On the morning of August 1, the Atlanta Braves were four games out of first place, and without their bright young star, Ronald Acuna Jr. Their prospects of running down the Mets in the NL East were slim. Without Acuna Jr., who tore his ACL and will miss the season, the Braves seemed like the HMS Titanic after smooching that iceberg: dead in the water.
Braves Leap Past Mets
But the reports of the demise of the Braves were greatly exaggerated. As the month named for Caesar Augustus comes to an end, Atlanta has a firm grip on their division, following 18 wins in their last 24 games. With the Mets missing their ailing ace Jacob deGrom, and Javier Báez complaining that when fans boo, “it doesn’t feel good,” the Braves should win the division title for a fourth straight season.
With their impressive late summer play, the Braves have pushed themselves into the pennant race and have the look of a team that could win the World Series for the first time in more than 25 years. But they’re not the only team in their league to crash the party.
Reds Ride Hot Bats To Playoff Race
Cincinnati has had a strange season. They started the year 6-1, but suffered a seven-game skid later in April. In May during a stretch where the team lost nine of twelve, they hit a new low. In a 19-4 loss to the Giants at Great American Ballpark, the Reds were forced to use not one, not two, but three position players as pitchers in an embarrassing display. The only other time the Reds had ever done that was in 1902. That charade prompted Reds Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle to speak the obvious: “Losing sucks.” No kidding.
With mediocre month after mediocre month, the Reds were stuck, several games back of the powerhouse teams from the west, the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres, for a playoff spot. But in June the offense started to look like the Big Red Machine, reeling off six games with eight or more runs and winning 11 of 13 to inch to within two games of first place. But just like that, the team transformed into the Big Dead Machine, and lost nine of 13. Ouch.
But the Reds are 32-21 since July 1, and as of this writing, Cincy sits firmly in the second wild card spot, 1 1/2 games ahead of the sinking Padres. The team has been lifted by a potent offense led by MVP candidate Nicholas Castellanos (.318, 24 HR), Jesse Winker (.307, 24 HR), and a revitalized Joey Votto, who in July hit home runs in seven consecutive games. Led by Votto, known as “The Big Read Machine,” for his ability to draw walks, the Reds are on pace to set a team record for home runs and bases on balls. Such things lead to runs.
On August 1, at FanDuel you could have gotten +11000 odds on the Reds winning the World Series. Today, the Braves sit at +4000.
Similarly, the Braves have gone from +3600 on August 1 (via Fanduel) to +1300 to win the Fall Classic.
But how likely are these two NL teams to get to and win the World Series?
Odds for Braves and Reds to Win World Series
The Braves, with their recent success, are favored by sportsbooks over the Reds to win the World Series. The Braves and Reds both have powerful offenses (Atlanta ranks 3rd in runs scored, the Reds are 2nd), and both hit the longball (Braves are 2nd and Reds rank 3rd in HR). Neither team has a pitching staff that compares to the Giants and Dodgers in the west. But the Braves have a strong bullpen (4th in the NL in bullpen ERA), while Cincinnati’s relief corps is sort of like an old faucet: lots of leaks.
Still, it’s not unprecedented for a wild card team (like the Reds would be) to win a pennant and play in the World Series. Just two seasons ago, the Nationals were carried into the playoffs by a fantastic offense and got hot, winning the Fall Classic despite being underdogs in every series they played.
Your Special Baseball Moment of the Week
Fifty years ago this month, Bob Gibson fired a no-hitter against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. It was the first no-no of Gibson’s career, and while a no-hitter is always impressive, it was special because of the lineup it came against. The Pirates had baseball’s best offense and two future Hall of Famers in Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. With their powerful lineup, the Bucs were dubbed “The Lumber Company.” But on August 14, 1971, Gibson made toothpicks out of their mighty lumber.
Gibson is worth mentioning because this game came 50 years ago, but also because we lost the Hall of Fame pitcher last October. “Gibby” was one of the most fierce competitors the game has ever seen. Strike that: he was one of the most fierce athletes in any sport we’ve ever seen. Here are a few things about the man his teammates called “Hoot”:
- Gibson pitched Game Seven of the World Series three times, and in 27 innings he struck out 27 batters and won twice. In Game One in 1968, he struck out 17 batters.
- In 1967, in a game in July, Roberto Clemente hit a line drive off Gibson’s leg in the fourth inning. Gibson fell to the ground but got back up and faced three more batters on a broken leg.
- In 1968, Gibson posted an amazing 1.12 ERA for the entire season. That year he pitched 13 shutouts. Clayton Kershaw has 15 shutouts in his career.
Here’s to Gibby: they don’t make ’em like that any more.