How The Atlanta Braves Won The NL East

There are four teams that have clinched division titles going into the final season and the Atlanta Braves are the odd sock. The other three—Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros were expected to be in the postseason. But the Braves were in an NL East that was all but ceded to the Washington Nationals in the spring. Instead, Atlanta has won with room to spare as a youth movement all came together perfectly.

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Three infielders—Ozzie Albies at second, shortstop Dansby Swanson and third baseman Johan Camargo are under the age of 25. Camargo had the best year (.348 on-base percentage/.451 slugging percentage). Albies’ final numbers (.307/.457) tailed off a bit, but the 21-year-old’s hot start was instrumental in the Braves’ getting out of the gate quickly.

And speaking getting out of the gate quickly—who did it better this year than 20-year-old leftfielder Ronald Acuna? He’s got 26 home runs on the year and eight of them have come to leadoff games, including a memorable summer stretch where he did it three games in a row. Acuna’s overall stat line of .365/.555 show that he hits pretty well in other innings too.

This young core was added to a lineup that was already anchored by first baseman Fredi Freeman. The 28-year-old had another vintage year, at .386/.502 and is likely to fare well in the final MVP voting. The final piece of the puzzle was one of the team’s old men—34-year-old Nick Markakis—delivering a terrific year of his own. Markakis finished with a .366 on-base percentage and his 43 doubles lead a lineup that hits more two-baggers than anyone in the National League.

Atlanta pitching is very well balanced. Mike Foltynewicz is the nominal ace with a 2.88 ERA, but Sean Newcomb and Julio Teheran aren’t far behind. Another 34-year-old, Anibal Sanchez, gave the staff 23 starts and a 2.96 ERA. The bullpen is a similar case of plenty of depth, with no one obvious ace.

How these Braves fare in the postseason is an intriguing question, one that TheSportsNotebook will look more at next week when we dig into the playoff matchups. The positives are that they put the ball in play consistently (2nd in the NL in batting average) and the pitching staff’s depth mean they can be a team that basically empties the bullpen each game.

On the negative side, it usually takes at least one legitimate ace to step up and get you through an entire postseason. And, not to bring up a sore subject with our southern friends, but expecting any team from the state of Georgia to win it all has usually brought heartache.

But as we go into this final weekend, that’s all for a later date. Atlanta Braves’ fans can celebrate their first NL East title since 2013 and their second since the epic division championship run of 1991-2005. And with so many young players, they’re not going anywhere.