One thing that always fascinates me is the fact that Major League Baseball refers to their playoffs as the "Postseason." The other three main leagues use "playoffs," but baseball promotes the "Postseason." They are both one in the same, but still, I just love how baseball uses "Postseason," because it is a season--a brief season that takes place after the regular season ends. The length varies depending on the format and the league, though in the case of baseball, the Postseason lasts just over a month. For the second straight year, 12 teams are part of this entertaining madness, and on September 10, 2023, the first of the 12 teams locked in a spot in this year's Postseason.
The Atlanta Braves defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-2, to become the first to clinch this season. For the Braves, this is their sixth straight Postseason appearance, with the road beginning back in 2018, and I remember that year because the Braves won the NL East--the only NL team to win their division outright (the Central and West needed Game 163). The Braves' first two years of this current streak saw them ousted in the Division Series; it was the Dodgers who defeated them in 2018, and 2019 saw the Braves ousted in a five-game NLCS by the St. Louis Cardinals, which included the Cards scoring 10 runs in the first inning of Game Five in Atlanta. In 2020, the Braves reached the NLCS and faced the Dodgers, but after taking a 3-1 series lead, they would lose the next three games. The two teams met again in the 2021 NLCS, but this time, the Braves ousted the Dodgers and went on to defeat the Houston Astros in the World Series.
The Braves are coming off an NLDS loss to the surprising Philadelphia Phillies, and they entered this season looking to strike back from that early exit. Boy, have they! First in batting average, first in home runs, first in hits, first in RBIs. The story I've heard this whole season is that the Braves are better than they were two years ago. The Braves won the World Series two years ago.
There is immense talk surrounding Ronald Acuña Jr being named as the MVP of the National League. He has been the Braves' biggest name in the last three years of this run they've been on, and regarding 2023, oh man! A .336 batting average, 35 home runs, 93 RBIs, and 64 stolen bases! Acuña is doing it all, and all while batting leadoff at that! He is the first player in MLB history to have a 30 HR/60 SB season. It's just amazing what he's done this season, but he's definitely not alone. Acuña's 35 home runs are a distant second behind Matt Olson, who is in his second year as Atlanta's first baseman after Freddie Freeman ended up with the Dodgers in 2022. Olson sent 48 out of the park this year, while Austin Riley (34) and Marcell Ozuna (33) round up Atlanta's 30-HR club.
Regarding the Braves' rotation, Spencer Strider has been the ace this season. Though the ERA's a bit high (3.83), he has done enough to win 16 games this season. Charlie Morton (14-11/3.32 ERA) and Bryce Elder (12-4/3.38 ERA) round out the rotation, while Max Fried has had an interesting season so far, going 7-1 with a 2.70 ERA.
The Braves have a large lead in the National League East: 15 games. Regarding winning the division, the Braves' magic number is currently six, and they have a four-game set against the Phillies coming up. Atlanta leads the season series 4-2, but if they take three games of that four-game set, that will give the season series to the Braves, and they would officially clinch the NL East. In the overall National League standings, the Braves sit six games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Could we see yet another NLCS matchup between those two teams? Time will tell.
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