Braves once again look to get healthy at Turner Field
In observance of the upcoming Ryder Cup, the Braves have taken a gentlemen’s approach and honored the Phillies’ standing as two-time defending National League champs by giving their brothers from Philadelphia a half-game advantage in the NL East standings.
Had the Braves simply split the disaster that is also known as the just-completed six-game road trip, they would have returned to Atlanta still holding the same first-place position that had been theirs since Memorial Day.
But while laboring to win just twice during this six-game span against the Marlins and Pirates, they squandered what was a seven-game lead on July 22 and created the possibility that they wouldn’t even have home-field advantage during the opening-round of the playoffs.
A week ago there was little reason to worry too much about the possibility that the Braves won’t at least find entry into this year’s playoff field. Yes, there was already reason to wonder if the Phillies would once again reclaim their familiar spot atop the NL East standings.
But with a four-game advantage over the Giants, the Braves seemed to at least have some comfort in the Wild Card standings. Well the Giants have reduced that comfort to two games and with yet another of their late-season surges, the Rockies now seem very dangerous while sitting 4 ½ games behind the Braves in the WC standings.
Maybe it’s only fitting that this club that has habitually managed to deliver decisive hits in their last turn at bat will force Bobby Cox to spend his final 22 regular season games feeling some of the same stress that was present when his club won the first of its 14 consecutive division titles.
Through the first 130 games of the 1991 season, the Braves were tied game with the Dodgers in the NL West race. With 22 games left in the 1993 season, they were four games behind the Giants. At this same point in 1999, 2000 and 2001, they didn’t have a lead greater than 1 ½ games.
The Braves clinched the division during the final weekend of the regular season in ’91, ’93, 2000 and ’01. With the Phillies scheduled to close the regular season in Atlanta, it appears the excitement regarding this year’s final weekend will extend far beyond the tributes paid to Cox.
Or maybe there truly is reason to be concerned about what transpired since the Braves last played at Turner Field. Yes they managed to beat top NL Cy Young candidate Josh Johnson and veteran Zach Duke. But they also lost games started by four pitchers who have combined to post a 5.03 ERA this season.
The composition of this sentence has been changed since I originally wrote that there has been reason to be concerned about the Braves offense since they slumbered through the four-game series against the Brewers immediately following the All-Star break.
Upon further review, the Braves have hit .263 with a .762 OPS and averaged 4.8 runs in the 52 games played since the break, In the 52 games leading up to the break, they batted .272 with a .761 OPS and averaged 4.8 runs.
The Braves pitching staff posted a 3.22 ERA in the 52 games leading up to the break. They have posted a 3.44 ERA in the 52 games that have followed the break.
While the batting average and ERA aren’t identical, it’s still hard to look at all of these similar numbers and understand how the Braves won 35 of 52 heading into the break and just 28 of 52 since the break. That’s essentially a difference of a little more than a win per week.
The 52 games leading into the break included an identical number of home and road games.
Of course that was back when the Braves were actually able to be productive outside of Atlanta.
With just nine wins in the 24 road games that have followed the break, the Braves aren’t the same team that won 6 of 11 during an early June road trip that took them to Los Angeles, Phoenix and Minneapolis. Instead, they’ve looked much more like the club that went to Chicago a little more than a week later and got swept by the then red-hot White Sox.
Now that they’ve unpacked their suitcases and reintroduced themselves to Atlanta, it’s time for the Braves to rekindle the optimism that existed exactly one week ago when they were bidding to complete a four-game sweep of the Mets. The loss suffered in that series finale dropped the Braves to 19-9 at home since the break.
The Braves will return home tonight looking to extend the recent struggles of the Cardinals, who have batted .236 and averaged 3.8 runs while winning just seven of their past 23 games. Any matchup against Albert Pujols can’t be deemed comfortable. But Jair Jurrjens can head into this start with confidence that extends beyond the fact that he is 6-0 with a 2.15 ERA in eight home starts this year.
Coming off the masterpiece he tossed against Johnson Saturday night, Jurrjens will be looking to also further damage Adam Wainwright’s once-strong Cy Young Award candidacy. The former Braves top prospect went 7-1 with a 1.14 ERA in a nine-start stretch that ran through Aug. 11. In his past four starts, the lanky right-hander is 0-4 with a 4.88 ERA.
If tonight’s game was in St. Louis, there would certainly be reason to deem this a prime opportunity for Wainwright to end his recent frustrations. But now that the Braves are back in Atlanta, it’s seemingly time for them to once again start looking like a first-place team.