How Braves deal with NL East will decide playoff fate

Each of Atlanta's remaining 19 games is against a divisional opponent

September 15th, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Braves are ready to take care of business back east. But first, they're looking forward to returning home after more than a week on the road.

The Braves concluded their jaunt to the West Coast with a 4-1 loss to the Giants on Wednesday afternoon, dropping the three-game set at Oracle Park to go 4-4 over three series in Oakland, Seattle and San Francisco. Atlanta is a half-game behind the Mets in the NL East.

The Braves' lineup could not get much going against Giants ace Carlos Rodón, who struck out eight batters while holding Atlanta to just one unearned run on two hits and one walk. On the other side of the ball, right-hander was initially solid but unraveled in his final inning, ending the day having surrendered four runs on four hits, two walks and two hit batters with seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 frames.

"Obviously, you want to have a winning road trip. Any time you come out here and you break even, you kind of feel good," manager Brian Snitker said. "We played some close games, and lost the [Sunday] one in Seattle that would have put us over the top. Here, [the Giants] played two really good ballgames out of the three against us."

The Giants were the Braves' last non-divisional opponent of the season. Atlanta's final 19 games of the 2022 campaign are all against NL East teams, a scheduling quirk that could provide the club a boost in its final push for a fifth straight division crown.

The Braves own a commanding 35-22 record against NL East teams, thanks in part to their domination of the fourth-place Marlins and the fifth-place Nationals. Atlanta has gone 12-4 vs. Miami and 10-3 vs. Washington this season. As long as the Braves keep doing what they've been doing, their nine remaining games against the NL East stragglers could be a valuable opportunity to bolster their record in the final days of the season.

"We've got to go out and try to win series, still, 'til the last one we play," Snitker said. "This time of year, it doesn't even matter who you're playing. You're trying to win every game. I mean, I think every game is important, every game is big, so they all mean a lot now."

Atlanta also has 10 games left against its contending division rivals in New York and Philadelphia. The Braves are two games under .500 against the Mets (7-9) and have played the Phillies even (6-6) this season.

The Phillies are 7 1/2 games back of the Braves in the division standings. Atlanta and Philadelphia own the top two NL Wild Card seeds, and if the position holds, they would face off in a best-of-three series at Truist Park. The seven remaining games between the two teams could offer a preview of what’s ahead if the Braves are unable to catch the Mets.

But the Braves are not far off from their best position in the standings so far this season. The Mets' sizzling start to the 2022 campaign had them as far as 10 1/2 games ahead of the Braves as recently as June 1, but New York has lost a lot of that ground thanks to Atlanta's 32-17 second half.

"Obviously, [the Mets] are a great team," Dansby Swanson said after the Braves' 5-1 win on Tuesday. "They pitch really well, they put together professional at-bats. They're obviously a tough team, and they show up each and every night, just like we do with the mentality to win."

Entering Wednesday, the Mets had dropped two straight games to the Cubs and gone 4-6 in their past 10. The Braves, on the other hand, had gone 7-3 leading up to their series finale loss in San Francisco, at one point even passing the Mets by a half-game.

Given the way the season has played out so far, it is possible neither team will set itself apart until the last minute. Atlanta will go head-to-head vs. New York once more, in a three-game series at home from Sept. 30-Oct. 2, the penultimate series of the regular season.

There's a lot at stake in the weeks ahead, and the Braves are trying to remain collected in their quest to repeat as champions.

"You only have so many games left, and you want to win the division," Morton said. "I think we probably have the emotions and thoughts you would expect us to have, where we're aware of it, but it's still one game at a time."