PHILADELPHIA – On Wednesday night in Philadelphia, the Braves – dressed in their National League East champions shirts and hats – gathered in a plastic-wrapped clubhouse as pandemonium ensued. They sprayed, and drank, champagne. They pounded and poured beer. They smoked cigars.

They have experienced this same celebration, and all that comes with it, six years in a row.

Six.

“It’s always fun every time,” Austin Riley said. “This never gets old. You dream about this as a little kid. You do it in high school if you win a championship, but nothing’s like a big-league champagne and beer shower, party, whatever. It’s incredible. You try not to take it for granted, because this game’s so hard, it’ll knock you down in a heartbeat. You’re not always guaranteed it.”

With Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, the Braves clinched their sixth consecutive National League East crown. This is the longest active run of division titles in baseball. The Braves, who on Sunday became the first club to punch a ticket to the postseason, are also the first to win their division this season.

But in a way, this one feels different than the previous five division titles. The Braves clinched the NL East in 146 games – faster than all but one Braves club in the divisional era (since 1969), per Elias. The 2002 Braves won the division in 141 games.

This Braves team is more talented than its predecessors, and deeper. At this point, it seems like the 2023 Braves are miles ahead of most of Major League Baseball. They have set records, and could break more. They have the National League MVP frontrunner in Ronald Acuña Jr., the likely home run king in Matt Olson. And on and on.

“Every day I show up, I feel like I’m playing on the best team in baseball, ever,” said Spencer Strider, who pitched seven innings of one-run baseball on Wednesday.

Atlanta Braves' Kirby Yates celebrates with Sean Murphy after the Braves clinched their sixth consecutive NL East title by defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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After Kirby Yates struck out Brandon Marsh for the final out, the Braves gathered on the mound to begin celebrating. As they jumped around and huddled together, the Philadelphia fans serenaded them with boos. Last October, the Braves’ season ended here. This time around, this ballpark represented the beginning of their drive toward their biggest goal: Winning a World Series.

But first, they had to enjoy this. Soak it all in. A baseball season is grueling. This – a division title – is never a lock, even if the Braves have made you believe it’s easy to accomplish.

“I tell them: You remember how it feels,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who has guided this team to all six of the division titles in this run. “Don’t ever take this for granted because you’re never guaranteed it. I want them to enjoy every second of that in there.”

When he became the Braves’ general manager months before the 2018 season, Alex Anthopuos, he asked himself: “How many games are we going to lose?” To see this coming – six straight division titles – would’ve been impossible, even if Anthopoulos had a plan.

“You just don’t know,” Anthopoulos said. “I’ve been humbled enough. My first five years as a GM, we didn’t make the postseason. You start questioning yourself: ‘Am I ever gonna taste the playoffs?’ And then we did it my last year (in Toronto). I’ve been on the other side. I’ve got my brains beat in, I’ve lost a lot, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. So I don’t think I’m ever gonna lose sight of it, and that’s what keeps me going is trying to sustain it.”

This is his best work yet. These Braves are baseball’s best team. They’re a juggernaut.

They should win more than 100 games again. Their offense will go down as one of the best in history. Their pitching staff is one of the best in the sport, which is incredible when considering 16 different players have started a game – a figure that ties a franchise record and becomes more impressive when noting that the other four Braves teams to do this had losing records.

Then there’s the obvious: The 2023 Braves clinched the division on Sept. 13. Their final game is Oct. 1. Atlanta dominated its division. After play on Aug. 11, the Braves led the NL East by 9 1/2 games, and the lead was never lower than that the rest of the way.

“They all feel different, but it’s the next one every year that feels the best,” A.J. Minter said of the remarkable run of division crowns. “This is what we expect when we put on an Atlanta Braves jersey, is to be here every year.”

“It feels the same, it feels better every time,” Travis d’Arnaud said. “I’ve been at the top where I thought we were making it next year and we didn’t, and it crushed me. I know how rare it is and how special it is. I soak it all in as much as I can every single time.”

Atlanta Braves' Austin Riley, right, and Matt Olson celebrate after Riley's two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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Last season, the Braves, who won the 2021 World Series, chased down the Mets. They were the sport’s hottest team in October. Then, in a snap, it was over. The Phillies beat the Braves in the National League Division Series, a stunning first-round exit.

“Look, this is entirely different than last year,” Yates said. “I think there was a World Series hangover last year. I wasn’t playing on the team, but I was there every day and I watched. And I think that’s kind of real.”

In 2022, the Braves expended tons of energy chasing down the Mets. Then they had the layoff during the wild card series. This time, Yates said, “we can set ourselves up to make a real run at this.”

The Braves will likely be postseason favorites. In baseball, this means nothing. October upsets rule this sport. But you would rather go into it with this roster than any other.

“Look, at the end of the day, everyone’s goal is to win the World Series and you end up getting judged that way,” Anthopoulos said. “But you look at the history of this place and all the great players and the seasons and the executives – everything involved with this place – and knowing we were able to do some things with this team that hadn’t been done.”

This season, the Braves set a franchise record with eight All-Stars. Acuña recently became the first player in history to hit at least 30 home runs and steal at least 60 bases in the same season. Olson should break Andruw Jones’ record for homers in a single season. The 2023 Braves have already blasted more home runs than any NL team in history, and they could soon own the MLB record.

Yes, each division title is special.

But this seems like a dream season.

The key to success?

“I think our closeness,” d’Arnaud said. “Not a lot of people see it, but we make fun of each other all the time, crack jokes, smile. I think how close we are helps us during the lulls, during the valleys of the year where we’re able to come out of it quicker versus just being there the whole time.”

“No matter what’s going on – the adversity, the highs and the lows – it’s the same guys, same expectation, same focus,” Strider said.

On Wednesday, the Braves partied before a flight to Miami. While reporters interviewed Acuña, his teammates sprayed alcohol at him. Coaches and players took selfies to capture a moment they won’t soon forget.

This was too special, especially for those who were not accustomed to it.

“I’ll never forget this night, for sure, just being a part of it,” said Nicky Lopez, Atlanta’s trade deadline acquisition who is on his first division-winning team. “Hopefully we can pop more champagne as time goes.”

“For a lot of guys in here, maybe they’re a little spoiled with the fact that they’ve done six in a row,” said Kevin Pillar, who hadn’t won the division since 2015, when he played for Anthopoulos in Toronto. “But I’ve realized the difficulty and how hard it is to celebrate with your teammates, to win the division, to get a seat at the table in the playoffs. These are the moments you live for.”

In February when they reported to spring training, the Braves said they wanted to win the NL East.

They literally uttered those words.

“I think when you verbalize something and you make that your goal, and you’re so committed to it, and it affects your preparation, your focus, it really allows you to sort of narrow in it and weather any type of adversity or something that might pull you away from it,” Strider said.

And when the season began, they simply got to work. Yes, they had their goal in mind. But the day at hand came before anything.

“These guys never got caught up in any of the good, bad, indifferent that we had,” Snitker said. “They were so consistent coming to the ballpark that day and winning that day’s game. I never heard one guy talk about magic numbers, how many we’re ahead, all this and that – or if we were going bad or losing games in the standings. Nothing. I never heard one guy talk about that. All I heard them talk about was getting to the ballpark and getting ready to play.”

The Atlanta Braves pose for a team photo after clinching their sixth consecutive NL East title by defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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Each season has a story. You might eventually need a book to chronicle the tales of the 2023 Braves, depending on how the next month-plus goes.

They had won five division titles in a row before this. Then they won a sixth in dominant fashion.

In doing so, they continued furthering a point: These guys are going to be a force for years to come.

But for now, they will enjoy this latest accomplishment.

“They’re all special, they’re all really hard, and you should enjoy every time you get the chance to do this,” Snitker said of the division titles. “They should enjoy every minute of it. It’s like I told them: Don’t forget how this feels, either, because this is a really good feeling, that your hard work is for something.”

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