How much do slow April starts matter to the Atlanta Braves?

Dansby Swanson #7 of the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images)
Dansby Swanson #7 of the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Braves are finishing up the month of April with a record that won’t be better than .500.  How much does that matter?

Since the start of the ‘modern era’ of Atlanta Braves baseball (i.e., starting with the 1991 season), the Braves have had these seasonal results:

  • 1st place – 19 times
  • 2nd place – 5 times
  • 3rd place – 4 times
  • 4th place – 2 times
  • 5th place – once

That’s some serious domination over the past 31 seasons.  Yet it hasn’t always been the best starts in April that have led to this success.  As it happens, even a great start hasn’t necessarily been rewarded.

In the first 3 years of this run, for example (1991-93), the Braves ended the month of April with records of 8-10, 11-11, and 12-13 respectively.

In 1994, though, while the team launched to a robust 15-8 record, they still ended that strike-shortened season 6 games behind the Montreal Expos.

For the rest of that decade (1995-2000), though, a great start was the order of things:  these stacked teams dominated their Aprils… led by a 19-6 mark in 1997.

From 2001-05, though, quick starts did not happen:  the club was below .500 in 3 of these seasons, and were no better than tied for 1st place in the other two years when April concluded.

It was after 2005, that the “lean years” occurred in this era:  the Braves finished in 1st place only once (2013) from 2006 to 2017.

In those seasons, though, April results were above .500 on 4 occasions and below that for the other 8 starts.

For this most recent run of 4 NL East titles in a row, there’s been a mixed bag:  2 above .500 and 2 times below (counting 2020’s shortened season after the first full month of play).

The 2019 and 2021 seasons might be illustrative of this year.  In both cases, the team was below .500 after the games on April 30th:  14-15, and 12-14 respectively.  The Braves finished April in 3rd place in both cases.

That’s where things stand as of today:  10-11 and in a 3rd place tie with the Phillies.  So the best, the Braves can finish the month is in a solo 3rd place position and an 11-11 record. But even if the result is 10-12 and 4th place, history suggests that all is not lost by any means.

Overall, here’s the comeback results for all of these at-or-under-.500 teams since 1991:

  • 1st place season finish:  7 times
  • 2nd place:  2 times
  • 3rd place:  3 times
  • 4th place:  twice
  • 5th place:  once (2016’s implosion year with a 5-18 start)

So:  given this year’s playoff format, that’s 9 times out of 15 that the Braves of 1991-2021 would have at least made the playoffs… and certainly this edition of the club looks to be much better equipped than many of those teams (in the 2006-2017 range) that failed to garner top-2 finishes.

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Yes:  the Mets are off to a great start at 15-6.  We’ll find out next week just how good they are as Atlanta faces off against them for the first time in 2022.  But take heart:  slow starts have not at all been a recipe for disaster over the past 3 decades.