And with that, Brooks Conrad (yes, the Brooks Conrad) has struck out swinging, stranding both the tying and winning runs in scoring position and cementing this season in the annals of Atlanta Braves history. It ends at 86-76.
Despite the pathetic finish (losing six in a row to the Marlins and dead-last, 103-loss Nationals), the Braves showed some streaks of brilliance this season. But there was plenty of frustration too; their offense would vanish completely at times, which is a large reason they fell out of second place in both the division and wild card standings. They seemed to eschew success, getting so close (for instance, 2 games back in the WC and 4 back in the division in late September) and never giving the extra push needed to move up. The pitching was the definite highlight (even with Boone Logan and Manny Acosta in the bullpen), and should be for the next few seasons as well. Three starters had sub-3.00 ERAs (Vazquez, Jurrjens, Hanson) and the team should have had three 15-game winners (Lowe, Vazquez, Jurrjens-14). Getting a good closer wouldn’t hurt though (11 blown saves between Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez).
The Braves will need help offensively to contend next year. Garret Anderson did reasonably well (.268, 13 HR, 61 RBI) considering his age, but was not nearly good enough to warrant a starting position, and Chipper Jones was either playing hurt or has lost his stroke completely (.264, 18 HR, 71 RBI). Matt Diaz (.313, 13 HR), Martin Prado (.307, 11 HR), Yunel Escobar (.299, 14 HR, 76 RBI), Brian McCann (21 HR, 94 RBI), and Adam LaRoche (.330, 12 HR, 40 RBI in 56 games with ATL) all handled the bat well, while Nate McLouth produced from a homer and defensive standpoint but little else.
This off-season will see the team lose several players, but they should remain competitive in 2010. The real questions are what the pitching staff will look like, who will be in the outfield (and at first base), and whether or not the players care about winning for Bobby Cox one last time. His successor will inherit quite the franchise, but he couldn’t do much to disappoint the already dimly-optimistic Braves fans. And the Mets may actually come to play next year, so those are fewer wins to count on.
Surely the Phillies won’t win the Series again this year…there are too many better teams out there…