Braves proving that late innings can be great innings

It is one thing for a coot sportswriter to mock certain baseball analytics and algorithms, something of a passion for this coot.

It is quite another for a vital young baseball team to do that. That’s so much more fun.

For instance: At the bottom of any given game breakdown in Baseball-Reference.com is graph that looks like an EEG of James Corden’s brain activity. It’s a detailed look at the two teams’ win expectancy at every point throughout the game, determined by some formula derived by mad baseball science.

So, by the close of the sixth inning Saturday at Washington, trailing 8-4, it was somehow determined the Braves had a 7% chance of winning that night. 

And, my, how the Braves ridiculed that number, scoring nine runs in the last three innings and eventually winning 13-9.   

This has been a month of laughing at the mathematics of pessimism. On June 14, the Braves had but a 4% chance to beat Philadelphia before scoring seven runs in the last three innings to win 9-8. On June 9 at Miami, they were down to their last percent – the Marlins 99% assured of winning with a four-run lead in the top of the ninth inning – before the Braves rallied and eventually won in 12 innings.

More proof that unpredictable human nature trumps calculated “certainty” every time. Another reminder that the best game is the one that sneaks up behind expectation and pulls down its pants.      

These Braves are now trading in the unexpected, making it their own. And isn’t that the best, most interesting kind of trademark?

For now, the late-inning reversal is something of a routine for this team, not quite a norm but close enough to keep you from reaching for the remote and turning to a “Law & Order” rerun.

Of course, they won’t rally every time – but at least they’ll make you look.

And one never knows where it’s going to come from. This month has witnessed the big walk-off hit by the bald and the venerable (Brian McCann) as well as a couple of difference-making, late-inning home runs by the young and follically gifted (Ozzie Albies). Bench player Johan Camargo has homered in extra innings for the winning run. And rookie Austin Riley has turned the key on more than one rally. The trait of stepping up late has gone viral, infecting an entire clubhouse.  

And this is a habit-changing condition for the fan, as well.

In 90-loss seasons of the recent past, it was almost necessary for the sake of sanity to turn off the game by the close of the sixth inning. Now, that is precisely when you are required to turn it on. Now you can eat dinner late, like some European, and then flip on the last couple of innings of the game content in the knowledge that is when the good – or, yes, sometimes bad – stuff usually happens.   

The Braves reserve their best hitting for the end, their batting average and their OPS between the seventh and ninth innings (.285 and .873) far surpassing anything from the first to third innings (.257 and .778) or innings 4-6 (.256 and .746). If you want to quantify resilience, there you go. Belief lives in those numbers.

Still, don’t think trailing late is the best route to victory. Yes, playing with the lead is still the preferred method – the Braves are 33-5 when leading after six innings, 10-26 when behind after six. 

But here is a team showing itself quite capable of pivoting late and confounding every trend as well as the weighty science of win-expectancy percentage. In that, the Braves surely take great glee. 

Better, they know, to live by the words of that great come-from-behind performer Han Solo: “Never tell me the odds!”

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About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.
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