On April 30, after a 3-1 loss at Texas, the Atlanta Braves stood 10-12 on the season and three full games behind the New York Mets in the National League East.
As May 30 dawns, the Braves are still two games under .500 (23-25) after Sunday afternoon's 6-3 victory over the Miami Marlins, yet remained eight games behind the first-place Mets prior to New York's game with the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday evening.
When you're in the weakest division in Major League Baseball — excepting the Mets — and you've done no better than tread water record-wise over the past 30 days while losing at least 4 1/2 games in the standings, is it not fair to say you're underwater when it comes to any postseason aspirations?
Even if you are the reigning world champions?
To listen to the Braves after the win against the Marlins is to hear hope buoyed by hard work.
Winning pitcher Max Fried, easily the ace of the staff at this point, said after his latest win: "Each day's different. Just go out there and win the next game. That's been our mentality, and I think we've proven that's what works."
Said Austin Riley, who swatted a home run and a double and drove in two runs: "We're a team that grinds. We're a team that puts in the work. We're going to get this going."
Added perpetually positive manager Brian Snitker after the first winning homestand of the season (4-3): "Always nice to win a series. Nice to see us swing the bats like that. We're starting to come around."
There were a number of positives in this series and Sunday's win, beginning with 11 hits — nine for extra bases, three of them homers, including two by Marcell Ozuna. Ozzie Albies constructed a 12-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the second inning. The recently promoted Michael Harris II delivered two magical defensive gems in center field that were reminiscent of the great Andruw Jones. Fried surrendered but one run in six innings of work.
But also keep in mind that these are the games the Braves absolutely have to win to entertain even the slightest notion of returning to the playoffs and repeating as champions. Miami is 19-26, which is the second-worst record in the woeful NL East behind last-place Washington's 18-31 mark.
And that desperate need to pile up wins during this stretch becomes no less critical with this week's road trip to NL West also-rans Arizona (23-26) and Colorado (21-26). These shouldn't just be winnable games for a team hoping to climb back above .500; thes are must-win games if the Braves are to mount a legitimate threat to the Mets.
Beyond that, consider this: Let's say Atlanta will need 90 victories to reach the postseason. Only 114 games remain. With 23 wins to date, the Braves will need to go 67-47 the rest of the way to win 90. It's certainly not impossible, but when you've played sub-.500 ball for the first 30% of the season, it's also far from guaranteed.
Of course, Atlanta has also won six of 10, which ties for the third-best mark in the NL over the past 10 games, trailing only the Los Angeles Dodgers (8-2) and the Mets (7-3 ahead of Sunday's game). If the Braves could keep up that pace for the remainder of the season, however difficult that would be, they would wind up with 91 total wins, almost assuredly enough to reach the playoffs.
Another potential bright spot for Atlanta moving forward takes the mound Monday night in Arizona when former Clemson star Spencer Strider earns his first start after a fine early season in the bullpen.
The rookie has recorded a 2.22 ERA to date with 37 strikeouts in just 24 1/3 innings of relief appearances. That number ranks him fifth among all rookie pitchers in strikeouts, despite having thrown nearly 20 fewer innings than the four players ranked ahead of him. Heading into Sunday, he was also tied for the second-most strikeouts by an NL reliever.
Having given up the 12th-most runs in the majors among 30 teams heading into the Arizona game, the Braves desperately need improved starting pitching to make a run, and Strider could be a big part of that.
As he often does, Snitker sounded like a man believing the best was yet to come for his champs.
"We've been waiting to put it all together," he said late Sunday afternoon, a statement Braves Country would no doubt echo. "But we're starting to trend in that direction."
To make that trend more than a respectable homestand against two losing teams, Atlanta needs to win more than it loses against a couple of other struggling franchises in Arizona and Colorado. The climb to eclipse .500, then stay there, desperately needs to begin this week.