On September 19th 2021, Will Smith got the save against the Giants, a former team of his who would go on to win 107 games that year. This was an uplifting win to avoid the sweep and try and finally… finally… get some momentum towards at least just winning the division. The Braves woke up that morning with the same number of wins as the Phillies and looked to only be limping into any possible playoff spot. However, after Will got that save, he lowered his pedestrian ERA of 3.77 down. And then in his next four games he got four more tough saves. Once Will got going, the final piece of the puzzle allowed this team to be a force to be reckoned with. This Braves team became dominant, beating a formidable slew of teams in the Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros (who had a combined 296 wins), all without ever facing down an elimination game. With Will Smith having a 0.00 ERA across 11 games that postseason, they were a runaway freight train. Then they won 101 games the next season to win the division by the slimmest of margins. And then improved upon that to win 104 games the next season. I expect them to be dominant yet again this season. However, that run of dominance that began on a cool Bay-area afternoon in 2021 will likely end this year by election day 2024.
Although I still think they’ll make the playoffs in 2025 due to a bloated playoff field, I think that dynastic run they’re on is shutting closed. Max Fried will be a free agent and the powers that be may rest on their laurels rather than sign him for what he’s worth. Of course, Charlie Morton is now 40. Chris Sale is the classic high-risk, high-reward arm who can’t steadily be relied upon. Raisel Iglesias certainly won’t keep up with his career Braves ERA of 1.92, especially as he’ll be 35 by Spring Training of 2025. Most other guys in the night shift are also in their 30s and sooner or later, the bullpen as we know it will have to be completely redone. These are things anyone can find out on Baseball-Reference in five minutes.
But what I’m really concerned about is the team a continent away, the Los Angeles Dodgers. With Ohtani as a DH-only this year, he’ll add some energy and some swag sure, but he’ll only give a marginal upgrade over his predecessor’s OPS+ of 134 from J.D. Martinez. This year, the Dodgers’ rotation will be miles better, but their bullpen won’t be able to top what they did last year – leading the MLB in fWAR. Sure, the Chavez Ravine will be a raucous outdoor party with thousands of Ohtani jerseys, but I still the better team will reside at a still high-energy Truist Park in 2024. But what will 2025 bring for the Dodgers? Even if they win the World Series, which is certainly possible even if they only snag the #2 spot yet again, this is a team that will still be hungry in 2025. They’ve won at least 100 games in five of the past six possible years and never won the championship in those years. The team brass sold Ohtani on calling those years a "failure" and will be desperate for more. And all the signings they’ve done this year back that up. In 2024, both teams are an embarrassment of riches in talent, and they’re both motivated after two consecutive early round exists (btw, yuck for the week off in the new playoff structure while the Wildcard team comes in hot, le sigh). But next year, the dodgers will get better and the Braves will get worse, as Ohtani is on the mound and looks to pitch in the postseason for this first time in his career. Right now, the Braves now have an identity – the best team in baseball. That identity won’t hold in 2025 when they’re clearly chasing another team that’s both more talented and more hungry.
Compare 2025 to 2023, and the Mets will be better. The Nats will likely be as well. The Marlins will have Alcantara back for the full season. The Phillies will still be a formidable team capable of a deep run in the playoffs. (I’d also bet on all four of the D-Backs, Cubs, Cardinals, and Padres doing better in 2025 than their 2023 win totals). The Braves? The roster is pretty airtight for who will get penciled in, but Matt Olsen and Orlando Arcia will be in their 30s. The catching tandem of Murphy and d’Arnaud will be less of a sure thing, with both in their 30s and lots of mileage. Without the deep pocketbooks of the Dodgers, the Braves won’t be on their level a year from now.
I didn’t put my fingers to the keyboard because of doom and gloom. I did it because I realized how much I’m going to enjoy this season - what I believe will be the last season they’re the top dog. Especially after enduring the rebuild years, we need to savor times like these. They’re a well-oiled machine that will hit triple digits in wins for the third straight year, and I think at least one of their high-risk bets of Sale and Kelenic likely pays off. A dominant team is something to behold, and we’ve been able to bask in it since 2021. While age, injuries, and the lack of that hunger that can’t be replicated, all things must come to an end in 2025. But the calendar hasn’t flipped yet. It’s time for one more ride.