‘This is special’: Braves embrace latest NL East title, ready for another postseason run

MIAMI – In the visitors’ clubhouse late Tuesday night, with champagne spraying and cigar smoke hanging, the Braves celebrated a historic comeback that ended with yet another National League East title.

ExploreNext for Braves: NL Division Series beginning Oct. 11 at Truist Park

Players, coaches and executives paraded around the room, hugging one another and laughing. Some poured champagne and beer on others. There was loud music and dancing.

“I’m still spinning a little bit,” said president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos, one of the architects of this team. “I’m relieved, excited.”

“This is special,” said manager Brian Snitker, who guides this group.

“I’m really happy, I’m proud,” Ronald Acuña said through interpreter Franco García. “I’m really happy to be able to celebrate with these guys here tonight.”

With Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Marlins at loanDepot Park, the Braves won their fifth consecutive National League East division title. Atlanta has the sport’s longest active streak of division crowns. The Braves celebrated their latest accomplishment, but they have come to expect winning.

The Braves’ 22 division titles are the most in Major League Baseball history, leading the 20 won by the Yankees and Dodgers. They are all impressive but, in winning the 2022 NL East crown, the Braves made history.

This season, the Braves overcame their largest deficit to win a division title in franchise history. They trailed the Mets by 10 1/2 games after play on June 1, then went on an incredible run to win the NL East – again. The 1993 Braves were 10 games behind first-place San Francisco before winning the division.

Since June 1, the Braves are 77-33. (We’ll give you a second to read that again and digest it). The Mets did not give away the division – the Braves took it. And because of how they won it, Braves players seemed to think this division title is more special than others, even if they cherish them all.

“We’ve accomplished so much over the last five years,” A.J. Minter said. “I know we expect to be here, but this is probably the most impressive season that I will probably be a part of, and it’s the most impressive in a long time. …I know we expect to be here, but what we accomplished this year was just absolutely incredible.”

“I think the most amazing part is just how good we played, and if you extrapolate that out to 162, ever since June 1, it’s like historic, you know what I mean?” Dansby Swanson said. “It’s unbelievable, just how good we played.”

Here’s something else that adds context to how wild this season has been: According to research from the Elias Sports Bureau, the Braves are only the sixth team in history to finish first in their division or league after leading for fewer than 10 days of the season. The Braves’ record for fewest days in first for a division winner was 22 days, done by the 1883 club. The modern-era record is 27 days by the 1991 Braves.

This year marked the latest the Braves have won the division – by game (Tuesday was their 161st game of the season – since taking the crown in game No. 161 in 1991.

“The ebbs and flows that we’ve been through this year, it’s been kind of crazy,” Austin Riley said. “It seems like every night, we had to grind a little extra. It’s definitely sweet. It just shows what this team’s about. They don’t quit.”

At one point this season, Snitker told his team: “It ain’t about catching the Mets, it’s about playing our brand of baseball. You can’t look at the Mets, we have to worry about us. That’s the only thing we can control is what we got going on.”

His group responded. In June, the Braves won 14 games in a row. In August and September, the Braves put together two eight-game winning streaks in around a month.

This season, there were ups and downs, twists and turns. It culminated with Tuesday’s celebration. These Braves won the World Series last season, and have positioned themselves to defend their championship.

“They’re all special, they’re all hard,” Snitker said. “This is right up there. There’s a team that wanted to run away with it this year. To just keep plugging along and the consistency that these guys showed all year, just coming to work every day and worrying about today. They didn’t get caught up in the fact that we were behind.”

“I’m proud of the group that we have,” Anthopoulos said. “Obviously, put the talent aside – just the people, the way they mix. I was even talking with some of the support staff. They felt like – put talent aside – from a chemistry standpoint, this is probably the strongest (team) we’ve had in the five years. …That’s shocking, because I didn’t think he could be stronger.”

The Braves partied in their clubhouse after their win over the Marlins sealed their spot atop the NL East standings, but there was a certain talking point: They expect to be here. They appreciate it and are grateful, but this is the first stop on what they hope will be a lengthy postseason journey.

By winning the division, the Braves avoided the wild card round. That means they have an extra five days off before beginning the playoffs in the NLDS next Tuesday at Truist Park.

“It’s just joy,” Swanson said of the clubhouse atmosphere during the pandemonium. “But I think everyone also knows that this is just one step in the direction. Times in the past, I felt like we lost that perspective, and I feel like last year taught us one thing: You have to continue pressing on, you have to continue going forward, because this isn’t the end goal.”

Of repeating as World Series champions, Riley said: “It’s the ultimate goal. At the end of the day, this is just the (box to check) to ultimately get to that.”

The Braves also won an MLB-record 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005. Their current run began when they hired Anthopoulos. Since then, the Braves have ascended to baseball’s elite tier.

The Braves are one of baseball’s top organizations because of their sustained success. Atlanta is a desirable place to play. Just take Kirby Yates, for example. He tried to sign with the Braves in 2021, but failed his physical. He finally joined them before this season. This season marks the first time he has pitched for a division-winning club.

“I don’t know what I was waiting for!” Yates joked during the celebration. He then added this: “There’s a reason why I targeted this place and I wanted to come here, and this is the number one reason why: You get an opportunity to play in the playoffs every year.”

The Braves are no longer one of baseball’s up-and-coming darlings. They have arrived. No one takes them lightly. They are regarded as one of the sport’s juggernauts because of the talent on their roster. They are more equipped than ever for a postseason run. They know how difficult it will be, but they’re ready.

But they have the entire rest of the week to refocus and prepare for October.

On Tuesday, they briefly paused to celebrate their latest achievement. They are well aware of the hard work that leads to a night like this.

The Braves are experiencing a special run of success, one they will remember long after they are done in this game.

“It’s hard to win one,” Snitker said, “and to do it five (times) in a row is pretty special.”

“You can’t take them for granted whatsoever,” Riley said. “You got to cherish each and every one of them.”

“It’s indescribable, really,” Jake Odorizzi said. “These aren’t guaranteed whatsoever. "

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