The Braves, playoffs, and what I think their chances are

Oh noes, sports talk!  After I left Talking Chop, I don’t really have any outlet to gab about baseball anymore, and when the day is over, this is still my brog and ultimately I’ll write whatever I want to write about and post it, and not necessarily worry about catering to my seven readers.

In spite of my general apathy towards baseball these days, I’m still a fan of the game, and still a fan of the Braves.  When the day is over, I still want the Braves to win every single game possible, and I want the Braves to ultimately become World Series champions at least once more in the span of my life.

Over the weekend, the Braves came one step closer to fulfilling that ambition, when they mathematically clinched the National League East division.  In doing so, they’re guaranteed not only a spot in the playoffs, but avoid the bullshit one-game playoff game that was marred in controversy in its inception last year, which culminated with the Braves’ season coming to a close after a single game.

As solely a Braves fan that wants nothing but success in every biased and conceivable manner, I’m excited that the team is in the playoffs and is avoiding the one-game wild card game.

But as an over-analyzer of sports, statistics and nerdy crap, I still don’t really like the Braves’ chances in the playoffs that much, and predict that they’ll get bounced in the first round.  It sucks that I feel that way, but it’s not without justification.

First and foremost, the Braves simply have to overcome well, themselves.  Historically, since 2002, the Braves have made the playoffs six times.  In five of those instances, they were bounced in the first round, with the sixth being last year’s first-ever one-game Wild Card game, where they lost that too.  The Braves have developed somewhat of a reputation of being kind of a Buffalo Bills or Philadelphia Eagles of baseball, where they can get their foot in the door, but not really advance any further.

The Braves fan in me knows that salvation is always beyond the next shot, but given the competition in the National League as a whole, nothing necessarily seems tremendously advantageous in favor of the Braves.

Which alludes to the second reason, which is the aforementioned competition.  The Dodgers have been playing .693 baseball since June, and despite the fact that their record indicates they’re cooling off, it’s worth mentioning that they’re in the same boat with the Braves and are resting players at the now irrelevant expense of winning baseball games, since they too are clinched into the playoffs as well.

As of now, the Cardinals are in the playoffs in some capacity as the Central is still not determined, due to the resiliency and tenacity of both the Pirates and Reds.  But back to the Cardinals, they’re baseball’s most charmed team, and come playoff time, it’s almost impossible to ever count them out.  I used to say that I found it hard to dislike the Cardinals due to the quality of their fans, the clean and efficient manner in which they played ball, and that they simply never really did anything that would make me dislike them.  But then there was the whole debacle of the outfield fly rule from last season that pretty much essentially cost the Braves their season, and earlier this year when the Cardinals just decimated the Braves repeatedly, I just snapped.  Screw the Cardinals; out of all playoff contenders in both the NL and AL, I can live with a World Series champion as long as it’s not St. Louis.

But then if the standings hold true to now, the Braves are lined up to play either the Reds or Pirates in the first round.  And the thing between those two teams is that they’re both currently playing with all cylinders firing, because nothing is a given for them, and every day is possible elimination.  A team like that is not necessarily the one you want to play in the first round, and you simply have to hope that they’re out of gas by the time October rolls around.

Third, we have pitching.  The popular saying is that pitching is what wins championships, and if that is necessarily true, then the Braves are flat out screwed.  To me, it’s almost amazing the Braves have succeeded this much on the quality of their starters this season, because so many of them are untested young pitchers, with consistency issues.  My concerns over their long-term stamina have already come into play over the last month, as their best starter, Mike Minor has been more or less putrid over his last few starts.  Relying on him to start in the playoffs is now somewhat of a scary reality, and beyond him, there’s not much fallback.  Kris Medlen has been inconsistent all year, and Paul Maholm isn’t going to fool anyone with his 86 mph fastball.  Younger guys like Alex Wood and Julio Teheran will probably be put in the bullpen, or on some standby capacity, but even then they’re still untested rookies whose nerves very well stand a chance to come into play.

If the Braves are going to have any success, in my opinion, they’re going to have to take a page out of the (fucking) Cardinals’ book, and get ready to have pretty much all pitchers ready to go at all time.  They don’t have a genuine ace or guy who’s going to dominate, so getting a seven-inning performance out of anyone doesn’t seem that realistic.  I’d like to see them have long-relievers in the form of other starters be ready to come in at signs of trouble, and for everyone to put their egos aside for the betterment of the team’s chances.  The Braves still have the best closer in baseball, and if an army of relievers can get the Braves to the ninth with a lead, the chances for wins exponentially increases.

Finally, we have the Braves’ offense.  Namely the strikeouts.  The 2013 Braves were expected to challenge the 2010 Diamondbacks as the team to have the most collective strikeouts in a single 162-game season.  Fortunately for the Braves, they will fall about 150-170 strikeouts short of that embarrassing bar, depending on how they perform in their last home stretch.  They will fall short, because of their Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde offensive capabilities which either strike out 10+ times a game, or club four home runs and score 11 runs.

It sounds weird saying it, but I’m almost relieved the Braves are currently slumping at the moment.  It has happened a few times throughout the season already, but the thing is that when the Braves snapped out of them, they snapped out of them with a bang.  It’s often said that the playoffs are one gigantic crapshoot, and that a team that gets hot typically wins it all.  I’m actually hoping the Braves current slump will snap out in time for the start of the playoffs, where they can pretty much ignore whoever is pitching for themselves and the opposition, and just decimate the crap out of everything.  But if they buy into the hype of how talented their opposing pitchers are, and strikeout 10 times a game in the NLDS, then it’s going to be another short playoff appearance for the Braves.

Now the tone of this post might seem a little doomy and gloomy pessimistic towards the Braves’ chances, but it’s not the end of the world either.

One massive key to the Braves having a successful run, and why they really should continue to be playing hard right now, is that in spite of the fact that they’ve secured a playoff spot, they still haven’t locked up having home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs.  This is extremely important for the Braves, because they have the Majors’ best home record, while they’re vastly more pedestrian on while on the road.

It’s also worth mentioning that among the current NL contenders, the Braves have swept the Cardinals, Dodgers and Pirates when they all visited Atlanta at varying points throughout the season, with only the Reds having gotten any wins in Atlanta.  Sure, they’re all different teams now, and the playoffs are a completely different animal, but any possibility at getting a mental advantage is paramount.

I’m happy the Braves are the NL East champions once again, as it gives me bragging rights over my friends, and anyone who happens to be a phairweather Phillies phan, but I’m also trying to temper my expectations and not put all my eggs in a basket for the Braves to win a World Series.

It would obviously be nice, but I’m not going to be heartbroken if it doesn’t happen.  Anyone but the Cardinals, honestly for me, although I am hoping that Detroit makes it back to the World Series, to fulfill my mighty claim that I always manage to visit an eventual World Series contender’s ballpark.  I don’t care if Jim Leyland makes it 11-straight losses in the World Series from there out, especially if it actually turns out to be the Braves opposing him.

But no matter what, my hopes still lie with Atlanta.  Go Braves!

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