Just after Memorial Day, we noted that the Atlanta Braves’ schedule over the next month-plus would be most testing. Our conclusion: “If the Braves are still at .500 on the Fourth of July, there should be a parade down Peachtree.”
The Braves weren’t at .500 on the Fourth, but they were darn close. They beat Philadelphia that night, which made them 40-41 at the season’s actual midpoint. For those among us who believed these Braves might lose 100 games, seeing them on pace to finish 80-82 came as a major surprise.
To say the Braves have been tearing up the proverbial pea patch would be incorrect: From May 25 through June 28, they won one of 10 — or 11, depending how you count the home-and-home against Boston — series. On June 30, they were five games below .500, marking a nadir. Then they won four straight, which is the story of the season.
The Braves haven’t been good enough to make us believe they’re capable of anything great. They’re 22nd in the majors in runs scored — losing Freddie Freeman has taken its toll — and 17th in ERA. The pitching has begun to stabilize, even the much-derided bullpen. (Once the worst in baseball, this relief corps has risen to being only fourth-worst.)
If we go by the “expected” win total — a function of run differential; the Braves have been outscored by 27 runs over 82 games — this team should be 38-44. That it’s two games better than that should serve as a rejoinder to those who blame everything on Fredi Gonzalez.
Glass-half-full: The schedule has eased. The Braves come off a three-game set with Philadelphia, the worst team in baseball, to embark on a road swing against Milwaukee, the worst team in the NL Central, and Colorado, the worst in the NL West. There’s a real chance the Braves could hit the All-Star break above .500.
Glass-half-empty: Beyond the break, the Braves will play the Cubs, then the Dodgers, then the Cardinals. Bobby Cox used to say that if a team’s around .500 at the break, anything can happen, but both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs assess the Braves’ playoff odds at 2.5 percent. Only five teams in baseball — the Marlins, the Phillies, the Reds, the Brewers and the Rockies — are given less of a chance to play beyond the 162nd game.
If you believed this season was essentially a dry run for 2017, you have to be relieved that the in-flux Braves have been this competitive. (In flux? After Sunday’s loss, they reconfigured their bullpen yet again.) If you were hoping that a roster that resembles a departure lounge might pull the biggest Braves’ shocker since the worst-to-first of 1991, you’re probably wishing on a falling star. Then again …
After 82 games, the ’91 Braves were in third place, seven games behind the Dodgers and 1 1/2 back of the second-place Reds. After 82 games, these Braves were in third place, six games behind the Nationals and 1 1/2 back of the second-place Mets. Just sayin’.