The Braves are still in it, which means they can win it

They still haven’t spent a day above .500. As of noon Wednesday, they hadn’t won consecutive games since July 7, 9 and 10. On the other hand, they hadn’t lost consecutive games since July 11 and 16. This 17-game run of alternating results stands as MLB’s longest ever. Though, in crazy-quilt 2021 Braves style, this momentous achievement will be washed away when they conclude their suspended game with San Diego on Sept. 24. That result will be recorded as having come July 21 and, ex post facto, snap the streak.

The Braves were 53-54 entering Wednesday’s game at St. Louis. The past nine times they sought to reach .500, they lost. That said, they haven’t been as many as three games under .500 since June 30. If 107 games have proved anything, it’s that these Braves haven’t been very good. Nor, it must be said, have they been especially bad. So why are we feeling so much better about them this week, as opposed to any other week of this calendar year?

Season so far

Some of it is because of reinforcements. Alex Anthopoulos didn’t make a splash purchase at the trade deadline, but he nearly drained the shallow end of pool. Since July 15, the Braves have landed Joc Pederson, Stephen Vogt, Adam Duvall (again!), Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler and Richard Rodriguez. Four of them started Saturday’s victory over Milwaukee; Rodriguez worked two innings in relief. Even with Rosario on the injured list, this latest wave of Braves has yielded a whole new outfield, half a catching platoon and a high-leverage reliever.

Are any of these latest Braves on a level, talent-wise, with Kris Bryant or Javier Baez? No. (Though Soler, once a Cub himself, was a pretty big deal as a prospect.) Are the new outfielders – Pederson, Soler and Duvall – an upgrade over Abraham Almonte, Guillermo Heredia, Ehire Adrianza and Orlando Arcia, who together made 119 outfield starts for this club? Um, yeah.

The Braves deployed 14 players in Tuesday’s 6-1 victory over St. Louis. Only six – Freeman, Albies, Riley, Swanson, Fried and Tomlin – were on the opening-day roster. Over 107 games, the Braves have used 28 pitchers, seven catchers and 12 outfielders. They’ve said goodbye to Ender Inciarte. They barely said hello to Jonathan Lucroy. Best of all, the Braves have added without much subtraction. The only top-10 prospect yielded in the flurry of July acquisitions was Bryse Wilson, whom we’ll always remember for Game 4 against Clayton Kershaw.

All this motion cannot make the Braves the great team we figured they’d be. Ronald Acuna and Mike Soroka won’t play again this year. (Though Travis d’Arnaud and Huascar Ynoa should.) It can, however, render them stout enough to win the National League East. The Mets are 8-13 since the break. They’ve lost five of six, with the one win requiring a tying hit with two out and two strikes in the ninth. Jacob deGrom has been ruled out until September. So has Noah Syndergaard, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2019.

The Braves awoke Wednesday 2-1/2 games out of first place. It’s the closest they’ve been since June 8. They should – and deep down, surely do – consider themselves lucky beyond reason. Since June 8, they’re 24-25. Were they in the NL West, they’d be eight games out of third place. In the East, where the Mets have failed to launch and the Phillies have somehow crept above .500, there’s no reason the Braves – minus their most talented position player and pitcher – can’t prevail.

We can’t say the Braves have caught fire. A team that hasn’t seen even a two-game win streak for nearly a month hasn’t proved it’s anything except a mediocrity, but the deadline add-ons give these Braves new hope and a slightly higher ceiling.

On July 23, FanGraphs assigned the Braves a 6.1 percent chance of winning the division. As of Wednesday, that number had risen to 20.8 percent. Imagine if they did the unthinkable and won, like, three games in a row. Those not-so-amazin’ Mets should just sack up the bats and go home.

countdown background
Home Opener