Must Not Be Too Early For a Must-Win

Baseball fans generally disagree about when it’s OK to start thinking about the standings and playoff races.

Generally, most would agree that June wouldn’t be “do or die” time in that regard. For this Atlanta Braves team, however, these 11 games could be just that.

Yesterday, the Braves kicked off four games on the road against the National League East-leading New York Mets, with the Mets 5 games ahead of Atlanta in the standings. The Phillies are just ahead of the Braves and 4 games back, but I choose to ignore the Phillies whenever possible.

Then the Braves play a four-game series in Cincinnati against the volatile Reds, while the Mets will play four games against the Phillies and a single game against the Nationals before heading to Atlanta for a three-game series to flip the calendar to July.

The math here is simple, folks.

To address the games that aren’t head-to-head between the Braves and Mets, I think most of us would feel pretty good if the Braves split that Reds series. Meanwhile, you have to at least assume the Mets will go 3-2 in their non-Braves games. That means the Mets would gain a half-game over that time period.

Thus, if the Braves were to simply split all these games with the division leaders, they’d be 5 1/2 games back after July 1. But they can’t split seven games. So they need to go at least 4-3 against the Mets to avoid going 6 1/2 down.

With a team that has struggled to string together wins, you’d hate to enter that three-game home set needing a sweep to stay afloat, especially since Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker are both lined up for that series. That means the Braves need at least a split in New York.

It seemed fairly obvious that the team felt that way as well. Originally, Ian Anderson was said to be the starter for Game 1 of Monday’s doubleheader against deGrom, with Kyle Muller set for game 2. Sometime before the lineup came out for that first game, however, Muller was bumped to Game 1 against the deGrom monster.

That move paid off. While deGrom didn’t absolutely demolish the Braves through seven innings of a shortened game as might have been expected, he only allowed three baserunners through five shutout innings.

And even Muller’s exit in that game showed the urgency the Braves see in this series, as the rookie was lifted after just four innings 56 pitches and one earned run. The Braves had runners on second and third after a Kevan Smith double, the only hit off deGrom for the day, and the pitcher’s spot up. Pablo Sandoval popped out, but manager Brian Snitker saw a chance to score on the Mets’ ace and took it.

It didn’t pay off in the end, however, as the Braves lost 4-2. In the very next frame, after Shane Greene loaded the bases due to poor control and some bad luck, Snitker inexplicably turned to Sean Newcomb. The lefty predictably gave up a three-run double, and that was – as they say – all she wrote.

Anderson made good on his end of the deal, as he, AJ Minter and Will Smith combined for seven shutout innings in the second game. For the second straight day, Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a solo home run to provide all the runs the Braves would need in a 1-0 victory.

So even if the in-game strategy didn’t work, the shuffling of the rotation yielded exactly the result the Braves were looking for – a split of the first two games of the series.

Now it’s up to Charlie Morton and apparently Kyle Wright. Morton (6-3, 4.03 ERA), coming off an absolute gem against the Cardinals last week, will be facing off against Marcus Stroman (6-5, 2.35 ERA) tonight. Kyle Wright (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will make his second start of the season Wednesday after being called up to replace Max Fried, who went on the IL with a blister issue.

Wright’s first start of the year was a bit of a rollercoaster. He went 4 1/3 innings against the Chicago Cubs on April 16, surrendering two runs on three hits and two walks. He struck out five batters, but he also hit four batters. All in all, the Braves will need a better outing from him this time around.

Win either of these next two games, and gaining ground in the division over this next stretch is still attainable. Win both, and things could really start to get interesting as we move into July.

Lose both, and it could be a very unhappy summer in Braves Country. These next two games could be the difference between the Braves pulling within 3 games of the Mets – and perhaps taking a lead the next week – and falling 8.5 back.

No pressure.

TUESDAY LINEUP

The Braves announced the lineup for Tuesday night’s game around 3:30 p.m., with no real surprises included.

25 thoughts on “Must Not Be Too Early For a Must-Win”

  1. The Braves haven’t been able to win half their games this year. They have to start winning a whole lot more than half going forward.

    If they want to have a prayer at the Wild Card, they’ll probably need to finish the year with at least 88 wins, which means they’ll need to win 60% of their remaining games from here on out.

    I agree with Jeremy — it’s time to start considering these games must-win. They’ve already dug themselves a deep hole. Pretty soon, there won’t be any daylight left.

  2. @1
    Yeah they’re at the point where winning half of their games has to be the baseline, especially when they’re playing 7 of 11 games against the Mets. They can’t afford to fall any further back right now.

  3. I know this is super laden with all kinds of stuff, but looking at that lineup, I wish we had more than one starting-quality outfielder.

  4. I had a good feeling about the next two games with Morton and Fried. Mr Wright, not so much. But this is his chance to reclaim some of that prospect luster that has dimmed a lot the past two years.

  5. With Wander Franco being called up, lots of local Rays fans are saying that his defense is good enough to carry him if his bat is not ready. I get a little chuckle because, yes, Franco’s bat is better than Pache’s, but we definitely said that about Pache’s defense too. And that conversation invariably leads to conversations about the parallel universes that the Braves and Rays found themselves in when they nearly simultaneously extended their glove-first centerfielders thinking that their defense could also carry them if their bat slipped. Kiermaier is now making $11M, $12M, and $13M over the next 3 seasons and carrying a .588 OPS, and we know all about Ender.

  6. I never cheer for injuries, but the game is full of them, and if they want to concentrate with our division rivals, then that’s ok. Looks like Stroman pulled his oblique.

  7. Swansby!

    Ender Inciarte standing by and watching ineffectually as someone else makes a play really sums up this point of his career.

  8. I thought Charlie was about to have an episode, but he recovered nicely. He looks sharp.

  9. Heredia got scratched with a wrist issue, which is why we are subjected to Inciarte.

  10. @13

    Subjected is right. That AB with the bases loaded and nobody out early in the game was one of the most wretched in all of Enderdom…and that’s saying something.

  11. Another great start from Morton.

    Let’s get some runs offense so the bullpen’s high wire act isn’t so nerve-wracking.

  12. I think Will Smith has pitched the last 2 days so he may be unavailable. Might be Cool Hand Luke to close tonight.

  13. Ender is such a speedster he can’t run 90 feet on a wild pitch.

    As a result, this is yet another night where 100% of the offense has come on a single home run.

  14. I love Sandoval, but the guy better start hitting. Over his last 30 games he’s 5 for 32 with 1 homerun and a .500 OPS.

  15. Amusing, as an aside, that the Mets shifting on Austin Riley to an extent where they couldn’t turn a double play on a tailor-made double play ball cost them the game (Swanson hit next and hit his three-run homer). You’re gonna have to do a lot of work if you wanna convince me that mega-shifting in a double play situation so that it’s impossible to turn a double play on a ball up the middle is a good idea.

  16. Mr. Morton superb. He does hit a fair share of batters.
    Riley sliding. Not good.
    Well three of four would be joyful.
    Ray’s, Sox game was hard to watch.
    Seven loses in a row, I believe for the Ray’s.

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