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Atlanta's anguished August

Summer saved the worst for last, with August being the Braves' most dreadful month in 2015 so far.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves sat at 25-25 as the calendar turned to June 1. The team was not expected to do much, but the first two months were fairly heartening despite the ostensible dearth of talent on the major league roster. June was fairly poor as the Braves went 11-16, winning just about 40 percent of their games. July was worse, albeit slightly: 10-16. Of course, if you're reading this, you likely need no reminder of just how badly the wheels fell off in August, but here it is anyway: the Braves finished the month with eight wins and 20 losses. Yikes.

Amazingly, August was not even the Atlanta Braves' worst month in the last calendar year: September 2014 takes the cake for that, as 7-18 is just slightly worse than 8-20. However, you have to go back to June 2006 to find a worse month than either of those: that month ended in sorry 6-21 fashion, and pretty much killed the Braves' playoff streak all by itself. (Had the Braves played in June 2006 the same way they played the rest of the season, they would've finished with 88 wins, tying them with the Dodgers for the record worthy of a Wild Card spot. I'm not sure how the tiebreaker would be decided as they went 3-3 against the Dodgers in the regular season - they actually went 7-2 against the Padres who also ended with 88 wins but had a superior tiebreaker over the Dodgers for the division - but that June really sunk the team in any case.)

With that said, August was full of doldrums and occasional misery, but there were some good things too, including some very epic games that took place at Turner Field. A brief recap of some notable takeaways and the like follows.

Off the Field

August gave the Braves an opportunity to make waiver trades with some other teams around the league, and they certainly did that. On August 7, Chris Johnson was sent packing in to Cleveland exchange for Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. While fairly negligible as far as on-field production is concerned, this move shuffled around deck chairs built of money through time, freeing up some prospective 2017 budget room in exchange for a greater financial burden in 2016.

Right before August (and the waiver trade) deadline ended, the Braves completed a trade with the Royals that sent Jonny Gomes on his merry way back into the postseason for a minor league infielder.

Other than that, the roster was a bit of a merry-go-round. There were releases of players that did (David Aardsma) and didn't (Josh Outman) appear in a Braves uniform. There were injuries and returns from them (Freddie Freeman). There were "trades" that exchanged players for "cash considerations" (Eric Young Jr.). There were combinations of those things (Jason Frasor: injured and then released). Edwin Jackson was released by the Cubs, signed by the Braves, and then proceeded to get hammered with his new team. Peter Moylan was re-signed by the Braves in the offseason, added to the 40-man and called up from Gwinnett, and proceeded to get hammered. Jake Brigham got hammered. There was a lot of hammering. Wait, that's on-field stuff. Whoops.

Series by Series

  • Split two games in Philadelphia (Braves had lost the first two games of the four-game series in July)
  • Lost two of three against the Giants
  • Won three of four against the Marlins
  • Swept in a two-game series in Tampa
  • Won two of three against the Diamondbacks
  • Swept in San Diego
  • Swept at Wrigley by the Cubs (four game series)
  • Lost two of three against the Rockies
  • Swept by the Yankees
  • Lost a game to the Marlins (following two games of the series will be played in September)
Amazingly, the Braves managed to win two series in August. That's more series than they won in June, despite the considerably worse record. Also notable is that this was the second August in a row where the Braves completed a winless road trip. Yet, despite all this, the Braves did not have the worst August in MLB: that "trophy" belongs to the Reds, who went 8-21, one loss worse than the Braves, during the year's eighth month.

August by the Numbers

  • 8-20 record (46-57 overall)
  • On pace and projected for 67 wins. The Braves now have the second-worst run differential in baseball, second only to the Phillies. For most stats, the Braves are pretty much second to the Phillies in badness. They're still 2.5 games ahead of them in the standings, but only 1.5 games ahead by Pythagorean expectation. As a point of minor interest, the Braves are actually currently four games ahead of their Pythagorean expectation, so they should be even worse than they are, record-wise. Welp.
  • Offense: surprisingly average 99 wRC+ for the month, good for 12th in the NL and 20th in MLB. (The Angels had a 77 wRC+ as a team in August. Heh.)
  • Defense: 5th-best in MLB for the month, boosted by Michael Bourn playing in left field (and of course, by Andrelton Simmons).
  • Total position player value: 16th in MLB, 10th in the NL. Unlike July, where the position player performance was dreadful, it was a pretty good month for hitting and fielding for the Braves. Only Bourn, Christian Bethancourt, and Eury Perez clocked in sub-replacement level performances, while Andrelton Simmons had a very good month (119 wRC+, great defense). If you're doing the math in the back of your head, you're probably thinking, "Hey, the offense and defense were pretty decent, so why's the record so bad... oh, right!" And yeah, here we go...
  • Rotation: ERA - worst in MLB; FIP, xFIP - 2nd worst in MLB and NL (thanks, Phillies);
  • Bullpen: ERA, FIP - worst in MLB; xFIP - 3rd-worst in MLB, 2nd-worst in NL.
  • Total pitcher value (warning, if you have children, hide them from this): worst in MLB with 1.7 wins below replacement for the month. The Braves were the only team with a sub-replacement level pitching performance in August, and you'd have to combine the value of the next three teams after the Braves in pitching badness just to cancel out how poorly the Braves pitched in August and get back to replacement level. It was the worst pitching month on record for any team since the Royals' May of 2006 (they went 8-21 with a 6.51 ERA and 6.10 FIP, the Braves featured a 6.15 ERA and 5.24 FIP, albeit with a lower run environment).
Onto happier things, though. Despite the really poor month, there were some cool and positive Braves-related occurrences on the field.

Big Damn Hero for August 2015 - Position Players: Nick Markakis

This might be a bit controversial, at least as controversial as something like a meaningless monthly distinction during a horrid month can be, but Nick Markakis wasn't the team's best offensive player by any measure in August. Jonny Gomes provided the most offensive value with a 168 wRC+, Andrelton Simmons provided the most overall value due to a great hitting month and his stellar defense. Despite a solid 110 wRC+, Markakis had some pretty awful baserunning and fielding during the month, dragging down his overall value.

When you're hitting .322/.352/.409 for the month, you're going to get a lot of hits, a team-leading 37 to be exact. But Markakis did more than just slap singles: he slapped singles when it mattered. Just about every second hit drove in a run, as he had 16 RBI for the month. Given this team's issues with getting runners in when they do get on (stringing singles together is hard), Markakis helped out a bunch. He plated six runs in a five-game stretch in early August, had a huge 3-3 game where he provided the offense for the Braves even though they'd lose to the Padres anyway, and did great work against the Rockies and Cubs, even though it was for naught. Sure, it wasn't to his credit that there happened to be guys ahead of him, but at least he did something with it when the opportunity arose. I'm not sure the Braves would be any worse than say, 7-21 even if Nick Markakis were not present in August, but he made the games closer and marginally more interesting. And for that, I thank him.

Big Damn Hero for August 2015 - Starting Pitchers: Julio Teheran (because Shelby Miller ruined my birthday)

Yes, Shelby Miller was the best pitcher pitching for the Braves in August. It is known. While he wasn't dominant, his 3.00 ERA and 3.18 FIP are nothing to sneeze at. But he also imploded a bit in two of his six starts and let the game get away from him. Meanwhile, Teheran only imploded in his most recent start where he was crushed by the Yankees, and showed flashes of the old, very effective pitcher he was prior to this confounding season.

Aside from the beating at the hands of the Bombers, Teheran was very good in four of his five outings, and the other effort was a decent one against the Marlins. His 4.34 ERA and 4.25 FIP for the month aren't great, but they're roughed up by the Yankee-facing implosion. His xFIP of 3.87 is better than Shelby's 3.96 mark for August, and since he didn't ruin my birthday by throwing a really poor two-seamer to Jose Reyes, I'm giving him the award. I am an iconoclast.

Big Damn Hero for August 2015 - Relief Pitchers: Arodys Vizcaino

For the second month in a row, Arodys Vizcaino gets the prize. Honestly, there's not even anyone else to give it to: Vizcaino was the only passable reliever the Braves featured in August. No, really, he's the only one with six innings of work and an ERA below 4.5 (Edwin Jackson is the only one meeting that criteria with an ERA below 6. Because Braves/Barves). He was also the only reliever with a sub-3 FIP for the month.

Vizcaino did not allow an earned run in August. That is awesome. He only pitched 10 and 2/3rds innings, however, while Matt Marksberry and his 5.63 FIP / 4.19 FIP / 5.27 xFIP pitched 14 innings. Vizcaino had just one bad outing all month: he allowed a go-ahead single in extra innings to Buster Posey (the run was charged to Ross Detwiler). In seven outings, he got key outs that substantially increased the team's chances of winning. The rest of the bullpen is too depressing to talk about, so congratulations, Arodys Vizcaino. You're awesome, and I hope the Braves actually generate a save opportunity for you once in September. Or maybe I'll settle for not pitching Matt Marksberry against righties. Either one. (Note to the Braves: Marksberry has a 2.53 WHIP and 5.97 FIP against righties. Stop using him against them. Seriously, just stop. Hands off.)

My Favorite Moments of August 2015

Yes, there were some. It actually wasn't hard to find them; despite the poor month, there was some high drama that ended well for the Bravos. One game, in particular, was epic in every sense. But even in losses, there was some awesome stuff to behold.

Pedro's Pinch-Hitting Prowess

This game was pretty fun until it wasn't, but we're not going to focus on the latter. Shelby Miller dueled with Jake Peavy for seven innings, and the Braves came to bat in the bottom of the 7th trailing 2-1. After the unlikeliest of contributors in Adonis Garcia and Daniel Castro singled with one out, the Braves lifted Miller in favor of Pedro Ciriaco, who did the following on an 0-2 pitch from George Kontos.

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That hit not only scored the tying run, it also pushed Castro to third, where he would score the go-ahead run on a Nick Markakis single. I'd like to pretend that the Braves made the one-run lead stand up over the last two frames to give Shelby a well-deserved victory sparked by pinch-hit heroics, but instead Detwiler, Aardsma, and Ryan Kelly allowed six runs in those two innings. Welp. Pedro Ciriaco has a 69 wRC+ this season, but a 99 wRC+ as a pinch-hitter. You can't explain that.

Another Jace Blast

I feel like I have one of these every month, but they're always awesome. Jace Peterson has not had a good August offensively (80 wRC+), but at least it's better than his dreadful July. He got absolutely all of this pitch from the Phillies' Adam Morgan, giving the Braves a three-run lead they wouldn't relinquish and one of their eight wins this month. Enjoy.

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By the way, Jace Peterson also hit another three-run homer the next game, this time off of Matt Cain. He really shouldn't be hitting the ball in the air, but I'm not going to complain about home runs.

Another Maybin Walkoff, Shelby Remains Sad

Shelby Miller no-hit the Diamondbacks for seven innings. Shelby Miller allowed two singles to lead off the 8th and was pulled for Ross Detwiler, who immediately allowed the tying run to score. No wins for Shelby Miller. Ever. But, the tied game did set the stage for Cameron Maybin to do the below leading off the bottom of the 10th. It was Maybin's second walkoff this year, and was somewhat less controversial than the chopper down the left field line that ruined Max Scherzer's night earlier in the season.

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Double Whammy of Awesomeness

This was possibly the game of the season and contained possibly the play of the season. And it came against the Giants, which is an added bonus of substantial quantity.

The Giants had shelled Mike Foltynewicz for six runs in four innings. The Braves clawed back to within two, allowed another run, and got to two outs in the ninth. Chris Johnson, who had already homered in the game off of a righty to bring the Braves to within one, singled off of Santiago Casilla. Casilla needed just one more out to close out the game, but he threw a pitch to AJ Pierzynski in the ol' wheelhouse, and then this happened:

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You don't see many game-tying two-run homers when a team's down to their last out, but it's awesome when you do (and when your team isn't the one giving up the homers, of course). But that's not all, not by a longshot. In the 12th, Buster Posey hit a single off of Arodys Vizcaino that would score something called a Kelby Tomlinson (?) for the go-ahead run of the game. The Giants asked erstwhile pitcher Ryan Vogelsong to close out the game and succeed where Casilla had failed, but he could not, because Adonis, that king of WPA, decided to do this:

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The ball was absolutely clobbered and would give the Braves one of their most exciting wins this season. Too bad it came so late at night that I'm not sure many folks saw it live. The homer was good for .706 WPA, which is an egregious figure. It's even more egregious considering that Pierzynski's homer earlier was worth .493 all by himself. Garcia ended the game with .550 total WPA; Pierzynski ended up at .476. And yes, considering it takes .500 to win a game, that means that the Braves needed every last point of that to negate Foltynewicz's -0.338 and Vizcaino's -0.254. Just for fun, here's all four homers the Braves hit in this game, back to back (Peterson, Johnson, Pierzynski, Garcia):

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The GIants also hit four homers in this one, and AJ Pierzynski ended the game with four hits. Good times.

Shelby Miller Ruined my Birthday

It (was) my birthday and I'll complain if I want to. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Shelby Miller! Facing the Rockies! Not at Coors FIeld! The Braves actually scored three runs for him! He's pitched six scoreless innings! Wooooo! And then a bunch of non-cool stuff happened, culminating in this bit of nastiness:

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I don't really know why Shelby's two-seamer tailed back over the plate, or why Maybin was playing Reyes to go the other way that deep in the outfield, but it is what it is. The Braves couldn't come back and Shelby stumbled when faced with a great opportunity to finally clinch his sixth win.

Here's hoping for an exciting September - we sure deserve one.

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