The 1973 Braves led the NL in runs and OPS, fitting since they played their home games in the Launching Pad. Unfortunately, opponents got to play there, too. And they got to hit against an average rotation and abysmal bullpen that recorded the league’s highest ERA.
They entered 1974 with virtually the same cast, acquiring a middling middle infielder (Craig Robinson) and a back-up catcher (Vic Correll). A week before the season opened, they signed a 26-year-old reliever with a career 4.49 ERA.
Buzz Capra proved to be the steal of the year. He didn’t start his first game until May 15 but pitched like an ace, completing 11 games with 5 shutouts, good for a league-best 2.28 ERA.
Knucksie was even better, leading the NL in innings pitched (302.1), complete games and wins, with a career best 2.38 ERA.
The ‘pen improved, too, even though they were hardly needed. Tom House’s ERA improved from 4.68 to 1.93 and rookie Max Leon was solid in a set-up role. The staff’s ERA dropped more than a run, from 4.25 to 3.05, second in the NL.
From worst to nearly first.
Unfortunately the offense went the opposite direction. The Braves were 8th in the NL in runs, 9th in OPS. The Hammer started acting his age, young sluggers Dusty Baker and Darrell Evans took a step back and Davey Johnson, who hit an uncharacteristic 43 HR in ’73, remembered he was Davey Johnson.
The Braves ended up winning 12 more games in ’74, but their 88-74 record was a bit misleading. They were never in the division race, finishing 14 games behind the Dodgers, and would’ve been a sub-.500 club if not for the Padres, against whom they won 17 of 18.