It was probably asking too much for the Atlanta Braves to knock off both the hottest team in baseball and the best team in baseball, at least by record, during their five-game homestand that wrapped up Sunday.
So losing both games of an odd two-game series against the scalding New York Yankees — who entered Sunday night's game against the Oakland Athletics having won 13 of their past 14 — and winning two of three games against the San Francisco Giants wasn't a bad effort, especially since the 5-4 loss to the Yanks on Tuesday night could easily have been a win.
In fact, if you asked any citizen of Braves Nation if they'd expect victory with Freddie Freeman at the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and the count 3-2 — even if there were two outs — they'd surely say yes. But Freeman flied out to left, and the nine-game winning streak Atlanta had taken into the series against the Yankees became a two-game losing skid.
Still, as New York skipper Aaron Boone noted afterward of reliever Wandy Peralta's effort against Freeman: "As tough a situation as you can probably be brought into — Freddie Freeman staring you down with the bases loaded."
Unfortunately for the Braves, they apparently have their own tough situation playing at home. They're just 33-32 at Truist Park this year after Sunday's 9-0 win over the Giants, with 16 home games left to play among their remaining 33 regular-season contests.
Of teams currently expected to make the playoffs in both the American and National leagues, no team has been as inept in its home park as Atlanta. In fact, among teams ESPN gives better than a 60% chance to reach the postseason, only Atlanta, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds are fewer than 14 games over .500 at home. And the Brewers and Reds have won seven more than they've lost on their own turf.
Then again, only four teams — the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays (41-25 on the road), the NL Central-leading Brewers (43-23) and the NL West monsters that are the Los Angeles Dodgers and (39-26) and San Fran (42-27) — have been better road warriors than the Braves. Atlanta is 37-27 away from home entering a seven-game road swing that starts Monday night against the Dodgers, with those three games in L.A. followed by four against the Colorado Rockies starting Thursday.
So what gives?
Certainly the recent home schedule has been filled with some quality foes. The past three series at Truist Park — against Milwaukee, the Yanks and the Giants — all came against teams that entered Sunday at least 23 games over .500.
By contrast, 12 of the remaining 16 home games are against teams that currently stand a combined 55 games under .500. Three of the other four games are against the Philadelphia Phillies, currently two games over .500. The other contest is against the declining San Diego Padres, who are but seven games to the good.
(That will be the completion of a July 21 game at Truist Park that was suspended due to weather in the bottom of the fifth with Atlanta down 5-4. The seven-inning game — it was part of a doubleheader — will be completed in San Diego, but with Atlanta still batting last, on Sept. 24 just before the start of a three-game series hosted by the Padres.)
The Braves also got some good news on the pitching front Sunday with an inspired 5 2/3 scoreless innings from Ian Anderson, who was making his first start since July 11 due to right shoulder inflammation.
"By the time I made that first rehab start, I was feeling pretty good," Anderson said after allowing four hits and two walks. "You just stay with the process and you feel you could be ready sooner, but you've got to build up pitches to get to where I needed to be to pitch today, (which was to) give Snit (manager Brian Snitker) and the team 90-plus pitches."
Now the process calls for the Braves to prove their bats can hit the quality pitching the Dodgers will throw at them. Atlanta took two of three from the reigning World Series champions in early June in Atlanta, but this will be a better measuring stick for where the Braves stand a little more than a month from the start of the postseason, assuming they ultimately win the National League East Division for the fourth straight year.
Then it's on to Colorado for four games in the high altitude of Denver before returning home to face the Washington Nationals next Tuesday.
The one thing that seems certain is these Braves still have a lot of fight and pride and belief. They followed the disappointment of the Yankees series by taking two of three from the Giants. Moreover, they won in a rout on Sunday after being shut out 5-0 on Saturday night.
Does that bode well for October? It can't hurt.
That said, Snitker said the one thing that can't be argued or dismissed just before his team headed west: "It's not going to get any easier next week, that's for sure."