July 21, 2012

Braves Need More Than Momentum

Friday night/early Saturday I had an interesting Twitter exchange with Bill Shanks of the Macon Telegraph and Fox Sports 1670 in Macon:

Shanks: “Braves were 35-39 after that win in BALT in 04. Went 61-27 the rest of the way and won the NL East. It was that pivotal. A repeat tonight?”

Me: “how do we know some win a few games after the Charles Thomas game wasn’t the turning point in ’04? You’re just assuming.”

Shanks: “Braves were 35-39 after that win in BALT in 04. Went 61-27 the rest of the way and won the NL East. It was that pivotal. A repeat tonight?”

Me: “Also what about all the other times in baseball history that good teams comeback and don’t end up in the playoffs? Ignored?”

Shanks: “Well I know what the team members believed cause that’s what they said – and I believe it too”

Me: “Belief is not always rational. Why didn’t the Halladay comeback create momentum? After Conrad game, Braves barely made playoffs”

Shanks: “Belief is not always rational. Why didn’t the Halladay comeback create momentum? — You must be a stathead.”

Me: “I’m a logic head. So the Braves don’t have to be as good at baseball because now they have momentum?”

Shanks: ” I’m a logic head. So the Braves don’t have to be as good at baseball because now they have momentum? – hahahahaha”

Me: “Seriously it will be a mistake if Braves think this win deflates the Nats, and they are counting on momentum.”

Now, I certainly enjoyed Friday night’s game.  It was outstanding.  It was fun.  There aren’t enough adjectives to describe how great it was.  I truly wish that win was enough to carry the Braves for the rest of the season and to the NL East crown or just in to the postseason.  But I think it’s just silly and irrational to assign some sort of deeper meaning to it and make those sorts of assumptions.

I don’t mean to discount the possibility that this win will put a little pep in the Braves’ step and do a little to help them play better.  Call me naive but I believe there are things throughout a baseball season that may give all teams a little extra motivation, so I don’t know that this will help the Braves any more than something else may help the teams with which they are in the playoff hunt.

The playoff races will come down to talent, execution, timing and luck.  If momentum or confidence plays a role, it will be a minor role and may not play a role at all.  Again, call me naive but these are major league players and they are the best of the best professional baseball players in the world.  Teams scout these players in high school and college and put them through a rigorous filter called the minor leagues.  For the most part, these players are going to go out every game and play more or less to the best of their abilities.  Sure, there are going to be ups and downs and I don’t discount that certain things are going to get in the way of that or that certain things will provide a little extra motivation.  But I believe that’s true for every single team in the big leagues.  So by the end of the season, the teams with the most talent, the teams that stay healthy, the teams that execute, the teams that get their hits and outs and the right times and the teams that have some luck on their side are the ones that win.  I don’t think momentum or pivotal wins play a huge role in which teams make the postseason.

If momentum mattered, how did it work out for that 1987 Braves team, the last Braves team to come back from 9 runs down?  That team finished 69-92,20.5 games back.  You may say, “well, that team wasn’t any good?” which is my point exactly.  Talent is what matters most.  The division title or the Braves making the playoffs will come down to how the Braves play baseball from here on out.  It will not come down to whether they carried momentum from this game throughout the rest of the season.

I’m sure we can find plenty similar examples throughout the history of baseball of teams that had big comeback wins, teams much better than the 1987 Braves, that had big comeback wins and those wins failed to provide the momentum necessary for those teams to make the playoffs.  But our biases cause us to remember the times when big comeback wins and playoff berths come in the same season with the same team a lot more than we remember comeback wins from lesser teams.  We start with the narrative that big comebacks lead to momentum and work backwards instead of realizing that in actuality each game is a separate event and that the quality of a team is more important than how they win games.

In a way if we claim that the momentum of this game is what will carry the Braves to the postseason, we are insulting the players.  The players playing good baseball isn’t good enough.  They needed a big comeback win and the momentum from it in order to reach the postseason.  Their pure baseball skills aren’t quite good enough.  They can’t motivate themselves on their own.  It’s almost as if they lack the professionalism and self-motivation.  They need something extra.

Also it would be a mistake for the Braves to think that the Nationals are deflated by this win and that’s what will carry the Braves to the division title instead of playing good baseball.  I don’t think anyone truly believes this.  But this is basically what you are saying when you suggest Friday night’s win could create enough momentum to carry the Braves to the division title and the Nationals to second place.  How about the possibility that the deflating loss could motivate the Nationals as much as the win motivates the Braves?

In a week or so, we’ll forget all the talk about momentum and that win being a turning point in the Braves’ season.  We’ll see this as another game in a long, 162-game marathon.  We’ll realize if the Braves win the NL East or make the playoffs it will be because they played well throughout the season, they were talented, they executed, good things happened enough at the right time and they got some luck.  It won’t be because they needed or got more motivation than some other teams thanks to one game amazing game in July.

Twitter: @PayneBall



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