The division standings didn’t change, although the Braves’ magic number was shaved from 16 to 15. Truth to tell, not much about the NL East has been magical.
The Braves, who didn’t rise above .500 until Aug. 5, are the only NL East team with a winning record. The race, such as it has been, changed over 10 days last month. On Aug. 12, the Braves held third place. On Aug. 22, they led by five games. They went 9-0 against bottom-feeders Miami, Washington and Baltimore. They’ve since gone 8-11. Their lead has been cut by a half-game.
We’ve stopped wondering what might happen if the standings truly tighten. Were that apt to happen, it would have by now. The Braves finish with three games here against Philly and three more against the Mets, but one of those teams must draw close for those to matter. The Phillies are 13-19 since Aug. 8. The Mets are 16-26 since July 31. They’re both done.
The Braves could have written off this season long ago. Instead Alex Anthopoulos added six players in July, all of whom have made an impact. There’s the story of the 2021 NL East. The Braves got a bounce at the same time the Phillies and Mets were headed south, figuratively speaking. A six-month season turned over a week and a half.
Credit to the Braves for hanging around long enough for their hot streak, when finally it arrived, to make a difference. Given the absences of Mike Soroka, Marcell Ozuna and Ronald Acuna, they’re not the team we thought we’d be seeing. Given the extended absence of Travis d’Arnaud, they’ve been forced to use seven different catchers. Given the fizzles of Cristian Pache and Kyle Wright – key men in the 2020 playoffs – they’ve had to scramble to fill a lineup and a rotation, and dare we mention the bullpen?
And yet: The belief remains that the Braves should be better than this. They’ve outscored opponents by 99 runs. They’ve lost 27 one-run games; only the Mets have lost more. Of the Braves’ 76 wins, 25 have come against the Nationals and Marlins.
If the regular season bore much resemblance to the playoffs, we’d be worried the Braves will get boat-raced come the NLDS. By now, we know better. They have the 12th-best record in the majors, but only 10 teams make the postseason, where everybody starts 0-0. Know what we call the 2006 Cardinals, who finished the regular season 83-78? World champs.