Braves taking survival in playoff chase to new levels

Brian McCann didn't do too much Sunday: Just five RBI, including the tie-breaking two-run single in the eighth. (AP photo)

Brian McCann didn't do too much Sunday -- just a homer, five RBI and a tiebreaking, two-run hit to give the Braves a 7-5 win over Florida. (AP photo)

Regardless of whether this Braves’ season ends in a division title, a wild card berth or one minor spasm short of the playoffs, this much can be said about them: They chose the most difficult way to get there.

Fall behind? Rally late.

Lose four regulars? Start an outfield worthy of camp Disney but somehow get by.

Drop game one of the series (again)? Feh! Come back and win the next two (again).

“I don’t know what the [expletive] is wrong with us – we lose the first game every time,” Bobby Cox said Sunday, the sting of those words softened by a slight smile and a post-game victory cigar.

They won again Sunday, 7-5. They won after blowing an early 3-0 lead and falling behind, 5-3, thanks to another dreadful start by Derek Lowe (20 hits and 13 runs, 11 earned, allowed in his last 8 2/3 innings). They won despite missing Nate McLouth and Garret Anderson and Martin Prado and Ryan Church or any semblance of a bench (pinch hitter: Javier Vazquez).

“Shorthanded is an understatement,” Chipper Jones said. “We’ve got nobody.”

Slight overstatement. They’ve got Brian McCann, who drove in five runs with a three-run crush job in the first and a tie-breaking two-run single in the eighth. They’ve also got a bullpen that held the Marlins to two hits after Lowe was carried out in the fifth.

Mostly, they have resolve.

They have lost game one in seven straight series of three games or more. But they have come back to win four of the last five of those series.

Just to be clear, Matt Diaz said: “We prefer not to lose game one. We would like to reverse that trend.”

Comforting.

How does this end? We can’t possibly know.

But this team is unique. It scraps, maybe like no Braves team we’ve seen in a while. Many point to the improved depth. That’s a factor. But it goes beyond that.

“You have a team where everybody wants to play,” coach Terry Pendleton said. “You have a team of guys who all know how to prepare themselves and work hard in the cage and in the field. We’ve had a few other teams where guys showed up every day. But this one stands out because a number of guys have been hurt but guys have stepped in to help the team keep pace. That says a lot.”

They are now a season-high eight games over .500 (66-58). Since June 28, they own the second-best record in the National League (32-18). The Phillies remain furlongs ahead in the East (6 ½ games with three games in hand). But Colorado is only four ahead in the wild card race, and the Braves have moved to within a game of second place San Francisco in that chase.

How did they make it this close? Still trying to figure that one out.

Cox: “We’ve been scrambling.”

Frank Wren: “There’s some resiliency there.”

Jones: “I like the fact that guys don’t hang their heads and remain confident and play better than we did after losing the first game. We come back late, we win on walk-off hits – all those things build character.

“If we can get to 10 games over .500 by the end of this month, with a ton of games left in our division, I like our chances, if not in the East, then the wild card.”

Lose one, win two. It’s not the path most chosen. Or preferred.

But the math works out the same.

131 comments Add your comment

J-MAN

August 23rd, 2009
6:52 pm

The Dust

August 23rd, 2009
6:57 pm

The Braves have to win 10 games in a ROW to matter.

Tim

August 23rd, 2009
7:00 pm

First(time ever)!!!

Brent

August 23rd, 2009
7:07 pm

I love this team. They really scratch and claw and pick each other up.

Mitch C

August 23rd, 2009
7:11 pm

Jeff, The Braves have been playing very well lately, especially with basicially their entire outfield gone.

I keep hoping that we can hit an even hotter streak, to catch Colorado. At 66-58, with 38 games left, if we play at our current pace of 8 games over the rest of the way, that would mean we would go 23-15, and finish with 89 wins. In other years, 89 would have gotten us a wild card, and even an NL East title. I’m thinking that we have to hope Colorado hits a dry spell, and that we can play something like maybe 25-13 or 26-12, to get us into the 90 plus win column. Joe Simpson and John Shambi said on Sports South today, that they thought 91 wins would be enough for the wild card. The way we’ve been playing, we can do that, but we have to hope a few other teams slow up.

Hopefully, our injured guys can get back soon. I really like the way this team is playing lately. Hopefully, we can make a run and get the wild card.

Mitch

J Clay

August 23rd, 2009
7:29 pm

Why Chipper always the one quoted and talking about the resolve and “having no one” and sure outs earlier in the year? The sure out is Chipper – followed closely by Johnson and Norton. Since Cox will not release Norton I can only hope he will not be hitting once the September call ups arrive. I realize Chipper has earned the right based on career performance not be benched – but thinking Cox should give him a series off when Prado, McLouth, Church return – can stick Infante at 3rd for a series, maybe then Chipper will get in gear. They need him down the stretch as I doubt McCann, as good as he is, can keep up this pace.

Bill in VA

August 23rd, 2009
7:29 pm

The Braves have a proven pinch hitter in Brooks Conrad at Gwinnett. Or, he could be starting at 2nd base, if KJ continues to struggle. Norton just isn’t a viable pinch hitter this year, for whatever reason.

jconservative

August 23rd, 2009
7:29 pm

It has been years since I enjoyed a Braves season like I have this year.

Injuries are killing the Braves but they are winning anyway. Four to five starters out this entire series & they win anyway.

God I love baseball!

Sonny Clusters

August 23rd, 2009
7:33 pm

We was doing the math and Jeff is right, this is doable. Now, Jeff has a quote from Chipper so we know they was talking today. What we want to know is if Jeff asked Chipper about the deerskin glove? Rumor has it that Chipper’s switched to deerskin and that’s why he can’t catch a cold. We was at the game Saturday night and a ball landed in that deerskin glove and popped right out.

Made on the ranch was what we was told. Lots of deerskin on the ranch.

We was wondering if we’d get a call tonight from New York. Somebody hit into an unassisted triple play to end the game and let Lidge escape from another beating. When we was playing ball together back in school we was always talking about the triple play but we never seen one. Now, we’ve hit into one.

We was watching Bobby in the dugout last night and he was leaning against the wall and strategizing real hard about the three run homer. We was pretty sure that’s why those runs didn’t score with men on and nobody out.

Ashley

August 23rd, 2009
7:35 pm

You people who type “FIRST” really need to get a life.

Country Boy

August 23rd, 2009
7:36 pm

I’m just glad we are in the playoff hunt in late Aug. Last year this time the Bravos were toast. Fun to watch a gritty team and notice we are winning even while Chipper is battling a horrible hitting slump.

dobearsbare

August 23rd, 2009
7:37 pm

Man, is Lowe a train wreck. If someone had told you that 124 games in, the biggest pitching acquisition would have an ERA nearing 5 and the Braves would still have a chance, would you seriously have believed it? Not me. But here they are.

MightyQuinn

August 23rd, 2009
7:43 pm

Gotta get Prado and McClouth healthy and Chipper being Chipper and Lowe being Lowe again! They are a fun bunch to watch though. The Braves keep teasin’ and I keep believin’!

BravesAreDone

August 23rd, 2009
7:58 pm

Once the outfield is healthy does Bobby pull Diaz right away against righty pitchers? Really to me it’s better for either McClouth or Anderson to be hurt, because that keeps Diaz in there every game where he should be. But I know how Bobby acts in those situations many times.

Jeff Schultz

August 23rd, 2009
8:01 pm

J-MAN – Congrats. Certificate will be mailed to you.

The Dust – 10 in a row? Kind of a tall order, don’t you think?

Tim – you never forget your first . . . comment.

Mitch C—I agree with Joe and Boog – I think 91 or 92 will get it done. Don’t think 89 will get it done.

Jeff Schultz

August 23rd, 2009
8:02 pm

Sonny — apologies. I forgot to ask Chipper about the deerskin glove. I did however ask him about the two dead possums in his locker but he declined comment.

Philliesuk

August 23rd, 2009
8:13 pm

I really hope we make the playoffs, but if we don’t, I will still view it as a great season. We are doing much better than I expected back in April. I always thought that 2010 was when we would break out and contend. I really like this team, and I have to commend Frank Wren for what he has done to improve this team.

I hope he gets the credit he deserves for the Vazquez trade. Javy has been one of the best pitchers in the National League, and is pitching like the ace we always wanted. Now, the question is, would there be any possible way to move Lowe to make room for Hudson? I would like to see this rotation: Vazquez, Jurrjens, Hudson, Hanson, Kawakami

JM

August 23rd, 2009
8:22 pm

Whether we make the playoffs or not this has been a really enjoyable season. I’ve got more hope for the future than I’ve had in a long time.

MBA Grad

August 23rd, 2009
8:23 pm

Great day for baseball. We had 10th row behind home plate to see the Braves rally for a 7-5 win over the Marlins, propelling us into 2nd place.

Meanwhile in NY, Jeff Francouer hits into only the second game-ending unassisted triple play in history.

Man, I love this game.

yall are crazy

August 23rd, 2009
8:25 pm

Ok enough of this “FIRST” bull$#!T. Seriously, grow up folks.

Sonny Clusters

August 23rd, 2009
8:25 pm

Jeff, we was reading up on deerskin. Deerskin leather is very soft and supple. It is ranked as the third strongest leather available but because deerskin is so elastic the leather can stretch out too much and then catching becomes difficult. We suspect that is what is going on with Chipper Jones. Playing with a deerskin glove makes sense when everybody else is using something else and you want to sell them some deerskin gloves made on the ranch. Still, catching something every now and then will make it work better. Marketing is marketing, though. We was never much into marketing when we was playing ball together back in school but we marketed Delta for a little while before we messed up.

We was noticing last night what a good pitcher Gonzales is. He works fast and the team seems to pick up when he’s in there. He goes after the hitter. We was always doing that back when we was playing ball together.

Last thing is, we was thinking Bobby looks a lot smarter when the pitchers are going good.

Reid Adair

August 23rd, 2009
8:26 pm

“Scrambling” is putting it mildlly. I just don’t see how they can continue to “scramble” and be in the playoff mix. Consistency – something the Braves lack significantly on offense – is critical.

Skeezix

August 23rd, 2009
8:30 pm

This has been quite an achievement, especially considering the number of injuries on top of Chipper’s slump. This team has had quality pitching most of the year, but now it is showing much more intelligence at the plate and they have developed heart. I think they started developing heart and gain confidence in themselves during the series against the Red Sox at Boston (when that jerk umpire Hohn stole a game away from us and threw Cox, Chipper and the pitcher out). Also, credit needs to go to the man who is guiding them – Bobby Cox.

Stephen

August 23rd, 2009
8:31 pm

Jeff what happened to all that “I’m gonna blog about coolstandings, and how to actually think about the odds that the Braves make the playoffs” talk???

MBA Grad

August 23rd, 2009
8:33 pm

And nice to see Greg “Rally Killer” Norton at the plate today with men in scoring position.

I’m sure the guy is a fine fellow, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why the H-double-hockey-stickes he is still on this team.

Ed-Covington

August 23rd, 2009
8:33 pm

The Bravos in the postseason hunt; the Falcons; Tech about to start their season; college & pro football about to dominate the media. Now this is the time of the year we can all enjoy.

Sonny Clusters

August 23rd, 2009
8:39 pm

Stinky Wintes was one of the best pinch hitters in high school ball. Stinky come to the plate ready to do some damage. When the pitcher rared back, so did Stinky. Then, he swung real hard and if he made contact that ball would go. If he didn’t get contact the scent of Stinky Wintes hung in the air and the ump would try to get him on base as quick as he could and away from the plate. Norton may be the next Stinky Wintes. He’s got nothing to lose.

Jeff Schultz

August 23rd, 2009
8:40 pm

JM – Agreed. I’ve said for a while that regardless what happens I thought this finish bodes well for next year (pending off-season moves, of course).

Stephen – I do want to blog about it this week. But I’d like to speak to somebody from the website and so far they haven’t responded to my requests. Do you know somebody there?

Train Wreck Bystander

August 23rd, 2009
8:40 pm

If y’all insist on this “first” bullsh*t, you should at least format it correctly:

First

Kenny J

August 23rd, 2009
8:41 pm

I love the team. I’m behind Frank Wren all the way, his moves proving themselves again and again, Not sure what he could do about all the injuries, nor Lowe’s current downturn. But there is one move left: Norton. Great guy, but they need a better bat in those situations. Maybe Brooks Conrad, maybe someone else. But Frank, it’s time. Could be a difference maker in one or two games, and as tight as all this is getting, that could spell OCTOBER BASEBALL. Or could spell FISHING and HUNTING for our guys.I still think they are built for the the post-season. Just gotta get there, which is proving harder than playing in Fall baseball itself might be for this gritty, pitching solid team could prove itself to be.

bravehawkfalcon

August 23rd, 2009
8:42 pm

gotta get healthy to have a shot at the playoffs

Sonny Clusters

August 23rd, 2009
8:47 pm

Jeff, we was wondering if you could use some help moving to Dunwoody? We was always moving people when we was out of work before we caught on with the second shift. We could move you over there with no trouble at all and without breaking nothing. We was wondering if the sports department is going to have its own room anymore or will it be merging with somebody else like gardening? If the new offices is narrow like the new paper we could help you find some narrower stuff to move. Let us know what you think.

erik

August 23rd, 2009
8:51 pm

We need Matt Holliday and one more big bat!

Herschel Talker

August 23rd, 2009
9:02 pm

Schultzie – I’m loving the spunk in the Braves lately, but I’m thinking that Lowe is going to cost us big time. Two straight games he coughed up big leads early. This is Jo Jo Reyes/Chuck James style. They can’t afford to have this guy go to crap right now. What do you think?

Are you getting excited about the upcoming high holiday season? Tekiah!!! Shevarim!!! Teruah!!!

Michael

August 23rd, 2009
9:07 pm

It’s easy math right now. To win the wild card, the Braves have to gain a game on the Rockies every week for the rest of the season. I think there are five weeks left, so that would put Atlanta on top by a game. This assumes that nobody else in the wild card goes Phillies hot, but that’s a pretty good strategy. Shoot, gain a game four out of five weeks and you at least get a playoff.

As far as the division, forget that mess unless there’s a sweep of the last series with Philly. They’re just too good over the long haul to make up 6 or 7 games unless Atlanta pulls off one of those insane streaks.

tiger297

August 23rd, 2009
9:11 pm

It is interesting to see Colorado loading up with veterans that nobody else wants for the roster expansion…is that a better gamble than pulling up kids from triple A? Also unless the Rockies fall of the map I think the wildcard will take 93 wins…that is where the Rockies will be if they go 23-15 (.56) the rest of the way which based on their schedule is almost easy to do

Jeff Schultz

August 23rd, 2009
9:39 pm

Sonny — I’m sure if you phone Julia, she’d love for you to help pack boxes.

Herschel — High Holidays coming up. D.Lowe needs to atone for last 2 starts.

Nativebird

August 23rd, 2009
9:48 pm

We need Chipper now more than at any time this season, but it doesn’t appear its coming. The elephant in the room, i.e. The question everyone is painfully yet transparently trying to avoid (and somebody, oh maybe a sports JOURNALIST with some stones should really ask) is “Is Chipper just having a bad year, or, is this finally the “beginning of the end” for the 37 year old everyday player with all the bad toes and strained oblique’s? The lack of HR’s was surely just chalked up to age, but we could always rely on the Average and RBI right? Now Mr. Wren finds himself surely avoiding this question.
Because the GM who clearly showed his strategy of Waiting-till-next-year with the (painfully Vanilla) LaRoche trade at the deadline, forget to tell the actual players on his squad! Now he has a team scrapping like Heck to make this post-season, missing THE one ingredient the GM THOUGHT he had…Mighty Chipper at the Bat. Taint happenin.

JO

August 23rd, 2009
9:52 pm

Unfortunately, the way the Phils and Rocks are playing, the Braves need to wine about 90% of the rest of their games to have any chance. Maybe 90 wins total…may not be enough for even the wildcard. But hey! I will take just missing the playoffs knowing that we will rock next year to fading back to last years’ team.

Sonny Clusters

August 23rd, 2009
10:01 pm

We saw Julia and Mike last night and we was hoping to maybe catch on with the new paper at moving time. We was thinking maybe me and you could ride in together. That way, we could give you some questions to ask at the ballpark and it wouldn’t be so hard and all with writing all the blogs, too. When we was playing ball together sometimes we would interview Jeff after a big game and write it up for the school paper so we’ve got some credentials. When we was playing ball together we was almost inseperable unless we wrote something Jeff didn’t like. That’s why we understand you not wanting to ask Chipper about the deerskin glove. The glove may not be the only one that’s a little tender.

Navigator

August 23rd, 2009
10:08 pm

Chipper’s career is on a downward spiral and he’s the highest paid player on the team, man did management blow it again. Shades of Andruw Jones repeating history, coming off a big year with a big contract and fading for the rest of the contract period. Something should have been obvious to the top guys from last year. He hit over .340 and had less than 100 rbi’s, which means a lot of those hits were when men weren’t on base in front of him. We know he never hit well in the world series (and mostly not during the playoffs either). I wonder if the Braves could trade him before next year to a team that’s one player away from being a good team, like Minnesota or Cleveland, and maybe unload some of his contract as well. It should be obvious now that the Braves have a couple of players that can fill in for Chipper and hit for a higher average, and probably play better defense.

Paul

August 23rd, 2009
10:15 pm

Pretty stoked about having Lowe for the next two years @ 20 mil.
Medlin deserves some recognition; kid has come around.
Greg Norton must be real close with Bobby Cox – the commitment to this guy is amazing.
We left eleven on base today….

Reid in EAV

August 23rd, 2009
10:16 pm

OK, Schultz, you cracked me up with the High Holidays riff. To what address shall I send my basket o’ sweetness? (And is the Sept. stretch drive the reason we’ve seen so few top-notch Jewish ballplayers, Hank Greenberg notwithstanding? And even he refused to play ball on Yom Kippur, I must add…)

toh3llwithgeorgia

August 23rd, 2009
10:17 pm

Hey Navigator shut the hell up, Chipper is the man.

PMC

August 23rd, 2009
10:27 pm

Now the team has guys like Ryan Church, McCann, Matt Diaz… that play HARD. Chipper is older but he’s still got great focus. While that isn’t normally Laroche’s forte… guys got decent pop isn’t an easy out this time of year and he plays a good first base.

If they didn’t have Lowe they wouldn’t have a chance this year, if they didn’t overpay Lowe… he wouldn’t be here. At least he’s pitching. Slumps happen, he’ll come out of it, and he’s not just making 50 million while “rehabing his sore pectorals…”

Still love what Frank Wren has done so far.

richbrave

August 23rd, 2009
10:35 pm

I think missing a start would be beneficial for LOWE. He’s just older. I think he needs a break. Let MEDLIN have a start in his place, and later in the season HUDSON if he’s ready.

BTW JEFF, we buried the BRAVES in late-June, but these zombies just keep rising from the grave. Maybe they should adopt that nick-name this season. They just won’t be stopped.

richbrave

August 23rd, 2009
10:36 pm

Looks like teams will start pitching to CHIPPER again with BRIAN back on the tom-o-hawk trail.

I got Questions

August 23rd, 2009
10:44 pm

Is there a stat in baseball on the average number of pitches a batter takes per at bat? Maybe a player like Kelly Johnson has more value than most of us give him credit for. In today’s stats versus the Marlins, Johnson had 29 pitches thown him. McCann had 16 pitches. Making a pitcher go deep into the count shortens the time a pitcher will be in the game.
Also — could you ask some of the Braves if fouling off pitches a skill that they work on in batting practice. Does Kelly Johnson work on this or is it just something that happens?

BravesFan79

August 23rd, 2009
10:46 pm

GG…. 2 bad Colorado didnt loose. We gotta go on a winning streak while Colorado has this tough schedule coming up.

How about SMOLTZ!! wheres all the idiots that said he was “washed up”!?? I told everyone on here he wasnt done, and i was right! 9k, 5in, 0 runs. Look for Smoltz to be an important piece of the Cardinals run to the World Series!

Tmmeh

August 23rd, 2009
10:55 pm

“We’ve had a few other teams where guys showed up every day”

Was that a shot at Jeff Francour? Cause up until last year, Jeff had the longest active streak for consecutive games played.