The Braves: It’s still over, but maybe not quite done with

If not for the Reds, the Braves would have a realistic shot. (AJC photo by Elissa Eubanks)

If not for the Reds, the Braves would have a real shot. (AJC photo by Elissa Eubanks)

I said it was over last week, and I meant it then and mean it still. With 19 games to go, the Braves are 7 1/2 games behind Philadelphia in the NL East and 6 1/2 behind wild card leader Colorado. They’d have to go 15-4 to finish 90-72, and 90 wins is often the cut-off point for playoff admittance in the National League. I don’t think they can go 15-4.

But I didn’t think they’d sweep the Cardinals in St. Louis, either.

Go back to the standings. There’s only a game’s difference between the Braves’ deficit in the division and in the wild card standings, but that one game could still be significant. They now figure to have a better chance — still not to say a good chance — in the East. The Braves  have three games left with the Phillies, who are having bullpen problems like you wouldn’t believe. (Remember Jeff Bennett? Now think how it would be were Jeff Bennett your closer.)

Were the Braves within 6 1/2 of the Phils, as opposed to the Rockies, you’d think, “Sweep them here over the weekend and you could get within three games or so of first place with two weeks left. And that could be interesting.”

But the Braves need to have two series left against Philly, not just the scheduled one. And the race in which they have less far to climb is the one in which they have three clubs over which to clamber, and the Braves don’t play either the Giants or the Rockies.

The schedule otherwise is most kind. Of the 19 remaining games, 13 are against the Mets and the Nationals. Put another way, the Braves could reach 88 victories just by beating teams they should beat. But not beating teams they should beat is why the Braves are where they are. They were swept by the sub.-500 Reds at a time when they needed to sweep the Reds.

At this late date, even taking three from St. Louis couldn’t undo thedamage inflicted by Cincy. That unaccountable series turned a semi-realistic chance into something requiring a Flutie-to-Phelan bolt of lightning. And Hail Marys, the realist in me feels compelled to note, tend to arrive in a different sport.

111 comments Add your comment

Rick

September 14th, 2009
7:02 am

I’ll say it again, the Braves-if they don’t make it- lost it in the first half, not the second.

gerald perry's yoga routine

September 14th, 2009
7:02 am

The Bravos were poised to make a run…and something happened in Game 3 of the Marlins series before the Reds. The wheels came off.

Ostrich Racer

September 14th, 2009
7:09 am

I am ever hopeful, but — it’s going to take a lot of help from out west. Sadly, I see Colorado closing it down this week.

Average Joe

September 14th, 2009
7:11 am

The Braves have always defied logic. Who would have thought they’d get swept by the Reds at the Ted and then sweep St. Louis IN St. Louis the very next week?? Think what might have been if Bobby hadn’t pulled Hanson in Houston and let Soriano blow it? We’d have now won 6 straight games, not just 4. At this point, 2 games is everything!! That game in Houston may end up being the back-breaker (not that getting swept by Cincy wasn’t a contributing factor). This is a strange team capable of strange things….

Stay tuned…

Wait for Norton…

He’ll be up in a minute, right?

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 14th, 2009
7:12 am

Cincy series was the final nail, specifically Gonzo’s gopher ball in the 8th during the extra innings game on sunday.

Off season will be so interesting. Trade Vasquez? Sign Hudson long term?

Find an every day 2nd baseman? First base too? Power hitting left fielder to hit clean-up?

Can Wren convince Escobar the highlights steal from his swagger?

Chris

September 14th, 2009
7:17 am

I’ve been in off-season mode for a couple of weeks. It’s much less stressful.

F-105 Thunderchief

September 14th, 2009
7:19 am

I can’t be disappointed about this season, because what they’ve done is the best I expected. Wren rebuilt the starting pitching, now he’s got to strengthen the offense. I’m a huge fan, but I do hope Bobby Cox will retire after this season.

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 14th, 2009
7:22 am

There’s a little Norton in all of us.

It’s that part of us that appears in dreams where we are speaking in public only to relize that we’re naked.

Frank, please bannish Norton back to the sewer.

NCBravesFan

September 14th, 2009
7:32 am

I had a glimmer of hope after the Braves closed out the Cards yesterday, and then the Philly sweep of NY reminded me how daunting a task it really is. Cox should just play the hot hand at each position from here on out, no matter who it is, and see what happens.

I gotta give props to Frank Wren on two fronts. First, he’s really made some great acquisitions in the past year to make the Braves competitive again. Second, he knew this year was not the year to make a Teixeria-type acquisition and go for it all.

He’s been oft-villified, but I would hope fans have come to appreciate his long-term strategy.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

September 14th, 2009
7:51 am

Braves run is like Grandma getting a sports bra…….Too little, too late.

Joe Fan

September 14th, 2009
7:52 am

Wait till next year…Then what? If the offseason proves profitable then there is a realistic chance the Braves will contend in 2010. Lets hope Heyward is ready and the Braves don’t let him languish in the minors until June and the Braves add another bat or two plus tweak the bullpen add a new manager and the puzzle may be complete.

Ostrich Racer

September 14th, 2009
7:53 am

Chef — “There’s a little Norton in all of us.” Great line.

(”Norton — I’ve been watching you, Norton….”

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2009
7:53 am

All hail Bank Walker, archduke of analogies!

The Fat Lady

September 14th, 2009
7:54 am

I’m singing.

Innocent Bystander

September 14th, 2009
7:55 am

I’ve been in off-season mode for a couple of weeks. It’s much less stressful.

I believe that’s called “college football season” mode.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

September 14th, 2009
7:58 am

Thank you, couldn’t decide between Grandma or Dolly P.

JAG

September 14th, 2009
8:01 am

After Cincy weekend, I also went into “off-season mode” as Chris stated. Love the Braves, and I really thought they were going to be there until the end, but just couldn’t continue to watch.

Mike

September 14th, 2009
8:03 am

We need either speed or reliable power from the outfield. We have neither.

MiltonDawg

September 14th, 2009
8:06 am

Wait MB, did you say we have some games left against the Nats? Well given this year, we should lose the series since we play down to the level of competition. We’ll sweep the Phils but lose 4 of 6 to the Mets/Nats. After yesterday’s performance- KEEP VASQUEZ!!!!

Buzz Capra

September 14th, 2009
8:07 am

I found myself pulling for Pedro to finish the 8th last night in the Phillies/Mets game. I hate the Mets, am not that found of the Phils –but I should have been pulling for the Mets to score a couple of runs late. I suppose I’ve conceded the division at this point.

lefty fielder

September 14th, 2009
8:09 am

Sad to think Chipper is actually old enough to retire, but his retirement along with that of Pick-6 might be the spark the 2010 Braves need.

Tami

September 14th, 2009
8:13 am

Still….the Braves are likely playing for pride. And, in the midst of all of the games left down the stretch, they are going to make it mighty hard and semi-dramatic for the other teams still in the hunt. I like that despite their underachieving, they refuse to lay down to their remaining opponents. Remember where they were this time last season? So much worse than where they are now. I see improvements made over last season, and I see development of the “kids” on the team. They may very well be an extremely competitive team next season. The NL East won’t be able to ignore this team, assuming that the core of the present team is still intact next season.

And…you never know. The Braves aren’t mathematically eliminated…..yet. They could still end up being the surprise/shock team of this season to make it into the playoffs. Yes…it seems like a long shot. But if the teams ahead of them allow themselves to relax just a bit, the Braves could sneak up from behind.

NCBravesFan

September 14th, 2009
8:15 am

Yes, Bank summed up the gravity of the Braves’ sagging fortunes nicely.

Braves WIN, Braves, WIN, Braves...NEVERMIND

September 14th, 2009
8:16 am

Hey Mets, thanks for NOTHING! Same old Frenchy, STRIKE THREE with RISP.

Supes

September 14th, 2009
8:21 am

Mark,

This is a 84-86 win team. Which is NOT a bad improvement over last year’s record, but not quite complete and consistant enough to go 90+ wins and the playoffs. I fully expect the Braves to go to the 90+ win level next year b/c I believe Frank Wren will improve the team in their position of need just like he fixed the starting pitching issues from last year.

Problem is, when you look at how good our starting pitching has been, fans are left with an empty feeling of why aren’t we in the playoff hunt? Answer is, mismanagement by Cox on a lot of fronts, and inconsistant hitting from some players who normally carry the Braves for extensive stretches of time (Chipper and Mac).

Nativebird

September 14th, 2009
8:26 am

Braves? Are the Braves still playing?

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2009
8:31 am

Wouldn’t argue with any of that, Supes.

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2009
8:31 am

OK, OK! Enough!

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2009
8:32 am

It’s pretty hard to lose to the Mets. Which is rather amazin’, if you get my drift.

Ed-Covington

September 14th, 2009
8:32 am

Hey; just thank God we’re not Mets fans!
As much as I admire Wren and the moves he has made, these past few weeks have shown how critical those first games of the season were when we had JS in center, JF in right and KJ at second. If we could have won 4-5 more games the first month things would really be interesting now. Wren corrected those issues, but too late. I trust him to acquire more offense in the off-season with the excess pitching they have available to trade.
I just hope that Chipper and McCann don’t become liabilities (Frenchies)next year as they have been the past few weeks.
Need to sign LaRoche and get a LF. Though GA has surprised me with his productivity this year, I think he is better suited as a DH in the AL.

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2009
8:34 am

And I second that as well, Ed.

Chop It Up All-Stars

September 14th, 2009
8:42 am

I think the Braves are simply playing with less pressure now. After that dreadful two series stretch with the Marlins and Reds, and the playoff aspirations now slim, I think everybody just simply exhaled and started to enjoy the “game” of baseball again. As a result, they’re winning!!

So shsssh, if no one tells them that there is still a shot, maybe, just maybe they’ll win the next few series and REALLY make this thing interesting.

JEZ

September 14th, 2009
8:42 am

Yea we got to have some big boppers in the mix for next year. Heyward is a freak, but who knows when we will see him, and we don’t need to rush him because he’s certainly our future! I feel bad for Wren because of the decision he will have to make about Vazquez and Hudson unless he is somehow able to deal one of the other’s (Lowe or KK) Vazquez has just been a phenom this year, and I don’t know if it will be the same next year, but his value continues to sky rocket!

Matthew

September 14th, 2009
8:43 am

Rick:

If you’re right, then things look bright for next season. The team we have the 2nd half is a lot different than the team we began with.

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2009
8:45 am

One big hitter would make … well, a pretty big difference.

JEZ

September 14th, 2009
8:46 am

At the same time I hate to lose Huddy because we know what he can do when healthy. But we have to have #6 gracefully bow out, and some more depth in the bullpen in order to make a run this year. It would also be nice to somehow get a lefty in the rotation…though I will never watch the braves again if they even ponder the thought of putting JOJO in there.

Lou

September 14th, 2009
8:48 am

This is a team with maybe the BEST starting rotation in the National League and the bullpen ain’t bad either. Moylan was great in St Louis. What we lacked all season was one big power hitter. We got LaRoche back a little too late. I think if we don’t make the playoffs (it is possible still,look at the Mets collapses) we have the opportunity to trade a starting pitcher in the off season for a big bat in the free agency market or a straight up trade. With all teams looking for strong starting pitching we could land a significant player. Don’t discount it, but Carlos Beltran may not be back with the Mets next year and he is playing again. Put him in center flanked by Mclouth and Diaz and you have a good hitting outfield.

chemdawg

September 14th, 2009
8:49 am

Bradley, you are the most sensible sports journalist the AJC has.

rico43

September 14th, 2009
8:51 am

Mark: Where does Wren stand on things right now — is he happy with the improvement, frustrated that the moves he has made were not enough, irritated at all with Cox (like he’d say) and/or itching to get to the offseason to further retool the team.
Or none of the above. One thing about this season — it was a team that teased us, which has been a rare animal in Atlanta. Most of the time since I was old enough to care, it’s either been awful or excellent. Near-misses are one thing we are not used to.

bob horner

September 14th, 2009
8:55 am

Typical Bobby Cox team – lose the games you must win and then win the meaningless ones. I suppose that is the best explanation of his post-season strategy and the reason this team has but one title in 14 shots at October baseball.

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 14th, 2009
8:55 am

I think I’ll remember this season as the one where the Braves hired a left fielder who refused to run unless he was at the plate.

Oh and Norton.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

September 14th, 2009
8:58 am

Buzz, houw could you pull against your old team.

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 14th, 2009
8:59 am

Oh and the looks Jair flashed Garrett for his fielding prowess.

Loaf is a conceding doubles machine.

Sonny Clusters

September 14th, 2009
8:59 am

We was always considered a big hitter, Mark. We could hit for average, sure, but we could hit one out, too. When we was playing ball together nobody wanted to face us because they knew we was pure hitters on our team. The Braves could use some of us that was coachable and we could make a difference for ‘em when they’re needing a hit. Say, they’s runners on and it’s late and the pitcher’s coming up . . . Bobby don’t want to call Norton in for that. We can hear him saying, “Clusters, go out there and get those runners in.” And we’d do it. We was hoping Bobby’d call us “Clusters” because we don’t like pet names. We wouldn’t want to be called any of Bobby’s pet names.

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2009
9:02 am

Good point, Rico. We’re not to used to a Braves team falling just short.

And I haven’t talked to Frank in a while — I’ll get around to it, I promise — but I’m guessing he feels encouraged by the starting pitching and is looking forward to working on finding that big bopper over the winter. But that’s just me guessing.

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2009
9:02 am

Uh, not really. But thanks all the same.

Sonny Clusters

September 14th, 2009
9:04 am

Do sportswriters have any pet names for each other? We know about that beat writer calling Chipper, “Hoss” but we was wondering if sportswriters have pet names for each other. Say, ol’ Jeff . . . we was wondering about a pet name for him. We was thinking it’d probably be best if you didn’t have pet names for each other – just for the players. Coach used to say that “familiarity breeds contempt” and Coach was a pretty smart man for a cross dresser.

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2009
9:10 am

Darryl Ledbetter is D-Led. Steve Hummer is Humdog. Tom Stinson is Stinny or Stin Man or Thomas Stinksome. Ken Suguira is Gilbert. (That’s his real first name.) Carroll Rogers is Little Miss Fresca. (I just made that up. But she does drink Fresca.) O’Brien is occasionally Obie, though not often. Sekou Smith is sometimes ‘Kou to close friends. Matt Winkeljohn was Winks. I’m Brad to Stinny and to Bobby Cox but to nobody else.

Sting 'em Buzz

September 14th, 2009
9:17 am

I will take a moment from saying that the Braves are a month late and a million short on competing in the division and wild card race to say…

Happy Birthday Mark!!!!!

Mike S

September 14th, 2009
9:21 am

The Braves are actually in good shape for next season as it stands. Just some tweaking will make this a top notch ball club.

Priorities I see :
1B – I would be perfectly happy to resign LaRoche, but either way they need a quality bat for a couple years until Freeman is ready.

OF – McClouth is set in CF, A healthy Shafer in left gives us speed, and Heyward in RF gives us power. Diaz as 4th outfielder or maybe a Big Bat LF in a trade involving a SP and/or Shafer.

2B – I like Prado, and KJ is ok at times, but the Braves really need to upgrade at this position. Maybe a full season of Prado is the upgrade, but I don’t feel that is the answer

3B – Need to have someone solid in case Chipper struggles, and for when he gets injured yet again. Infante is solid, but he is not an every day big bat 3B.

Bullpen – Not a horrible BP, but could be better.

SP – This is the toughy. Resign Hudson and trade Vasquez? Let Huddy go FA? Resign Huddy and pay someone to take Lowe? And then there is the enigma that is Kawakami.