Do these Braves have a chance in the playoffs? Absolutely

This might not be the last celebration we see. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This might not be the last celebration we see. Just sayin'. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

As the Braves flailed through the regular season’s final fortnight, losing more games than they won, one or two fans expressed the sentiment that they would rather this underwhelming team not make the playoffs than get in and get swept. Which overlooked the greater point of postseason baseball, which is:

Underwhelming teams can and do win.

  • The 2006 Cardinals limped into the playoffs at 83-78 and had lost closer Jason Isringhausen to boot. (They had to make do with a rookie, whose name was Adam Wainwright, whom they had gotten from the Braves.) They won the World Series.
  • The 1988 Dodgers were massive underdogs against both the New York Mets and the Oakland A’s. In the NLCS the Dodgers had to use Orel Hershiser in relief. In the World Series their most dangerous hitter, Kirk Gibson, was limited to one (admittedly famous) at-bat. Their batting order in the final Series game: Steve Sax, Franklin Stubbs, Mickey Hatcher, Mike Marshall, John Shelby, Mike Davis, Rick Dempsey, Jeff Hamilton, Alfredo Griffin. (Oakland, by way of contrast, had Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.) The Dodgers won 5-2 and became champions.
  • The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates were underwhelming even in the World Series, being outscored by the Yankees 55-27. (More than double, in other words.) The Pirates won Game 7 on Bill Mazeroski’s home run, which proved once and for all that baseball is a weird game.

Bobby Cox, who has taken the Braves to five World Series, says it himself: “We played better in three Series we lost than we did in the one we won.” He refers to 1991, when the Braves outscored Minnesota but lost Game 7 in 10 innings; to 1992, when the Braves outscored Toronto but lost Game 6 in 11 innings, and to 1996, when the Braves outscored the Yankees, but blew a six-run lead and lost Game 4 in 10 innings.

And now we recall the Series the Braves won: They faced Cleveland in 1995, and the fearsome Indians — with Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez — had hit .291 as a team. (The Braves had hit but .250.) The Braves won in six games. The Indians’ batting average in the Series was .179.

And there you have it, the reason the baseball playoffs seldom track a coherent course: Because pitching skews the results. Nobody gets to hit off a No. 5 starter in October because rotations become three- or four-man things. Almost nobody sees a truly lousy starting pitcher in postseason, and the bullpens tend to be good, too. That’s why October is, to borrow the baseball argot, such a crapshoot.

The team entering the postseason with baseball’s best record has won the World Series twice since 1998. A wild-card qualifier has won it three times over that span, most famously in 2004, when the Red Sox lost the first three games of the ALCS and were facing the best closer ever (Mariano Rivera) down a run in the ninth inning of Game 4. Boston won that night and every night thereafter. Who planned that?

The Braves might not look like much as a starting eight, but the guys they send to the mound are good enough to give them a chance. Derek Lowe, who’ll start Game 1 in San Francisco, was 5-0 in September and has won (in the aforementioned 2004) a clincher in both an ALCS and a World Series. Tommy Hanson had an ERA of 2.04 in September, and Tim Hudson won 17 games, including Game No. 162.

Writing for ESPN.com’s Insiders, Keith Law assesses the Braves thusly (link requires registration): “This is pretty clearly, to me, the weakest of the eight playoff teams.” As someone who has seen this team all year, I wouldn’t argue the point. But I would also submit that, in postseason, assessments don’t matter.

If you’re in it, you can win it. The Braves are in it. They have a shot. They have a heck of a lot better shot than do the Padres.

252 comments Add your comment

JoeC

October 5th, 2010
1:00 pm

Good luck Bobby

GTHorsie

October 5th, 2010
1:01 pm

Win one for Bobby (and Chipper)

dean

October 5th, 2010
1:08 pm

The Bill Mazeroski home run. Wow. That’s the first baseball game that I can recall watching on television as a kid.

Asking if the Braves have a chance is like assuming a pitcher can’t hit. “He’s got a bat in his hands. He can hit.” The Braves have a GREAT chance.

Kentavo

October 5th, 2010
1:11 pm

This is one of those things that I think they might win without Chipper; although they’re certainly better with him in lineup.

Mike

October 5th, 2010
1:15 pm

Man … 5th.

Bradleyisalwayswrong

October 5th, 2010
1:16 pm

If this isn’t the kiss of death, I don’t know what else it could be. Bradley is always wrong. Always.

The Nature Boy

October 5th, 2010
1:20 pm

What about the 1990 Reds that beat the unbeatable Oakland A’s…(in a 4 game sweep..!!!)

jimmymack

October 5th, 2010
1:22 pm

SCREW THE ODD’S. THIS TEAM HAS HEART

Matthew

October 5th, 2010
1:25 pm

Head-to-Head the Braves won the season series against the Giants and the Reds this year. If D-Lowe, Huddy, and Hanson pitch like they’re capable and there is clean fielding, they can win it in three. Plus, if Cincy handles the Phils, I see the Braves in the World Series this year. If its a rematch against the Phils for the NLCS, something miraculous would have to happen… I won’t begin to believe that’s impossible. It is baseball, afterall.

Ghost of Jeff Treadway

October 5th, 2010
1:27 pm

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, Kristopher Scott and Andrew DeMillo, Rachel Robertson. Rachel Robertson said: RT @MarkBradleyAJC: Do the #Braves have a chance in the playoffs? Absolutely. History tells us so. http://bit.ly/aIlTI8 [...]

GSU Eagle 91

October 5th, 2010
1:31 pm

I believe we can beat the Giants..In fact, I think we WILL emerge victorious in this NLDS….
But I then see us facing the Phillies and that stout rotation. But our rotation is good, too….
If asked, I say that I think this Phillies team is the best squad top to bottom I have seen since the great Yankee teams of 10 years ago….They win the WS over the Rays….

Ron Roberts

October 5th, 2010
1:31 pm

It’s not as if the lineup we can assemble isn’t CAPABLE. Derrek Lee, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Omar Infante and Alex Gonzalez have ALL shown their abilities at some point this season. The hits and OBP is there, but the hits with RISP of late, haven’t been. That’s it.

I’m not sure who we’re carrying, bench-wise, but McLouth briefly found his stroke, and can again; Ankiel went on a tear (before we traded for him), and Melky hit his stride for a bit, too. It’s just a matter of getting enough guys to do what they’re capable of.

Let’s remember, we lost Chipper, when for most of the year he wasn’t do much for us; the big loss on offense is Glaus (who fell apart when his knees gave out) and Prado, who was the picture of consistency. Omar gives us what we lost in Prado. Heck, even Matt Diaz is capable of getting hot.

I just hope they’re studying film of their ABs when they were “on” and spending just a little time in the batting cage to refine their swings.

Mr C

October 5th, 2010
1:31 pm

Of course, they have a chance. infinitesimal chance!!!! I played the lottery this morning so i guess i have a chance to win too.
For the Braves to advance, they have to hit. They have to be able to hit first class pitching. I still remember what happened in Philly when they faced the philles top 3 pitchers.

Yuck

October 5th, 2010
1:32 pm

Great article Mark.

Phillies fans act like they have already won the world series. They seem to think that some of their 65 losses don’t count because of injuries. Many of them beleive that a starting lineup of Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels is unbeatable. Of course they are realatively new at this playoff thing, so maybe they don’t really understand baseball yet. Hope they aren’t too broken-hearted when their team loses.

Braves Fan

October 5th, 2010
1:32 pm

Thanks for the jinx MB! Now the Braves are certain to be swept out of the playoffs by San Fran!

dean

October 5th, 2010
1:34 pm

Mr C…

This is FANTASY-LAND. No reminders, please!

Yuck

October 5th, 2010
1:34 pm

Point made…Phillies fans already showing mathematical ignorance. Comparing baseball playoffs to the lottery…genius.

Abnerish

October 5th, 2010
1:36 pm

You stole my line, Mark! They, indeed, have a better chance than the Padres! I remember during our run of 14 straight division champs, many on the blogs and talk radio thought that we would do better if we were the wild card. Well, now we have that chance to see. And, quite frankly, I think this is the first time we’ve had a team built for the playoffs. 3 very good starters, great bullpen, dominant closer, and a bunch of rookies and retreads that have gelled on and off the field. Add to that the fact that Bobby has loosened up in his last year, and I think we will see a team on Thursday night playing without worrying about losing because, according to the experts, they have no shot. I also think this team will wear its emotions on its sleeves, unlike years past.

JASon

October 5th, 2010
1:38 pm

Honestly I think it will be close. But this team plays much better defense than the braves, and have a better manager. Bochy pulled the starting pitcher in Sunday’s game when he was struggling in the fifth inning. He had only given up 3 hits, but Bochy knew he was in trouble. He called on the bullpen and they got the job done. Now, ask yourself if Bobby would have made that decision.

jfreak13713

October 5th, 2010
1:40 pm

I don’t give the Braves much chance of moving beyond the WildCard Series because of the lack of offense and their poor defense, but they do have a chance because they pitch well and their hitters tend to work deep counts that “Can” get into the other teams bullpen earlier?

I do like the Braves chances against the Giants and “if” the Reds can take down Philly the Braves would have a better chance of beating that pitching staff than they would the Phillies? It’s a chance!

Regardless, I’m am proud of this team and happy to know that Bobby Cox who I am not a big fan of gets to go out as a playoff manager!

Let go Braves we’re pulling you guys!

Dontavius Supremo

October 5th, 2010
1:43 pm

It makes you wonder if the team as now constituted can really be a championship team; time will tell. My heart of hearts says “no”, but I’ll be right in there cheering them on, and if they win, I’ll be the first to say “I wuz wrong!” Go Braves!

Phillies, Class of the NL

October 5th, 2010
1:50 pm

Good article MB – and true – if you’re in you can win. I would like to say that Phillies fans don’t feel like we’ve already won it. You have to play the games. We just feel like we have the best team, no one can beat us when we play to our potential. We are all very confident that the Phillies will go in, play to their potential, and take care of business.

Tami

October 5th, 2010
1:51 pm

Well….the Braves have not yet made it in as a Wild Card team before this season. The Wild Card teams — while on paper (and at times on film) — have always been automatically categorized as the underdogs, and maybe justifiably so. But….in the last 10 years, there have been a few WC teams that have managed to pull out miracles to win it all (yes…I agree…I automatically thought of the BoSox too). I’ve got my bubbling optimism under realistic control here. But….I sure would like to see the Braves pull out some more miracles. If they make it to the NLCS, they must still get past the Phillies. IF they manage that, ANYthing can happen! GO BRAVES!!

Phillies, Class of the NL

October 5th, 2010
1:52 pm

It was actually the braves fans that were talking trash when the braves were leading the division. They would say things like, “we’re in first, you’re in second, we’re better than you.” That was quite insulting, as Phillies fans knew how much better the Phillies really were than the braves. It showed quite a lot of baseball ignorance on the part of braves fans (as does assuming we will win the World Series on the part of Phillies fans.)

cattledawg

October 5th, 2010
1:55 pm

Two good articles today mark, your on a roll.

Jeff B

October 5th, 2010
1:56 pm

Give it a rest Mark. This team will be swept easier than any team ever. Just look at vegas. They are rarely wrong on series matchups and these sad braves have no chance

Glenn

October 5th, 2010
1:58 pm

you site 3 times? well the cardinals had hitting. in fact the best hitter ever pujols.
the braves have no offense. you think it was tough to score in september facing the nats pirates pitching wait til you see true playoff pitching. this team will be lucky to score over 5 runs in the next 3 games combined!

Randy

October 5th, 2010
2:00 pm

We have a fighting chance I’m sure there working on hitting all week the exception is now we can use Chipper to help all of our batters because hes not focused on his game. One day he will be a great batting coach and I hope there using his undivided knowledge right now. Just because we’ve been cold doesn’t mean we cant get hot either its been that way all season.

Glenn

October 5th, 2010
2:00 pm

matthew the regular season is a completely different beast than the postseason.
i believe the braves went 1/3 in san fran and played 4 here in atl to take the series. switch it around and it’s likely the opposite. the point is san fran has better pitching than we do. we have .00001% chance to beat them with the same old sad lineup batting. all they will need is a couple of runs per game to win.

AZBravoFan

October 5th, 2010
2:04 pm

Remember the Lemke effect. Post-season is the time for Sterling Hitchcock’s and Chad Curtis’s and Buddy Biancalana’s. Sometimes the stars shine, but it seems more often than not an unlikely hero emerges. Heck, anyone remember Jerry Willard’s game winning Sac Fly against the Twins? So maybe this will be the time for a Matty Diaz, or Brandon Beachy, or Brooks Conrad, or maybe even a Diory Hernandez. I like this underdog thing much better because right now there are zero expectations among Braves fans. Losing all those playoff series when we had what should have been a much better team was excruciatingly frustrating. If they keep the bats in cold storage and lose to the Giants it will be frustrating, but nothing we haven’t seen this past month. Somehow easier to swallow. Anyway, I think the Bravos have banked a decade or so of baseball karma that it’s about time to cash in on.

Keith

October 5th, 2010
2:08 pm

Bradley,

You did it!!!! You wrote the article. :)

Didn’t see my name in the story, but that’s ok. We’ll talk later.

GO BRAVES!!

Alex Trebek

October 5th, 2010
2:11 pm

The ANSWER is:

The strike zone for the Giants hitters and Jeff Schultz.

Keith

October 5th, 2010
2:12 pm

Bradley,

Oh, and forgot to say, good work. ;)

GO BRAVES!

Ted M

October 5th, 2010
2:12 pm

Keith I’m sure you’ll get a kudos from Mark.

Alex Trebek

October 5th, 2010
2:12 pm

The QUESTION is:

What are two things that will get pounded hard on the inside while the Braves are in San Francisco this week?

Enus Stokesberry

October 5th, 2010
2:13 pm

my thursday lineup

1. mclOUTh
2. Mekly Way
3. STANKiel
4. MCCANN
5. HINSKIENS
6. CONRAD
7. HEYWARD
8. LOWE
9. GONZALEZ

BravesLegend

October 5th, 2010
2:16 pm

I agree that the Phillies have the better team with a better starting 3, but as many people have been saying that anything goes in the post season. How many post seasons did the Braves enter as the clear, cut favorite with Madd Dog, Glavine and Smoltz and then get beat in 5 or 6 games? The point is, your starting pitching better be right on each game or it goes to the bullpen and if the Phillies have one weakness it’s their bullpen. I hope we get to meet the Phillies in the NLCS, but first we have to take care of the Giants, go Braves!!!

Enus Stokesberry

October 5th, 2010
2:17 pm

Alex

what is my liver and bladder

Chippers Jones

October 5th, 2010
2:19 pm

Nice One Enus!

Ossie

October 5th, 2010
2:21 pm

Enus, apparantly your not a fan of infante?

Enus Stokesberry

October 5th, 2010
2:22 pm

Chuck Tanner just told me that if Bobby wants to win this first series he should go with Kawakami and Beachy in games 1 and 2. Saving hudson, hanson for turner field and lowe for game 5 in san fran

Jim Carey

October 5th, 2010
2:24 pm

So… you’re saying I have a chance

Tami

October 5th, 2010
2:26 pm

Phillies, Class of the NL
October 5th, 2010
1:52 pm

It was actually the braves fans that were talking trash when the braves were leading the division.

Not all Braves’ fans were doing that, though. Just the same ones who were too mouthy. Those of us (a quiet majority) who’ve been through the division stretch run & postseason runs and are seasoned fans remain discreet. Most of us are happy for you guys being the division winners. Down the stretch, your team played better than ours. But we also had lousy timing with our injuries. Your team got theirs done and over with early enough to get the big ones back just in time for the division run, while we were losing key players. So…that in itself makes a big difference.

I for one am not too overly optimistic, but I’m happy the Braves are in the postseason where ANYthing can happen. Hope our Braves will be able to meet your Phillies in the NLCS. What a NLCS that would/could be! :-)

Brock

October 5th, 2010
2:28 pm

been said all year. Braves chances are based on getting RISP and then getting them in. We do that and a lot of other things take care of themselves. Pressure goes down on fileding ground balls. Pitchers relax a little knowing they have the lead and/or they have their offense behind them.

Get em on get em in should be the mantra for this team during the playoffs.

JDA

October 5th, 2010
2:28 pm

Having watched the Braves since 1973, this is without a doubt the worst defensive team ever assembled. That will cost us the series. You don’t just start fielding great. The Giants will run at will on us. McCant cant throw out me. A walk is a triple until someone told Mcant to stop throwing to second. So now it’s just a double. On the off chance the Braves can truly play and I mean PLAY not work at it…we could beat these Giants. If they can keep in mind the Giants have the pressure and nothing is expected of the Braves, maybe we can score enough to overcome the shoddy defense that not may…WILL be played.

Tim Heil

October 5th, 2010
2:29 pm

So JAson, you are saying that Bruce Bochy is a better manager than Bobby Cox…because he pulled a starting pitcher in the fifth inning of the last game. Bobby Cox, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame manager? Wow.

Brock

October 5th, 2010
2:29 pm

fielding. I don’t know what “fileding ground balls” is.

g.b.

October 5th, 2010
2:30 pm

Why Hanson before Hudson?

Brock

October 5th, 2010
2:32 pm

cause HA-nson comes before HU-dson I quess. Who knows what’s goin through that crazy old man’s head.