Ed. note: to see the previous installment in the 1914 Braves saga, click here
From July 5 to August 4, the 1914 Boston Braves posted a 21-5 mark, a remarkable .808 winning percentage. But thanks to their poor start, this incredible stretch brought the Braves only 2 games above .500 and left them 7 Â½ games behind the defending champion New York Giants. So what changed, propelling the team from worst to first in a half season?
The difference doesnâ€™t appear to have been their hitting. Stallings increased his use of the stereotypical Deadball Era game tactics, the stolen base and sacrifice bunt. The Braves had stolen only 44 bags through July 4 but swiped another 33 in the next month, an increase from .67 to 1.6 per game. Sacrifice bunts similarly increased from 70 over the first 66 games to 42 over the next 26 games, from 1.06 per game to 1.62 per game.
But it didn’t make a major difference. The teamâ€™s batting average remained unchanged at .242, and runs scored per game increased just slightly, as the team had scored 3.6 runs per game through July 4 but improved to 3.8 runs per game during the subsequent month.
Some of the personnel changes, most of which occurred between June 27 and July 11, may have contributed to that modest improvement. Charlie Deal, with a .219 batting average, replaced third baseman Jack Martin, who was shipped out in July after posting a .212 average. Outfielders Wilson Collins (.257) and Jim Murray (.234) were replaced by Ted Cather (.226) and Josh Devore (.211) while Larry Gilbert (.286) played sparingly during the streak. Super utility player “Possum” Whitted (.229) represented an improvement over Oscar Dugey (.183).
More importantly, the team’s fielding improved dramatically. Boston averaged almost 1.8 errors a game through July 4, led by Rabbit Maranvilleâ€™s 34 miscues. Fortunately, Maranville only booted seven more balls during the 26-game stretch immediately after July 4, and the team average dropped accordingly to 1.32 errors a game.
Unsurprisingly, the improved defense accompanied improved pitching. In 66 games through July 4, the staff had recorded 38 complete games and just a single shut-out. In the following 26 games, the staff threw 19 complete games and 8 shut-outs. The biggest single improvement came from a dramatic reduction in walks. The pitchers averaged 3.3 walks per game for the games through July 4, but only 2.5 per game afterwards. Similarly, strikeouts improved from 3.5 per game to 4.4 per game. The Braves did not have a bat breaking strikeout pitcher on the staff.
A combination of things changed, but the most prominent involved better defense, especially on the part of Maranville, and better pitching, primarily in reducing base on balls.
Still, no one would have guessed how the season would end.