Despite a three-game losing streak, the 2013 Atlanta Braves are sitting at 21-16, which is atop the NL East. They are owners of a plus-21 run differential and a solid bet to ride their deep pitching staff and powerful lineup into postseason play for the third time in four seasons.
Yet, their path to October will be littered with strikeouts. In fact, this Braves lineup is putting up astonishing strikeout numbers.
Through 37 games, Atlanta batters have struck out 345 times. If not for the baseball experiment taking place in Houston, that figure would easily pace the majors.
To put that number into perspective, think about how many strikeouts per game that equates out to for this Atlanta lineup. Basically, the Braves are striking out 9.3 times per game. In other words, they are turning every pitcher in baseball into the strikeout pitcher Stephen Strasburg (9.3 K/9) is for the Nationals.
Of course, they also hit a ton of home runs, have a deep, dynamic lineup and are winning games at a good clip through mid-May.
But that doesn't mean they are a good team to bet on in October.
If recent history is any indication, the Braves will struggle to get through the postseason with the offense performing at this level.
A look back at the last five postseasons in baseball won't make Braves fans feel good about championship aspirations this season. While October has proved to be a random tournament where the best team doesn't always win, the most strikeout-prone team rarely gets through.
Since 2008, the 10 World Series participants—San Francisco, Detroit, St. Louis, Texas, San Francisco, Texas, Philadelphia, New York, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia—have ranked 26th, 24th, 29th, 30th, 19th, 27th, 12th, 27th, fifth and 12th, respectively, in team strikeouts during the regular season.
The five most recent world champions—Giants, Cardinals, Giants, Yankees and Phillies—have all been outside the top third of strikeout-prone teams during the regular season.
In fact, only the 2008 Phillies were in the top half of baseball in strikeouts during their championship season.
While a slew of teams that finished in the top five in team strikeouts—2012 A's, 2010 Rays and 2009 Rockies—have qualified for the postseason, none have advanced very far.
Of the last 10 World Series teams, only one, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, were among the five most strikeout-prone teams during the regular season.
Considering the makeup of Atlanta's roster, the strikeouts aren't going to curtail anytime soon. Frank Wren constructed a team of power hitters and strikeout kings. Two members of the everyday lineup, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, are among the top six most strikeout-prone hitters in baseball thus far this season. Each has struck out in at least 33 percent of his plate appearances.
While small ball isn't necessarily the way to go in October, power arms are at an abundance, days off give managers the ability to use high-leverage relievers in almost every game and fourth and fifth starters are usually eliminated from the equation.
The fate of the 2013 Braves will likely be more about garnering the right matchup in each round of the postseason.
If they can win the NL East, thus avoiding the uncertainty of the one-game Wild Card playoff, they can begin a path to bucking the anti-strikeout team trend in October. Avoiding teams like San Francisco (8.36 K/9), Cincinnati (8.17 K/9) and St. Louis (8.04 K/9) in the divisional series would certainly help.
As the Braves get set for a series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, keep an eye on that battle moving forward.
Thus far, the Diamondbacks rotation has only compiled 7.54 strikeouts per nine innings, good for middle of the pack in the NL. In theory, Atlanta should be able to punish a staff like this with the luxury of extra balls put into play.
Moving forward, it's likely that the narrative surrounding Atlanta's likely elimination in the 2013 postseason will be about strikeouts.
If they buck trend and win it all, general managers around the league will take notice and possibly build more lineups that clearly don't frown up record strikeout rates.
Do the Braves strikeout too much to make a deep October run?