The Phillies’ sweep of the Braves could not have come at a worse time. Atlanta’s now 6 games back of PHI in the NL East race, essentially ending any shot at the division title. As I mentioned last week, this series was very high risk-high reward for the team. Wins would have put them right back in the NL East race. But losses would not only hurt their division chances, it would also threaten their Wild Card hopes. Well, that's exactly what happened. The Braves are on life support with a razor-thin ½ game lead over the Giants in the Wild Card race. The Padres lead the NL West and are effectively tied games wise with the Braves (ATL 86-67, SD 85-66), while consecutive loses on Tuesday and Wednesday put the always-dangerous Rockies 3 games behind Atlanta.
Atlanta’s now 9-12 in September and is desperate for wins over the final 9 games. After a rough start to the month, Braves pitchers have really turned it around recently with a 2.82 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over the past 7 days. Unfortunately, the always-inconsistent offense has progressively gotten worse this month (.215/.288/.346 over the past 7 days) and is quickly damaging any hopes the team has of making the playoffs. This has been a season-long story for the Braves. We see great pitching usually followed by just enough offense to win. But if the pitching’s at all off, the offense very rarely has enough to make-up for it. Additionally, if the offense slumps at all (which it has been this month), even near-dominant pitching isn’t enough to earn the win. With just 9 games left in the season, this weakness is likely more important to realize for the 2011 season, unfortunately, than it is for the final 2 weeks of the 2010 campaign.
The Wild Card is still officially the Braves’ to lose, at this point. The other teams in the race (SD, SF, COL) are all from the NL West, where at least one team will make the playoffs through the division title. The good news is they all have at least one series left against one of the other contenders, so there will be plenty of chances for them to ‘beat up’ on each other. Two of them will have to play well (or at least better than the Braves) in order to knock Atlanta out of the Wild Card spot. Taking a look at the remaining games:
- Braves – 9 G left (6 home, 3 road); key match-up: 3 G vs. PHI
- Padres – 11 G left (7 home, 4 away); key match-up: 3 G at SF
- Giants – 10 G left (6 home, 4 road) key match-ups: 3 G at COL, 3 G vs. SD
- Rockies – 11 G left (6 home, 5 away); key match-up: 3 G vs. SF
Optimistically, after the Braves’ sweep of the Mets last weekend, let’s hope that maybe the team just ran into a red-hot juggernaut Phillies team. Maybe they’ll simply pick-up right where they left off in New York. However, the team continues their road trip (after an off-day on Thursday) with a three-game set in Washington. Not surprisingly, Braves pitchers have performed well at Nationals Park this year (3.71 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) while the hitters have all but forgotten to show up (.209/.293/.316). Those numbers have led to a worrisome 2-4 record.
Needless to say, the Washington series is critical. Other than Hanson, the Braves had the weakest part of their rotation on the mound in the PHI series, leading to 3 losses. That means the strong part of the rotation must do its job against the 64-88 Nationals (37-37 at home). A sweep, while difficult, would do wonders. A series win is critical. Anything less would be all but devastating. Hudson, Lowe and Jurrjens are the probables to match-up against Zimmerman, Maya and Hernandez, respectively. If Jurrjens can’t make his start following his revealed meniscus tear, Brandon Beachy is likely to fill in again. If Jurrjens is able to go, it allows Bobby to use Beachy in place of Mike Minor (who has been hit hard recently) to begin the Marlins series next week.
* Baseball Reference was used for all statistics