Braves and Phillies: They’ll be seeing one another in the NLCS

Save that sign! It could be applicable come the postseason. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Save that sign! It could be applicable come postseason. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This should be a great race. The Braves saw Martin Prado return last week and swung the trade for Derrek Lee. The Phillies’ injured starters — Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard — are injured no longer. We’re nearing September and we’re anticipating one of those down-to-the-final-weekend chases that emblazoned 1991 and 1993 in our memory, but …

It won’t happen.

After that 3-6 road trip that allowed the Phillies to creep close, the Braves have gone 13-6. As of this morning, the Braves led the Phils by 2 1/2 games — exactly the spread on Aug. 1, the day that road trip ended. Both clubs are tearing it up and both have geared up and we’re all getting geeked up, but two little words offer a reason to calm down. The words: “Wild card.”

The Phillies top the wild card standings by two games over St. Louis and San Francisco. Ergo, the Braves sit atop the final National League playoff spot on a 4 1/2-game cushion. Even if the Braves can’t hold off the Phillies — the belief here is that they can and will — they still have a fallback position.

The Cardinals are 9-8 in August; the Giants are 9-11. St. Louis is closer to the Reds, who lead the NL Central by 3 1/2 games, than to the Braves. San Francisco is six games behind the Padres in the West and has lost four of its past five series.

Of the Giants’ 37 remaining games, 22 are against teams above .500. Of the Cardinals’ 41 remaining games, 25 are against teams under .500.  (This includes a postponed game against Florida, the makeup date for which hasn’t been set.) If either is apt to mount a late challenge, it’s going to be St. Louis, and the Cardinals seem a more pressing concern for the Reds than the Braves or Phillies.

For all the time we’ve spent casting our glance toward Philly, the cold truth is that both the Braves and the Phils are apt to play beyond the 162nd game. Charlie Manuel, the Phillies’ homespun manager, told reporters last week, “We don’t care about the wild card.” But it’s better to get into the playoffs, duh, than to sit at home. And we know from history that being the wild card is no impediment to postseason success.

From 2002 through 2007, every World Series included at least one wild-card qualifier, and three of those teams — the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins and the 2004 Red Sox — won it all. And if the playoffs began today, the second-place Phils would probably be favored to emerge from the National League bracket. If you’re Philadelphia, which has won the NL East three seasons running and has reached the World Series the past two Octobers, all you want is to qualify.

If the Braves and Phillies meet in the playoffs, who'll win?

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Yes, it’s different now. In 1991, the Braves and Dodgers spent every day from Aug. 22 on within two games of each other. In 1993 the Braves went from 9 1/2 behind the Giants on Aug. 9 to four ahead on Sept. 17 to tied after 161 games. Then Tom Glavine beat Colorado on the season’s final Sunday and David Justice hit a home run — that parlay would strike again in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series — and the Braves watched as the Giants, who finished with the best record in franchise history, lost to the Dodgers and took their 103 wins and went home.

That’s considered the Last Great Pennant Chase, for good reason. The wild card arrived in 1994, which was the strike year, and was implemented in 1995. The bulk of breathless baseball finishes since have involved the wild card, not a division title. An exception, sort of, came last year, when the Tigers blew a three-game lead with four to play and lost the AL Central to Minnesota in a one-game playoff. But even with the extra game, the Twins wound up with 87 victories.

The Braves already have 73. If they split their final 38 games, they’ll have 92 wins, and 92 wins has been enough to claim the National League wild card every season since 2002. Put simply, they’ll have to collapse not to make the playoffs. And they’re not going to collapse. Their pitching won’t allow it.

This team is going to make the playoffs. So is Charlie Manuel’s team. And they’ll see each other in mid-October, a World Series berth on the line.

408 comments Add your comment

whensidslid92

August 23rd, 2010
11:18 am

BRAVO TACO

August 23rd, 2010
11:18 am

BRAVO TACO

August 23rd, 2010
11:19 am

Finally, my first cherry has been popped – thank you, MArk

BRAVO TACO

August 23rd, 2010
11:19 am

Oh yeah, and good post too – keep em cranking

Greg

August 23rd, 2010
11:21 am

Mark Bradley

August 23rd, 2010
11:22 am

Kudos, whensidslid. Close race. Had to clear out the “spam” queue to decide it.

Frank

August 23rd, 2010
11:22 am

I may be first, but I don’t care. I agree with your assessment.

BRAVO TACO

August 23rd, 2010
11:24 am

nooooo! I’m a blog-first virgin again

D in ATL

August 23rd, 2010
11:25 am

Agree 100%. Amazingly you have been on the mark lately Mr. Bradley!

bob

August 23rd, 2010
11:25 am

Hope your right, but 1st round exits can happen fast. Braves still need more power to win it all.

Mark Bradley

August 23rd, 2010
11:26 am

Thanks, Frank. (Your last name wouldn’t be spelled W-R-E-N, would it?)

Mark Bradley

August 23rd, 2010
11:26 am

D in ATL, I’m never on the mark. That’s why my name is such a misnomer.

Mark Bradley

August 23rd, 2010
11:27 am

And we in Atlanta know more than any city about first-round exits, Bob.

Rob

August 23rd, 2010
11:29 am

Ah but you forget that the braves have 4 games against the cards. And they were swept in 4 games this season already.

And what happened to your belief last month that they wouldn’t squander the lead? The key to the season lies this week and next. The braves completed part 1 winning the cubs series. Next week it’s the phils on a tough road trip. If the braves get the lead up to 5-6 games after that trip, they likely have it. If it stays at 2-3 games or if they somehow lose the lead, then I think Philly wins the division and the braves better watch out cause of the cards won 3/4 here, they could be tied with the braves for the wild card.

BRAD STEVENS

August 23rd, 2010
11:30 am

Can we please get more bad press on Paul Hewitt. He has to go!

Mark Bradley

August 23rd, 2010
11:30 am

Nothing has changed, Rob. I still don’t think the Braves will lose their lead. Did I not make that point in this post as well?

Bryan G.

August 23rd, 2010
11:31 am

I think a good over/under for the Braves is 94.5 wins

papadawg

August 23rd, 2010
11:31 am

Playoffs or not this team is just flat fun to watch.

Rob

August 23rd, 2010
11:32 am

Actually the phils tought trip starts friday @ SD.

Love the Braves in NC

August 23rd, 2010
11:32 am

Good assessment, Mr. B. I am more excited this year than I have been in a long time, and your article makes me feel better about the Phillies. If we were to play them tomorrow, we would win, even against their healthy team.

Rob

August 23rd, 2010
11:34 am

Not when you say this–Even if the Braves can’t hold off the Phillies

meh

August 23rd, 2010
11:34 am

I’m thinking the Braves have too much pitching for a first round exit.

Mr. Phil

August 23rd, 2010
11:37 am

“fall back position”! I shutter to think. In the words of Ricky Bobby, you are either first or you’re last.

Brent

August 23rd, 2010
11:37 am

Welcome back Mark, these long weekends are killing me.

Rob

August 23rd, 2010
11:37 am

And one more point. For some reason, the braves struggle beating the nats and marlins. The phils struggle with the mets. The braves need to play better against the nats and marlins as they have 15 games remaining against them.

Jim Hertel

August 23rd, 2010
11:40 am

Good article, Mark. I know it is only 3 games into his major league career, but what do you think about Mike Minor? It seems to me that he has great stuff and tremendous poise. Why was there so much negative about him when he was drafted? What do those people think now?

Headley Lamar

August 23rd, 2010
11:40 am

Excellent post MB.

Would be some thrilling baseball if the Phillies and Braves met in the NLCS.

Bottom line. Get in the playoffs and lets see what happens.

Joey

August 23rd, 2010
11:42 am

If the Braves get ANY hitting in the postseason, who is gonna beat Huddy, Jurrjens, and Minor/Hanson/Lowe (whichever is hot at playoff time)?

papadawg

August 23rd, 2010
11:42 am

The Braves are still having problems getting runners in with less than 2 outs. Lost Saturdays game when they had several chances to score

Rob

August 23rd, 2010
11:42 am

What a great day Sept 11 is going to be. Got the local football teams playing at noon. Then the great games between ohio st miami fsu ok and alab psu and then of course the braves cardinals at 4:15! That is going to be one fun day!

SG10

August 23rd, 2010
11:44 am

Mark,

Good column as usual..

I will be watching Phillies play Astros for some office event here in Philadelphia this week. Any tips on how to survive the worst fans in Baseball while routing against the Phillies? :)

Samuel

August 23rd, 2010
11:44 am

joey
one can say the same thing about halladay, hamels and oswalt for the phillies. would be a great series if they meet but i think the padres win the nl.

papadawg

August 23rd, 2010
11:45 am

SG10, there is no cure for the Phillies Fans. Walk away and find a private room

Craig Daliessio

August 23rd, 2010
11:45 am

Sorry Jethro…you’re not going to win the East and lose yet ANOTHER World Series. Crowing about your 14 East division titles and showing that ONE ring is pathetic. Phillies back in the Series again and this year we win it AGAIN. A REAL sports town knows how to throw a parade.

Headley Lamar

August 23rd, 2010
11:45 am

Why was there so much negative about him when he was drafted? What do those people think now?

I think a lot of it had to do with the scouting reports. People were saying he only threw 88 and he projected as a 4th or 5th starter etc etc.

Also in case you haven’t noticed. Braves fans on these blogs tend to not be the patient, wait and see types.

I remember being on the DOB blog the day of the draft and people were literally coming unglued.

Keith

August 23rd, 2010
11:46 am

Okay Mark. Let’s get real! You know and I know it will be the Phils by 2+ games. Yes, the Braves have had a great season, and a great ballclub, but not so fast. The Phils are the better team. I know fans won’t like this assessment, but I’ll bet that is the way the season will end.

Stanley Crowe

August 23rd, 2010
11:46 am

I think we’ll make the playoffs, but I more reluctant than Mark is to write off the Cards and the Giants. Yes, the Giants haven’t been doing too well lately, but they’re still close enough in the wild-card race to be a factor, and as for the Cards, they look very dangerous to me — great pitching, plenty of offense, potentially. I think it’s important for the Braves to hang in on first, because I’m not as sure as Mark is that the WC will come from the NL East. The question is — will the Phils go on one more tear? I don’t think so — Utley and Victorino seem to me to be underachieving a bit this year, and Ryan Howard will not, I believe, come back quickly from the layoff. Halliday, of course, is great, and Ostwalt and Hamels aren’t bad, but they’re not close-downers, and the bullpen (while improving) isn’t great and won’t become great in the time remaining. We have to keep playing well, though — more consistent offense and tighten up the defense. Let’s not beat ourselves.

keetmalik

August 23rd, 2010
11:47 am

I’m on board,Braves won’t collapse that’s for sure.Philly will be in the mix,no doubt.

Kelvin

August 23rd, 2010
11:48 am

Mark, I agree with your assessment as well. However, come post season the Phils will be the favorites because of their three front line starters and RBI producing line up. I don’t think the Braves are afraid of anybody, but we will have to be clicking on all cylinders to get past the Phils.

Carl

August 23rd, 2010
11:49 am

The Phillies are a better team than the Braves and that would show in a NLCS matchup. Although the Braves have good starting pitching, they don’t have overpowering starting pitching. You want dominant pitchers in the postseason like Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt…pitchers that can strike you out.

Pitchers who pitch to contact like Hudson find themselves in trouble in the playoffs especially when the team behind him rank 4th in MLB in errors.

I don’t know how you Braves fans think you’re going to win a pennant with well below average defense?

Since 2000, only 1 team has won a World Series being ranked in the top 10 in errors committed and that was the 2004 Red Sox. Every other team that has won a W.S this decade have finished 18th or better…..the Braves are curretly 4th.

The only teams that have committed more errors than the Braves are the Indians, Marlins and Nats.

But don’t worry Braves fans, I’m sure the Braves will keep on rallying late.

Headley Lamar

August 23rd, 2010
11:52 am

You want dominant pitchers in the postseason like Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt…pitchers that can strike you out.

Hamels is not a dominant pitcher. He is average at best. Oswalt doesn’t really scare me either.

Ted M

August 23rd, 2010
11:52 am

Either the Cards or the Reds will win the wild card.

I’m more encouraged about the Braves holding off the Phils. Lee is going to get hot.

Headley Lamar

August 23rd, 2010
11:53 am

But don’t worry Braves fans, I’m sure the Braves will keep on rallying late.

Im sure we will too. Especially against the Phillies awful bullpen.

DawgDad

August 23rd, 2010
11:53 am

OK, so it appears the Braves picked up one game in the wild card race over the weekend, and they have a 4-1/2 game lead in the race for a playoff spot. That’s good news. It’s also a dangerously thin margin; far too early to count chickens, especially with a pitching staff populated with rookies, young tender arms, and medical retreads.

Can the Braves make the playoffs? Sure. Will they? I like their chances a lot better today than I did last Monday, that’s for sure. D-Lee gives the lineup an air of legitimacy in the RBI slots (Prado-Lee-McCann) that it’s lacked since early June. I think the Braves can get some mileage out of their September callups, too. They need to settle down defensively on the infield and stop throwing the ball wildly all over the field. The consistency of Infante and Prado and of Heyward’s OBP at the top has been the glue holding the offense together; now that Lee’s out of Chicago I expect he’ll settle in comfortably and start raking again.

Carl

August 23rd, 2010
11:56 am

“Hamels is not a dominant pitcher. He is average at best. Oswalt doesn’t really scare me either.”

Hamels is 5th in the N.L in strikeouts behind Halladay, Kershaw, Lincecum and Wainwright.

Mark Bradley

August 23rd, 2010
11:56 am

The issue with Mike Minor was that some scouts — Keith Law of ESPN’s Insiders was most emphatic — didn’t believe he had room to improve. They thought he was close to peak capacity coming out of college. But Minor is throwing harder now, and I note that Mr. Law has begun to come around.

Also: There’s a rule of thumb among some baseball executives — don’t draft college pitchers.

Mark Bradley

August 23rd, 2010
11:58 am

Thanks, SG10. And I think the Philly fan stuff is a tad overrated.

Carl

August 23rd, 2010
11:58 am

“Im sure we will too. Especially against the Phillies awful bullpen.”

The same Phillies bullpen that has been lights out in August?

Headley Lamar

August 23rd, 2010
11:59 am

Hamels is 5th in the N.L in strikeouts behind Halladay, Kershaw, Lincecum and Wainwright.

He also gives up a ton of hits and his WHIP is pretty high

Yawn.

Headley Lamar

August 23rd, 2010
12:00 pm

The same Phillies bullpen that has been lights out in August?

No the same Brad Lidge we have seen the last two years.