Braves clinch NL East during final homestand
Marietta, Ga. – Anyone who entered the Atlanta Braves clubhouse Sunday morning was met with a strange vibe.
It was calm. Little was said. Players marched in one by one, slowly shifting into game mode as first pitch neared.
Perhaps the effects of Saturday afternoon lingered. After all, the clubhouse floor was still sticky with champagne residue, left over from the celebration that took place after the Braves defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3 in the next-to-last home game of the season, clinching Atlanta’s first National League East title since 2013.
Skipper Brian Snitker emerged from the dugout tunnel around noon Sunday and sat with reporters for roughly 15 minutes. The first question that was asked, “Did you still have that smile on your face when you walked in?”
“It still feels good. It feels really good,” Snitker replied, before affirming the question by chuckling.
“It’s something to be proud of, for the guys and for the entire organization.”
A total of 2,555,782 fans made their way through the gates in 2018 to witness the Braves win, what else, their 18th division title. The championship tied Atlanta with the New York Yankees for the most all-time since division play began in 1969.
The National League Division Series will begin Thursday, Oct. 4, though it is unclear at press time just who Atlanta will be pitted against in Round 1 of the postseason.
The smart money is on the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that knocked the Braves out of the postseason during their last appearance in 2013.
Atlanta has not won a postseason series since 2001, though five division titles and two Wild Card berths have both been clinched since. Snitker admitted he was in a bind when trying to decide who to rest for the playoffs and how to manage a team still playing for home-field advantage.
“We’re still kind of mulling over some things, but it will affect how we do things a little bit,” Snitker said. “We’re aware of the home-field (race), but today, I want to sit a lot of guys, because I’ve rode them really hard for the last six months. I think it’ll be good to have three games here (for the division series) and that’s something we’re going to chase.
“Freddie (Freeman) and Nick (Markakis) are gamers, but it’ll be a short stint for them today. They’re steady and professional. Nick is a machine and Freddie’s tenacity ... I could go on and on about those guys.”
It was before Sunday’s game that Snitker made those remarks, but it became abundantly clear what he meant early in the game. Markakis was slotted to bat second, with Freeman to follow. Both grounded out to Philadelphia first baseman Carlos Santana in the bottom of the first, then left to separate standing ovations during second-inning warm-ups, a fitting tribute to their contributions this season.
“I thought it was pretty cool that they got to get recognized; it was very well-deserved,” Snitker said. “Everybody deserved it (the ovation), but they’re the two guys that have posted every day.”
September’s roster expansion also meant that Snitker could rest the majority of his starters for Sunday’s game. Names like Charlie Culberson (shortstop), Adam Duvall (left field), Rio Ruiz (third base), Lane Adams (center field) and Ryan Flaherty (second base) got the starting nod over respective go-to’s Swanson, Acuna, Jr., Camargo, Inciarte and Albies, although Albies and Acuna, Jr. each made pinch-hit appearances.
No matter; the strong depth of the Braves took care of business, ending their final homestand of the year with a 2-1 win over the Phillies.
In just his second start of 2018, Adams provided all of Atlanta’s offense, doubling home Duvall in the bottom of the second, before sending an Aaron Nola pitch into the Philadelphia bullpen for a solo shot in the fifth.
“We faced a really, really good pitcher today and Lane had a day. It was really, really good to see,” Snitker said.
“I feel very good and smooth in the box,” Adams said. “I see the fun those starters have, day in and day out and when I saw my name in the line-up, I just wanted to go out and enjoy it. This is a special group, with some special fans and it’s a special time for this organization.
“You’re always trying to prove yourself at this level and you do what you can to help the team win, whether it’s pinch-hitting or pinch-running.”
Anibal Sanchez needed just 57 pitches across five innings to recorded his seventh win of the season. He also recorded his first hit of the year in the bottom of the third, which drew some inspirational cheers from his teammates in the dugout.
“He’s just amazing,” Snitker said. “What a great story he is. You hear talk about ‘trending down,’ but he’s a complete pitcher that knows what he’s doing and executing.”
“I felt good with all my stuff today,” Sanchez said. “Flo (Tyler Flowers) called a really good game and I got some quick innings.”