Braves clinch playoff berth with first NL East title since 2013

The Atlanta Braves once again sit on the National League East throne.

The franchise officially placed its four-year rebuild in the rearview mirror by beating the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3 on Saturday afternoon to clinch its first division title since 2013.

The team reclaims the NL East crown five years to the day after it last popped champagne in Wrigley Field’s visiting clubhouse — a 2013 celebration commemorating the end of another extended division drought. All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman and rotation mainstay Julio Teheran are the only remaining pieces from the previous NL East-winning roster after an organizational teardown marked by blockbuster trades of standouts like Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis and Shelby Miller.

“Three 90-loss seasons in a row and turn it around and win the division this year, it’s really hard to put into words,” Freeman said. “This is goal No. 1. We’ve still got three more celebrations to go.”

The young Braves have arrived — and it doesn’t appear they are going anywhere any time soon.

All-Star starter Mike Foltynewicz led the clinching effort by carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning and completing 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball, striking out five Philly batters and allowing three walks. Atlanta’s offense struck early on big hits from Freeman and breakout third baseman Johan Camargo.

The Phillies pushed three late runs across in the eighth inning, but the bubbly never had to be wheeled out of the home clubhouse.

Atlanta’s NL-winning roster emerged at least a year ahead of schedule.

Featuring one of the youngest contending rosters in baseball and relying heavily on under-25 potential cornerstones in National League Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Johan Camargo, among others, the Braves ran away with the division. The heavily favored Washington Nationals, a preseason World Series favorite, stumbled early and often — eventually bowing out of the race at the trade deadline — while the rebuilding Marlins and injury-prone Mets never truly joined the race. A similarly ahead-of-schedule Phillies roster gave the Braves a race through late August, but September struggles yielded the floor to Atlanta.

“At the end of spring training I didn’t know what we had. I knew we were talented,” first-year general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “And I would say by the end of April when Acuña came up and really when Soroka came up against the Mets, that’s when we felt like, ‘Hey, we have a chance to win this thing.'”

The 2018 division title marks the first time the organization clinched at home since securing its historic 14th consecutive division title.