Braves have put themselves in a tough position
Never thought I’d write this, but the Braves really are right where they didn’t want to be — one game ahead of the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card race with just three games to play.
Yes the Braves control their own destiny and yes they even have a slight margin for error. But if you ignore the facts, doesn’t it seem like they are the team that is one game back with three games to play.
This obviously has something to do with the fact that the Braves will spend the next three days playing a Phillies club gunning for its 100th win, while the Cardinals will spend the next three days playing an Astros team that has already compiled 100-plus losses.
Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that the slumbering Braves offense will try to give rookie Randall Delgado necessary support tonight as he matches up against Cliff Lee. The Braves have scored one run or fewer in three of their past four games. Lee has allowed one run or less in seven of his last eight starts.
Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that to win the Wild Card entry, there is seemingly a good chance the Braves will have to start Tim Hudson Wednesday. This would mean Hudson would be unavailable to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series and available only on short rest for Game 2.
There is still a chance the Braves could clinch before Wednesday and set up the possibility of saving Hudson until the start of the Division Series.
But to put themselves in this position, they would likely have to beat Lee tonight and Roy Oswalt on Tuesday. At the same time, they have to hope Wandy Rodriguez (Monday vs. Jaime Garcia) or Henry Sosa (Tuesday vs. Jake Westbrook) beat the Cardinals one of the next two nights.
The Astros will send Brett Myers to the mound to oppose Chris Carpenter in Wednesday’s regular season finale. Myers has gone 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his past five starts.
If the Braves have to use Hudson Wednesday, he’ll be going against a collection of Phillies pitchers. Joe Blanton is likely to start the game and Cole Hamels will likely work a couple innings at some point.The Phillies would like to insert Hamels around the the fifth inning, where he might have a chance to be credited with what would be his 15th victory.
A couple weeks ago there was little reason to think this series would matter. In fact as recently as Friday, when the Braves claimed a three-game lead with five games remaining, it seemed like they were just a few days away from clinching the Wild Card for the second straight season.
But the Braves totaled just one run during their final two games in Washington D.C. and essentially extended the offensive frustrations that have followed them throughout the month. They have batted .193 with runners in scoring position over their past 23 games.
Some of the key figures who have struggled with runners in scoring position during this span are Martin Prado (5-for-27), Dan Uggla (5-for-25), Michael Bourn (5-for-24), Chipper Jones (3-for-17) and Jason Heyward (1-for11).
Now this club that has struggled to score runs finds itself hoping to extend the frustrations they have presented Lee in the past.
Lee has gone 1-3 with a 4.21 ERA in 6 starts against the Braves in a Phillies uniform. But he has allowed just one earned run in the his past 17 innings against Atlanta.
With this being Lee’s final start before the playoff start this weekend, he’ll likely be limited to somewhere around 80 pitches and six innings.
As their starting pitchers start backing down and their position players focus on staying healthy for the playoffs, the Phillies might not give the effort that they might have earlier in the season. But having won just one of their past nine games, they would like to gain at least a little momentum as they enter the playoffs.