Did you know that the motto of the city of Atlanta is Resurgens? I mean, you probably did, if you have more than a passing familiarity with Atlanta — but for a long time, I didn’t. After all, I’ve only been to Atlanta once in my life, and I definitely didn’t notice that both the city flag and seal have a phoenix on them. That’s where Resurgens comes from — it’s Latin for “rising again,” which of course pertains to the myth of the phoenix, and the association there should hopefully be obvious. There’s also apparently a statue with a phoenix and a lady or something, that was built to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of a department store? Stuff is weird, yo.
While I don’t think anyone really cares about city mottoes or seals, the Braves made their 2022 campaign a mighty fine testament to Resurgens, and to the phoenix, at least when you set a fifth-straight NL East title as the goal. (Due to the new-and-inane playoff format, a playoff berth for this squad was essentially never in doubt; their playoff odds never dropped below 60 percent.) You’ve probably seen this chart everywhere already, but let’s throw it on the screen again, just for the jolt of joy it delivers:
As you can see, there were a lot of downs. There were a few ups, and one really big up that really mattered, but the first two months were a slog of attrition for the team, and even after they went absolutely ham on the rest of the league over the summer, they couldn’t even get their divisional odds back to where they started. There was a lot of good on the field, but the standings always looked daunting... until they didn’t. Even large, successful runs had their painful setbacks. I want to run through a few of these, do you remember them?
May 3 - Swept by Mets in doubleheader, 11-15, 7.0 games back, 26% division odds
The Braves finished April at a lame 10-12, then proceeded to lose a series in Arlington before heading to New York to face the Mets for the first time all year. They actually won the first game of the four-game set, but then got swept in the planned doubleheader. Both games were snappy — Charlie Morton got lit up in Game 1 and the Braves got close thanks to a three-run dinger by Matt Olson, but still lost 5-4, while Carlos Carrasco threw eight scoreless frames to cap a 3-0 defeat in Game 2.
The Braves actually battled back to split the series the next day, but were still basically just treading water.
June 1 - first nadir of division odds, biggest deficit, 24-27, 10.5 games back, 16% division odds
June 1 was actually the beginning of the Braves’ epic 14-game winning streak, but the Mets were polishing off a six-game streak of their own that day with a 5-0 win over the Nationals, so this was the biggest deficit the Braves endured all season in the standings.
As for the game itself, the Braves salvaged a getaway day game in Phoenix (there’s that motif again) with a 6-0 win over Madison Bumgarner.
June 17 - winning streak snapped, 37-28, 5.5 games back, 28% division odds
The Braves losing 1-0 to the Cubs on a windy day at Wrigley Field was made more painful by the fact that the Mets won on the off-day prior, as well as on this date. As a result, the Braves went from a four-game deficit and 38 percent division odds when they won their 14th in a row, to a 5.5-game deficit and odds of 28 percent when Orlando Arcia grounded out to first with the bases loaded to end the game.
July 11-13 - series loss to the Mets at home, 53-37, 2.5 games back, 40% division odds
The Braves had won four straight series heading into this series, their first crack at the Mets at home. They came in just 1.5 games down and had recently taken three of four from the Cardinals, so this was a great chance to actually turn the race around.
But, instead, another setback. Max Fried somehow had five walks in five innings and Max Scherzer dominated in a 4-1 Braves loss. After forcing a rubber game, the Mets thumped Morton once again, this time in a more conventional way by hitting three dingers off of him. The Braves lost 7-3, and their three runs came on solo homers, all in garbage time late.
This series didn’t derail the breakneck pace of the Braves-branded locomotive steaming ahead, but it was a bit of a roadblock nonetheless.
July 24, and then July 27 - costly getaway day losses, 59-41, 3.0 games back, 30% division odds
The Braves had a thrilling comeback win against Shohei Ohtani and cruised to a series win, but Ian Anderson utterly imploded in the Sunday afternoon matchup. A few days later, in a rubber game in Philadelphia, one of the most horrendous innings the Braves have played all year turned a tie game into a 5-0 deficit in the fifth. That inning featured the Braves making two costly defensive misplays and allowing three stolen bases, as well as hanging Morton out to dry the third time through once again.
The Mets kicked off a seven-game winning streak while the Angels were clobbering Anderson, so the Braves turned a half-game deficit into a three-game deficit thanks to these games.
August 3-11 - the real thwacking and the lowest point of the season, 66-46, 7.0 games back, 3.2% division odds
Yes, the Braves went from about a 1-in-3 chance to a 1-in-30 chance as a result of a 1-5 stretch that included a five-game series in New York against the Mets. Everything started with Collin McHugh turning a 1-0 lead late in Philadelphia into a 3-1 loss, and then snowballed into losing four of five to the Mets. August is around the time when the current standings start to exert some real inertia on end-of-season standings over and beyond team quality considerations, and the Braves faceplanted.
Kyle Wright got shelled in a start that would eventually lead to a dramatic change of his pitching approach for the rest of the season, Jake Odorizzi didn’t help, Fried got bested by Scherzer again, and the long-awaited Jacob deGrom/Spencer Strider matchup got scuppered by some ball-in-play stuff.
This sequence was so brutal to the team’s division odds that even as they headed on to Boston and won both games at Fenway Park, their odds actually dropped because the Mets swept the Reds in three games at the same time.
This would’ve been enough to ruin another team’s season, somewhere, probably. But these are the 2022 Braves, and they’re pretty damn awesome, so that’s not what happened.
August 17 - no sweep of the Mets at home, 72-47, 4.5 games back, 12% division odds
The Braves had a chance for a measure of salvation a few weeks after faceplanting in New York, by potentially sweeping the Mets at home in a four-game set. But, they lost an Odorizzi-Scherzer matchup, meaning that the most they could manage was to end the series 3.5 games back instead of 1.5 back.
They did actually win the final game of the series and make it to 3.5 back, but considering what the Mets did to the Braves in New York, it didn’t feel like enough.
August 27 - Kenley Jansen melts down, 79-49, 3.0 games back, 17% division odds
This was painful on many levels, including that it dropped the Braves back down to three games back after a four-game winning streak trimmed two games off the deficit just days before. There honestly just wasn’t much time left to be blowing leads like this, except apparently, as know now, there was.
September 10-11 - Disappointment in Seattle, 87-53, 1.5 games back, 26% division odds
Before this series, the Braves had come all the way back from all of the prior setbacks. Earlier in the week, they tied for the division lead for the first time all season. By taking Game 1 from the Mariners, they had a half-game lead in the division. But then, they lost two in a row. First, George Kirby bested Max Fried and the Atlanta attack. Then, we had pretty much the most ridiculous game of the season, where the Braves scored five in the ninth to pull ahead after trailing all game, only for another Jansen implosion to kick them all the way back to 1.5 games down in the division. They shed 21 percent in division odds in two games.
September 22-23 - And the same in Philly, 93-58, 2.5 games back, 13% division odds
The Braves dropped the first two of a four-game set in Philly in what seemed to be a potential dagger in the chest of the divisional odds, especially as the Mets went 1-0 in the same span to gain a game-and-a-half. One of these was a 1-0 loss, the other was the most predictable loss ever, with Odorizzi unable to win a rematch with Aaron Nola.
September 28 - The fall goeth before pride, for once, 97-59, 1.0 games back, 21% division odds
Despite aaaaaalllllllllll of the above, the Braves managed to nonetheless tie the Mets for the division lead on September 27. This was even more of a big deal than a tie in the standings, because the Mets were coming to Atlanta for the season’s penultimate series, which would possibly decide the NL East at long last. Given the lack of Game 163 due to the new playoff format, and the critical nature of the tiebreaker, the Braves really needed to not be trailing in the division heading into that three-game set. Doing so would allow them to take a lead with a series win but not a sweep.
But, that’s not what happened, by any account. On September 28, as the Mets came from behind and eventually walked off the Marlins, the Braves got walked off on by the Nationals, putting them in a hole. Now they needed a sweep...
...and they got one. Resurgens, phoenix motif, NL East division champs for the fifth time in a row. The injuries didn’t stop them. The early-season ball-in-play stuff didn’t stop them, as annoying as it was. The Mets definitely didn’t stop them. What a ride, what a season.