Such a September is new to these Braves. They’ll win the National League East for the sixth year running. With 23 games remaining, their magic number is down to 10. They lead the Phillies, whom they’ll face seven more times, by 14 games. Since July 20, their lead has held at double figures every day save two.
The Braves are 3-3 in September. They just lost a series to the last-place Cardinals, being outscored 26-20 over three games. They needed Eddie Rosario’s backhanded catch to seal Thursday’s victory. This came a night after Spencer Strider yielded six runs in 2-2/3 innings, two nights after Michael Soroka and Collin McHugh yielded nine runs over six.
Over the past five seasons, the Braves ended August with work to do. From 2018 through 2021, they entered September with a not-insurmountable lead. In 2018, 2020 and 2021, they won pulling away. In 2019, they led by 5-1/2 games on Aug. 31, by 10-1/2 on Sept. 14 and finished four up on the Nationals, who won 10 of their final 11 to secure a wild card.
Those Nats won it all. They came from behind to beat Milwaukee in the play-in, the Dodgers in the LDS and the Astros in the World Series. Washington had started the season 20-31; it was 10 games out of first place on Memorial Day weekend. It’s a benchmark for those who believe a team that gets hot late is apt to roll through October – which sometimes happens, except when it doesn’t.
The Braves trailed by two games entering September 2022. The Mets didn’t exactly collapse, going 18-13 thereafter. The Braves went 21-11 and won the East on a tiebreaker. We laughed as the Padres eliminated the Mets in the Round 1 the Braves got to skip. We stopped laughing when the Phillies beat the Braves 3-1 in the LDS.
That can stand as Exhibit B for the rebuttal argument: A hot September doesn’t always, or even often, presage a bravura October. Exhibit A also involves the Braves and Phillies.
The 1993 Braves went 54-19 after trailing San Francisco by nine games at the All-Star break, by 10 in the week when Fred McGriff arrived and the press box caught fire. They won their 104th game on a final Sunday that saw the 103-win Giants lose to L.A. There couldn’t have been, pun intended, a hotter team than the Braves. They lost to Philly in the NLCS.
We recall the 2005 White Sox for their schizoid September/October. They led the AL Central by 9-1/2 games on Sept. 7. They lost 10 of the next 14, their lead dwindling to 1-1/2. They roused themselves to go 8-2 over the final 10 days. They rolled through the postseason 11-1.
Those Pale Hose – former Brave Jermaine Dye drove home the only run in the World Series clincher and was named MVP – can stand as a case study for both sides of our discussion: Hot Septembers can lead into hot Octobers, although the Sox had to turn glacial in September for the final days to matter.
Analytics folks have sought many times to determine the secret sauce of October – hot or not, starting pitching or bullpen, homer-hitters or contact-makers. About a decade ago, analysts threw up their hands and said, “We really don’t know.” Going by winning percentage, the worst Braves team of the past five seasons became World Series champs.
To watch sports on a regular basis is to try to determine meaning. Postseason baseball defies meaning. I’d love to advise Brian Snitker how best to position his team for October, but – full disclosure – I have no idea. Nobody does. We’ll know what works in this postseason only when this postseason is done.
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