After last night’s dominant win over the Phillies, the Braves magic number is down to one with five games remaining. One Braves win or a Phillies loss, and Atlanta will clinch the NL East for the fourth consecutive year. Like most Braves fans, I expected to be here, but what a wild ride it’s been to get to this point.
The first half of the season was a constant struggle. A different phase of the team — offense, starting pitching, bullpen — let them down every night. It was almost comical watching the Braves try to get over .500, but all comedic relief dissipated when Ronald Acuña went down with a torn ACL just before the All-Star break. At that point, it really felt like all hope was lost… until Joc Pederson arrived.
As Travis d’Arnaud pointed out Tuesday night, trading for Pederson was the turning point in the season. The Braves started playing looser, leading to more wins. They finally got over .500 and began cutting into the NL East lead. Then more reinforcements came at the trade deadline, and Alex Anthopoulos couldn’t have hoped for better production out of them. They, along with MVP efforts from Austin Riley and Freddie Freeman in the second half, carried this team to what looks to be another division title.
No matter how unconventional it was, the Braves got the job done in what was one of the most entertaining seasons in recent memory. It’s nice to cruise into the final month of the season with a 10 game lead, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of playoff baseball in September, and I believe it could actually be beneficial to the Braves.
The best team in baseball doesn’t always win the World Series. In fact, they rarely do. If they did, the Dodgers would have ten World Series banners from the last two decades. It’s frequently the hottest team, and going through the motions in September is not always the most conducive way to winning a championship.
Unlike in seasons past, the Braves have been playing with their backs against the wall — scratching and clawing for every win — for months now. There won’t be any surprises when they show up to Game 1 of the NLDS, which can be extremely beneficial. The best example of this is how the Wild Card teams perform in the next round. They essentially have to play in a Game 7 atmosphere with everything on the line. Whoever comes out on top in that matchup is generally much more prepared than the top seed that’s usually on cruise control through the final weeks of the season.
Perhaps it won’t play much of a factor, but I do think there’s some value to the Braves playing in games that have a playoff feel to them before the actual playoffs. Overall, experience helps, and the Braves have a lot of that too, but nothing can replicate that feeling of playoff baseball. So it’s nice that this team gets a little taste of it and has success before they embark on another October run.