The Braves may have had the kind of weekend that, in the real world, would have involved several rejected credit cards, at least one trip to the emergency room and perhaps a bail bondsman by the close of Sunday.
Yeah, a real bad weekend.
Faith was shaken. The Braves lost leads like you lose sunglasses.
But here is the part of a still-surprising season where it is necessary to take comfort in someone else’s misery.
By all rights the Braves, after being swept by Colorado, should have left for Pittsburgh having lost their lead in the East. And having ceded the high ground and all the real and emotional benefits that position gives a team, we’d be wondering today if they had enough left for another push for the summit. But, by a fraction of a game, they still hold it.
Because Philadelphia had an ugly weekend, too.
While the Phillies won two of a five-game series against the 54-69 Mets, they also were outscored 43-20 over that span. Thanks mostly to an epic 24-4 loss Thursday. The Phils lost again Sunday when they might have assumed the division lead after giving up 14 hits – only one of those for extra bases – slowly, torturously.
So, take heart. It is not the most sophisticated approach to bank on someone else’s troubles. Sort of like betting the don’t-pass line – and who wants to be that guy? But let’s be real here. The Braves don’t have the legs to run away from anyone, not even in the most vulnerable division. They require a healthy tailwind.
That is why fans here will have to spend the next month-and-a-half dividing their attentions between teams both domestic and northeastern (here we dismiss Washington, who’s own misfortunes have given breath to so many other possibilities).
The only goal at the moment is winning the East. There are five other non-division leaders in the National League with 67 or more wins at this point (the Braves have 68). Winning a two-horse race for the division is so much less complicated than the wild card math. And to do that, the Phillies are going to have to cooperate a little, too.
Their August (9-8) has been no more splendid than the Braves’ (11-8), just a little less busy. So far this season they have been demonstrably worse within the division (24-24) than the Braves (40-19). As you can tell by those numbers, they have more work to do within the East than do the Braves, with 21 of their 38 remaining games against the Marlins, Mets and Nationals.
Yes, that means you may be put in the impossible position of rooting for both Bryce Harper and Jose Urena at some point in the same season.
The Phillies could have made this weekend appear ruinous to the Braves, but they didn’t. That was almost as big a local story as was the Braves own faltering bullpen.
There’s another reason why the events of any one weekend in August do not spell out a season:
Seven of the Braves final 11 games are with the Phils. There is going to be every opportunity to solve this dispute head-to-head between teams that are both projects running ahead of schedule. Keep that chunk of your calendar clear. Because there is no indication either outfit will pull clear of the other before then.