Thursday, July 25, 2019

Braves Playoff Chances: Win the Weekend or Panic

Hey all, it's been a while as usual in the summer. I've been in Vegas and on a cruise in July, so I'm settling back into a season where for the last month I heard about how great the Braves are, and how them making the playoffs this season is nigh-assured. This was coming from people on the radio, people in media, and people on Twitter.

Guess what?

We just dropped 2 games at home against the Royals. The Kansas City Royals. The Royals only had 37 wins coming into that series, which put them as the 3rd worst team in all of baseball. And they swept us in a 2-game series inside SunTrust Park.

Now, as you know I'm not one to react much about short term issues. I usually look at the season in 2-week chunks, not 2-game chunks. However, this is going to be one of those few times I'm going to panic just a bit. Here's why:

Let's go back a couple weeks to July 11th. The Braves were up 6 games on the Nats, with a chance over the next three weeks to absolutely bury them. They had series against the Padres (average), the Brewers (average), the Nats (a tick above average), and the Royals (terrible). The expectation over that lineup with 12 games is to do better than .500 baseball. Instead the Braves went 6-6, and dropped two of those games against the worst team.

So why does that worry me? Because the Nats went 8-4 in that stretch and closed the gap now to 4 games back. The Nats get the Dodgers at home while we take on Philly this weekend, and then it's another heads up for the last time with the Braves until September. The Braves have one last big chance to strike now and take out most of the division, putting their foot on the throats of their enemies.

And yet, we have so many concerns on the pitching side. Nobody really knows what's going on with our rotation. We have Keuchel, Teheran, and Soroka. After that? It gets really suspect really fast. Sure Gausman came back and has been good once, but I can hardly use one outing as the yardstick when he was terrible earlier in the year. Fried? Yes it was good to see him come off injury and have 5 innings of shutout ball against Milwaukee, but before that his ERA was spiraling up quickly and now cresting over 4.00. Is that good? This year probably, but it's not exactly awe-inspiring if you compare him to pitchers of a year ago.

We're seeing a fairly rapid rise of ERAs in the league from an average of 3.96 in 2015 up to 4.49 right now. The last time it was up in the 4.50 ERA range as a league average was 2006-2007 before the league put the complete kibosh on the steroid era of baseball. And yet, it's happening again with rumors of the balls being juiced, and pitchers publicly declaring shenanigans. I'm hearing those 10 year old excuses cropping up again. Players are better conditioned! Players try to hit the ball hard all the time now! It's an approach thing!

Something's up my friends. You don't just jump in ERA that much for no reason. Home runs are up everywhere in the league and balls are flying out of parks with 400 footers becoming regular occurrences. That brings me back to the concerns with the Braves. If we don't have good answers for 2 of our rotation spots, or they don't firm up fast, we're ultimately reliant on the bullpen to solve problems when they can't get into the 6th inning. And from what I've seen of bullpens, everyone's is an absolute trainwreck.

No, we need to stop the bleeding here. Don't let the Nats get their foot in the door. Let's sweep the Phillies and hope the Nats take a beating from the Dodgers. Put a 6 game lead back on them, then take 2 of 3 on the road head to head. With 8 games up and no head-to-heads for a month, I think the Nats will start to wither and die.

But if the Braves lose to the Phillies and the Nats pull within a couple of games coming into town? You're going to start seeing people panic, and that's what I want to avoid.