The Atlanta Braves locked up the National League East division title Wednesday night with a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Here’s what you need to know:
- This marks the Braves’ sixth consecutive NL East crown. They became the first MLB team to clinch a 2023 playoff berth with Sunday’s win against the Pirates.
- Atlanta improves to 96-50 on the season — the best record in the majors — and now leads second-place Philadelphia by 17 games in the division.
- The Braves won Wednesday’s series finale at Citizens Bank Park behind a seven-inning, nine-strikeout outing by Spencer Strider and a two-run homer from Austin Riley.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) September 14, 2023
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
Strider, Riley guide title-clinching win
Riley hit a two-run homer in the first inning and added a sacrifice fly in the third, more than enough offense on a night when Strider continued his regular-season dominance of the Phillies with seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball for his majors-leading 17th win.
Kevin Pillar added an RBI double in the fourth as the Braves built a 4-1 lead, which would stand. The Phillies got a run in the first inning after Strider walked two of the first three batters and Bryston Stott hit a two-out single, but the Atlanta fireballer retired the next nine batters and 19 of the last 22 that he faced.
Strider had two walks with nine strikeouts, the 21st time in 29 starts that the MLB strikeout leader has recorded at least nine Ks this season. — O’Brien
How Atlanta got here
If the Braves’ celebration was slightly more subdued than when they clinched a year ago, it’s because this time it’s felt like a foregone conclusion for at least two months, since the Braves won 28 of 33 games from May 31 to July 8 to build a 9 1/2 -game lead.
They led by at least that margin every day since July 19, and have maintained at least a 12 ½-game lead since Aug. 15, stretched that to 15 games to begin September. They clinched in their 146th game, the second-earliest date for the Braves to clinch since the divisional era began in 1969, behind only the 2002 team clinching in its 141st game.
It was the complete opposite a year ago, when the Braves started slow, the Mets came blazing out of the gate, and by the end of May the Braves were 10 ½ games out of first place.
The Braves didn’t catch the Mets last season until Sept. 6, and were a game behind them before sweeping a huge series against the Mets in Atlanta that lived up to the hype in the last week of the season. That effectively gave the Braves the division title, though they didn’t clinch until winning a game in their final series at Miami.
This season, the Braves have been not just the class of the division, but arguably of the NL and all of baseball, building the sport’s best record, moving to the top of various polls and power rankings by midseason, and mashing home runs at a record pace while piling up wins at a near-record rate. — O’Brien
What’s next for Braves?
They are 96-50 and on pace to finish with 106 wins, which would tie the 1998 Braves for the most wins in the franchise’s nearly 150-year history. The record is important because it determines home-field advantage for the playoffs, meaning the Braves have plenty to play for the rest of the regular season even with the division in hand.
The Braves would have to win a division series and NLCS before they can try to win a second World Series title in three years. As things currently stand, the Braves would have a first-round bye and face the winner of a Cubs-Phillies Wild Card Series in a division series.
The Dodgers, assuming they win the West and finish with the second-best record, would have a bye and face the winner of a Diamondbacks-Brewers Wild Car Series, if the teams finish in their current positions in the wild-card standings. — O’Brien
What this means for Philadelphia
The Phillies haven’t been in the division race since May, so this was a mere formality from where they stand.
They have lost five of their last seven, which hasn’t endangered their postseason odds. But it has made things harder on them as they attempt to secure home-field advantage for that best-of-three Wild Card series. They have a 1 1/2-game lead over the stumbling Cubs. It’s effectively 2 1/2 games because the Phillies hold a tiebreaker. The Phillies play better at Citizens Bank Park and believe there is a real advantage to having that first series here. They need to win some games to make that happen. — Gelb
(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)