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Seattle Mariners catcher Jesus Sucre (2) blocks Atlanta Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella (7) from scoring a run during the third inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves: A voice of reason in the wilderness

It isn’t fun to be rational.

Quite honestly, a significant part of my consciousness wanted to launch into a Twitter rant fit for adults only after the Atlanta Braves dropped their eighth consecutive game on Wednesday evening. After all, the team had just gone winless during an entire West Coast swing, and it was the first time since 1949 (!) that the organization had finished a trip of that length without securing a victory. Then, I remembered.

The Braves are four games back in the National League East race, and this is baseball, where seemingly anything can happen.

This is, quite literally, the “rock bottom” scenario for a team with reasonably high expectations, but in the midst of the swoon, the division-leading Nationals (even with a win on Wednesday) have won only 6 of their last 14 contests. The numbers certainly indicate that Washington has been the better team this season with a run differential more than 70 runs better than that of Atlanta, but the Braves have absolutely owned the Nationals in head-to-head match-ups in recent history, and non-coincidentally, the two teams are set to meet for three games over the weekend in Atlanta.

On an individual basis, the offense has been woeful all season, and that is punctuated with a team-wide OPS of just .678 (11th in the National League) and just 426 total runs (13th in the NL). Only Evan Gattis (138 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR) and Justin Upton (139 wRC+, 3.0 fWAR) are having what can be described as “above-average” offensive seasons against their personal base line, and that brings some level of optimism that players like Andrelton Simmons (77 wRC+) or Chris Johnson (70 wRC+) could be in line for somewhat of a bounce back in the season’s final months.

Pitching-wise, this team has been lights-out in the rotation given the circumstances, but the staff has hit a wall this week (.844 OPS allowed over the last seven days), and Mike Minor has been a mess all season. Regardless of where you fall on the Mike Minor debate, he is, unquestionably, a better pitcher than he has displayed this season, and with studs like Alex Wood and Julio Teheran around and healthy, there is little to fear there. The bullpen? That may be an issue, but it’s only an issue in that it may not be the best relief corps in the major leagues, which is where the Braves have operated in the recent past.

Obviously, we could dive into much greater detail on a player-for-player basis (God bless Jason Heyward, by the way), but suffice it to say that the offense is the chief culprit for the swoon, and the pitching simply has been ordinary instead of extraordinary at an inopportune time. Is this a perfect roster? Absolutely not, but it is revisionist history to demonize Frank Wren for not pulling off a “big move” at the trade deadline (where is the big hole to fill?), and the stars have aligned for what has been a brutal and virtually unwatchable week-plus of baseball.

With 49 games left in the season and 9 against the division-leading Nationals, a four-game deficit isn’t minuscule, but it is exceedingly possible to close that gap. Hilariously, there is a real scenario (at least as I type this) that Atlanta could draw within a half-game of the division lead by Sunday evening, and when put into that context, the “jump off a bridge” mentality seems borderline hilarious.

I am a negative person, by nature, and it is explainable and totally within anyone’s rights to yell and scream after what has been an incredibly frustrating stint by the Atlanta Braves. Baseball can force emotions that cannot be matched by any other sport because of the day-to-day grind of it all, and when things go south, they go south. However, the Atlanta Braves are still in the thick of the race, and as evidenced by multiple champions in recent memory (ahem, the San Francisco Giants), anything is possible in the MLB playoffs, and in this case, it is also appropriate to be rational, even when it may appear to be apathetic.

Braves Country is restless, but everyone can breathe… at least for now.

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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