The Atlanta Braves and Oakland Athletics each clinched division titles on Sunday, with the Braves winning the NL East for the first time since 2005 and the Athletics winning the AL West in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2002 and 2003.
Each clinched a division title when another team in their division lost and each has an 8 1/2 game lead in the standings. The two have almost identical records. But those aren't their only common bonds.
How they Won
The Braves won on the strength of a pitching staff that ranks first in the majors in ERA (3.19). As good as Atlanta’s bullpen was last season, it was even better this season, with a major-league best 2.46 ERA. The names of the pitchers who come in before closer Craig Kimbrel are different than in previous seasons, but Kimbrel has been his usual lights-out self. He can be the first pitcher to lead the NL in saves in three straight seasons since Hall-of-Famer Bruce Sutter (1979 to 1982).
Similarly, the Athletics got great pitching all year as well. Their 3.59 ERA ranks second best in the American League, trailing only the Kansas City Royals. Oakland's pitchers also rank in the top five in both WHIP and opponents' OPS.
The Braves got the breakthrough season they’d been hoping for from Freddie Freeman, who has been the team’s top run producer (after Justin Upton’s red-hot April).
FreemanWith the retirement of Chipper Jones, the Braves were in need of a player who could be a slashline superstar. Freeman has been one, hitting .314 with a .392 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage, a combination of numbers that Jones reached six times during his career.
Freeman has been clutch all season. He’s hitting .435 and has an OPS of 1.231 with runners in scoring position, both of which ranked second-best in the majors’ (the former to Allen Craig, the latter to Miguel Cabrera).
The Athletics got a surprising breakthrough season from third baseman Josh Donaldson, whose slashline numbers are coincidentally almost identical to Freeman’s (.306/.388/.511). Donaldson currently ranks second in the major leagues in wins above replacement (8.1), trailing only Mike Trout.
As we noted recently, Donaldson’s strength is that he does everything well. He ranks third among American League third basemen with 12 Defensive Runs Saved.
MossEvan Gattis has had an amazing run of big home runs for the Braves in his first year in the majors. He has seven home runs that have either tied the game or given his team the lead in the seventh inning or later, one shy of Paul Goldschmidt for the major-league lead.
Brandon Moss hasn’t been quite that good, but he’s had a penchant for notable home runs. He has four homers to tie or put the Athletics ahead in the seventh inning or later, the most on the team and two shy of the AL lead.
Circle These Games
The Braves established very early in the season that this would be a special year. They developed an identity for being a team that would win games late (as we noted with Gattis). The best of those was on April 6 when B.J. Upton hit a game-tying homer against Chicago Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol and Justin Upton hit a walk-off homer two batters later.
The best wins for the Athletics have been the games that took the longest. They rallied from 6-1 down to beat the Angels in 19 innings on April 29 on Moss’ walk-off home run and beat the Yankees on June 13 on Nate Freiman’s 18th-inning walk-off hit against Mariano Rivera.
Stats of the Day
The Braves have won 12 division titles in the Wild Card era. The only team with more is the Yankees (13). No other team has more than seven.
The Athletics have won 187 games since the start of last season. That is the most wins in the majors in that span.