Phillies could be looking up at Braves in NL East for a long time

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Phillies could be looking up at Braves in NL East for a long time originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies find themselves in an all too familiar position.

Chasing the Braves.

It's pretty much been the case for the past three decades. Consider the numbers. Including this year, Atlanta has played in 21 of the last 29 postseasons. The Phillies have made the playoffs six times over that same span.

With the Braves needing to win just one of two home games this weekend to close out the Dodgers in the NLCS, the gap between these two NL East rivals seems especially pronounced.

Atlanta is on the doorstep of the World Series. The Phillies have the longest playoff drought in the National League. The Braves' projected starting pitcher in Game 6 of the NLCS, Ian Anderson, was 13 years old the last time the Phillies played a postseason game.

How did we get here?

There are several reasons, but first and foremost is the disparity in these two franchises' ability to identify and develop talent.

The Braves’ lineup features homegrown stars Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies. Their rotation includes Max Fried, who they acquired as a minor leaguer three years ago, and Charlie Morton and Anderson, who were both originally drafted by the Braves.

Then there's Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Mike Soroka, two young Braves stars who are sidelined with injuries. Acuña hasn't played since July after suffering a season-ending knee injury. Soroka missed the entire 2021 season with a torn achilles tendon. When healthy, Acuña and Soroka are the Braves' best position player and pitcher, respectively. The fact that Atlanta is on the cusp of winning a pennant without them speaks to the depth of talent in their organization.

Meanwhile, Phillies fans are keenly aware of their team's inability to develop homegrown talent. Bryce Harper underscored it in his season-ending state of the team address.

When the Phillies arrived in Atlanta in late September to play a season-defining series, they did so with only one player in their lineup who came up through their farm system: Freddy Galvis.

A long list of young players who were supposed to be cornerstones of the franchise moving forward were either injured, traded or banished to the minor leagues in 2021. Guys like Scott Kingery, Alec Bohm, Spencer Howard, Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley. These are highly touted prospects who contributed nothing or next to nothing at the major league level.

Despite the shortcomings of these young players, the Phillies still had a chance to dethrone the Braves in the NL East. They were in first place in mid-August, only to see Atlanta charge to a fourth straight division title thanks to a 36-18 record in their final 54 games.

The Braves have a winning culture within their organization that the Phillies have been searching for since Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard left town.

Atlanta expects to win.

Our longtime Phillies reporter Jim Salisbury put it best on Phillies PreGame Live prior to the series opener of that critical three-game set in late September. When asked about the Phillies’ chances in the series, he alluded to the fact that the Braves could smell another division title and that generally when winning teams sense a championship, they take care of business.

That sentiment was a bit of a downer at the time but it was right on target. The Braves outscored the Phillies 14-6 in a three-game sweep to clinch yet another NL East crown. 

Not only does Atlanta expect to win, they accept nothing less.

Take this year's trade deadline for example. The Braves were three games under .500 and in third place in the division on July 30th. Without Acuña, Soroka and Marcell Ozuna, it would have been easy to pack it in and turn their attention to 2022. But on deadline day, Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos acquired Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario. These moves came on the heels of Anthopoulos' trade for Joc Pederson earlier in July.

Rosario, Duvall, Pederson and Soler have all been driving forces behind the Braves' success both in the postseason and the final month and a half of the regular season.  

Regardless of whether the Braves can capture their first World Series title in 22 years, they are well positioned to remain the class of the NL East for years to come.

Acuña and Anderson are both 23 years old. Riley, Albies and Soroka are all 24. Fried and shortstop Dansby Swanson are both 27. That's an impressive young nucleus that should be in place for years to come.

The 32-year-old Freeman is eligible for free agency this offseason but it's difficult to imagine him leaving Atlanta. Soler and Rosario will also be free agents. 

The Braves have some decisions to make, but if history is any indication, most of their decisions will end up being the right ones.

And the Phillies will venture into yet another offseason trying to figure out how to catch Atlanta, hoping Dave Dombrowski has a better plan than the ones that have repeatedly come up short over the last 30 years.

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