Atlanta Braves Playoff Path Could Be Fraught With Peril

It’s been a question for Atlanta Braves fans a number of times this season. If the Braves hold on and make it to the postseason, do they have what it takes to get back to the World Series for the first time since 1999?

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Braves looked fairly mediocre against the Washington Nationals and the San Francisco Giants, losing a 3-game series to the Giants and splitting a 4-gamer with the Nationals.

Then they went on hitting and pitching tear against the likes of the Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros, New York Mets and San Diego Padres, and it seemed like the Braves might be on their way to overtaking the division leading Nationals before August was up.

Atlanta then was brought back down to earth by – you guessed it – the Nationals, Giants, and (thrown in for good measure) the new-look, recharged Los Angeles Dodgers. In ten games against three of the best teams in the National League, the Braves went 4-6.

Those ten games were supposed to be the barometer for where the Braves were at this late in the season, and if they were going to be a legitimate contender for a deep playoff run this year. I’m afraid those questions were answered, and not in the manner that Braves fans wanted to hear.

Conclusion: The Braves are good, but just aren’t good enough to beat the best teams.

If the Braves maintain their current position, and make it to the postseason as a wild card team, they’ll have to win a one-game playoff with most likely the Dodgers or Giants.  (I’m not totally ruling out the St.Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh Pirates, but right now the smart money is on a team from the NL West.)

Should they miraculously survive that play-in game, then they’ll probably be matched up against one of the two aforementioned west coast teams, OR the Washington Nationals in a best of five series.  Oh, it’s also possible they’d have to play the Cincinnati Reds, who they have a 1-5 record against this year.

As a whole, against all of those possible playoff opponents, including the Cardinals and Pirates, the Braves have an overall record of 19-25, with three games each left remaining against the Nationals and the Pirates.

Can you feel the dark clouds of gloom forming over Turner Field?

What do those teams bring to the table that give the Braves so much trouble?  Short answer – good pitching, and usually good left-handed pitching. You want to put the odds of beating the Braves in a short series in your favor, just throw out a couple of good lefties and watch the Braves bats falter.  Atlanta has an overall record of 23-26 against left-handed starters this season.

Atlanta has a chance to further build on their lead in the wild card race during September, but all that hard work will be for nothing if they can’t win a single game playoff against one of those teams that has given them fits all season.

The best the Braves can hope for is that the Cardinals continue to hold on to that second wild card team spot.  Atlanta is 5-1 against St. Louis this year.

No Atlanta fans, I’m afraid it’s not time to party like it was “1999″.  The Braves will most likely make it to the postseason, but any hopes getting much further than the division series would seem to be “Delirious” (with all apologies to Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson).

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  • http://hotmail tyler

    The Braves aren’t the only team going through a rough stretch. the nats aren’t exactly burning the world up either. They just need to catch fire now. Id rather them get losing out of their system now and not in September when each game is crucial. Allthough every game is crucial now.

  • JohnWDB

    So, the fact that the Braves went 4-6 in a 10 game stretch against the best 3 teams in the league, with 7 of those on the road, *proves* in your mind “they aren’t good enough to beat the best teams”? Nevermind that they were one 13-inning coin-flip away from a .500 record. Nevermind that they threw an imploded Ben Sheets for one of those games. Nevermind they were in a team-wide offensive slump. Nope, none of that matters, because in your mind, a 10-game sample *proves* something, especially when a .400 record in those games is so vastly different from a .500 record because those factors I listed just don’t matter in baseball, and lord knows luck isn’t a factor in baseball, so small sample sizes are perfect for such sweeping conclusions as yours. This is why this blog is not respected by knowledgeable Braves fans.

    • Michael Collins

      So the fact that they started playing the good teams with good pitching didn’t have anything to do with their “Team-wide offensive slump” that you mentioned? I also notice you overlook the season long record against those teams I brought up beyond those 10 games. If you want to attack me at least take the time to read in full before you shoot off.

      • JohnWDB

        The point, Michael, is that we can’t conclude anything about a 4-6 10-game stretch. Sure, the Braves apparent slump might be due to facing good pitching. Then again, it might just be a slump (2 runs in 2 games against scrub pitchers would support that). Maybe if they played that same 10 game stretch a million times, they win 50% of the games. When you say things like “Those 10 games were a barometer” and “Conclusion: The Braves…aren’t good enough to beat the best teams”, you make it seem like you don’t understand statistics and variance. Baseball is a streaky, lucky, unpredictable game. A lot of people don’t get that, despite watching thousands of games, and those same people say “well they proved they were the best team” when one team wins a 7 game series 4-3. Even a 162 game season includes a large variance factor (teams can be 10 games better or worse than their true ability level, so how do you think you can go about drawing sweeping conclusions about such minuscule samples? 19-25 against top tier teams is hardly “proof” that the Braves can’t beat those teams. In fact, it says they play them roughly even and just a couple of lucky breaks puts them at .500 in those games.

        • Michael Collins

          19-25 is absolutely proof that they can’t beat the better teams. It’s a losing record. It’s a losing record over the majority of the season. This is August, not April. You can spout off about statistics and variances all you like, and believe in luck until the cows come home. But in the end, rarely do teams that have losing records against the better teams go on to beat said teams in short playoff series. You can talk about “a couple of lucky breaks”, but you don’t talk about the possibility of a couple of bad breaks making it an even worse record. I don’t deal in “maybe” or “what if”, because if that dog hadn’t stopped to take a pee, he would have caught the rabbit. But he didn’t. And yes, if a team wins a 7 game series 4-3, they are the best team in that series. It’s not quantum physics, it’s wins and losses.

  • OHumphries

    I understand what this guy is saying but the season series is split with the Dodgers, I absolutely 100% believe we would beat the Giants in a 1 game series and 110% in a 5 game series. The Nats would by far be the toughest matchup. I think it is a tad bit too early to call Dooms Day for the Braves in the post season.

  • SalParadise

    The Braves are 3-3 vs the Dodgers, 3-4 vs the Giants, 2-2 vs the Pirates and 5-1 vs the Cardinals this season. Based on your logic, any of those series/1 game wildcard playoffs would be a toss up. Admittedly Atlanta is terrible against Washington but they won’t be playing them if they make it past the wildcard game (assuming they don’t rally and win the division) until the nlcs. It’s very possible that Washington gets beat in the first round by whoever comes out of the West in which case the Braves would not need to worry about them. The Braves played poorly in a 4 game series in Cincinnati (at which point they hadn’t had a day off for nearly a month while playing teams like the Dodgers, Pirates, Phillies, Reds, Rays and Cardinals) and got swept, losing two of those games by 1 run I might add and scoring only 8 runs the entire series. My point is there A LOT of external factors that can explain why a team may not fare so well in the regular season against certain teams. But outside of divisional rivals (who a team will play 15-20 times a season)you can’t really accurately predict what a team will do in the playoffs against a team they’ve played maybe 7 times in the regular season. And even if you want to try, excluding the Nats (who the Braves may not even have to face to get to the world series) the Braves are 14-15 against the other playoff contenders. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy or that it will happen but concluding that “The Braves are good, but just aren’t good enough to beat the best teams” and that it’s “delirious” to think they will make it past the nlds is simply ridiculous. Once a team makes it to the playoffs anything can and does happen, it’s all about who is playing the best baseball come October.