We begin by saying that no one regular-season series tells anything approaching the whole story. Remember when the Braves were swept by the Yankees here in June? Remember how that series seemed an example of boys against men? Well, if you check today, you’ll find that the Braves have a better record than the Bronx Bombers. (Only a half-game better, but still.)
That said, it was nonetheless chilling that the Braves could go the final three games of a four-game set against Colorado and not score a single earned run. The Rockies have the worst team ERA in the big leagues, and here, after a 6-1 victory on Labor Day, is how the Braves fared: Shut out on Tuesday, won 1-0 on a run scored via a bad throw on Wednesday, won 1-0 on a run scored on a flubbed return catcher’s toss by the pitcher, which might have happened in the big leagues twice in the past two decades.
For the first half of the season, the Braves hit better than they pitched. Indeed, they were fourth in the National League in runs scored at the All-Star break. Here are their numbers since: Ninth in runs, 10th in on-base percentage, 14th in batting average, 12th in slugging percentage. They hit .232 as a team in August; they’ve hit .230 in September.
The good news is that they’ve pitched superbly. (Their team ERA is the league’s best since the All-Star break.) The bad news is that they’ve had to pitch superbly, and much of that pitching has been done against lesser opposition. (Since the break, only 17 of the Braves’ 53 games have been against teams currently above .500.)
This is worrisome not because the Braves are apt to play themselves out of the postseason — with 24 games remaining, they still hold a five-game lead over Pittsburgh and Los Angeles for the second wild card — but because they won’t be facing substandard teams once there. There’s no reason this lineup shouldn’t hit better than it has the past month. This same lineup, give or take, hit rather well for the season’s first half. But now it isn’t, and that’s troubling.
By Mark Bradley