The Braves' season is over following their fiasco in the inaugural Wild Card Playoff Game.
Last season, as the club finished in second place following a miserable run in September, Atlanta would have been grateful for a shot at a one-game playoff opportunity.
This year, despite having six more wins than St. Louis in the regular season, one frustrating night has knocked out a team that had the pieces to win a World Series.
The play that stole the headlines was an infield fly call by umpire Sam Holbrook. You've seen the play by now: Andrelton Simmons hit a ball about 250 feet to left field; rookie shortstop Pete Kozma backed off when he thought Matt Holliday called him off, and the ball landed for what appeared to be a hit. As the ball was about 15 feet from the ground, Holbrook signaled for an infield fly.
Panic, chaos and about 300 thrown bottles ensued.
The Braves ended up not scoring that inning. If the play would have been called correctly, the club would have had bases loaded with just one out and Brian McCann at the plate. Maybe he draws a walk. Or perhaps Mac shoots a ball into the gap for a bases-clearing double, tying the game at 6-6. Or maybe he would've rolled into his 93rd double play of the month on a weak grounder to second base.
We'll never know.
And despite all of this being said, it's still hard to think Atlanta didn't blow this game.
Three throwing errors all led to runs being scored. For it being Chipper Jones' final career game, he sure picked a bad time to turn in arguably the worst postseason effort of his life. Simmons and Dan Uggla, who had both been so sure-handed this season, turned routine plays into disasters.
The Braves went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. They left 12 on base. And even with the bad call in the eighth, neither McCann nor Michael were able to deliver the big hit to tie the game up. Uggla had a chance to tie it in the ninth against a pitcher struggling to throw strikes. He ended up grounding out weakly to end the game.
You can't say Atlanta didn't have their chances. It was a tough loss, and one that will sting for quite some time.
Now comes one of the most important off-seasons in franchise history. The Braves have been strapped for cash the last few years; that won't be the case this winter, and they have a ton of holes to fill. General manager Frank Wren will have the flexibility to make multiple moves with approximately $25 million at his disposal.
Who becomes the new center fielder?
Assuming Martin Prado shifts to third base, who becomes the new left fielder?
Does the team pick up Brian McCann's and/or Tim Hudson's options for next season?
Is an ace such as Zack Greinke a fit, or does Wren pursue cheaper options through trades?
Is it time to consider locking up Jason Heyward or Freddie Freeman for the foreseeable future and beyond?
All of these questions will be addressed in the coming months.
Until then, let's look back at this team in a positive light. They put on one hell of a show in 2012 and ended up falling just a little bit short. They left it all on the field, and that's all a fan can ask for.
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