Braves find October futility hard to believe
Atlanta's success dampened by string of early postseason exits
LOS ANGELES -- In the last 23 years, the Atlanta Braves have won more regular-season games than any other team in baseball.
But it hasn't been enough.
They have advanced to 17 of the last 22 postseasons, a number matched only by the New York Yankees.
But it hasn't been enough.
Not only have they manage to win just one World Series in that stretch, but with their elimination by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series on Monday night, the Braves have lost their last eight postseason series.
That is more than enough.
"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 ..."
Think about Monday's 4-3 loss to the Dodgers, who now advance to the NL Championship Series against the winner of the Pittsburgh-St. Louis NLDS while the Braves are ready to get started on another offseason of angst.
Thanks to a shoddy defensive effort by the Dodgers, the Braves actually scored two runs -- albeit unearned -- off Clayton Kershaw on Monday night and then took a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh when Jose Constanza delivered a pinch-hit single that scored Elliot Johnson, who had tripled.
But in the bottom of the eighth, after Yasiel Puig greeted Braves reliever David Carpenter with a leadoff double, Juan Uribe twice fouled off sacrifice-bunt attempts, took two balls and unloaded what became the game-winning home run, just inside the left-field foul pole.
"I thought we had this game," said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. "[Starting pitcher Freddy Garcia] was unbelievable. We got that lead in the seventh and turned it over to our bullpen. That's been our strength all year, and then ..."
Eight consecutive postseason series lost. That's the second-longest streak of postseason failure in history, but while the Chicago Cubs' failure in 10 consecutive postseasons was spread over 88 years (from 1910 through 1998), the Braves have seen eight postseason opportunities go for nothing in the last 13 years.
There are not many players who have fully experienced the futility. Only six players on the 25-man Atlanta postseason roster had played for the Braves in a previous October, and catcher Brian McCann (2005, 2010, 2012 and 2013) has played in more than anybody else.
"It is hard to believe," said McCann. "This one is tough. I don't even think about the other seven. This is the one that hurts because this is the one we just went through. This is one where we felt we were in good shape and then ..."
The Braves have a .580 winning percentage (2,122-1,536) since the start of the 1991 season, which was the start of a professional-sports record 14 consecutive first-place finishes. But the celebrations of success have been muted over the years.
In the last 13 seasons alone, they are 1,167-937, a .555 regular-season winning percentage that ranks behind only St. Louis (.560) in the National League and the Yankees (.594) and Boston (.561) in the Major Leagues.
There are, however, no trophies or world championship banners to show for all of that regular-season success.
The Braves did sweep Houston in the 2001 NLDS, but then lost to Arizona in the NLCS that year and followed that up with NLDS losses in 2002 to the Giants, 2003 to the Cubs, 2004 and 2005 to Houston, 2010 to the Giants and now the Dodgers in 2013. And a year ago, they lost the one-game Wild Card playoff to St. Louis.
"Getting here is not enough," said Wren. "Winning a world championship is what you are after."
The Braves, however, have found only one world championship (1995) since 1957, back when they were still in Milwaukee and knocked off the Yankees in seven games with Lew Burdette not only earning three of the Braves victories, but turning in complete games in all three.
Since 2001 alone, nine different teams have won World Series championships, including Boston, St. Louis and San Francisco claiming two apiece. The D-backs, Angels, Marlins, White Sox, Phillies and Yankees also have one World Series championship in that time, and the Dodgers or Pittsbugh or Tampa Bay or Oakland or Detroit could join that list of champions this October, that is, if St. Louis or Boston don't add a third.
Not the Braves.
Winning games in October is a challenge for them. Winning championships remains a wish.
It's not just that they have lost eight consecutive postseason series or that they are a combined 10-23 in those eight series. They are 5-14 at Turner Field in that time, and Monday in Los Angeles is only the second time in the eight series failures that the Braves avoided losing the elimination game at home. They are only 3-10 in their last four postseason endeavors.
In discussing his 24 years in the Braves front office with MLB.com last weekend, Braves president John Schuerholz was very open with his frustrations.
"It is sad that the story of the Atlanta Braves ends with the word 'but,'" said Schuerholz. "People talk about the great run we had, 14 consecutive division championships. All my cohorts in the business say, `What a remarkable accomplishment. No one will ever do that.' The media examines what we have done as productive but the end of sentence is 'but only one world championship.' ... We've been so consistently competitive but it's sort of the hallmark of our organization right now, one world championship."
Nothing more to be said.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.