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Resetting the division races: Acuña’s injury, Phillies’ fast start puts Braves’ streak in jeopardy

 The Associated Press  |    Jun 3rd, 2024 6:09am EDT

The Atlanta Braves were already in a bit of a hole in the NL East before they got the type of news every team dreads — a season-ending injury to their top player.

The torn anterior cruciate ligament in Ronald Acuña Jr.’s knee left the Braves reeling at the beginning of the week, and perhaps it was no surprise that they lost three of four to Washington before rebounding a bit against lowly Oakland.

Atlanta now trails first-place Philadelphia by 6 1/2 games, and the Braves have their work cut out for them if they’re going to win a seventh consecutive NL East title.

Atlanta is still in good shape to make the playoffs — there are six postseason spots in the National League and only five teams above .500 at the moment — but losing Acuña is a major blow to a team that already had right-hander Spencer Strider go down with his own season-ending injury. The situation would be easier to manage if the Phillies hadn’t opened a substantial lead already, but at 41-19 Philadelphia has the best record in the NL.

All six divisions have at least a three-game gap at the top, with FanGraphs favoring the current first-place team to win each. Here’s how those races are shaping up:


Favorite: Los Angeles Dodgers (93% chance to win division, according to FanGraphs )

Current lead: 6 1/2 games over San Diego

No shock here. Los Angeles was loaded coming into the season, and Shohei Ohtani has delivered in his debut season for the Dodgers despite not being able to pitch. After trading Juan Soto, the Padres are still solidly in the mix for the postseason, but catching Los Angeles is a different type of challenge.


Favorite: New York Yankees (78% chance to win division)

Current lead: 3 games over Baltimore

It’s a little surprising that FanGraphs has the Yankees as such a big favorite, but New York has the best record in baseball and is showing little sign of slowing down. Soto and Aaron Judge have each played like an MVP candidate and the pitching has been stellar despite the absence of Gerrit Cole. What’s remarkable is that the Yankees and Orioles have opened so much distance on the rest of this division already.


Favorite: Milwaukee Brewers (71% chance to win division)

Current lead: 7 games over St. Louis

The biggest lead right now belongs to the Brewers, who have the second-most runs in baseball behind Philadelphia. Milwaukee lost manager Craig Counsell to the rival Cubs, but Chicago has lost nine of its last 11 and is now behind the Cardinals in third place.


Favorite: Philadelphia Phillies (66% chance to win division)

Current lead: 6 1/2 games over Atlanta

The Phillies have combined their excellent offense with a pitching staff that ranks second in the majors in ERA. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola were known commodities, but Ranger Suarez going 9-1 with a 1.70 ERA is a good example of the type of season it has been in Philly.


Favorite: Seattle Mariners (65% chance to win division)

Current lead: 4 games over Texas

This is the only division besides the NL Central that has only one team above .500, and the big question is who poses a bigger threat to the Mariners. Is it the injury-riddled Rangers or the slow-starting Astros? FanGraphs gives Houston a better shot, but the Astros already have 7 1/2 games to make up on Seattle.

AL Central

Favorite: Cleveland Guardians (47% chance to win division)

Current lead: 4 games over Kansas City

Could the often-maligned AL Central put three teams in the playoffs this year? Well, three of the game’s top nine records reside in this division — a byproduct of the fact the Chicago White Sox are already 30 games under .500. The Guardians are averaging an American League-best 5.05 runs per game, but FanGraphs views this as a legitimate three-team race.


Who is the last team besides the Braves to win the NL East?


Detroit’s Jack Flaherty allowed one hit in 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 5-0 win over Boston on Thursday night. He struck out nine.


The Yankees capped an impressive road trip out west with a 7-5 victory at San Francisco on Sunday. New York trailed 5-3 before scoring four runs in the top of the ninth, with Soto’s two-run homer putting the Yankees ahead. New York’s win probability was as low as 5.8% in the eighth, according to Baseball Savant.


The Washington Nationals, in 2017.


AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

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The Associated Press