By Gil In Mechanicsville
In a 162 game season, 81 games represents one half of the games necessary to complete the race to the play-offs. Once upon a time, the team in the American League with the best record would face the National League team with the best record and meet in a best of seven series for the title of World Series Champion. Then, the leagues grew and grew. First to two divisions, East & West, for both leagues. This meant games would needed to be added as the two division winners of each league would meet in a best of seven series for the privilege of playing in the World Series.
Then each league expanded again, now there we three division in each league but this meant an odd number of teams would vie for the right to become league champion and meet the opposing league for the opportunity to be the World Champions of Baseball. No problem, there would be one team from each league which would be designated as a Wild Card team. They would be the team with the best record who had not won their division. First it was a best of three, then expanded to a best of five. Now a best of seven. All the while, the season was getting pushed deeper and deeper into the fall.
Not to be deterred by all the hardships generated from playing a sport, clearly designed for summer being played in cities with wind chills in the teens at night on dates normally reserved for football, the major league owners saw an opportunity to add even more revenue by expanding the play-off to include two Wild Card teams. No matter how improbable it might seem, even teams with very so so records had a chance to get into the big dance. Not that they had a serious chance of actually winning, they still had a chance. So, with all the revenue being produced from television rights, the season has now become a marathon with the final month of October and shutter, November, being like the final mile of the 26 mile marathon, only it was uphill and into the wind. A very steep hill and a cold, cold wind….
So, what does the previous three paragraphs have to do with the Braves? Well, by all accounts, the 2015 Braves were going to be one of the worse teams in baseball. Likely to lose at least 90 games and possibly 100 with the midnight trade of Craig Kimbrel to the Padres by John Hart. After all, why would a team going nowhere need a luxury piece like Kimbrel? No use having an All-Star closer when you are only going to win 60 games. So, what is the dilemma? Well, it is a bit of good news, bad news for the Braves at this point. With a team going nowhere, the two Johns would pretty much have a free hand of trading and selling off players. Not like the fans would notice. They would have given up by the end of May. The Nationals, who were stocked to the gills with high priced pitching, would be going to the World Series this year. They would win the division by 25 games and with only token resistance from the Mets, should have things wrapped up by June 1st.
Only problem, the Nats were so busy reading their press clippings, they forgot they still had to play every game on the schedule. Now, to be realistic, the Nationals have played better of late but they are far from unbeatable. The Mets? They have some really good young pitching, good enough to be a Wild Card team and even challenge an underperforming Washington for the NL East title. That is except they are struggling to find enough offense on a nightly bases to win consistently. This leads us to the Braves. At the half way point, the Braves are 40-41. One game under .500 and only 1/2 game behind the Mets and 5 behind the Nats. Okay, I know, it’s still a losing season at this point but the loss of Freddie Freeman for the past month has had a lot to do with the Braves’ recent woes offensively.
But, the Braves’ silver lining has begun to show through the clouds of doom and gloom. Pitching…. Despite the hic-ups incurred by Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran, the debuts of Matt Wisler and Manny Benuelos have given Braves’ fans a glimmer of hope for the future. That and the recent hardening of the relief corp has helped to diminish some of the angst felt by everyone in Atlanta when a starter had to come out of a game. Now, by no means are the Braves being mentioned as shoo ins for the play-offs but stranger things have happened. This is what makes this season’s trade deadline a real poser for Hart & Company. Can you really trade away your best catcher and best reliever for a couple of more prospects when you are not yet really out of the conversation?
What kind of message does it send to your team when you ship your spark plug and chief cheerleader, Jonny Gomes, off to another club. Are the Braves really going to trow in the towel when the fight could still be won? I am as realistic as the next guy, I know this year was all about transitions, a revamping of an underperforming and underachieving team into a prototypical National League team built on pitching, defense and speed. Perhaps this year’s team was a little too good too quick. It is going to be tough to make choice between being buyers or sellers this year as long as the Braves are hanging tough. Lots of baseball still to be played this year. The Braves may well fade this year late like the last three seasons but I would not count on it. By all rights, the Nats should be winning going away but you never know. Lots of years the Braves were supposed to win it all too and got beat.
So, let’s keep watching and rooting for and enjoying one of the most interesting ball clubs we have seen occupying Turner Field in years. Good pitching, good defense and just enough offense to keep you in the game for the full nine innings. We still have 81 more games to play to prove if the Braves are contenders or pretenders.