There is an old adage in baseball that the standings don’t mean anything until after Memorial Day. I’m not sure how this got started.
My guess is, back in the early 1900s, there was a manager whose team started the season 2-27 despite an inflated payroll of $172.50 and rather than answer questions about why his team stunk, he screamed at a sportswriter: “I don’t know! Ask me in June!”
So here we are – in the middle of Memorial Day weekend and almost in June. Do we start paying attention to where the Braves stand now? Yes. But less because of the calendar than the upcoming schedule.
The Braves defeated Pittsburgh again Saturday night, 6-3 at Turner Field. Jason Heyward hit a home run, Troy Glaus and Martin Prado had two-run doubles and Chipper Jones stole a base (and then got up!).
But there was a sense of inevitability before it even started. The Braves are now 16-4 against the six worst teams in the National League: Pirates, Florida, Chicago, Milwaukee, Arizona, Houston. At 27-22 overall, that of course makes them 11-18 against not the six worst teams in the National League.
Contrasting results like that can say something about a team’s postseason worthiness. But if you believe it’s too early to draw such conclusions, well, here’s some good news: There’s a potential sledgehammer around the corner.
After finishing this weekend series against the Pirates on Sunday, the Braves play 13 of their next 17 games against Philadelphia (three-time defending National League champions), Tampa Bay (best record in baseball), Minnesota (A.L. Central leaders) and Los Angeles (contending for N.L. West lead).
“We’re going to get a lot of teams that are playing well and leading their division. We’re going to get to see what we’re made of,” Chipper Jones said. “We’re going to see what needs to be fixed. Usually when you play the really good teams, your deficiencies come to the forefront.”
It’s actually remarkable the Braves are in the position they’re in. They’re a mere 1 ½ games behind Philadelphia in the East, despite some moon-size craters in the lineup (biggest holes: Yunel Escobar and Nate McLouth are each hitting .188), two starting winless pitchers (Kenshin Kawakami and Jair Jurrjens, who’s on the disabled list) and a nine-game losing streak in April.
Jones again: “If you had told me we’d be going into June with no wins from those two guys [Jurrjens and Kawakami], I would’ve said we’d probably be 10 games out. And if you had told me we had a nine-game losing steak and me and [Brian McCann] were hitting at or below .250 and didn’t have 20 runs batted in, I would’ve said we’re bringing up last place.”
Bobby Cox’s decision to slide Martin Prado and Jason Heyward up to the top two spots in the lineup. (The Braves have scored 60 runs in the past 10 games). There’s also a belief in the clubhouse that the early struggles were at least partly because they faced several of the league’s premier pitchers. As Jones put it, “We faced five guys who are going to finish in the top five in the Cy Young voting while other teams were getting fat on last-place teams. Now we’re starting to bottom feed a little bit.”
Prado, the team’s best player this season, along with Heyward, “We can’t change anything just because we’re playing Philadelphia or somebody. All we can do is keep playing the way we’re playing and see what happens. We know we have a big challenge coming up. But if we do all the things we’ve been doing, we’ll be fine.”
General manager Frank Wren believes the team’s 11-18 record against the non-six worst teams is “skewed” because those are the teams the Braves were playing early when they were struggling, though he added: “If we’re going to have a good season, we’re going to have to play well against those teams, and I think we will.”
We’ll soon find out just how “skewed” the numbers are.