NL Eastern Gonfalon! Four in a Row. Braves 5, Phillies 3.

You Can’t Spell Apollo Without The A

tl;dr: We won! See you all next week!

A Grand Slam Ain’t Nothin’ But Four Runs

So when Manny Machado hit a grand slam off Huascar Ynoa in the bottom of the fifth on Saturday night to give the Padres a 7-3 lead, I was not alone in thinking the season was just about over.  I certainly had, mentally, crossed off the game.  But does that make sense?  A four run deficit is, after all, just a four run deficit – teams overcome four run deficits several times a year.

But somehow, deep in the recesses of my lizard brain, a Grand Slam seems more deflating that some other set of plays that total four runs.  So I went in search of data.

In the Retrosheet Era, there have been 6,809 Grand Slams.  A team that hits a Grand Slam has an 86% chance of winning the game.  That’s really good, but I thought it would be better than that.  Then I remembered that you have to adjust for the run situation when the mighty blow is struck.  After all, lots of those salamis are hit with teams substantially behind: on April 24th, 1960, the Baltimore Orioles, trailing the Yankees by 12-1, hit a Grand Slam in the 8th and, after the Yankees scored 3 in the bottom of the 8th, hit another Grand Slam in the 9th to lose 15-9.  They hit two Grand Slams and were nowhere close to even being competitive in the game.  (That’s the only game in which a team hit two Grand Slams and lost.)

So what about the games where the back-breaker came when the teams are tied?  That drops us down to 1,574 homers with only 154 losses, a winning percentage of 90 percent.  But it also matters when those home runs came in the game.  I did a big long boring table for all the combinations, but let’s just look at Manny’s blast that came with 2 outs in the bottom of the fifth.  There are 29 other Grand Slams in baseball history with two outs in the bottom of the fifth in a tie game, and the home team won every time.  I note that this is not significantly different from the expected winning percentage with the bases empty and two outs and a four run lead, which is 96%.  Indeed, adding in the Braves’ comeback win, the probability that you win with a Grand Slam giving you a four-run lead in the bottom of the fifth is now 29/30, 97%.

What I’ve learned is that (a) Grand Slams are great – they give you four runs, but they don’t seem to be any better than any other set of plays that give you four runs: there’s no extra back-breaking psychological advantage; and (b) no team has ever come back from a Grand Slam with two outs in the bottom of the fifth of a tied game, until Saturday night.  (To be fair, 4 teams have come back from the 55 times a Grand Slam was hit in the bottom of the 5th irrespective of the number of outs, and it doesn’t make much sense to think that fewer outs are worse, unless you buy the famous Jeff Francoeur ‘rally-killer’ theory of homers, so a lot of this is just small sample size.)

Circle The At-Bats

With this, my last regular-season recap, we have a tool that we can look back and figure out the pivotal plays of the year.  BRef provides a Pivotal Play tool that ranks every at-bat by its contribution the probability of winning the World Series[i][ii].  As you might guess, most plays have very little impact (and none have the impact of big plays during the playoffs) but a few do, and while they tend to come towards the end of the season, not all of them do.  The list, as of today, of the 300 plays with the biggest impact is here.  So Manny Machado’s hit on Tuesday lowered the Braves chances of a World Series Championship by 0.5%, which is the 5th most impactful play of the season.  Jorge Soler’s double in the top of the 10th inning got that 0.5% back, so it was the 6th most impactful play.

Of the top 20 plays, four of them are negative plays by Will Smith; it hurts too much to recount them all here.  His strikeouts of Ha-Seong Kim and Trent Grisham to end the game on Sunday were his only positive contributions in that list, and of course they were only as positive as they were because of the negative plays he made earlier in the inning to sufficiently lower the probability of a win.  The number one play was Ozzie Albies’ walkoff homer against Lucas Sims on August 11th.  Not only did it turn a probable loss into a win; it increased the chances that the Braves would be a Wild Card team by giving a loss to a Wild Card rival at the time, the Reds.  For the same reason, the single worst play of the year was Smith’s walkoff extra-inning homer yielded to Luke Williams, which both added a loss to a game nearly won, but also helped our main division rival.  By way of contrast, Smith’s strikeout of Freddy Galvis to end Tuesday night’s game comes in at 46th on the list, because (a) all it did was preserve a lead, which is mostly expected; and (b) the Phillies chances of beating the Braves for the season is much lower than it was when Luke hit his homer back on June 9th.

But in any case, a Braves team that not long ago had about a 2 percent chance of winning the World Series now has about a 13 percent chance. The mighty Dodgers have an 11 percent chance and the league-leading Giants have a 16 percent chance. Roll the dice!

All The Way To Citizens’ Bank

I’m really not sure why people hate Bryce Harper. He doesn’t seem very unlikeable to to me, but then again there are plenty of people who find me likeable and I struggle to understand that as well. In any case, he’s about to finish his 3rd season with the Phillies without a playoff appearance. When Mike Trout doesn’t make the playoffs people seem to think it is a cosmic mistake, but because Harper is disliked (again for reasons I cannot fathom) it makes people jeer at him, not at fate.

But unlike Ernie Banks, who played 2,528 games without making the postseason at around $300/game played, Bryce Harper is paid somewhere around $200,000 per game not to make the playoffs. Money isn’t everything, but neither are playoff rings. I confess to liking Bryce Harper, but the Braves’ part in keeping him from the playoffs doesn’t bother me one bit. And his 0-11 in this series is meaningless.


I posted yesterday about Melanie Newman, my current choice to replace to replace Chip (but I’m open to almost any conceivable alternative) and I listened to her for about an hour last night. She blew a home run call, but since I think she wasn’t actually at the game and it was a 94 mph hit that went about 331 feet right down the line at Dodger Stadium, I’m going to give her a pass. (Plus, she blew it by underplaying a homer, not overplaying a routine out. Refreshing.) I am not sanguine that the Braves fanbase is… how shall I put it… necessarily ready for a competent announcer with two X chromosomes, but I’m ready for competence from anybody, and I’m not going to let the possibility that lots of fans love Chip (sob!) and have unfortunate gender biases stand in my way.

My irritation with Chip in this game really started from the get-go. I want to be clear… reasonable people can clearly disagree with me in this opinion, but the triumphalist air with which Chip began this game is inappropriate to baseball. We all know that the conclusion of this division is all but determined. But Chip’s job is to make everything exciting, so he began this game with intimations of inevitability that is just inappropriate in baseball, in my opinion. If the Braves and Phillies had split the first two games, his attitude would have been entirely different. But the difference between those two outcomes is one Freddy Galvis swing, which has an evidentiary value of roughly zero. This is really less a knock on Chip but a generic problem with what announcers are trying to do all the time, but what makes baseball great is unpredictability, not inevitability… and all things considered I’d prefer that played up. If this were Chip’s only flaw, I’d probably love the guy.

“Anderson’s batting .059. Let’s see if he can change that.” Barring a walk, a hit batsman, or interference, Chip, he will. He did. He struck out. My annoyance with the “Let’s see if…” phrasing is unending.

“I’m not one who normally dabbles in the statistical probabilities of winning because of the human factor, but…” Just one of the many places where Chip and I part company. Where he got the idea that these probabilities are determined by anything other than the actions of human beings is beyond me. Maybe he means something profound. I doubt it.

“You can’t spell MVP without R-I-L-E-Y.” I’m not sure how many times he’s said this, but I’ve heard it twice. It is completely nonsensical. It’s been spelled without R-I-L-E-Y every single time. I might as well say “There’s no ‘I’ in Riley.” Makes exactly as much sense.

But let’s give Chip the benefit of the doubt. There are 4 MVPs whose full names contain all the letters in “Riley” and only one whose name contains none of those letters. Name them. (Answers in the footnotes.)

Yo! Adrian!

In Philadelphia sports lore, you lose to Apollo Creed, barely beat him in the rematch and call out bloodied to your girlfriend as a World Champion. It turns out that that’s fiction, as is the notion that Philadelphia fans will always give you another chance if you’re authentic enough.

Soler led off with a prodigious 465 foot homer, which caused Chip to ramp his Inevitability Meter to 11. Anderson trouble in the top of the 2nd made him back down a bit, which helped a lot. It was almost as if he was surprised that Philly intended to play the game. Riley hit number 33 in the 4th for the Braves’ second hit and second run. Keith Law ranks Riley 10th in the NL MVP race. That might’ve moved him to 9th. Me? I’ve got him all the way at 7th. But I’m a Braves homer.

A Swanson double scored d’Arnaud from first and at that point even I’ll begin to accept a few hints of inevitability. An Ozzie triple which scored Freddie from first, followed by a R-I-L-E-Y bloop that scored Ozzie made it 5-0. A 5 run lead isn’t Destiny, but it’s only an exit or two away.

But a two-run homer by McCutcheon once again reminded everyone that baseball is about unpredictability. 5-2 isn’t inevitable, not in a world that contains Hancock. Anderson left after yielding three hits and two runs in 6+ innings.

There was a moment of abject terror in the 7th when Alvarado plunked Freddie near the elbow at 100 mph, but it looks like Freddie will be OK. He stayed in the game, only to watch Realmuto hit a homer off Jackson in the 8th to make it 5-3, officially moving the team out of Hancock Heaven.

So Hancock enters: K, F6, K. That’s why you pay the man. Best closer in the game, amirite?

Comic relief against the Mets this weekend. We’ll be in Milwaukee on Friday.

[i] It will come as no surprise that the single most pivotal play in franchise history is Francisco Cabrera’s single whose 29th anniversary is a couple of weeks away.  (It had about 50 times the impact of Ozzie’s blast.) The next most pivotal play, unfortunately a negative one, is Sid Bream’s bases-loaded double play to end the top of the 8th in the 7th game of the 1991 World Series.  The biggest regular season play in franchise history is Carl Furrillo’s walkoff single in the bottom of the 12th on September 29th 1959 that knocked Milwaukee out of contention.

[ii] Pivotal plays are not, of course, the same thing as pivotal games.  But Pivotal plays are much more fun.

[Trivia answer] Dennis Eckersley, Christian Yelich, Carl Yastrzemski, and Cody Bellinger. Note all of these require both the first and last names to work. But Mo Vaughn and R-I-L-E-Y have nothing in common, beyond the fact that they both helped the Mets lose money.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

76 thoughts on “NL Eastern Gonfalon! Four in a Row. Braves 5, Phillies 3.”

  1. Lengthening the lineup has made this team as dangerous as last year, plus the bench is stronger. Helluva job by AA and he deserves all the credit thrown at him for essentially giving up nothing at the deadline to build the team that won the division again.

  2. @3 Agreed. I think this lineup overall might be more dangerous. Last year had Ronnie but this lineup is far deeper. AA did a great job.

  3. Well now, we know why Freddie looked so miserable these last three days and struck out so much. Defense apart his contribution was minimal…but the moment we got that last strike 3, what a transformation, he must have had it bottled up all that time. Wonderful to see and watch the crowd interact with him at the raucous end. What a smile then!

    And now something else needs be said about two other gentleman. It strains credulity that so many members of our Board were so wrong, so often about two of the giants of our team. To say daily vilification of both on these pages is not an exaggeration, it understates how often it happened. You fell in love with your fears, you underweighted the human element that is always there in extremis to be seen, if you are looking with an open mind at special people. Judge the person, not the numbers.
    So wrong about :

    Will Smith

    Brian Snitger

    Most appropriate is it not their fates were intertwined, each feeding on the other. Snit who had every player in the team in his pocket, affectionate total commitment. And sticking with Smith while the barbarians were howling at the gate, every day. He who had the guts of a lion.

    Lucky us. We hardly deserve them!

  4. I think JonathanF did more real baseball analysis in this recap than Chip did the entire year. Kind of amazing. I hope he gets a chance to analyze exactly 11 Braves wins during the post season.

  5. Didn’t Mark Melancon say he left the Braves for the Padres for less money because he wanted to win? Great choice there Nostradamus.

  6. Have any of our previous NLE Pennants been closed out in the bottom of the ninth in around 9 pitches?

  7. Gonfalon – I had to look it up!!

    It’s true that you do learn something every day

    Another excellent recap (but when is this ever not the case)

  8. There were a few folks on here who said – many moons ago – that 86 wins would win the division. They were exactly right.

  9. As the self professed leader of Team Sell at the end of July, I can definitely say I was wrong and have enjoyed the ride. Will I feel that way in mid October if the Braves get bounced by the Brewers? We shall see, I suppose.

  10. @16

    Considering that the Braves haven’t exactly “sold” anything of any value, the rest of the season is gravy and should be treated accordingly – at least until the first Will Smith blown save

  11. @16 I think the Brewers may not be as hard to beat as they seem. Devon Williams pitched us very well and he’s not available. They seem to have been on more of a downswing late in the season (they could not beat up on the Cards). I think I’d rather face them than any of LAD, SFG, STL.

  12. Choptober, y’all… hard to say that I really expected this. This Braves season was as weird as any.

    I’m sure there’s a precedent somewhere, but I cannot remember a club that added so many immediately useful players at the deadline. This really is a different team…. roll that dice.

    Re: Harper
    Harper is disliked mostly (by opposing fans) because of his annoying & immature behavior at the beginning of his career. Earned or not, the villains always add some spice, whether it’s real competition or wrestling.

    I must say that, now, Harper’s become a bit of an old pro. That he’s a terrific offensive player is beyond dispute.

  13. @16 As I’ve been telling you all year: the playoffs are a crapshoot.

    Also – Braves head-to-head records against all other playoff teams are fine.

    World Series totally winnable. Just enjoy the ride. 3-19 games of bonus baseball coming right up!

  14. Just got tickets for NLDS game 3 (the first one in Atlanta) with my son, who will be on fall break from college. Was surprised there were any left on the official site after the season ticket holders got done buying theirs. They were going quickly, though.

  15. I immediately read that and thought, “I don’t see how this team can go 3-19 in October.”

    Then I realized what you meant.

  16. Yeah, Harper was a semi-to-complete douche in Washington. That’s why people dislike him. I actually find him vaguely likeable now, I guess? At worst, neutral colored by my previous negative opinion of him and the fact that he plays for the Phillies.

    My guess is he’ll win MVP, but I don’t know how many votes he’ll lose due to his truly awful performance in this, the most important series of the year for his team. It will be a few. I guess I would probably vote for him? If anybody on a playoff team (read: Freeman or Riley) were particularly close, that would be different, but I think they’re both clearly a notch below.

    Unlike Tatis and Soto, whose teams shamefully bombed and left the player incapable of creating value, respectively, Harper at least led the Phillies back from a five-ish game deficit in the final month to the verge of getting to the head-to-head series with an even chance. And the thing that turned the race back in our favor really didn’t have much to do with the Phillies. It was us somehow sweeping the Padres in San Diego, particularly somehow winning that crazy game on Saturday. That absolutely killed the Phillies, and in fact, they haven’t won a game since.

  17. Sooo, the Brewers?
    – Starting pitching is excellent and racks up K’s.
    – Bullpen is excellent (even without Williams) and will get better with Lauer or Houser moving to the pen for playoffs.
    – Defense is excellent.
    – Offense had no MVP candidate this year, but the batting order is REALLY solid 1-8 with no holes or easy outs. Least power of any playoff team, but they could really string a bunch of hits together.

    Am I missing anything?

  18. I agree the Brewers are beatable. We have pulled even with them on run differential. And considering we were far behind them two months ago the argument can clearly be made that we are now the better team.
    I’d like to add my admiration and appreciation for the recappers this year. Outstanding job. Overall the best of the ‘modern’ era, (post Mac)

  19. The Brewer pitching is absolutely devastating. What this series will come down to is whether good hitting will beat good pitching, or vice versa.

  20. Strider struck out the side in his inning of relief at Gwinnett. Would love to see him replace Chris Martin in the playoffs.

  21. Jayson Stark picks Harper and has Riley 6th and Freddie 8th. A few commenters channel Chip (or maybe it’s just Chip sockpuppeting) citing, as I predicted, Harper’s 0-11 in this series.

    Pro Tip: With the exception of Braves Journal, never read the comments. Commenters here are the best… even Bill from Palm Coast. Thanks to all of you.

  22. One big feature of a Milwaukee/Atlanta tilt: all the Hank Aaron content that can be packaged up, or at least one would think that’s what’s in store for us. Looking forward to seeing more than just that one iconic home run trot.

  23. @29 you’re absolutely right. The recappers are by far the best and the commenters refrain from foul language and obscenities (even during Hancock saves or save attempts), which you usually read on every other blog. Apart from that, the knowledge in this bar is second to none. I have learned so much about baseball during the past twenty or so years here.

  24. Let me ask an honest question where I was half ready to agree with the broadcasters last night…

    Is this our best infield ever?

    Answer: No, but it’s in the top 10.

    So I looked at every single season in which a Braves infielder had at least 2 WAR, and then I summed up the rWAR. Here’s the list:

    1. 1948: 18.3
    2. 1961: 18.1
    3. 2007: 17.8
    4. 1954: 17.6
    5. 2008: 17.1
    6. 1959: 16.2
    7. 1973: 16.2
    8. 2021: 16
    9. 1956: 16
    10. 1898: 15.8

    Just beat up on the Mets, boys, and you’ll have sixth place to yourselves!

  25. @29

    I think we disagree a bit on the 0-for-11. I think it matters a little, and would matter a lot of there was anybody going to the playoffs close enough to take the award from him. But there’s not, so you’re effectively right, I guess, just not technically IMO.

  26. @ 32,

    I think 3 of those are Matthews and Adcock. 2 are fairly late career Chipper, and one is Howdy Doody and Davey Johnson (blazon?)

  27. Spencer Strider is being called up. I watched some highlight videos of him when the hype machine started up, and he’s unhittable. Hopefully he’s the next K-Rod and storms the postseason.

  28. I can confirm that Rob is correct. Spencer Strider is getting the call after his last start in Gwinnett. I’m guessing that means he’ll be on the postseason roster.

  29. It is time to give credit where credit is due. Congratulations to the Atlanta Braves baseball team. You exceeded my 84 win prediction and my feeling you had no chance. A truly exceptional team effort. Next Friday it gets serious. The real good teams await.
    Strider is hittable to a mid 3 era in the MINORS. Let’s wait and see. There are a lot of throwers who hit 100 mph and are below average PITCHERS. I like pitchers over throwers. Hitter don’t.

  30. Interesting, AAR. I’m approaching it a little differently. First, there is only one team in history in which all 4 infielders exceeded 4.5 WAR: the 1913 Athletics. (Home Run Baker, Jack Barry, Eddie Collins, and Stuffy McInnis… If I have another grandchild, I want them named Stuffy McInnis)

    Using that method, you might define the greatest Braves infield by the WAR of the worst player on it, rather than the total WAR subject to a minimum.

    The 1948 Braves infield (Al Dark, Bob Elliott, Eddie Stanky, Earl Torgeson) is still first, with everybody over 3 WAR. The lowest guy on the 2021 Braves is Dansby at 2.3. There are only 7 infields in which all 4 guys exceeded 2.2.

    2021: Freeman (4.5), Riley (5.8), Albies (3.4), Swanson (2.3)
    2012: Freeman (2.4), Jones (2.8), Simmons (2.9), Uggla (2.9)
    2008: Escobar (3.5), Johnson (2.2), Jones (7.3), Teixeira (4.1)
    1961: Adcock (3.7), Bolling (4.2), Mathews (7.3), McMillan (2.9)
    1948: Dark (4.5), Elliott (6.3), Stanky (3.9), Torgeson (3.6)
    1898: Collins (6.9), Long (3.4), Lowe (2.5), Tenney (3.0)
    1897: Collins (5.3), Long (2.7), Lowe (2.6), Tenney (2.4)

    Of those, I think you can throw out 2012 which had no real standout performance, but I think this year trails the others.

  31. @41: I agree with you, Alex, but I also thought Stuffy McInnis was greatly underrated as well.

    Now that I think about it, Stuffy McInnis sounds like an almost perfect porn name, so I’m retracting my previous hypothetical grandchild naming request.

  32. @44 I don’t know anything about that, but saying you are choosing the Padres( who have no recent history of winning and play in the same division as the Dodgers vs the Braves who had 3 straight division titles & almost made the World Series) because you want to win makes no sense. The Braves had zero money last year thanks to revenue reductions…..I doubt they made him an offer. Melancon was probably talking about maybe another team that made him an offer. I wish we could have kept him as he very well could be the difference between a deep playoff run or not.

  33. Did the Braves have a 40-man spot available for Strider? If not, how did they create one? Can’t find it anywhere.

  34. There is always an open roster spot for the Dúnadan.

    I’m putting my foot down, that’s his nickname.

  35. @45, well, the Padres had the second best record in the NL last year (3rd in all of MLB) and were aggressive over the winter, so I can see how he might have thought they would be better than Atlanta.

    As for infield quality, another way to look at it would be not how good were the players that particular year, but (especially since the current group is all in or near their primes) how good were they over their careers – how many were HOFers, how many All-Star teams they made, etc. Freeman is at least Hall of Very Good and has a chance at HOF, Ozzie is off to a decent start, Riley would need to improve, and Dansby won’t. Similarly, Freeman (5) & Ozzie (2) have made All-Star teams, Riley will if he keeps playing like this, and Dansby is a longshot but might have a chance in the next year or two if he gets lucky.

  36. @44 Those kinds of comments are pretty standard. Can you imagine if he plainly said it was only about the house?

  37. @48 I seriously doubt he thought about it that much and I REALLY don’t think he was disparaging the Braves. He was happy to sign with a good, young team. All I heard was that he preferred to go to the west coast to be close to his new house. If the Braves had offered a big contract he might have stayed.

  38. I went back and counted and the Braves’ 40-man roster is now full including Strider and they added Chadwick Tromp at catcher (Gwinnett – off waivers from the Giants). But I also see that Ozuna is no longer on the 40-man roster (he has been for most of the season).

  39. Huascar is back to being a 3-inning pitcher. Should be RH long relief like Smyly is LH long relief.

  40. I just watched Melancon’s presser when he signed with the Padres. I now think he was throwing a little shade at the Braves when he said he was happy to play for a winner. But it’s not for the reason you think. The very last question asks about the free agency process. He expressed disappointment in how little money he was offered and how “billion dollar franchises” used Covid as a reason not to spend money. He then again talked about the Padres being a winner and offering him a contract, etc. I’m reading into whether he was talking about the Braves or not. It’s true that LM cut the budget and really hampered what AA wanted to do. So, it’s possible. I can also see his point. LM doesn’t really care about winning.

    fwiw, he also said that the Braves infield defense was the best in the majors.

  41. @57 Oof. Considering how little he made in San Diego, Atlanta’s offer must have been insultingly low.

  42. I think Lee looked better than Strider. Strider looks like a thrower and Lee looks like a pitcher. Oddly, I think Strider looked more comfortable and Lee started off kinda nervous looking.

  43. @59 I honestly don’t think they made him an offer. They couldn’t even afford a backup catcher at the time.

  44. “Nimmo homers twice as core questions loom,” is the headline. Only for the Mets could a win over the division winners prompt existential angst. I love them so much and don’t know where we’d be without them.

  45. I think every 4th game in the playoffs will have to be a bullpen game. Ynoa just doesn’t have the arsenal to face the lineup more than once. Maybe you could open with Chavez, then give Ynoa 2-3 innings, and maybe also give Smyly 2-3 innings.

    They will have to ride Morton, Fried, and Anderson hard so that the bullpen doesn’t run out of gas.

  46. @67 Agreed. Lost in the “look where the Braves are without Ozuna and Acuna” narrative is that we’ve had 3/5th of a rotation for the majority of the year, and all of the attempts to get even a 4th starter, let alone a 5th, have failed.

  47. @67 and 68–y’all are right that we only have three reliable starters at this point (and Anderson is a little questionable). But the top two are excellent, and that can easily be good enough. See, for example, the Nats just two years ago.

  48. While only three starters are currently in the “reliable” category, it’s interesting that several other starters had very good stretches at times during the season. While Morton and especially Fried got off to slow starts, pre-broken hand Ynoa was the best starter in April and May. Davidson, Muller, and Touki each had a stretch of at least a couple of excellent starts during the season. And Smyly, while never all that good, had the long stretch in which he pitched well enough to keep the Braves in the game.

  49. The Game 1 starter should be whoever you think it most likely to be able to come back on three days’ rest for Game 4. Making the Brewers see Morton and Fried twice in the series? Good. Letting them off the hook by cobbling together a bullpen game in one of the most important games of the season? Bad.

  50. @73

    Maybe, but that’s a really good way to have to go back to Milwaukee for a winner-take-all Game 5.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.