On Friday night in Baltimore, Atlanta Braves starter Max Fried shut out the Orioles on 90 pitches as his Braves cruised to a 3-0 win.

A performance like that is called a Maddux, a shutout pitched so masterfully that it takes fewer than 100 pitches, so named for the former Braves starter, Greg. It was the first Maddux thrown on 90 pitches or fewer by an Atlanta pitcher since the man himself did it more than 20 years ago. The whole thing took all of 2 hours 29 minutes, a quick and easy win for the National League East leaders — the only team in this division making anything look easy these days.

A few hours later, in San Diego, the second-place Philadelphia Phillies gritted their teeth through a perilous 4-3 win over the Padres, a must-have game after they recently fell apart against the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks and were swept in Phoenix.

The third-place Mets winced through a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, their seventh loss in their past eight games. The Mets fell below .500 for the first time since May 5 on Tuesday night. On Friday, they fell two games below — six back of the Braves with 40 games to play.

“We’re honest with ourselves. We’re not living in a fantasyland where we think everything is great, like the standings aren’t there,” Mets outfielder Michael Conforto told reporters Friday night. “We’re very aware of that. But we’re going to stay confident.”

When the Miami Marlins and the Washington Nationals sold at the trade deadline, the NL East suddenly looked like the most forgiving division in baseball, a place where even the dust storm that is the Mets could find a way to finish strong, a place where even the long-frustrated Phillies might muster up some magic.

Instead it is the Braves — who lost a would-be ace to a second straight devastating injury and are without another star following an arrest for domestic violence — who appear to be in control of that division. Atlanta entered Saturday’s games with six fewer wins than any other division leader in baseball; its 66-56 record would not earn it even the second wild-card spot in the NL if the season ended today.

After Fried’s Friday night gem, the Braves have a .541 winning percentage and are on pace for 87 wins. In 2019, the last 162-game season before the coronavirus pandemic, only the Milwaukee Brewers, the NL’s second wild-card team, made the playoffs with fewer than 90 wins. Not counting the shortened 2020 season, the last team to win a division with fewer than 90 wins was the 2015 Texas Rangers. No NL team has won a division with fewer than 90 wins since the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers.

But the Braves are also 14-3 in August and showing no signs of slowing. What once looked likely to be the NL’s most competitive division has parted at their feet. The Braves, who did not have a winning record until two weeks ago, are standing tall amid the rubble.

For example, as the Mets moved Jacob deGrom to the 60-day disabled list and the Phillies tried to recover from their embarrassing week in Arizona, the Braves spent Friday afternoon announcing a two-year extension for catcher Travis d’Arnaud. He was behind the plate Friday night and homered, too.

Overall, d’Arnaud is hitting .236 with a .699 on-base plus slugging. But in a Zoom call with reporters Friday, Atlanta General Manager Alex Anthopoulos talked more about d’Arnaud’s positive clubhouse impact than his on-field performance. Anthopoulos, who spent time in the front offices of the Expos and Blue Jays, said he had seen a lot of teams lose a lot of games over the years, and the lesson he learned was that clubhouse stalwarts help fend off disaster.

“I especially think the key element is when things aren’t going well, that’s when they end up showing up. You can have a lot of talent, still win games. But you’re going to hit a bump,” Anthopoulos told reporters on that call. “And when it’s a strong group, the roof and the floor doesn’t cave in. It kind of stays together.”

Staying together — or in NL East terms, not completely and utterly falling apart — may be all the Braves need to do to secure a division that they seemed equipped to win when the season began but hardly ever since.

They lost outfielder Marcell Ozuna after he was arrested on domestic assault and battery charges in May. They lost promising starter Mike Soroka when he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon for the second straight season in June. Then they lost one of the most exciting and productive players in baseball when Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his ACL and ended his season just before the all-star break. Over and over, the Braves had reason to believe they were done for. At one point, they won, then lost, alternating through 17 straight games. They have yet to disintegrate.

And while the Phillies and Mets made moves at the deadline, neither emerged with enough pitching reinforcements to steady themselves completely. The Braves, meanwhile, secured one of the more promising young relievers available in former Pirates right-hander Richard Rodriguez. After adding Joc Pederson after the Acuña injury, they traded for still-injured outfielder Eddie Rosario and former Royals outfielder Jorge Soler, who also homered Friday night.

But at the heart of the Braves’ turnaround is the heart of the Braves, Freddie Freeman — the steady, friendly first baseman who has become the beloved face of this Braves generation. On June 1, Freeman was hitting .230 with an .814 OPS. By Friday night, he was at an even .300, and his OPS had jumped to .916.

Since August began, Freeman is hitting .364 with a 1.023 OPS. When August began, the Braves were in third place and four games back in the NL East. They are now in first place with a four-game lead.

“It’s crazy how the tables can turn so quick,” d’Arnaud said Friday. With a four-game lead and 40 games to go, he and his teammates are now trying to make sure the chaos endemic to their division doesn’t flip those tables again before October.