It’s July, and the Braves are still frustrating

Pittsburgh Pirates' Phillip Evans (right) slides safely into third as an errant throw from Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna gets past third baseman Austin Riley during the third inning Monday, July 5, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

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Pittsburgh Pirates' Phillip Evans (right) slides safely into third as an errant throw from Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna gets past third baseman Austin Riley during the third inning Monday, July 5, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

Forgive the writer for invoking the tired phrase, but “you are what your record says you are.” There aren’t many more overplayed sports quotes than Bill Parcells’ memorable line. Yet there aren’t many that so bluntly convey the truth.

The Braves entered Tuesday at 41-43, fresh off getting trounced by the woeful Pirates. That 11-1 loss trounced some of the good vibes established during the team’s past homestand, when it went 4-2 against the Mets and Marlins and showed late-game moxie comparable with the Braves of recent seasons.

They even started well Monday, with Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman giving the Braves a lead two hitters into the game. What unfolded afterward was just more of what’s plagued the team since opening day. The Braves can’t get out of their own way.

Each week, water-cooler conversations center on the same talking points. It’s been an “always something” type of season: If the rotation is clicking, the offense is slumping. If the offense is hot, the pitching falters. Even if the starting pitching and offense unite, the bullpen squanders it.

This is how frustration builds. The Braves will tell you they’re confident the tide will turn. They’ve said it since they were swept in Philadelphia to open the season, and they said it Monday in Pittsburgh. They’re still one of MLB’s most talented teams. They’re still the three-time reigning division champs. They’re still very much in the race.

Yet each time it seems they’re moving forward, the rug is swept out from beneath them. For these Braves, chasing .500 is their version of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.

“I wish we could ‘hope’ our way to wins; it doesn’t work that way,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s not that easy to go out and say, ‘We have to win.’ Yeah, we do. But there are a lot of different variables that stand in your way a lot of times.”

The long-anticipated run might well happen. It could even happen this week, sending the Braves into the break feeling good. But every time one thinks it’s coming, it’s derailed.

A few days after the Braves defeated Jacob deGrom, they struggled with Chase De Jong. One day after a thrilling comeback against Miami, they were embarrassed by the Pirates. That’s how you end up at 41-43.

“I can’t explain any of that stuff,” Snitker said. “That’s the beauty of baseball. That’s what keeps us coming back. There are no guarantees, absolutes. Anything can happen on any night.”

Despite the maddening inconsistency - there’s another description synonymous with this club - the Braves are thankful that no team has separated itself from the rest of the painfully average National League East. That has bought the Braves time they wouldn’t have in every other division, where the team(s) at or near pole position are the cream of the crop.

Not in the NL East, where the Mets lead the division at 44-37, four games better than Washington and 4-1/2 ahead of the Braves. Every other division leader has at least 49 wins. The other division leaders in the NL, Milwaukee (51-35) and San Francisco (53-31), are comfortably outpacing the Mets. The NL West has three teams that would lead the East.

The standings, and the unshakable feeling that these Braves haven’t revealed their best selves, are why many have kept faith, or rather, hope -- a belief that the team will suddenly hit its stride and climb back into the postseason chase.

With the second half to go, it’s not an outlandish belief. But with each passing week yielding the same results, the Braves are losing time. There are plenty of games remaining, but what does it matter if nothing changes? Eventually, time runs out. The Braves have five games left before the All-Star break and begin a July gauntlet after that. It will be fascinating to see how it goes - and if they finally buck their trends.

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