I haven’t written about the Braves in a while.

I should maybe do that.

I’d have a hard time explaining to a fan of, say, the Twins or Mariners why I haven’t been too enthusiastic regarding the Braves this year. After all, they’ve got the third-best record in baseball. They’ve got a four-game lead in the Wild Card race as of the halfway point. They’re on pace for 94 wins. They’d be leading four of the six divisions in baseball and would be tied for second in the fifth. By most measures you can think of, they’re having a fabulous season and living fully up to their preseason expectations, which had them as the second-best team in the league, behind the Phillies.

Part of that has been that I haven’t been able to see them play much, of course… It seems like it’s been forever since a national outlet has picked up one of their games, so the most I’ve been able to interact with them most nights is by finagling away the remote in the break room at work long enough to check the score. It’s harder to keep your perspective when you’re not breathing it in every day.

But I think the major reason is that as good as they’ve been, I think they’ve blown a lot of chances to be even better. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not a perfectionist. I know that losses and setbacks are just things that happen to baseball teams over the course of the season. Still, I think they could have easily been hanging with the Phillies if a few other things had gone their way… Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward’s absolutely inexplicable collapse. Rashes of injuries… Mediocrity in the bullpen resulting in overuse of the only reliable guys down there… Terrible managing… Somehow they “feel” like they’re having a much worse season than they actually are. If I didn’t know their record but you told me that they were 40-43, I’d believe you. And yet here they sit at 48-35.

It’s likely that the core of my grousing really lies in the fact that the Phillies are having an even better season. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more charmed team in my life… it seems like teams are falling over themselves to give away games to the Phillies in the most embarrassing manner possible. Whenever I go to check the Braves score SportsCenter is always running highlights with titles like “Phillies comeback” or “Worley dominates”. I’m mature enough to concede that they’re better than I thought preseason (when I was probably reading too much into Utley’s injury), but that lineup? That bullpen? On pace for 102 wins? No way. At least when the Yankees were having everything magically working out for them they had the good grace to do it with record-breaking payrolls and All-Stars at every position. The Phillies, though? Weak ground balls squib through the infield. Line drives fly inches above leaping fielders. Lineups flail against spot starters. Bullpens cough up leads, aces hang fastballs, managers mismanage. In absolutely every situation, you find yourself thinking “How is this going to turn to the Phillies’ advantage?”, and lo and behold, it always does, no matter how unlikely. If they were just bludgeoning people to death being behind them wouldn’t be so galling, but they always look so beatable. And yet no one ever does. (Except for the Braves and the Cardinals, the only two teams with winning records against them so far this season.)

They can mostly credit this to that great pitching, which keeps them close enough that when things start to turn in their favor, it can be decisive. And it’s not like they haven’t had some injury issues themselves, which have been well-documented. I still can’t shake the feeling that everything that’s been going wrong for the Braves has been going right for the Phillies, though, and that’s irritating. It’s entirely possible that if the Braves were in another division (where, as Patton Oswalt once said, mediocrity holds sway) they’d be winning handily and having a nice little season. But the 2011 East Coast is too cutthroat for “nice little season” to get you anywhere.

The Braves are supposedly on the hunt for offense, but it’s hard to think of anyone who both fits on their team and would be a big improvement. I mean, Hunter Pence? Josh Willingham? Talk about acquiring a guy a year too late.


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