Let’s take a trip down memory lane. We’re going to be covering a ton of ground to start off but trust me on this: We’re going to get to the present-day before you know it. Grab a snack or something because we’re going to be in the time machine for a while.
October 3, 1993
The Atlanta Braves have just got done beating the Colorado Rockies 5-3. The expansion Rockies end their inaugural season with 95 losses, but the Braves are on the complete other side of the coin as that was their 104th win of the season. Somehow, that still wasn’t enough to ensure a champagne party as the 103-win San Francisco Giants still had to play their season finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants needed to win in order to force a playoff — they stayed on 103 wins as the Dodgers stomped them 12-1. No playoff game was needed, and the Braves were the NL West champions for the third season in a row.
Atlanta’s 104th win of the ‘93 season was the last of a season-ending run that saw those Braves go 21-7 down the stretch following a crucial series win against the Giants at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. If you include that series against San Francisco, the Braves went 23-8 from August 31 until the final day of the season. The Giants went 18-14 down that same stretch, and that was partly what made it possible for the Braves to turn a 3.5 game deficit at the end of that home series against the Giants into winning the division by just one game with 104 wins .
If you ask anybody who knows their stuff when it comes to baseball, they’ll tell you that this was the Last Great Pennant Race in Baseball. Everything changed after that season — the 1994 season would’ve been the first season with divisional playoffs if not for the Strike and that meant that it was then pretty much impossible to win 100+ games and miss the Postseason. While that was a correct assumption that there would never again be “Win or Go Home” stakes surrounding a divisional race, baseball still had plenty of great pennant races up its sleeve. It’s time to talk about the most recent great pennant race.
October 3, 2021
Before we talk about what you clearly joined me in this time machine for, we have to take a quick detour to 2021. The Giants finally got to win one of these awesome pennant races — San Francisco won an early-September series against the Dodgers and then proceeded to rattle off a nine-game win streak in mid-September and then a seven-game win streak to help carry them into October with the divisional lead. The Giants went into the final day of the season with a one-game lead and they clinched the division title with a comfortable 11-4 win over the Padres — giving them 107 wins while the Dodgers finished with 106.
The only reason I’m bringing this up is because this was yet another moment where baseball ended up getting an epic pennant race right before a major shift in the Postseason format. Because the 107-win Giants won their division, they were rewarded with a NLDS matchup against the same 106-win Dodgers team they had just got done fighting tooth-and-nail against for the division.
You know how the story goes: Dodgers win in five, Braves win the NL pennant in six, Braves win the World Series in six. Atlanta’s path would’ve been far more complicated if they had to go through both the Giants and the Dodgers. Instead, they only saw the Dodgers and the rest is history. The Giants were partly responsible for the 1994 Postseason expansion and they once again found themselves in the thick of another Postseason expansion ahead of the 2022 season.
April 9, 2022
The defending World Series Champion Atlanta Braves defeat the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 in order to go over .500 with a 2-1 record. Instead of waiting nearly half the season to reach that mark, the Braves had done it in just three games this time. Surely this means that it would be smooth sailing in the title defense, right? Ha! That ended up being the last time the Braves would be over .500 until June 5. June. Fifth.
(Also, check out Will Smith!)
May 31, 2022
The Braves lose a mistake-plagued game to the Diamondbacks, 8-7 in 10 innings. Atlanta is now 0-4 in extra innings games this season and 23-27 overall. The second-consecutive slow start to a season for the Braves is officially confirmed, as they’ve also fallen 10.5 games behind the New York Mets at this point in the season. This was also the day where our good friend at SNY Sal Licata infamously declared the NL East as “over” at this point.
We’ll come back to this later!
June 1, 2022
Perhaps sensing that simply assuming that “We’ll get it together soon enough” isn’t going to cut it anymore, Manager Brian Snitker calls a team meeting ahead of the getaway day game in Phoenix. Everything that’s been reported so far seems to indicate that the overall message of the meeting was simply for the team to relax and remember who they were.
The meeting worked in the short-term as the Braves beat Arizona 6-0 on June 1. It also worked in the long-term, as Atlanta wouldn’t lose another game until June 17. Once Atlanta lost a strange 1-0 game to the Cubs, they found themselves only 5.5 games back of Mets when it came to the division. They were still a fair amount away, but the huge streak brought the Braves back into relevancy.
July 23, 2022
The Braves have continued to chip away at New York’s lead in the division and this is as close as they got during the middle part of the season. Following a huge breakthrough against Shohei Ohtani and the Angels, the Braves clinched the series with a 7-2 win over Los Angeles. The win and a New York loss to the Padres brought the Braves to just half a game behind the Mets in the NL East. While the Braves would eventually fall back, this was the first real warning that the Braves were not going to fade away — especially with a huge five-game series coming up in Queens. The Braves had a chance to go to New York and make a real statement of intent going forward.
August 7, 2022
Welp! The only bright side following the five-game series at Citi Field is that the Braves didn’t get swept. With that being said, losing four out of five somehow felt just as bad as a sweep. Barely anything went right for Atlanta in this series and this appeared to be a crushing blow from the Mets. The Braves were as close as just a half game back two weeks prior but after this 5-2 loss, the Mets were 6.5 games up and in comfortable shape again.
While the Braves had done well to fight back and get back into the race, the Mets had shown them that there was still another level to reach. By this point, Atlanta’s backs were fully pressed up against the wall as FanGraphs had New York’s chances of winning the division at 91.9 percent. By August 11, it had peaked at 96.4 percent. The trumpets were blaring in full force and it didn’t sound good for Atlanta.
(I’m sorry but this is still insanely cool to watch)
August 8, 2022
Instead of licking their wounds following a nasty beating at the hands of the Mets, the Braves went to Boston and ended up licking some ice cream as the visitors’ clubhouse at Fenway had an ice cream machine. The Braves won that game 9-7 in 11 innings and that started a stretch where Atlanta would go 15-2. The comeback was back on!
August 18, 2022
The 15-2 run included a series win in Cobb County over the Mets, which was absolutely imperative if the Braves wanted to have any chance of turning the divisional tide in their favor. They clinched the series win with a 3-2 win that saw Max Fried outduel Jacob deGrom. More importantly, they earned themselves another ice cream machine after it turned out that last season’s ice cream machine apparently left along with Freddie Freeman. With soft-serve at their leisure, the sky was now the limit for the Braves going forward.
September 9, 2022
The Braves go into Seattle to continue their late-season West Coast road trip and start things off with a 6-4 win over the Mariners. This ended up being a huge win since the comeback from being down 10.5 games in the division was now complete — at this point in the season, the Braves were in first place on their own. Granted, this only lasted for one day as the Braves ended up losing that series in extremely dramatic fashion but it was also pivotal for Atlanta’s divisional chances. FanGraphs still had the Mets as the favorites to win the division even when the Braves took the lead, but their chances were now down to just 52.6 percent. At this point, it was now basically a coin flip to decide who was going to win this division.
October 2, 2022
After a month that saw the Braves stick extremely close to the Mets in the standings, it all came down to what was originally scheduled to be the final series of the season. The lockout made it so the weekend series between the Braves and Mets in Cobb County was now the penultimate series of the year. However, it may as well have served as the de facto NL East Championship Series. The bare minimum result for the Braves was a series victory, but the Braves themselves went into that series with the mindset of snatching the division with a sweep. This was despite the fact that the Mets were bringing in two of the best arms in baseball in the form of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer for the first two games of the series.
It didn’t matter for them. Despite leaving the game due to illness, Max Fried once again got the best of Jacob deGrom, as deGrom made three mistakes that were all capitalized upon by Dansby Swanson, Matt Olson and Austin Riley. Atlanta chased Scherzer from the second game with four runs before the end of the sixth inning. The series culminated with a 5-3 victory for the Braves, giving them both a two-game lead in the division and a crucial sweep that made the math for the final series of the season very simple: A single Braves win or Mets loss gave the division to the Braves — despite the fact that the Mets had spent virtually the entire season in first place, themselves. This time, the trumpets were blaring in Atlanta’s favor.
(Was this petty? Maybe. Was this William Contreras’ walk-up song all the way back in May before the Diaz entrances went viral? Yes. Was this entire saga incredibly childish? Definitely.)
October 4, 2022
Nearly 29 years to the day after our journey through time began, we’ve reached the finish line. Following a letdown loss to the Marlins to start off the series, the Braves had another nervy game in Miami where runs were extremely hard to come by. Despite the anemic offensive showing, the pitching staff pulled through and Kenley Jansen made his fourth save in five days to complete the comeback and give the Braves their fifth-consecutive NL East crown. Ronald Acuña Jr. caught the division-winning out just mere feet from where his season ended in 2021. Poetic justice still exists, folks.
Dating back from August 31 to last night, the Braves went 21-9 down the stretch in order to get to their 101st win of the season. During that same time span, the Mets had a 19-13 record to make it to 100 wins. There’s still a pretty distinct possibility that these two could end up tied and that’s where the Postseason format change looms large. Instead of seeing these two enter into a one-game playoff to decide the division, the season series was now the first tiebreaker.
Thanks to the sweep in Cobb County, the Braves won the season series 10-9 — a shocking turn of events when you consider what had happened in August in New York. While the Mets did take four out of five in that series, Atlanta had six more games left at home against the Mets and won five of those six. Every single game between these two ended up being important, right up until the very end.
So, instead of the division being over in June or in August, the division was over on October 4, 2022. It wasn’t because Sal Licata said so — it was over because the Braves and Tyler Matzek said so.
I’ve already gone on a bit longer than I usually do but I really can’t stress enough just how incredible of a run this season was for the Braves. Despite getting off to a middling start for the second season in a row, the Braves eventually made it out of their funk earlier than they did in 2021. Instead of the General Manager putting a jolt into the team with moves at the deadline, it was the Manager who brought things back under control.
While I’m sure everybody has their gripes with Brian Snitker as a baseball tactician, there can be no questions about Snitker’s clubhouse management at this point. He has proven himself to be a master at man management and keeping his team pulling together in the right direction. He probably won’t get NL Manager of the Year after Dave Roberts oversaw the Dodgers to one of the best regular seasons in baseball history, but he deserves his fair share of votes.
Still, a manager can only do so much. The players had to take the message to heart and they did so. The guys who were here last year remembered who they were (World Series champions, to be clear), and the new faces fell right along in line. The big name acquisitions in Matt Olson and Kenley Jansen played a massive role in making this run happen and while they’ve had their ups and downs, the Braves would not be here without them.
The fact that this year’s NL Rookie of the Year race is also going to decide who the Braves Rookie of the Year is going to be should say all that needs to be said about Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider’s contributions to this team. Kyle Wright finally took a leap and became a reliable big league starter. William Contreras’ first full season as a regular lineup contributor was a huge success. This truly was a team effort from top to bottom.
As far as this Postseason goes, who knows what’s going to happen? The Braves went into the Postseason last year playing with house money. This year, they’ve got a target on their back — not only as World Series champions, but as a 100+ win team as well. Despite being designed for this not to happen again, we could once again end up with two teams with over 100 wins meeting up in the NLDS. Despite being on the other side of that potential Mets-Dodgers clash, every matchup in the National League side of the bracket figures to be a tough matchup and the Braves will honestly be hard-pressed to make the repeat happen.
With that being said, they were hard-pressed to even get back to the Postseason as NL East champions and yet here they are: NL East champions for the fifth-straight season. This club has made a habit out of defying any odds that are in front of them, so why would they stop now? They just got done winning the first great pennant race of this current era, just one year after the final great pennant race of the Wild Card era and nearly 30 years after the Last Great Pennant Race of the Divisional era.