Braves close out NL East, complete comeback from 10.5-game deficit

For the fifth straight season, the Atlanta Braves are NL East champions. The defending World Series champions clinched the division title with Tuesday night’s win over the Miami Marlins (ATL 2, MIA 1).

Credit for that goes to the pitching. Starter Jake Odorizzi allowed just one run (a solo homer) in five innings before Collin McHugh, Raisel Iglesias, AJ Minter and Kenley Jansen brought it home, though Minter ran into trouble in the eighth. In the case of the relievers, it’s been a familiar formula and something we can expect to see next month in whatever game the Braves lead in the playoffs.

A William Contreras RBI single in the infield broke the tie in the fifth and that bullpen just did its thing.

Atlanta swept the rival Mets last weekend to move into first place and take control of the division after spending much of the season tearing them down.

The Braves have spent just four days alone in first place this season and, on June 1, were 10 1/2 games behind the Mets. The 10 1/2 game lead is tied for the third-longest lead in baseball history:

  1. 1951 Dodgers: 13 games (Giants won NL)
  2. 1995 Angels: 11 games (Mariners won AL West)
  3. 1979 Astros: 10 1/2 games (Reds won NL West)
  4. 2022 Mets: 10 1/2 games (Braves won NL East)

Truth be told, the Braves won the NL East more than the Mets lost it. The Mets are 64-44 since blowing a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1, for a 96-game hitting streak and the sixth-best record in baseball during that span. The Braves, meanwhile, are 77-33 since June 1st. Only the juggernaut Dodgers (77-33) can match them during that span. The Mets were good, the Braves were better.

As an added bonus, the NL East title comes with a bye in the Wild Card Series, so the Braves will have five days to rest between the end of the regular season and the start of the NLDS on Oct. 11. Atlanta could see the Mets again in the NLDS — they’ll play the winner of the Mets vs. Padres or Phillies Wild Card Series.

The Braves won the NL East despite losing Freddie Freeman in free agency, although it would be more accurate to say the Braves let Freeman go because they traded Matt Olson to replace Freeman before Freeman signed with the Dodgers. Freeman has largely outplayed Olson this year, but Olson has been an above-average first baseman and an adequate replacement.

Rookies Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider have further bolstered a league core that includes Ronald Acuña Jr., Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson and others. The addition of Raisel Iglesias at the trade deadline gave the bullpen a huge boost, as did the emergence of lefty Dylan Lee. Kyle Wright also broke out as a key hitter.

It remains to be seen if second baseman Ozzie Albies can return at some point in the postseason. He missed most of the season with a broken foot and then broke his toe a day after coming off the injured list. He did not need surgery but is expected to miss several weeks. Orlando Arcia and rookie Vaughn Grissom have taken over the second base duties in the interim.

The Braves will try to become the first repeat MLB champions since the Yankees won three straight World Series from 1998-2000. Securing the division title and a bye in the Wild Card series makes the road to another World Series victory that much easier.

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