Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

These Braves look a lot different than the last time Atlanta was in first place

Atlanta Braves' Ozzie Albies (1) and Dansby Swanson (7) celebrate with teammates after a baseball game against the New York Mets Tuesday, May 1, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) (Frank Franklin II/AP)

Behind three hits from Freddie Freeman and seven shutout innings from Sean Newcomb, the Braves picked up a 7-0 win over the Mets on Wednesday night. It moved Atlanta to 18-11 on the year, a half-game ahead of New York for first place in the NL East. More importantly, the first time the Braves have led their division since July 20, 2014.
That might not sound like much -- it wasn't even four years ago! -- but a whole lot can change over that time. Exhibit A: Atlanta's opponent that day was the Phillies, still with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley in the middle of the infield and starting Grady Sizemore in the leadoff spot. Exhibit B: The Braves' lineup still featured Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, the Upton brothers and a veritable font of Baseball Names You May Have Forgotten About (Ryan Doumit! Gerald Laird! Tyler Pastornicky!).
Every single player involved in the game's biggest play, a bases-clearing double from Tommy La Stella, has changed teams in the years since:

The next day, a 10-inning loss to the Marlins dropped the Braves a game back of the Nationals in the division. They stumbled to a 79-83 finish, well out of postseason contention, and that's when the rebuild started. Atlanta won 67, 68 and 72 games over the next three years, revamping essentially their entire roster in the process: Freeman and Julio Teheran are the only players who were around the last time the Braves were a first-place team. 
Of course, that rebuild also resulted in some pretty awesome young talent -- and they're ready to compete well ahead of schedule. Dansby Swanson is hitting like a No. 1 overall pick. Newcomb was acquired in the trade that sent Andrelton Simmons to the Angels. Former top prospect Ozzie Albies, all 165 pounds of him, has morphed into one of the best sluggers in baseball. There's a real chance that Ronald Acuña Jr. is the best player in baseball a few years from now.
And this is just the beginning: According to MLB Pipeline, the Braves entered the spring with the second-best farm system in baseball, with enough pitching prospects to fill out two full rotations. One of them, Mike Soroka, just made his impressive debut on Tuesday -- and if you haven't met Luiz Gohara and his 100-mph fastball yet, please familiarize yourself immediately:

Here's where we offer the disclaimer that it's still early, that the Nationals have yet to get fully healthy, that the Phillies might be the real up-and-coming surprise in the NL East. Still, they've come a long way in four years -- and, with the Braves and Mets playing on Thursday afternoon, they also have the chance to extend that division lead.

Nellie
Cat
Nats
Chavis