Braves’ Alex Anthopoulous discusses what went wrong again in NLDS, looks ahead

ATLANTA — Some 19 hours after the Braves’ crushing defeat in the NLDS, the second year in a row in which they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies to get sent packing into a way-too-soon offseason, Atlanta Braves general manager and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos fielded questions about the disappointing ending to what had been a record-breaking season.

He was asked about what went wrong, about some of manager Brian Snitker’s moves, about how an offense that was unstoppable for six months went silent when counted most, and about whether he thinks the Braves need to make changes to their postseason approach, as suggested by pitcher Spencer Strider, who gave up three solo home runs in Thursday’s series-ending 3-1 loss.

Here were Anthopoulos’ responses to some questions about the Braves as he looked back at what went wrong and began to look ahead to 2024. Questions were summarized and answers were edited for brevity and clarity.

On whether he agrees with Strider’s comments, including the pitcher saying, “We’re going to have to change or improve the way we focus and prepare for the postseason.”

I talked to him after he came out of the game. I thought he was awesome. I think I told him, he’s a (No. 1 starter). He’s a bulldog, he cares, he’s everything you want. … Look, we’re starting the (evaluation) process now. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff today, going through stuff. I think like anything, once you don’t win the World Series, you review everything. You look at everything and examine everything, I don’t think you can rule anything out. Bottom line is, we didn’t get to where we wanted to get to, or expected to. And I don’t know that we’ll have the answer today; I bet you he’d tell you the same thing. But you start the process of dissecting all of it — in-season, playoffs, all that stuff.

Since I’ve been here, this is six years (straight) in the postseason. One of them resulted in a World Series. But every season has been different. Every playoff run has been different. So for some of these guys, it was the first, for Spencer it was the second. Bunch of guys that were on that (2021) World Series-winning team were part of it as well, right? So I think we always reflect on things, we review, we look — nobody has an exact formula, otherwise, somebody would be winning every year. But I think that’s what makes baseball great, is that you’re constantly looking for answers in terms of what gets you a World Series. I think I said this in an interview earlier, I can look back at every every playoff run and take something away from it. And I’m already dissecting some of that now …

I think (different postseasons) don’t mirror each other. There are variances to the opponents, to the roster, to the health of guys, to how guys are performing. And like I said, unless someone’s winning three, four in a row, I don’t know that there’s one thing you can point to. I do know you need to get back in order to give yourself an opportunity. But we obviously can dissect, it’s four games. Look, they’re the four most important games of the year. In our case we hoped it was going to be five. But I don’t think anybody can tell you, “This is exactly what the answer is.”

On whether the Braves need to acquire a frontline starter — a durable one in his prime — this winter, considering the starting-pitcher injuries, illnesses and late-season performance decline of some that have been a blow to Atlanta’s chances in consecutive NLDS. Also, on the Braves’ club option on Charlie Morton, who will be 40 next season:

So I’ll answer both sides. So the frontline starter piece, I feel like in the 2020 offseason Charlie Morton ended up being that, we added that frontline starter. I think when we signed him I don’t think I said we’re getting a frontline starter, but we gave him a pretty good contract. And he was our Game 1 starter throughout the playoffs, all the way — DS, CS, World Series. I mean, his performance in ’21 was frontline, and we went out and got him and he was a target and we did it early. In terms of the age of that player, bottom line is we got a front-of-the-rotation guy that slotted Max (Fried) down to two, Ian Anderson down to three, and so on. Because Ian Anderson was our (No. 2) starter — in 2020, if Max is our 1, Ian is our 2. We did sign Charlie and he slotted everybody else down.

I think all your points that you brought up about the ailments two years in a row going into the postseason with some things that have come up with the rotation, I think (are) extremely fair. I wouldn’t argue. Look, those are the facts. There’s no doubt about it, we had a great season, but there’s no doubt we were definitely banged up. In terms of how that would shape or influence our offseason, I think the same thing (as usual). I’m going to be very guarded with our potential offseason plans. One, we’re clearly not even there yet. This is less than 24 hours.

The health of Fried and Strider was arguably the biggest factor in the Braves’ 2022 NLDS loss. Was the record-breaking offense suddenly going cold this postseason the biggest factor in again losing three out of four to the Phillies?

I was talking to some of our staff today, and my feelings probably are going to be different tomorrow and Sunday and Monday and every day you keep looking, examining things. I think the difference between last year and this year was, obviously (in 2022) guys weren’t 100 percent. This time, we had a lot of opportunities in games. I mean, it was 0-for-5 (with) runners in scoring position, Game 1. Obviously Game 2, we won the game but we didn’t get a hit in that game until the sixth inning. And I think through the first two or three games, we had three extra-base hits. We’re a team that slugs. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. I don’t think anyone would doubt that we have a lot of power on this team. We didn’t have a lot of extra-base hits, we didn’t slug in this series.

So if you’re looking strictly at that specific item, I wouldn’t sit there and say, “Wow, this team lacks power. This team lacks extra-base ability.” It doesn’t. Over a four-game stretch that we played, that happened. I know people say small samples and so on, and I don’t want to make excuses. Bottom line is, you’re expected to get it done. We were able to get it done in ’21, right? And I remember doing this (end-of-year media session), and it’s the first time I was able to do it and say, “Everything we did worked.” But I think like anything else, I think the biggest difference in the series is even when you look at, like, other than Game 3, which obviously the score was very lopsided, we were in these games. We had opportunities in Game 1. Obviously Game 2, we won. And then even in Game 4, a lot of opportunities there.

And we have elite players and I believe the .500 slugging percentage (in the regular season), I don’t think anyone’s matched or we’re right there at the top of all time. Definitely the home-run totals. I think I saw the difference in home-run totals was 12 to 3 (in favor of the Phillies in the NLDS). Obviously, we have power in the lineup. It didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean we don’t have great players, but it will happen over the course of a series, where guys aren’t always going to continue. Maybe if we had gone through this round, the next round it would have showed up. So, you know, I feel like these games could have gone some other way. You get the big hit in some other years; there’s years we got we got the big hit. We weren’t able to come through (despite) an elite group of offensive players.

On whether there’s been any indication that Snitker, who’ll be 68 on Oct. 17, is considering retiring rather than managing in 2024.

Oh, no. I fully expect him (back). Yeah. I mean, we already — we obviously talked a lot after the game. I mean, we’re already talking about saying goodbye to players, “See ya in spring training” and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, absolutely.

On how he assessed some of Snitker’s decisions during the series, including the different lineup he used in Game 1 and leaving Bryce Elder in to face Bryce Harper (three-run homer) in Game 3.

I talk to Snit and the staff all the time. Look, we’re always going to scrutinize each game. And that’s just part of the playoffs, right? Cover each game. My big takeaway from the series was that outside of Game 3, where the score was pretty out of hand by the end of it, we were in the other games, and obviously one of those we won. We had opportunities in the other games, and what is clearly the strength of our team and was clearly the strength of our team the entire year (its offense), we had traffic, we had opportunities, we had men in scoring position. We just weren’t able to capitalize with the big hit. And that happens. You don’t want it to happen. We’ve been on the other side of it where we’ve come through.

We can go back through each game and I can go through great defensive plays that were made by their side, balls that we hit hard. Maybe just having a strikeout in a big spot, and so on. And that’s the playoffs. It’s really close games. And you look at the way we won Game 2, things can develop. But push come to shove, I have the utmost confidence in us as an offensive team. The numbers speak for themselves. The talent, the roster, the lineup speaks for itself. And I think at the end of the day we get a few hits here and there with runners in scoring position, I think we’re definitely playing a Game 5.

But that didn’t happen, and you have to give the Phillies credit. You have to give their starters credit, their relievers credit. They got it done. And I sleep well at night knowing we have a very good offensive club now, and going into ’24 and beyond.

On Vaughn Grissom’s future after spending most of 2023 in Triple A. Do the Braves still see him as a middle infielder, or maybe a left fielder?

The biggest thing is we wanted to get him reps (in 2023). He basically came up to the big leagues (from High A) in ’22. I know he got to Double A for a very brief (period), but he basically was coming out of High A. So we wanted to get him a ton of middle-infield reps. He had an unbelievable year offensively (in 2023), the numbers speak for themselves. And he’s getting much better defensively as well. He’s a great athlete. And so that’ll be something that we’ll talk about as well. The bat plays. The makeup, the aptitude, the energy. He’s an amazing teammate. You want him a part of this team in some capacity.

But I think the thing we have to balance is making sure that we can get him playing time and at-bats. So if that means now that Orlando (Arcia) has solidified himself at short, obviously the other two spots at second and third are spoken for with Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley, we’ll see if there’s an opportunity to move (Grissom) around and get him playing time. But the fact that he can hit the way he can and he can play on the dirt and, you know, he’s such a great clubhouse guy, that’ll be something that we discuss in the offseason. How do we try to get him into the mix somehow?

(File photo of Alex Anthopoulos from 2022: Lucas Peltier/USA Today)

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