After a 5-2 loss to the Phils on May 26 the Braves found themselves in last place, 7 games behind the Giants in the NL West. Only the Phils and Padres pitching staffs had allowed more runs in the NL. Only the Royals and Indians had more losses.
With one-third of the season in the books, AJC columnist Mark Bradley surveyed the team’s grim prospects.
The Braves lead the National League in a frightening category – losses. They haven’t been above .500 since April 14. They haven’t won a series on the road since the opening two-game set in Houston. They haven’t won two straight games in three weeks. They lost two of three at home to Pittsburgh, which lost 11 of its next 12. They lost four of six to Montreal, which is going so well that it changed managers. They lost two straight to Philadelphia, a sub-.500 team. …
The Braves are in trouble. They’ve enough talent to save themselves, but the rescue must begin now. They can afford to fall no further behind, nor can they expect to be 9 1/2 games back at this All-Star break and win again. To have any chance of repeating, the Braves must be surging by the Fourth of July, which is five weeks hence. They’d better get busy.
Which they did, finishing the season 78-37 with a +129 run differential. This despite a bullpen plagued by injuries and inconsistency along with disappointing performances at the plate by David Justice and Ron Gant. Fortunately, Deion Sanders helped pick up the slack, with a .841 OPS, 14 triples and 26 SB in just 97 games.
The brief emergence of Pete Smith also made a difference on a team that saw little turnover from the year before. He combined with Mike Bielecki to give the Braves a 2.36 ERA from their fifth starters.
But the lack of a dependable closer cost the Braves in the World Series against the Blue Jays, just as it would in 1993, ’96 and, to a lesser degree, ’98.