The Braves’ past two series demonstrated how unevenly they have built their division-leading record of 68-55.
Last week’s four-game sweep of the Miami Marlins underscored the Braves’ success against National League East opponents and particularly against the division’s two worst teams, the New York Mets and the Marlins. The Braves are an extraordinary 40-19 vs. NL East teams this season, including a combined 24-7 against the Marlins (12-3) and Mets (12-4). The Braves also have winning records against the other teams in the division: 7-5 vs. the Philadelphia Phillies and 9-7 vs. the Washington Nationals.
But the team that followed the Marlins into town, the Colorado Rockies, swept a four-game series, underscoring how the Braves have struggled this season when playing teams outside the NL East. The Braves are eight games below .500 – 28-36 -- against all teams outside their division, including a dismal 9-18 vs. NL West teams.
Clearly, the Braves have gotten as far as they have – they remain in first place in the NL East by a half game – on the strength of wins inside the division, especially against the two teams at the bottom.
The second-place Phillies have had far less success inside the division (24-24) and specifically against the Mets and Marlins (a combined 13-13). While the Braves were losing four in a row to the Rockies, the Phillies were losing three of five to the Mets. But the Phillies are 12 games above .500 -- 44-32 -- outside the East.
It’s a fair and relevant question at this point: Are the Braves as good as they appear against NL East opponents or as mediocre as they appear against everyone else?
The coming weeks should answer that.
The Braves have 39 games remaining, only seven of them against the Marlins and Mets. Seven of the Braves’ next eight series are against teams outside the NL East, starting with a three-game series in Pittsburgh on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
The Pirates are in fourth place in the NL Central with a 63-62 record. They’re coming off a split of a four-game series with the Chicago Cubs in which Pittsburgh pitchers gave up just four runs in 38 innings, one run in each of the four games. On the other hand, the Pirates scored just five runs in the series.
It’s Aug. 20, and oddly the Braves are facing a National League team they haven’t played all season, the only NL team they haven’t yet played. The Pirates may not be as good as the Rockies, but they’re a lot better than the Marlins.
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TODAY’S LEADOFF LINKS
> For the Braves, maybe the highlight of the series against the Rockies was infielder-outfielder Charlie Culberson’s pitching debut. See story here.
> Josef Martinez tied the MLS single-season goal-scoring record as Atlanta United defeated Columbus 3-1 on Sunday. Read Doug Roberson’s report here.
> What was learned from the Falcons’ exhibition loss to the Kansas City Chiefs? D. Orlando Ledbetter has a list here.