What a bizarre week of baseball for the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves made me question the team’s leadership during a four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, then on cue, they managed to sweep the Oakland Athletics. I honestly didn’t think the Braves would get through those seven games with a winning record, but the sweep put them 4-3 on the week.
Right now, the Braves are 6-9 in August. I’ve said in previous Magic Numbers articles that the team only has to play .500 baseball through the tough stretch of August to stay in the playoff hunt, and at the moment, they are three games back of that, but still in good shape with the back half of August boasting a simpler schedule than the first half.
The downside is that the Washington Nationals simply won’t roll over and die. As of Monday, the Braves are 6 games back of the Nationals, and 1.5 games back in the wild card race. Six teams in the NL are in the wild card hunt since they are within 5 games, and that does not count the teams that currently lead the three divisions. That means that almost 9 teams in the NL have a shot at the playoffs. Thanks Bud Selig, you jerk.
Personally, I still think the Braves have a great shot at the division, but the Nats are playing great baseball having won their last six in a row. I’m in the minority of that belief, but I think they are due for a tumble.
The Braves are about to play Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the New York Mets on a ten-game road trip. Then, they finish with the Marlins at home. The Pirates are playing the worst baseball they’ve played all year right now, having lost their last 5 games in a row, and 7 of their last 10 games. The Mets are only playing .500 baseball at home, and the Braves have a 7-6 record against them this season. Cincy is reeling right now having lost 7 of their last 10 and 2 in a row. The Marlins are winning right now, but they will be softened up at the end of a long road trip against the Angels and Rockies. All these teams are ripe for the picking, if (and a large IF at that) the Braves can score four runs a game at least.
Why is the four-run plateau important? Well, other than the fact it gives me warm fuzzies and is well above what the Braves normally score this season, the reason that four runs is so important for the Braves is wins. Since July 18th, when the Braves score four or more runs a game, they have a 9-3 record. That’s a 75% winning percentage when they actually put some offense together. I’d love to say that the pitching is what matters for this team, but it’s just not true right now. The pitching has to be good, no doubt. However, this team’s only limitation is their hitting. It’s becoming even more obvious down the stretch.
So what about the Nats? Why are they due for a falloff? They are about to play games against Arizona, San Fransisco, Philly, and Seattle. Big deal, right? Well Arizona’s pretty terrible, so they will probably take 3 of 4 there. The rest of those games? San Fran is very much in the wild card hunt and they will be playing the Nats tooth and nail. The Nats play Philly on the road, and Washington is a very average road team at 32-29. After that, they get Seattle on the road, and that is a team who is playing their best baseball in the second half.
Realistically, I think they are looking at 6-7 wins in that 13 game stretch. If the Braves can win 8 of their next 13 games, they will finish August at .500 and could find that lead down to just 4-5 games.
Anything less than a six-game deficit going into the final month of baseball is manageable in my mind, especially considering that the Braves play six more games head-to-head with the Nationals. For those of you that have given up, I bet the sweep brought you back into the fold. For those of you that think the division is impossible, there are still 38 games left. The Braves only have to pick up a game in the standings every 6 games or so. It’s not impossible by any means. Still, the key is going to be scoring.
Make sure to tune in for the series with the Pittsburgh Pirates this week, as the Atlanta Braves will be looking to push them further down in the wild card standings. They must take advantage of the struggling Pirates if they want to get off on the right foot in either the division or the wild card. Don’t miss it!
Tags: Atlanta Braves