AAR opened yesterday’s recap by noting how “streakingly inconsistent” this year’s team is. That’s no doubt true, but isn’t it odd how such an inconsistent team can be so maddeningly predictable?
In what was the most important game of the season so far, the Braves turned in a performance that was typical of so much we’ve come to expect in 2021:
Chance to get back to .500 but coming up short of that goal? Check. (I believe this was the 10th time they’ve lost when a win would have put them at .500).
Lose after being tied through six innings? Check. (Although this time it was not the bullpen who blew it, but the starter Max Fried who gave up the go ahead run.)
Fail to generate the late inning magic that the 2018-2020 teams were known for? Check. (The Braves had two on and no out in the 8th, with Freeman and Riley due up, but failed to score; and in the 9th, an Almonte double followed by an Adrianza single failed to plate a run—a good throw by Conforto cut down Almonte at the plate. BTW, I think Wash was clearly right to send him–I’d rather count on an off-line throw by Conforto than rely on Panda to drive Almonte home from third. But of course 2021 Braves luck prevailed and Conforto made the throw, nailing him on a very close play.)
A failure by La Gran Pelaza to come through in the clutch? Check. (Panda made the last out of the game with the tying run in scoring position.)
Other frustrating at bats in the clutch? Check. (I don’t want to be hard on Riley, because his 6th inning homer off Megill was the only Braves run of the game, but in the 8th, with the tying and go ahead runs in scoring position with one out, he whiffed at three Familia pitches out of the strike zone.)
Score one run the night after scoring in double digits? Check. (I haven’t checked to see how often this has happened, but it seems like every blooming time.)
Have your hopes crushed by one of the lesser lights on the opposing team? Check. (A pinch hit homer by Brandon Drury in the 7th was the difference in the game.)
Waste another solid performance by a starter? Check. (Varsity went 7 innings giving up 5 hits and 2 runs, striking out 9. Did Snit leave him in one batter too long? Obviously in retrospect, but not so obvious at the time–there were two out and no one on base when Drury hit his pinch hit homer.)
Fail to generate any kind of streak? Check. (Since the ASB, the Braves have yet to either win or lose two in a row.)
Fail to close the gap on the LOLMets? Check. (They are the same 5 games out of first that they were when they came to Gotham on Monday—and thanks to Chip for putting the silly word “Gotham” in my head.)
Leave us tantalizingly close to contention, but not really making up ground? Check. (This inconclusive series gives AA little guidance on whether should trade prospects, sell expiring contracts, or do nothing.)
* * *
On July 28, 1982, the first place Braves defeated the Padres 8-6, to extend their record to 60-37 and grow their lead in the NL West to 8 games. Phil Niekro got win number 250 on the night, pitching seven and giving up two runs. I was at that game; it was an exciting time to be a Braves fan, and a gratifying milestone for my favorite pitcher. Knucksie had been a shining light in the darkness of the 1970’s, and it was great to see him lead the team to these heights.
They defeated the Padres the next night to go up by 9 games. Three weeks later, they had lost 19 of 21 games, were 63-56, two games out of first, and sinking like a stone. This was the same team that had opened the season 13-0.
In obvious ways, the 1982 team was the polar opposite of the 2021 team. They are both streakingly inconsistent, but in completely different ways. The 1982 team was never below .500; the 2021 team has never been above .500. The 1982 squad had a winning streak of 13 and a losing streak of 11; the 2021 team has had no streaks of more than four games—and it’s been a long time since there’s even been a streak that long.
But it strikes me that they are alike, in that both could be characterized as bad good teams (to borrow again from AAR). The 1982 edition had two offensive stars (Murphy and Horner) but four of the other regulars had an OPS+ of 93 or lower. We all know how top heavy and uneven the 2021 Braves lineup is. The 82 pitching staff was likewise uneven; Niekro was solid but the rest of the starters were inconsistent. The 82 bullpen was strong. Of course in 2021 the rotation is solid but the pen is unreliable, to say the least.
The good news is that the 1982 Braves overcame that horrific August slide. The won 13 of the next 15 to go back up by 2 games. They hit another rough patch in September, and fell to three games out of the lead on September 22, only to turn it on again and win the division by a game.
I’m not making any predictions, other than to point out that the race isn’t over. The Braves really are due to go on a streak. They may lose 11 out of 13 and drop hopelessly out of contention. They could win 13 out of 15 and vault into first. Or, this being 2021, they will win every other game the rest of the way and stay just out of reach.
But since they lost yesterday, I predict they will win today. Smyly faces Walker. Win and they are down four, with momentum on their side!