On Friday night, the Atlanta Braves would clinch the NL East for the second year in a row with a 6-0 win over the San Francisco Giants. With the division race done, the focus can now shift to the looming playoffs.
The Atlanta Braves clinched the NL East on Friday night making themselves back-to-back NL East champions for the first time since the historic run of 1995-2005. It’s hard to believe the Braves, after winning the NL East for so long, would have to wait until 2018-2019 seasons to reclaim their dominance atop the NL East standing. It’s just another feather in the cap of the Braves, a team not many believed in before the season started.
At the start of the season, the stories concerning the NL East were all focused on the New York Mets offseason moves, the Washington Nationals departing from Bryce Harper while the Philadelphia Phillies vowed to spend stupid money to secure their spot at the NL East. That didn’t leave much talking room for the defending NL East champions, the Atlanta Braves. Just a season removed from reigned supreme at the top of the division, and the Braves were an afterthought. Most pundits and analysts would pick the Mets, Phillies, or Nationals to finish above the Braves. Some didn’t even pick the Braves to win a Wild Card spot. It didn’t matter to the Braves, who just went out this season to lap the competition in the NL East, leading their competition by 9.5 games or more when Atlanta clinched their division.
Even with all the distractions and flat out bad play at some points of this season, the Braves kept winning. The Braves were led by strong play from Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, Dansby Swanson, Mike Soroka, Nick Markakis, Max Fried, Dallas Keuchel. So many contributors stepped up for this team at different points of the season like Matt Joyce, Adam Duvall, Rafael Ortega, Julio Teheran, Austin Riley, and so many more. The Braves had stellar individual performers, Donaldson, Freeman, Acuna, Albies, but this Atlanta team got to their success by a team effort leading them through the long season.
However, with the NL East wrapped up, the Braves know their work is far from over. Last season’s division title was a “year early” with so many young players having big roles with the team. This season, the NL East title was expected. The work doesn’t end in the regular season. Now, the Braves want to continue this success into the playoffs, something that has eluded the Braves for a very long time now.
After getting knocked out last year by eventual NL Champions, Los Angeles Dodgers, the Braves will be looking for their revenge. It was a series with the Dodgers, in August, that helped the Braves build up such a large division lead. Taking two of three, at home, from the Dodgers did matter for this team, regular season or not. Unlike last season, the Braves won’t face the Dodgers in the opening round, but LA is looming just around the corner for this team.
For now, the Braves can sit back and watch what happens in the NL Central to determine who they will face in the opening round of the playoffs. The Braves still have two series, Kansas City and New York, to finish the regular season before shifting their focus to the postseason. The Braves have already taken the opportunity to rest some key players ahead of the playoffs, which is much deserved after the long season. The celebration was fun over the weekend, but now it’s time to focus on the real goals ahead. Getting back to the World Series for the first time since the turn of the millennium.