With their rebuilding effort paying off sooner than anticipated, the Atlanta Braves clinched their first National League East title since 2013 with a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies Saturday.
This will be Atlanta's first trip to the postseason since 2013, which was also the last time the franchise posted a winning record.
The past four seasons of player development at the MLB level and in the minors paid off huge for the Braves in 2018.
Coming into the year, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system (h/t Talking Chop's Kris Willis) had the Braves pegged as a 76-86 team. The offense was projected to score the second-fewest runs in the NL East (704) and allow 757 runs.
Instead, the Braves entered Saturday ranked second in the NL with 733 runs scored and sixth with a cumulative 3.80 ERA.
Rookie sensation Ronald Acuna Jr. leads the team with 26 homers and a .564 slugging percentage. Ozzie Albies was named to the National League All-Star team in July and has 23 homers at the age of 21.
FanGraphs' Jay Jaffe noted in August that Acuna was getting better as the season moved along:
"Before the All-Star break, he hit .249/.304/.438 for a 99 wRC+ with a 6.5% walk rate and a 30.4% strikeout rate; since then, he's hit .344/.410/.767 for a 210 wRC+—he's fourth in the majors in the last two of those numbers since the break—with a 9.0% walk rate and 25.0% strikeout rate. His K-BB% has dropped from 23.9% to 16.0%, his outside-the-zone swing rate from 32.2% to 24.4%, and his swinging strike rate from 12.4% to 9.9%."
The Braves' mix of young talent with established veterans, like Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, turned out to be a winning formula that has the franchise thinking of sustained success for years into the future.
Even as the Braves' long-term potential looks to be high, their sights are set on winning a World Series in 2018. This group has defied expectations all year, so the other NL playoff teams must be on their games if they want to keep up with them.