PHILADELPHIA – Steps away from the celebration in a plastic-wrapped clubhouse, Austin Riley held a cigar in one hand and a beer in the other. His shirt, which commemorated the latest National League East title, was soaked with champagne and beer.
This is Riley’s fifth season in the majors, and he has experienced all of this – the alcohol, the cigars, the music, the dancing, the pictures and more – in every one of them.
The Braves on Wednesday captured a sixth consecutive NL East title with a 4-1 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
1. Each division title feels special.
But this one feels different.
The Braves were dominant. Did they struggle at points this season? Sure. But the NL East had not been a race for months.
“It’s hard to put your finger on it,” Kevin Pillar said about why this team is always able to rise to the moment. “I think it’s the same attitude every day, I think it’s coming in to work every day. Nothing fazes this group. We just have a collective goal, starting from spring training, is to check the boxes. It’s to go out and win every single day, it’s to win the division to get a seat at the table, go to playoffs, try to win a World Series.”
The 2023 Braves clinched a postseason berth faster than all but one Braves team in the divisional era (since 1969), per Elias. These Braves won their division in 146 games.
2. Gifted a two-run lead before he even took the mound, Spencer Strider gave one back during a 36-pitch inning. He labored.
It did not define the rest of his outing.
Strider pitched seven innings of one-run baseball.
“I loved how he weathered the storm in the first inning,” manager Brian Snitker said.
Not only did he not surrender another run after the first inning, but he became unhittable. He retired 12 of 13 batters from the second through fifth innings. He eventually struck out nine batters while only allowing four hits.
“I told him how proud I was of how he turned that thing around,” Snitker said. “He didn’t let it get away from him. I could almost see him teetering a little bit in that first inning, and then he got through that. Then he got his rhythm going, and he was probably in one of those modes where he probably could’ve pitched all night.”
3. Entering Wednesday, Strider had opened his career with wins in all six regular-season starts against the Phillies.
Make it seven.
Versus the Phillies in the regular season, Strider is 7-0 with a 1.56 ERA. (He didn’t fare as well in the postseason, though he was coming off an injury.) His latest dominant performance against them helped the Braves pop champagne after.
“We obviously knew it was possible today, and came in to win,” Strider said. “But nothing changed for us. It’s the same game, same goal as it is every day, same preparation and focus. And I think that’s what enabled us to be successful, is not acknowledging any type of pressure or outside factors.”
Only two pitchers in history have opened their careers with more wins in consecutive contests against the Phillies: Johnny Morrison (1921-1922) and Kaiser Wilhelm (1903-1904).
4. In the top of the first inning, Austin Riley blasted a baseball to the concourse beyond the left-center field seats – a loud statement for the team hoping to clinch a division title.
In the third, Riley drove in another run on a sacrifice fly. In the fourth, Pillar plated one with a double.
With Strider’s mastery, this was enough. Brad Hand pitched a scoreless eighth and Kirby Yates earned the save.
The Braves took three of four here.
5. Of celebrating another division crown, Riley said this:
“It’s always fun every time. 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.”
Stat to know
23 - The Braves’ 23 division titles are the most in MLB history.
“They all feel different, but it’s the next one every year that feels the best. This is what we expect when we put on an Atlanta Braves jersey, is to be here every year.” - A.J. Minter on winning a sixth straight division title
After Thursday’s off day, the Braves will begin a three-game series in Miami. Bryce Elder will start the series opener Friday. First pitch is at 6:40 p.m.