Even after three dark nights, the Braves still should make it

I think we've seen just about enough of this scene. Wouldn't you agree? (AP photo)

I think we've seen just about enough of this scene. Wouldn't you agree? (AP photo)

Philadelphia — If the Braves win the next nine, they’ll make the playoffs. They still, as ballplayers love to say, control their destiny. (The Padres and Giants and Rockies cannot all win the rest of their games — because they play one another.) This might sound like cold comfort after the sobering series here, but it’s not nothing.

Even in their diminished state, the Braves should make it. They’ve got three against the last-place Nationals, three against the middling Marlins and three more against the Phillies, who should have clinched and will be resting guys. (Meaning no Hamels-Halladay-Oswalt in Games 160-1262.) They should win seven or eight, and that should be enough.

And now I’ll field a few questions posed by you folks the past three days. (And I thank you for your live-blog patronage, I must say again.) You mightn’t like the answers, but here goes:

Did Bobby Cox err by not juggling his rotation to match the Phillies’ Big Three? No, he didn’t. It looked bad to have an undrafted rookie start Game 1 against Cole Hamels, but that was a function of Jair Jurrjens’ knee. And the Braves trailed Philly by three games coming in, meaning that they couldn’t have pulled ahead no matter what happened here. That’s the key consideration.

If you’re going to pitch guys on short rest, it has to be a last-weekend thing. (The Phillies adjusted their rotation long before the series so as not to throw anybody off.) If you start doing it with 12 games to go, you’ll have to keep doing it until you clinch or you’re eliminated or else it makes no sense.

In the wild-card chase, which had become the Braves’ primary focus before they arrived at Citizens Bank Park, Tim Hudson beating the Nats counts just as much as Tim Hudson beating the Phils. And the folks in this town can cite chapter and verse about using pitchers on short rest in the regular season.

The year was 1964. The Phillies led the National League by 6 1/2 games with 12 to play and manager Gene Mauch, considered the smartest guy never to reach the World Series, started throwing Jim Bunning and Chris Short every other day in the attempt to clinch. The Phillies lost 10 straight. The Cardinals won the pennant.

What’s with this outfield? It’s awful. The Braves have one outfielder capable of playing everyday, and he’s a rookie. The others are all fourth (or fifth) outfielders. The new deployment of Nate McLouth in left and Rick Ankiel in center against righthanders yielded nothing, and Matt Diaz and Melky Cabrera mustered one single against the lefty Hamels. It’s hard to believe Frank Wren could have tinkered so much and found nothing better. Put it this way: On the Braves, Raul Ibanez would look like Babe Ruth.

What’s with Brian McCann? I know he’s trying as hard as he can, and he hit doubles in Games 1 and 2 that were nearly home runs. But getting thrown out at third base in Game 2 was the turning point of the series, and his defense — he made two errors on throws and had a passed ball — has become atrocious. It could be that, in the absence of Chipper Jones, McCann is trying too hard to lead. Whatever the case, he’s better than this.

Will Mike Minor start another game this regular season? I wouldn’t count on it. The Braves weren’t pleased with his Game 2 effort. He threw 73 pitches and got seven outs, and the next day Cox asked reporters, “Does he tell you guys he’s tired?” And Minor missing the bunt sign was a major gaffe. Even for a rookie, it was inexcusable.

Did any Braves do anything right? The bullpen was good. It worked 11 1/3 innings — that’s more than a full game — and yielded eight hits three earned runs. (And Billy Wagner took no part, which means he should be rested for the final push.) And Derrek Lee went 4-for-10 and fielded his position deftly, which we can’t say about many Braves of late.

571 comments Add your comment

Southern Boy N Philly

September 23rd, 2010
9:49 am

chris

September 23rd, 2010
9:51 am

What I’m hoping for and this may be wishful thinking Mark is that as hot as Philly is hopefully they may get this hot streak out of their system, we get into the wildcard, get hot ourselves and hit Philly on a downward spirial in playoffs. Baseball is about momentum and swings in a season. All the cards fell Philly’s way this week but we still have 9 games to go and in baseball that is an eternity. They cannot help but have a letdown after being so up for the Braves. I think the challenge is Atlanta. They have got to put this series behind them and take care of business. If they let the hangover of this linger at Washington, well, as the late Skip Carey would say “see ya next year.” I’m with ya on the outfielding situation – it’s pathetic and while I feel Wren has done a good job I feel like this has been one of his glaring failures. They could have have made a push for a bigger bat. Im a believer in this team; they have overachieved to be frank with the glaring holes in so many places; I’d hate to see the season end on a thud by them choking down the stretch. Bobby’s greatest challenge as a manager may be facing him in his last 9 games ever.

Dave in Buford

September 23rd, 2010
9:55 am

Maybe, but I’m really getting worried about the fact that the hitting is still MIA and we get the Phillies in the last three games … the pitchers know they have to pitch a no-hitter to win now and will be pressing as a result.

The hitting has to show back up for them to get to the playoffs.

Felix Millan

September 23rd, 2010
9:56 am

Mark- any idea what contracts, if any, come off the books after this year? Our OFs have little or no trade value, so outright releases may be our only option. The problem is, Liberty needs to sell so we can get an owner, preferably one, that actually cares about the franchise.

joe fan

September 23rd, 2010
9:56 am

Please Dear God bring us a good manager next year! Maybe John Farrell………….
The Braves are not a play-off team. If they make play-off they’ll be out after 1st round.
Wren has alot of work to do, if he can.

Phillies, Classless in the NL

September 23rd, 2010
9:59 am

Good analysis Mark. I agree on MAC. I think he is trying to hard. Getting thrown out at third, the throws to second, and that crazy pickoff throw to first where DLee saved his butt with a great play. Mac needs to calm down. Agree on Minor also. He is tired. This is probably the most innings he has ever thrown in a season. He needs to be honest and tell them that he is tired. He is hurting the team.

mclOUTh

September 23rd, 2010
10:00 am

Gregor Blanco would look a LOT better in our OF than Rick AnKKKKKKiel of Nate. And Mark…does Nate even HAVE a throwing arm? Last night was a joke!

Justafan

September 23rd, 2010
10:01 am

No hitting….Fire TP. The Braves bats suck big time.

BRAVES29

September 23rd, 2010
10:02 am

The Nats series won’t be a cakewalk- the Braves are a sterling 7-8 vs them this season. No games down the stretch are easy, as evidenced by the Nats taking 2-3 at Turner last week. Have to play better defense, and start hitting with men on base!

RickNole

September 23rd, 2010
10:08 am

Gotta get some runs bottom line!

rebeldawg

September 23rd, 2010
10:09 am

Spot on with the pitching. Look what happened last night for example. Hanson pitched a remarkable game and still lost (Why we pulled him after the 6th is beyond me). But to think if we pitched Jurrjens and Hudson/Lowe in that series with the same results (highly likely given their starters success of late), then what would the arguement be then? The fact is we have our big dogs going against a weak opponent which should result in a few wins this next series. At this point we need sure wins. And right now our pitching is set up perfectly to increase the likelyhood of getting the W’s this weekend.

bruce mac

September 23rd, 2010
10:09 am

Can we see the eight reasons that all is not lost. The only contracts coming off are Glaus and Ankiel (with a $500K buyout). Melky makes $5 Million for what? KK makes $8 Million for what? Chippper make $14 Million for what? McCouth makes $5 Million for what? If not for Frank’s poor decision the Braves could sign Worth and have millions and millions in the bank.

DCBrave

September 23rd, 2010
10:10 am

Even if the Braves do make it to the playoffs, it would crush me even more to see them swept. I’d rather them not toy with my emotions.

Pete In Philly

September 23rd, 2010
10:10 am

Long time Phillies fan here. I enjoyed the series. Typical Phillies/Braves series where the outcome is in anxious doubt until very late. Beachy and Hanson pitched great.

The Phillies are white hot right now. But even if they cool off, it’s only a relative thing. They shown over the past four years that they’re a September ball club. So even a “cooled off” Phillies team will clinch the Division, and with it the NL home-field, before we get to Atlanta. Once that’s done, we won’t be “cooled off” as much as “resting” and then we soak up a couple losses in Washington and Atlanta. (But even that’s not a sure thing.)

The Braves? I see them winning 6 or 7 of the last nine and possibly nailing down the WC before October. Good luck, guys!

Go Braves

September 23rd, 2010
10:11 am

bascogcjs

September 23rd, 2010
10:11 am

Mark, no one suggested Melky. Diaz is the one getting shafted. He’s a
life time .300 hitter with the Braves. He can hit right handers better than the other options.
Also, why had not Beachy been traveling with the team? How could they start him after not pitching for 17 days and not even traveling with the team? That was ridiculous.
And Still, why won’t someone ask about McClouth’s little league arm?
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a big leaguer make worse throws than Nate.
And MANY times this year, he wouldn’t even throw the ball, period.
Please, we all want to know the answer.

Innocent Bystander

September 23rd, 2010
10:13 am

mclOUTh- Blanco’s numbers in KC have not been pretty.

A few points:

Beachy should take Minor’s spot from here. MM is clearly exhausted, having pitched a ton of innings this year in Gwinnett/Atlanta.

J Hey needs to be hitting third. Like as of yesterday.

Prado needs a couple days off if there’s any chance of him producing come October.

B Mac, likewise, needs at least one day off this weekend and one next week before Philly rolls into town.

mclOUTh

September 23rd, 2010
10:16 am

I would rather have Blanco than Nate. At the LEAST he has an arm….Nate had about a 5 game stretch…hit a few homers…and back to being Nate. We have two BLACK HOLES in our lineup with him and AnKKKKKiel. At the bare minimum, Bobby should have pinch hit for ONE of them in the 8th. Manager tip 101…to win…you must score!

bascogcjs

September 23rd, 2010
10:18 am

Mark, why hasn’t Cox responded to Nate’s arm and lack of even throwing
the ball on some plays throughout the season. Yunel wouldn’t have gotten away with it.
Also, why wasn’t Beachy traveling with the team. How can you let a guy pitch without even hanging out with the team before his first big league game. He also had not pitched in 17 days. How could management do this. I would have let all the relievers go two innings.

bruce mac

September 23rd, 2010
10:18 am

Pete, the Phils are best team in baseball no doubt. Classy fans and players last night regards Bobby. You never know because as we Braves fans know all too well, the best team doesn’t necessarily win. Good Luck.

Nova Scotia Steve

September 23rd, 2010
10:19 am

Hey thanks for this Mark. Great Read!

sportsmandh

September 23rd, 2010
10:19 am

Mark, I agree with most of you’re articles, and I agree the Braves still should make it. But one of your points:
“In the wild-card chase, which had become the Braves’ primary focus before they arrived at Citizens Bank Park, ”

Why was this the Braves focus coming into Philly? How do you know that was their focus? I think that isn’t right unless you had someone tell you in Washington from the team we’re focused on the wild card. After the sweep Sunday afternoon, barring a 9th inning comeback by the Phils, it looked like the Braves would only be 2 out going into Philly. Then after the phils won that game, I still doubt on Sunday night, Monday morning the team thought the division was out of reach. If they’d taken two the division definately would still have been within reach. Now it is obviously not. But I don’t think that was the focus going in.

With that said, I agree Cox should’ve left the rotation alone. I thought they would win last night, and was hoping for an upset in one of the first 2 games. That obviously was within reach but didn’t happen.

Michael

September 23rd, 2010
10:27 am

The Braves will not win more than 4 vs. the Nats & Marlins. They haven’t been able to beat those teams consistently (they are below .500 combined versus those two teams so far this year) and have to play Washington on the road, where they flat out stink (2-4 in their first two series @ Washington this year). The Braves will limp into the last series vs. the Phillies, probably already behind in the wild card chase, and Philly, smelling opportunity, will finish them off. No playoffs this year because the defense is awful and the offense is only marginally better.

Keith

September 23rd, 2010
10:31 am

Good points, Mark.

I agree about not adjusting rotations. Huddy and Lowe vs the Nats will hopefully be two wins and a better lead in the WC (I hope!). Will set up for a nice last stretch of games and clinching the WC by at least a couple of games.

;) GO BRAVES!

DCBrave33

September 23rd, 2010
10:31 am

Look, I know he has struggled the last few months, but how have we not cycled back around to trying Eric Hinske in left again. I know he is an average defender and he has hit poorly, but I feel he can at least provide a couple solid at bats for this team that we are sorely lacking. Anything to keep Ankiel out of the lineup. The sad facts are that unless McLouth is really on his way back, our best options offensively are Hinske/Diaz in left and Melky in center. Painful, yes, but we can make the defensive switches in the 6th or 7th if we have the lead.

Keith

September 23rd, 2010
10:32 am

I say Beachy did a fine job, kept us in the game and didn’t even has his best stuff. He replaces Minor for now.

Keith

September 23rd, 2010
10:32 am

BY

September 23rd, 2010
10:35 am

McLouth and Ankiel was just a flat out idiotic move last night by Cox. At worst it should have been Diaz in left and McLouth in center, but Diaz and Melky would have at least played better defense and put the bat on the ball.

McCann is the most overrated player in the big leagues. It’s no accident that once he became a regular with this team we stopped making the playoffs. He is all talk and barely any game and his postgame comments continually annoy me.

Lee, Infante, and Heyward are the only 3 guys I see giving consistent effort. Even Prado has been bad of late. Oh well.

Also, props to Hanson for coming to play last night.

DCBrave33

September 23rd, 2010
10:38 am

Beachy should take Minor’s start on Monday, yes, but that is all. Hopefully (and assuming Jurrjens can pitch), the last 9 games can go like this:

Hudson @Wash
Lowe @Wash
Jurrjens @Wash
Beachy vs. Fla
Hanson vs. Fla
Hudson vs. Fla
Thursday off day
Lowe vs. Philly
Jurrjens vs. Philly
Hanson vs. Philly

Everyone would be on regular rest or an extra day in this scenario, and we would only have to use the Beachy/Minor spot once more, on Monday.

Steve-o

September 23rd, 2010
10:40 am

“Did any Braves do anything right?”
You forgot to mention the worthy efforts of Beachy and Hanson. Beachy looked like a poised veteran, and he could have pitched more than the 4.1 innings that Bobby left him in the game. I agree with others that he should pitch in place of Minor. Heck, he’s a better option than JJ, who’s erratic and constantly needs to be soothed and calmed down by the coaches.

MitchC

September 23rd, 2010
10:41 am

Mark, the Braves were awful in Philadelphia. They had chances, left so many men on base, and just didnt play well.

I don’t agree with you that the Braves will go seven and two or eight and one over the next nine games. This team is so Jekyll Hyde, that doesnt seem likely. You never know what Braves team will show up on any given night or day.

I keep thinking: If they go, 6-3, they will make it. Two out of three wins in each series against the Nats, Marlins, and Phillies. Or., Even one win in DC, and a sweep of one of the home series, with two out of three in the other one.

The way you’re talking, you’re thinking: Two sweeps, and winning one of three, or two of three, in the other series. I don’t see that happening.

I think they have a better chance than not to make it., They just have to play better than they did in Phily. 6-3, or maybe.. 7-2, should be enough.

Time

September 23rd, 2010
10:42 am

For the love of God Bobby Cox, it’s the middle of September. It’s time to put your best potential lineup on the field every night. This means Troy Glaus is the starter at 3rd. Yes he’s old. Yes, he’s beat up. But if he can lace them up, his power has to be in the lineup. He certainly can be no worse definisively at 3rd, even in a injured diminished state, than Prado is there. Doing this allows you to put Prado back at 2nd where he was atleast passable defensively. Then you can put Infante in the OF. Then you start whoever is the best defender between McLouth or Ankiel in center. Atleast this way there’s only one gaping hole in the lineup. I never, ever, ever want to see Melky Cabrera in the starting lineup again.

MitchC

September 23rd, 2010
10:43 am

My comments dont seem to be posting on your blog, so again, I’ll shorten it.

I dont agree with you that the Braves will go.. 8-1. It doesnt seem likely that two sweeps and two of three in the other series, will happen. I’m thinking.. 6-3, winning two of three in each of the next three series, should be enough to take it.

J hed

September 23rd, 2010
10:43 am

MitchC

September 23rd, 2010
10:47 am

BTW, Phillies, Classless In The NL, I love your name. Your Nemisis, Phillies, Class of the NL. That guy has been bugging me for weeks!

Pete. Thanks for your good wishes. Classy move on your part. You have a good team in Philly. I said at the beginning of the season, Phils win East, Braves, wild card. Hopefully, I’ll be right.

Scott Phillies Phan

September 23rd, 2010
10:47 am

Great games, all 3 of them, I might be bias being a Phillies fan but watching a nail biter in late September is always a fun thing regardless who the 2 teams are. I hope that Atlanta rights the ship and makes the playoffs. It should be easier now since the Phillies will not be pitching at full strenght the last series (at least I hope they rest the big three and send them golfing for a week) good luck Braves fans and hope to see you again in a few weeks.

Don

September 23rd, 2010
10:47 am

Some Cox bashers are trying to say that Bobby agina played both Ankiel and McLouth in last nights game. Us Cox supporters know that ain’t true – It ain’t possible that Bobby would do that — No matter what the box score says – or no matter what we thought we saw — We have faith in our Hall of Shame (Whoops, I mean Fame) Manager – no matter how many stupid things that we think that we see him do.

Braves73

September 23rd, 2010
10:49 am

Mark, it was poor planning on Bobby’s part for not setting his rotation well in advance of this series (just as Manual did). To come back now and defend this incompetent decision, is awful. The goal is to win the division and not settle for a wild card berth. The Braves were leading the division no less than a month ago and Cox should have prepared for this series as if it meant everything. You can argue both ways, but if every game is important, then why in the he!! were these games not positioned appropriately.

Phillies, Class of the NL

September 23rd, 2010
10:49 am

Hey, I have great news for everyone…I am now in the drivers seat with my bet with the yankees fan that the Phillies will win the NL East by 5 or more games…

Ren

September 23rd, 2010
10:49 am

Awwwww……Poorrr mitchell. Sounds like you need a good cry….haha. The Phils weren’t too sdcared, like you said before the series, were they? Now, since the Phillies have put you in your place, you are being nice and contrite. Good boy……………………..Ren………………………

PS–Watch out for what you say son….cause, like those words of horribly misplaced, bravado you chirped before the series will almost always come back and bite you.

Phillies, Class of the NL

September 23rd, 2010
10:50 am

also…why does everyone assume the Phillies will cool off? They will not cool off, this is what they do, they are peaking right when they need to be, and at this rate, will be able to rest the last few games and really set things up for a methodic, crushing, playoff run…

Phillies, Class of the NL

September 23rd, 2010
10:51 am

We want the Yankees in the World Series, but I’m sensing Rays or Twins at this point….Go Phils!

BoroBall3

September 23rd, 2010
10:52 am

Why even write… ATL should win seven or even eight games… yea, they should beat the Nats and the Marlins… but why not take things one game at a time first?!

George

September 23rd, 2010
10:55 am

The Braves just confirmed that they are not one of the several best teams in baseball. So they slide into the playoffs as a wild card team; they will probably not last past the first round. But, I tip my hat to Bobby Cox. He’s been the heart and soul of the Braves through thick and thin for many years. Too bad this just wasn’t one of his best teams. Let’s now see what the future holds for the Braves and their new manager, whomever that may be.

BraveMan

September 23rd, 2010
10:56 am

I have watched the Braves closely all season. Despite McCann’s success at the plate, he is a poor defensive catcher. He doesn’t move well to block bad pitches and most throws to second base tail toward right field. The Braves need to get him working in the off-season on his throwing. He need to work better with the young pitchers. There are times when he needs to go to the mound to remind Hanson or Minor to watch the runners. He doesn’t do it.

Abnerish

September 23rd, 2010
10:57 am

Winning 4 of 6 will probably not put the Braves in 2nd place in the wild card. The Giants and Rockies play a 3 game series starting tomorrow and only the Giants and Padres both going 5-1 or better would put us in 2nd place. The Braves are lucky in one respect – the three teams vying for the wild card are also in line to win their division. So, if one team goes nuts and wins its last 9 or 10 games, they win the division and the Braves don’t have to worry about them. Plus, if that happens, that team will have handed the other team several losses. For example, if the Giants go 10-0 to finish the season, then the best the Rockies and Padres can do is go 7-3. I think the worst case scenario would be if the Giants finish 9-1 and the Padres finish 9-2. If that happens the Braves would have to win them ALL to make the playoffs. But how likely is that scenario. The Giants still have 3 with the Rockies and the D-backs and the Padres still play the Reds and Cubs. I think if we win the remaining 3 series, we will make it to postseason. Of course, sweeping the Nats and Marlins will make next weekend a lot more comfortable.

Great Moments in Goofball Predictions

September 23rd, 2010
10:57 am

“There is NO WAY the Braves are giving up this divisional lead.” – Mark Bradley, 2010

“There is just something SPECIAL about this year’s Falcons.” – Mark Bradley, 2007

Ryan

September 23rd, 2010
10:58 am

You can’t spell elimaNATEd without NATE. Seriously why is this guy on a major league roster. He has to be responsible for at least 5 loses this season. I love Bobby but I will be glad when he is gone.

Terry Forster

September 23rd, 2010
10:58 am

Time to face the facts… the Phillies are better than the Braves at every single position except catcher & maybe the bullpen

I know no one wants to hear this but Werth is better than Heyward. The numbers speak for themselves plus he’s a righty with power.

Victorino & Ibanez vs. any combination of Ankiel or McLouth or Caberera or Diaz or Hinskie. Obvious.

Utley is better than the Braves two 2nd baseman…even if they are both all-stars.

Polanco is better than….. wait, Braves don’t have a real 3rd baseman now.

When healthy Philly has former MVPs at SS and 1st.

Starting Pitching… Close but Braves just threw two guys with a combined 9 games in the majors.

Wildcard will be fun for a few games but its just delaying the inevitable.

Where’s the buffet?

Havertown's finest

September 23rd, 2010
11:03 am

Phils are 10-0 in their last ten, by definition they HAVE to cool off or go undefeated the rest of the year. Still, a series sweep of the Braves is impressive, but its not like they broke out the lumber in this series, especially against a few kids. Facing the Giants or Padres top 3 might be a different story.

Braves outfield is awful except JH, that kid is a beast, good pitching best hitting C in the NL, only takes some minor tinkering really.