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.500 400 or Bust

May 31, 2021

Hugh Atkins

There are some really bad teams in baseball this year. With roughly a third of the season in the books on this Memorial Day, there are four teams with winning percentages below .400 and another that barely got above that mark with a series sweep this past weekend.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a record of 20-32 (.385) and are in last place in the National League Central. The Colorado Rockies are 20-34 (.370) and in fourth place in the NL West, 14 games out of first.

The Arizona Diamondbacks at 19-35 (.352) are already 15 games off the pace in the NL West. Rounding out the sub-.400 teams are the hapless Baltimore Orioles, who at 17-36 (.321) are securely ensconced in last place in American League East, 16.5 games out of first place.

The Detroit Tigers moved over the .400 mark (.415) on the strength of a three-game weekend sweep of the New York Yankees to improve to 22-31 on the season.

The Orioles currently are riding a losing 13-game losing streak and the Diamondbacks are just one game removed from one of their own. It makes me wonder how fans of these teams can stay interested for the rest of the season.

As an Atlanta Braves fan, I remember a time when I continually had to adjust my expectations as the summer wore on. In 1976 the Braves were coming off a fifth-place finish, 40.5 games behind the first-place Cincinnati Reds.

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During the offseason the Braves traded outfielder Dusty Baker to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielders Tom Paciorek and Jim Wynn and infielders Lee Lacy and Jerry Royster; they traded outfielder Ralph Garr to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Ken Henderson and pitcher Dick Ruthven. On April 10 they signed newly-minted free agent pitcher Andy Messersmith to a big contract. After the first 13 games of the season, the Braves were 8-5 and tied for first place with the Reds. But then the bottom dropped out of their season.

The Braves went on a 13-game losing streak and found themselves in a tie with the San Francisco Giants for last place. Their season was, in effect, over.

I reset my goal for the Braves’ season; I hoped they could at least get back to .500. To their credit the Braves didn’t give up, and they continued to tweak their roster. On June 13 they traded third baseman Darrell Evans to the Giants for first baseman Willie Montañez. At the time of the trade, Evans was hitting just .173 with one home run and 10 runs batted in. After joining the Braves, Montañez played in every game and hit .321 with nine homers and 64 RBIs.

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The Braves played well in June, going 18-11. On June 23 they added reliever Mike Marshall to the bullpen. At the end of the month they were 34-41 and tied for fifth place, 12 games out of first. There was hope for the Braves to finish at .500 after all.

But it didn’t turn out that way. The Braves went 12-15 in July, and I readjusted my goal merely to hoping they would not finish in last place. But the Braves went 24-36 after July, finished 72-90, and wound up dead last.

During the offseason the Braves brought in Jeff Burroughs and Gary Matthews to complement Montañez and proclaimed that “The Big Guns are Back.” They finished last again in 1977…and 1978 and 1979.

So, my advice for fans of the Rockies, Pirates, D’backs, Tigers, and Orioles is to start adjusting your expectations for the season right now.

(Statistics are from MLB.com and Retrosheet; trade details are from Baseball Reference“The Big Guns are Back” reference is from the 1977 Atlanta Braves Illustrated Yearbook.)

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