The only fitting end to a season as wild as the Atlanta Braves’ 2021 season is for it all to come down to the last week. Had the Braves taken care of business at home against the Rockies a couple of weeks ago or not blown a late 4-1 lead against the Diamondbacks last week, this last week would be devoid of drama. But that would’ve been too simple. For this team, this season, it was always going to come down to the very end.
As the standings sit on Monday, September 27th, the Braves have a 2.5 game lead on the Phillies with six, and potentially seven, games to play. As fate would have it, those same Phillies are in Atlanta for a three-game set starting Tuesday night, a series that essentially is going to decide who wins the NL East. The Braves end the season with three at home against the Mets while the Phillies head to Miami for three to wrap up their season. Atlanta also has a potential game on Monday at home, against the Rockies that would be the make-up game for the September 16th rainout. That game will only be played if it changes the playoff picture, adding another layer of complexity to this final week.
With that, let’s get into all the scenarios that could play out this week.
Braves sweep Philadelphia
This is the easiest and cleanest way for the division race to be decided. If the Braves sweep the Phillies this week, the division race is over. Philadelphia’s elimination number is five, which means any combination of Braves’ wins and Phillies’ losses that add up to five eliminates them from postseason play. Obviously a sweep would be three Braves’ wins and three Phillies losses, which means the Braves would be hoisting their fourth straight division banner Thursday night. Sweep the Phillies, and it’s over.
Braves win 2 of 3
This isn’t quite as clean but it’s still pretty close. If the Braves win two of three against the Phillies, their magic number would be one. This means the Braves would have eight opportunities to eliminate the Phillies, win any of their four remaining games (3 vs the Mets, 1 vs the Rockies) or have Philadelphia lose any of their three remaining games against Miami.
Now I know what you’re saying, Braves win one of their four remaining games or the Phillies lose one of their three remaining games, that’s only seven opportunities, but you said eight? If by some miracle, all seven of those games broke the Phillies way, that still wouldn’t end it. Both teams would finish with identical 85-77 records, meaning there would be a play-in game to decide the the division. That would be Atlanta’s eight opportunity. And they would only need one of the eight to go their way.
So while the Braves winning two out three against Philly doesn’t mathematically end it, it effectively ends it. Phillies would need a miracle.
Braves win 1 out of 3
If on Tuesday and Wednesday Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola shove and the Braves were only able to get one of the three games, then the Braves would still be in good position. They’d have a 1.5 game lead with potentially four games left to play. Add that to Philadelphia’s three games left play, that’s seven opportunities and the Braves would need to three to break their way (Braves win/Phillies loss). Still very good odds.
And that’s to win the division outright. If only two of the seven broke their way, the two teams would again finish with identical records, and a play-in game would be required. So really, if they only win one out of the three against Philly, the Braves would have eight opportunities to win the division and need three of them to go their way.
Braves get swept
You might think we’ve reached a scenario where the Braves would need some help from the Marlins, but believe it or not, that’s not the case. If disaster strikes and the Braves get swept this week, they still control their own destiny regardless of what happens in Miami. The Phillies would have a 1⁄2 game lead going into the weekend and even if they swept the Marlins, the Braves could make up that half game by the fact that they have four games left and and the Phillies only have three.
Now it would be much tougher, obviously. The Braves would have zero room for error and would need to finish +1 on Philly’s win total. So if the Phillies won two of their last three, the Braves would need to win three of the their last four. Or if the Phillies won three of their last three, the Braves would need to win four of their last four.
But if the Braves were able to finish +1 to the Phillies win total, the teams would have identical records and again, a play-in game would be required. If they finished +2 or better, they’d win the division outright.
So technically, the Phillies could sweep Braves and sweep the Marlins and the Braves still would not have lost control of their own destiny. This scenario, maybe more than any other, helps explain just how long Philadelphia’s odds are to get this done.
Braves get swept, lose a game to the Mets
We’ve finally reached a scenario where the Braves would need help. If they completely wet the bed, got swept by the Phillies, and then lost a game to the Mets, Atlanta would need the Marlins to win a game against the Phillies. If they lost two games to the Mets, they’d need Miami to win two games against the Phillies, and so on. Remember from the last scenario, if they get swept by Phillies, they need a +1 win differential the rest of the way. They potentially play an extra game, so that certainly helps, but any games they drop against the Mets, they would the need the Phillies to drop an equal number of games to Miami. That would allow them to beat Colorado on Monday, giving them the +1 they need to initiate a play-in game.
Reading through these, you should get the sense the Braves are complete control of this race, because they are. That’s why FanGraphs gives them an 87% chance to win the division. But they still have to take care of business this week. Being an Atlanta sports fan, doomsday scenarios are tough to not think about, but purely on odds, the Braves are in great shape. Win and they’re in. Even lose a little, and they’re in. Just not too much.