If the Braves lose tonight, or get shut out by Tim Lincecum tomorrow, you can rest assured that it will elicit the familiar refrains from that certain segment of our blogulace (blog populace, get it?).
They will groan, “Season’s over.” “Time to sell.” “Fire Pendleton.” “Fire Bobby.” “This team would have to play 20 games over .500 the rest of the way,” and blah blah blah.
It’s entirely, utterly predictable.
And a bit silly, for the time being. Because while the Braves looked to be a fairly hopeless case a month or so ago, things have changed, folks. Most observers see that. But if you can’t or just won’t acknowledge it, well, that’s fine. But it’s kind of silly.
Fact is, the Braves have a 13-6 record since June 28, better than any other NL team except the one that’s in front of them in the NL East. The Phillies are 14-4 in that same stretch, riding a nine-game winning streak, and playing now like the team that won the World Series.
It’s going to be very difficult for the Braves to catch them, barring major injuries in Philly. And if they Phils get Roy Halladay? Well, that would make it even more unlikely the Braves or anyone else could catch them in the division.
But the wild card? Entirely winnable. The Braves are four games behind wild-car leader Colorado, after beating the Giants last night to drop S.F. out of the wild-card lead.
The Braves, who have won eight of their past 11 games and four of five since the All-Star break, are tied with Milwaukee and Houston for fourth in the current wild-card standings, 3-1/2 games behind the Giants and three behind the Cubs.
After going 8-15 while scoring fewer than 3-1/2 runs per game from June 3 to June 27, the Braves have averaged more than 5.3 runs per game in the past 19 games, while getting even better pitching than the mostly solid work they had continued to get during that 23-game skid.
The lineup no longer appears dysfunctional. The clubhouse is no longer morgue-like. Quite the opposite, actually.
Brian McCann said at the All-Star break how excited he was to get the second-half started, because he had seen a different attitude around the team since the end of June. The Braves were finally close to healthy, and he had noticed how many good at-bats guys were putting up in the past few weeks.
• Since June 28, the Giants are 11-8 with a sparkling 2.88 ERA that’s offset by a poor offense that’s hit .257 in that stretch.
• Since June 28, the Rockies are 12-7, including a split with the Braves in the series before the break, when the Braves gave them a couple of games with late-innings meltdowns when Gonzalez was hurt and Soriano unavailable (for one game).
The Rockies have hit .246 in that 19-game stretch, with a 3.30 ERA and 4.7 runs scored per game, on average.
• The Cubs are 12-8 since June 28, including a series loss to the Braves in Chicago. They have a 3.38 ERA and 21 homers during that stretch, but while hitting just .258 and averaging 3.9 runs per game.
• As for the Braves, since June 28 they have hit .293, posted a 3.27 ERA, and cranked out 21 homers — where was that for nearly three months? — and averaged nearly 5.4 runs per game.
The addition of Martin Prado to the lineup since June 30 has provided a spark in the 2-hole. Yunel Escobar is raking in the 6-hole. Ryan Church isn’t the outs machine that Jeff Francoeur was, and a solid platoon guy with Matt Diaz in LF.
And the Braves are a far better team with Nate McLouth in CF and atop the order.
Going to get another bat on the trade market doesn’t seem quite a urgent a need as it did a few weeks ago, and certainly not if if means having to blow a hole in the superb rotation to do it.
♣ July turnaround: The Braves lead the NL in average (.296) OBP (.368), slugging (.477) and runs (95) in July. The Phillies have scored 94 runs this month, while no other NL team has scored more than 82.
Quite a dramatic turnaround for the Braves from June, when they hit .247 with a .309 OBP and .378 slugging percentage, and scored more runs than only the Nationals, Cubs and Padres.
They’ve only played 17 July games, and have already scored two more runs than they did in June.
Lead the way have been NL Player of the Week Escobar, who’s hit .405 with eight extra-base hits, 13 RBI and a 1.214 OPS in 15 July games, and Matt Diaz, batting .405 with six extra-base hits, eight RBI and a 1.106 OPS in 13 July games.
Prado continues to sizzle, batting .351 with 10 extra-base hits and a .936 OPS in 17 July games. Casey Kotchman has hit .349 with a .984 OPS in July, and 29-year-old rookie Brooks Conrad’s hit .344 with two triples, two homers, eight RBI and a 1.070 OPS in 14 July games.
Yes, when Brooks Conrad’s posting a 1.000-plus OPS for more than half a month, you could say hitting’s contagious.
Notice no mention of McCann and Chipper Jones as team hitting leaders in July. That’s great news for the Braves, who for the first 2-1/2 months of the season looked completely inept in games when either Chipper or McCann didn’t carry them.
Chipper’s got a .306 average and is tied with Escobar for the team lead with 13 July RBI, while McCann’s hit .281 with 11 RBI and mere .716 OPS in July.
If the Braves can do what they’re doing with Chipper or McCann carrying the offense, it only boosts the confidence of the rest of the lineup. They know they’ve got the goods now to compete without having to depend on the pitching staff holding the other team to two or fewer runs.
♣ Escobar keeps going: He got the NL Player of the Week award, but Escobar’s been hot for a lot longer than a week.
Dude has hit .319 with 26 extra-base hits (eight homers), 47 RBI and an .872 OPS in 65 games since April 25, and he’s blazed at a .396 clip with 16 RBI and a 1.170 OPS in his pas 17 games.
And no wonder Turner Field fans stand by him: During that latter stretch, he’s hit .481 (13-for-27) with 10 extra-base hits, 12 RBI and a .533 OBP and .889 slugging percentage in nine home games.
♥ Etc. - Chipper has 419 homers and is seven from tying Hall of Famer Billy Williams for 40th on the all-time list…. Kotchman has played in 147 consecutive errorless games (1,308 total defensive chances)… Braves game Aug. 2 vs. the Dodgers was moved to 8:05 p.m. for ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.
♣ OK, gotta get downstairs. Here’s a great cut from the new Wilco (the album) which is, for me, their best album since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Oh, and in case you missed my rec the other night: go see The Hurt Locker. Probably the best movie I’ve seen this year, and one of the best three or four war movies I’ve seen in a quarter-century.
“BULL BLACK NOVA” by Wilco (Jeff Tweedy)
It’s in my hair
It’s on my clothes
It’s in the river, over the road
It’s shining down my angry star
Hanging off the hood of my car
We’re not going far
Not going far
It’s coming down,
They’re coming up the shoulders
What have they found
I wonder if they’d know
I’m in a bull black Chevy nova
Silhouetted by the setting sun
This can’t be undone
This can’t be undone
If I am the one
Blood on the sofa
Blood in the sink
Blood in the trunk
High at the wheel of a bull black nova
And I’m sorry as a setting sun
This can’t be undone
This can’t be outrun
It’s in my hair
There’s blood in the sink
I can’t calm down, I can’t think
I keep calling
There’s blood in the trunk
I can’t calm down
I freak out
Oh black out