Braves Sweep Mets, Seek Fifth Straight NL East Crown And World Series Repeat

Braves Sweep Mets, Seek Fifth Straight NL East Crown And World Series Repeat

No team has won consecutive world championships since the 2000 New York Yankees. And no National League team has done it since Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of 1976.

After sweeping the New York Mets at Truist Park over the weekend, the Braves entered Monday with a magic number of 1. The sweep also gave them a 10-9 advantage over the Mets in the season series, giving Atlanta the division crown in the event the teams finish the 162-game schedule with identical won-lost records.

With three games left for both clubs, any combination of Atlanta wins in Miami or Mets losses to last-place Washington in New York will give the Braves their fifth consecutive National League East title.

Atlanta’s 5-3 win Sunday gave them 100 in a season for the first time since 2003 and the ninth time in the history of the franchise, dating back to the Boston Beaneaters in 1892.

Should they clinch in the next three days, they would get a first-round “bye” under the expanded playoff system that includes six teams and three wild-card winners per league.

If the Mets also reach 100 wins, it will mark the first time since the 1969 advent of divisional play that the National League East had two teams reach the century mark in the same season.

Unlike 1993, when the Braves won 104 games to finish one game ahead of the Giants in a blistering NL West title chase, the second-place club will still advance to the postseason. But it will have to survive an extra series: a best-of-three Wild-Card Series in its home ballpark.

If the Braves clinch the division, they would get the chance to regroup and reorganize while the Mets would be forced to use their best starters in the extra series, probably against the San Diego Padres at CitiField. That would put them at a disadvantage in the Division Series because many of the former off-days have been eliminated.

Atlanta not only beat Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Chris Bassitt in succession during the weekend but used a potent bullpen to keep the Mets at bay.

In Sunday’s game, for example, the Mets outhit the Braves, 11-5, but were unable to get the big hits they needed.

Atlanta’s sweep was its second over a divisional contender since mid-September. The Braves also swept a Truist Park series against Philadelphia, although the Phillies eventually managed to secure the third wild-card spot in the playoffs.

The 2022 Braves battled back from a bad start that left them 10½ games out of first place after two months and still seven behind after dropping four of five against the Mets in New York in early August.

The Braves began their comeback by reeling off a 14-game winning streak in June after promoting 21-year-old center-fielder Michael Harris II from Double-A and moving fireballer Spencer Strider from the bullpen to the rotation. Both are strong candidates for NL Rookie of the Year.

Strider, who missed the last two weeks with an oblique issue, hopes to return to the Atlanta rotation for the playoffs, along with All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies, who spent most of 2022 on the sidelines with a broken foot followed by a broken pinkie (the result of a head-first slide).

The season has been full of surprises for the Braves, who somehow survived the twin losses of Albies and outfielder Adam Duvall, both solid defenders who were also 30-homer, 100-rbi sluggers in 2021.

In addition, Ronald Acuna, Jr. had residual knee problems resulting from his surgically-repaired torn ACL and delivered only 15 homers after a late start.

Eddie Rosario, last year’s Championship Series MVP, needed early-season eye surgery that kept him out of the lineup for long stretches of the first half.

Former MVP Freddie Freeman wasn’t available at all after signing a six-year, $162 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. And World Series MVP Jorge Soler went to Miami on a three-year, $36 million deal.

Still, president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos pressed all the right buttons, as he did when Acuna was lost for the season on July 10, 2021. He acquired and signed Matt Olson, a younger, less costly replacement for Freeman. He also signed closer Kenley Jansen, who saved 40 games so far, and added solid set-up man Raisel Iglesias in mid-season.

When former postseason star Ian Anderson struggled, the Braves leaned on Kyle Wright, who has blossomed into the team’s first 20-game winner since Russ Ortiz in 2003.

Dependable southpaw Max Fried, a perennial Cy Young Award contender, leads a rotation that also includes Strider, who broke a club record with a 16-strikeout game, and 38-year-old veteran Charlie Morton.

Olson, Dansby Swanson, and Austin Riley give the Braves strong infield defense, even with Albies sidelined, and plenty of power. All three homered against the Mets this past weekend, with Swanson – a prospective free agent this fall – connecting in each game.

Harris, the team’s best center-fielder since Andruw Jones, has a throwing arm that may be even better than the rifle-armed Acuna, who mans right field. Rosario remains the main man in left after regaining his batting stroke.

The Braves also get 20-homer power from designated hitter Marcell Ozuna and catchers Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras, both All-Stars along with Riley, Fried, Acuna, and Swanson.

The team leads the National League with 241 home runs, eight shy of the 2019 club record, but the players will keep pushing until the divisional race is settled, perhaps as early as tonight.

Since players on world championship teams receive hefty shares of the postseason pie, Braves players have plenty of incentive to keep winning. Last year, the team split more than $32 million, with full shares worth just over $397,000, according to The Associated Press. Shares are expected to sail well beyond $400,000 this year.

The Braves could face the Houston Astros again after beating them in six games last fall.