LOS ANGELES — Regardless of how this season ends, the Atlanta Braves' July trade activity will be remembered as one of the more team-altering deadlines in franchise history.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos, whose team hadn't even crossed the .500 mark at any point of the year, went aggressive in July, acquiring six players: outfielder Joc Pederson, catcher Stephen Vogt, outfielder Eddie Rosario, outfielder Adam Duvall, outfielder Jorge Soler and reliever Richard Rodriguez.
Anthopoulos' reward? A team that found itself in August, not only soaring above .500 and into first place, but building a legitimate cushion in doing so. The Braves went from a possible cross-off in mid-July (following outfielder Ronald Acuna's season-ending injury) to division favorites within a few weeks.
And their GM's words on July 30 rang true: "There's no doubt we've had our challenges, that's probably a nice way to say it," Anthopoulos said minutes after the trade deadline passed. "But at the same time, every club has. The one fortunate thing for all of us in the NL East is that we're playing in the NL East in 2021. So that allows us all to stay in it and be competitive."
The Braves are more than just competitive now. They've lost only three times in their last 14 games, looking like the complete team they had previously struggled desperately to become.
Friday against the Giants was another one of those days when the new players flexed their skills. Duvall homered. Soler's three-run blast put the Braves ahead in the seventh. Pederson's spectacular catch at the wall registered the final out.
"Huge additions who have been coming through," Pederson said of his fellow trade acquisitions. "It's fun to win. This team already had a ton of talent. We're just doing everything we can to come together as a team and win ball games. There's so much talent here. Winning is fun. We're doing a good job with that right now. We have a good thing going."
Rosario can't be forgotten either. He had two hits in his first start Sunday, when the Braves secured a series win over the MLB-best Giants. It once again showed the Braves shifted from a club desperate for depth to one stocked with options. Manager Brian Snitker can mix and match his outfield as he chooses while relying on a remarkably consistent infield. Infielders Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley have missed a combined four games.
But the outfield needed fresh faces. It's hard to fathom where the Braves would be without their newcomers. They quite possibly could still be toiling in mediocrity, hanging closer to the Phillies and Mets instead of sitting above them, as the standings currently align.
The Braves embarked on a road trip Monday that is quite a bit more challenging than their last, when they went 9-0 in sweeping the Nationals, Marlins and Orioles. This time, they'll face the reigning champion Dodgers in Los Angeles and the Rockies, who are 43-22 at Coors Field.
Of course, even if the Braves have an underwhelming trip, it might not doom them. While they found life, the rest of the National League East stayed behind. The Phillies have embodied a middling team, though they've re-earned a winning record at 66-64. They're 4-1/2 games behind the Braves with a cupcake schedule remaining.
The Mets, meanwhile, completely tanked, going 2-11 in a 13-game stretch against the Dodgers and Giants to fall out of the race. In a month's time, they lost 13-1/2 games on the Braves. And with off-field drama taking over once again, the team that led the NL East for three months now looks destined for third place.
That said, the division race isn't over. The Phillies should remain within striking distance, and should the Braves stumble in the upcoming stretch, the race could go down to the wire. But if the Braves continue surging, fan interest will cautiously turn to the postseason, where the Braves will try to return to the NL Championship Series and perhaps win the pennant, as unlikely as that might seem.
If the current standings hold, the Braves would face the Brewers in the NL Division Series. Before doubting them against the sensational Brewers pitching, remember the success the Braves found against Milwaukee aces Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes when the Brewers were in Atlanta on trade-deadline weekend.
That's all looking a bit far ahead, but with the way the Braves have been playing, it might not be as far ahead as one might think. The trade deadline helped save the Braves' season. And while some might view a postseason berth alone as a success under these circumstances, the Braves will tell you: Anything can happen in October. And that this season has culminated with them being in the conversation is a credit to their mid-season transactions.
"We've dealt with a lot of injuries this year, and obviously losing Ronald, it's just really, really hard to make that up," Freeman said. "I applaud Alex for going out there and getting us some guys. Our lineup has lengthened tremendously since the trade deadline."