The lead’s down to 3 1/2 games, and Nate McLouth had nothing to do with the most recent failure. The Braves were set to oppose Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday and wound up getting shut out by Miguel Batista and some Nat relievers. And now you’re asking: Is it time to panic?
And I’m saying: Nah.
Esteemed colleague Tim Tucker said something profound 20 years ago. (Tim says something profound pretty much every day, but this pearl of wisdom is particularly germane.) Quoth Tim: “When you think about it, it’s never time to panic.”
And that’s true. All panic brings is hyperventilation, and who needs that? Panic is what drove the Braves to trade for Len Barker in 1983 — they were desperate to see and raise the Dodgers’ acquisition of Rick Honeycutt — and we know how that worked out. The Braves wound up missing the playoffs and, owing to loss of Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby, hurt their team for years.
Here’s where we take a deep breath and say: This is baseball. Teams get hot and teams get cold. The Braves were fine as of last Thursday, when they completed a series victory over the first-place Padres. They’ve since lost three of four, two of the losses being walk-off jobs in Florida.
And the Brave can do nothing about the Phillies. (Who were, let’s recall, barely above .500 this time last week.) If Philly wins every game from here on, the Braves aren’t going to finish first. But nobody’s going to win them all. It’s baseball, remember.
What the Braves have to do: Keep playing the way that built them the lead. Keep stringing quality starts and good at-bats together. Keep grinding, as they say. They’re still 3 1/2 up (four in the loss column). They still have the biggest lead of any division front-runner save Texas.
If Frank Wren can consummate a useful trade, that’s great. If not … well, the guys here were good enough to have constructed a seven-game lead only six days ago. These guys are still good enough. And it would be folly to try and match Philadelphia if it should land Roy Oswalt. That name again: L-E-N B-A-R-K-E-R.
You’ll recall that a certain correspondent with a penchant for being wrong last week offered eight reasons the Braves wouldn’t blow their lead. You’ll note that I didn’t say they’d win by 15 games; I just said they’d hold on. I believed that then. I believe it now.
See, I’ve come to believe in these Braves. Three losses in four games haven’t changed that. They’re still in front. They’re still the team to catch.
And even if they should get caught by the Phillies, all would not be lost. The Braves have never availed themselves of it, but I hear baseball has this thing that gets you into the postseason even if you’re not a division champ. I believe it’s called the wild card.
There’s a lot of baseball to be played, and the Braves have played inspired baseball for more than two months. There’s no reason to think they’re about to stop. Have a little faith, I say.