The Braves are no longer "America's Team"

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jeff Schultz notes
that, with the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies coming to town, the
Braves stand to play in front of hostile crowds at home for some time:

Fortunately, they will be checking tickets and not allegiances this week at Turner Field.

Revenue isn’t the worst fallback. You take what you can get if
you’re the Braves, particularly when three of the visiting teams on a
home stand — the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox – come with overstuffed
caravans and the term “meaningful games” locally appears to have a
decreasing shelf life . . .

. . . The Braves knew the Yankees and Red Sox games would be the
year’s hot tickets. It’s one reason why they initially sold them only
through multi-game packs, also hoping to limit the presence of New York
and Boston fans. But that plan didn’t fill the stadium. Individual game
tickets eventually went on sale three weeks ago.

The expected influx of Yankees and Red Sox is not surprising. It
happens everywhere anymore. It’s one of the consequences of ESPN and
FOX’s efforts to make New York and Boston de facto national teams over
the past decade.

What kills me, though, is that there was a time when the Braves were
the de facto national team. Maybe not quite “America’s Team” as Ted
Turner tried to package them, but certainly a team with a fan base
spread across the country thanks to 144 games on TBS every summer. It’s
one of the reasons I’m a Braves fan. I lived in West Virginia when I
was a teenager, and they were the only game on the dial. I watched
every game, and no matter where the Braves played — Cincinnati, Los
Angeles, Chicago and even New York — there was always a surprisingly
strong Braves’ contingent in the stands.

A couple of years ago, however, Braves’ ownership decided to scrap
that plan. From a broadcast perspective, the Braves are now confined to
the south, and thus the national nature of that fan base is atrophying.
I’m certainly losing track of them to some degree, and I presume others
who used to follow them from afar are as well. I suppose the Braves’
suits could point to how much better the Braves are penetrating their
local market since the broadcasting change, but shouldn’t they have
wrapped up that market before now? How many more Meridian, Mississippi
households can they possibly reach?

Atlanta fans are famously fair-weather, so the low attendance Jeff
Schultz cites in this article is no real surprise given their poor play
of late. One wonders, however, if there would be a greater enthusiasm
for this team if they, like the Yankees and Red Sox, were consistently
reaching a national audience like they used to.

The Red Sox start is ridiculous

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The red-hot Red Sox completed a sweep of the previously red-hot Angels last night, outscoring them 27-3 in their three-game series. Last night’s game was, relatively speaking, a close one, with the Sox winning “only” by six runs. They did manage to strike out Shohei Ohtani three times, though, so some style points help make up for the “squeaker.” Also worth noting that they held Mike Trout of all people to a 3-for-11 line in their three-game series. He did not score a single time and drove in no runs.

That series win puts the Sox at 16-2 on the year. They dropped their Opening Day game to the Rays, but then won their next six games against Tampa Bay, which I’d say makes up for it. In between those two series they swept a two-game series from the Marlins and afterwards they took two of three from the Yankees and three in a row from the Orioles. The only thing that even threatened to slow this juggernaut down is the weather, resulting in a postponement of Monday morning’s Patriot’s Day game. Somewhere in here we should notice that they’re doing this with their starting shortstop and starting second baseman on the disabled list.

As we’ve noted many times, their 16-2 record is the best start in the Red Sox’ 118-year history. It’s also the best start for any team since the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers began 17-1 (let us just forget, for the time being, that those Brewers lost 18 of 20 in May of that year). They are the fourth team since 1961 to win 16 of its first 18 games.

The Sox aren’t simply getting lucky here. They’ve scored 116 runs and have allowed only 50, which is a Pythagorean record of 15-3. They lead all of baseball in offense, scoring 6.44 runs a game, leading individually in average, on-base percentage and slugging. They are only three one hundredths of a run behind the Astros from leading all of baseball in pitching, allowing only 2.78 runs a game. They’re winning all of these games because, in the early going, they’ve simply been that dang much better than everyone they’ve played.

No, the Sox are not going to go 144-18, as they are currently on pace to do. Yes, they are going to find a lot more trouble in their schedule once they play the Orioles, Rays and Marlins less, play a healthier Yankees team more and face off against the Astros, the Blue Jays, the Indians, the Twins and some tougher interleague opponents. This is baseball, obviously, and no one makes it through a season without rough patches, long, short and numerous.

Still: this has been one whale of a start for Boston. Those wins are in the bank. It’s been quite the thing to see.