PHILADELPHIA – Braves vs. Phillies in a three-game series. Welcome to the Battle for the Cellar. Or, Dead Teams Walking. Or, which of these teams is going to stumble more between now and the finish line and secure the No. 1 pick in next June’s draft?
Because at this point it certainly appears it’ll be the last-place team in the NL Least … err, East … that finishes with the worst record in baseball. These two teams have the worst records in baseball, and barring a significant change in momentum, the Braves will leave Philadelphia late Wednesday in either a tie with the Phillies or two games behind them at the bottom of the division and MLB overall standings.
Only Cincinnati (56-69) seems horrendous enough to get in the way of either the Braves or Phillies finishing with the worst record in baseball, and the Reds’ four wins in their past 10 games is as many wins as the Braves have in their past 27 games.
Entering tonight’s series opener, the Braves have ridden a 12-game losing streak to a 54-83 record and fourth place in the East, one game ahead of the Phillies (53-84). The Phillies are 3-10 with a 6.75 ERA and 64 runs scored in their past 13 games. Which, frankly, are numbers the Braves might kill for over that same period.
The Braves are 0-12 with an 8.14 ERA, .213 batting average and 28 runs during their longest losing skid since 1977. They’ve become almost incomprehensibly bad, the postgame press conferences almost sad.
They are 1-19 with a 7.57 ERA, 10 homers and 52 runs in their past 20 games, and 13 of those runs came in two games (both losses), including the 20-6 debacle against the Yankees. The Braves have scored 39 runs in the other 18 of their past 20 games, including two or fewer runs in 10 games. They’ve not hit a home run in their past seven games.
For the Braves to win the series and remain ahead of the Phillies in the standings, and to do that they would have to win at least two out of three games. To win the series, the Braves would need to match or surpass their total number of road wins since July 7.
Yes, they’ve won two road games in that span. They are 2-26 on the road beginning with the July 8 game at Milwaukee when Luis Avilan gave up the three-run homer to Carlos Gomez in the eighth inning that turned a 5-3 lead into a 6-5 loss, and set the Braves on a course which they’ve not deviated from since.
It’s almost impossible to go 2-26, folks. Seriously, it’s hard to avoid winning at least five or six games in a stretch like that just because the other team’s starting pitcher is bound to have a terrible night once in a while, and your own team is bound to have at least a few big nights from a couple of hitters in the same game, etc.
But no, the Braves in their past 28 games have somehow managed to avoid, in all but two games, putting together a few runs with a great pitching performance, or getting a few big offensive nights with just decent pitching. Two wins in 28 road games.
They’ve lost their past 13 road games and been swept in four series in that span, even though each of the past two series in that road skid were four-game series – the kind that teams rarely sweep, simply because it’s hard to beat a team four times in four days regardless of how unevenly matched the opposing teams are.
But the Braves did it. Not only did they lose their past eight in a row at Chicago and Washington, they were outscored 66-23 in those games, played no one-run games, and gave up five or more runs in every game and eight or more runs in five of the eight games. Meanwhile, the Braves scored more than three runs in just two of those eight games, despite playing most of the series at Wrigley Field with the win blowing out.
Can it get any worse than this? I don’t really see how. I mean, sure, the Braves could extend their losing streak, but it’s almost impossible for their next 20 games to be worse than the past 20 (1-19).
The amazing thing is that this team has a realistic chance now of going from a .500 record past the halfway point of the season – they were 42-42 on July 7, regardless of whether it was a “hollow” 42-42 as many have suggested – to losing 100 games. They have to go 9-16 or better in the final 25 games in order to avoid losing 100.
I haven’t done any research on this particular statistic, but I am going to go out on a limb and speculate that no team in major league history has ever finished with 100 losses after posting a .500 record at the midway point or later. If someone has time to do the research, let me know what you find.
The Braves are 12-41 going back to July 8. That’s a .226 winning percentage, which over a full 162-game season would yield a 37-125 record. And so, in effect, for nearly one-third of the season now we’ve watched a 125-loss team.
If you’ve stayed with this team and watched it crumble since the second week of July, then you’ve paid your dues. And if/when this thing eventually gets turned around and the Braves are as good as they intend or aim to be, well, I’m sure it’ll make it all the sweeter for you folks to enjoy, having experienced this.
But, man, are they terrible right now.
And as much as this team has been gutted and turned into a Triple-A team with some legit major leaguers sprinkled in, this season still is not one that almost any of the players, coaches or manager Fredi Gonzalez is going to want on his resume. Because there is making the best of a bad situation, and there is this. A bad situation, period.
• Tonight’s matchup: Appropriately enough, it’s a bad matchup to start the series. Williams Perez vs. Aaron Harang.
Perez is 0-6 with a 9.50 ERA in seven starts since returning from a five-week stint on the DL in which his command abandoned him and hasn’t come back. His first start back from the DL was July 31 here in Philly, where he got rocked for nine hits and a career-high nine runs in 4 1/3 innings. That’s the only time he’s faced the Phillies.
Ex-Brave Harang is 1-11 with a 6.58 ERA and .305 opponents’ average in his past 16 starts, with 113 hits, 18 homers and 33 walks allowed in 90 1/3 innings. His only win in that stretch? Yep, it came against the Braves on July 30, when he allowed nine hits but only one run in five innings.
In three starts against the Braves this season, he’s 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA, with 16 hits, only two runs and three walks allowed in 19 innings. The Phillies won all three games.
Against Harang, A.J. Pierzynski is 6-for-15 with a homer, Freddie Freeman is 3-for-20 with six strikeouts, Nick Markakis is 3-for-13, Nick Swisher is 2-for-3 with a homer, and Cameron Maybin is 7-for-29 with a homer (Maybin’s expected to be out of the lineup again due to his healing corneal abrasion).
• Here's to labor on Labor Day, and this great tune from The Boss, whose dad did, by the way, lose much of his hearing working in a factory. And here's his alternate-lyrics version, just slightly different, but I actually like it as much or more as the original.
Early in the morning factory whistle blows
Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes
Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light
It's the working, the working, just the working life
Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life
The working, the working, just the working life
End of the day, factory whistle cries
Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes
And you just better believe, boy, somebody's gonna get hurt tonight
It's the working, the working, just the working life
Cause it's the working, the working, just the working life