When the Atlanta Braves became the first team to punch their ticket to the 2023 postseason with a win over the Pirates on Sunday, the celebrations were subdued. Coach Brian Snitker spoke briefly, then the players toasted each other with champagne.
There were a couple of reasons for this. First, they were scheduled to play a doubleheader the next day in Philadelphia, with the players expected back at the stadium around 10 a.m. Second, and more importantly, the specific outcome was that they were mathematically assured of at least one spot as wild card, but the Braves seemed destined to win the division title for months. And with four games against their closest rivals in the National League East, the Philadelphia Phillies, on the horizon, they could clinch the division in a matter of days.
The Phillies — reigning NL pennant winners and likely tied after the season themselves as current holders of the NL wild-card top spot — are not overlooked. With their big hitters heating up in the second half, the Phillies have the second-most home runs since the All-Star break… behind the Braves, who also hit more in the first half and could end the season with the greatest number of teams. never a home run.
Last October, it was in Philadelphia that the then-defending champion Braves were eliminated in the Division Series. However, as their series in Philly got underway, some Braves players were already looking at Thursday’s off day in Miami as an opportunity to celebrate the NL East title with their families. Three more victories for the team that has held first place alone since the fourth match of the season, and will be able to celebrate in full. Even in the superstitious world of baseball, it seems, the Braves are – at this point in the calendar, at least – beyond bad luck.
And yes, they defeated the Phillies 4-1 on Wednesday, put on the glasses and let the booze rain. It’s Atlanta’s sixth straight NL East title, an MLB-leading 26th in franchise history. And the scary part for the rest of the division – and the sport as a whole – is that this could just be the beginning of their reign.
The defining characteristic of these Braves – besides being incredibly good at baseball – is their propensity to sign players to long-term extensions, often early in their careers. In doing so, a team takes on a certain risk: that one day, an injury, underperformance, or age-related decline will sap the player’s productivity, leaving behind a payroll blight that serves as a cost anchor. opportunity. But for now and from what we know so far, the Braves’ extensions appear to provide not only cost certainty but also a nearly guaranteed level of success.
Currently, Atlanta’s top eight players in fWAR — Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Sean Murphy, Michael Harris II, Ozzie Albies, Orlando Arcia and Marcell Ozuna — are signed through at least 2025, and only Ozuna has more 30 years old. Years. The top five have signed until at least 2028.
Their top fWAR pitcher, Spencer Strider – last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, a Cy Young contender this season and the man who allowed just one run over seven innings in the game that won the division – he is 24 years old and signed. 2029 (!).
This year, the Braves are above the first competitive balance tax threshold for the first time in team history, but so are the Phillies and New York Mets, two division rivals with bigger payrolls and fewer wins to show for it. The Mets’ disappointment goes far beyond finishing behind the Braves, while the Phillies are enjoying more success than many of the other star-studded teams assembled in free agency and know how formidable they can be in the postseason.
But the bottom line is that Atlanta’s closest competition is trying to outbid the Braves from a position of less flexibility, even taking into account Atlanta’s long-term contract commitments. Currently ninth in MLB in payroll, the Braves are behind the Phillies and Mets (and Padres and Yankees) in terms of what’s already on the books for 2025.
By 2026, the Braves’ roster will be third only to the Yankees and Padres, but while those two teams will need to revamp their rosters between now and then to get back to the playoffs, the Braves will just need to stay the course.
Of course, recent history provides ample examples of teams that achieved success in the regular season but failed to solidify dynasty status come October. The Dodgers are on their way to their 10th division title in 11 years, having only won the World Series in the successful 2020 season. The Braves’ previous five first-place finishes in the NL East have taken them to the Fall Classic just once. And at the end of the last century, of course, they won the East 14 out of 15 years but emerged with only one championship.
Which is to say, Wednesday’s win is simply the first step in determining whether the dominance of the Braves — who are currently on pace for 106 wins — will be what we remember from the 2023 MLB season or simply a point of context on some other team. top notch narrative. Players and coaches dutifully reiterated that sentiment during celebrations in Atlanta on Wednesday. But if this team proves capable of winning it all, the rest of the league should be nervous.
Because essentially the same club will return in the years to come.