Time for the Braves to dig out of another hole
Some of you gave up on them when they lost nine straight near the end of April. Others chose to exit Turner Field or quit monitoring the May 20 game against the Reds before Brooks Conrad delivered his walk-off grand slam to cap a seven-run, ninth inning.
Now that they’ve lost 14 of their past 23 and fallen behind in the National League Wild Card race, it once again feels like it’s time to give up on the Braves.
Go ahead. That’s the way they like it. This is the same bunch that spent the season’s first five months making last at-bat victories seem as routine as the seventh-inning stretch or a Jonny Venters appearance.
If the Braves manage to win the Wild Card, they’ll be recognized as a club that has proven capable of digging themselves out of messes. If not, they’ll be known as a club that dug themselves into one too many holes.
Losing three straight to the Phillies when they’re pitching Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt might not qualify as a sin. But losing six of the nine games played against the Pirates and Nationals during the season’s final month is a punishable offense that could lead to solitude once the playoffs begin.
Last week I said that the Phillies series shouldn’t be viewed as the most important of the season and I stand by that conviction. If it was so vitally important, then why do the Braves still have life?
With that being said, they are obviously approaching their six most vital games of the season. Throughout the year, we hear the players talk about the need to simply take two of three to win a series.
It’s an approach that makes sense until you put yourself in this situation, where you’re a half-game behind in the Wild Card race with just six games to play. Now it seems better to look at the situation like they have six holes left to play and without room to make another bogey.
With six games left in the 2009 season, the Braves were two games back in the Wild Card standings and riding the momentum of a seven-game winning streak. Their next victory would be notched on Opening Day this year.
Now the same Marlins bunch that essentially killed Atlanta’s playoff hopes (with help from a
Matt Diaz baserunning blunder) last year is back at Turner Field for a three-game series that begins tonight. The Fish have lost nine of their last 13 games and no longer have the luxury of calling upon Josh Johnson every five days.
I’m guessing that Jair Jurrjens won’t be able to start Tuesday night against Anibal Sanchez. Still with Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe possibly getting the ball with short rest during the final two games of this three-game set, the pitching matchups seem to favor the Braves.
Tommy Hanson will be paired against Alex Sanabia. Hudson and Lowe would be matched up against Sanchez and Andrew Miller in the final two games. It’s only fitting that the Braves get another crack at Miller, who helped get them in this current funk by limiting them to one run in a 103-pitch, five-inning effort on Sept. 3.
While going 0-4 with a 12.89 ERA in the four starts that have followed, Miller has looked much more like the guy who went 1-8 with a 6.01 ERA for Double-A Jacksonville this year.
As Martin Prado continues to limp his way down the stretch while dealing with a groin strain that has plagued him for a couple of weeks, the Brave once opportune offense appears lifeless. They have hit .246 this month (.247 vs. RHP and .240 vs. LHP).
After hitting .254 in close and late situations from May 10-Aug. 31, they have hit just .189 (23-for-122) in these close and late situations this month. Their left fielders have hit .268 with a .457 slugging percentage from May 10-Aug. 31. This month they have batted .188 with a .294 slugging percentage.
Still with all that has gone wrong, the Braves enter this final week with reason for optimism.
While they’re playing a Phillies club that won’t have much to play for this weekend, the Padres and Giants will battling each other in San Francisco.
We’ll keep our eyes on how the Padres fare against the Cubs this week and how the Giants do against the D-backs. But really the only thing that matters this week is what transpires at Turner Field.
There might ultimately be some room for error. But for now, the Braves essentially have to approach these final six games in a do-or-die manner.
It’s not an enviable position. But this is a club that obviously doesn’t like the comfort it possessed as recently as a week ago, when they possessed a 2 ½-game lead in the Wild Card standings.