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.