Oh, Mark. So quick to get drunk off two wins, aren’t we?
Welcome back to the Wednesday Face off. As usual, there are two sides to this debate: the right one and the wrong one, which Mr. Bradley will handle.
This week’s topic is the Braves: Can they win the National League East Division? Considering they have started this important 10-game home stand with two shutout wins, it’s easy to get deluded. And if they can just get 10 or 15 more games against Chien-Ming Wang (0-6, 11.20), this should be easy.
But there are issues. The problem isn’t that the Braves are four games back of Philadelphia with 92 to go. The problem is having reasonable expectations of what they can do the rest of the season, given the team they have and the way they’ve generally played.
I used some of these numbers in a blog last week, but here’s the updated situation. Over the last 10 years, the N.L. East winner has averaged just over 95 wins (see the chart below). At 34-36, the Braves would need to go 61-31 the rest of the season to equal that. That’s a won-loss percentage of .663. If you prefer to use the Phillies’ 92-70 record last year as a gauge, the Braves would still need to go 58-34 (.630).
What we’re basically asked to believe is that everything we’ve seen for most of the first three months of the season — and to a degree several seasons just prior — is an aberration. But it isn’t. This is still a team in transition with significant issues. They’re not there yet.
Throwing everything else out the window, these are the Braves’ season winning percentages since going 101-61 (still only .623) in 2003 (chronologically): .593, .556, .488, .519, .444 and .478 (current).
You’re asking for is a relative 180.
Possible? Yes. Plausible? No.
The checklist the rest of the season for a division title is overwhelming. Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe and Javier Vasquez would need to be lights out as starters, and Tim Hudson would need to come back and contribute significantly.
Remember, we’re talking potentially .630-plus baseball the rest of the season: You’ll need four strong starters.
The bullpen: It can’t falter.
The defense: It’s not getting better. Even Chipper Jones dropped a throw at third Tuesday night.
The offense: Jeff Francoeur (.246) is still a mess. Kelly Johnson (.138 in June, .222 overall) is worse. Nate McLouth was a nice pick up in center and seems to be coming around. Garret Anderson suddenly has a pulse (five-game hitting streak). Will that continue?
This isn’t a running team. They don’t play small ball (last in the league in stolen bases). They don’t even play big ball (12th in home runs). If the batting averages drop off, they’re sunk.
They’re not there yet.
We’re asking for too much.
Year East winner W Braves (34-36) need to go
2008 Philadelphia 92 58-34
2007 Philadelphia 89 55-37
2006 New York 97 63-29
2005 Atlanta 90 56-36
2004 Atlanta 96 62-30
2003 Atlanta 101 67-25
2002 Atlanta 101 67-25
2001 Atlanta 88 54-38
2000 Atlanta 95 61-31
1999 Atlanta 103 69-23