More than two decades have passed since the New York Yankees won consecutive World Series titles between 1998 and 2000, so one might take the position that Major League Baseball is due to snap its drought of back-to-back champions sooner rather than later.
With the way Atlanta is playing right now, "destined" might even be the better D-word.
The defending World Series champs started slow with a 23-27 record through the first two months of the 2022 season. Then came a 14-game win streak to kick off June, and the good times basically haven't stopped, as they've won 62 of their last 86 games.
Though all this winning has yet to put Atlanta ahead of the New York Mets in the National League East, a six-game win streak resulted in the former finally securing a share of first place for the first time all season on Tuesday. Even if the division crown doesn't eventually land on Atlanta's head, the NL's top wild-card spot is there for the taking.
Accordingly, the chances of Brian Snitker's club making it two championships in a row are way up. FanGraphs put those chances at 6.3 percent on May 31. They're now 14.2 percent.
We could just wait to see how things play out in real life, but...come on, you know that's not how things work around here. It's time for a game of "Buy or Sell?" on Atlanta's prospects for a repeat, wherein nothing could possib-lie go wrong.
The Case for Buy
This section could simply read, "What part of MLB's best record since June 1 don't you understand?" But if we're really going to break it down, the home runs are the place to start.
The 142 long balls that Atlanta has hit since June 1 are by far the most of any NL team, besting the St. Louis Cardinals by 17. It's a performance reminiscent of the '21 squad, which finished only two home runs behind the San Francisco Giants for the top spot in the Senior Circuit.
As playoff omens go, this is about as good as it gets.
In the last seven postseasons, the team that won the home run battle in a given game also won the game itself 65 percent of the time. The '21 Atlanta team might as well be the poster boy for this phenomenon, as it out-homered the opposition in eight of its 11 playoff wins. It was largely a democratic affair, with eight different hitters going yard multiple times.
Which brings us to another good omen: Atlanta's recent dinger deluge has likewise been a democratic affair, with eight different hitters clubbing at least 10 home runs since June 1. Austin Riley and Matt Olson lead the way with 23 and 22, while NL Rookie of the Year front-runner Michael Harris II has clubbed 15.
Notably absent from that list are right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr., who's been slowed by pain in his surgically repaired right knee, and second baseman Ozzie Albies, who's been out since June 13 with a fractured foot. If healthy, both are huge-upside wild cards for the playoffs.
Yet even considering all this, whether Atlanta's offense is scarier than its pitching is debatable.
Their starters, in particular, boast a fourth-ranked 3.24 ERA and first-ranked 10.5 fWAR since June 1. Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Spencer Strider and Charlie Morton have been especially dynamite to the tune of a 2.88 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
This starting foursome marks an area where this year's team is perhaps superior to the '21 squad. Atlanta had just three viable starters throughout last year's postseason, and only two after Morton broke his leg in Game 1 of the World Series opposite the Houston Astros.
Ah, but does the '22 team have a late-inning relief corps as good as the famed "Night Shift?"
It just might, actually. A.J. Minter and newcomer Raisel Iglesias have mowed 'em down since the trade deadline, combining for a 0.63 ERA over 31 appearances. Kenley Jansen has been less reliable, but he's still a decorated closer who's no stranger to the October spotlight.
Indeed, experience is hardly exclusive to Jansen in Atlanta. Though Freddie Freeman is out of the picture and there are plentiful rookies and newcomers in the mix, many of the same players—not to mention the same manager—who got Atlanta through the 2021 playoffs are still around to guide the way through the 2022 playoffs.
The Case for Sell
The bats and arms are all well and good, but glovework is an area where Atlanta has arguably taken a step back in 2022. This is, at least to the extent that it's been less efficient at converting batted balls into outs:
Don't blame it on the transition from Freeman to Olson at first base. A more apparent issue is the undoing of Atlanta's shifting advantage. Compared to 2021, its infield shifts have become less frequent and less effective at turning line drives and ground balls into outs.
More broadly, this Atlanta team comes with an even bigger issue.
If it's true that you have to beat the best in order to be the best, then Snitker's guys might want to get on that. Whereas they have a 58-21 record and plus-146 run differential against losing teams, against fellow winners they're only 27-30 with a plus-10 run differential.
Granted, it's not unheard of for a team to post a losing record against winning teams in the regular season and go on to claim the Commissioner's Trophy anyway. Atlanta fans with keen minds for trivia might even be able to name the last team to do it: Their team just last year.
But given that this applies to only 13 out of 117 World Series winners, about-face runs like this are the exception, not the rule. Likewise, it's relevant that only one of those 13 exceptions (take a bow, 2014 San Francisco Giants) got the job done even though it had to survive an extra playoff round.
That's the kind of gauntlet Atlanta will be looking at if it doesn't secure a first-round bye from finishing first in the NL East. Though that's still very much possible, the odds are against it. Literally, if you ask FanGraphs. Also figuratively, in the sense that the Mets are also hot with 27 wins in their last 41 games and looking at a substantially easier remaining schedule.
Should the NL's third wild card be Atlanta's ticket to the playoffs, the team would have to begin its playoff run with a best-of-three series against a Padres club that it went 3-4 against this season. Should it survive that, the Mets would be waiting in the National League Division Series.
More specifically, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer would be waiting. They've faced Atlanta five times this season, going 4-1 with a 2.80 ERA and 49 strikeouts over 32.2 innings.
The Final Verdict
If what you're looking for is a full-on, no-nonsense declaration that Atlanta will make it two World Series titles in a row, well, sorry.
The team's inability to pick on teams its own size is just plain hard to overlook. History is working against them there, and even the obligatory comparison to last year's team doesn't work. That team went 11-9 against winning teams amid a 36-18 run to finish the year. Since this year's team got hot in June, it's 46-7 against losers and 16-17 against winners.
Then there's the matter of how Atlanta would face longer odds by default if it settles for a wild card. It would need to win 13 games in lieu of 11 to claim a second straight title, with potentially more than half of those having to come against the NL's toughest customers.
The deGrom/Scherzer duo is the best thing the Mets have going for them, while the Dodgers are a juggernaut that leads in MLB in both runs scored and runs allowed per game. They're also slated to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and it would indeed be a Capital-A Advantage on account of their 48-18 record at Dodger Stadium.
Yet if it's a question of where Atlanta ranks among this year's World Series favorites, FanGraphs seems to have it about right:
- Dodgers: 17.9 percent
- Mets: 15.3 percent
- Atlanta: 14.2 percent
- Astros: 14.0 percent
- Toronto Blue Jays: 7.0 percent
The Yankees would have had no business being outside MLB's top five World Series contenders back when they were 61-23 on July 8, but all they've done since then is put a compelling spin on the word "collapse."
The Astros, meanwhile, look like less than the sum of their parts with October looming. Their offense has been more good than great outside of two great months in June and July, and Justin Verlander's calf injury makes it fair to wonder how much gas the 39-year-old has left after Tommy John surgery sidelined him for basically two whole seasons.
This is to say that Atlanta is hardly in long shot territory. Heck, they're not even in stranger-things-have-happened territory.
Their World Series odds are more so in nobody-would-be-surprised territory, which is hardly a bad place for an aspiring repeat champion to be.