After nearly sweeping LA, Atlanta asserts itself as NL's team to beat

September 4th, 2023

LOS ANGELES -- The Braves came up short in their bid to claim their first four-game sweep at Dodger Stadium. But they still exited the historic ballpark feeling good about what was accomplished during this showdown against the National League’s other superpower.

encountered some trouble in the fifth and the Braves gained more respect for rookie starter Bobby Miller in a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon. The loss put an end to a series during which Atlanta significantly improved its odds of having home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

“It was a good series,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I feel like our guys feel like they can play with anybody in the game.”

homered for the first time since Aug. 13 to once again tie Shohei Ohtani for the MLB lead with 44 homers. But the Braves weren’t able to get the additional production needed to win each of the four games in this series. Still, the three wins they tallied within the first three games matched the win total they had tallied over 17 games played at Dodger Stadium from 2018-22 (postseason included).

This should certainly help the Braves’ confidence if they were to return to Dodger Stadium during the postseason. But they also remember being swept in Los Angeles, six weeks before needing just six games to beat the Dodgers in the 2021 NL Championship Series.

“I don't think you put too much weight into it,” Olson said. “Obviously, you want to come in and have good games and a good series. But you kind of leave it there.”

The Braves are now six games in front of the Dodgers in the battle for the NL’s best record, which determines postseason home-field advantage. By winning three games this weekend, they also claimed the season series, which would give them the tiebreaker if necessary.

So, over the past four days, the Braves essentially legitimized the MLB-best record they tallied before this series began. They are 15 games in front of the second-place Phillies in the NL East race. Their magic number for clinching a sixth straight division title is 12 with 26 games remaining.

This is certainly an appealing position for the Braves, who went 8-2 on this road trip that included stops in San Francisco and Denver. They will play the Cardinals and Pirates during a six-game homestand and then begin a four-game series next week in Philadelphia.

In other words, there’s a chance the Braves could clinch the division within their next 10 games. The regular season has been a definite success. But after surprising everyone in 2021 and then being surprised by the Phillies last year, this Atlanta bunch knows it’s good to be good and best to be hot when playing strong teams like the Dodgers in October.

“Good teams are going to deep in the playoffs and the hottest teams are going to go the furthest,” Morton said.

This series also provided a chance to see the NL’s top four MVP candidates on the same field:

  • Mookie Betts enjoyed a two-homer game in Thursday’s series opener and then went hitless before tallying three singles on Sunday.
  • Freddie Freeman was held to three singles in 14 at-bats.
  • Olson went 2-for-17, with Sunday’s homer accounting for his only extra-base hit.

So, the only MVP candidate to shine throughout most of this series was Ronald Acuña Jr., who went 6-for-17 with three homers, a double and two stolen bases. His grand slam in Thursday’s series opener made him the first player to ever record 30 homers and 60 steals in the same season.

But his most memorable blast of the series was produced Saturday night, when he hit a home run that came off his bat at 121.2 mph. That stands as the hardest-hit ball of the season and the third-hardest-hit homer since Statcast began tracking this data in 2015.

Betts still leads Acuña in home runs (38-32) and OPS (1.025-.994). But the Braves outfielder has more steals (63-10) -- and the advantage he might have gained while being the star who shined brightest during this potential postseason preview.

“That ball he hit yesterday was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen,” Olson said. “You almost get numb to what he’s doing this year. You’ve got to stop and appreciate everything he’s been doing, not just get used to it. It’s been unbelievable.”