ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves‘ journey to a fourth consecutive National League East divisional crown was anything but easy. In fact, it was almost unfathomable considering the number of obstacles the team had to overcome.
The first half of the regular season was not kind to the Braves. Star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr tore his ACL prior to the All-Star Break. All-Star left fielder Marcell Ozuna injured his hand and was arrested on battery charges.
The injuries continued to pile up. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud suffered a thumb injury and pitcher Ian Anderson missed time with shoulder inflammation. At the All-Star Break, the Braves sat at 44-45 and 4 ½ games out of first place.
“I don’t think anybody would’ve put us in this situation when we lost Ronald (Acuña Jr) right before the All-Star Break,” Braves star first baseman Freddie Freeman told USA TODAY Sports. “I think a lot of us took a piece of Ronald and put it on our shoulders.”
Yet, the Braves just kept hanging around.
On Thursday, the Braves clinched the NL East with a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves secured their 21st division title in club history and did it on the strength of their powerful lineup.
Jorge Soler started the game with a leadoff home run that traveled 465 feet. It was his first leadoff blast of his career. Austin Riley followed with his 33rd home run as MVP chants showered from the stands.
Braves starter Ian Anderson turned in a strong start. He went six innings and danced around potential trouble early. In the second inning, the Phillies loaded the bases after two walks and a double from Andrew McClutchen.
Anderson settled down and kept the Phillies off the scoreboard. The Phillies didn’t get into scoring position again until McClutchen hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning.
The Braves improved to 86-72 with the win. The Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.
“This one is special to me,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We overcame so much. We started the year and lost three of our first four hitters. “It’s crazy that you are going to be able to do that. I have so much respect for our players and how they approach this thing.”
A lot of credit goes to Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos for the turnaround. He made four shrewd acquisitions at the trade deadline to retool the roster.
Anthopoulos acquired Adam Duvall, Soler and Eddie Rosario. He also added reliever Richard Rodríguez from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Winning a division is fantastic and I don’t think I’ll ever not appreciate the grind for six months with all the games and everything else,” Anthopoulos said. “Under the circumstances of what we went through this year, I would say this is the most rewarding year of my career.”
The four players offered immediate returns. Duvall has 16 home runs and 44 RBI in 55 games since the trade. He also began playing center field and came up with a sliding catch to rob Odúbel Herrera in Thursday’s game.
Soler ascended into the leadoff role and Rosario provided consistency at the plate. Both added key depth and experience in the wake of injuries.
The Braves found their stride in the second half. They rode a nine-game winning streak in August into first place. Since the All-Star Break, the Braves are 42-27 and have built belief that they could contend in October.
“You go on that road trip and win nine straight,” Freeman said. “… When you go and take care of business, it only built our confidence going forward. We expect to win and we have a really good team.”
It is easy to look at the Braves and see their difference. What once looked like a pedestrian team has surged into the World Series hunt.
Things are clicking at the right time. Starting pitchers Charlie Morton and Max Fried have looked dominant in recent starts. The bullpen has gained momentum in leverage situations. The new-look Braves have the tools to mirror the same team that was one game away from the World Series last season.
“We have great pitching and all we have to do now is go and win 11 more games,” Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies said.
In winning the NL East, the Braves proved they can fight through adversity. With a playoff matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers on the horizon, the Braves will look to add another chapter to their story.
“There was adversity all year,” Braves second baseman Dansby Swanson said. “(We had) injuries. You name it, we had it. Just to be able to fight through it is top notch.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Atlanta Braves win fourth consecutive NL East crown
Source: Yahoo Sports