran either very hot or very cold. He batted .319 with 27 doubles, two triples and 23 homers, posting an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .897 thanks to a .396 on-base percentage and .501 slugging mark.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: B.J. Upton signed a five-year contract worth $72 million as a free agent and earned little of it in his first season. The center fielder started just two of last 12 games and was hitless in his final 16 at-bats, finishing with a .184 average. Upton drove in 26 runs in 126 games and had 23 extra-base hits. He is likely to be used only as a pinch runner and defensive replacement in the postseason. The Braves tried everything and just couldn’t get his bat going.
TOP PROSPECT: Christian Bethancourt struck out as a pinch hitter in his major league debut in the season finale, but he could be a key part of the Braves going forward. The 22-year-old native of Panama may move from the team’s catcher of the future to the catcher of the present as early as next season if Brian McCann leaves as a free agent this winter, as many expect. Bethancourt is a defensive whiz and improved his hitting this season at Double-A Mississippi, batting .277 with 12 homers and setting a team record by reaching base safely in 40 straight games.
MLB Team Report - Atlanta Braves - ROSTER REPORT
The Braves went on a 10-game winning streak early in April and led the National League East for all except one day in 2013. It won’t likely be as easy next season, with the Washington Nationals expected to bounce back from a disappointing season. The Braves, though, should go into next season as the favorite to repeat thanks to their young nucleus.
BIGGEST NEEDS: With four seasons left on his $75.25 million contract, CF B.J. Upton must bounce back or the Braves will be in a bind next year and in the future. He hit just .184 and was a mess at the plate the entire season. He didn’t seem to deal well with added attention, got into bad habits trying to match brother Justin Upton’s hot start and then completely lost his confidence. The lineup should be strong if he bounces back and the pitching staff needs just a few tweaks with a return to health of Brandon Beachy and some others.
FREE AGENTS: C Brian McCann, RHP Tim Hudson, LHP Eric O’Flaherty, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Freddy Garcia, LHP Scott Downs, RHP Luis Ayala, RHP Kameron Loe, OF Reed Johnson
McCann has made seven All-Star Games and is a local product, but the Braves are unlikely to match the five-year offer at about $75 million that he could get from an American League team. Maholm and Downs are not expected to return, but the Braves could retain Hudson and O’Flaherty, who are both coming off injuries. The Braves declined Johnson’s $1.6 million option.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: 1B Freddie Freeman, RHP Craig Kimbrel, OF Jason Heyward, RHP Kris Medlen, 3B Chris Johnson, INF Elliot Johnson, RHP Brandon Beachy, RHP Jordan Walden, OF Jordan Schafer, LHP Jonny Venters, INF Ramiro Pena, INF Paul Janish, RHP Cristhian Martinez, LHP Mike Minor
Even if McCann leaves, the Braves’ payroll likely won’t go down next season as Freeman and Kimbrel get the money they deserve in their first year of arbitration. Johnson will also get a big raise and the Braves may try to lock up Heyward and Medlen to long-term deals. Several players may be non-tendered, led by Janish and Martinez.
IN LIMBO: The Braves would love to get out from under the more than $26 million owed the next two seasons to 2B Dan Uggla, who didn’t even make the postseason roster after a dismal season in which he batted .179 — the lowest of all major league regulars. Uggla did hit 22 homers and some team might be willing to take him, but the Braves would likely have to continue paying the vast majority of his contract. The Braves were able to dump RHP Derek Lowe a couple of years ago, but he had just one season left on his deal.