Clinching NL East 'extra sweet' for Braves

Atlanta's ferocious second-half comeback cements fifth straight division title

October 5th, 2022

MIAMI -- Two days after delivering the critical blow in the National League East race, the Braves popped champagne and celebrated what will be considered one of the most memorable and appreciated division titles in club history.

Counted out in June and bruised again in early August, Atlanta has proven to be a resilient squad. The Braves’ bid to defend their World Series crown was strengthened as they won a fifth straight NL East title with a 2-1 win over the Marlins on Tuesday night at loanDepot Park.

“I’ve been lucky to have been part of a lot of special seasons, and this is by far my favorite,” said Braves reliever A.J. Minter, who has been on each of the past five division-winning teams. “I know how hard it is to win and what we did this year is just the most impressive thing we’ve done.”

The Braves have won every NL East title going back to 2018, and many of their current players tasted ultimate postseason jubilation last year. But there was plenty to celebrate as the defending World Series champs overcame the odds they had faced when they entered June trailing the Mets by 10 1/2 games, then found themselves still seven games back as late as Aug. 10.

“They’re are all special and they’re all hard,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who has won a division title in five of his six full seasons as Atlanta’s manager. “This one is right up there, because there was a team that wanted to run away with it. [The players] didn’t get caught up in that we were behind. I told them at one time, 'It’s not about catching the Mets, it’s about us playing our brand of baseball.'”

By sweeping the Mets over the weekend in Atlanta, the Braves gained a 10-9 win in the season series, which served as the tiebreaker in this year’s division race.

The Mets notched their 100th win by defeating the Nationals, 8-0, in the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. It marks the 11th time in MLB history a 100-game winner has finished in second place dating back to the first World Series in 1903. The most recent such team to fall short had been the 2021 Dodgers, who went 106-56 to finish a game behind the Giants in the NL West.

“If you extrapolate our win total since June 1 over 162 games, that’s like, historic,” Braves shortstop said. “It’s unbelievable how good we played. That’s why I hate all the talk about the division and the collapse. I think we just played so incredibly well for the past four months.”

With the division decided, Snitker will likely rest many of his regulars during Wednesday afternoon’s regular-season finale. The players will likely rest until having a workout at Truist Park on Saturday. Their NL Division Series will begin in Atlanta on Tuesday against the winner of a Wild Card Series that will pit the Cardinals against the Phillies.

The Braves have tallied an MLB-high 78 wins over the 111 games played since June 1. That pace would lead to 113 wins over 162 games and would rank fourth on MLB’s all-time list for most wins in a single season. The Mets have produced an impressive 97-win pace over this same span.

“We had to work for it,” Braves first baseman said. “Being a 100-win team, it’s crazy that you’re saying that. But we had to take it to another level a little bit to get this done. We’re going to enjoy it tonight and get our minds right for the playoffs.”

Despite that ridiculous pace, the Braves had to wait until the penultimate date on the schedule to increase their MLB record to 22 division titles. They also secured division titles after Game 161 in 1969 and '91. They clinched on the regular season's final day in '82 and '93, when they moved in front of a 103-win Giants team.

Given how many valuable contributors the Braves had this year, it seemed fitting their clinching victory was aided by 's five solid innings and ’ decisive infield single. Odorizzi had lasted five innings in just three of the previous nine starts he’d made since being acquired from the Astros. As for Contreras, it’s safe to say he’s known more for his power than his legs.

Minter escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and sealed the deal with a pair of strikeouts in a perfect 14-pitch ninth. As soon as caught the final out, the excitement that had been simmering since Sunday’s win over the Mets exploded and filled the visitors' clubhouse with cigar smoke and the celebratory scent of champagne.

“With the ebbs and flows we’ve been through this year, it’s been kind of crazy,” Braves third baseman said. “Every night, we had to grind a little extra. So it’s definitely extra sweet.”