It’s August 18th, and the Braves have a 12.5-game lead in the division. Even the most pessimistic fans can take a deep breath. The NL East is over, and it has been for quite some time now. The Braves are going to cruise to their sixth consecutive division title and a first-round bye in the postseason. There won’t be drama on the final days of the season like last year, but there are still some intriguing storylines to monitor as the season comes to a close.
The NL MVP race
Ronald Acuña Jr. has been in the driver’s seat for the NL MVP for pretty much the entire season. Vegas would suggest it is almost a lock he will take home the award, and I’m not one to bet against the house. However, the numbers suggest it’s much closer than some people care to admit.
fWAR leaders NL:
Ronald Acuña Jr. — 6.2
Mookie Betts — 6.1
Freddie Freeman — 6.0
Freeman’s putting together the best offensive season of his career, hitting .335 with 44 doubles and 23 homers. Somehow, he’s still getting better at the age of 33, and his teammate, Mookie Betts, is also having one of the best seasons of his career while playing all over the diamond for the Dodgers. It’s very possible he finishes the season with an average over .300 and 40 homers. All three of these guys are deserving candidates, and I haven’t even mentioned Matt Olson, who is pacing the league in homers and RBIs.
The Braves are going to have at least two players within the top 10 of the NL MVP voting. The question is, will they get a third? With the way Austin Riley has played lately, I wouldn’t count it out. Ozzie Albies is also in the conversation, but his recent injury may cause him to fall just short.
Matt Olson’s chase for 60
Unfortunately, in the analytically driven world that we live in today, I don’t see Olson making much noise in the NL MVP race. Because of his surprisingly poor defense this season, he’s only sitting at 4.7 fWAR, despite putting together the best power hitting season in franchise history. In a different decade, I actually don’t think the MVP race would be very close. He’s on pace for 58 homers and nearly 150 RBIs.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player as hot as Olson has been over the last two-plus months. He could very easily hit 60 homers, and Aaron Judge‘s 62 home runs, which are the most by any player outside of the steroid era, is within reach. Braves fans are well aware of the kind of run Olson is on, but this deserves to be a national storyline, especially with Shohei Ohtani nipping at Olson’s heels with 42 home runs of his own. Hopefully, MLB won’t miss out on this opportunity to grow the game.
Can the Braves break the franchise record for wins?
In my opinion, this is the best Braves team ever assembled. The offense is a well-oiled machine humming at hyper-speed and eviscerating anything that dares to step in front of it. From top to bottom, the Braves are unforgiving and unstoppable. The pitching staff may not rival the teams of the 90s, but with Max Fried back, the rotation is still one of the best in baseball, and the bullpen has been better than any since the acquisition of Pierce Johnson. At their current pace, the Braves will win 105 games. The franchise record is 106, set by the 1998 Braves. This team is one sustained hot streak away from cementing themselves in the record books.
Photo: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire