The Atlanta Braves are rolling with a 61-45 record through July 29, and we have every reason to believe they’re destined to win their division, sitting on an ever-growing 9-game lead over the second-place Washington Nationals.
But once they get to the postseason, a division championship means very little. It’s just a ticket to get into the big dance, where the competition is much tougher.
Every year, we wonder whether our Braves will size up with the best of the National League when we finally get to postseason play. Sadly, they usually don’t. However, in 2013, we have reason to believe they could see more success than usual when the playoffs begin.
Look no further than Atlanta’s record against playoff contenders at home.
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Realistically, the Braves have faced five such contenders at Turner Field — the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals. In a combined 16 games, the Braves are 14-2 against those squads, with the only two losses coming against the Reds. They’ve swept the other four teams, each in a three-game series.
If they can have that kind of success in October, they’ll be world champions.
A few things have stood out to me in the biggest matchups of the year. First, the crowds have been huge. The fans have arrived early and cheered loudly. It’s clear the team feeds off the atmosphere. It’s been similar in the less-important home games, as the Braves have gone 35-15 at home (the best record in the majors). But they turn it up to an extra level when there’s a game of added importance played at the Ted this year, and that could make the Braves super scary in the postseason.
Of course, it hasn’t been the same for big games on the road, where the Braves have been pretty bad. But here’s the kicker — the rest of the season, the Braves only have seven games against teams with a winning record — four at St. Louis and three at home against the Cleveland Indians. With nearly 60 games to go, that’s a putrid strength of schedule, and it should allow the Braves to bear down and fight for the best record in the National League. If they can do that, they’ll have more home games in every series they play until they’re forced to go on the road for four of seven games in the World Series.
Home field against good teams has proven to be a recipe for success, so if the Braves can overtake the Cardinals for the best record in the league, they would be in really good shape to win a pennant.