WASHINGTON – The Phillies began Sunday mired in their first eight-game losing streak in 11 years, and privately the Braves probably would like to see their divison rivals snap that skid before arriving in Atlanta for a season-finale starting Monday.
Because does anyone think the Phillies could lose all of their last 12 games of the regular season?
“I’m sure Charlie [Manuel, Phillies manager] is sitting in New York right now thinking, ‘we’ve got to start winning some ballgames,’” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said this morning, before his also-struggling Braves’ series finale with the Nationals.
Gonzalez only entertained the question – would you rather face the Phillies in their usual state or when they’re in a long losing skid? – for a few moments before closing the thought with, “But we’ve got to take care of our own camp.”
Indeed, the Braves can’t afford to look ahead or expect the Cubs or Astros to do their dirty work by knocking off the St. Louis Cardinals, who are only two games behind Atlanta in the wild-card standings with four games to play.
The Cardinals, who scored two runs in the ninth inning against erratic Cubs closer Carlos Marmol to win 2-1 on Saturday, finish their home series against Chicago today before closing the season on the road against the 103-loss Houston Astros.
The Braves, who’ve lost five of their past nine games and 14 of 23, finish today against the Nationals – Mike Minor faces Ross Detwiler in matchup of young lefties – before going home to finish the season with three against Philly.
I asked Jonny Venters on Saturday morning about possibly facing a skidding Phillies team in the season-ending series, knowing as everyone does that they snap out of their funk at anytime and reel off a bunch of wins.
“It’d be nice to do it in Atlanta,” he said of clinching the wild card. “But then again, we’re playing the Phillies in Atlanta. I think we’d rather not have that series be that meaningful.”
He said that before Saturday’s loss which, coupled with St. Louis’ win, made it impossible for the Braves to clinch the wild card here in D.C. today. So if and when they clinch, it’ll be in Atlanta against the Phillies.
Any combination of three Braves wins and Cardinals losses gives the wild card to the Braves, while a total of two Braves wins and Cardinals losses would force a one-game tiebreaker to determine the wild card. That game would be played Thursday in St. Louis.
Just another reason it’s imperative the Braves win some games in the next few days.
They were in the late innings of their own game yesterday against Washington when the Braves watched the excruciating, unchanged score on the big board above right field for several minutes from the Cardinals-Cubs game, where the bases were loaded with two out.
Before the scoreboard changed in D.C., Derek Lowe came down from the clubhouse to the dugout to report that the Cardinals had scored two runs on a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch and pulled out the win.
“Obviously we were scoreboard watching; we saw them [Cardinals] lose,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “We have to take care of business and not worry about them.”
Gonzalez said his team has been able to stay loose in the clubhouse and the dugout during the final pressurized days of the playoff race, despite the scoreboards in every park that have constantly updated from the other games, i.e. the Cardinal games.
“They’re watching, they’re attentive,” he said of his players. “But you can’t play this game tight. They haven’t played that way. It’s the darndest thing, [lately] w e’ve played the best defense we’ve played all year. When’s the last time we made an error?”
It’s been 10 games since the Braves’ last error, by Venters on Sept. 12 against. They’ve gone 15 games since their last error by a position player, Dan Uggla’s miscue in the first game of the Sept. 8 doubleheader at New York.
But for the Braves, defense has been their only steady component in that span. Since Hurricane Irene postponed two games at New York Aug. 27-28 (necessitated that doubleheader) the Braves have a 10-15 record.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are 4-12 with a .213 batting average in their past 16 games and have scored three runs or fewer seven times during their eight-game skid. Yet still have the best record (98-60) in the majors.
Atlanta is 6-9 against Philly this season and has lost the last four games against them.
Since Sept. 11, the going-nowhere Nationals are 11-3 with a 2.20 ERA, while the Phillies are 4-12 with a 3.15 ERA in that same span.
BRAVES LINEUP Sunday
♣ Pitching matchups vs. Phillies: Monday — Randall Delgado (1-1, 2.70) vs. Cliff Lee (16-8, 2.38); Tuesday — Derek Lowe (9-16, 4.92) vs. Roy Oswalt (8-10, 3.86); Wednesday — Tim Hudson (16-10, 3.23) vs. TBA.
Philly was going to use Cole Hamels in that series finale, but changed their plan today and will probably go with a “bullpen game” with several pitchres. They could possibly start Vance Worley, the rookie standout who is moving from the rotation back to the bullpen for the playoffs.
♣ They’ve got skills: I keep forgetting to put the complete list of Braves players and prospects who made the Best Tools lists in the Baseball America midseason survey of managers in their respective leagues. The BA issue came out over a month ago.
Here’s the rundown:
Best hit-and-run artist: 2. Martin Prado
Best baserunner: 1. Michael Bourn (ahead of Jose Reyes and Andrew McCutchen)
Fastest baserunner: 1. Bourn (ahead of Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio)
Best pitcher: 2. Jair Jurrjens (between Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw)
Best fastball: 2. Craig Kimbrel (after Aroldis Chapman of Reds)
Best curveball: 3. Tommy Hanson
Best reliever: 2. (tie) Kimbrel and Joel Hanrahan (behind Brian Wilson)
Best defensive catcher: 3. Brian McCann (behind Yadier Molina and Phils’ Carlos Ruiz)
Best defensive shortstop: 3. Alex Gonzalez (1. Tulo, 2. Reyes)
Best defensive outfielder: 1. Bourn
Triple-A International League
Best pitching prospect: Julio Teheran, Gwinnett
Best fastball: Teheran
Best reliever: Jairo Asencio, Gwinnett
Fastest baserunner: Jose Constanza, Gwinnett
Class-A Carolina League
Best breaking pitch: Arodys Vizcaino, Lynchburg
Best defensive shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Lynchburg
Best infield arm: Simmons
Most exciting player: Simmons
♣ OK, let’s get this posted. I’ll file separates on Alex Gonzalez, who’s out at least one more day with his calf strain, and about the pitching situation with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. But I want to get this posted before first pitch and I’m about out of time.
“I’M AN ANIMAL” by Neko Case
You could say it’s my instinct
Yes I still have one.
There’s no time to second-guess it.
Yes there are things that I’m still so afraid of
But my courage is roaring like the sound of the sun
‘Cause it’s vain about its mane
And will reveal them to no one
I’m an animal
You’re an animal too.
Pick up that rock,
tread through that lake
I do my best,
But I’m made of mistakes.
Yes there are things I’m still quite sure of.
I love you this hour
This hour today
And heaven will smell like the airport,
but I may never get that proven
So let’s not waste our time
Thinking how that ain’t fair.
I’m an animal
You’re an animal too.
You’re an animal too.
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog