The Atlanta Braves truly had a great Sunday, as the team beat the Chicago Cubs 5-2 and had the Washington Nationals lose to the Miami Marlins to clinch Atlanta’s first divisional title since 2005.
Although the Braves, who currently have a 92-63 record with seven games left in the regular season, did clinch the division today, the team has been struggling to close out the regular season on a high note, losing five of their last eight games against the Washington Nationals and the hapless Chicago Cubs. Part of the problem in these past few games has purely been a lack of run support for the pitching staff, as the Braves have scored two runs or less in four of these five losses.
Yet another scary situation for Atlanta is concern about the once-strong bullpen, which has looked a bit shaky over the past week as the regular season winds down. Highlighted by such pitchers as Scott Downs and closer Craig Kimbrel, the relievers have been a liability as of late against opponents that one would not really consider to be top-tier, which probably has manager Fredi Gonzalez a little nervous going into the playoffs; however, as long as these guys avoid injuries in the last seven matchups before the run to the World Series officially begins, Atlanta should be fine.
As important as winning the division for the first time since 2005 was for the Braves, the team still has a huge task ahead of them: clinching the best record in the National League in order to secure home field advantage until it’s time to face off with the American League champion.
This will not be a gimmie task, as the St. Louis Cardinals are currently just one game behind with the Los Angeles Dodgers lurking just one game behind the Cards. Comparing these three squads’ opponents to end the season makes it clear that this is truly up for grabs, as Atlanta faces the Milwaukee Brewers (68-86) and the Philadelphia Phillies (71-84) at home, St. Louis takes on the Washington Nationals (83-72) and the Chicago Cubs (65-91) at home, and Los Angeles plays the San Francisco Giants (72-84) on the road and the Colorado Rockies (71-86) at home.
By the numbers, Atlanta has the worst two opponents of these three teams and faces both at Turner Field. It’s not a given that the Braves will get by the Brew Crew and the Fightin’ Phillies with relative ease, but what is apparent is that they control their own destiny; win and the National League championship runs through Hotlanta; struggle and the biggest concern may not be losing out on a chance to stay at home for the playoffs.