ST. LOUIS – The Braves Dansby Swanson shortstop, fresh out of a pre-game workout with third baseman Ron Washington, jumped onto the padded railing in front of the visitors’ dugout at Busch Stadium and smiled thinking about his club’s odd season.
“This game, right?” he said. “I mean, you can hit a lineman and come out, and you can break your bat and knock one down and get a hit. Funny how the game works.
By most accounts, this season has been a disaster for Atlanta. And yet, well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
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Ahead of the season, the Braves – fresh out of a race with less than a World Series game last season – were to fight for the NL’s best record and the NL’s place in the title streak at the end of October against the AL champion. This does not happen. They faced a cavalcade of injuries to the players who were supposed to help carry the club, and those who remained on the active roster faced inconsistencies.
“The point is, they were big chunks,” Swanson said. “It was Mike (Soroka); he was working to get back and couldn’t make it all the way back. Oso (Marcel Ozuna), Trav (Travis D’Arnaud) and obviously then (Ronald) Acuña. I felt like there was always something at the start, guys had to fight and fight through stuff.
So here they are just a few days into August, and not only are the Braves 14 games worse than the team with the best record in the NL (the Giants), but they haven’t even passed 0.500 this season. . The hapless Rangers (currently 39-68), Pirates (41-66) and Marlins (46-61) are the only other teams to make this rather dubious claim.
The Braves were 4-4, 12-12, 24-24, 29-29 and 44-44. They have played under .500 on 28 occasions, including after their victory in St. Louis on Tuesday, which left them 53-54 this season. Oh, and their victory on Tuesday made for 18 straight games of winning and losing, an incredible streak of constant inconsistency.
“It’s just hard to get started,” Swanson said. “There have been times when you feel like we’re going to break out, and the next day that just doesn’t happen.”
“We’re still here, aren’t we?” ” he said.
They certainly are. Even with a 53-54 record, they’re only 2 1/2 games away from a playoff spot because of, well, geography. They are in the East of NL, and the East of NL is not very good this year. If they were in the west of the NL, they would have 14 games back. In the NL Central, 10 1/2 games went out.
But these assumptions don’t matter. They’re in eastern NL, and they’re within striking distance of a playoff berth. The only thing that matters is the opportunity. And they wouldn’t even need a major miracle to rally for the division title and a place in the NLDS – skipping the winning NL Wild Card game which will almost certainly be played by two teams with better records than the NL Winner of the East.
What they would need couldn’t even be called a small miracle.
Let’s do some math. The Mets lead the NL East with a 55-51 record, a 0.519 winning percentage. That’s 84 wins for a full season. At this point in the season, with Jacob deGrom out until at least September, Francisco Lindor out for a while and several struggling regulars, it’s not as if the club are ready for a strong August that would increase this winning percentage. Even Steve Cohen, the new owner, knows things are not going well.
Keep me posted on the game. I’m going out to dinner with @sophiarosecohen . The game does not look good from a distance. We have to pull ourselves together soon.
– Steven Cohen (@ StevenACohen2) August 4, 2021
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the Mets’ act basically stays the same and they end with 85 wins, and the Phillies, who are 54-53, end with the same total.
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To reach 86 wins and claim the division title in this highly plausible scenario, the Braves would have to go 33-22. That’s a payout percentage of .600. They haven’t made it this year, but they’re not far from that pace lately. Even with their recent streak of seemingly endless W / L alternations, the Braves are 16-13 since June 29. An 18-11 record would be enough for a 0.621 winning percentage.
It’s just one more dying quail at the right time, one more rocket, one gork or a ground ball with eyes per week and, boom, they’re in the playoffs. No miracles were needed, just a little more consistency to save what had so far been a hell of a season for Atlanta.
This divisive opportunity is why, despite the under 500 record, the Braves were active ahead of the July 30 trade deadline, completely remaking an outfield devastated by losing Acuña to a torn ACL within days. before the star break. , and the loss of Ozuna to a finger injury (followed by domestic violence charges which are still under investigation by MLB).
The Braves traded to outfielder Joc Pederson on July 15, then added outfielders Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler – he scored on Tuesday – and Eddie Rosario just before the July 30 deadline. They also added reliever Richard Rodriguez in a deal with the Pirates.
“Every time you get new people and new faces, and obviously the high quality of the players that they are, it can bring a new spark of energy,” Swanson said. “We believe in this team a lot, and we’ve had it all year, it’s just finding consistency has been difficult. Obviously, part of this is due to injuries and things you can’t predict. This is the makeup of our team. We’ve been through things and we’re tough.
And, again, despite the inconsistencies, there are signs that something is brewing.
The lineup has wobbles and hiccups throughout, yes, but there is power. Four hitters in the current lineup have at least 20 home runs this season – Freddie Freeman (24), Austin Riley (22), Adam Duvall (22) and Swanson (20) – and Ozzie Albies is just behind at 17. Catcher Travis D ‘Arnaud, who beat .321 for the Braves in 2020 but only played 23 games this year before landing at IL, is on a rehab mission and is expected to be back soon.
And look at the pitching staff, who were all too often a mess early in the season. Starter Charlie Morton has a 2.73 ERA in his last nine outings. Drew Smyly has a 2.50 ERA in his last seven starts. Max Fried has a 3.36 ERA in his last 10 starts, including six shutouts in St. Louis on Tuesday. Rookie Kyle Muller has a 1.88 ERA in his six starts this season. And Ian Anderson, the hero of last year’s playoff rookie rotation, is set to begin his rehab mission on Thursday as he returns from a shoulder problem.
In a low season, things are finally improving. The opportunity strikes.
“We continue to introduce ourselves,” Swanson said. “We have faith that what has to happen will happen, and that’s why we never give up.”