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

The Atlanta Braves were already in a hole in the NL East before they got the kind 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 early in the week, and perhaps it was no surprise that they lost three of four to Washington before rebounding somewhat against lowly Oakland.

Atlanta is now 6 1/2 games behind Philadelphia in first place, and the Braves have a lot of work to do if they want to win a seventh consecutive NL East title.

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

All six divisions have at least a three-game lead at the top, with FanGraphs favoring the current first-place team to win each division. This is how these races take shape:

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

Current lead: 6 1/2 games vs. San Diego

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

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

Current lead: 3 games vs. Baltimore

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

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

Current lead: Seven games against St. Louis

The largest lead at the moment belongs to the Brewers, who have the most points in baseball after Philadelphia. Milwaukee lost manager Craig Counsell to the rival Cubs, but Chicago has lost nine of its last 11 and now trails 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 well-known players, but Ranger Suarez going 9-1 with a 1.70 ERA is a good example of the kind 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 is a bigger threat to the Mariners. Is it the injury-ravaged Rangers or the slow-starting Astros? FanGraphs gives Houston a better chance, but the Astros already have 7 1/2 games to make up against Seattle.

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

Current lead: 4 games vs. Kansas City

Could the much-maligned AL Central put three teams in the playoffs this year? Well, three of the game’s nine best records are in this division — a byproduct of the Chicago White Sox being 30 games under .500. The Guardians are averaging 5.05 runs per game in the American League, but FanGraphs considers this 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 batters.

The Yankees capped off an impressive road trip west with a 7-5 victory in 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. According to Baseball Savant, New York’s win probability was just 5.8% in the eighth.

The Washington Nationals, in 2017.

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