has helped anchor the steaming Braves
during their record winning streak. [Patrick McDermott/Getty Images]
The Braves beat the Nationals
6-3 on Wednesday night, and now it's unclear just when they will lose again. Atlanta has now won 13 consecutive games, the longest single-season winning streak since the Moneyball A's famous 20-game streak in 2002. In the process, they have built a 15 1/2-game lead in the National League East over the second-place Nationals, whom they just swept and against whom they have now gone 10-3 on the season with just six head-to-head games remaining.
A 15 1/2-game lead with just 47 games left to play is as close to a sure thing as a team can get in early August, and with the Braves' remaining schedule, it's essentially a lock. Atlanta has just seven games remaining against teams currently boasting winning records—including four in St. Louis against the Cardinals, whom the Braves swept in three games in Atlanta to start their current streak, and three at home against the Indians, the last of those coming on Aug. 29.
Indeed, even before Wednesday night's win, Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds had the Braves as 100 percent locks to win the NL East. Former Baseball Prospectus statistician Clay Davenport's postseason odds, calculated by simulating the remainder of the season one million times, had the Braves winning the East 99.9 percent of the time on Wednesday morning. Using Davenport's data, the only team ever to miss the playoffs after achieving odds that high was the 1995 Angels, who had a 99.99 percent chance on Aug. 20, then went on a 6-24 skid before rallying to force a one-game playoff against the Mariners for the American League West title, which they lost.
The current Braves are not unfamiliar with such collapses. They had a 98.99 percent chance of a playoff berth on Aug. 26, 2011, but went 8-18 over their final 26 games to lose the wild card to the Cardinals on the final day of the regular season after Craig Kimbrel blew a ninth-inning lead against the Phillies, who won in the 13th.
That fall is surely on the minds of the Braves who experienced it, including Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, Jose Constanza, and Anthony Varvaro, all of whom were on the active major-league roster on the final day of the 2011 season. If it was possible for such a collapse to be even less likely than Davenport's 0.1 percent chance, the fact that those tenured Braves are unlikely to let their teammates let up until the division is officially clinched would make it so.
Over the course of their streak, the Braves have averaged 5.9 runs per game and allowed a mere 2.4 runs per game. The former number is impressive, but the latter is even more so, particularly when one notes that the Braves have allowed more than four runs in a game just once in their 13 straight wins, averaging 1.9 runs allowed in the other dozen victories. That's even more impressive when you consider that the Braves did all of that almost immediately after losing 40 percent of their starting rotation to injury. Paul Maholm hit the disabled list with a wrist contusion after his July 20 start. Tim Hudson suffered a season-ending ankle injury on July 24. The Braves' winning streak started on July 26.
In the 13 games since, with Beachy and rookie Alex Wood filling in for Maholm and Hudson, the Braves have had just one poor start from their rotation -- Beachy's first start since his June 2012 Tommy John surgery, an ugly, seven-run disaster -- and they even won that game 9-8 in ten innings. Other than that, the only two non-quality starts they've received have been a Teheran start in which he allowed just one run in five innings and a Medlen start in which he allowed four runs in six innings. Leave out Beachy's disaster, and the Braves' starters have gone 8-0 with a 2.48 ERA in their other 12 wins in this streak.
With Wednesday night's win, the Braves, who opened the season 12-1, became the first team this season to reach 70 wins, though they still trail the Pirates
, who have one less win but also one less loss, by two percentage points for the game's best overall record, .609 to Pittsburgh's .611. The Nationals, meanwhile, fell six games below .500 with the loss, reaching that depth for the first time since Sept. 20, 2011.