The Atlanta Braves have been the hottest team in baseball during the 2023 season. In fact, they've been the best team in baseball this season. They currently still have the best record in all of MLB at 97-55. From top to bottom, they have a star-studded starting lineup that has achieved team and individual records throughout the season. They have two potential MVP candidates in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson. Those two sluggers, along with guys like Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, and a resurgent Marcell Ozuna, are reasons why the Braves are also leading the league in home runs by a mile and are on pace for the single-season record for a team.
But who can forget that pitching, with guys like Spencer Strider, the flamethrowing potential Cy Young candidate who leads the league in strikeouts. Not to mention veteran Charlie Morton and surprising Bryce Elder, who helped the Braves get through most of the season while Max Fried and Kyle Wright were out for months with injuries.
With a team like this, who has been as dominant as they have been most of the season, is there still cause for worry in the MLB playoffs? The Braves' recent play in September is becoming obvious that there are some concerns where certain seeding and scenarios in the playoffs could be an issue for them returning to the World Series.
The Braves need to avoid the Phillies
On September 13, the Braves captured their sixth consecutive NL East title and their 23rd overall division title going all the way back to their days in the NL West. The Braves did this right in the middle of Citizens-Bank Ballpark amongst a crowd of upset Philadelphia Phillies fans. A roar of boos emerged quickly and ferociously as guys like Acuña gloated right in front of them. Even Brian Snitker was caught coming up to his lead-off hitter in the middle of celebration and said to him, “You're going to get to play in the World Series this year.” A bold and daring statement from the Braves' skipper that I'm not sure was meant to get out. But it did.
Acuña and Snitker probably remember last year when the Phillies upset them in NLDS. Atlanta had just had a remarkable comeback over the New York Mets to take the division in the last week of the season. Meanwhile, the Phillies snuck into the postseason by getting red-hot at the right time — seemingly the perfect chemical formula needed to succeed in the postseason — beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card series and then took it to the Braves right after in the divisional series.
They beat the Braves 3-1 and outscored them 24-13 in the series. That series was two teams on two different trajectories. The Braves were coming off a season the year prior where they found their own perfect chemical formula by getting hot at the right time. Winning only 88 games in the regular season, they ended up winning the World Series. When they faced the Phillies in the 2022 postseason, they were gassed. Along with their postseason run, they'd chased the Mets all season until nearly the very end to take back their division. That was the Braves' season in 2022. The Phillies made beating the Braves their season and later moved on and made it to the World Series, although losing to the Houston Astros in the end.
When the Braves secured their division title and playoff berth by taking three out of four over the Phillies earlier this month, there's since been a hangover. Atlanta has lost five out of their last six games and is 9-19 in the month of September. The Braves are picking a bad time of the year to play their worst baseball.
The Phillies matchup best with the Braves
Being in the same division, the Phillies have a clear advantage over other teams the Braves could face. They've faced each other 13 times this season, with the Braves winning the series, 8-5. Even though the Braves also have the best record against them by a game this month, Philadelphia has proven they can go toe-to-toe with the league's best.
The Phillies have had their moments of struggles offensively this season, but have since started coming to life. Just against the Braves in September, Atlanta barely outscored them, 41-38. Their superstar studs, like Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Nick Castellanos, and others, are starting to catch fire. Those are guys, including even Kyle Schwarber and Alec Bohm, that can match the Braves' slugging power. Add that on top of the Braves' recent pitching struggles from starting pitching and their bullpen, and this is a matchup the Braves will probably hope to avoid.
The Braves need to avoid the Dodgers
Should the Braves get past the NLDS and a potential matchup with the Phillies, depending on the seeding, Atlanta's next worry would be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who look to be the No. 2 seed currently. The Braves have had horrible luck with the Dodgers in not just the postseason but the regular season. Until this season, the Braves hadn't won a season series over the Dodgers since 2013. That's mainly because they could never beat the Dodgers in LA. The Braves took three out of four this year.
But when it's mattered most is when Atlanta has really faltered against the Dodgers. The Braves and Dodgers have met five times in the postseason with the Dodgers winning three out of five series overall. The most recent of these being the Dodgers' 2018 NLDS victory and then the unforgettable 2020 NLCS victory where the Braves blew a 3-0 lead. However, the Braves the next year came back and beat the Dodgers in six games to win the NL pennant.
The Dodgers are yet another high-powered offense with Mookie Betts and former Brave Freddie Freeman that the Braves will want to avoid. The addition of Freeman to the Dodgers is just another reason for the Braves to avoid this matchup, where most likely the former MVP will be looking to put on a show in front of his former team.