You could make a case for the 2011 Braves, who started the year 8-12 and finished 7-13. In between they were consistently good. The 1980 Braves had a similar trajectory, losing 9 out of their first 10 games and 8 out of their last 11 but were a bit more schizophrenic, careening between terrific and terrible. That they managed to finish one game over .500 tells you just how streaky that team was.
Despite coming off yet another last-place finish, there was reason for optimism entering the ’80 season, Bobby’s third as Braves manager. Oft-maligned GM John Mullen had pulled off two shrewd deals, acquiring Doyle Alexander from Texas and Chris Chambliss from Toronto.
Switching Murph from 1B, where he had committed 35 errors in 206 games, to the OF was the best move of the offseason. Murph’s comfort in his new digs translated to a breakout season at the plate — 33 homers and a .858 OPS. Teammate Bob Horner led the team with 35 homers, giving him 91 before his 23rd birthday.
They helped the Braves, who had occupied last place the previous four seasons, finish with a winning record for the first time since 1974.
That looked unlikely after the season’s first 10 games.
The Braves didn’t score their first run in 1980 until the 7th inning of the third game. That’s a 25-inning streak of futility. The Braves had their first lead of the season, 4-1, heading to the bottom of the 7th in Cincy. The Reds scored 2 off Gene Garber but the good guys still led by 1 entering the bottom of the 9th.
Al Hrabosky, signed to a huge contract in the offseason despite struggling the previous year with the Royals, promptly blew his first save opportunity, thanks to a Dave Concepcion two-run, walk-off homer. The next day, the Braves were shut out for the third time in four games.
Two losses in Houston followed. The Braves, outscored 36-10 on the road trip, returned to Atlanta 0-6. Only 15,742 attended the home opener, a 4-1 loss to Cincy. Rick Matula’s only career shutout gave the Braves their first win in 8 tries, but they would lose the next two games to the Reds, dropping 8.5 games behind the division leaders after 10 games.
Bobby’s boys maintained an uninspiring pace over the next three months. A 5-3 loss to the Dodgers on Aug. 4 dropped them to a season-worst 12 games below .500. But what appeared to be another lost year took a most unexpected turn as the offense finally came alive.
Over the next three weeks the Braves would score 7 or more runs 9 times, and on Aug. 27 they finally reached the .500 mark. Shortly thereafter they rolled off a season-best 7-game win streak, followed by a three-game sweep at the hands of the Reds, who would go 16-2 vs. the Braves that year.
The local nine rebounded to win four in a row, and a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers on Sept. 16 — their 30th win in 40 games — moved the Braves to within 6 of the division lead, at 76-68.
Alas, the faint whiff of a pennant race soon dissipated, as the Braves lost 11 of their last 15. The season would end as it started, with the Reds shutting out the local nine at Riverfront.