What has long been a formality is now official: the Atlanta Braves are returning to the postseason. The Braves became the first team to clinch a postseason spot with Sunday's win over the Pittsburgh Pirates (ATL 5, PIT 2). At 93-49, Atlanta has the best record in baseball. They will now try to clinch the NL East title and also the game's best record, and thus home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
The Braves have been in first place since April 3, the fourth day of the season, and they've had a double-digit division lead since July 20. They're on pace to win 106 games, which would tie the franchise record for wins in a season, set back in 1998. Once Atlanta clinches MLB's best record, the team will have a Wild Card Series bye and await the winner of the Wild Card Series featuring the second and third wild-card teams in the NLDS.
Power has been the name of the game for the Braves this season. They've hit an MLB-leading 273 home runs entering play Sunday -- they set the franchise's single-season home run record back on Aug. 30 --, currently held by the 2019 Minnesota Twins (307). That 2019 season was, of course, . This year's home run leaderboard is comical:
- Atlanta Braves: 273
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 221
- Tampa Bay Rays: 206
- Los Angeles Angels: 206
- New York Yankees: 203
It would seem logical that home runs are harder to come by in the postseason because you generally only face the other team's best pitchers (top starters, trusted relievers, etc.), but that's not the case. Great pitchers give up home runs all the time and home runs rule the day in October. Here are the numbers for 2021-22:
|Runs per game||Home runs per game|
The last two years (and several years before that too), run scoring declined sharply in the postseason, but the home run rate actually increased. That means home runs take on added importance in the postseason. It's hard to string together hits and walks against top tier pitching. When you get a mistake, you better take advantage. Home runs are of paramount importance in October.
That suggests the Braves are set up especially well for the postseason. They are the sport's best home run-hitting team -- they have an incredible seven players with 20 home runs -- and their pitching staff allows only 1.09 homers per nine innings, tied for the second lowest rate in baseball. Atlanta excels at hitting home runs and preventing home runs. That's an excellent combination for October.
The Braves won the World Series in 2021 and just about their entire core is signed long-term (everyone except ace Max Fried, basically) and either in their prime or approaching their prime. Atlanta's talent base is envious. They are the class of the sport right now in more ways than one and look as formidable as any World Series contender in recent memory.