The Braves' rallying point in 2010 is to send beloved manager Bobby Cox, who plans to retire at the end of the season, out in style. They hope to at least get back to the playoffs after a four-year absence and ultimately win their first World Series since 1995.
The outlook for that is not looking so good. The Braves lost their ninth straight game Thursday, dropping their record to 8-13. Bill James once wrote about the phenomenon of "signature significance," which basically states that if a player does something incredibly dominant (such as a pitcher striking out 15 batters in a game) it shows a unique level of skill, and the player probably has the ability to be great. This got us thinking about the Braves. A nine-game losing streak is bad, but is it bad enough that it contains some signature significance? In other words, is a nine-game skid so bad that it proves a team is not a playoff contender? The answer is yes … and no.
In the wild card era, there has only been one team to make the playoffs that had a nine-game slide at any point during the season, and that was the 2007 Rockies. And if you remember, Colorado had to win 14 of its last 15 games just to make the postseason. If the Braves lose to the Astros today, that will put their streak at 10. And no playoff team since 1995 has had a losing streak that long.
However, there is some "good news" for Atlanta. There have been 11 clubs that got to the postseason despite suffering eight-game losing streaks. They are the 1996 Padres, 1999 Mets, 2000 Giants, 2000 Mariners, 2001 Astros, 2003 Twins, 2004 Dodgers, 2005 Padres, 2006 Cardinals, 2006 Dodgers and 2008 Dodgers.
Just three of those teams were even close to being as offensively challenged as the Braves have been through their first 21 games. They are 15th in the NL in runs scored with an average of 3.67 a game, ahead of only the Astros (3.30), and also 15th in the league with 12 home runs, again ahead of just Houston (eight). Of the aforementioned dozen, just three finished in the bottom half of the NL in runs scored. The 2004 Dodgers (ninth) and the 2005 Padres and 2008 Dodgers (13th).
The Braves are going to need to start scoring more runs. That seems likely because the Braves have been hitting in some bad luck with a .275 BABIP, 25 points below the NL average of .300. Among those not getting many balls in play to drop are center fielder Nate McLouth (.212), shortstop Yunel Escobar (.221), left fielder Melky Cabrera (.233) and catcher Brian McCann (.240).
The bottom line is that the Braves are coming up against some unchartered territory. No team in the wild card era has suffered a losing streak as long as 10 games and gone on to make the playoffs. So if the Braves lose tonight and still get to October, they'll be making history.
John Perrotto is editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus.