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Mark Teixeira Up until recently, the consensus among higher baseball minds (read: Neyer and Stark ) was that the Braves were primed for a surge up the standings and that the team’s ho-hum record was mostly a product of bad luck. How else do you explain a 2-15 record in one-run games?

Here’s what Stark had to say about the Braves’ chances of making a run:

They have a better run differential (plus-48) than six of the eight teams that would make the playoffs if the postseason started today. They rank first or second in the league in batting average, ERA and rotation ERA. And the biggest reason for their .500-ish record (28-25) is their 2-14 record in one-run games. But that’s a record that figures to improve dramatically once they add John Smoltz , Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez to their bullpen.

Frankly, as a Phillies fan, I feared the Braves as well. If they were a good team despite injuries to Smoltz, Glavine, Hampton, Soriano and Gonzalez, there was no telling how good they’d be in July and August with a healthy pitching staff. Especially if Chipper keeps hitting .400. And especially if Mark Teixeira goes on his usual second-half tear.

But this week the tide is turning. No longer is there talk of a Braves resurgence. Now those same experts are singing a new refrain: the Braves are done.

Neyer has changed his tune:

The Braves are finished. Tim Hudson’s a good pitcher but he can’t pitch any better than he’s pitched. Chipper Jones is a great hitter, but can’t hit as well as he’s been hitting. Even as the Braves’ luck evens out, as it almost has to, it’s hard to see them doing any better than they’re already doing.

John Smoltz The fans, too, feel the Braves are lost. Just yesterday I got an email from infrequent Umpbump commenter Zvee, entitled "Holy Balls," that lamented the state of the Atlanta team. And Zvee isn’t the only Braves fan questioning the team these days. AJC blogger Chop Chick thinks the team has lost its chemistry:

Maybe I’m making too much out of it, but if they’ve lost the camaraderie and support that makes them a team, they’re in serious trouble. And while I can stomach losing if the guys hang together and keep laying it out on the field, it’s getting difficult to keep watching when it looks like they’re putting up minimal resistance. Those of us in Atlanta may soon envy those of you outside Peachtree TV range.

So what’s changed? How have the Braves gone from "poised for a breakout" to "poised for a bellyflop"?

Quite simply, it’s Smoltz. Or, rather, the loss of Smoltz. He was the glue. He was the guy who was going to make this team’s starting staff great. Then he was the guy who was going to make the bullpen a strength. Now he’s neither.

Here’s what Chipper Jones had to say about the loss of Smoltz:

"Coming into this season, I said we wouldn’t have a chance of competing in this division if he wasn’t starting for us every fifth day," Chipper Jones said. "We’ve managed to keep our heads above water without him. But now, to not have him at all this season is just devastating, flat-out devastating."

When you’ve lost six games in a row, 17 of 20 road games, have a 3-18 record in one-run games, when four of your top five starting pitchers are hurt, your bullpen is a patchwork and your best hitter is feeling "devestated" it’s hard not to think the season is slipping away.

Also, it’s not just that the Braves are losing. It’s how they’re losing. Kelly Johnson drops an infield pop-up with two outs in the ninth, allowing the Phillies to tie the game (and eventually win). Jeff Ridgeway hits a batter with the bases loaded in the 11th inning, giving the Cubs the win and the series sweep.

Things are bad in Atlanta.

And it’s getting harder to find people who think the situation will improve anytime soon.

12 Responses to “Time to stick a fork in the Braves?”

  1. Not a chance in #@$%^*&! that he hits .400 this year. In fact, if he does, I’ll walk from Tucson to Phoenix (100 miles) wearing a Chipper Jones jersey if by some miracle it were to happen. Look, he’s a very good major league hitter…a career .309 hitter is outstanding. But, don’t think there’s any way to go 13 years hitting just over .300 to hitting .400 in a season. I could be wrong…but hope that I’m not…that would be a very long and hot walk for me ;-)

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    Coley, you are on crack if you honestly think Chipper can hit .400. Even if we overlook the facts that he is too old, too slow, and that everyone is going to have a slump from time to time over a 6-month season, it’s actually kind of statistically impossible at a very basic level. I think Baseball Prospectus had an interesting article in their “Baseball Between the Numbers” book, which was very math-y and talked a lot about standard deviations, but in which the point was that it is a lot harder to dominate baseball today than it was in the early days, because the talent level of the players is more tightly grouped, ie the difference between the best player and the worst player is far, far less of a gap today than it was in 1930.

    There is a reason why in all the player-seasons since 1941 nobody has come even all that close to .400, beyond just better relievers and such. Namely, that the odds of such an event happening have drastically decreased at a fundamental statistical level.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    I don’t think Jones will make it either, Nick, but I think .390 is coming “even all that close to .400.”

  4. Brian Gibbons says:

    Nobody can hit .400 again. When Ted Williams played, fielders were wearing tiny hard pieces of leather on their hands as gloves. Most of the webgems you see on baseball tonight, particularly the diving catches in the outfield, were not possible when the splendid splinter hit .406.

  5. Coley Ward says:

    Ichiro hit .372 in 2004. He missed hitting .400 because he got off to a slow start, hitting just .255 in April. He hit .400 in May, .432 in July, .463 in August and .429 in October.

    Ichiro’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t walk enough and, because of that, he has to get a TON of hits in order to bat .400. In 2004 he broke the all time record for hits in a season and still fell 28 points short.

    In 2004, Ichiro walked 49 times. Last year, Chipper walked 82 timese. Because he walks more, Chipper won’t have to break the all time hit record in order to bat .400 (though, he’ll have to come close).

    Look, I know it’s a long shot. Hell, it’s a near impossibility. But I’m still betting on Chipper. And Andrew, if you think come October I won’t remember your promise to walk from Tucson to Phoenix, you’re crazy.

  6. Coley Ward says:

    Here’s another interesting tidbit. Ted Williams was the last person to hit .400. He did it in 1941, the same year Joe Dimaggio recorded his 56-game hitting streak. Cornell grad student Samuel Arbesman recently penned a piece for the New York Times where he demonstrated that 1941 was one of the least likely years for a player to record a record hitting streak.

    My point, of course, is that sometimes great players make history despite the odds.

  7. EddieRebel says:

    Braves homer here,
    Chipper is not hitting from the right side. His power is coming from the left. Hopefully he won’t face many lefties, and can keep his average up.
    No chance for 400 though.

  8. Coley Ward says:

    Eddie, his power is coming from the left, no doubt. But he certainly is hitting from the right side. He’s hitting .400 from the right side, in fact. I think that’s pretty good.

  9. BravesFan says:

    Chipper has hit exactly .400 from the right side of the plate since May 5, 2007…that’s more than an ENTIRE season of games.

    That having been said, it’s still going to be nearly impossible to do, but I’d like to see Andrew make the 100-mile trek.

  10. BravesFan says:

    Chipper was injured last night, too. Freak accident: he fouled a ball off the top of the batting cage and the ricochet caught him directly on the left eye, causing a pretty serious contusion.

    I think this team is cursed. The injuries are just getting annoying – there’s a new one every day.

  11. Last year’s cursed team was the Yankees. Remember how many pitchers they used in April and May? I think the lesson here is that when you rely on aging players – especially aging pitchers – you set yourself up for an injury filled season. Not that I blame the Braves. I mean, what were they going to do? Trade Chipper and Smoltz?

    The real disappointment this season has been Francoeur. I wonder if he’ll ever live up to the hype?

  12. As a die-hard braves fan, I have to say that I\’ve pretty much lost hope in them. It\’s gotten to the point where even Bobby Cox seems to be making a lot of poor moves, especially with the bullpen. On the road, these blunders make it so predictable that they will lose. I.E. using guys 2 and 3 innings for saves when they have a tendency to tail off after an inning or two (I.E. Manny Acosta). There is seemingly no quick fix trade for them to make. Even adding another starter doesn\’t fix the fact that they always find ways to shoot themselves in the foot.

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