This Braves’ September isn’t anything like the last one

Jason Heyward scored in a two-run third when Braves jumped ahead 2-0, and they never looked back. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Jason Heyward scored in a two-run third when Braves jumped ahead 2-0, and they never looked back. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(UPDATED: 2 p.m., Monday)

Something became apparent about the Braves after they won their first two games against the Washington Nationals, and it wasn’t just the revelation: “Wait, they just won back-to-back games over the best team in baseball on a throwing error and a hit batter? Is this the baseball gods making up for Kenshin Kawakami?”

If you walked through the clubhouse, in the dugout or on the field for batting practice Sunday, a feeling of relative serenity for a stretch drive in September was obvious.

Nobody was stressed. Nobody seemed to be obsessing over first place  — or, more importantly, not first place. Nobody was thinking about injuries or losing streaks or .200 batting averages or the recent ugliness of a wrong-way series in Milwaukee.

“Somebody said yesterday we have a magic number or something,” Eric Hinske said Sunday. “Really? Who cares?”

He said that. It’s clear they’re all thinking that way.

The Braves swept a three-game series from Washington, then left town to open a three-game series in Miami Monday night. The odds remain against them moving up or down in the playoff race, but the accomplishment of this past week led to some impressive numbers and, dare we suggest, a trace of optimism about October.

The series sweep gave the Braves nearly as many wins over the Nationals in 72 hours as they had in the season’s previous 15 meetings (5-10). They also went into the Miami game with a 10-5 record in September, which means they’ve already exceeded the win total for September last year (9-18).

“Everybody is asking me: Am I going to say something? Am I going to call a meeting?” said Chipper Jones, who singled in the team’s first run in the third inning and scored the final one in a three-run seventh. “If  I thought there was any sort of panic or whatnot, I would say something. I just think these guys don’t need an overbearing 40-year-old father to talk to them right now. Let’s just strap it up and play the best baseball we can.”

The Braves were 8½ games out of first place in the National League East before the Washington series.  They were 5½ out after. Temper the excitement. That means even if the Nationals only split their final 16 games, the Braves would need to go 13-2 just to tie them and force a one-game playoff.

Possible. But not likely. Then again, before the Braves circled the drain last season and blew their wild card lead, we were saying: Possible. But not likely.

Regardless, what the Braves just did is significant. They’re finally giving a sense that they’re prepared for the stretch run and the playoffs. That the team returned home after getting swept by Milwaukee and didn’t devolve into full meltdown mode against the Nationals is significant, especially given how it reacted in similar circumstances a year ago.

“I know everybody has a bad taste in their mouth whenever we don’t play well for a two- or three-game span,” Jones said. “They start getting all antsy. But we learned a lot from that experience [in 2011] and I think it’s going to be a good thing ultimately that we went through it. When we win something, we’re going to be able to look back and see the silver lining. Nobnody wants to experience that again. People are using that as motivation.”

Dan Uggla, who came through with a clutch two-run single in the seventh inning after popping up on a 3-0 count with two runners on base an inning earlier, said: “You could cut the stress level with a knife in here last year. There’s a lot of things that have happened that enabled us to get to the point we’re at now, whether it was experiencing what we did last year or having everybody healthy right now, except for [Brian McCann]. I think everybody is just more at ease. I think having gone through what we went through last year helps. We kind of joke about it. It’s just a very different situation, and what we’ve done in September shows that.”

Ultimately, the Washington series may not impact the division race. But the foreshadowing for October suddenly isn’t so ominous.

By Jeff Schultz

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78 comments Add your comment

Bill

September 16th, 2012
11:19 pm

Thanks Jeff..

BigBobbles

September 16th, 2012
11:27 pm

Great Sweep!!! And thanks for you comments Jeff and JSS and Sonny. You guys have made me enjoy the season from long distance, (as a former season ticket holder living in Atlanta)!

Rex

September 16th, 2012
11:28 pm

Second!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rex

September 16th, 2012
11:28 pm

Or 3rd!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rex

September 16th, 2012
11:30 pm

Great series by Atlanta. Timely hitting, solid defense (except for 2nd inning Saturday), and excellent pitching.

Nationals face 16 games in a row against teams within 3.5 games of Wildcard. Will be interesting to see how they respond. Braves were 4.5 up with 15 to go last year.

Thomas Brown

September 16th, 2012
11:49 pm

With the win, the Atlanta Braves are still the # 8 baseball team 2012.

Georgie tek, recipients of 3 consecutive blogs by Jeff Schultz, remains an unranked team while The Georgia Bulldogs passed Oklahoma in the rankings and Southern California when Matt Barkley threw 2 interceptions losing to Stanford to put UGA # 5 in the nation.

Our next 2 opponents are both unranked, like Georgie tek, with Vandie then the vols coming up. Vandie had not won a game all season then beat Presbyterian college last weekend, whom Georgie tek beat earlier this season by a similar score.

8th best baseball team 2012, Atlanta Braves, still do not have a marquee player and have no since Ted Turner quit the team and moved to Montana. We don’t have any money; just play with what you got, our owners told us ever since.

SUSPENDED PLAYERS, we only have 3 for the Vandie game, and then will be down for the vols game only Kolton Houston, whom the NCAA suspended.

We started slowing for the South Atlantic Florida game Saturday, amid all the sell-out disguised by empty seats and witnessed for the 2nd time in as many games our own fans booing our own team, again.

That must really burn those who actually think Oklahoma did something wrong, or we so much better this 2012 season to-date to move us up ahead of Oklahoma in the AP Poll as they have only played 2 games to our 3 now.

Coaches’ Poll finds UGA still worse-ranked than Oklahoma.

Southern California dropped 11 places to # 13 in the AP Poll and 9 spots in the Coaches’ Poll to # 12.

Vandie cannot pass the football, nor stop the run – thus unranked while the vols cannot run the football nor stop the run as I pointed-out all week last week to you.

There are 6 SEC teams ranked.

ACC has 2 ranked football teams. Nice. No wonder you sold-out to Notre Dame to not allow them to join the ACC in Football – the sport they’re most relevant in.

Jeff Schultz

September 17th, 2012
12:05 am

Folks, column has been updated. Good stuff from Chipper after the game.

PhoenixFalcon

September 17th, 2012
12:07 am

@Thomas Brown

Get a life.

Thanks Jeff, Great read.

Ken Stallings

September 17th, 2012
12:18 am

Ther Braves are going to win the home field advantage Wild Card spot this season. As mathematically daunting as it is for the Braves to catch the Nats, that’s precisely what the Cards have to do to catch the Braves. As far as the Braves are concerned, just go out and have fun winning baseball games and let winning take care of the magic numbers.

ChipperisGod

September 17th, 2012
12:34 am

Wonderful game, and yes, this team seems far more resilient and poised than last year’s team. Pitching is better, BP is rested, attitude is different. The Braves made a huge statement tonight.

JRW7

September 17th, 2012
12:37 am

I thought this was a braves blog

Dawg Serving Overseas

September 17th, 2012
12:40 am

I was so happy to wake up this morning to see that the boys had swept the Nats….. If I’m the Nats – growing concern on what is happening with that club…. shutting down Strasburg may or may not have been a good idea….. when you shut down a catalyst it can effect everyone in the clubhouse….. that being said – I’m just glad the Braves keep playing Hotlanta ball! :) Go get em’!

P B Orr

September 17th, 2012
12:45 am

Well that was something like a playoff atmosphere. What a weekend so far. The combined Tech and Georgia score was more than halfway to 222.

Chop Chop

September 17th, 2012
12:53 am

The Nats ran their lead up to 8.5 after shutting Strasburg down. It took a sweep to bring it back to 5.5. Personally, I couldn’t give a damn what happens in the regular season as long as we’re in the playoffs. If we don’t win anything there, this season will be a total waste.

Larry W. Jones Jr.

September 17th, 2012
1:01 am

Thomas Brown, You are a idiot. This story is relevant to the Atlanta Braves, Your comment however is irrelevant. Sober up, get spell check and comment on correct stories.

Bob from Cobb

September 17th, 2012
1:20 am

Thomas Brown must have been educated at one of the WORST Government Schools in America!
Thomas. Get a life. Spell Check is your FRIEND! Learn how to use it or stay away from blogs. Your ignorance is showing!

double

September 17th, 2012
1:20 am

Larry Jones jr -Errors & Excuses and AMEN

bulldogbubba

September 17th, 2012
1:22 am

Just think if we had a healthy Brandon Beachy right now.Gives me goosebumps thinking about our potential. Beachy, Medlen,Hudson and Minor.Another wait til next year situation.

Joel

September 17th, 2012
1:23 am

Did anyone hear the loud group in right field giving werth hell?

Bravesfan54

September 17th, 2012
1:41 am

Jeff – let me add to all the things the players articulated, and the implications of their confidence – this was HUGE!. Assuming the Braves don’t lose all momentum, this was a tremendous confidence builder. Even assuming the Cardinals win the second wild-card, the Braves will not be intimidated by Cards’ ability to win-it-all as a late-blooming ‘wild card’. This just might be a team that puts it all together – just might be, just sayin’.

j

September 17th, 2012
2:38 am

Unfortunately, all of this success and talk of feeling better about this team can end in a single 1 game playoff if we have an off day. I hate this new format- baseball is not a sport where one game should determine the outcome of a season

Stinger2

September 17th, 2012
4:11 am

bulldogbubba: I read your post on the live blog asking where I was.
I was asleep and missed that blog and a great win by the Braves.
I see that Chipper drove in the first run and Uggla the go ahead run.
No bad for two players that have taken more than their share of
abuse from a lot of bloggers this year.

BobbyDawg

September 17th, 2012
5:25 am

Sweeping the Nats. is the best thing the Braves have done in a while. This is definitly the best time of year to get fired up and play their best. If it had been the other way and we lost all three games with the Nats. Mr. Shultz would have had to come up with a different title for this column. GO BRAVES !

DamYankee

September 17th, 2012
6:41 am

I’ll be amazed if this 1 game playoff crap happens again next year. Just another in a long list of incredibly stupid decisions made under the “leadership” of Pud Selig.

Longtimefan

September 17th, 2012
7:04 am

Once again the naysayers are conspicuously absent from the blog as the Braves sweep the best team in MLB and FG is looking like a legitimate candidate for manager of the year, FW executive if the year. FW has managed to cull together an impressive group of young players without simply signing every available star free agent, a la Yankees and Phillies. He has done it the shrewd way-largely the draft. Control the salaries of good young players and sprinkle in a few grizzled veterans. Braves are poised for another run. Where are all the FIRE FREDI and FW IS A MORON crowd.

playoff what playoff?

September 17th, 2012
7:06 am

Last year I was begging for a 2 team wildcard playoff game. This year I hate it.

Really?

September 17th, 2012
7:13 am

@Thomas Brown… see a specialist. There is a lot that can be done for people with ADHD including meds…. please take them. Something clearly is wrong.

Thomas Brown

September 17th, 2012
7:27 am

Because the Braves are the # 8 baseball team, or that UGA is not the # 5 football team ?

I wish it was 1984 again

September 17th, 2012
7:31 am

Excited to sweep those nationals, however that play in wild card game still scares me. I would hate it for us to go all this way get into the “playoffs” (sorry I do not count that play in game as playoffs) and then lose and that play in game. Does anyone else feel that way, that would be so sad for Chipper to go out like that.

DaltonBrave

September 17th, 2012
7:50 am

Outstanding performances the entire series, Bravos. Just when I thought this team was getting flushed down the crapper, they sweep MLB’s hottest team. Keep up the good work fellas and let’s put a charge into the remaining 15 games.

jim

September 17th, 2012
7:52 am

Nats haven’t won 1st yet…They have 4 series against the Brewers, Dodgers, Cards, and Phillies – all are trying to get into the playoffs. Braves have a much softer remaining schedule with Marlins, Mets, and Phils.

BobDawg

September 17th, 2012
7:53 am

Just like the Cards did last year, I hope the Braves play to the final whistle….You never know what may happen… I don’t see the Nats going 8-8 the rest of the year and may be ready to mail it in….

[...] The Falcons host Manning and the Broncos on Monday Night Football. – The Braves swept the Nats and Jeff Schultz explains why this Braves team won’t collapse and miss the playoffs. – A Chipper Jones corn maze in [...]

Penicillan Penny Loafer

September 17th, 2012
8:13 am

1)A good team leader DOES have meetngs with his team.
2)Nobody but Braves players are joking around about last year’s collapse.
3)Gimme another penicillan shot.

NO O

September 17th, 2012
8:15 am

I’m tired of this teams lack of ability to score especially when you have runners on second and third and no outs. They are a one base at a time team and that won’t get you far in the playoffs

Dump Hanson & Jurrjens

September 17th, 2012
8:30 am

Now if the team will just dump Hanson and outright release Jurrjens, I will be happy – both of them are worthless!

Billy Mumphries

September 17th, 2012
8:31 am

Even assuming the Cardinals win the second wild-card, the Braves will not be intimidated by Cards’ ability to win-it-all as a late-blooming ‘wild card’

A 1 game playoff is a crap shoot. Funny how we’re printing WS tickets again. Last week were firing people and shipping off Bourne and others.

Tick Off A Bloodhound

September 17th, 2012
8:34 am

Braves got lucky that Medlen become unhittable. He would be in AAA if Beachy hadn’t got hurt & Delgado hadn’t struggled. Everything the Braves do is unplanned off the cuff stuff. Every Braves hitter needs to look in the mirror and hold himself accountable to the team. Go at least 1 for 4 every game or apologize for your failure.

Francona on ESPN last night : “Hinske’s the kinda guy you want if you have a brawl”. That’s all he’s good for. He can’t hit.

Bear House

September 17th, 2012
8:34 am

The Braves have the 5th best record in the majors. Better than the Yankees who are in first place. What is Thomas Brown talking about?

PMC

September 17th, 2012
9:00 am

Fun weekend, great fun inside the stadium. too bad parking and getting to the games is still a brutally unpleasant experience.

Dawg Fud

September 17th, 2012
9:06 am

Thomas Brown,

You define the word “dork.” Get lost, dude.

Sonny Clusters

September 17th, 2012
9:06 am

Once you put on those Braves pajamas . . . it’s easy to drift off to sleep. :-)

I hate Georgia

September 17th, 2012
9:08 am

Yes, I hate the Bulldogs. I jumped off the bandwagon in the 90s b/c their overbeaing fans act like this. Only this paper goes nuts over beating a high school team such as this. How in the world the Braves are the “#8 baseball team” makes no sense when they’re #5 in baseball, no. 1 wildcard.

Speaking of Georgia, you beat Alabama, this hater will hush.

BraveFan

September 17th, 2012
9:15 am

@Thomas Brown

You are incoherent and pointless. We don’t get your post. Go Braves and Dawgs but you confuse us with whatever you tried to say there.

oh brother!

September 17th, 2012
9:18 am

Thomas Brown – hooked on phonics? I can help!

Don

September 17th, 2012
9:50 am

It is difficult to believe that the Braves gave Uggla that kind of contract and are now stuck with that contract taking up a significant part of their salary budget for what – two or three more years – for that kind of player – unbelievable.

archie

September 17th, 2012
9:55 am

Why is a quote from Eric Hinske even in this story? He has not been relevant all year. He has no business on a big league roster. Why not interview the clubhouse laundry kids? They have more to do with the Braves success than Hinske.

As for Uggla, I think it’s great that he gets an important hit every month or so. But let’s face it. He’s been a huge, massive failure, on offense and defense. Yes, they’ll make it to a one game playoff, and keep your fingers crossed that he won’t be at the plate in a crucial situation He has been all year, and has failed mightily. If the Braves had a 2nd baseman with range, who could hit .250, they’d be leading the Nats by five games.

And kudos to the previous poster on Medlen. There’s no genius maneuvering from Wren & Frediot here. Much like Bobby Cox kept Prado on the bench until Kelly Johnson got hurt, the dynamic duo only started Medlen when they were forced by injuries. Let’s call it what it is. The fans knew Medlen had the stuff, management did not.

Gene

September 17th, 2012
9:58 am

I thought that was a great crowd last night–90’s like, except for the dogs. I don’t like the prospect of the Cardinals, but I have my credit card ready. Minor, I take back everything I said about you.

BulldogBen

September 17th, 2012
9:59 am

The closer the Braves get to wrapping up a wild card spot, the more I am hating this new “One Game Playoff”. So terrible.

sheepdawg

September 17th, 2012
10:24 am

@ thomas brown- ?, take another hit dude

Braves will be one and done in the “playoff” with St. Louis if we can’t catch DC