The Braves have been so good for so long – five consecutive division titles with a World Series win interspersed – that I’ve come to divide regular-season games into two categories. There are the mismatches, and then there are the matches that matter. The Braves themselves mightn’t be of the same inclination. Then again, they might.
Earl Weaver once told the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell: “This ain’t a football game. We do this every day.” His point being: The rah-rah inherent in the any-given-Sunday sport doesn’t apply to teams that play 162 games. Baseball is a function not of emotion but of skill and consistency. In football, it’s OK to hit somebody harder. In baseball, trying hit the ball harder yields a strikeout.
From Tommy Lasorda: “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes a difference.”
I pay attention to everything the Braves do – comes with the job – but I pay less attention to what they do versus teams they should beat. Against teams that hold losing records as of Monday morning, the Braves are 19-3. Those are the mismatches.
Against opponents above .500 – San Diego, Houston and Baltimore – they’re 5-8. If you add the Mets, who are 17-18 but should/will be better, to the matches-that-matter category, the Braves are 7-9. Is this alarming? No, or at least not yet. A good team can dominate a bad team. A good team can’t dominate another good team, at least not forever.
The 2022 Braves were 101-61. Against teams that made the playoffs, they were 33-31. That’s how baseball works.
The Braves took two of three from Baltimore, which has MLB’s third-best record, over the weekend. They trailed in all three games. They won on Saturday and Sunday in their final at-bat.
The Braves’ next 14 games will come against teams at/above .500 – Boston, Toronto, Texas, Seattle and the Dodgers. Having a five-series run against American League teams is a product of the newly balanced schedule. As someone whose eyes glaze over whenever Miami is involved, the balanced schedule is a wonderful thing. In years past, the Braves would have had 12 games remaining against the Fish; in 2023, they have six.
The schedule should make for a more stimulating regular season; it should also make for slightly worse records. The Braves are on pace to win 111 games. They probably won’t. Since 1906, only one National League team has – the 2022 Dodgers, who lost to San Diego in the playoffs. Four teams won 100-plus last season, a record total.
The Braves have MLB’s second-best record. They have the second-best run differential. They’re second in home runs and OPS. They’re sixth in ERA. FanGraphs gives them a 22.1% chance of winning the World Series. Tampa Bay is assigned the second-best chance – 12.5%.
The Braves have been missing key pieces – Raisel Iglesias, Travis d’Arnaud, Orlando Arcia, Michael Harris – and are 24-11. Kyle Wright is on the injured list with a sore shoulder. Max Fried’s scheduled Wednesday start has been relisted as “TBD,” which is odd. “We’re working through some things,” was Brian Snitker’s non-explanatory explanation.
This is baseball. They do this every day, and then comes October. Every team has injuries. Every team has surprises. (Marcell Ozuna was hitting .073 on April 24; he’s at .146 today.)
These next 14 games will be instructive. The Braves will face teams capable of taking a series from them, which isn’t always the case. These 2-1/2 weeks will give us a read on how good this very good team is. The Braves are playing .686 ball. No Braves team has ever played .686 ball over a season.
This franchise’s best winning percentage was set 1897. The Boston Beaneaters went 93-39, which is .705. Kid Nichols won 31 games. Those brawny Beaneaters did not, however, win the World Series. There wasn’t one.
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