Atlanta Braves won because of a weak NL East? Look again.

Atlanta Braves right fielder Jorge Soler slides into 2nd base against Dodgers second baseman Trea Turner. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Braves right fielder Jorge Soler slides into 2nd base against Dodgers second baseman Trea Turner. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Before the 2021 season began, the Atlanta Braves were picked to win in a strongly competitive NL East division.  The experts weren’t wrong.

88 wins.  Fewest victories for any division winner in baseball.  The Atlanta Braves didn’t deserve to beat Milwaukee.  They didn’t deserve to beat the defending champion Dodgers.  They certainly didn’t deserve to beat the Astros.

That’s the talking points we’re hearing a lot of over the past week.

With the MLB award nominations — and some actual awards — now rolling out, perhaps it’s time to rethink that narrative.

NL Rookie of the Year finalistsTrevor Rogers of the Marlins is included.

NL Cy Young finalists:  Zack Wheeler (Phillies) and Max Scherzer (Dodgers) are involved… but don’t forget that Mad Max spent almost 2/3rds of his season back East with Washington.

NL MVP finalistsBryce Harper (Phillies) and Juan Soto (Nationals).  Sure:  Fernando Tatis Jr. is the 3rd nominee, but the consensus is that he’s going to finish third.

NL Hank Aaron Award Winner:  Bryce Harper.  This one is slightly different since every team sent a nominee.

Let’s summarize a bit:

  • NL Eastern division major award finalists:  5 (I’m claiming Scherzer here) of the 9 slots
  • NL Western division major award finalists:  1 of 9
  • Major award winners:   1 for NL East so far

To be (somewhat) fair, the Silver Slugger finalists are more mixed.  They were announced in late October and include 4 players at each position.

By division, they break down as follows (and yes:  Trea Turner is being claimed in the East):

  • East  10
  • Central 11
  • West 10

Of note, 5 of those nominees are members of the Atlanta Braves.  The Central division really wins this contest, as the East and West got both of their last 2 entries from the pitcher’s spot.

The point, though, is about how a supposedly weak NL East had so many of the top players in the entire league emerge to be key contributors.

Of course, none of these include missing stars like Jacob deGrom (who still was nominated for a Silver Slugger) or Ronald Acuna Jr. (who might have coasted to the MVP award except for his injury).

Look:  without balanced schedules, it’s truly difficult to gauge one division’s strength vs. that of another.

  • The Atlanta Braves clearly didn’t really gain any kind of significant separation from their mates in the NL East until the last week of the season.
  • The spread from 1st place to last in the East was 23 wins (that gap being more-or-less imposed by the self-depleted Washington Nationals)
  • The spread in the NL Central was 34 wins from top to bottom.
  • The NL West?  a whopping 55 games thanks to a tanking Arizona team.

Also factoring into the equation:  The NL East played the tough AL East (4 teams above 90 wins) in interleague games; the NL West played the AL West.

So what was it?  The Dodgers and their All-Star roster, the Giants and their geriatric group of age-defiers, or the Braves and their replacement band-aids?

We’ll leave that call up to others to debate, but as a minimum, it’s clear that there was no shortage of talent in the NL East to contend with… and that made our Atlanta Braves well-prepared for the post-season.