Here's the mathematical hope for the Atlanta Braves: Even after falling 3½ games behind Washington in the National League East after their 0-6 Southern California swing, the Braves still have nine games remaining against the Nationals. In addition to the head-to-head meeting, the two teams had 84 combined games remaining as of Tuesday.
That deficit shrank to three games Monday after the Nats lost to Baltimore. So much can happen in one week, let alone seven.
There, that's my positive spin on the current state of the Atlanta Braves. Sorry, but that's the best I got.
Myspace has a better chance of making a comeback. Coach stock, down 39 percent, looks attractive in comparison.
Again, it's not the three-game deficit in the standings. On this date 21 years ago, the Braves trailed the San Francisco Giants by 9½ games. Even as Bobby Cox kept preaching to keep the faith, it was hard to believe they stood much of a chance making a charge. And yet, the Braves did just that, winning 39 of their last 50 games to claim the NL West in one of the great pennant races of all time.
But a young Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux aren't walking through the clubhouse door. And that's a good thing for them, or they would surely blow out their ulnar collateral ligaments. The present day Glavine and Maddux, recently bestowed eternal legendary status in Cooperstown, will pay the Braves a visit this weekend. But the guess here is that if truth be told, they would be dismayed at how this team has failed to grasp the hint of playing with a sense of urgency.
Whom to blame?
Well, let's start by elimination. It's not the so-called Baseball gods. Sure, by all rights, the Braves never should have been in the pennant race to start with. Losing starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy on consecutive days in spring training, then Gavin Floyd just when he was hitting his stride would have been too much for most teams to overcome. Then Mike Minor suddenly developed into Jo-Jo Reyes, or, if you're into nostalgia, Jamie Easterly.
But Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang, the late addition replacements for Medlen and Beachy, have done their part. They are a combined 19-12. It's hard to imagine that Medlen and Beachy would have done much better.
And it's true that Minor has been a mess. But he was responsible for only one of those six losses in Los Angeles and San Diego. In one of baseball's "go-figure" statistics, the Braves are 8-9 in Minor's 17 starts. As he has gotten worse by the start, the Braves are still 3-3 in his last six starts.
Minor didn't commit costly baserunning mistakes. That was Jordan Schafer, Emilio Bonafacio and Evan Gattis.
Even if Minor were pitching as well as he did last season, this just isn't a very good team. Since winning 17 of their first 24 games, the Braves are 41-47.
The bullpen is unreli
able. The starting pitchers are fairly solid through six innings. Atlanta ranks third in the major leagues with a 3.33 earned run average through six innings. Their ERA in the seventh inning is 4.82 -- fourth-worst in baseball. That's a reflection of two things -- the starters' inability to remain effective deep into games, and the inconsistency of the set-up men in the bullpen.
The most obvious deficiency is the team's ability to score. But why? Now that Tommy La Stella has replaced Dan Uggla at second base, BJ Upton is the only real hole in the lineup. As ineffective as Upton has been -- yes, he's better than last year, but still is hitting under .220 -- he's not their only problem. Freddie Freeman isn't carrying the offense like he did last year. Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons are decent. Gattis is their most dangerous hitter but, as a catcher, needs regular rest.
Is manager Fredi Gonzalez to blame? Perhaps to an extent. The manager's job is to create an atmosphere where players flourish. Cox was just inducted into the Hall of Fame because he had a remarkable ability to do just that. There's no indication that Gonzalez elicits such performance.
Ultimately, most of the blame has to fall on the man who assembled the roster, general manager Frank Wren. The Uggla and Upton contracts -- primarily BJ but also Justin -- have strained the budget. It kept them from re-signing Tim Hudson and Brian McCann, whose leadership they sorely miss.
Whether they can solve any of these problems in the offseason remains to be seen. For now, this team isn't going anywhere. For the fans, there is one consolation. Football season kicks in 24 days.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.