The Braves are still hangin’, but Howard’s still hammerin’

Having spent my adult life being wrong about everything, I try not to be wrong in haste. When I err, I want to take my sweet time about it. And ordinarily I’m ultra-conservative when it comes to declaring a game beyond reach or a team out of the playoff chase, which is why I’m even more chagrined than usual.

Nine days ago the Braves were nine games back in the division race and 8 1/2 in arrears in the wild card derby. Over, I said, and  it didn’t seem a difficult call. Too far to go, not enough time to get there. Infamous last words.

The Braves reported for duty Friday still a distant 7 1/2 games behind the division-leading Phillies, but that’s no longer the issue. By winning every game since Sept. 9, the Braves closed within 4 1/2 games of Colorado, which heads the wild card standings. They passed Florida and were but one game behind San Francisco.

“We’re still hangin’, man,” said Bobby Cox, the hipster skipper. Then this: “Anything can happen. All those years we were leading, we’d be up by seven games and I’d never feel comfortable.”

Fifteen games remain, but the improbable postseason drive absorbed a body blow Friday night. Ryan Howard, who hits two home runs every time he plays the Braves, hit two more home runs. The Phillies won 9-4. And the Braves’ playoff chances, which ESPN assessed before Friday’s game at 7.4 percent, dwindled to … I don’t know … 6.3 percent, maybe?

Nine days ago, there didn’t seem any disappointment left in this strange season. Then, for no apparent reason, enough elements coalesced to make the Braves look the part of a contender. They won seven in a row and we — well, some of us — started wondering: Will they? Could they? And for psychic fuel, the Braves had only to look back two seasons at the teams they’re chasing.

On Sept. 12, 2007, the Phillies trailed the Mets by seven games with 17 to play. On Sept. 15, 2007, the Rockies were 76-72 with 14 games remaining. Those teams met in the NLDS series. Colorado wound up in the World Series.

For the Phils, 2007 was the long-deferred flip side to the biggest collapse in the sport’s history. On Sept. 21, 1964, Philly led the National League by 6 1/2 games with 12 to play. That night Cincinnati’s Chico Ruiz stole home in a game the Phils would lose 1-0. They lost the next nine as well. They finished one game behind St. Louis.

Moral of our story (and I’m preaching to myself here, too): This is baseball, where weird stuff happens. You wouldn’t think a team that was 71-68 on Sept. 9 would have much cause to see itself as playoff-worthy, but a 71-68 team gets unaccountably hot at the last possible moment. Which brought us to the Braves.

Do the Braves have a realistic postseason chance?

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“Our chances didn’t look good,” Chipper Jones said Friday, speaking before the game of that lost series to Cincinnati over Labor Day weekend. “You looked at the schedule we had ahead [three games in Houston, three more at division-leading St. Louis] and it didn’t look good. But we got through that.”

Of the Braves’ final 15 games, 10 will come against teams with losing records. Of Colorado’s final 15 games, nine are against sub-.500 teams. Contrary to premature pronouncements, it’s still possible. Not probable, but …

Said Cox: “Right now, we’re night to night.”

Friday night was a bad night. It was so bad Cox benched Yunel Escobar for not running out a grounder, so bad the Braves still couldn’t figure a way to pitch around Howard. At this late date, the Braves can afford maybe two more bad nights before it is, once and for all, well and truly over.

Escobar update: Cox indeed pulled the shortstop for not hustling after grounding to Chase Utley with two men on and two out in the first. (Indeed, Utley’s throw pulled Howard off the bag.) “A lapse,” Cox said.

And then, asked how a player could fail to run hard in a game of such importance: “He just has lapses. I think he forgets.”

And why did Cox wait an inning to pull Escobar? “I didn’t want to put anybody in cold, without having a chance to run in the tunnel.”

And now, here’s Cox on Howard: “[Tim Hudson] made two mistakes. The first was a split, and the second was a 3-2 curveball. We know what we’re doing with [Howard]. We just make mistakes.”

Why not walk him? “When?” Cox said. “With two men on?”

With the game on the line, it was suggested.  Cox again: “He’s hit us. We just make mistakes against him.”

277 comments Add your comment

beavis

September 18th, 2009
5:59 pm

define “realistic”

chemdawg

September 18th, 2009
6:02 pm

It’s about a 1 in 20 shot at best.

Panties in a wad

September 18th, 2009
6:04 pm

Like most I was ready to check out of this season, but now……

At least they’re making it interesting enough to watch on TV. Still not going to anymore games though but will root like heck from the couch.

Panties in a wad

September 18th, 2009
6:06 pm

Ya know….You look pretty smug in that header pic Mark. You know something we don’t?

Sonny Clusters

September 18th, 2009
6:13 pm

Bobby says the Braves are night to night and Chipper is day to day. We was noticing they’ve been winning while he’s out.

Bob in SF

September 18th, 2009
6:13 pm

They’ve played their worst vs. bad teams in the second half. See the sweep they took on the chin from the Reds. It’s over. It was over when KJ, Frenchy, and Schafer were allowed to make out after unproductive out in the first half of the season to start the team 30-40. It was over when Cox insisted on losing winnable games by constantly running poor Gonzo and Soriano out day after day and then sitting on the bench with a baffled look as they blew save after save.

Panties in a wad

September 18th, 2009
6:16 pm

One other thing..

Wren needs to take lessons from Dimitroff. When there is a OBVIOUS hole TD immediately addresses it. Wren waits weeks, hell, months too long to fix it. Instead of relying on untested rookies and overrated washouts Wren should have at least attemptedsomething back in late May/early June. Mow the club’s paying the price.

DAVEinNEPA

September 18th, 2009
6:22 pm

Enter your comments here

Old baseball axiom: You’re never really as good as you look when you’re on a hot streak and never really as bad as you look when you’re on a losing streak!

The hot streak makes us look good right now but we’re really not. I’s too little, and much too late.

mike jay

September 18th, 2009
6:29 pm

They are just good enough to break your heart. Of course I am a hopeless romantic so I will keep watching.

Alex

September 18th, 2009
6:30 pm

Hey DOB, any initial thoughts on off-seasons moves?

Innocent Bystander

September 18th, 2009
6:36 pm

It looks like the fancy baseball statistics show us at about 1 in 10 odds of making the playoffs. I’ll agree.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/statistics/ps_oddspec.php

Gravy Train

September 18th, 2009
6:45 pm

Mark, does it smell like burnt bugs down in Atlanta? I heard the smell originated from the airport last night and gradually worked its way up to North Avenue. Any truth to the rumors?

Oh yeah, GO BRAVES. If the Rockies can make a miracle run, then so can you!

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
6:48 pm

One in 10 is a heck of a lot better odds than I’d have given this team a week ago.

mudcat

September 18th, 2009
7:01 pm

Getting swept by the Reds this month and losing two of three to the Padres last month (both series at home), those games will make the difference I’m afraid. If we sweep the Fills this weekend, THEN I like our chances. Actually Mark, we’ve noticed that you’re getting a lot smarter over the years. And we appreciate it!

Mitch C

September 18th, 2009
7:02 pm

Mark, as nice as it would be for the Braves to sneak into the playoffs, I hate to say that I think they’re going to run out of time. If they had.. 25 to 30 games left, then I’d say we have a real shot. As I’m doing the math, if Colorado goes only 8 and 8 in their last sixteen, the Braves have to go 13 and 3. While we do have ten games left with weak sisters the Nationals and Mets, we also have three with Philly, and three with Florida. Those games will not be easy.

I think the Braves will merely have a nice run at the end of the season, and have something to build on for next year. If we had started this run two weeks earlier, and not done things like get beat up by the pathetic Pads and Reds and home, then yes, we would have a chance. The way I see it, too much ground to make up, too little time, sorry.

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
7:10 pm

I’m not getting smarter, Mudcat. Just older. Turned 54 this week.

Larry

September 18th, 2009
7:12 pm

Hey Mark, how’s the weather look? Doppler shows a front moving into south Atl around 7:45. Any evidence of that yet?

Reid Adair

September 18th, 2009
7:12 pm

A belated Happy Birthday to you, Mark.

As far as the Braves, this is a nice little streak they have going, but I still think it’s too little, too late.

Gravy Train

September 18th, 2009
7:13 pm

Be advised of possible road obstructions caused by deflated egos and shattered dreams. Drivers headed south on 85-75 should be on the look out approaching North Avenue.

Gravy Train

September 18th, 2009
7:17 pm

You’re only as old as you feel, Mark. Keep up the good fight!

Lowcountry Bulldawg

September 18th, 2009
7:19 pm

See Mets 2008… they have a chance.

Ted Striker

September 18th, 2009
7:20 pm

Hipster skipper. Now there’s something that’s never been said about Bobby Cox before. Happy belated birthday, Mark.

I know this chick that when she was young, she thought Happy Belated Birthday cards meant “have a VERY happy birthday.) And she wasn’t even blonde.

Jerry

September 18th, 2009
7:22 pm

54? A mere child. Me? 67. Harry Carey on KMOX.

But this is a lot of fun isn’t it? Odds don’t matter. This is why baseball is the greatest game ever. Think back over the season at all the “ups” & all the “downs”. And there are 6 months of this!

“God help me I love it so.”

Flint

September 18th, 2009
7:25 pm

Unfortunately, if recent past-history is any indicator… the next 16 games are by no means easy.

The Phillies are on a roll — and their pitching matches up favorably against ours in this series. The difference: their offense is much better. I think the Phillies take 2 of 3.

Braves come out of the series 5 1/2 out of the wildcard with 13 to play.

Then… we play supposedly subpar competition. And this worries me. For the most part this season, we’ve seen the Braves really step up their game against tough opponents… and get all lazy against seemingly inferior teams. We play the Mets, Nationals, and Marlins the rest of the season.

The Nationals always play us tough… and the Marlins are fighting for their playoff lives, too. Here are my predictions.

Phillies vs. Braves (Sept. 18-20)… Phillies take series 2-1.
Braves vs. Mets (Sept. 21-23)… Braves take series 2-1.
Braves vs. Nationals (Sept. 25-27)… Nationals take series 2-1.
Marlins vs. Braves (Sept. 28-30)… Marlins take series 2-1.
Nationals vs. Braves (Oct. 1-4)… Split series.

I see the Braves winning seven more games… against nine losses… final record of 85-77… and we finish 8 games out of the wildcard.

I hate sounding all doom and gloom… and really — I’m a HUGE Braves fan. But the team has proven only one thing to me this year: an ability to disappoint.

I would love nothing more than to be wrong… heck — It’d be great if the Braves could pull a Rockies maneuver from a couple years ago and sweep the rest of the season!

But I ain’t betting on it.

mudcat

September 18th, 2009
7:36 pm

Congratulations young man! I’m not saying how old I am, but I remember as a teenager my Dad, brother and I meeting George Kell and Ernie Harwell at old Briggs Stadium in 1961, just before a Detroit Tiger and Kansas City Athletics game. (The same year Norm Cash hit .361) and Al Kaline was in his youthful prime).

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
7:36 pm

And we’re under way. Rollins tops one to Chipper for the first out. Hudson pitching, as you probably know.

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
7:38 pm

Thanks for the kind wishes, folks.

Oh, and a weird play. Ben Francisco popped the ball five feet from home plate, but McCann lost it in the lights. Fell safely in the dirt (foul).

Then Francisco hit a homer on the next pitch. (Actually, he didn’t. Grounded to Escobar.)

richbrave

September 18th, 2009
7:39 pm

Enter your comments here. Just keep pluggin’ one game at a time. We’ll see in a week where we stand.

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:40 pm

Brilliant, Flint. I’ve never seen so many assumptions in one post.

BELIEVE!

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:41 pm

They keep pitching like this, 13-3 is doable.

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
7:42 pm

Hudson goes 1-2-3 in the first.

Weather’s OK at the moment. But storms are expected before the night’s over. This was a bad night for a 7:30 p.m. start. That half-hour could be big.

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:43 pm

It’s actually clear for the first time in a week here in Atlanta.

Flint

September 18th, 2009
7:43 pm

Ha! I’m sure I could do better… maybe next time I’ll assume scores. :-)

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
7:45 pm

You know what happens when you assume things, Flint.

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:45 pm

C’mon, let’s hit this punk.

Flint

September 18th, 2009
7:47 pm

Mark, yes… (secretly, I’m hoping my negative post is just the tonic this team needs! — straight out of your book.) :-D

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:47 pm

C’mon Mac. Pick him up!

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:50 pm

Two straight rips.

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
7:51 pm

Wind’s starting to blow some. Rain on the way, I fear.

Chipper and McCann with two-out singles. Escobar with a chance here.

kool$kat

September 18th, 2009
7:51 pm

Bob in SF – Cox keeps running “poor” Gonzo and Soriano out there because they are the best closers we got. Gonzo has failed to convert 7 save ops this season, Soriano 4. but previous to this yr Gonzo converted 44 of 49. Soriano has converted 24 of 38 and opponents are hitting .191 against him. Only other reliever with ERA under is Moylan, and he is 0 for 5 in save ops. O’Flaherty is 0 for 2 in save ops. Who do you want to close?

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:53 pm

kool$kat

September 18th, 2009
7:54 pm

oops Soriano converted 24 of 28 this season (not 38, sorry)

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:54 pm

Radar says not, Mark. Some stuff in Lower Alabama but looks like it’ll be a while before it gets to The Ted.

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
7:54 pm

Escobar grounds to second. Glenn Burns just said on the message board there’s a 40 percent chance of rain until midnight. Oddly enough, ESPN gives the Braves only a 7 percent chance of making the postseason.

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
7:56 pm

Thanks, Governor.

Ryan Howard up. He never hits against the Braves. Except home runs about two at a time.

Strikes out looking this trip, though.

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:56 pm

Siddown, Ryan.

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
7:59 pm

Huddy lookin’ sharp!

Flint

September 18th, 2009
7:59 pm

I’m going to assume we don’t see significant rain around the stadium until around midnight.

Hudson looks good!

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2009
8:00 pm

Hudson has three K’s through two innings. Not a bad bit of rehab, huh?

Gov Clinton Tyree

September 18th, 2009
8:00 pm

ESPN says 7%, huh? Well, no need to play the games, then…