Another ticket to the postseason has been punched as the Atlanta Braves clinched the NL East championship thanks to the Miami Marlins' 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals on Sunday afternoon. The Braves, who learned of their championship in the middle of their 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs, celebrated with hugs in the dugout as the news broke. The champagne had to wait, but it was definitely worth it.
Unlike the Los Angeles Dodgers, who overcame a 30-42 start to the season to win the NL West, Atlanta grabbed a hold of the East almost immediately thanks to a 12-1 start. The only day they didn’t hold a portion of the division lead was April 4, which was the third day of the season. It's the third postseason trip in the past four years for Atlanta, but their first division championship title since 2005. Given their dominant run through the 1990s and early 2000s, that's an almost startling realization.
General manager Frank Wren deserves a lot of credit for Atlanta's return to the top. Though the offseason signing of free agent B.J. Upton hasn't panned out as hoped, the acquisition of Justin Upton and Chris Johnson in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks has proven to be a difference-maker. In April, the younger Upton put the team on his back, connecting for 12 home runs in their first 23 games. Johnson, who had the unenviable task of replacing Chipper Jones at third base, has done so remarkably, posting a .329 average with 66 RBIs.
The Braves have received contributions from their home grown talent as well. First baseman Freddie Freeman has been the main source of production in the middle of the order, driving in 103 runs. According to Yahoo's Jeff Passan, second year shortstop Andrelton Simmons may be on track for the greatest fielding season ever. His offensive output hasn't been bad either. On Sunday, he homered twice to give him 17 on the season.
Of course it's not just about the offense. The Braves also boast the NL's best closer in Craig Kimbrel and a strong starting rotation led by Kris Medlen. They're a well-rounded team that will be difficult to eliminate in October.
Another big reason to fear Atlanta is their 52-22 record at Turner Field. They'll wrap up the season with a seven-game homestand, which could prove critical in the final standings. They currently hold a 1/2 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for home field advantage in the NL playoffs. There's plenty left to play in the season's final week.
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