End of Season Post-Mortem: 2013 Atlanta Braves

Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.

Atlanta rolled through the NL East this season like a buzzsaw, leading the damn thing nearly wire to wire. They kicked the Nationals in the teeth early on, and never let up. Yet once October rolled around, the Braves ran into an even more powerful buzzsaw – the Los Angeles Dodgers, who eliminated them in four games.

Preseason Prediction: After winning 94 games last year, that seems like a realistic target again for Atlanta this season. This is one of the five or six best teams in the National League on paper, and a playoff berth seems like it's something that the team can easily achieve. But then again, that's why they play the games.

What Went Right: Freddie Freeman's third full season in the majors tapped in to all of his potential, and the 24-year old is going to be getting some MVP votes after a .319/.396/.501 season. Andrelton Simmons' glove lived up to the hype and he put together one of the best defensive seasons in baseball history, along with providing roughly league average offense. Jason Heyward posted a .932 OPS in the second half, turning into an elite leadoff hitter. Justin Upton was hot and cold, but when he was hot, he was untouchable. Chris Johnson put together a shockingly good season after being considered a throw-in to the Upton trade. Evan Gattis showed that his power was legitimate, and Brian McCann had a hot first half before dropping off substantially in the second half.

On the mound, Craig Kimbrel wasn't as good as in 2012, but he proved that he's still the best closer in baseball. The starting pitching trio of Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Kris Medlen all performed very well as each made 30 starts for the club. Going back to the bullpen, David Carpenter came out of nowhere to slot himself as Kimbrel's primary set-up man, and Jordan Walden had a great year before dealing with injury issues at numerous times over the season. Luis Avilan put together a brilliant, but possibly unsustainable, season as well. There's also the curious case of Alex Wood, who performed well in the rotation and the bullpen, and could probably end up in either role in 2014.

What Went Wrong: BJ Upton was absolutely horrible in his first year with the club. Dan Uggla wasn't much better in year three, even after undergoing LASIK surgery that was supposed to fix everything. Heyward only got 440 plate appearances thanks to an emergency appendectomy and a broken jaw, and he was pretty awful over the season's first two months. Gattis struggled in the second half with his plate discipline, and his offensive numbers fell across the board. Top relievers Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters both blew their elbows out and had Tommy John surgery. Ramiro Pena provided a spark off the bench, but was lost for the year in June following shoulder surgery. Tim Hudson's ankle snapped like a twig in July. Brandon Beachy made just five starts following Tommy John surgery last summer.

Most Surprising Player: I'd have to go with Chris Johnson here. This is a guy who was cast aside by both the Astros and Diamondbacks in favor of other options. Sure enough, he goes out in 2013 and finishes as the runner-up to the NL batting crown with a .321 batting average. His season came out of nowhere, and his .391 BABIP indicates he might suffer a drop-off next year – but hey, that 27% line drive rate is sexy as all hell.

Most Disappointing Player: While Uggla has struggled at times throughout his Braves career, you could almost see he was going to have a fall like he did in 2013. Yet, no one expected BJ Upton to have a year like he did in 2013. Upton posted the highest strikeout rate of his career, the lowest ISO (outside of a 50 game sample in 2006) of his career, and his already low batting average dropped into the basement. If you want to take away some positives from Upton's 2013: he walked at a nearly 10% clip, he put together a solid season defensively in center field, and he had a really good June. Also, Upton's issues this season didn't really seem to be caused by some sort of deterioration of skill, but rather mechanical issues that could hopefully be fixed over the winter.

The Future: The winds of change will be blowing through Atlanta this winter. McCann, Hudson, and Paul Maholm are all free agents, while Kimbrel, Walden, Freeman, Beachy, and Minor all enter their first year of arbitration. Atlanta's rotation should be in decent shape with their young pitching, and their offense also doesn't lose any starters aside from McCann. But I wouldn't be surprised if the team made a big move, potentially one that would move Uggla's contract off the books and let the team gain some financial flexibility to lock up some of their young talent. Year one of Atlanta's three year window has been completed, but the moves Frank Wren makes this offseason will likely shape the 2015 team just as much as the 2014 team.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.