Breaking down Braves-Phillies stakes

The Braves exchange high fives after a series-opening win against the Phillies this week. The series gave the Braves a chance to clinch their fourth straight division title. // Photo courtesy of David J. Griffin Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves, currently first in the National League East division, are looking to improve their chances for a fourth straight division title as the end of the MLB season draws near. The Braves hold a lead more tentative than those of the previous three seasons. The Braves won the league with a margin of eight games in 2018, four games in 2019 and four games in 2020. The lead this year is closer because the Philadelphia Phillies team the Braves are vying with could very well steal the title from them.

The Braves are rolling into this week’s final homestand against the Phillies on a three-game win streak and will face the Phillies, who are 34-41 on the road with a 37-37 home game record. A series sweep would seal the deal for the Braves, putting an end to the race for the title. However, the reason Atlanta’s lead is smaller than the previous seasons is that anything less than a sweep leaves the opportunity for a shared title or loss.

A three-game loss to Philly would have put the Braves back .5 games, which would then make the Braves dependent on not only winning on their end, but an unexpected loss from Philly to regain the division lead. If play were to end with Atlanta behind just 0.5 games, then a make-up game would have to be placed, in this case being the game the Braves missed against Colorado. If at the end of the make-up game the Braves were still tied with Philadelphia, then there would have to be a tiebreaker game held in Philadelphia to decide who would win the division, a one-game playoff to crown a division champ.

If the Braves were to lose the conference, they would miss the playoffs, as they would finish a couple games out of the Wild Card race.

On the opposite end, a three-game sweep of Philly would mean the Braves would be division champions. There is no case of any team being able to catch up in this scenario, which would make for a fourth straight year of the Braves winning the division title.

If the Braves were to lose two out of three games against Philly then they would be guaranteed conference champions, though there would still be potential for Philadelphia to tie. If the Braves were to follow this with a two out of three win series with the Mets, then the teams could face off with a tiebreaker. A sweep of the Mets would crown the Braves division champions.

Finally, if the Braves were to win two of three games, then a Braves series win or Philly series loss would guarantee the division to the Braves.

One key component of the series could very well be a single player — Bryce Harper. Harper, currently in contention for MVP of the National League, as had three home runs in 70 appearances at the plate against the Braves and has repeatedly helped clinch games late for the Phillies, while contributing to the Braves’ 7-9 record against the Phillies this season before this final series in Atlanta.

As the season begins to close, the Braves are headed towards the playoffs and in a spot to clinch the league. Though not in as dominant of a position as years past, the Braves have the opportunity to control their own destiny and enter the playoffs with the momentum that comes with a division championship, setting the stage for a potential run.