Posted on September 21, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
It’s beginning to look like the 1990s in the NL East because the Atlanta Braves are once again the dominant team. With a 6-0 win over the Giants on Friday night, the Braves clinched the NL East title for the second straight season. It’s the first time the Braves have won back-to-back division titles since their run of 14 in a row between 1991 and 2005, not including the 1994 season that was lost due to the strike. The Braves can only hope this year’s division title yields better October results than their previous reign atop the division, which resulted in just one World Series championship.
“This is the first step of hopefully a few celebrations to come,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. “We’re excited. We’ve got a really good ballclub. We’re just getting started.”
The Braves should be commended for emerging from arguably the most competitive division in baseball. In an era when so many teams know they are destined for a losing campaign while they rebuild, the NL East featured four teams that began the season aiming for the division crown. While the Nationals, Mets, and Phillies all remain in the Wild Card race, it’s the Braves who have taken the division with their 95th win and more than a week left in the season.
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We weren’t supposed to do it this year,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker after Friday’s win. “I think when we were talking in March, most people were picking us to finish fourth. I think we said back then, ‘That’s why we play the game.”
The Braves didn’t necessarily win the offseason compared to their division rivals. The Phillies spent freely, signing Bryce Harper to a mega deal, in addition to making several notable trades. The Mets also made a high-profile trade that hasn’t exactly worked out as expected. Washington added to their stockpile in the starting rotation with the signing of Patrick Corbin.
Atlanta’s offseason, meanwhile, made fewer headlines but have proven to be more effective. The Braves retained veteran Nick Markakis while also adding Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann. Those three, along with Freeman, have been the perfect complement to Atlanta’s young, rising stars like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr.
With regard to their pitching, the Braves have received an ace performance from Mike Soroka, benefited from a resurgent season from Julio Teheran, and had the foresight to sign Dallas Keuchel early in the summer. Atlanta also did some smart shopping before the trade deadline, adding pieces to a bullpen in need of help. With Mike Foltynewicz regaining the ace form he had last season, the Atlanta pitching staff is starting to look like one that can give the Braves a chance to win in October.
“This team right here is as good as any team I’ve played on. It could possibly be the best team I’ve played on with the mixture of guys we have,” said Markakis. “We’re confident in ourselves and in each other. Confidence can take you a long way.”
The Braves have just seven games left in the regular season and a little less than two weeks before they begin their playoff campaign. Atlanta will likely match up against the winner of the NL Central in the NLDS. The Braves lost to the Dodgers in the NLDS last year. However, they are hoping that have that playoff experience under their belts will lead to different results. The added experience aside, on paper, the Braves appear to be better than they were a year ago.
“I kind of feel like we knocked on the door last year, and I’m hoping we kick it in this year,” says Snitker. “Last year, we went in hoping to win a series. I think we’re going to go into the Division Series this year and expect to win.”