Last night's Braves/Mets game was like so many of the games these two teams have played over the last four seasons. It featured big hits, good defense, interesting tactics, and was decided by one run. Thanks to a five-run seventh inning and two Mike Piazza bombs, the Mets are now 3-1 against their rivals this year.
The game also featured the complete shutdown of the Braves' offense after the Mets tied the game in the seventh inning. From that point forward, the Braves went 1-for-15, the lone hit a Javy Lopez single in the 11th. They never seriously threatened, with Lopez being their only baserunner in that time.
This is the latest in a fairly disturbing early-season trend for the Braves: the bullpen fails, and the lineup rolls over and dies.
- April 9: The Braves take a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh, only to surrender four runs to the Phillies in the bottom of the inning. The lineup goes 1-for-7 the rest of the way, with only a single.
- April 10: John Smoltz coughs up a game-tying home run to Scott Rolen with two outs in the ninth. The Braves go down 1-2-3 in the tenth and 11th, and lose on a Pat Burrell home run in the bottom of the 11th.
- April 13: The Marlins tie the game in the sixth. The Braves go scoreless over the next eight innings, going 5-for-27 with two walks, and finally lose in the 14th.
There was also April 6, when the Mets eked out nine runs in the top of the ninth to turn a 2-2 game into an 11-2 laugher. The Braves went down with only a single in the bottom of the ninth. They also went scoreless for five innings in a tie game the next day before Marcus Giles finally hit a three-run home run in the 14th for the win.
Just for fun, contrast the Braves' performance with that of a team like the Mariners. The Ms led the Rangers 5-3 going into the bottom of the fifth last night. James Baldwin surrendered four runs to put them down two runs. The Mariners jumped up and got four back. When the Rangers tied the game in the eighth, the Mariners got a run in the top of the ninth. When the Rangers tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, the Mariners got two more in the tenth to lock it up for good.
This isn't an article about character, or clutch, or any other media cliche. That the Braves haven't scored during these game-critical situations doesn't tell us anything about them as people. What it does tell us is that the Braves' lineup hasn't generated the runs needed to win close baseball games, at least in the early going, and that shortcoming has put them in an early-season hole.
Sometimes, you pick up the relievers, and sometimes they pick you up. That the Braves have played three games of 12 innings or longer in nine days tells you that the back end of their bullpen has been doing a hell of a job. Darren Holmes, Chris Hammond, Kerry Ligtenberg, and Mike Remlinger are all making positive contributions, and have kept the Braves in some of these long contests.
For all the work we do in modeling an offense, in extrapolating team performance from individual statistics in a context-neutral fashion, the reality is that when a team scores its runs does have an impact on its won-loss record. The Braves are where they are right now because their bullpen has had some high-profile failures, but also because their offense has let down that bullpen when it most needed to be picked up.
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