The Braves are lucky to still be on top of division

Sunday, September 5, 2021

-Clint Manry

The Braves dropped another game on Saturday, it’s second-straight loss and fifth consecutive one-run contest. Somehow, one of MLB’s worst teams, the Colorado Rockies, are up 2-1 in a series they have no business leading or winning. For the Braves, the division lead had already dwindled significantly. This time last week, as Atlanta wrapped up a series with San Francisco by handing the MLB-best Giants its worst loss of the 2021 campaign, the Braves led the NL East by 4.5 games. Three days later, following three games in LA with the Dodgers, that advantage fell to 4.0. And now, after losing two of three in Denver, the Braves pace has been slashed in half to just two. But really… it could be much worse.

Thankfully, the Phillies have sort of been under the same scuffling spell over the last several days, which is why, despite losing seven of its last ten, the Braves’ odds to win the division or make the postseason – per FanGraphs — have barely been impacted since last Sunday (in fact: Atlanta’s odds to win the division have increased by 0.02 points over the last several days, despite losing over two games of a lead). Philadelphia has dropped two in a row to Miami, which couldn’t have come at a better time given the Phillies were just recently on a six-game winning streak that included sweeping the Nationals and almost the D’Backs. We know how easy Philly’s schedule is through this final month, so any loss from them is very much appreciated.

But it’s the aforementioned one-run games that seem to be killing the Braves, and it’s something the team must tighten up in order to maintain its slim lead for the regular season’s final 27 games.

A fun fact found in David O’Brien’s post at The Athletic on Saturday (before the latest Rockies matchup), Atlanta has played in 47 one-run games this season – the second-most in the majors so far. The team’s 22-25 record in those games is also the second-worst winning percentage of any team that would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today. That’s not just bad for the Braves playoff outlook, but it’s also a narrative that could carry on into the postseason, when one-run games are potentially much more common due to the level of competition. Getting blown out is one thing, but to constantly lose games that go down to the wire – that can be incredibly frustrating.

The final push

Starting with today’s series finale versus Colorado, Atlanta will play 27 games in a span of 29 days to wrap up the 2021 regular season, featuring series against the Nationals, Marlins, Rockies, Giants, D’Backs, Padres, Phillies and Mets. There are a few easily winnable games mixed in that remaining schedule, but there will also be some tough matchups as well.

Luckily second baseman Ozzie Albies seems to be perfectly fine following his injury scare, homering in back-to-back nights against the Rockies on Friday and Saturday. Hopefully his bat will stay as hot as it has been in 2021. Righty Ian Anderson’s first two starts since returning have been a mixed bag, but surely he’ll get back to his late-June/early-July ways, when he posted a 2.31 ERA during a four-start stretch before going down with his injury. This Braves starting rotation must be in tip top shape in this final month of play, and Anderson will undoubtedly play a huge part in that.

I believe one of Atlanta’s wild cards in September could be Eddie Rosario, who has now been up with the Braves for seven games. In that span, the 29-year-old has hit .294 with three XBH (one HR) and five RBI, good for a 149 wRC+. With fellow outfielder Joc Pederson currently scuffling at the plate (hitting just .080 in his last 12 games), perhaps more regularly the Braves should slide Adam Duvall over to center and let Rosario take over the reps in left (which is what the team did this past Friday). Rosario may be in the midst of one of his worst seasons overall this year, but manager Brian Snitker should ride the hot hand.

Either way, it appears this season is set to go down to the final few days, which can be both exciting but super stressful for those of us who’ve labored through following this team all year long. It’s been a helluva ride filled with plenty of ups and downs. But right now the Braves are lucky to still be at the top.

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