With a 13.5-game lead in the division, the Braves will coast to their sixth straight NL East title. To this point in the season, they’ve been MLB’s best team from start to finish. It’s been as impressive of a run as you’ll ever see at this level, but the job is not done.
ESPN recently went through every contending team, naming what they must focus on to end the season. Their note for the Braves is rather obvious — secure the #1 seed.
Ever since they thundered through June with a 21-4 record, it seemed fait accompli that the Braves would end up with the best record not only in the NL but across the majors. The Dodgers’ hot month in August has put a little pressure on them, so manager Brian Snitker continues to ride his regulars as Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson and Austin Rileyhave yet to miss a game (and neither had Ozzie Albies until he landed on the injured list last week). Expect that group to post every day, while the Braves perhaps back off the workload of their top pitchers a bit. They have actually been pretty cautious there all season. Spencer Strider, for example, has made just six starts on four days of rest, with three of those coming in April.
How important is locking up the best record? As you might expect with the MLB playoffs, it doesn’t guarantee anything. Over the previous 10 years, four teams with the best overall record won the World Series — the 2020 Dodgers, 2018 Red Sox, 2016 Cubs and 2013 Red Sox (who tied with the Cardinals, the team they beat in the World Series). But four others lost in the division series — the 2022 Dodgers, 2021 Giants, 2015 Cardinals and 2014 Angels. The other two lost the World Series. The Braves have played nearly as well on the road as they have at home, but you’d love that decisive game to be at home if necessary.
As David Schoenfield of ESPN mentions, the best record in baseball oftentimes doesn’t mean anything. The playoffs are an entirely different beast, as we saw last year.
I could even make the argument that the #2 seed might be more advantageous than the #1 seed in the National League. Would you rather play a team like the Phillies in a five-game NLDS or the Brewers? To me, that isn’t even a question.
But at the end of the day, that can’t be the Braves mindset. They need to be playing their best baseball entering October. If that happens, they’ll secure not only the best record in the National League but the best record in baseball as well. It really shouldn’t matter who they play in the postseason. If the Braves are at their best, they’ve proven they are the class of Major League Baseball.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire