Tuesday, October 26

The Braves can win the NL East to save the season from hell, and it won’t even take that long.

S T. LOUIS – Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, fresh off a pregame fielding workout with third base coach Ron Washington, climbed onto the padded railing in front of the visitor dugout at Busch Stadium and he smiled at the thought of his club’s strange season.

“This game, right?” he said. “I mean, you can do a line drive and get out, and you can break your bat and roll one and get a hit. Funny how the game works. “

By most accounts, this season has been a disaster for Atlanta. And yet, well, we’ll get back to that in a minute.

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Heading into the season, the Braves, fresh off a run to a World Series game last season, were expected to challenge for the best National League record and the National League’s place in the title series. late October against the American League champion. That has not happened. They have dealt with a number of player injuries that were supposed to help lead the club, and those who have remained on the active roster have dealt with inconsistencies.

“The thing is, they were big pieces,” Swanson said. “It was Mike (Soroka); he was working to get back and couldn’t get back at all. Bear (Marcel Ozuna), Trav (Travis D’Arnaud) and obviously later (Ronald) Acuña. It seemed like there was always something from the beginning, the guys had to fight and fight things. “

So here they are for a few days in August, and the Braves are not only 14 games worse than the team with the best record in the National League (the Giants), but they have yet to beat .500 this season. The baffled Rangers (currently 39-68), Pirates (41-66) and Marlins (46-61) are the only other teams to make that rather dubious claim.

The Braves have been 4-4, 12-12, 24-24, 29-29 and 44-44. They have been one game under .500 on an incredible 28 different occasions, including after their win at St. Louis on Tuesday, which left them 53-54 on the season. Oh, and their win on Tuesday made it 18 straight games alternating wins and losses, an incredible streak of consistent inconsistency.

“It’s been tough to get on a roll,” Swanson said. “There have been times when you feel like we’re going to break up, and the next day it just doesn’t happen.”

And yet?

“We are still here, right?” he said.

They certainly are. Even with a 53-54 record, they are only two and a half games away from a playoff spot due to, well, geography. They’re in the NL East and the NL East is not very good this year. If they were in the NL West, they would be 14 games behind. In the National League Central, there are 10 1/2 games left.

But those assumptions don’t matter. They are in the NL East and are a short distance from a playoff spot. Opportunity is the only thing that matters. And they wouldn’t even need a big miracle to rally for the division title and a spot in the NLDS, skipping the winner-take-all NL wild card game, which will almost certainly be played by two teams with better records. than the National League. Eastern winner.

What they would need could not even be called a minor miracle.

Let’s do a little math. The Mets lead the NL East Division with a 55-51 record, a .519 winning percentage. That translates to 84 wins over a full season. At this point in the season, with Jacob deGrom out until at least September, Francisco Lindor out for a while and several regulars battling it out, it’s not like the club is prepared for a strong August that will increase that winning percentage. Even Steve Cohen, the new owner, knows things are not going well.

Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, the Mets’ act stays basically the same and they finish with 85 wins, and the Phillies, who are 54-53, finish with the same total.

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To reach 86 wins and claim the division title in that completely plausible scenario, the Braves would have to go 33-22. That’s a .600 winning percentage. They haven’t done that this year, but they haven’t strayed much from that pace lately. Even with their recent seemingly endless streak of W / L alternations, the Braves are 16-13 since June 29. Trade the result of just TWO of those games, noting that eight of those 13 losses were by a single run, and that the 18-11 record would be good enough for a .621 winning percentage.

That’s just one more dying quail in a timely manner, one extra flare, one gork, or one eye roll per week and, boom, they’re in the playoffs. No miracle is needed, just a little bit more consistency to salvage what has been a season from hell for Atlanta so far.

That division opportunity is why, despite the under .500 record, the Braves were active before the July 30 trade deadline, completely remaking an outfield that was devastated by the loss of Acuna. for an anterior cruciate ligament tear a few days before the All-Star break. and the loss of Ozuna to a finger injury (and then the domestic violence charges that are still being investigated by MLB).

The Braves traded for outfielder Joc Pederson on July 15, then added outfielders Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler (homered Tuesday) and Eddie Rosario just before the July 30 deadline. They also added reliever Richard Rodriguez in a deal with the Pirates.

“Every time you meet new people and new faces, and obviously the high quality of the players that they are, it can bring in a new spark of energy,” Swanson said. “We believe a lot in this team, and we’ve had it all year, it’s just that finding consistency has been difficult. Obviously, part of that is due to injuries and things that cannot be predicted happened. That is the composition of our team. We’ve been through things and we’re tough. “

And again, despite the inconsistencies, there are signs that something is brewing.

The lineup has ups and downs everywhere, yes, but there is power. Four sluggers in the current lineup have at least 20 home runs this season: Freddie Freeman (24), Austin Riley (22), Adam Duvall (22) and Swanson (20), and Ozzie Albies is right behind, with 17. Catcher Travis D Arnaud, who hit .321 for the Braves in 2020 but only played 23 games this year before landing at IL, is on a rehab assignment and should be back soon.

And look at the pitching staff, which too often was a disaster earlier this season. Starter Charlie Morton has a 2.73 ERA in his last nine outings. Drew Smyly has a 2.50 ERA in his last seven starts. Max Fried has a 3.36 ERA in his last 10 starts, including six scoreless innings at St. Louis on Tuesday. Rookie Kyle Muller has a 1.88 ERA in his six starts this season. And Ian Anderson, the hero of last year’s postseason rookie rotation, is scheduled to begin his rehab assignment Thursday when he returns from a shoulder problem.

In a low season, things are finally looking up. Opportunity knocks on the door.

“We keep showing up,” Swanson said. “We have faith that what must happen will happen, and that is why we never give up.”


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