The Braves are overdue for a fall


Wednesday's 1-0 loss to the Royals was likely only the beginning.

It won't always be like this for the Braves, obviously, with every throw coming up sevens. Before Wednesday's 1-0 loss to the Braves they had won 10 straight games. The loss was inevitable; that's just how baseball works. Intuitively, even when our favorite teams are on a roll, we know this, even if it feels like they're invincible. I wish just people could enjoy that feeling, without thinking that the Braves have some kind of magic to them.

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Even's Terrance Moore must know how unfair it is to pen columns asking, "will these Braves evolve into a better team than any of their predecessors -- Atlanta or otherwise?" Even Moore has to acknowledge how unlikely this Braves squad is to eclipse the 1957 Braves, with their three Hall of Famers, or the best of the Cox/ Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Chipper and Andruw squads, no matter how hopeful he is. But even as the Braves rocket toward the inevitable end of this stretch, what has become clear is that these Braves are going to be a force to be reckoned with in October. After all, if they just go 75-73 from here on out, they're going to win 87 games on the year, probably enough to win the second wild card spot. Baseball Prospectus is already estimating they have a 71.3 percent chance of making the postseason.

That's not really news in and of itself. A lot of people picked the Braves to be in the postseason, but I think most of us would have revised our picks significantly if you'd told us that the driving force behind Atlanta's attack through almost the first tenth of its schedule wouldn't be Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, or Dan Uggla. Instead, it's Justin Upton (.340/.404/.900, with 8 homers in fewer than 60 plate appearances) who is making the Diamondbacks look silly for trading him, supported by Chris Johnson, Juan Francisco, Ramiro Pena and something called Evan Gattis, who was an afterthought on most prospect lists coming into 2013. While that quintet is likely to tail off sooner rather than later (yes, even Justin Upton), the fact that Heyward, B.J. Upton, and Uggla haven't gotten on track yet, and Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman have been largely unable to contribute because of injuries, means that there is still some upside the Braves have yet to explore.

However, it's on the pitching side of the ball that the Braves give real cause for doubt. Through 13 games, the Braves have given up an unsustainable average of two runs per game, almost a full run and a half better than the next best team in the National League. They do a fine job of limiting walks and are excellent at keeping the ball on the ground, but the starting pitchers simply do not strike out enough batters. While the team ERA is just 1.83, their xFIP is exactly double that, at 3.66. This is still tremendous, don't get me wrong -- it's tied with the Cardinals for third best in the National League -- but it also reflects the significant degree to which luck has played a role in helping the Braves to their incredible start. Beyond Andrelton Simmons, their infield defense is highly suspect and they've allowed far fewer home runs than they should on the fly balls they have given up.

So much of this is going to even out over the course of the year. We are not even a tenth of the way through the MLB schedule. You don't need me to remind you about small sample sizes and randomness and how we would barely be noticing the Braves if this streak was happening in June rather than the start of the season. I'm going to do it anyway, because at some point, people are going to start to wonder what happened to the Braves, disappointed because Atlanta is no longer the best team in baseball. But these Braves probably aren't the best team in baseball; they almost certainly aren't the best team in Braves history. They are, however, the team that's playing the best right now. Try to just enjoy that for what it is before they hit that big invisible brick wall that's waiting out there for them.

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