Saturday, July 13, 2013

Could the Braves Blow It?

Two things about the Braves:

  1. They have the largest lead of the six division leaders, with the fourth-best run differential in baseball.
  2. They're kind of limping into the All-Star Break, losers of six of their last ten, and their entire starting outfield is hurt.
The Braves' recent struggles, combined with improved play from the one-last-hurrah Phillies and a return to health of most of the Nationals, has raised the hopes of the Braves' mid-Atlantic rivals.

But still. They enter today's play six up on the Nats, seven up on the Phils. Neither has been a particularly good club. The preseason favorite Nationals are 47-46 and have given up 16 more runs than they've scored. The Phillies are 46-47 and have given up 46 more than they've scored. The Braves are 53-40 and have scored 79 more than they've allowed. And the injured starting outfielders--Justin Upton, BJ Upton, Jason Heyward--well, they haven't been all that good. In fact, yet another injured Braves outfielder, Jordan Schafer, out with a stress fracture, has surpassed all three of the starters in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Justin Upton, after a Player-of-the-Month Aprilhas batted .238 with a .333 on-base percentage and .353 slugging percentage. Those are basically Brian Dozier numbers. J-Hey has battled injuries and put up a numbers similar to Justin's post-April. And Bossman Junior has been one of the worst position players in the majors: .177 BA, .266 OBP, .300 SLG. Five pitchers with 20 or more plate appearances have surpassed those figures. The Braves have succeeded because of Freddie Freeman's bat, Andrelton Simmons's glove, and the second-best team ERA in the National League, not their outfield.

Washington and Philadelphia fans hold out hope, though. After all, it's not like the Braves haven't blown a lead before.

But is their hope realistic? I looked at every team since the beginning of divisional play in 1969 that had at least a six game lead on July 13. It's happened 54 times. How often have such teams failed to win their division?

Not very often, as it turns out:
  • In 1973, the Reds overcame a six-game Dodgers lead behind MVP Pete Rose.
  • In 1978, the Yankees roared back from eight behind the Red Sox in one of the most famous comebacks in history.
  • In 1979, the Reds duplicated their 1973 feat, this time topping the Astros.
  • In 1985, the Angels finished a game behind the Royals after leading by six.
  • In 1993, another famous season, the Giants, who held a nine-game lead on July 13, finished 103-59 but a game behind the Braves, who played .740 ball the rest of the season.
  • In 2003, the Twins reversed a seven-game lead by the Royals on July 13 to finish seven games ahead at the end of the season. (Yes, this means that ten years ago, the Twins and Royals were both good teams.)
That's it. Six teams have come back from six behind on July 13 out of 54 times. One in nine. Good luck, Nationals and Phillies.

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