Atlanta Braves Magic Numbers: Week 23


Hello again, constant readers. Last week I took a bit of a hiatus due to the holiday, and also because I had very little nice things to say about this Atlanta Braves team. My mama always told me if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything. That makes being an opinion-maker for a blog tough at times, because the Braves have been all over the place this month so far. Let’s dig in with some good, bad, and ugly as we cruise through the final month.

The Good:

  1. The Braves are still in a playoff hunt – Despite going 5-5 in their last 10, and 2-4 in the month of September, the Braves still are only .5 games back in the Wild Card. It’s a miracle.
  2. Five relievers have a 0.00 ERA in September – David Carpenter, Luis Avilan, Craig Kimbrel, Chasen Shreve, and David Hale all haven’t allowed a run this month.
  3. Mike Minor is suddenly functional – I don’t need Minor to be great down the stretch. I need him to not give up more than 3 runs a game. He’s done that, and in some cases much more.
  4. Freddie Freeman woke up – Freddie isn’t going gangbusters in September yet, but his slugging is up, and as a result he’s over .800 OPS on the month so far.

The Bad:

  1. The Braves haven’t won a series yet this month – Given the chance to beat both the Phillies and the Marlins, two teams with no playoff aspirations, the Braves went 1-2 in each series.
  2. Only Jason Heyward is hitting over .250 – The rest of the Braves in these last two series of September can’t find the ball.
  3. Alex Wood has more RBIs than Evan Gattis – Evan has one solo homer, but he’s not been able to drive in runs effectively as the Braves strive to make the playoffs.

The Ugly:

  1. Tommy La Stella can’t hit right now – TLS as he’s known on Twitter needs to send out an SOS. Tommy hit .193 in August. He’s hitting .077 in September. I don’t think the Braves can rely on him down the stretch given the magnitude of each remaining game.
  2. Chris Johnson is lost out there – Chris had an OPS of .627 in August, and right now it’s .289 in September. Anything under .700 for a hitter is bad. Anything below .600 is an abject disaster. A below .300 OPS is so bad over two series, that I wonder if he’s a zombie. I don’t care about small sample sizes in September, you can’t go into 1-15 hitting slumps when it matters.
  3. Fredi Gonzalez thinks Ryan Doumit can hit – Doumit has exactly 3 hits in 23 ABs since the beginning of August. That’s a .130 average. Yet, given opportunities, Fredi is still putting him out to pinch hit, and he actually started Doumit in a game at one point.
  4. The Braves can’t score since the All-Star break – Since the break, the Braves have scored 166 runs, tied with Texas for the 2nd to last spot in the MLB. Only the Cincinatti Reds are worse. Those same Reds that blew every chance they have at the playoffs, and now find themselves 7.5 games back in the Wild card race.
  5. I had to struggle to find good things – The worst part about writing this is that I had to press to find good offensive things to talk about with this team. They aren’t making it easy on us here down the stretch.

If I’m taking the pulse of the fanbase right now, I don’t think a majority expects the Braves to win the Wild Card game if they happen to get there. I’m not even sure a majority believes this team will make the playoffs at all. I’ve seen several comments over the past few days that look like this: “I hope this doesn’t even make the playoffs if they are going to play like this.” That’s the sentiment out there in a lot of quarters. And the worst part is that I understand where they are coming from.

Do I believe this team can make the playoffs? Absolutely, they are less than a half game back. No matter how bad it gets, that’s the only thing that matters to me right now. I never panic with a lead, and I certainly don’t panic when we’re within a game, and the Pirates are still on the schedule. Do they have to play better? You bet they do. No team can survive the final month of the season scoring an average of 2.33 runs a game. That’s what the Braves have done so far in September.

So what has to turn around? Evan Gattis has to make an impact with the bat. Freddie Freeman can’t strike out with RISP and less than two outs. Justin Upton needs to get the home run stroke going. Andrelton Simmons needs to quit swinging out of his shoes and try to make functional contact with the baseball. BJ Upton needs to play less. Christian Bethancourt needs to play more. Somebody playing second base needs to hit the ball. I don’t care who it as at this point, just fix it.

Does that seem like a lot of stuff? It seems like a lot to me. I’m not in the business of bringing people down about the team, but I do recognize that the Braves don’t look like a playoff contender in September. What’s frustrating is that I’ve seen them look like one in other months. When they are hitting homers and moving runners, they win. When they don’t, they lose. I’ve never thought a baseball team like the Braves would be this offensively dependent, regardless of their pitching, but this team is just that.

The next nine games are six with the Nationals and three with the Rangers. The Braves have owned the Nationals, and Texas can’t score as I outlined in the Ugly section. On paper, it seems like the type of schedule where the Braves could theoretically go on a run. The question is can they hit? Can they actually put forth the effort and the collective willpower to function as a team offense? Perhaps dressing up the rookies in ridiculous costumes will help, because they tried that on the plane ride home from Miami.

Either way, they can’t afford to lose any ground in the wild card this week. So go take care of business, Braves. Time is running out.