(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
Wonder how that carpet is going to smell today in the Braves clubhouse? Ah, they’ll get it cleaned up. They always have. And the Braves will happily replace it in the offseason I’m sure. And maybe they’ll shag it up with champagne another time or two before the season is over.
Even if “all” the Braves did was clinch a wild card berth last night, I think they showed a little of what they can do in a one-game playoff with Kris Medlen on the mound and the stakes super high. (He’s scheduled to pitch if the potential wild card playoff game Oct. 5.)
After Medlen gave up the second home run to Donovan Solano, as surprising as it was to see the two-out, two-strike pitch to him go out to the opposite field and the Braves trailing again 3-2, the Braves got right back to work.
Eric O’Flaherty pitched a perfect eighth for his 26th consecutive scoreless appearance since July 15. Craig Kimbrel pitched a dominant ninth, and then in the bottom of the inning came the Chipper Jones double, Mike Dunn wild pitch, and Freddie Freeman launch job.
Loved what Freeman said in his TV interview on the field, after mentioning the heartbreak of last September’s collapse, when he said: “I think we’re all good now.”
I should say so.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Freeman is the seventh player to hit a walk-off home run to clinch a playoff berth for his team, and only the second to do it with his team trailing in the game at the time. The other? Bobby Thomson for the 1951 Giants.
Business at hand
After going 9-18 last September and losing on the final day of the season, the Braves are 15-7 so far this September. That .682 winning percentage has them on pace for their second best month of the season. They went 18-8 in July (.692).
I think as a team this month they embodied what Medlen does when he’s on the mound – attack. Instead of “rearview mirror” mentality that Chipper referred to last night, they’ve continued to aggressively pursue the Nationals.
“We got caught kind of looking in the rearview mirror and counting down the days and whatnot and that’s the wrong attitude to have,” Jones said of last year. “You’ve got to go out there and take the bull by the horns and shoot for the top of the division and let the wild card be a byproduct of finishing second.”
The Nationals’ lead in the NL East is down to four games with eight games left, and right on cue, they’re sending John Lannan, rather than Stephen Strasburg, to the mound tonight in Philadelphia to try to remedy that. Lannan is 2-12 with a 5.79 ERA in 17 career appearances against the Phillies. (The Braves send Paul Maholm out tonight vs. Marlins ace Josh Johnson, whom Medlen out-pitched last Wednesday in Miami.)
The Nationals have lost five in a row at Citizens Bank Park and seven of eight against the Phillies overall. They are 5-8 against the Phillies on the season, the only team in the NL East they have a losing record against. They’ve watched the Phillies clinch against them three times in the past five years and were hoping to return the favor this series, but the earliest the Nats can clinch now is Friday.
But waiting for them on Friday is a date in St. Louis with the Cardinals, who are pretty highly motivated themselves to secure the last wild card spot. And after that? The Nationals have to face the Phillies again to close out the season. Just ask the Braves what that can be like.
Even though it’s still mathematically improbable that the Braves will catch the Nats, at the very least, the Braves could head into the playoffs the hotter team and with the momentum from a three-game sweep of the Nationals Sept. 14-16. Plus if the Braves win the wild card game, they could take advantage of the scheduling quirk this season and host the Nationals for the first two games of the Division Series.
The Nationals are 13-10 in September compared to the Braves’ 15-7. And a big reason for that is how the Braves are pitching. They have a 2.71 ERA this month, compared to the Nationals’ 3.55. And that makes all the difference because look at this: the Nationals have out-homered the Braves 39-14 in September and they’ve out-hit them .282 to .234.
As for the “byproduct”
So the Braves magic number to clinch homefield advantage over the Cardinals is three. Technically. But realistically it’s only two because if the Braves and Cardinals end up with the same record, the Braves win a tiebreaker based on head-to-head. The Braves have won five out of six games against St. Louis this season.
By the numbers
The Braves are 25-12 in one-run games on the season; they were 29-26 in one-run games last year. When Medlen gave up the two-run home run to Solano in the seventh last night, it was the first time since June 15 he had given up multiple runs in an inning. That snapped a streak of 102 2/3 innings, fourth longest in the majors since 1974, according to Stats Inc.
And oh yeah, with Jones’ double to start the ninth inning rally, he tied Roberto Alomar for 57th on the all-time hit list with 2,724.
If you’re headed to Turner Field for Friday’s game and the Chipper Jones tribute, parking is by permit only so if you don’t have a parking pass, take MARTA. The pre-game ceremony starts at 7 p.m. For those who won’t make it, Fox Sports South will show the Chipper ceremony live in its entirety, commercial free.
Fox Sports South is also showing a replay on the special it aired on Jones last night. If you want to set your DVR, those replay times are Friday at 6 p.m. on Fox Sports South, Saturday at 11 p.m. on SportSouth and Sunday at approximately 5 p.m. on SportSouth after the Braves postgame show.
OK lineup and more shortly from the ballpark.