The Atlanta Braves secured their fourth consecutive National League East crown on Thursday, defeating the Philadelphia Phillies by a 5-3 margin (box score). The only NL division yet to be decided is the West, with the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers battling for the division title — and the best record in baseball — over the season’s final days.
The Braves may have been the reigning champions, but their continued dominance was hardly assured. Atlanta finished the first half with a losing record, at 44-45, and entered August trailing in the division by five games. Nevertheless, the Braves were able to rally by winning games in the second half at a 98-win pace overall.
Atlanta was able to go on that run without star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., whose season ended on July 10, or ace Mike Soroka, who has not pitched this season. Instead, the Braves were led by third baseman Austin Riley, first baseman Freddie Freeman, and starters Max Fried and Charlie Morton. The Braves front office also buttressed their core at the deadline by picking up several low-cost veterans, such as Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario, each of whom has an OPS+ exceeding 120 with Atlanta.
Both Riley and Soler homered as part of Thursday’s victory.
Last year, the Braves took the Dodgers to a seventh game in the National League Championship Series. Prior to that, the Braves had not advanced beyond the division round since 2001. The Braves, so dominant throughout the ’90s, haven’t returned to the World Series since 1999.
It’s unclear if the Braves have the goods to go beyond that this year, but they can go to bed tonight knowing this much: next week they’ll begin a best-of-five series against the Milwaukee Brewers for the right to play for the NL pennant. Considering how their season was looking at the All-Star Game, they have to consider this a good outcome.