Thirty Days Of Hell In Atlanta: Trying To Get Rid Of The Trashy In-Laws That Just Arrived At Their Doorstep

For the Atlanta Braves, the remaining six weeks of the season look like one bad summer of untimely visits from the likes of cousin Mickey, who’s been a screw up for most of his life and thinks maybe he can make a quick buck with some unnoticed pilfering of the family china.

But he’s not the only one who’s gone through the previous 120 games kind of half-assing it through life. And now he’s very motivated to stick around for a couple of days, see if there might be some tools he can “borrow” and make a pass at your wife.

But assuming you can kick Mickey out before he loads up the camper with your stuff, if you’re Atlanta, you still have to deal with your brother-in-law Phil, whose wives keep disappearing. Then there’s Nat who may or may not still be on parole, and your uncle Pol, who always gave you the creeps.

An that’s where the Braves find themselves this August, with National League East relatives on their front porch reaching out with a handshake with brass knuckles tucked in the waistband just in case “things get weird.”

The East could be the best division in baseball and I’m not sure there are any that are more entertaining. But because the top four teams are beating the hell out of each other, it’s entirely possible only one of them makes the playoffs. There are similarities to be sure, and some notable differences.

This has been a season of streaks, especially lately as the Washington Nationals and New York Mets went on tears that moved Philadelphia all the way down to fourth, after they had been second for most of the year.

Atlanta is stacked. Third baseman Josh Donaldson (.267 ave., 29 HRs) is like their third best power hitter? Ridiculous. Freddie Freeman (.304 ave., 34 HRs) and Ronald Acuna Jr. (.296 ave., 36 HRs) would be MVP candidates if not for the fact they are on the same team and the fact they also have Ozzie Albies (.289 ave., 18 HRs) and Nick Markakis (.284 ave., 9 HRs). Though the entire team is crushing it in the month of August, left field has suddenly become a mysterious place where bats and the bag of cookies your guests call “dessert” go to die. Dansby Swanson, Adam Duvall, and Charlie Culberson are all hitting less than .180 the last week and Acuna Jr. got benched for failing to hustle.

Culberson was their pinch-hitting star for the season (.316 through July with 83 at-bats in 83 games) before he was stuck in the starting lineup and fell apart (0-for-16 in his last seven games).

Pitching-wise, they have enough to win the division and maybe a series or two with 22-year-old Mike Soroka (10-2, 2.41 ERA), 25-year-old Max Fried (14-4, 3.84 ERA) and 28-year-old Julio Teheran (8-8 3.53 ERA) but Dallas Keuchel has not delivered much more than a number-four starter. They may not need him in the playoffs and can rely on any of five guys in the bullpen with enough games under their belts to be called “experience” and not so many as to be called “over-used.” All five have ERAs under 3.50.

How did the Mets win 15-of-16 and 22-of-26? Their offense finally kicked into gear, for one. After months of wasting great starting pitching, the team is second in August in batting average, fourth in on-base percentage and is sixth in timely hitting in all of MLB. Six hitters are above a .300 average for the month.

But, offensively Todd Frazier is the second coming of Rob Deer. It’s been four years since Frazier hit better than .225. Guys like that always seem to come up in the postseason when good bat control is needed. They never seem to get the job done.

They’ve also been leaning heavily on pitchers Jacob de Grom (1.42 ERA) Noah Syndergaard (2.25 ERA) and Zach Wheeler (2.88 ERA) this month. But none of those three is going super deep into games which is why they’ve been leaning so heavily on Luis Avilan, Jeurys Familia, and Justin Wilson.

That’s a double-edged sword. Wilson’s been good all year but Familia has only come on lately. He struggled through two stints on the injured list. How bad had he been until recently? His 1.80 ERA for 10 games in August was only good enough to get his season ERA down to 6.07. Besides those three relievers, the rest of the bullpen is a gaggle of gas cans.

There is something to be said for home cooking, however: New York has played the fewest home games of any team, besides St. Louis.

So why hasn’t New York been able to secure a wild card berth? Maybe because Washington has been just as hot..maybe even hotter: fourth in RBI, fifth in average and first in on-base percentage in August.

The Nationals also finally got help from their bullpen and just in time considering they lost ace Max Scherzer to the injury list with a sore back. During their recent stretch, they faced off against a San Francisco Giants team that had won 17 of 21. The Nats pitching staff gave up only four runs in the entire series. Can they keep it up? Maybe.

Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick, and Trea Turner continue to rake as have six other guys. Scherzer is back and nine starters or relievers have ERAs under 3.50 for the month of August. Sean Doolittle, however is not one of them. He has had bad stretches before and is in the middle of another (four runs, three HRs allowed in 1.1 innings pitched). He’s got to be 2018, 1.60 ERA Sean and not 2019, 4.33 ERA Sean.

In Phillies country, the Fanatic has to be tearing his green hair out… and Rhys Hoskins too. The Fanatic is hitting the bottle and Hoskins is hitting just .190 since the All-Star break. They need one of the two to protect Bryce Harper, who needs protection. Third baseman Maikel Franco was sent down to AAA after he put up a .182 mark to start August. Scott Kingery was doing his best Scott Rolen impersonation hitting .268 with 14 home runs 10 stolen bases and 320 at bats, but he’s struggling lately.

The bullpen is even better than Atlanta’s, which the Phillies need because their starters are coughing up runs. Only Aaron Nola (3.51) has an ERA under 4.00. That’s a rough way to make a living, especially if your offense is scuffling.

Offense is what kept the Phillies in the race last month. Six players hit better than .300 in July and none were named Bryce Harper. They did include –and were in fact led by– outfielder Roman Quinn, followed by two catchers of all things, JT Realmuto and Andrew Knapp. For Philly, it’s a great time for Knapp to go from being a .186 career hitter to batting .344 in the final weeks of a playoff chase. What Harper has done is lead the team in strikeouts, walks, RBI and moon shots: 6 in 13 games.

But again, they’ll need Hoskins. As bad as his second-half has been, August has been even worse: hitting just .128 even though he has as many walks as strikeouts. The rest of the club has fallen off too.

Marlins: Basement. Sure. But they’re starting to actually look like a major league offense at least. Third baseman Brian Anderson shows promise as do a half dozen others. In the last two weeks, six are hitting .286 or better. But four starting pitchers, and two relievers, had ERAs over 5.10. Sandy Alcantar is probably no better than a fourth starter, especially if he gives up seven walks for every 10 strikeouts. It looks like they have the bats developing. Time to develop some arms.

Interesting note: the East (Marlins aside) have been reluctant to use the shift.. The Nationals, Mets, Braves and Phillies are second, fourth, eighth and tenth respectably in fewest uses of the defensive scheme designed to rob pull hitters of base hits.

What does it all mean ?

It means the Braves win the division and the Nationals slug it out with the NL Central for the wild card berth. If the Nationals get there, they just might stay for a bit, annoying Atlanta until the family fight ends up on Youtube. There could be more than one.

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