(Note: This is really an August 1 - August 28 recap, rather than a full monthly recap, because I’m out of the country starting the 29th, and chose to pre-write this. So, if you really need a a full month’s recap in your life, well, write your own damn monthly recap.)
What does a rebuilding team look like, anyway? Maybe something like the 12-16 May the Braves put up? Though, the 162-game equivalent of that record is just shy of 70 wins, so not terrible. The 10-15 July, which equates to 65 wins? Getting warmer. Well, how about a 9-16 August? Yeah, there’s no doubt that’s the sort of mark a rebuilding team would put up.
The Braves won just one series all month, though managed to avoid any sweeps aside from a two-game affair at the hands of the Phillies. Speaking of those Phillies, they have the worst record in baseball and have still won seven straight against the Braves. Maybe the Braves can snap that ignominious streak in their few remaining August games, but, really, can they? Series by series, it went down like this:
- Lost a series to the Dodgers;
- Won a series against the Marlins;
- Swept in two games by the Phillies;
- Lost a series in St. Louis;
- Split a four-game series in Coors;
- Lost a series to the Reds;
- Lost a series to the Mariners;
- Lost a series to the Rockies;
- Lost the first game of a series against the Phillies.
(Is it just me, or has it been ages since we played the Mets?)
Overall, the Braves have a 57-72 record heading into play on August 29. That puts them on pace for 72 wins, which is around the low end of the preseason projection range for their performance. While the Braves held the league’s 22nd-best record at the end of July, they’ve now slid down a couple of spots to 24th. The bright side is a better draft position for next year. The dark side is some truly terrible baseball that has transpired this month.
- The Braves actually hit reasonably in August, with a team wRC+ of 100. Kurt Suzuki continued to defy expectations, Freddie Freeman chipped in another impressive batting line despite potentially battling some discomfort in his wrist, and even Dansby Swanson got in on the fun with a 130 wRC+ and a walk rate exceeding his strikeout rate for the month.
- The same could also be said defensively, as the Braves benefited from Ozzie Albies flashing the leather at second base. While the team was dragged down defensively, as usual, by the twin pillars of Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp in the outfield, the Braves also mixed it up further by placing Matt Adams in left field on occasion, which has not really paid any dividends.
- Overall, the Braves’ corps of position players is dead average (15th in MLB, 7th in NL) in position player WAR so far through August. That’s their best relative monthly performance since April, where they finished 13th in MLB, thanks in large part to the rampages of Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp.
- The rotation was also decent, or livable if not decent. By ERA, it is 21st in August (11th in the NL). By FIP, 11th (7th in the NL). By xFIP, 17th (11th in the NL). Julio Teheran had his best month of the season, mixing in two decent outings with one blowup and two very good starts against the Rockies. Sean Newcomb struggled mightily with his command and control for a second straight month, and R.A. Dickey lost his knuckleballing mojo. Lucas Sims made his big league debut and held his own through six starts, though a 4.86 FIP and 5.21 xFIP, compared to his 4.41 ERA, portend some challenges in the future if he does not improve. Meanwhile, Mike Foltynewicz had a really weird month where he dominated the Marlins, got shelled in three straight starts, and then came back to hold the Rockies to one run, ending up with an ERA near 9.00 but the best FIP in the rotation, mostly because he only allowed one homer.
- The bullpen, though, was once again awful. With injuries piling up and a revolving door of relief arms coming up from Gwinnett, the Braves struggled to find consistency as their starters failed to go deep into games. By ERA, the bullpen is 22nd in the majors so far in August (11th in the NL). By FIP, 24th (11th in the NL). By xFIP, 29th (last in the NL). The only actual good relief work came from Sam Freeman, who pitched 10 and 2⁄3 scoreless innings, with just one walk and nine strikeouts. Everyone else was something between unremarkable and really bad. Jim Johnson, in particular, continued a crazy tailspin that started in July, fully crossing from dominant reliever in April-May-June to “can’t really get a single hitter out” across his August outings.
- Put these together, and the Braves currently sit 22nd in MLB in pitching fWAR (13th in the NL). Better luck in September, hopefully.
August’s Most Excellent Braves Hitter - The Tyler Flowers / Kurt Suzuki Two-Headed Monster
Quick, name the team with the best offensive production from catcher this season! If you guessed anyone other than the Braves, you’re probably wrong (unless you guessed the Tigers or Cubs, who are at best tied with the Braves, depending on your definition of “catcher”).
Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers continued their timeshare in August, as Flowers’ playing time eroded due to Suzuki’s remarkable power surge. Notably, Flowers himself actually didn’t hit very well in August, with a 92 wRC+ and a .180/.317/.400 batting line that was depressed by a .182 BABIP. Suzuki, meanwhile, managed a 145 wRC+ in his 44 PAs, with a .282/.364/.590 line, which lead the team for the month. Now, guess which one finished with more homers? Technically, neither did, as they both managed only three in August (so far).
Despite his poor line, Flowers put up some notable games in August. He gave the Braves a win against the Dodgers with a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth. He got hit by pitches in consecutive plate appearances against the Marlins, which is just kind of weird, and he hit the ball that led to the game-losing error by Nolan Arenado in Coors, allowing the Braves the split the series. Suzuki, meanwhile, pulled literally over half of the balls he put in play, and posted a HR/FB rate above 20 percent for the second straight month.
August’s Most Excellent Braves Starting Pitcher - Julio Teheran, finally
It has not been a good year for Julio Teheran. His current pitching triple-slash is 4.90 / 5.27 / 4.95, each of which would be by far the worst seasonal marks in his career (excluding the cups of coffee he got before the 2013 season). Teheran actually pitched reasonably well in April, seeming to continue his 2016 success, but then imploded again and again in May, June, and July. However, he’s back above replacement level now, given an August performance of 4.15 / 3.49 / 4.16 in five starts.
Only one start during his August was a clunker: five runs in five innings against the Phillies. Two more were livable, including three runs in six frames against the Dodgers, and five runs (four earned) in six innings versus the Reds. However, Teheran reeled off two very good outings against the Rockies, including seven shutout innings at Coors Field, and pitching into the eighth while allowing just two runs back at SunTrust Park.
Keeping the ball in the park was a huge element of his success. Teheran gave up two homers in April (both in the same game), but after that, generally didn’t have a stretch where he allowed fewer than two or three homers in back-to-back starts, except for a couple of no-homer outings sandwiching the All-Star Break. He allowed just three longballs in August, which is notable because that’s how many he allowed in each of his last three starts in July. (Of his nine starts where he’s allowed zero homers, only three came in a month other than April or August; he’s allowed multiple homers in eight of his 26 starts, but none in August.)
The Braves actually won two of his five starts this month, which is a better winning percentage than their record overall for August. Sigh.
August’s Most Excellent Braves Relief Pitcher - Jose Ramirez
Yes, Sam Freeman had the best relief stats. But, he also pitched in relatively unimportant situations. Jose Ramirez, meanwhile, was tasked by Brian Snitker to get outs, again and again, during near-meltdowns, and mostly came through.
One of those outings was against the Cardinals, where Jim Johnson and Sam Freeman combined to turn a four-run lead in the eighth into a two-run advantage with the tying runs on base and one out. Ramirez plunked the first batter he saw, putting the tying run in scoring position, but then got a strikeout and a groundout to preserve the game.
Overall, Ramirez only really had two bad outings on the month, and only one of them kind of mattered: a homer allowed to Paul DeJong that turned a two-run deficit into a three-run hole, which was only relevant because the Braves were able to get two, but not three runs, in the top of the ninth. (His other run allowed came on a garbage time home run by Charlie Blackmon, while the Braves held a seven-run lead in the ninth.)
Still, if you want to argue for Freeman here, I can’t really blame you. He was just given middle relief duties, and though he worked through them exceptionally well, it mattered a bit less for team success than Ramirez’ outings.
Best Offensive Play - Markakis Mash
Nick Markakis had a bit of a power spike in August, mashing three homers and posting his highest single-month ISO since September 2016. More critically, he posted his highest single-month fly ball percentage since May 2007, suggesting that he, perhaps, is also trying to get in on this fly ball revolution thingamajig. (However, it hasn’t quite worked out for him yet, as his walk rate tanked in August and he put up an 83 wRC+. But, we’ll see how it plays out going forward.)
In any case, one of those homers was huge, turning a two-run deficit into a one-run lead by driving an inside Adam Conley fastball towards the Chop House.
Best Run-Stopping Play(s) - Jose Ramirez Escapes Jam
This was mentioned earlier, but it was still pretty cool. With the Braves holding a four-run lead, erstwhile closer Jim Johnson was asked to pitch the eighth. He threw three straight strikes to retire his first batter of the game, but then allowed a homer and two singles. That was it for Johnson, but Sam Freeman also allowed a run-scoring single.
So, on came Jose Ramirez, with the tying runs on base. He plunked Carson Kelly, but then three fouls and a called strike later, notched the second out. Yadier Molina gave him a six-pitch battle, but in the end, Ramirez got Molina to swing over the top of a fastball below the knees for an easy grounder to third. This preserved the lead, and prevented the Braves from getting swept by the Cardinals for the second time this season.
Sadly, no video, since apparently this wasn’t an important sequence in the game or anything.
Best Single Player Offensive Domination of a Game - Nick Markakis Beats the Marlins
This is the same game from above, where Markakis hit that big three-run homer. It’s kind of hard to do better than a three-run homer that transforms a two-run deficit into a one-run lead. Special shoutout to Ender Inciarte, who managed another two-homer game for his season this month, this time at Coors. Also, earlier in this game, Nick Markakis hit a ball that was mishandled by Dee Gordon, allowing the first run to score. So, he outscored the Marlins himself in this one.
This video cracks me up, because it would have been such a cool play by Gordon had he caught it, and then, just, nope.
Best Start - Julio Teheran Dominates at Coors
You’d probably figure that a pitcher having a career-worst season while struggling with command and the longball would get walloped at Coors Field, right? Well, if you were thinking of Julio Teheran, you’d be wrong.
Teheran fired seven scoreless in Denver, allowing just four hits, none for extra bases, and three walks. He struck out eight.
Sadly, though, the Braves scored nada for him, and lost 3-0 after the Rockies immediately jumped on the bullpen following Teheran’s departure. Kind of a poor way to conclude Teheran’s best start of the season.
Best Relief Outing - Arodys Vizcaino Slams the Door
Just for some variety, let’s give some credit where it’s due. Arodys Vizcaino locked down one of the Braves’ few wins this month with a scoreless ninth against the Rockies. He threw just 10 pitches and collected two strikeouts in the process. If only all save appearances were this low-stress, even with only a one-run lead.
Most Crushed Ball
The Braves did not hit a single home run this month with a Statcast hit probability of 90 percent or higher. Nobody wins. Come on, guys. Don’t you know that chicks dig the long ball?
Worst Offensive Play - Markakis Whiff
The ninth of inning of the middle game of the series in St. Louis got exciting in a hurry, as the Braves, down by three, mounted a rally to try and tie it up against Trevor Rosenthal. A single, an error, and a walk loaded the bases, and with two outs, Freddie Freeman laced a two-out single that put the tying run on third. That brought up Nick Markakis with a chance to give the Braves the lead (or at least tie the game), but he could do nothing with Rosenthal’s effective wildness.
I don’t think that’s where he really wanted that 92 mile-per-hour changeup, but Markakis swung through it anyway. Disappointing.
Most Painful Opposing Plate Appearance - Charlie Blackmon Ruins my Birthday
It’s probably just confirmation bias, but the Braves always seem to botch it on my birthday. This year, I thought they might avoid such a fate, by carrying a tie game into the ninth inning against the Rockies.
Arodys Vizcaino made sure to snuff out that whiff of hope quickly, however. The first batter, Carlos Gonzalez, hit a single. Then, in a 1-2 count, Charlie Blackmon hooked a slider into right-center, and just like that, the Braves were down 6-4 in the ninth. To make matters worse, DJ LeMahieu then knocked his second homer of the game off Vizcaino to give the Rockies back-to-back dingers and a 7-4 advantage. The Braves actually managed to make it somewhat exciting in the bottom of the inning, thanks to a two-run Matt Adams homer and the tying run reaching base, but alas.
Worst Offensive Game - Brandon Phillips and the LOBsters
There was nothing super-brutal on the offensive end for the Braves this month, but this game stood out, in part because the Braves ended up losing by just a single run to the Mariners.
In the first, Ender Inciarte reached on a gift error, but was promptly erased when Phillips hit into a double play. In the second, with the Braves already having scored twice, Phillips grounded out to strand Inciarte on second. Then, in the ninth, with Inciarte having reached to lead off the inning, Phillips made an out without advancing him, and the Braves lost shortly thereafter. Phillips actually went 1-for-5 in this game, but his leadoff single in the seventh also failed to go anywhere. Tough break all around.
Worst Start - Folty Gets Torched
In the same eventual 6-5 decision as discussed immediately above, Mike Foltynewicz didn’t get absolutely creamed, but he kept bleeding runs in a very frustrating way.
His two starts right before this one were way more brutal. He was annihilated by the Cardinals, not leaving the third inning but allowing four walks while yielding six runs. His next outing, at Coors Field, was not any better — he made it into the fourth, but allowed eight runs. Still, this one was incredibly frustrating in its own right.
After a scoreless first, Folty allowed three singles to fall behind in the second. The third of those singles came off the bat of Andrew Albers, and would have potentially been an out had not Folty tried to barehand the ball, unsuccessfully. After the Braves scored twice to take the lead, Folty allowed two more hits and an RBI grounder. Then, in the fourth, a hit by pitch, a walk, a double, and a single put the Braves in a three-run hole. Folty looked like he was maybe getting it together with a 1-2-3 fifth, but another single and a double in the sixth illuminated his way to the showers. So frustrating.
Worst Relief Appearance - I don’t want to talk about it
Technically, I’d say it was the Arodys Vizcaino ruining a perfectly good Braves game by giving up two homers in the ninth. But, all those outings were Jim Johnson struggled to get outs are also decent choices. Bad relief pitching is the worst.
Most Crushed Ball Allowed
Wow. Wow wow wow. That’s all I can say.
The Braves actually won this game, and Mike Foltynewicz dominated the Marlins in the process, but this was one of the most-creamed balls in baseball this season. 111 miles per hour off the bat, traveling an estimated 446 feet, with about the highest hit probability imaginable. Kablamo.