As the Atlanta Braves sought to rally from a two-run deficit in the ninth inning Tuesday against the one team expected to be worse than them, Joe Simpson opined that the players were still fighting despite all that has happened. And the Braves did halve their deficit on Freddie Freeman’s homer and then put the tying run aboard. Alas, they lost 3-2 to Philadelphia.
The still-trying Braves are 1-16 in games at Turner Field. For the sake of argument, let’s assume they’d stopped trying. How much worse would their record be? How much worse could it be?
The Braves are on pace to finish 37-125. That would be five losses worse than the worst team ever. The 1962 Mets were an expansion club. These Braves are not. Even as we stipulate that these Braves aren’t brimming with talent, we ask: Did the ’62 Mets — a grab bag of guys near the end of careers and others who wouldn’t have much of a career — boast a Freeman, a Julio Teheran, an Arodys Vizcaino, a Nick Markakis, an Ender Inciarte? (OK, so Inciarte was hurt. But the Braves are 0-6 in games he has played.)
Eleven of the Braves’ 24 losses — almost half — have come by one or two runs. Fifteen — more than half — have come by three runs or fewer. (Save-situation games, in other words.) If we assume that they’re trying and have been all along, how do we explain these past four losses?
The Diamondbacks arrived last weekend at 12-18. They’d lost six in a row. Their second-best player (A.J. Pollock) is expected to miss the season after breaking his elbow in spring training. Their best player (Paul Goldschmidt) had seen his batting average dip to .232. Goldschmidt went 1-for-10 in the series, the hit being a single. He had no RBIs. He walked five times, struck out five times. His team swept the Braves. Shelby Miller, who hadn’t beaten anybody this season, beat his former team.
The Phillies came to town four games above .500. Their starting lineup Tuesday included Freddy Galvis, who was hitting .231; Ryan Howard, who’s 36 and who was hitting .185, and Carlos Ruiz, the 37-year-old catcher who has become a backup.
Like the Braves, the Phillies are in deep rebuilding mode. Unlike the Braves, they entered grudgingly. They broke down and traded Cole Hamels and Chase Utley only last summer. They fired general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. last fall. (He’s now coaching first base for the Red Sox.) Under new management, they made a major winter move in sending setup man Ken Giles to the Astros for five prospects, chief among them Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, and Vince Velasquez.
Velasquez has been tremendous: He’s 4-1 with 44 strikeouts against 11 walks in 37 1/3 innings; his ERA is 2.17; his FIP (fielding independent pitching) is 2.75; his WHIP is 0.964. The Braves tried to pry him from Houston when they sent Evan Gattis there two offseasons ago. (They wound up with Mike Foltynewicz.)
If you’re asking if the Braves would love to have Velasquez, the answer is yes. If you’re asking how many other current Phillies they’d like to have, the answer is Makiel Franco, the 23-year-old third baseman. And that’s about it. Stem to stern, Philly’s roster appears no better than theirs. (And the Braves aren’t paying any single player $25 million this season, as the Phillies are Howard.) Indeed, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection had the Braves winning more games than the Phillies, if nobody else.
The Phillies are 19-14. They’re 1 1/2 games out of first place in a division that includes the Mets and the Nationals. They’re 11 games better than the Braves. Philadelphia has been outscored by 26 runs, which suggests this isn’t sustainable, but still: The Phillies are 12-3 in one-run games; their past seven victories have each been by one run.
(It should be noted that the Philies have a new-ish manager in Pete Mackanin, who took over last June after Ryne Sandberg quit. They’d been 26-48 (.351) under Sandberg. They were 37-51 (.420) under Mackanin. Same bad team, just with a somewhat better record. Sometimes a manager can make a difference, even with a substandard roster.)
The Phillies have maximized modest resources. What have the Braves done? Continued to “battle”? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do, seeing as how playing baseball is their job? They’ve been outscored by 64 runs. They’ve played 21 percent of their home schedule and won once. If this is “battling,” let’s hope we don’t see surrender.
Oh, and the starting pitcher the Braves faced Tuesday wasn’t Velasquez. (He’s set to start Thursday.) It was Adam Morgan. He’s from Marietta. He graduated from Kell. He started the season in Triple-A. He’d compiled an ERA of 6.00 in two big-league starts after being promoted. He worked seven innings against the Braves, yielding four hits and one run. The run scored on a double-play grounder.
Nobody is saying the Braves are even a mediocre team, but there’s a difference between being bad and 7-24 (1-16 at home). We’re four games into the homestand where the schedule was supposed to ease. The Braves haven’t won yet.
Further glad tidings: