The Atlanta Braves are 3 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East and two games out of the second wild-card spot. Every game for the next three weeks will match them against a team that, as of today, is above .500. This comes after more than a calendar month in which the Braves didn’t play a opponent above .500.
Last week’s series in Los Angeles marked the Braves’ first against a winning team since June 20-22. As if on cue, the Braves got swept. Then they were swept in San Diego, which was terrible for much of the season but is playing well now. On Tuesday they’ll face Felix Hernandez, who’s among the two best pitchers — Clayton Kershaw, who just beat them, is the other — in baseball. This isn’t getting better, folks.
Not to say I told you so, but I sort of did. The Braves had an unbelievably soft schedule in July and could make little of it. Now they’re playing playoff-caliber teams, and the cold truth is that these Braves no longer appear of playoff caliber. They still can’t hit; the once-robust rotation is fraying (by this I mean Mike Minor), and the bullpen is buckling under the strain. The matchless Craig Kimbrel lost a game against Miami on two wild pitches and just lost one in San Diego on three walks and a single.
Worse, the Braves now wear the look of a frustrated team. On consecutive days they lost to the Padres after hitting into a 5-2-3 double play with the bases loaded. Jordan Schafer was picked off second base in L.A. and waived shortly thereafter; his roster replacement, the deadline acquisition Emilio Bonifacio, was doubled off second Saturday night. Andrelton Simmons tried to bunt home Evan Gattis, not in contention for the title of World’s Fastest Human, and was unavailing in the attempt; a day later Gattis was slow to break from second and couldn’t score on a double off the center-field fence.
On the Fourth of July, the Braves led their division by 1 1/2 games. They’ve since lost five games in the standings to the Nationals, who haven’t played all that well themselves. This being baseball, seasons can turn on a dime. The Braves still have time to right themselves. At issue is whether they have enough of a team to do it.