They lurched, they slid, they soared a bit. August was quite a month for the Braves, topsy-turvy at times and utterly impossible to figure out from one week to the next.
In other words, it was a month much like their season as a whole.
And that’s why they are six games behind Washington in the NL East with 25 games to play. They are still very much in the playoff picture, just 1 ½ games behind for the second wild-card spot. Of course, the Braves did not come into the season aiming for a wild-card berth and the prospect of playing one winner-take-all game to earn the right to play an actual postseaseon series.
With six games left against the Nats, they’ve not given up their division-title goal. But the Braves can’t afford to merely split four-game series and win three game series 2-1, and pin all their hopes on winning five or six out of six against Washington. Not the way the Nats are playing. Got to start sweeping some teams if the Braves have any shot at all of catching the Nats.
They’d never say it, but the Braves’ best playoff shot would be to win a wild-card berth and have the Nats keep winning the way they have to maintain the best record in the NL, which would then force a potential matchup with the Braves in the first round of the postseason if the Braves won the Wild Card game.
Because whether or not the Braves are better than the Nats, they certainly believe they can beat them, because they usually do. And the Nats certainly have let the Braves get in their noggins the past couple of seasons.
Tell me, whom would you rather the Brave face in a best-of-season series, the Nats or the Dodgers? Absolutely right. Bring on the Nats.
Anyway, the Braves went 14-14 in August despite posting a 3.02 ERA, second-lowest in the National League. These things can happen when you hit .249 and score 99 runs in 28 games, as Atlanta did for the month. Again, much like their season in general.
They started August with five straight losses and finished the month by going 4-1 with a 1.60 ERA and .272 batting average in their last five games, although 11 of their 15 runs in that five-game period came in two games. They scored a total of one run over the weekend in two games against the Marlins.
The month began with the Braves three games into an 0-8 road trip, the team’s worst excursion in 65 years. They went 14-9 with a 2.59 ERA the rest of the month, batting .256 with 23 homers and 88 runs in those 23 games.
The Bravos had a .500 record for the month because they played shoddy defense in a few games, but mostly because they scored 99 runs for the month, third-lowest scoring output in the league, ahead of only the Dbacks and Mets. Four NL teams scored more than 120 runs in August, led by the Giants (136) and Nationals (135).
Ah, the Nationals. They took control of the NL East race by posting a 19-10 record, with a league-best 2.95 ERA. Next were the Braves with their 3.02 ERA, then Padres, who had the third-best ERA (3.21) and a 16-11 record in August.
The Padres actually outscored the Braves during the month, 102-99. If someone had told you a couple of months ago that the Padres, with their lineup and their ballpark and their going-nowhere status, would outscore the Braves during a crucial month of a playoff race….
• Monthly superlatives: Surprising rookie infielder Phil Gosselin had a team-best .364 average (16-for-44) in August, with two extra-base hits, a .391 OBP and two RBIs in 19 games.
Among Braves who had at least 60 at-bats for the month, Freddie Freeman led the way with a .330 average (34-for-103) and had 11 extra-base hits (two homers), 10 RBIs and a .444 OBP and .476 slugging percentage in August, while Jason Heyward hit .321 (34-for-106) with eight extra-base hits (two homers), 12 RBIs, a .368 OBP and .443 slugging percentage.
However, there’s no question who had the most productive month among Braves hitters: Justin Upton hit .291 (30-for-103) with 13 extra-base hits including seven homers, a league-leading 28 RBIs, a .383 OBP and a .563 slugging percentage. Only Detroit Victor Martinez (30) and Houston’s Chris Carter (29) had more RBIs in August, while Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton (eight) was the only NL hitter with more homers than Upton for the month.
Both Upton and Stanton tailed off at the end of the month, with Upton going 7-for-32 (.219) with one homer and five RBIs in his last eight games and Stanton going 2-for-18 with no homers, one RBI and 10 strikeouts in his last five games.
Upton and Freeman led the Braves with 16 runs apiece in August, and Heyward had 15. Between the three of them, they accounted for 47 of the Braves’ 99 runs and 50 of their 95 RBIs. Think about that.
Besides Upton, the only other Brave to hit more than two homers in August was Evan Gattis, who hit .230 (20-for-87) with four homers, nine RBIs, four walks and 30 strikeouts, for a .277 OBP and .425 slugging percentage.
• Teheran vs. Hamels today: The Labor Day, Braves vs. Phillies series-opening matchup is a beauty, with Julio Teheran (13-9, 2.90) facing Phillies lefty Cole Hamels (7-6, 2.59), the epitome of how unreliable the won-lost record can be when evaluating pitching performance.
Teheran is 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA and .177 opponents’ average in his past three starts, after going 2-4 with a 5.24 ERA and .300 opponents’ average over his previous seven starts.
He’s 5-2 with a 1.95 ERA and .203 opponents’ average in 13 home starts, compared to 8-7 with a 3.82 ERA and .253 OA in 15 road starts)
Looking at his entire body of work this season, here’s another stat that stands out: In the late innings of close games, Teheran has allowed a stingy .167 average (9-for-54) with one extra-base hit, one RBI, four walks a .224 OBP, .222 slugging percentage.
Both Teheran and Hamels have been dominant against today’s opponent. Teheran is 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this season, with only three runs (two earned) allowed in 24 innings.
Meanwhile, Hamels is 1-0 with an 0.64 ERA in two starts against the Braves this season, with only one run allowed in 14 innings, and 15 strikeouts with two walks.
Phillies hitters are just 13-for-84 (.155) against Teheran this season, with two extra-base hits, no walks, 19 strikeouts, a .155 OBP and a .214 slugging percentage. In seven career games (six starts) against Philly, he’s 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA and .199 opponents’ average.
Against Teheran, Jimmy Rollins is 5-for-19 with a homer, Chase Utley is 5-for-16 with four strikeouts, Marlon Byrd is 2-for-14 with five strikeouts, and Ryan Howard is 3-for-12 with two homers.
Hamels is 6-3 with a 1.90 ERA in 17 starts since the beginning of June, and the Phillies have scored two or fewer runs while he was in the game in 10 of those 17 outings. He has 114 strikeouts and 32 walks in 118 2/3 innings over those 17 starts and has been a model of consistency in that stretch, never allowing more than three runs.
While he’s 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA in eight starts since the All-Star break, Hamels is just 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA and .307 opponents’ average in his past four starts, and gave up eight or nine hits and three runs in each of his past three starts, with five or fewer strikeouts in each.
Hamels has an ERA that’s nearly 50 percent lower on the road than at home. He’s 4-4 with a 1.76 ERA and two homers allowed in 12 road starts, compared to 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA and nine homers allowed in 12 home starts.
Against the Braves, the veteran lefty is 15-8 with a 3.34 ERA in 33 games (32 starts), including 3-0 with a 1.16 ERA and .165 opponents’ average in his past four going back to Aug. 12 of last season. Hamels has 33 strikeouts and five walks in 31 innings over those past four starts against them, including three nine-strikeout games.
Against Hamels, Evan Gattis is 3-for-6 with two homers, Freddie Freeman is 9-for-39 with two homers and 14 strikeouts, Chris Johnson is 7-for-20, Emilio Bonifacio is 8-for-26, and Justin Upton is 9-for-29 with a homer and nine strikeouts. Among the Braves who’ve struggled against the lefty: Jason Heyward is 7-for-31 with eight strikeouts, Andrelton Simmons is 1-for-14, and B.J. Upton is 0-for-17 with five strikeouts.
• Let’s close with a gem from a really good, very underrated singer and songwriter, Lincoln Durham. Check this one out by clicking here.
“ANNIE DEPARTEE” by Lincoln Durham
This here’s a song about a girl who can’t seem to quit killing men
Annie lay your six-guns down
Lest you find you’re six foot underground
Put on your rouge, powder your nose
Hide your bow-legs under knee-high hoes
You done shot a man, girl
One, two, three, put him out of misery
Four, five, six, just to please them wicked kicks
You been burning powder
You better burn the breeze
Forever legend as Annie Departee
Annie lay your six-guns down
You’ve been spreading lead all over town
Better take your black hat and paint it white
‘Fore a buscadero puts you in his sights
You done shot a man