Bradley’s Buzz: Why the skidding Braves haven’t lost faith

Ten games behind. Shut out twice on this road trip. Michael Harris II leads off Tuesday’s game with a triple and doesn’t score. Max Fried loses on six days’ rest. On and on it goes.

I know what Braves’ fans are thinking. (I hear from many.) They’re thinking: “This team was overrated.” And/or: “This team’s going nowhere.” And/or: “Sack up the bats – season’s over.”

Having tracked this club for 40 years and learned a bit about how baseball works, I’d like to think I know what the Braves themselves, as both team and organization, are feeling. It’s rather different. Here goes.

· They knew coming in they wouldn’t hit the way they did last year. No team had ever hit like that. Did they expect to not-hit to this degree? (Sarcastic laugh.)

· Good hitters under 30 don’t stop hitting. Who’s the one Brave who is hitting? Marcell Ozuna – the oldest (33) of the expected everyday nine.

· Ozzie Albies. Really good player, right. Three times an All-Star. Four seasons of 20-plus homers. When healthy, has never had anything close to a down year. His first two homers of 2024 came March 30 and 31. His fourth came June 4. How does that happen?

· Austin Riley’s career OPS is .833; he’s at .635. Yes, hitting is down across baseball – average OPS has dropped from .735 in 2023 to .698 – but some numbers make no sense.

· Ten games behind. The Braves didn’t expect this, but it isn’t as big a deal as we on the periphery might think. This organization cares about division titles – it has won more than any other franchise – but it won’t decline a playoff bid if it comes via a wild card. Getting in is all that matters, especially now.

· Within the industry, the biggest change of recent years wasn’t the pitch clock or the shift ban; it was the junking of the one-game play-in. The notion of a one-and-done October put massive pressure on teams not to settle for a wild card. As of 2022, all wild cards were guaranteed a playoff series. The past two NL champs? Wild cards. The reigning World Series champ? Wild card.

· For all that didn’t happen in May and isn’t happening in June, the Braves hold the National League’s fourth-best record. Until the Padres won on a walk-off last night, only four NL clubs were plus-.500. There’s a reason the analytic sites still give the Braves a better-than-80-percent chance of making the playoffs.

· NL teams chasing the final wild card: Giants, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Reds, Cubs, Cardinals, Nationals. If you’re the Braves, you like your chances of outplaying any/all of those over the next 3-1/2 months.

· Front offices are prepping for the July draft and waiting to see which clubs decide to buy or sell. The Braves will be buyers – Alex Anthopoulos never gives up on a season – but it’s not clear how much he’ll need. If Harris gets going, the outfield won’t seem so understaffed. He got going last June.

· The Braves’ biggest concern remains the health of their rotation. If Fried, Chris Sale and Reynaldo Lopez are hale come October, this team will like its chances. If Charlie Morton is OK, better still. Don’t sleep on Ian Anderson, who’s coming off Tommy John surgery and who threw batting practice Tuesday. His ERA over eight postseason starts: 1.26.

· Nobody in the Braves’ clubhouse believes this team’s fortunes were enhanced by the losses of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Spencer Strider. That said, nobody believes this season has been lost. Neither was on the 2021 playoff roster.

· Are the Braves happy with how they’re playing? No. Are they fraught with worry? No. The first rule of baseball is that seasons last forever. In June 2021, none of us viewed the Braves as champs-in-waiting. In June 2023, we wondered if the Braves were among the greatest teams ever. One of those teams won the World Series, and not the one you’d have guessed.

· Nobody associated with the Braves will say this for public consumption, but the feeling now is, “Just get us to October.” Ten games behind? No big deal. Come Oct. 1, all qualifiers will be 0-0.

The above is part of a regular exercise available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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