If you’re playing to reach postseason – with 12 spots available, any team above .500 still has a chance – the goal is to get to Labor Day with that chance intact. If you’re playoff-bound, you know nothing that happens now is apt to enhance your postseason chances. August isn’t October. You’d love to keep winning, but now’s the time when you can afford to lose a few.
Ballplayers have good days and bad days, just like us civilians. Difference is, we civilians can take two or three weeks off in the summer swelter. Ballplayers keep going. The real pros never mail it in, but part of being a pro is to accept that not every day will be a diamond, or even a sapphire.
The Braves lost their final two games in Chicago. That was OK – Cubs are hot, can’t win ‘em all, et cetera. A rain-delayed loss in Pittsburgh followed. The Pirates stopped winning months ago. They dumped a lot of players at the deadline. Such a team makes for a tricky opponent. It’s not apt to have many good games, but this is baseball. Nobody loses ‘em all, either.
The Braves trailed 6-3 after five innings. (Yonny Chirinos started. More about him in a moment.) Ronald Acuna got plunked on the elbow and exited early. They trailed 6-5 with two out in the ninth. They tied it on a single by Kevin Pillar, who didn’t start. They went ahead on a double by Orlando Arcia, immense all season. A fourth consecutive loss was averted.
Not that a fourth consecutive loss would have been the end of the world. There’s no need for the Braves to play .750 ball from here on, but a team this good doesn’t want to develop bad habits.
Why doesn’t it? Just because. Analytics show no evidence that teams on a late-season roll fare especially well in the playoffs. Ask the 2022 Braves. They went 21-10 to end the regular season and steal the NL East; they were 1-3 and gone in the NLDS.
The third rule of baseball seasons is that, over 162 games, starting pitching matters most. Max Fried worked for the first time in 90 days and threw six shutout innings at Wrigley Field on Friday. Bryce Elder, All-Star, started the next day. He didn’t last five innings, yielding five earned runs. Charlie Morton had almost the same line Sunday. Spencer Strider, All-Star, yielded six earned runs over 2-2/3 innings Monday.
Chirinos, acquired on waivers last month, slogged through five innings Tuesday, surrendering six runs. His ERA over three starts as a Brave is 8.56.
Over the past four games, the starters’ ERA is 12.12. Yes, that’s a tiny sample size. Still, the Braves’ rotational ERA keeps ticking upward. It’s 4.18, which is 12th-best among MLB clubs. (Granted, that’s with Fried and Kyle Wright starting only 11 games.)
With Fried back, August might be the time to let Strider, Elder and Morton skip a turn. Strider, who’s 24, has surpassed his career high for innings in a professional season. Elder, also 24, is within 11 innings of his. Morton will turn 40 in November. They’ll all be needed in October.
The Braves have the luxury of a lead. Even if it means winning only 100 games – only! – a bit of load management would seem prudent. This team has been playing since March 30. Game 7 of the World Series is scheduled for Nov. 4. Dreaded August still has three weeks to run.
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