The best thing the Atlanta Braves have going for them is their pitching. The second-best thing is the National League East. Over the past two seasons, the Braves are 65-53 against out-of-division opposition; they’re 62-38 against NL East brethren.
Dominating their division is how the Braves won the East by 10 games last season; it’s also how they’re leading by three games now. They entered the weekend tied with the Marlins. They exited having swept three games in Miami. The Braves are 5-4 against the Fish, 5-1 against the Nationals, 3-3 against the Mets and 2-1 against the Phillies.
Contrast this, say, with how the 2014 Braves have fared against the winners of the past four World Series: They’re 1-5 against the Giants, 2-4 against the Cardinals, 0-4 against the Red Sox. Not to say the Braves can’t beat good competition — they went 5-2 against Milwaukee and Colorado only a week back — but there’s no denying the numerical truth: At 31-25, they wouldn’t be leading any other division.
One of Frank Wren’s favorite indicators of a team’s worth is run differential. In that, his Braves are plus-11. That’s the 13th-best differential in the majors, the eighth-best in the National League. (Then again, the Nationals are plus-17 but a game under .500, so who cares?)
There are times, let’s concede, when these Braves don’t look much like a playoff team. (Witness last week’s four losses to a Boston club that held last place as of Memorial Day.) But those times come only when they’re playing somebody from another division. When matched against another NL East entry, they’re a comparative colossus. And 52 of the Braves’ remaining 106 games — almost half, in other words — will come against this Eastern bloc. That alone should push them into the playoffs.
Further reading: The Braves really need La Stella to keep hitting.
Still further: Are the Braves a playoff team? (Yes, I think.)
Further still: Big Papi pops the Braves’ holiday balloon.