Division won, Braves hungry for repeat championship

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MIAMI — Now that the Braves have secured a fifth consecutive National League East title, they will set their sights on attempting to become the first team to win consecutive World Series titles since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000.

“It’s the ultimate goal,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “At the end of the day, winning a division title is just the checkbox to ultimately get to that. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

By winning the NL East and securing the No. 2 seed, the Braves avoid having to play in the Wild Card Series this weekend. Snitker plans to let his players rest until at least Saturday. The team will begin its NL Division Series on Tuesday, when it will host the winner of a Wild Card Series that will pit the NL Central champion Cardinals against the No. 6-seeded Phillies.

“These guys post, they come to play every day,” Snitker said. “I’m just so glad they’ll get a chance to relax a little bit now.”

Getting a chance to rest may prove quite beneficial to the Braves, who know how much stamina it takes to stay strong throughout the postseason. The run that carried them to last year’s World Series title should prove beneficial as they navigate their way through baseball’s most rewarding and stressful stretch.

“I think a lot of teams would just be complacent after winning last year,” Braves reliever A.J. Minter said. “With us, it’s the complete opposite. I think we’re even more hungry to win another one, and we have the team to do it. We have a way better team than last year, in my opinion. We’re more experienced and we have more depth, and we’re just overall better.”

Before the 2000 Yankees, the 1992-93 Blue Jays had been the most recent team to win consecutive World Series titles. Beyond those years, you have to go back to the ’77-78 Yankees to find the next-most-recent team to claim two straight titles. How long ago was that? Bobby Cox was the Yanks’ first-base coach in ’77, and he didn’t become a big league manager in Atlanta until the following year.

It’s not easy to repeat, but there is reason to believe this year’s 101-win Braves are better than the 88-win club that won last year’s World Series. The rotation is deeper, and it will look even more formidable if Spencer Strider’s left oblique allows him to return within the next week or two. Charlie Morton, who made two Game 1 starts during last year’s postseason, could be the No. 4 starter if Strider is healthy.

Some critics were ready to dismiss the Braves’ repeat bid when they finished May with a 23-27 mark. But they have played at a 114-win pace since June 1, and they benefited from a midseason influx of homegrown talent. It was no coincidence that Atlanta’s rise began during the week that followed Michael Harris II’s promotion to the Majors and Strider’s transition from reliever to starter. Both have been as impactful as any Braves rookie since Chipper Jones in 1995.

As for Riley and Swanson, they produced MVP-caliber seasons, while Max Fried and Kyle Wright constructed Cy Young Award resumes. This is a team that has star power, experience, depth and a desire to become one of the few teams to repeat as World Series champs.

“Winning is winning, and winning at the highest level, there’s nothing that can replace that,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “It’s amazing to put yourself in a position to be successful. We’ve done that all year.”

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