(Also sent as an email to Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus.)
Maybe I’m just too close to the team, but it seems to me that the Braves’ Pythagorean record is distorted, and the team’s actual quality probably lies somewhere between their record and their run differential. Probably closer to the former. They aren’t winning a particularly high number of one-run games, which is what you’d expect from a “lucky” team. What is happening is a lot of blowouts, more than you’d expect from even a middling-to-poor pitching staff.
Two nights ago, it was 15-6, and that’s not particularly unusual. There was the 20-1 game in Florida last month. Running through the games, there are other losses by big scores: 10-2 (opening day), 17-1, 16-2, 12-5 (twice), 9-2, 8-1. That’s nine losses (of only 33) by seven or more runs. (Four of these, for whatever reason, were against the Marlins, including the two worst.) Has a team ever won a division after losing that many blowouts?
I’ve seen most of those games, and if there’s anything they have in common it’s that Bobby Cox, once he goes to the pen in a game like that, seemingly is reluctant to pull his relievers in-inning, managing almost like spring training. (He also tends to put Darren Bragg in the game, which doesn’t help any.) I just find it hard to take a game that far out of hand too seriously.
The middle relief is terrible, by the way, which certainly is something that makes the team worse. The Braves are the only team in the league that has a setup man (Roberto Hernandez) whose job is apparently to whittle down five run leads to get into save situations for Smoltz.