Washington – Plenty of the Braves stayed in the clubhouse at Nationals Park until the end Friday night. That is, until the end of the St. Louis-Colorado game in Denver, which the Bravos were watching on TV in Washington.
The Rockies won in the bottom of the ninth, drawing groans across not just Baseball City (St. Louis) but wherever Braves fans were seated in front of TVs around the nation, and in one visitor’s clubhouse in our nation’s capital.
Braves players watched the Rockies celebrate for a moment, then gathered their belongings and headed to their D.C. hotel to get some sleep before getting back to the business at hand. The business of pursuit.
Still 3-1/2 games behind, with nine games left for the Braves before a Saturday afternoon tilt with the Washington Generals … er, Nationals. The Rockies have only eight games left, as do do the Giants and Marlins, but the Giants and Marlins are five games off the lead, so they’re basically irrelevant to the Braves.
Do the math, or I’ll do it for you (and we know my math is bulletproof). Here’s basically what it’ll take for Atlanta to force a one-game playoff with the Rockies: Braves go 8-1 rest of the way, Rockies go 4-4.
Or, Braves go 9-0 rest of way, Rockies go 5-3. Or, Braves go 7-2 rest of the way and Rockies go 3-5.
Now, to win the wild-card berth without a one-game playoff, the Braves would have to do something like go 8-1 the rest fo the way, while the Rockies go 3-5.
Or the Braves go 9-0, while the Rockies go 4-4. Or, Braves go 7-2 rest of the way and Rockies 2-6.
The tie scenarios obviously seem more feasible, especially given that the Rockies have two more games to go in their series with the Cardinals and finish with three games at Dodger Stadium (they play Milwaukee between those series).
And the Braves, who’ve won 12 of 14 games, by far their best stretch of the season, have six games remaining against the Nationals with a three-gamer at home against the Marlins sandwiched between those series.
“I don’t even want to talk about it,” said Peter Moylan, when I mentioned to the tattooed Aussie yesterday that the Rockies had lost twice since the Braves’ last game in New York (Colorado’s game ended after the Braves’ game that night, and the Rockies lost again on the Braves’ day off Thursday).
Moylan’s a superstitious sort, despite his protestations to the contrary.
So I couldn’t tell him, but I’ll tell you now, just to remind everyone: The Nationals are really sputtering at the end of a dreadful season. They’ve lost 26 of their past 35 games, and have a 5.59 ERA and .233 team batting average in that period.
As for the Braves, they have the second-best record (49-3) in the NL going back to June 28 (we use that date because it’s when the Braves’ season really turned, when they began playing good baseball after a 34-40 start.)
Among NL teams, only the Phillies (51-30) have a better record since June 28, entering Saturday’s games. The Cardinals are 48-30 in that period.
The Braves also have a better ERA (3.30), scoring average (4.95) and batting average (.273) than the Phillies and Cardinals during that stretch.
In other words, it’s no fluke. But is it enough? Can they overcome that disappointing first three months, and that five-game skid a few weeks back, after they had gotten as close as they are now to the wild-card lead?
They’ve cut it from 8-1/2 to 3-1/2 games in two weeks, but can the Braves make up that last piece? We’ll find out soon enough. One thing is certain: They’ve got to keep the pedal mashed. They can’t afford to slip up. One or two losses could all but eliminate their chances, depending on how the Rockies play.
When I was talking to Moylan, Jair Jurrjens was dressing one locker over. I asked him about this Braves run and what they’ve been doing that’s made them so much more effective than when they got this close before.
“Just do our thing,” he said. “We got here [this close] the last time and put more pressure on ourselves, and fell back to seven [games behind]. So just keep having fun and having a good time, not think about it. Just relax and have fun. You try to do do too much … well, you saw what happened last time.”
And if Moylan would prefer not to talk about it or tempt the baseball gods or whatever, fellow reliever Mike Gonzalez is of an entirely different mindset.
“What is is it, 3-1/2 games?” he said, when I told him how far back those Rockies’ losses had left the Braves before the series opener here in D.C. “That’s right back in the mix, dude. We’ve just got to do it.”
Moylan heard him and mentioned something about not saying anything, not talking about it. Moylan was smiling, and just being a typically superstitious sort. Gonzo would have nothing of it.
“We’ve just got to go out there and beat them in the ground,” he said, punching the chair cushion for emphasis.
♣ Vazquez most valuable? Under normal circumstances, I shy away from giving MVP votes — team or league — to a pitcher. I just think that position players, by nature of their every-day role, are usually more worthy of most-valuable status.
But I would not argue with anyone who’d suggest that Javier Vazquez has been the Braves’ MVP this season.
He notched his 15th win last night, and it’s not at all a stretch to say that Vazquez would have 20 wins if he’d had good run support in even half of his games.
He’s allowed two or fewer earned runs in 20 of 31 starts, has the eighth-best ERA (2.83) in the league, the second-most strikeouts (229) in the fourth-most innings (213-1/3), and all three of the Braves’ complete games (only Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have more among NL pitchers, with four each).
Beyond that, Vazquez is on a tear that coincides with the Braves’ turnaround since the end of June. He’s 10-2 with a 2.58 ERA in his past 14 starts, with a .208 opponents’ average and an average of more than seven innings pitched in that span.
He’s won five consecutive decisions, and he’s 4-0 with 0.84 ERA and microscopic .150 opponents’ average in his past four starts, including two complete games and three games in which he allowed just three hits in seven or more innings.
Among NL starters, Vazquez has the second-lowest opponents’ OBP (.264), seventh-lowest opponents’ slugging percentage (.344), and fifth-lowest opponents’ batting average (.221).
He has the NL’s third-lowest opponents’ average by right-handed batters at .207 (Saturday starter Tommy Hanson had a majors-best .190 mark).
Vazquez hasn’t lost on the road in more than three months, and his 2.80 road ERA is the sixth-best in the NL (Jair Jurrjens is fourth at 2.75).
No, I wouldn’t argue otherwise if someone says Vazquez is the team MVP.
♣ Prado’s resurgence: OK, real quickly because game is starting. Martin Prado is back to being a sparkplug, to say the least. A sparkplug with power.
His .515 average was the second-highest in the NL over the past 10 days, behind only ex-Brave Rafael Furcal (.536).
But it’s not the average that’s most impressive. It’s the type of hits.
Prado’s hiked his average to .342 with runners on base, ninth-best in the NL.
Since moving into the regular lineup with his four-hit game June 30, he’s batted .317 with 30 extra-base hits (eight homers), 40 RBI and an .833 OPS in 69 games, including a slump when he was dealing with “exertion headaches” for a couple of weeks and then trying to get back his swing when he returned.
In his past eight games before Saturday, he was 17-for-33 (.515) with 10 (yes, 10) extra-base hits, 11 runs and seven RBI, including six multi-hit games.
OK, we’re late getting this up. Enjoy the weekend’s games.
“DADDY NEEDS A DRINK” by the Drive-By Truckers
Daddy needs a drink to deal with all the beauty
To deal with all the madness to keep from blowing up
Daddy needs a drink to calm down the badness
To execute his gladness on the fullness of his cup
Daddy needs a drink to keep the wheels from rubbing
To compensate for nothing or nothing going on
Daddy needs a drink so Mama fix one quick
Pour it nice and strong with your cleaning outfit on
Daddy needs a drink to hem in his demons
To hear through baby screaming or the TV set turned on
There ain’t nothing on the radio like the wave my transmitter’s on
Put that drinking jacket on and enjoy a little fog