Some numbers and statistics can be manipulated to help you make your desired argument. Small sample sizes can give a skewed view that perhaps the successes — or failures — aren't as amazing or dire as they appear.
Others? Well, others pretty much deliver the cold, hard truth. And the fact is that even those small sample sizes can be a harbinger of things to come.
Here are some of those cold, hard facts — both large sample sizes and small — as the Braves began this weekend series against the National League East-leading Washington Nationals:
• Atlanta has been a sub-.500 club for the past 90 games (41-48).
• On June 1, the Braves were 31-25 and last had a three-game division lead. Since then, they're 27-31, with a lower winning percentage (.466) than the Cubs (28-30, .483) or Diamondbacks (26-29, .473) during that stretch, and a worse run differential (minus-8) than the Mets (27-31, plus-5) or Padres (26-30, plus-4).
• Since July 5, when a nine-game winning streak pushed them to a season-high 11 games above .500 at 49-38, they're 9-18, worse than any other NL team except the Rockies (8-17).
• The Braves are hosting three first-place teams for a 10-game stretch (Washington, Los Angeles and Oakland).
• Atlanta is in the middle of a 25-game stretch where it will play 22 of those games against teams whose records are better than .500.
• The three games in that stretch that were against a sub-.500 team were this past week's series at San Diego. The Braves were swept as part of the eight-game West Coast losing streak.
• The Padres and St. Louis Cardinals are the only two teams in baseball to have scored fewer runs this year than Atlanta.
• Freddie Freeman is hitting .257 with a .420 slugging percentage since April 20.
• The monthly earned run average for Atlanta’s starting rotation — April: 2.32; May: 3.48; June: 3.96; July: 3.76; August: 3.80.
• Mike Minor has made 11 Turner Field starts since Aug. 25 of last year and has compiled a 1-7 record with 14 homers allowed in 62 2/3 IP.
• Minor has a 5.55 ERA and .307 opponent average.
• Minor has allowed at least 10 hits in four of his past eight starts. He'd surrendered a double-digit hit total in just three of his previous 92 starts.
• Atlanta has won 21 of its past 30 games against Washington dating back to last year. Including today's game, the Braves have seven games left against the first-place Nationals this season.
A lot of these numbers don't portend a happy next couple of months for the Atlanta Braves and their fans. Once Atlanta wraps up its current brutal two-week stretch against first-place teams and playoff contenders, we should have a good idea if they have a legitimate playoff shot. If a lot of the numbers above don't improve for the better, football season will be here quickly for all of us.
So long, Professor
I would be remiss to not mention the passing of former Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren, the last surviving member of the broadcast team of the old TBS Superstation days — when Atlanta was “America’s team.” Van Wieren died of cancer Aug. 3 at the age of 69.
Van Wieren didn't have the color or flair of Skip Caray or Ernie Johnson Sr., but his smooth voice, bespectacled face and penchant for obscure statistics earned him the nickname "Professor" and made him the perfect emcee for the antics of his co-workers. He was the straight man to Caray's outrageousness, and Van Wieren made a ballgame sound like you were hearing someone read you a great novel.
Another soundtrack of my youth silenced too soon, but one that will always be remembered. Thank you, Professor.