(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
Let’s see if I’ve got this right. Braves are back in the hunt, down only 2 ½ games in the wild card. And there’s a touch of fall in the air (overnight temps in the 50s?!) and a zero percent chance of rain come game time. Could that combination bring fans back out to Turner Field tonight for the start of a seven-game homestand?
It’s the final homestand of the season, one where any one loss along the way – really two – could dash the Braves hopes. But any win could keep this momentum rolling and put that much more pressure on the Rockies.
Don’t you hear, kind of anecdotally, among your friends and acquaintances, people talking more about it now? I wonder if, and for the Braves sake I hope it will, translate into a little more excitement at the ballpark this week.
It’s hard to say. I’m never sure with Braves fans how much what’s going on between the white lines affects whether they come, at least not until Game 5 of a division series or something. What I mean is I’ve seen empty seats for say a Randy Johnson-Greg Maddux matchup on a Tuesday, but then a sellout for a weekend series against a cruddy Brewers team.
And once school starts and football starts, people aren’t necessarily thinking baseball, especially the way things went in early September for the Braves. But the Braves have been generating their own excitement lately, in front of small crowds in New York and DC. It would be nice to see a good crowd or two to go along with it here.
It’s obvious that while people around them might have given up, the Braves never did. And it’s a refreshing thing. As esteemed colleague Mark Bradley pointed out in a column in yesterday’s paper, that’s a tribute to manager Bobby Cox and his ability to keep his players focused. Say what you will.
Imagine, had those stories not surfaced about friction in spring training between Frank Wren and Cox, today would have probably been the day the Braves announced Cox would be retiring as manager after next season.
I, for one, am glad that’s already happened. Yes, that’s in large part because my workload won’t be quite so hectic today, but it also means the Braves can just focus on what’s head: the Marlins and trying to keep pace with the Rockies, or better.
The Braves actually have a chance to gain ground on the Rockies either way tonight because Colorado is idle before opening a three-game series against Milwaukee. For the Braves tonight it’s Jair Jurrjens vs. Anibal Sanchez.
Unlike the last two series against the Mets and Nats – not to take anything away, but let’s be real – it won’t be easy.
The Marlins are the only team in the NL East the Braves have a losing record against this season. The Braves are 7-8 against Florida. 13-5 against the Mets, 10-8 against the Phillies and 10-4 against the Nationals.
And the Marlins still think they have at least at outside shot at the wildcard. They were eliminated in the NL East but are still hanging by a thread at 2 ½ games behind the Braves in the wildcard. They see this series as an opportunity.
The last time these two teams met, they split a four-game series Aug. 30-Sept. 3. You’ll remember the sixth inning nightmares of back-to-back losses there. And those two losses started the 1-6 stretch that really seemed like it was going to end this thing for the Braves.
The Braves have played mediocre against the Marlins this year – hitting .255 as a team, with a 4.55 ERA. They have to hope maybe they are catching the Marlins dragging a bit.
The Marlins, 5-5 in their past 10 games, are coming off a 4-0 loss Sunday, having been shut out on an eight-hitter by the Mets’ Pat Misch, the 1-11 career pitcher coming in whom the Braves roughed up for eight runs in 1 1/3 innings in his previous start.
The Marlins also have a flu bug going around. Neither Josh Johnson, who was scratched from his start Sunday, or first baseman Nick Johnson traveled with the Marlins to Atlanta. Manager Fredi Gonzalez is holding out hope Johnson might be able to start Tuesday – that way he could make two starts to finish out the season Tuesday and Sunday – but for now, Rick VandenHurk is scheduled to pitch tomorrow’s game against Tim Hudson.
Cody Ross, who has two homers and nine RBIs in 15 games vs. the Braves this year, is nursing a sore left wrist. He was hit by a John Maine pitch Saturday night. He’s day-to-day, but told reporters Sunday “it’s not good.”
Hey, a few things have changed since the boys left town. I’m sure they came home last night to plenty of stories from their families about what’s been going on since the flood.
I know Derek Lowe, for one, doesn’t live too far from some homes that were flooded and I bet his wife has had some stories to tell him about street closings and neighbors packing up and moving out, losing most everything.
I, for one, always get chills when there are good sports diversions to help people through tough times. Might this be one? We shall see.
By the way, tonight is Dave Ramsey $1 ticket night. The $8 ticket upper reserved seats are $1 tonight and can be bought at braves.com/daveramsey.
More from the ballpark this afternoon.