LOS ANGELES -- The visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium was cramped and quiet late Monday night, as the Braves showered and dressed following their 4-3 loss to the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. In various corners of the room, Atlanta players discussed their shortcomings.
It was a glum affair, though there was at least some cause for optimism. When asked to look back at their accomplishments, the Braves pointed to a 96-win team that will retain the vast majority of its key players next season. Another playoff run in 2014 seems probable. Another October seems almost inevitable.
"We're going to keep our heads up," outfielder Justin Upton said. "We know we played well. We ran into a team that got hot, and it didn't go our way. So we'll go home, rest up this offseason and come back ready to do the same thing next year."
Though catcher Brian McCann is a strong bet to leave via free agency this winter, the Braves will enter the offseason with nearly all their other cogs under team control. Starting-position players Upton, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson will all be back. B.J. Upton will return, for better or for worse. The top three members of Atlanta's rotation -- Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran -- will all be in Atlanta. Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter will as well, leaving the game's best bullpen intact.
Though there is no telling how the NL East will unfold around them, particularly in Washington where the Nationals remain supremely talented, the Braves could be contenders without making a single offseason move.
"I don't think I'm thinking about anything like that right now," Freeman said. "I don't even know what the word is, what I can say right now. When you battle with these guys for eight straight months, to come up short, it's just tough. I don't know what else to say."
Though winning another 96 games may be a tall task, the Braves increased their win total from 89 to 94 to 96 over the past three seasons. They won a division title this year for the first time since 2005, providing optimism for the future.
"There's a lot of good stuff," said manager Fredi Gonzalez, who is also under contract for 2014. "Chris Johnson, second in the National League [for the] batting title. Freddie Freeman should be talked about as an MVP candidate. Simmons should win a Gold Glove. Kimbrel could maybe talk about some Cy Young [votes] out of the bullpen.
"The resiliency of the team, I think we led the league in come-from-behind [victories]. So a lot of good stuff happened. A lot of guys participated in the 96-win season. It's going to be one of those seasons that you're not going to appreciate for about a couple of weeks, and then you say, 'You know what? It was a pretty darn good team, pretty darn good season.'"
Then again, the Braves also know they lost out on a rare chance this October, with their core in place and a title in front of them.
"Chances are we're not going to have this exact same squad back next year," Johnson said. "So it's tough. It was a special group. I love every one of these guys. Hopefully, we can get a lot of guys back next year, try to make another run at this and get better, go farther."