The problems with the Braves


If the Braves go on to lose their divisional series with the Dodgers, it’s hard to know where it would rank among their playoff disappointments. There’ve been so many.

This would be the Braves’ sixth divisional series loss in their last seven postseason appearances, with the exception being a wild-card game loss last year. The Braves haven’t won a series since 2001, when they swept the Astros in the NLDS. We know what happened next. And in that time, their record in elimination games is 1-6.

At least they won’t be blaming the Dodgers series on the infield fly rule.

If anything has been poorly applied this year, it’s been the Braves’ planning and talent. The Dodgers have been better, in every regard — they’ve outscored the Braves 22-11, outhomered them 4-1 and outslugged them 11-4 in extra-base hits.

Standing between the Braves and the end of their season tonight is Freddy Garcia, who had a 5.77 ERA with the Orioles before they released him, and made just three September starts with Atlanta. If the Braves win that, all they have to do is beat the best pitcher in baseball in Game 5.

Not exactly a promising forecast, but at least the Braves have their long, successful postseason history to draw inspiration from. Whoops.

The turning point of this series happened a long time ago, when Hanley Ramirez returned from injury. He’s been the best player in baseball since — he had a 5.4 WAR in little more than half a season — and in this series. Ramirez has six extra-base hits in 13 at-bats, or two more than the entire Braves team in 82 more at-bats. (The cost to acquire Ramirez? Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough. Or a little less than even.)

The Braves won 96 games this year and finished 30 games above .500, but that seems a different team. In part, it is. Their playoff team is starting Jason Heyward in center field, where he played just 20 games in the regular season; Tim Hudson’s injury left only two Braves starters with postseason experience (Kris Medlen, who lost last year’s wild-card game, and Garcia); Elliot Johnson, an August waiver pick-up, starts at second base, where he’s 0-for-10 in the series (any guess what the benched Dan Uggla thinks of that?); and catcher Evan Gattis is in left field, where he played little more than a quarter of the season.

Gattis is in for his power — he slugged .480 this year — and he has five hits in the playoffs. They’re all singles. In the field, as Keith Olbermann so aptly put it on the post-game show Sunday, “he’s a catcher, which doesn’t mean he catches fly balls.” Gattis’ failure to run down a pop fly ignited one of the Dodgers’ four-run innings Sunday.

About all that’s left for the Braves to try is for catcher Brian McCann to block the plate, as he did when Carlos Gomez homered in September and the Braves didn’t like Gomez’s attitude. Unfortnately, that wouldn’t work either: there’s too many Dodgers headed toward home.

Like the Yankees or Red Sox, if you’re not a Braves fan, you’re probably a Braves hater. That comes with success, and the Braves have had two decades of that (the tomahawk chop didn’t help). But unlike the Red Sox or Yankees, Braves haters don’t take satisfaction just in seeing the fans get their comeuppance, but also in seeing the players get theirs.

The Braves hassled Jose Fernandez and Gomez late this summer for some slight on their honor. Next time, the Braves might want to remember they haven’t done much for it themselves in this series.

  • When was the last time the Pirates won more games in October than the Steelers? Twenty-one years, presumably.

    Three teams have opportunities to end series today, and the Pirates are first up. You could have gotten pretty good odds on that in April.

    Much depends on Cardinals rookie pitcher Michael Wacha. Does he go Sonny Gray (eight shutout innings, four hits, nine Ks) and/or Gerrit Cole (six two-hit innings)? Or Julio Teheran (2.2 innings, eight hits, six runs)? It’s safe to say Wacha will have the most raucous crowd to deal with, in addition to opposing batters.

    Also worth noting, the two best postseasons, non-Hanley Ramirez division. The Cards’ Carlos Beltran has two homers and six RBIs in 12 at-bats; the Pirates’ Russell Martin has two homers and six RBIs in 13 at-bats.

    The Pirates’ top two hitters in their lineup, Starling Marte and Neal Walker, are 1-for-24 in the series with one walk. That’s an .083 on-base percentage. And they’re still ahead 2-1.

    Makes you wonder what would happen if they ever start reaching.

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