Braves are starting to heat up

By Staff
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
12-22.
By itself, that number doesn't mean much. It could be the day three days before Christmas. It could be the first two numbers of a winning Powerball combination.
But in terms of the Braves' season, that number might mean everything. That number is Atlanta's record in one-run baseball games so far during the 2006 MLB season. And as any statistician or baseball fan will tell you, that number is bound to even out.
Consider the case of the 2005 Washington Nationals. On July 8, the Nats were in first place in the National League East with an unbelievable 52-34 record. But that record, like so many fast starts in the marathon season of MLB, was a straw man propped up by an uncanny 24-8 mark in one-run games.
When the law of averages caught up to D.C., those games stopped going the Nationals' way, their record suffered accordingly and the team finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs. More importantly, they finished 30-31 in one-run ball games.
There are two things that have given Atlanta such a bad record in one-run ball games – lack of a proven bullpen and just plain bad luck. Looking at the New York Mets' record in one-run ball games, they are an astounding 21-9 in those games. As bad as the Braves' bullpen has been this season, there is no way that they are a full 10.5 games worse than the Mets' bullpen.
Looking closer at the numbers, a few strange trends emerge. First, opponents are hitting .268 against Atlanta's bullpen. Not a great number, but still nothing to be overly concerned about. What is concerning is the number of walks the bullpen has allowed – Atlanta relievers have issued an MLB-high 165 walks. That's more walks than the Kansas City Royals. And anytime your statistics are in the same neighborhood as the Royals' statistics, you know you're in trouble.
If the Braves' bullpen can cut down on the number of free passes they give out in the second half of the season, this group has a chance to be extremely better.
Let's look at another statistic that lends me to believe that the Braves' poor run in the first half of the MLB season might be more bad luck than the sign of a bad team. Atlanta's run differential – defined as the difference between runs scored and runs allowed – is a +28. In other words, the Braves have scored 28 more runs than they've allowed, yet they currently sit five games under .500 for the season. That is bad luck of the highest degree.
The teams currently ahead of the Braves in the wild-card race all have worse run differentials than Atlanta – Cincinnati (-13), San Francisco (+7), Arizona (-2), Los Angeles (+14), Houston (-26), Milwaukee (-65 !!!) and Colorado (+15). There are no guarantees in baseball, but if one looks at the wild-card race in terms of a statistical analysis, over the long run the Braves should end up on top of this seven-team race for the wild card.
The Braves' line-up is loaded with talented hitters. Even a perceived weakness in the lineup – first baseman Adam LaRoche – has hit 19 home runs and has 57 RBIs. There are a lot of teams who would kill for that kind of production out of their No. 6 hitter.
And here's one other thing. Don't count out the Braves' chances at the division title just yet. Of the 64 games Atlanta has left this season, only 15 of those games are against teams who currently have winning records – and nine of those 15 are against the division-leading Mets.

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