(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
So here it is: a three-game series against the Phillies to determine if the Braves make the playoffs. Just like last year, only minus the emotion of coming to the end of Bobby Cox’s managerial tenure.
It’s hard to gauge the emotion of this team right now – for starters, since I wasn’t on the road with them for the
past seven days – but some nerves, maybe a twinge of doubt or just plain frustration is creeping in now. I saw frustration in the face of Michael Bourn yesterday when he lined out to the second base with runners second and third in the fifth inning of the 3-0 loss.
Safe to say, for the next three days we’ll see what these Braves are made of and if they can put aside any frustrations or concerns, and show some fight.
In some ways, you might say, this Braves team has played some of its best baseball against the toughest opponents. Last weekend, believe it or not, was a fair example, if you ask me. They beat Stephen Strasburg, then lost to Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler.
The Braves will have a chance to put it to the test tonight because you’ve got rookie Randall Delgado going up against Cliff Lee, with the wild card lead at stake.
It’s one game, as you know, and if the Braves lose tonight and the Cardinals win in Houston, the Braves will find company for the wild card lead for the first time since June 19 when they were tied with the Cardinals and Brewers at 40-33. The Braves have held sole possession of the wild card lead since June 20.
The Braves have won three of the four games when they’ve faced Lee this year: they got six runs in 3 1/3 innings off him in a 6-3 win on April 8 at Turner Field, Derek Lowe out-dueled him in a 5-0 Braves win on May 6 at Citizens Bank Park, despite 16 strikeouts from Lee that night, and then on July 9 in Philadelphia Tommy Hanson dueled Lee for seven innings, each allowed a run, before the Braves put up a three-run 11th (Brian McCann hit a two-run homer) to win 4-1.
The lone exception was an emphatic one, when Lee pitched a complete game shutout against the Braves on Sept. 5, in a 9-0 Phillies win.
The Phillies have won nine of Lee’s past 10 starts dating back to July 25, while he’s gone 7-1 with a 1.13 ERA. His one loss was his last outing against the Nationals, when he gave up three runs (two earned) on 11 hits in seven innings of a 3-0 loss to the Nationals.
Both Lee and Roy Oswalt on Tuesday night figure to be on a fairly short leash. Roy Halladay was pulled after 77 pitches (and six innings) yesterday in New York. Still, 75-80 pitches might get Lee pretty deep into the game. He needed only 100 pitches for his complete game shutout against the Braves on Sept. 5.
The last couple of years in Lee’s “tune-up” starts for the postseason, he went seven innings (allowing one earned run) last Sept. 30 against the Angels after the Rangers had clinched, and in 2009 he went 5 2/3 innings against the Astros (allowing three earned runs) after the Phillies had clinched. I’d bet he’s somewhere around five or six tonight.
The one advantage you figure the Braves might have is if the Phillies’ post-clinch letdown continues. The Phillies lost eight games in a row after they clinched a fifth consecutive NL East title against the Cardinals on Sept. 17. According to STATS, that was the longest losing streak ever for a team that had clinched since the World Series began in 1903.
Until yesterday, the Phillies has scored three runs or fewer in 15 of their previous 17 games.
But then the Phillies righted themselves yesterday with a 9-4 win over the Mets, starting all their regulars for the first time since they clinched. Both Hunter Pence (knee) and Ryan Howard (ankle) were back in the lineup. I’m guessing we’ll see them back in the starting lineup tonight too.
The Phillies are also going for their 100th win of the season and Charlie Manuel knows the Cardinals are counting on him to field competitive teams in this series.
Look for a good sign for the Braves? The Braves have won each of Delgado’s last two starts – both against the Marlins. They should have won the one before that on Sept. 9 in St. Louis the night Craig Kimbrel blew a save in a 4-3 loss. And that’s saying something, since the Braves have won only five times in the 15 games since Sept. 9.
Delgado is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in six major league starts now this season. He’s given up one or no runs in each of his past three while going five innings each time. Course he hasn’t faced the Phillies yet either, but he held his own against the two contenders for the World Series last year in the Rangers (four runs, three earned in four innings in major league debut on June 17) and the Giants (no hit through six innings before a Cody Ross homer on Aug. 16).
I saw this statistic in the Braves notes yesterday and it’s pretty telling: rookies have accounted for 59.3 percent of the innings pitched by Braves starters in September. Wow.
Delgado will be the last rookie to start the regular season, with Lowe and Tim Hudson scheduled to finish out the series (or Hanson on Wednesday if the Braves clinch before then).
Phillies Wednesday starter
There’s been some debate about what’s going on with the Phillies starting pitcher on Wednesday; that’s because there was a change on Sunday. We were told the Phillies will make it a “bullpen” game. They are expected to start Kyle Kendrick or Joe Blanton, then the Phillies are planning to pitch Cole Hamels in relief that day, maybe two or three innings, and here’s why:
They don’t want him pitching more than a few innings because he’s going on short rest (he started on Saturday against the Mets.) They’d also like to get him a shot at 15 wins, and it’ll be easier to do that in relief since he wouldn’t have been able to get the requisite five innings as a starter.
The Cardinals, winners of 14 of their past 18 games, are at Minute Maid Park tonight, going against the team with the worst record in baseball that has lost seven of its past 11 games. The Astros aren’t exactly bringing a whole lot of momentum into the series either, coming off a 19-3 loss to the Rockies on Sunday.
The Cardinals are 8-4 against the Astros this season.
It’s Jaime Garcia for the Cardinals against Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros. Looking for some shred of something to feel good about? Garcia is 0-3 with a 5.91 ERA in four career starts against the Astros.
As for the home front, based on advance sales, more than 40,000 fans are expected out for tonight’s game at Turner Field. The Braves could use a good and enthusiastic crowd.
OK, Lineups and more from the ballpark shortly.