This time last year, the Atlanta Braves were 16 games under .500, and hopes for the playoffs were pretty much gone after a really bad June and July, with the white flag of the season officially being the trade of superstar, Mark Teixeira. It was no more obvious that the season was a bust than it was here at 'ol Talking Chop, where people stopped showing up, readership dwindled, and the overall morale here was completely demolished.
And it's hard to blame Braves fans for such attitudes; after all this was a squad that had a zero power outfield, McCann, Chipper were both on the DL, and on the pitching front, Huddy was out, Glavine was out, Soriano and Moylan were both out, and the rotation was trotting out a fatigued Jair Jurrjens, and ironically of all people, Mike Hampton. This was as bad of a patchwork roster of players as it could possibly get, and it showed in the results.
The 2008 Atlanta Braves fell out of contention in late-July.
The 2009 Atlanta Braves fell out of contention . . . well, they actually haven't yet.
In fact, they're six games over .500, and they're mathematically alive in the playoff hunt. There are several teams worse off, who are still alive, and there are several teams better off who aren't in, either. The outfield is still a little spotty, but at least Jeff Francoeur isn't a part of it anymore. There's suddenly power at first-base, and people are starting to notice that Yunel Escobar is actually pretty good at this baseball thing. Chipper Jones is unfortunately mired in a bad slump, but there are lots of big leaguers would be feel blessed to have a .282 batting average, which good for them, is pedestrian for Chipper. But hey, McCann hasn't been cold-clocked at home plate or had his fingers mashed in by a bad swing, and he's still in the lineup today.
The starting rotation has had the luxury of consistently trotting out Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens and Kenshin Kawakami, almost the entire season. And Tommy Hanson hasn't missed a start since being called up, and has been dominating, to boot. In fact, out of the 126 games played this year, there were only nine games, in which one of the five aforementioned names did not start (Reyes 5, Medlen 4). Compare this to last year, where 11 pitchers started at least four times.
So despite the fact that the 2009 Atlanta Braves are a good baseball team, and hopes for the playoffs are still mathematically alive, with still an entire month of baseball (plus a few extra days in this month and early October), I have to ask - why are so many of you so gosh-darn miserable?
I'm beginning to wonder which scenario is worse - a desolate 2008 TC environment, where many vanish having begun to latch onto other teams, or gear their interests towards college and/or NFL football, or a 2009 TC environment, where it Jeckyll & Hydes with every win from joy to morbid, morose end-of-the-world pessimism with each loss.
Is it because of two consecutive losses to the Padres? Sure, they're a bad squad this year. But that's what innately beautiful about sports - every game is a new day, and ANYTHING is possible, on any given game.
Cases in point:
- In 2004, the 12-1 New England Patriots suffer a nationally televised Monday Night Football loss to the 2-11 Miami Dolphins. All I really remember is the odd orange jerseys the Dolphins were wearing that night, and that the Patriots still won their remaining two games of the season, and marched into the playoffs and won the Superbowl that year
- The record-setting 72-10 Chicago Bulls of 1996 suffered consecutive losses once in the regular season, to the then, lowly Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns. They responded with seven consecutive wins, set a record, and won the NBA championship.
- The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals limped into the playoffs with a 3-9 record their final 12 games of the season. We all remember what happened here.
Is it because the losses jeopardize the playoff hunt? I'm aware of the facts right now, too. There are a lot of factors involved in what it would take to get Atlanta into the playoffs this season. Aside from the fact that the Braves need to win as many games as they can from now until October 4th, the other contenders for both the NL East and Wild Card need to stop winning so much. Obviously, this is not in their best interests. But all of these factors, I think needs to be reminded, are out of our control.
I'll be happy if the Braves do manage to go .667 the rest of the way, whether or not they make the playoffs. I prefer to be in the camp of people that only needs to concern themselves with the Braves do, and see where the chips fall when the regular season is over. The 2007 Mets collapsed with 17 to go - everyone's still got twice that for something unfortunate to happen to their team's fortunes.
Obviously, I'm not trying to tell anyone how they should be feeling, because that's even more hypocritical of me to do than normal, but I just wanted to remind everyone that losses are a part of sports. It happens. In baseball, there's no such thing as a perfect season. Out of 162 possible 50/50 outcomes, odds are, there will be plenty of losses in there. I get it, I really do. I get frustrated, and pissed off with losses like the last two nights, too. I make bold and pessimistic remarks too, but I seldom share them here. But I don't say that the season is over yet, because it really, really isn't. There are still 36 games left for something sports-magical to happen.
Here's something I read last night, that I'd like to share with you guys. Some snippets from a British sportswriter, that I can agree with a lot of:
SOME will tell you that sport is all about winning. Have nothing to do with such people. Winning is not the only thing in sport. There is also, for example, losing. Losing is one of the most important things in sport, and people do it all the time, and in a thousand different ways. You can lose gloriously, dramatically, heroically, unluckily, abjectly, humiliatingly, defiantly, haplessly.
You can be hammered, trounced, beaten out of sight. You can be edged out, beaten by the narrowest of margins.
But it all adds up to the same common experience of sport: not winning.
Defeat is the sporting experience that dare not speak its name. Defeat is the thing that keeps us coming back: for when victory is certain, where is the joy? A mismatch brings no pleasure to the winner, and we call such victories hollow.
Victory is not much of a dish unless it is seasoned with the possibility of defeat. And even when teams or individuals dominate for a sustained period of time, we know that defeat will get them in the end.
Defeat is thrilling, defeat is intoxicating, defeat is the most exciting thing in sport, apart, that is, from winning. Defeat is an important — perhaps the most most important — part of the sporting life.
To say that winning is the only thing in sport is to say that Tabasco is the only thing in a Bloody Mary. The Tabasco gives you the zing and the bite, but it is not the Tabasco that intoxicates, and it is not the Tabasco that keeps you coming back for more. Without defeat there is no victory; without losers, there is no winner. We celebrate the winners: and we do so while repressing the thought that every winner floats high on buoyancy on the tears of the losers. We should be for ever grateful to every loser. Without losers there is no sport.
We are as hooked on defeat as we are on victory. Sport would not be sport without misery, without despair, without hopelessness. Victory is for wimps: it is in defeat that the true spirit of sport is to be found.
And because I try to keep things light around here, here are some crude photoshops of pictures of Yunel Escobar I found while looking for the Bobby Cox picture in the intro, incorporated into Street Fighter scenarios.
I can't speak for the rest of you, but I'm going to try my best to relax and enjoy the rest of the season, and see what happens in October. Go Braves.