Bradley’s Buzz: Remember when division titles didn’t matter? This one does

The Mets spent 175 days in first place. Depending on today’s who-cares results, they might finish in a first-place tie, though that’s not how anyone will remember the 2022 regular season. The Braves won the National League East after trailing by 10-1/2 games. They held a share of first place for only three days until the season’s final weekend. Now they’ll hold it forever.

This marks their fifth consecutive division title. Not long ago, the Braves finished first over 14 consecutive completed seasons. That stunning run had a downside. Those Braves were so good for so long that they bored us. We fixated on what they didn’t do, which was win the World Series more than once, as opposed to all they did.

Only when the division titles stopped coming – from 2006 through 2017, the Braves finished first only once – did we appreciate in hindsight what came to seem no big deal. Baseball insiders put those 14 in a row in proper historical context; many on the periphery whined about Jim Leyritz and Eric Gregg. We saw a tree. We missed the forest.

I’ve always regretted that. In the long history of the grand old game, nobody else has finished first 14 times without fail. The imperial Yankees didn’t. The Cardinals haven’t won more than three in a row. The Dodgers won the NL West eight years in succession, but the counter was reset to zero last year when they won 106 games to the Giants’ 107.

My regret with the Braves of 1991 through 2005 was that we’d been witness to majesty without grasping how majestic it was. Many times I’ve thought/written, “We’ll never see another team like that.” Except …

We might be seeing one now.

Every team has gotten smart. Every team uses analytics. Every team can point to a computer screen to differentiate between what’s sound and what’s stupid. Yet here the Braves stand, five times a division winner, having just surged past the team with baseball’s biggest payroll. They’d have made the playoffs had they won 88 games again, but what they did has no precedent. They took a World Series title and improved by 13 games.

As ever, they closed like Secretariat. These five division titles have seen the Braves go 84-54 over the regular season’s final month-plus, from 18-11 in 2018 to 21-9 this time. This is what Braves do.

Jake Odorizzi hadn’t set the world alight since his deadline acquisition. Kenley Jansen drives us nuts. So what happened Tuesday night in Miami? Odorizzi exited after five innings, having yielded one run and two hits, having left the bullpen with a lead. The bridge guys – Collin McHugh in the sixth, Raisel Iglesias in the seventh, A.J. Minter in the eighth – got the game to Jansen.

On this night, the closer who can be imprecise on his best nights came within a foul ball of an immaculate inning – nine pitches, all cutters, two strikeouts and an 0-2 count before Jordan Groshans put bat on ball, though only just. Five pitches and two more foul-offs later, the great comeback was done. It required 101 wins and a sweep of the Mets to flip the tiebreaker. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, they give us this.

FanGraphs assigns them a 15% chance of winning the World Series – only Houston, at 17.7%, is afforded a better shot – but let’s not do that yet. We and the Braves have almost a week to sit back and monitor events. (Best of luck to the Mets in their wild-card series, heh heh.) We and the Braves have time to ponder what just happened, which is among the darnedest things any Braves team ever made happen.

Not every constituency gets a do-over. Let’s make this ours. Near the end of the 20th Century, division titles stopped mattering to us jaded Atlantans. Let’s take these next few days to think of all we’ve just seen, of the brilliance of Max Fried and Kyle Wright, of the outrageous Michael Harris and Spencer Strider, of Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson at their best, of a team that, once it got going, went 78-33.

They’re the Braves. They can do anything. They just did the incredible.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and collated by yours truly, available to all who register on for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d be obliged if you’d give it a try.