Poof! That was the sound of the Atlanta Braves’ playoff chances disappearing. How did it happen so fast? Just a couple of weeks ago the Braves seemed to be just almost sure things to qualify for the National League playoffs. Now they are dead.
After Monday night’s play the Braves’ record stood at 75-75, .500 exactly, the first time all season since they were 1-1 in April. The Braves got themselves into this mess by having a 3-9 first half of September.
Forget chasing down the Washington Nationals for first place in the NL East Division, whom they trailed by 11 ½ games, the Braves were looking over their shoulders as other clubs muscled them aside for Wild Card spots. The San Francisco Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Milwaukee Brewers are all better positioned to be playing October baseball than the Braves.
Earlier this month the Braves were seven games over .500 and looking like a team that had solved its problems. All season long Atlanta has had to cope with injuries to starting pitchers. Kris Medlen missed the entire season. Brandon Beachy has been out for the season. Gavin Floyd was ruled out for the rest of the season in June.
Closer Craig Kimbrel, 43 saves with a 1.74 earned run average, helped keep the pitcher’s mound from sinking beneath the tidal wave of bad luck.
Offensively, the Braves haven’t really had a big bopper. Nobody is batting .300. Justin Upton is having a very good all-around season with 27 home runs, 97 RBIs and a .277 average. Freddie Freeman is doing well with 18 homers, 73 RBIs and a .293 average – he’s the Braves’ best player.
Catcher Elvis Gattis has 22 homers and is batting .270, but during this recent ugly streak he has been sidelined by illness. Poor timing. The bench has been weak – lots of lousy averages living in the dugout.
What went wrong?
Thinned by those injuries the Braves’ starting pitching, which appeared to be rounding into form, has been shaky over the last couple of weeks. Julio Teheran was an All-Star, but his second half has been mediocre and he has 13 wins (though his ERA is still 2.89). Aaron Harang, 11 wins, was also much more reliable pre-All-Star break. Ervin Santana has 14 victories), but his ERA is a bit high at 3.74. Mike Minor has been a 6-11 disappointment.
One bonus has been the play of southpaw Alex Wood. Wood has 10 wins and a 2.83 earned run average. It’s not clear if he would have been in the rotation except for the misfortune of the others.
This gradual disintegration of playoff hopes snuck up on the Braves, but unless the team can pull together a winning streak for the ages to end the regular season there is no salvaging 2014 in Atlanta.