Amid all of the angst of the Braves’ collapse (10-18), the injured starters (Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson), the slumping hitters (Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, Brian McCann) and the overused bullpen, guess what? The Braves can actually clinch the wild card tonight.
OK, for that to happen, the Braves need to hit a long-odds parlay: 1) The maligned starter, Derek Lowe, needs a strong outing to defeat the Phillies at Turner Field; 2) The St. Louis Cardinals need to lose for a second straight game in Houston. Those two developments would give the Braves the National League wild card spot for the second straight year, and render Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Philadelphia meaningless.
Few expected the Cards to lose to the Astros Monday night. It happened (5-4 in 10 innings). But the Braves’ postseason chances mostly hinge on Lowe. If he and the Braves win tonight, at worst the magic number is down to one, with Tim Hudson on the mound Wednesday against Joe Blanton (advantage: Braves).
What the Braves need is the Lowe of Sept. 2010, not 2011. Last season, he went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA (29 strikeouts, three walks) in his final five regular season starts. But this has been the worst season of his career. He’s 9-16 with a 4.92 ERA. He’s 0-4 in his last four starts with an 8.24 ERA (though his last start at Florida was solid).
The other obvious issue for the Braves is a lack of offense. They lost 4-2 on Monday, have scored two or fewer runs in four of their last five games and three or fewer in six of their last 10. They’re also hitting only .239 in the month of September and .181 (32-for-177) with with runners in scoring position this month.
They’ll need to break out of that against the Phillies’ Roy Oswalt, who has been strong in two starts against the Braves this season (1-0, 2.08 in two starts) but in his career is only 1-3 with a 5.15 ERA.
As you prepare to scoreboard watch, your second favorite team, the Astros, will start Henry Sosa (3-5, 4.68) against the Cardinals’ Jake Westbrook (12-9, 4.48).
And with that, I turn it over to you. We wait to see what Lowe gives us.
By Jeff Schultz