Braves well-positioned for division crown, potential repeat

September 21st, 2022

As the Braves bid to become the first team to win consecutive World Series titles in more than 20 years, they know their journey would be much easier if they end up winning a fifth consecutive National League East title.

For more than three months, the Braves and Mets have been waging a division battle that has become more interesting as the past few months have elapsed. The two teams will battle in a three-game series that starts on Sept. 30 in Atlanta. But given how this race has gone, there is a good chance a winner won’t be crowned before the regular season’s final day.

“September is always special because you have such a long season and you get to this point where the clock is ticking,” Charlie Morton said. “I feel like outside the clubhouse [the division race] has been a topic of conversation for about two months now. It’s been like, ‘The Mets have done this and the Mets have done that.’ Well, the ball is always in your court.”

The Braves are one game behind the Mets in the division as they begin a seven-game road trip that begins against the Phillies and concludes against the Nationals. How the defending champions fare during this stretch will set the scene for the big series against the Mets.

Both teams will be sending their top starters to the mound. New York is set to start Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer in two of the three games. Atlanta could go with Kyle Wright, Spencer Strider and Max Fried as their three starters.

It’s also important to remember the Mets have gone 9-7 against the Braves this year. If the two teams have identical records at the end of the regular season, the season series record serves as the tiebreaker. So, the Braves would need to sweep next week’s three-game set to get the tiebreaker nod.

Why is it even more important to win the division this year?

Whichever team wins this NL East battle will end the regular season on Oct. 5 and get to rest its entire pitching staff until beginning the NL Division Series on Oct. 11. The club that finishes second would begin a best-of-three Wild Card Series two days after the regular season ends.

If the NL East runner-up advances, it would not have the option to use any starters used in the Wild Card Series on regular rest before the second game of the NLDS.

Repeat champs?

The 1999 and 2000 Yankees stand as the most recent teams to win consecutive World Series titles. The 1992 and ’93 Blue Jays also accomplished this feat. But you then have to go all the way back to the 1977 and ’78 Yankees to find the next-most-recent team to claim two straight titles. How long ago was that? Bobby Cox was the Yankees’ first-base coach in 1977 and didn’t become a big league manager until the following year.

But there is reason to believe this year’s Braves might be even better than they were last year, when everything, including their bullpen, came together at the right time.

With Fried, Strider, Wright and Morton, the Braves have greater quality within their rotation than they did entering last year’s postseason. Morton was the team’s Game 1 starter in two of last year’s three playoff rounds. This year, he could be a formidable No. 4 starter in the playoffs.

The Braves will also enter this year’s playoffs with Ronald Acuña Jr., who had to watch from afar as he recovered from a torn right ACL last year. With Acuña, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley and Matt Olson, the first four hitters in Atlanta’s lineup can wreak havoc. But the defending champs also have a very deep lineup. They stand as one of just four teams in MLB history to receive 90-plus RBIs from the lineup’s ninth spot.

Resiliency

Some critics were ready to erase the Braves’ repeat chances when they exited May with a 23-27 mark. But they have matched the Dodgers for MLB’s best record since the start of June and benefited from homegrown talent. It was no coincidence that Atlanta’s rise began during the week that followed Michael Harris II’s promotion to the Majors and Spencer Strider’s transition from starter to reliever. Those two have been as impactful as any Braves rookie since Chipper Jones in 1995.   

“I just don’t think there has been any panic in these guys,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.