Braves clinch share of NL East title

Hug it out, Braves: You've (almost) won the NL East. (USATSI)
Hug it out, Braves: You've (almost) won the NL East. (USATSI)

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On Friday afternoon, the Braves topped the Cubs in Wrigley Field by a score of 9-5. In doing so, they clinched at least a share of the NL East title. That means one more Braves win or one more Nationals loss (including in their game against the Marlins on Friday night) will give Atlanta the outright division title and thus entitle them to a bye into the NLDS round of the postseason. 

Friday's victory also put the Braves two games up on the Cardinals in the race for top overall seed in the National League. The resulting home-field advantage through the NL bracket could matter to the Braves, who are a robust 52-22 at Turner Field but just 39-40 on the road. On that front, the Braves will enjoy an accommodating schedule the rest of the way, as they'll play two more against the Cubs and then return home for three against the Brewers and four against the Phillies. 

As for Atlanta's successes to date, it largely boils down to a good offense (fifth in the 15-team NL in runs scored), a quality defense (third in the NL in defensive efficiency rating), a solid rotation (fifth in the NL in starters' ERA) and a shutdown bullpen (tops in the NL in relievers' ERA). In other words, the 2013 Braves had no weaknesses at the component level. 

As individual performances go, Andrelton Simmons turned an elite season with the glove. Craig Kimbrel burnished his reputation as the top closer in baseball. Freddie Freeman was a deserving All-Star, Chris Johnson is a threat to win the batting title, and Justin Upton rediscovered his home run stroke. On the pitching front, Julio Teheran turned in a strong rookie season, Kris Medlen rode his change-up to continued success, and Luis Avilan stepped up big after injuries devastated the left-handed relief corps. Oh, and the Braves' bench was perhaps the best in baseball. 

It all added up to the Braves' fifth straight winning season and (almost certainly) their third trip to the postseason in the last four years. Above all, it's yielded what will soon be the Braves' first division title since 2005, when their decade-and-a-half-long dynasty was drawing to an end. 

Of course, this team hasn't advanced beyond the first round of the postseason since 2001 and hasn't claimed the pennant since 1999. So their work is hardly done. With that said, consider the 2013 NL East champs to be off to a fine "start."

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