Bradley’s Buzz: The Braves haven’t been great. Would it matter if they had?

San Diego Padres' Jake Cronenworth (9) celebrates at the plate after hitting a two-run homer against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

San Diego Padres' Jake Cronenworth (9) celebrates at the plate after hitting a two-run homer against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

The Braves awoke on the Monday before Memorial Day five games behind Philadelphia, though still with the third-best record in the National League. Their odds of making the playoffs have dimmed only slightly – Baseball Prospectus assigns them a 97.3 percent chance – and their sample size is the smallest. Owing to rainouts, they’ve played fewer games than any other club.

That said, they’d worked 42 games, slightly more than one-fourth of a regular season. It’ll be June soon. It’s still early, but we can no longer write this off to injuries/slow starts. Only twice over their past 24 games had the Braves scored more than five runs. Over 162 games last season, they averaged 5.8 runs. The 2024 team is averaging 4.6.

In 2023, seven Braves hit 21-plus home runs. A year later, only Marcell Ozuna is on pace to break 20. Here, though, is where we stop with the projections. There’s no chance this roster will produce only one 20-homer-hitter. There’s almost no chance these Braves won’t be playing in October.

And what were saying in October 2023 and October 2022? “Only the playoffs matter.” And, “The Braves should have done like the Phillies and saved something for postseason.” And, “Baseball is unfair.” (Though we hadn’t worried about fairness when the 88-win Braves beat the 95-win Brewers, the 106-win Dodgers and the 95-win Astros in October/November 2021.)

Here’s where the Braves get to be the Phillies. Here’s where they don’t have to bust a gut to win the division, which might make for a nice change. (Philadelphia has qualified for postseason as a wild card as many times over the past two seasons as the Braves have ever.) If the playoffs are all that matter, mightn’t this be the time to gear up not for a late-summer surge but for an October offensive?

Such an approach would go against the Braves’ way of thinking. Since 1990, they’ve won their division 21 times over 32 completed seasons. They LIKE winning the division. But with two wild cards per league and with every wild card getting to play an actual series – as opposed to the silly one-and-done game – the rewards of finishing first have never been less.

Here’s what a Round 1 bye buys: next to nothing. Over the first two 12-team playoffs, the eight teams with byes were 3-5 in Round 2; NL teams with byes, meaning the Braves and Dodgers, were a big fat 0-4.

I’m still not sure there’s a way to be Built For October, as the Phillies deemed themselves after beating the Braves – and just before losing to Arizona – last fall, but I’m willing to concede that getting a rolling start, as opposed to sitting out Round 1, mightn’t be a bad thing. (This assumes you don’t lose in Round 1, in which case nobody remembers you were there.)

For the Braves, who’ve seen 101- and 104-win seasons avail them little, not winning 100 games could prove invigorating. (I know it sounds silly, but two of the past three World Series champs were 88- and 90-game winners.) Maybe the 2022 Braves overtaxed themselves in chasing down the Mets. Maybe last year’s Braves got caught up in trying to hit historic personal and communal highs.

I can hear Brian Snitker saying, “OK, Mr. Genius – how do you win just enough but no more?” I’m not sure there’s a great answer, but this much is clear: In trying to juice its postseason, MLB has devalued its first 162 games. Teams need to figure out how to play the hand they’ve been dealt.

Meaning, maybe: Don’t sweat the small stuff. If a guy needs a day off, give him three. (Ronald Acuna mightn’t be the best example: Since sitting out Wednesday’s game, he’s 1-for-8 with a dropped fly ball.) If a great-hitting team isn’t hitting – the Braves have scored three runs in three games – don’t resort to picking the batting order out of a hat. Repeat after me: Good hitters will, over the fullness of time, hit.

(Unless they don’t.)

Since April 17, the Phillies are 26-8. That’s a great run, but it can’t continue. If it does, they’ll win 115 games, which no NL team has done since 1906. Last year’s Braves looked as if they’d win 110 for a while, and they were gone after four October games.

Yes, Memorial Day is almost upon us. But it’s still a long way to October, and – assuming you get there, which the Braves will – only October matters. Or so we’ve been told.

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