Can the Atlanta Braves still win NL East without Ronald Acuña Jr.?

Can the Braves run down the first place Philadelphia Phillies without their best player? They've done it before, and they'll need some players to step up in order to do it again.
Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

The Atlanta Braves have won the NL East every year since 2018. It appeared that was going to be the same case this year until things turned awry. Now, their six-year win streak is threatened by what appears to be a baseball behemoth.

The Braves jumped out to an early lead in the NL East after taking the W in their first series of the year which happened to be against their biggest foe for the past two years, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves kept their foot on the gas through most of April until hitting a wall.

Since then, the Phillies have rushed by in juggernaut fashion. Now, they maintain a comfortable 6-game lead over the second place Braves. With the various injuries and shortcomings since the season began, it is easy to see what went wrong, but the tough question is, can the Braves recover and retake first place?

Sizing up the Phillies

A 6-game deficit isn’t pretty in the least. But fortunately, it’s still quite early in the year. To determine if a Braves comeback is probable, we need to fully examine the two teams. The Phillies are 38-17 (best record in the MLB), a record indicative of a true titan. The Braves are 30-21, a record that still sounds worthy of the postseason. As a team, the Phillies have posted a National League leading .258 AVG, 62 HR, .336 OBP, and a National League leading 3.11 ERA.

The Braves have posted a .250 AVG, 53 HR, .320 OBP, and a 3.43 ERA. It’s clear to see why the Phillies are having a great year. We must also take into consideration the fact that Austin Riley and Sean Murphy just made their return yesterday afternoon. This will likely give the Braves lineup some of the firepower they have been lacking recently. However, in contrast, the Phillies will likely get Trea Turner back in June. This raises another question: how can a team that had a winning percentage lower than .560 for the past two years be so dominant this year?

Assessing an overlooked fact about the Phillies’ remarkable season

To start, we should look at how each team does against teams with winning records. When facing teams above .500, the Braves are 12-12 (these numbers only include teams currently above .500). Likewise, the Phillies are 8-2. It is mind-blowing that the Phillies have only faced winning teams in ten games this year.

For all those who stood in awe of the Phillies’ magnificent record (including myself), this is a sobering fact. It calls into question whether the Phillies really are an extraordinary team this year or if they’ve just had an easy schedule up until now. Make no mistake, the Phillies are still a very good team and their record against quality teams is exceptional, but they may not be as good as we believe them to be.

Consider the Pirates from last year. They got off to a brilliant start before falling back down to earth and finishing 4th in the NL Central. The Pirates ran into trouble when they started facing quality teams. This might be the case with the Phillies but to a lesser extent. Only time will tell if the Phillies' record is a fluke. Still, if the Braves are going to retake first place, they will need to do better than .500 against winning teams.

Can the Braves win the East again this year? Of course they can. It wouldn’t be the first time they defied the odds. In 2022, they came back from a 10.5 game deficit they held on June 1st to top the NL East at the end of the season (the Braves tied the Mets 101-61 record but won more head-to-head matchups to claim first place and send the Mets to the Wildcard round).

And if the slumping sluggers of the Braves batting order rediscover their power, it’s almost a guarantee. The one major concern the Braves have is the fifth spot in the rotation. Since the loss of Strider, the Braves have found no one to fill his spot. Once this is resolved, the Braves should once more be a force to reckon with.

Aside from this, if the Braves are going to give themselves the best chance of taking the East again this season, they will need to beat the Phillies in head-to-head matchups as they did in their first series of 2024. If they can do this, their chances of winning the East for a seventh consecutive year will look very good.

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