Braves look to continue defying the odds after clinching NL East title

Mark TownsendYahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

The Atlanta Braves are back on top of the National League East mountain.

With Saturday’s 5-3 win against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Braves clinched their first division title since 2013.

Winning division titles used to be the expected outcome for Atlanta. Beginning in 1991, the Braves started a string of 14 straight division championships which bridged their move from the NL West to the NL East. However, this is only their second division title since that streak ended in 2005, and the reality is not a lot of people were expecting it. Not in a division with a perennial contender like the Washington Nationals and an up and coming Phillies squad.

At the beginning of the season, oddsmakers had Atlanta firmly in the middle of the pack with World Series odds not all that much better than the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles currently have 109 losses, while the Braves emerged from the pack to be their division’s only representative in the postseason.

Now they’ll look to return to the World Series for the first time since 1999 and win it for the first time since 1995.

Here’s a closer look at the Braves thrilling season and their postseason expectations:

Dominated within the division

There wasn’t a specific turning point for the Braves in the standings. They were pretty consistent all season, only finishing with a losing record in one month: July.

Where they won the division was within the division. The Braves record against NL East opponents is 45-23 after going 33-43 in 2017. They’ve been especially good taking care of business against the lowly New York Mets and Miami Marlins with 12-4 and 14-5 records, respectively.

Also worth noting, the Braves have been a better road team (45-30) than home team (42-38). They have a young core, but clearly that core is not easily intimidated.

Atlanta Braves rookie Ronald Acuña Jr. celebrates with Ender Inciarte during a key moment in their division-clinching win against the Philadelphia Phillies. (AP)
Atlanta Braves rookie Ronald Acuña Jr. celebrates with Ender Inciarte during a key moment in their division-clinching win against the Philadelphia Phillies. (AP)

Youth movement

If there was a true turning point for Atlanta in terms of energy and excitement, it was the moment Ronald Acuña Jr. was called up. The 20-year-old joined the Braves on April 25 and took MLB by storm, hitting leadoff home runs and setting league records left and right. Among them, he became the youngest MLB player to homer in five straight games.

On the season, Acuña is hitting .290/.364/.564 with 26 homers, 25 doubles and 15 steals in just 104 games. He’s the clear frontrunner for NL Rookie of the Year. 

Young infielders Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson have been major contributors too. Albies as an all-around player and Swanson mainly with the glove. Combine the production of their young and still developing core with another solid season from steady Freddie Freeman, and the development of Mike Foltynewicz into an ace on the hill, and you have the recipe for Atlanta’s success.

What the Braves have to do to win the World Series

They’ll need their difference makers to be just that. The Braves won’t be the deepest team playing in October. To be honest, they won’t even be close in the department. But the top of the roster can go toe-to-toe with anyone. They’ll need a couple of those high ceiling players, like Acuña, or like Freeman, to get hot and potentially carry them.

The Braves won’t be favorites. But they could be very fun to watch under the spotlight.

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