Serious (and shocking) question: Are the Braves a playoff team?

All they do is win. How’d that happen? (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

I can’t say this crept up on me. I watch the standings, same as you. But I have, I confess, been expecting those standings to change and reveal what I, and maybe you, were expecting — for the schedule to catch up to the Braves and for them to go south, figuratively speaking. (Geographically, they’ve been South since 1966.)

But looky here. The Braves got blown out in two games by the Astros, at which point I/you said, “OK, here it comes.” Then they split a series in D.C. Then they swept the Diamondbacks. They’re 5-4 against the part of the schedule that was supposed to make them full-blown sellers before Aug. 1. It’s July 17 and they’re at .500 for the first time since April. More to the point, they’re six games back of the second wild card.

Six games back of the second wild card still isn’t a trifling margin. They’d have to catch at least two teams to make the playoffs, and even if they made it they’d be guaranteed exactly one postseason game. (We recall the Braves gracing, if that’s the word, the inaugural wild card play-in. We recall also these words: Infield fly.)

But to focus on logistics ignores the big picture, which — might as well say it — gets bigger with every passing week: This team wasn’t supposed to be doing this. Yet it is.

It wasn’t even two weeks ago that these fallible fingers typed a little something about how 2017 was not 1991. And it isn’t: These Braves will not go worst-to-first. The Nationals will get Trea Turner back soon, and they just made the bullpen-bolstering trade they had to make. They’re still 9 1/2 games in front; they’re going to win the East. But the landscape today isn’t the same as it was 26 years ago.

The Braves don’t have to finish first to qualify for postseason. They only have to finish fifth among National League teams. They’re seventh as we speak. If they beat the Cubs tonight, they’ll be sixth.

FanGraphs gives the Braves a 4.8 percent chance of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus offers a 4.6. Those are basically 20-1 odds, definitely in the long-shot range. But it wasn’t long ago that those same sabermetric-based sites were assigning a zero-point-something chance. Those sites, it must also be said, are basing their projections largely on what the Braves were expected to be, which was a 76-or-so-win team. This team might not be that team.

The team directly ahead of the Braves — the aforementioned Cubs, reigning champions for the first time in more than a century — has grossly underachieved. Theo Epstein and Co., casting down-the-road planning to the winds, just made another prospect-shedding trade for Jose Quintana, who on cue struck out 12 in his Cubs’ debut. The Cubs are 4 1/2 games behind Milwaukee, but the widespread belief is that they’ll win the Central. That would rearrange the wild card pool.

The Braves would then be chasing the Brewers, the D-backs and the Rockies. The latter three have overachieved. (Not that the Braves haven’t.) All will surely make moves this next fortnight in the attempt to patch over weaknesses. None is guaranteed to hold up over 162 games. Milwaukee looks good at the moment, but Colorado has lost 16 of 21 and Arizona 11 of 14. Remember, the Braves have to catch two teams, not three.

Are we getting ahead of ourselves, given that this franchise hasn’t spent a day above .500 this late in a season since September 2014, the month that got Frank Wren fired? Maybe. But the Braves have three games remaining against the D-backs and seven against the Rockies. They’re 6-2-1 over the past nine series. They haven’t lost three consecutive games in a month.

As much as we keep expecting them to go away, they haven’t. They might at any moment, but at this moment they’re still here. Bobby Cox used to say, “If you’re at .500 at the All-Star break, anything can happen.” His ’91 team was one game under, and we saw what happened. This team was 42-45; today it’s 45-45.

As much as we might think, “Well, the Cubs will roll in here and boat-race the Bravos,” here are the ERAs of Chicago’s scheduled starting pitchers: Jon Lester, 4.25; John Lackey, 5.20, and Mike Montgomery, 4.01. The Braves’ starters carry similar numbers — Julio Teheran, 4.79; Sean Newcomb, 4.26, and R.A. Dickey, 4.08 — but the Braves weren’t supposed to do anything in 2017. The Cubs were, and still are.

If the season’s first 90 games have taught us anything, it’s that — cue John Sterling — you can’t predict baseball. The Braves saw Bartolo Colon spit the bit and Freddie Freeman lost for a month and Dansby Swanson fizzle and Teheran regress, and they’re a half-game worse than the star-spangled club that won it all last year and expects to win it again soon. Absolutely nobody saw that coming.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve contracted pennant fever, but I’d be lying. I’m still not sure a team in Year 3 of a massive reset, a team populated by retreads who were supposed to be the bridge to the really good days ahead, is of playoff caliber, or even realistic-playoff-possibility caliber. But here it is, 45-45 on the morning of July 17. The schedule has toughened, and the Braves have toughened with it. This has gotten interesting.

Reader Comments 0

29 comments
DamonH
DamonH

it's always fun to revisit this article

DamonH
DamonH

Braves haven't been over .500 in ... over 2 years? How about we get over .500 first before talking about playoffs???

sea8491
sea8491

please do not trade Julio Teheran!

sea8491
sea8491

Just imagine where the braves would be with Alex Wood? I was in Miami Saturday night and saw Alex Wood pitch, happy for Alex

larry180
larry180

Dansby obviously a large disappointment.

Too mmuch off season publicity and hype didn't help!!!!!

larry180
larry180

I like your strategy.

Don't give up on Garcia(the other one)as good trade material.

There a lot of clubs out there without a decent 3rd baseman(Red Socks for one)!

I would hate to see Phillips go... he is great to watch on television and seems to be a personality that would be good or off the field!

ChessMaster
ChessMaster

Stick to the plan. Being 7th in a field of 15 is pretty much middle of the pack. We have some good veteran players who are at the end of their contract and should be traded to bring in value. 


I like Swanson but he needs time in AAA to figure out his swing. 


I'd consider trading Adams (he's hot with power), Philips (last year of contract and brings offense), Garcia (finally another good start), the other Garcia (if someone bites), Johnson, Markakis, and Brothers.   Yes, they are all good players but that is why they have value in a trade. I don't see any of these guys as the solution two years from now. Get something to help restock rather than just letting them leave.

nyctraffic
nyctraffic

20/1 odds aren't that bad.  Maybe the Braves can do it.  The Falcons were 99.7% to win the Super Bowl by the end of the 3rd Quarter and lost.  Anything can happen, but in our city's case, it's usually the bad thing that does.


At least they're .500 and starting to make that new Suntrust Park come alive.

larry180
larry180

Like a lot of Braves I am more than happy to see them competing at this moment in the season.certainly a vast improvement over 2015 and 2016!

BUT ....now comes the silly season when fans start thinking ,talking and writing about wild cards,titles,blah ,blah,blah.

Why reach for the stars and be diappointed to learn that you can't fly!!!!

Let's enjoy what our team has given us and hope that they can get some pitching help somewhere along the to help them through the 2nd half of the season

AlpharettaMan
AlpharettaMan

Need a frontline (S Gray) starter. And they're in

sassy1
sassy1

What type of toast would you say the 'Barves' are?Butter, Cheese, Melba, French, Cinnamon, or just Burnt Toast?


AudubonPark
AudubonPark

We have Phillips and M. Adams for the season - use them for Ws, not prospects.  Brass has made some excellent personnel moves (well, excluding Simmons and Wood) - see how far they'll take you.  Adams' effortless HR yesterday - can someone on the farm do that?  If you have a launching pad, can't have too many launchers.  (Now, if you can move Markakis, do it.  No power, no speed, and keeps airmailing cut-off man.)  Give Aug/Sept a chance - tomorrow may never come.  The wildcard teams being chased are not intimidating.

khd713
khd713

@AudubonPark Why keep Phillips? He's old and a defensive liability, and Sean Rodriguez is about to join the lineup so somebody has got to go. The fact that Phillips is finally feeling healthy and starting to hit should only increase his trade value. They signed Phillips to get them to this point, which he did admirably. Now, stick with the plan. 

Atl Sports fan1
Atl Sports fan1

Why upset the apple cart?  I hope all the trade talk turns out to be just talk.  We are playing with house money and the players on this team have earned the right to finish this season.  

khd713
khd713

@Atl Sports fan1 Seriously? Don't upset the apple cart? You mean the apple cart that has produced a .500 record and won't make the playoffs? Did you not watch the Houston series? The Braves have stockpiled all of these assets for a reason, and that's to keep the best of them and use the rest to acquire front-line talent so that they can become a World Series dynasty, not remain a .500 club with an outside shot of earning a wild card. The Braves are a nice and fun little team right now, but they certainly won't be competing with the Astros, Dodgers and Nationals until they make some serious upgrades.

Cyclingman
Cyclingman

By now the Braves should have figured who can play and pitch and who is just wishful thinking. Bite the bullet: keep and play the first bunch and sit, demote, or trade the second. Swanson is really iffy; probably needs to be at Gwinnett. Santana and Rodriguez are unknowns. Need to get with the program. Trade Adams for a reliever. Forget Freeman at 3rd. Dumb move. Play Camargo. If Johnson can get his act together, just maybe the Braves can scare someone not named Houston. That was a very sad performance.

Sidslid
Sidslid

Forgetting about billboards, who would you rather have in the lineup, Camargo or Swanson? Sean Rodriguez activated today. Hmmm. I think they have been showcasing Camargo for a trade but the rumors that Albies was in the mix for a Quintana deal makes me think Camargo is the man long term. If Coppy has big ones, he should dangle Swanson out there and see what we would get.

RonMexico
RonMexico

@Sidslid I'd rather send Swanson down to AAA for a while to relearn the strike zone and let Camargo take over SS in the meantime. Trading Swanson now feels like selling low on a guy who still has all the makings of a star player in the not-too-distant future. 

khd713
khd713

@RonMexico @Sidslid Swanson sure seemed like he is destined for greatness, but the more I watch him the more I'm not so sure. I don't think there's any doubt he'll have a long career as a really solid player, but I'm backing away from the HOF predictions. Right now, it's Comargo who looks like a potential superstar.

RonMexico
RonMexico

@khd713 @RonMexico @Sidslid I think Swanson's swing mechanics are beautiful and he seems mature beyond his years, but I don't think his pitch recognition has developed as much as the rest of his game. I also think he's gotten into his own head a bit and needs a break from the pressure.

As for Camargo, I love what he's done so far, but the numbers say he's getting very lucky in some respects. His BABIP is about 100 points higher than average, so we should expect some of those balls to start being caught. Nothing about his stats in the minors makes me think he's actually a .300 hitter or anything close to it. If we can find a sucker willing to buy high on him and pay a premium, we should. 

DawginLex
DawginLex

I'm just having fun watching a team with heart that won't quit

SouthernHope5
SouthernHope5

I don't like the false hope this team is offering...

sassy1
sassy1

@SouthernHope5 SouthernHope5 doesnt like false hope. But what if it is, "...the only hope we have." 

Tomahawk Mike
Tomahawk Mike

Sounds like you're coming around MB. I still think we are about a year ahead of schedule. Can you imagine a playoff series with this rotation? They are definitely becoming more fun to watch, never out of it. Great read this morning.

Braves Fever
Braves Fever

They have 7 left against the Rockies not 6.  They have 4 in Colorado & 3 in Atlanta.

FridayNightLights
FridayNightLights

@Braves Fever That is what he said....


But the Braves have three games remaining against the D-backs and seven against the Rockies.

darktemp
darktemp

This team reminds me of those oh so many sf giant world series teams. Back in the division, hovering around .500. I think if chemistry was an integral part to a playoff run, this team would be prime for it. We know one thing for sure, you can't count this team out. Nice read.