High-powered offense too frequently being shut out, struggling to manufacture runs
Through Spring Training and into the start of this season, the Braves flirted with becoming the Big Blue Machine. They spent the winter adding the Upton brothers to sluggers Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and others. So, in a flash, they were evolving into the 21st century version of my youthful obsession in Cincinnati during the 1970s called the Big Red Machine.
Turns out, the Braves are no machine of any color. Even though their lead in the National League East is larger than that of any other division leader, they've been the antithesis of the Big Red Machine.
That's because when it comes to offense, they've often been offensive.
Translated: Unless the Braves correct their hitting issues or pitch like crazy from now through the end of October, they will finish a seventh consecutive postseason failing to get past their first series.
No question, the Braves mimic those Reds at times by pounding foes to death. To start the week, they were tied with the Rockies for third in the Major Leagues in home runs. They've also turned more than a few losses into victories by ripping a slew of shots over and beyond (way beyond) the farthest fences. It's just that nearly every other measure of hitting as a team pushes these free-swinging guys closer to resembling the Little Blue Wagon.
Nothing shows this more than that shutout thing.
I'm taking about the number of times that teams don't score, and this is frequently overlooked. Not by me, though. I've been fascinated by the statistic since Reds radio announcers Jim McIntyre and Joe Nuxhall kept boasting during the 1970 season that one of the most impressive attributes of those Reds was that it was difficult to shut them out.
As for these Braves, yikes.
The following is sadly true: They always are a shutout waiting to happen. Despite all of their fire power, the Braves have spent much of the season leading the Major Leagues in getting shut out. In fact, heading into their game Tuesday night in Kansas City, they had been shut out 11 times.
I mean, nobody is shut out that many times before the All-Star break.
Since the season is nearly halfway over, the Braves are on pace to being shut out around 25 times. The last team to finish with at least that many shutouts were the Rangers ... in 1972. That Texas team suffered 27 shutouts, and it closed that strike-abbreviated year in last place in the AL West with a record of 54-100.
Lots of shutouts. Lots of losses. Yeah, that makes sense.
So what the Braves are doing as runaway kings of their division despite their frequent inability to score makes no sense. And if you wish to scratch your head more, the other teams in baseball's top five in getting shut out this season are the Marlins, the Nationals, the Astros and the Phillies. They all have losing records.
Let's also go the other way. The D-backs went into their game Tuesday night in Washington as the only team in the Major Leagues that hadn't suffered a shutout this season. They are leading their division.
I know, I know. So are the Braves, which is why some likely are covering their eyes and ears between paragraphs and proclaiming to themselves, "What's the big deal, especially if they're winning?" Plus, if the Braves do the unlikely and drop the division title down the stretch to a rejuvenated team of Nationals or Phillies, they still will take one of the NL's two Wild Card spots.
Here's the point: Those who often succeed during the postseason are the ones who manufacture runs on a consistent basis. Given all of those shutout losses, Atlanta can't manufacture runs on a consistent basis.
Take the Braves' penchant for striking out, for instance.
If you swing and miss a lot, you're not going to put the ball in play as much. Which means you're not going to manufacture as many runs. Only Astros hitters have more strikeouts in baseball than their Braves counterparts, and we're back to another thing that shows how fortunate/lucky the Braves have been: Only the Marlins have a worse record in baseball than the Astros.
Elsewhere, the Braves rank in the bottom quarter of the Major Leagues in stolen bases -- which also (all together now) works against manufacturing runs -- and it doesn't help their offensive cause that they are in the middle of the pack in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs scored. Not only that, courtesy of two everyday players (Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton) hitting below .200 for most of the season and a third one (Heyward) who barely climbed above that number in recent days, the Braves began Tuesday's action with just the 22nd highest batting average out of baseball's 30 teams.
Come to think of it, the Braves should've been shut out more.
What a contrast between baseball's real Machine and whatever you wish to call the Braves these days with their roller-coaster offense when it comes to productivity.
As I hung on every pitch of every inning of every game for those 1970 Reds, nobody shut them out through April, May and June. Such almost was the case when they sprinted toward August, but then they encountered party-pooping Milt Pappas of the Cubs on July 23 at Wrigley Field. With the Cubs scoring once on the afternoon, Pappas allowed the prolific likes of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Lee May a total of four hits along the way to throwing a complete game.
The Reds never scored.
I was sick for days.
I got sicker when the Reds went the rest of the season without getting shut out again. If not for Pappas, they would have joined the 1932 Yankees as the only Major League team at the time to go through a regular season without getting shut out. Those Yankees swept the Cubs in the World Series, with the Babe Ruth called shot legend at Wrigley and with Lou Gehrig and seven other future Hall of Famers on the roster. They also had Joe McCarthy as their future Hall of Fame manager. The 1970 Reds had future Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson joining future Hall of Fame players Bench and Perez.
In addition, Rose finished his career as baseball's all-time hits leader.
It's too early to tell whether the 2013 Braves have folks headed for Cooperstown. What we do know is that they need to solve their shutout issues before September turns to October.
In case you're wondering, the only other team to match the 1932 Yankees by not getting shut out for a season were the 2000 Reds, and that Cincinnati bunch didn't even make the playoffs.