Between 1991 to 2005, the Atlanta Braves won the National League East every single season. With a Hall of Fame manager and one of the most dominant pitching staffs in the league, that legendary Braves team came away with a mere one World Series ring. The 2013 Atlanta Braves are a far cry from the Greg Maddux-led Braves of the 90s but they will be a sore reminder for Atlanta fans that a great season does not mean playoff success. You can get away with a lot during the course of a 162 game season but one bad week in the playoffs spells a plane ticket home and four months of golf.
With 90 wins, the Braves currently hold the best record in the National League. Does that mean they were that good all season? Hardly. They saw a couple great stretches in April and then August, combining for a 37-16 record over those two months. Inbetween, they went 46-36 the whole summer. Not that that’s a bad record, just not quite the dominant ball club some claim they are. In September, they’re 7-10.
The reason for this fluctuation is simple, their lineup doesn’t always show up. At 15, the Braves have been shut out just two less times than the NL-worst Marlins. Let’s look at the Braves’ lineup on which only two players are batting above .261.
At catcher, you have the veteran Brian McCann. McCann’s .258 BA, 20 HR, 56 RBI are about as good as you’ll find at catcher but the season has certainly worn on him. Over his last 21 games, McCann is batting just .205 with two home runs and two doubles. Evan Gattis, who spells McCann and plays in the outfield, has become one of the most unreliable run producers in the league. In April and May, he hit 12 of his 20 home runs. Over the next three months, he hit three. This month, he has five but over his last seven games he’s batting just .107 with one homer and eight strikeouts. It’s hard to imagine either option can be relied on to produce consistently in October.
While Freddie Freeman is great and Chris Johnson has become a very serviceable bat, the middle infield bats don’t bring the same thunder. Although Andrelton Simmons and Dan Uggla have a combined 37 HR, neither has driven in more than 55. Uggla is batting .183 on the season and just .163 with one homer and 15 K in 18 games since coming back from Lasik surgery. We know it’s not an eye problem.
Their outfield is even more murky. Justin Upton has certainly brought even more power to the Braves with 26 home runs this season but 12 of them came in April and another eight came in August. He has just six home runs over the other four months.
His brother wishes he had streaky production, it’d be better than no production. B.J. Upton is having one of the most miserable seasons of any Major Leaguer, batting just .188 with nine homers, 26 RBI, and 147 K. With just 23 extra-base hits on the season and just one home run since June, I would expect as little from him in the post-season as he’s produced in the regular season.
Jason Heyward is returning from a broken jaw he suffered back in August and will certainly need to shake off the rust before he’s going to produce. At the same time, he’s batting just .253 with 13 HR and 37 RBI so his production is hardly what we’ve come to expect from him. He’s as unsteady as the rest of them, batting .121 in April, .178 in May, .312 in June, .230 in July, and .348 in August.
The lineup certainly has plenty of power but the stars will have to align just right for enough of those guys to produce at the same time. The Braves’ strength is obviously their pitching but there’s questions there too.
Kris Medlen looks like an ace with 14 wins and a 3.32 ERA but he struggles on the road, owning a 4.27 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 86.1 IP. He’s also struggled with the long ball this season, giving up 18 (1 HR/9) after giving up just six home runs over 138 IP last season (0.4 HR/9).
Mike Minor has come on strong this season with 13 wins and a 3.19 ERA but much of that success came early on as he has put up ERAs over 4.00 in three of his last four months. He has been bitten by the longball as well, giving up 20 over 191.2 IP this season (0.9 HR/9).
Julio Teheran has been great but has seen his downs too. He put up a 5.08 ERA in five starts in April and owns a 4.73 ERA in September. Teheran and fellow young hurler Alex Wood have certainly proven they belong but aren’t playoff tested. Wood also hasn’t made it out of the fifth inning in three straight starts, putting up a 8.49 ERA and .418 BAA over those three outings and lasting just 11.2 IP.
The other option is Paul Maholm who is much more experienced but not nearly as good. Maholm owns a 4.35 ERA and 1.42 WHIP on the season and has been plagued by injuries in the second half. He’s made just five starts since the All-Star break, going 1-2 with a 6.04 ERA and 1.74 WHIP.
Justin Upton and Evan Gattis’ April numbers don’t mean anything anymore. Neither do Mike Minor’s. A 162 game season can cover up a lot of holes. A five or seven game playoff series puts everyone under a microscope. The Braves aren’t built for a playoff run and their inconsistency will be glaring in the postseason. That’s not to say they have no chance but the stars will have to align perfectly for them to do so.