With their 4-3 extra-inning win Sunday in Oakland, the Braves moved to within a single game of a highly symbolic, if not particularly glorious, overlook.
Break-even is right there, just a game away for a 40-41 team at the exact midpoint of the season. Can you feel the anticipation spreading like kudzu through Braves Country?
Normally, a .500 record is nothing to be overtly celebrated. You want your favorite team, your doctor and your accountant to be a little better than a coin flip in their chosen pursuits. But in the Braves case, a summertime win-loss record that is anywhere near equally weighted represents a minor breakthrough.
So, everyone, let’s get behind this motto for the dog days to come: Competitive homeostasis or bust!
A good week against quality competition – two against Houston starting Tuesday, then four at Washington – would go far toward both getting to break-even and throwing a positive glow on the Braves rebuild. Plus, it would just be good way to slip into vacation – a real attitude boost – like wearing a Hawaiian shirt to the office just before going on a cruise.
This week before the All-Star break is a telling one. A complete collapse against two division leaders means that the sunny side of .500 slips back out of easy reach. Insert heavy sigh here.
Hold your own, or better, and there is ample reason for optimism that an “A” emblazoned Braves cap may soon be figuratively spotted above water.
A season ago, having opened with a nine-game losing streak, the Braves never once sniffed .500. They spent a summer trying to dig out of the cave-in, and were structurally incapable of getting back to the surface.
In 2015, July 7 was the latest the Braves were at .500. All the rest was baseball at below sea level.
A measure of hope would rest in the vision of “Braves” and “.500” sharing the same line in the standings through the course of the summer. A modest goal for modest times.
Not saying here that we want Sisyphus to finally get that rock to the top of the hill this season. But if he – meaning the Braves – just get it to a nice flat plateau halfway up, that would be nice.
The Braves were significantly over .500 in June (16-12). And they are unbeaten in July! They have won five of their last six series, which is the formula for winning baseball.
Freddie Freeman is coming back. Bartolo Colon isn’t. The Nationals bullpen is a smoldering tire fire. All encouraging signs. There may even be, someday soon, some small call for doing the math necessary to determine where the Braves stand in the playoff equation, either divisional or wildcard.
Let’s consider all that at a more appropriate time.
Just get to .500 first.