Saturday was the 81st game of the season for the Braves, which some would say marked the halfway point of a mostly uplifting campaign.
But that is the narrow, limited view. A thoroughly uninspired view. For that is the simple math of someone who can’t see this team playing beyond the scheduled 162 games.
A playoff team is not yet even halfway done.
The way the Braves buzzsawed through St. Louis this weekend to begin a difficult 10-game road trip would seem to indicate they are intent upon playing a few more than 162 for the first time since 2013.
In Sunday’s 82nd game of the season, the Braves completed a three-game sweep of the Cards, 6-5. They left that great baseball town having outscored the Cards 22-10 in three games and bumped their record against teams with a winning record to 30-19. That’s what you call a good running start for those upcoming games at Yankee Stadium and Miller Park in Milwaukee.
Just when it looked as if they were on their way to seeking their expected level with a poor homestand against Baltimore and Cincinnati, the Braves kicked it back into surprise mode in St. Louis. This was the same weekend that Ronald Acuna rejoined the roster, showing all speed, no pain. Coincidence? Assume that at your peril.
The 81-game report on this team – I refuse to call it the halfway analysis – was greatly encouraging (with one glaring exception out in the bullpen, where middle relief is just plain dangerous). The Braves’ 47 wins were the most at that stage since 2013, that last playoff-bound year.
There are no guarantees given all the ball to be played and all the potential for a debilitating injury or two. But here it is July 1 and the Braves are in first by three games. That, by the way, is much better than where they’ve been on this date recently (7.5 games back last season, 21.5 the season before).
Forty-seven wins through the first 81 games is a playoff standard for the Braves. Better than the 41 wins in the worst-to-first season of 1991, or the 44 wins in another World Series year, ’92.
They won 42 of their first 81 games in 2012 and made it to a wild card game. They’ve also won nearly as many as this year (46) and missed the playoffs altogether (2011).
The sample size is large enough to deem a lineup that is third in the majors in average and fourth in runs scored as one that deserves to play into October. That the starting rotation came into Sunday’s game with the second lowest ERA in baseball surprisingly bolsters the argument.
The important bridge in every game – the bullpen – is looking a little rickety. The Braves were 21st in bullpen ERA through 81 games, having given up the fourth most walks in the majors. This is the time to see what the new GM has. If standing pat ultimately costs the Braves a return to the postseason, we may just have to put the first reprimand in the Alex Anthopoulos personnel file.
We can report, though, that the Braves look just dandy after the first 81 games.
Once more, we’re not framing that as any sort of true halfway measurement.
For if that was half of all the games the Braves play this season, then we will look at 2018 as ending prematurely.
Blame that on an expectation level that has been rightfully rising this summer like mercury in the thermometer.