The Atlanta Braves, who clinched their fifth straight National League East title by winning the penultimate game of the season, referred to a closed-door meeting called by manager Brian Snitker for turning the season around.
The Braves, who finish the regular season on Wednesday against the host Miami Marlins, were 10 1/2 games behind the New York Mets on June 1 when Snitker had a heart-to-heart talk with the club in Arizona.
“We were playing hard, but we weren’t playing smart,” Snitker said. “I said, ‘Boys, we’ve worked really hard over the years to set this bar really high.’
“We just had to play our brand of baseball and we were a fundamentally sound, good team. We weren’t playing like that. We were shooting ourselves in the foot too much and we just had to refocus on everything as a whole.”
The Braves responded by winning 78 of their next 111 games — a .703 winning percentage. They swept a three-game series against the Mets over the weekend to move into first place and clinched the division with an uneasy 2-1 win over Miami on Tuesday.
“Snit’s always kept that even keel,” Atlanta pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. “He’s always been that guy, that everything’s OK. All he had to do was have a little meeting in Arizona and all of a sudden, we caught fire. It’s absolutely incredible.”
The Marlins kept the Braves’ celebration on hold by shutting out Atlanta 4-0 on Monday, then made the Braves work hard in the clinching win.
“We tried to throw our best guys out there (Tuesday) to extend this thing and just make it as tough as we could on them,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. “At the end of the day, we were able to get out of some jams and keep the game close and give ourselves a chance. We just weren’t able to get that last little piece.”
The Marlins will start Elieser Hernandez (3-6, 6.33 ERA) in the finale, the last contest that Mattingly will manage before he steps down.
Hernandez spent September with Triple-A Jacksonville before he called up on Monday.
“We may have gone a different route depending on how (Tuesday) came out, but I think he’s had seven days since his last start,” Mattingly said. “He threw over 100 pitches the last time out, so he seems like the guy. Our bullpen is actually kind of beat up. We’ve used guys hard the last week or so.”
Hernandez is 1-4 with a 3.80 ERA in 15 career games (eight starts) vs. Atlanta, including an 0-3 mark with a 6.89 ERA in five games (three starts) this year.
The Braves had not announced their starter. They could use rookie Kyle Muller (1-1, 8.03 ERA) or go with a bullpen game. Muller started Sept. 27 against the Washington Nationals and pitched well, giving up two runs in 4 2/3 innings during an 8-2 Atlanta win.
The Braves won their 22nd division championship, the most in the major leagues, and will enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the National League. Atlanta earned a first-round bye and will play a best-of-five NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals or the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Five (division titles) in a row, from what we went through this year, the mountain we had to climb … and now these guys are standing on top of it,” Snitker said. “That’s pretty cool.”
–Field Level Media