(UPDATED 11:20 p.m.)
The problem with trying to project the Braves’ future is the struggle to assess the present. What are they?
Five months and 145 games after breaking spring training, they lack definition. They’re like a compass with a broken arrow that refuses to point north more than consecutive days. Or innings. Are they the team that went 18-8 in July, or the one that has been only Milwaukee-like since — well, except for the fact they just got swept by Milwaukee.
If we dare to look ahead to the postseason – and yes, that foolishly assumes no quicksand – what can the Braves hang their hat on right now? Other than pitcher Kris Medlen, who hasn’t lost a start since he was, like, 12, and closer Craig Kimbrel and maybe Martin Prado, can we be certain of anything? The lineup is full of slumps. The rotation is a row of question marks.
That may not mean anything. Sports isn’t a debate decided by logic and percentages. It’s theater without a script. The problem in Atlanta is there haven’t been a lot positives to draw from in Septembers and Octobers for several years now. So it’s understandable if the storyline of making it to a one-game wild card playoff isn’t stirring the masses.
“I would rather people take us lightly,” catcher David Ross said. “Philadelphia came in here last year and played us really good because they knew we were dangerous, and they swept us. Then the Cardinals beat them. They underestimated the Cardinals, in my opinion. I would love it if a team underestimated us. Let’s just let this thing play out.”
So are we assuming postseason disaster too quickly?
The Braves beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 Friday night. It’s only one game. But doom-and-gloom was shelved for at least 24 hours.
Since everybody is thinking about the postseason anyway, it followed that Michael Bourn was asked about the playoff-like atmosphere at Turner Field.
“It can’t be too much more than that,” he said. “September is like playoff baseball, especially when you have two contenders playing each other. It was a good win. We’ll just take this, hope it carries into [Saturday] and see where it goes.”
Let’s not start playing the what-if-the-Braves-sweep game yet.
Not long ago, some thought this series might decide the National League East. But seemingly the most significant thing Friday was that it was another Chipper Jones commemorative poster night.
The Braves trailed the Nationals by only two games on Aug. 3. Even with this result, the spread is now 7½. The Braves’ wild card lead over Los Angeles is 7½ games (pending the Dodgers’ late game against St. Louis). So the standings suggest the Braves’ playoff future is pretty much decided.
But manager Fredi Gonzalez isn’t assuming anything. When asked when he might consider starting to rest players or set up his rotation for the postseason, Gonzalez laughed. “Oh geez. Until they put one of those weird letters — a y or an x or whatever they’re using [that indicates] you clinch, it’s hard to do that. I’m not quite there yet.”
Some scars don’t heal.
We’ll know soon enough whether this win was the start of a run or an aberration. But then, we’re still trying to figure out July (18-8) compared to the record since (23-19).
If this season morphs into something special, the thanks should start with Medlen. He has gone from long reliever to fill-in starter to sixth starter to what-the-hell-were-we-thinking-keeping-this-guy-in-the-bullpen savior.
He didn’t get the decision Friday. But he allowed one earned run and five hits in seven innings and had a career-high 13 strikeouts. (His sign of mortality: a home run by Bryce Harper in the sixth.) This also makes a franchise straight 20 straight games the Braves have won when Medlen has started. In nine starts this season, he is 7-0 with a 0.86 ERA. He is 13-0 over his last 25 starts, dating back to 2009. For the season, he is 8-1 with a 1.62 ERA.
The one player the Braves can count on is Kris Medlen.
Yep. Just how they drew it up in the spring.
The run-scoring drought continued, but it didn’t matter. Pinch hitter Tyer Pastornicky’s fielder’s choice in the ninth won it. With Andrelton Simmons on third, Pastornicky hit a grounder to deep short that was fielded by Ian Desmond, whose throw home was wild, allowing Simmons to score the winning run.
What the finish lacked in artistic value it made up for in drama.
“The goal is just to be playing good baseball in the home stretch,” Ross said, and the Braves did do that.
Until getting swept in Milwaukee, the Braves had the fourth best record in the majors (81-60). Going into the Washington series, they stood ninth overall but among five teams within 1½ games of each other. Conclusion: Even if the Braves aren’t doing much to distinguish themselves from the field, neither is almost every other team.
The question is whether this was a start.
By Jeff Schultz