These ragtag Braves: They’re very close to the playoffs now

We ask again: Who ARE these guys? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We ask again: Who ARE these guys? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They’re very close now. In three days these Braves have gone from a half-game behind San Diego to assuring themselves of being no worse than a full game ahead when next they play. They’re very close to securing a playoff spot with a roster of kids and retreads and no-names who had no position until everybody started getting hurt.

On Wednesday they won their 90th game behind a pitcher the general manager tried to trade over the winter, a pitcher who has gone 5-0 in a month that began with cries for him to be sent to the bullpen. And Derek Lowe, believe it or not, has been a relative constant amid shifting sand. Of the nine players in the Braves’ lineup for the season’s 159th game, only three — Lowe, Melky Cabrera and Jason Heyward — started on Opening Day.

“It’s been awesome,” Lowe said. “When we left spring training, we knew one of the strengths of our team was our bench, but nobody knew for sure how things would turn out. The bench has turned out to be our savior.”

Said David Ross, the backup catcher who started Wednesday and who had three hits and drove in the first run: “Guys like Brooks Conrad and Omar Infante … they’ve been the MVP of this team.”

The Braves lost one third baseman in August when Chipper Jones tore up his knee and another Monday night when Martin Prado hurt his hip. Naturally, the third-string third sacker (the aformementioned Conrad) had a key triple Tuesday and an emphatic three-run homer Wednesday.

“[Prado's] injury just emphasized how amazing this team is,” said Jones, in attendance as counselor/cheerleader. “How many times can a team come back after losing an integral part?”

The answer: As often as is necessary. These Braves haven’t always had what they wanted, but they continue to find what they need. Troy Glaus has had only 14 at-bats in September, but his May changed the season. Lowe had spent one full season and five-sixths of another becoming the caricature of the overpriced free agent, but his September has washed away all transgressions.

Said Jones: “[Lowe] might have had one start all year that matched these last five.”

A manager who’s supposed to be ready for the rocking chair has juggled lineups like crazy — Wednesday’s was the 106th different combination deployed in 159 games and marked the first time Matt Diaz had batted third — and yes, the strain is showing. Said Bobby Cox, who turned 69 in May: “I wish we had clinched it a month ago.”

But this team was never going to do anything nice and easy. A dreadful road trip put a sweet season in peril, and what did these Braves do? Came home and put the Fish to the sword. “This series we really took it to the Marlins,” Ross said. “Our energy, our aggressiveness, our pitching staff setting the tone …”

Three games remain. Win twice over the weekend and the Braves will play beyond Sunday. The team that has appeared to have nothing left at least a half-dozen times keeps showing us it’s too stubborn to fall down. The team of 25 final at-bat victories and 45 comeback wins has amazed us all summer, and it amazes us even as the first chill of autumn descends.

Said Lowe: “The times I’ve been to the playoffs [with the Red Sox and the Dodgers], we never had anything like this. We never had a starter or a key pitcher out. This has been a very unique season, and not necessarily in the best way.”

Then again, who’s to say this isn’t the best way? Who’s to say this club of 106 different lineups hasn’t proved to us that there’s more to professional sports than big money and charter flights? For all the winning the Braves did during their 14-year run of excellence, they’ve never been so inspiring as this.

Said Jones: “There were times [this season] where I didn’t know if we had enough bodies in the organization.”

There has, however, been no doubting the heart. With three games to go, that fighting heart is pounding like a kettledrum.

152 comments Add your comment

Reno

September 29th, 2010
8:55 pm

great game, great past few days. I’m going to be there on Saturday & Sunday, & hopefully those aren’t Bobby’s last!

sugarpikegange

September 29th, 2010
8:58 pm

Doug

September 29th, 2010
9:00 pm

Got to give Bobby a lot of credit for holding things together, and Frank Wren for building up so much quality depth.

rupert

September 29th, 2010
9:00 pm

3 games left!

September 29th, 2010
9:03 pm

“kids and retreads”

…. didn’t exactly ready that line like it says seeing as how it closely resembles another word and I was thinking “Did Bradley really just call this group …. that word? WOW!!!!”

thankfully I reread it and made the mental corrections and spelled it right.

ramblinman

September 29th, 2010
9:05 pm

Nice article Mark. Go Braves!

SpiritBen

September 29th, 2010
9:05 pm

Fantastic stuff, Bradley. Well done.

HitaSingle

September 29th, 2010
9:06 pm

It is great to see a player like Brooks Conrad. He is a great example to kids of the team player. Alot of parents could learn from him. Little league, high school and college players need to learn from him. Great job Brooks! Not just for you homerun today, but for your attitude and doing it the old fashion American way!

JoshTown

September 29th, 2010
9:07 pm

Bring it on baby!

Mechabradzilla

September 29th, 2010
9:08 pm

So what happens if we only win 1? What about 0 this weekend.

Brian

September 29th, 2010
9:10 pm

These guys have really stuck it out through thick and thin. At this point I don’t care if we do anything in the playoffs. This was a great season full of all kinds of mishaps and hurdles, but they stuck it out and just when we thought it was over they stuck it out some more and grinded it out against the Marlins for the sweep. I grew up with these Braves in the 90’s and I think this might be my favorite team so far. I mean who would have thought we would be sitting here talking about Brooks Conrad or David Ross in the last week of the season as intricate parts of this team. It just shows how much love these guys have for Bobby, they want him to go out like the winner he is. Great article and I am excited for the Phillies to come to town.

Kevin

September 29th, 2010
9:12 pm

Nobody and I mean nobody knew it or predicted it at the time, but given Javier Vazquez’s year it looks like Wren traded the right pitcher. Although you can’t give Wren too much credit since it was only because nobody was willing to take Lowe. Derek Lowe hasn’t been the greatest pitcher, but he has definitely had a more productive season than Vazquez.

Steve

September 29th, 2010
9:14 pm

Mechabradzilla, don’t be negative. No way that happens with our aces going Saturday and Sunday and Philly resting everyone. We are in.

dg03

September 29th, 2010
9:14 pm

Enter your comments here

HitaSingle

September 29th, 2010
9:16 pm

It has been a great season. In today’s world of all these prima donas, it is great to see the focus on Infante, Prado, Ross, Conrad, Venters, and don’t forget Boscan who has been in the minors forever and the Braves brought him up for as a reward for sticking it out. That is why I will always admire Bobby Cox and the job he has done.

dg03

September 29th, 2010
9:16 pm

Captain Clutch does it again! He might be Popeye after a spinich meal! I am glad we have him with all the injuries!

BravesFan

September 29th, 2010
9:17 pm

Uh, there’s no one game playoff in baseball. It’s a regular season game that decides who makes the playoffs.

kaminari

September 29th, 2010
9:17 pm

Great win tonight. If we sweep the Phils, we’re in. If we win two, the Pads have to win all five of their remaining games. If we win one game, we need the Pads to lose at least one of the five. If we get swept (Gawd forbid), we need the Pads to go no better than 3-2. That will force a one game Playoff in ATL.

I think that’s right. Anyway, great write-up Mark & GO BRAVES!!

The Grinch

September 29th, 2010
9:17 pm

They haven’t always played well, but they’ve certainly played hard. They’ve earned every win. Nice to see Lowe finally bouncing back.

Jeff

September 29th, 2010
9:17 pm

Correction Mark. If Braves win 2 out of 3, they are in. No need for 1 game playoff. They would have 92 wins. Only way Padres get to 92 is by winning last 5 but to do that they’d have to beat SF 3 times which means the Giants can only win 91.

milton dad

September 29th, 2010
9:20 pm

3 games left: you’re a retread. sorry, couldn’t stop myself… Go Bravos Go Bobby

HitaSingle

September 29th, 2010
9:21 pm

Lowe is a good example of a player playing hurt. He is a gamer.

matt r

September 29th, 2010
9:21 pm

Jeff is right, Braves have lost 69, SF 68, SD 70. One of the West teams is going to lose 71 games. If we win 2 we are in, 1 clinches the tie. The magic # over SD is 3, SF is 5 (and one of those teams teams is going to lose 3 days in a row)

bruce mac

September 29th, 2010
9:23 pm

Mark, Paaaleeeese. SHUT UP WITH THE PLAYOFF TALK. They have not won anything.

[...] Marlins (77-80) at Atlanta Braves (89-69), 4:35 pmMiamiHerald.comTalking Chop -USA Today -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 1,292 news [...]

Trey

September 29th, 2010
9:25 pm

3 games left!, I made the same mental error when reading that. I guess we can say we are what we thought we read. ;)

matt r

September 29th, 2010
9:27 pm

And if all three are tied, SD plays SF for div title 1 game, we play the loser for the WC 1 game.

Tyler Langmeyer

September 29th, 2010
9:27 pm

@bruce mac: They just swept a series and shaved their magic number to 3. Didn’t win anything? Are you kidding me? Do you really think the Padres are capable of overtaking us based on how we’ve played and how they’ve played this week?

Get off the blog man, you obviously know nothing.

T-Rex

September 29th, 2010
9:27 pm

Wow, you people are so excited about beating a putrid Marlins team–with Hanley Ramirez sitting it out to preserve his .300 season-and are all fired up about whupping the Phillies junior varisty. Get a life.

JacketFan

September 29th, 2010
9:27 pm

SD playing at SF in the middle of a pennant race bodes well for us … SF is playing lights out and SD is imploding. Go Braves!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, The Grit Tree, tyler75, hobnasty, Ben Garrett and others. Ben Garrett said: Damn, Bradley. Chills-inducing stuff. RT @MarkBradleyAJC: These ragtag #Braves are very close to a playoff berth now. http://bit.ly/9zgjUl [...]

tardawg

September 29th, 2010
9:29 pm

The never say die Braves of 2010 what a year!

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Tyler Langmeyer

September 29th, 2010
9:30 pm

@T-Rex: I’m pretty sure most of us are excited because we’re about to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Learn the facts, then get a life.

Ghost of Gil Garrido

September 29th, 2010
9:31 pm

THIS is why Baseball is the greatest of all sports. Whatever the outcome, what a great, fun, ragtag team and long season of surprises it has been. As Bobby said, NEVER has he had a team work harder for what they have. A great “Bobby Cox-like” team for his last season.

HitaSingle

September 29th, 2010
9:31 pm

T-Rex – We are excited to watch a team that probably shouldn’t even be fighting for a playoff spot. That is all. It is great to see a team rewarded for playing so hard and unselfishly. Oh yea, you wouldn’t know what that means. I can see why you went extinct.

Steve

September 29th, 2010
9:32 pm

T-Rex = L O S E R who does not understand baseball apparently.

PTC DAWG

September 29th, 2010
9:33 pm

Trex……you act like the Phils have been in the playoff 14 straight years….

If you don’t care, why are you on this blog?

HitaSingle

September 29th, 2010
9:34 pm

Hey T-rex – you need to be in Miami with Lebron and those other two selfish guys. That is your kind of team.

rlinaug

September 29th, 2010
9:34 pm

T-Rex, let me speak to you of anatomical improbabilities….

Jughead Obama

September 29th, 2010
9:34 pm

These ragtag Braves: They’re very close to wasting another week of my life with 3 postseason losses. FTFY.

GT Trumpet

September 29th, 2010
9:35 pm

It’s almost like no matter how many times adversity rears it’s head for these Braves we find some way around it. Lose our best all around player for the past decade plus? Throw in this guy. Lose him? This guy will be just as clutch. Maybe this is the season we get all the breaks. Yanks-Bravos World Series!

HitaSingle

September 29th, 2010
9:36 pm

Hey! Has anybody seen my dad, Chief Noc-A-Homa? Mama said he has been dancing since Brooks hit the 3 run homer. That’s my dad!!

MSS

September 29th, 2010
9:36 pm

Our bench is a wrecking crew. Brooks F. Conrad for MVP!

OoltewahDawg

September 29th, 2010
9:36 pm

BravesFan, if two teams end up after game 162 tied for the wild card berth, they have a 1 game playoff to determine who goes to the Division Series playoffs.

bruce mac, you’re such a pessimist!

Lowe is peaking at the right time. He pitched lights out today.

It’s been a fun run to watch.

Tyler Langmeyer

September 29th, 2010
9:36 pm

Jughead Obama: Why do you think they’re going to lose the first round? They can and have beat all of the teams they could possibly be matched up with. Your name says it all..

rc35

September 29th, 2010
9:42 pm

Braves, thanks for picking it up again. I had my doubts about y’all, but you came through. No matter what, I appreciate your effort this season.

HitaSingle

September 29th, 2010
9:48 pm

Billy Wagner – Thank you for spending your last season with us. It has been fun watching you and the way you handle yourself. I hope I get to watch you next week, but no matter what happens Thanks!

sidslid

September 29th, 2010
9:51 pm

Conrad reminds me of Lemke in the 91 series. Part time bench player takes off in the clutch. Which reminds me…

All-time World Series RBI:

Jerry Willard 1
Ernie Banks 0

JRW7

September 29th, 2010
9:59 pm

Way to go BRAVES, if PADRES lose tonight, that will put BRAVES up 2 1/2 games, BRAVES can clinch wildcard with a win Friday night, GO BRAVES!!!!