The worst indignity the Braves have suffered in 2016 is that the Phillies have been winning and rebuilding at the same time. No, the early Phillies success isn't going to last -- Ryan Howard is hitting .185 with a .250 on-base percentage, and he still has the third-highest OPS in the starting lineup -- but we're a fifth of the way through the season, and the Phillies look like a team on an upward trend. You don't have to explain what they're doing. You can see the path to the next postseason-bound Phillies team, and it doesn't take deus ex maikela to get there.
The Braves are a live broadcast of a television show that's going to get people fired at every level of the network. The show was a terrible idea, poorly executed, with a pilot that shouldn't have been green-lit and results worse than imagined.
Please help me. I can't stop spelunking into the Cave of Horrible Braves Stats.
Wins at Turner Field, 2016
1. (T) Mets - 3
1. (T) Cardinals - 3
1. (T) Diamondbacks - 3
4. (T) Nationals - 2
4. (T) Dodgers - 2
4. (T) Red Sox - 2
8. (T) Phillies - 1
8. (T) Braves - 1
Of the eight teams that have played in Turner Field in 2016, the Braves are tied for the fewest wins. It's the worst home start in a century. They have seven home runs on the season, when 10 teams have hit five or more in at least one game. They've hit two home runs in a game just once this season, and it was over a month ago. There are 19 players with more homers than the Braves in 2016. Nolan Arenado has as many homers after falling behind 0-1 in the count as the Braves do in total.
Perhaps the most impressive part is how uniformly horrible the hitting splits are. At home? 586 OPS. On the road? 575 OPS. It doesn't matter if the Braves are facing a power pitcher or a finesse pitcher, and it doesn't matter if they're facing a ground-ball pitcher or a fly-ball pitcher. It doesn't matter if it's night or day, and it doesn't matter how many outs there are in the inning. It's all under a 600 OPS.
Wait, except for one stat. They're hitting .272/.366/.360 with runners in scoring position, almost 150 points better than their season totals in all situations. Which means they've been a little lucky. Which means they might regress.
Which means they might get worse.
But I'm not here to dump on the Braves! Promise. I'm out of the Cave of Horrible Braves Stats, covered in stat goo, and ready to walk you through this. If Braves fans want to be optimistic, there are angles. All of the roads lead to a bad team, but it doesn't have to be the most depressing regular season of all time. Here are two pearls of hope for Braves fans.
They aren't going to be this bad
The Braves might lose 110 games. Do not think I'm suggesting anything different. They might blow past the 1988 Braves and bury themselves deeper in the dirt. They might be the worst team since the 2012 Astros. They might be worse than the 2012 Astros.
But they aren't going to go 37-125.
I know it seems like it now, like they have a chance to be one of the very worst teams of all time, but you have to think about just how much bad luck it takes to get to a .226 winning percentage over 162 games. The Braves would need to have an entire team filled with replacement-level players or worse. That is, the Braves would need to be a team that would be improved by just scraping together all of the Quadruple-A players and 30-year-old minor league players they can find.
Hold your comments and jokes until the end, you rascals.
I know that would seem like an improvement right now, but the Braves have some hitters who should be above replacement level. Freddie Freeman is doing fine, for one, and Ender Inciarte just came back. Erick Aybar and Jace Peterson probably aren't the worst hitters in baseball, all of a sudden. Even if A.J. Pierzynski is finally going to act his age, and even though Hector Olivera is apparently a low-character hobgoblin who will get suspended and buried, the Braves will cycle through their prospects and upper-minors players to get help.
Again, that's help enough to be merely generationally bad, not historically bad. The point is that they don't have eight Ryan Howards in the lineup, legacy players making $25 million with no clear prospects behind them, where the owners and executives throw up their hands and say, "Might as well!" They can be flexible. Flexibility gives every team a chance to avoid history.
(Side note: Baseball-Reference has a funny bug on the site right now where Jeff Francoeur's stats are included with this year's team. What are the odds?)
You can take this article about what it would take for a team to beat the 2001 Mariners, hold it in front of a mirror and everything would apply to a bad team and the 2003 Tigers. The Braves probably aren't that bad because almost no team ever is.
Their season was always going to be defined by micro-successes
We knew they were going to be horrible! This isn't a surprise. "Can the 2016 Braves have a stretch in which they win just 7 out of 31 games?" is a question that would have been answered affirmatively in November, December or March. We're just paying attention more because that stretch started the season.
So forget about the depths of the Braves' despair. You were already prepared for the despair. Focus on the micro-successes, the individual stories that will make you optimistic for three years down the line.
Is Dansby Swanson hitting? (Yes, and how.)
Is Freddie Freeman hitting well enough to make him a part of the rebuilding core? (Kinda sorta.)
Are the Braves getting some good performances from veterans, which might make them more attractive to contending teams? (Nick Markakis says yes, and while I'm not sure if Julio Teheran is a veteran, he will be popular in July.)
Can the Braves introduce some of their young pitchers as they search for a rotation that can ape what this year's Phillies are doing? (So far, so good, even if Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair might not win a game for the rest of the year.)
Can the Braves tame the wild arms of some of their best prospects? (Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims are doing OK preventing runs, at least.)
I don't know the answers to any of those, and neither do the Braves. But that was always how the season was supposed to be judged. Every loss between 90 and 120 is meaningless, save for the improved draft pick. The only thing those extra losses mean is that Braves fans get little arcade tickets for sitting through each one, and when the Braves win, they'll get to redeem them all for prizes. It takes, like, 100 of them to get a stupid scented eraser, but they're coming by the thousands now. They're accumulating enough to get something awesome.
It will take a while, though! It will take a good, long while. The Braves look like one of the worst teams in baseball history right now. They probably aren't, and the plans for the season haven't changed. Nothing is different from the spring other than the scale of just how bad they might be. There are still big-picture successes to look out for. Keep on keepin' on, Braves fans.