Wiedmer: If Braves miss the playoffs, blame the schedule

Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker (43), left, and shortstop Dansby Swanson is shown against the New York Yankees during a baseball game Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

According to ESPN's statistical probabilities regarding which Major League Baseball teams will reach the postseason and which won't, the Atlanta Braves - who entered Tuesday night with a 1.5-game lead over Philadelphia - have a 69.7 percent chance of making the playoffs to the Phillies' 39.2 percent chance.

However, break down the remaining schedule for each team and you wonder if those percentages shouldn't be reversed.

For instance, the Phillies have 17 games remaining against teams that are currently at least 10 games under .500. The Braves have but 13 such contests.

Beyond that, there's momentum. Philadelphia had won 8 out of 10 entering Tuesday's game at Milwaukee. The Braves had lost eight of their last 11 at the start of Tuesday's game against visiting Washington.

Then there's the jet lag factor, which surely increases late in the season. Between August 30th and September 26th - a span of 28 days - Atlanta will have 18 games (including the completion of an earlier game against San Diego) out West that includes two separate trips to the Left Coast.

And at the very end of the 162-game schedule, the Braves' reward to wrap up the regular season at Truist is to play three games against the Phillies followed by three against the Mets, which just happen to be the only other clubs in the NL East that don't have losing records (the Mets were .500 entering Tuesday night.)

Great theatre. Overwhelming pressure, especially given the fact that the Braves are but 7-9 on the season against Philly.

But can Atlanta still pull out the National League East they'll have to win to reach the playoffs for a fourth straight autumn? Absolutely. This team never gives up anything. Even in this recent run of futility - five losses in seven road games at LA and Colorado - they've scratched and clawed, with five of the seven road games decided by a single run.

"This game is always gonna punch you in the gut and kick you in the teeth, and you've just got to keep fighting back," said Braves skipper Brian Snitker after Sunday's 9-2 win against the Rockies.

But that's not the issue. It almost never is with Atlanta, especially this team, whose physical limitations seem to let them down far more often than their professionalism and will to win.

Still, you can't help but wonder if MLB's schedule makers haven't punched the Braves in the gut and kicked them in the teeth too much to leave them standing.

While Philly certainly began this week with a far tougher opponent than Atlanta - facing the Brewers in Milwaukee while the Braves host the struggling Nationals - that's by far the saltiest foe the Phillies will face until they travel to the Big Peach on the 28th, 29th and 30th of September.

As for the Braves, the Giants entered Tuesday 38 games over .500 and Padres nine over .500. Throw in those three with the Phillies and Atlanta has 10 games left (including the completion game with San Diego) against teams north of .500. Philadelphia, including Tuesday's game at Milwaukee, had five such games.

Of course, on the plus side for Atlanta, there are also these stats to consider when comparing the Braves and Phillies: Atlanta has scored 30 more runs throughout the season and, perhaps far more importantly, given up 66 less runs.

In fact, only two NL teams had scored more than the Braves' 663 total heading into Tuesday - the Dodgers and Reds - and only five NL squads had given up fewer runs than Atlanta's 569, those being the Dodgers, Giants, Brewers, Padres and New York Mets.

But an old issue returned in the Dodgers' three-game sweep of the Braves last week - that being an overall inability to hit quality pitching.

After last Wednesday's 4-3 loss to LA - a game Atlanta led 3-2 after seven - Dansby Swanson echoed those season-long struggles when he said, "We just didn't hit consistently enough to give ourselves a chance, but we pitched the ball pretty freaking great."

He also told ESPN.com: "There were a lot of good things from the series, and I feel like this was a really, really good experience for us because this is what it's going to be like for us come the end of the season and the playoffs. Just glad to go through it at the end of August and not October."

It sounds hopeful. It sounds doable. And the Braves have reached the postseason the last three Octobers. But if they make it a fourth, it will require overcoming a punch to the gut and kick to the teeth by the schedule makers as much as outlasting their opponents over this season's final weeks.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at [email protected].