The Braves are in a pennant race that’s really more of a stroll

"Hey, rookie. Do me a favor and wake me when it's October." (AP photo)

The Braves will be around in October. But September comes first, does it not? (AP photo)

When is a pennant race not a pennant race? Why, right about now.

The Braves trail Philadelphia by 6 1/2 games with 31 to play. (The Phillies have 34 games remaining.) There’s no pressure on either team. An illustration as to why:

Let’s say the Phillies somehow manage to squander their lead. Let’s say they do finish second to the Braves. To miss the playoffs, Philly would have to blow — pause for effect — a 15-game lead with 34 remaining. Because that’s the margin Philadelphia holds over San Francisco, the second-place team in the wild-card chase.

Not even the infamous Pholdin’ Phils of 1964 did anything resembling that. They wasted a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to go. But they did it by going to a two-man rotation — Jim Bunning and Chris Short — and by losing games in strange ways. (The Phold began on a night they lost to the Reds 1-0 when Chico Ruiz stole home.)

Let’s just take a deep breath and say: These Phillies aren’t going to collapse, and neither are these Braves. We around here can dream — “The Braves still have six games to play against Philly; what if they sweep all six?” — but that conveniently ignores the greater truth: The Phillies are one of two teams that haven’t been swept in a series this season, the Braves being the other.

It’s weird: The Braves are playing well and we’re about to head into September, which is supposed to be an exciting month, and yet the final weeks of the regular season figure to be just another round of exhibition games. The Braves lead San Fran by more than they trail Philadelphia. They’re getting in. Philly’s getting in. Milwaukee’s getting in.

The only issue in the National League is whether Arizona holds on in the West, and even that doesn’t stand to have an immediate effect on the Braves. They’re apt to see the Brewers in the Division Series, and the scariest thing about Milwaukee is that it’s really good at home. And it will have the home-field edge in the best-of-five.

(Does that matter? Well, the Braves held the home-field edge in every Division Series from 2002 through 2005. They lost all four.)

Until then, we’re all just waiting. Chipper Jones said over the weekend that the Braves’ 6-1 homestand against the Giants and Diamondbacks had the effect of allowing his team “to relax.” As odd as that might have sounded, it’s nonetheless accurate. We’re about to witness, of all things, a relaxing September.

By Mark Bradley

153 comments Add your comment

TSA Screeners = Losers

August 25th, 2011
10:19 am

FEE – I – IRST !!!!!!

Jason Heyward needs two weeks in Gwinnett.

MatthewH

August 25th, 2011
10:21 am

Dare I say it?

Mark Bradley

August 25th, 2011
10:21 am

Kudos, TSA. But didn’t Heyward hit a grand slam fairly recently?

TSA Screeners = Losers

August 25th, 2011
10:22 am

Apparently, Derek Lowe pitches MUCH better when he is drinking and driving.

Didn’t the Red Sox get drunk before each of the last 4 games of the 2004 ALCS?

(That seemed to work out pretty well for them.)

MatthewH

August 25th, 2011
10:22 am

This is good. Hopefully, this will allow the Braves to rest some people in September, get everybody healthy, and set up the pitching rotation.

TSA Screeners = Losers

August 25th, 2011
10:24 am

Bradley,

Even a blind squirrel will eventually stumble upon a juicy fastball right over the plate.

Heck, Even Bob Uecker had a couple or 10 in his career.

TSA Screeners = Losers

August 25th, 2011
10:31 am

I am glad we can talk some Braves Baseball again today instead of reading more about the Felonious Falcons.

Drew

August 25th, 2011
10:33 am

@TSA – sending JHey to Triple-A would only serve to dent his burgeoning confidence. The kid’s 22. Do you remember all the grief Kimbrel got earlier in the season? Now he’s going to set the rookie record for saves…

The New York Mets

August 25th, 2011
10:36 am

To miss the playoffs, Philly would have to blow — pause for effect — a 15-game lead with 34 remaining

Watch it, bub.

Ramblinwreck83

August 25th, 2011
10:37 am

DJDawg

August 25th, 2011
10:38 am

Bradley:

Yes he hit a grandslam, but just lastnight he stood there with his bat on his shoulder like he was afraid to swing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Geeezzzz

jeffrey d

August 25th, 2011
10:38 am

I wouldn’t call a 21-year old struggling sophomore a “blind squirrel” just yet.

Bobby Valentine Has Ruined Baseball Tonight!

August 25th, 2011
10:39 am

Mark,

Who is the worst, Bobby Valentine or Tim McCarver?

Bring Back Harold Reynolds!

Newbomb Turk

August 25th, 2011
10:39 am

I hear that Rick Camp has been giving J-Hey batting instruction…..

DJDawg

August 25th, 2011
10:39 am

Enter your comments here

DJDawg

August 25th, 2011
10:40 am

Bradley,

Yes hit hit a Grand Slam, but also stood there lastnight with his bat on his shoulder like he was afraid to swing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chipper's Oblique Muscle

August 25th, 2011
10:41 am

Does Heyward have a swing guru, like Chipper does in his dad? Heyward needs to listen to one person and work on his swing, which right now is looking like Andruw Jones’ when he started trying to pull everything and started getting fooled on pitches. Heyward’s funky uppercut swing needs to be more level and compact. But it looks like he is listening to too many people about how to fix it and what pitches to look for. A stint in Gwinnett could help him, if he just concentrates on getting his swing back. If, like Francour, he thinks that is a slap in the face, then we have problems.

Also, I don’t trust Lowe to pitch in the playoffs just because “he has been there and look what he did in September last year!”. That is a cop-out. He gets into a bad inning and can’t help himself. It happens over and over again. I just don’t trust that he can stay away from a big inning. For whatever reason, our rookie and minor league pitchers seem to have no fear. I DO trust them more than I do Lowe.

Bobby Valentine Has Ruined Baseball Tonight!

August 25th, 2011
10:42 am

Bobby Valentine Has Ruined Baseball Tonight.

El Bravo

August 25th, 2011
10:48 am

September 1st can’t come soon enough so that the Braves can call up the rest of their young arms. The last month of the regular season will let us know if we can actually shorten the game down to five innings before turning it over to the pen during the Playoffs. With Teheran, Vizcaino and OVENTREL in the pen we may only need five from Lowe, Hanson, et all; and that’s a luxury no other team has…

Ted DiBiase

August 25th, 2011
10:50 am

How come nobody is fired up about the Braves?

PMC

August 25th, 2011
10:50 am

I for one am excited for the September call ups.

Guys, I really have a good feeling about this team.

Mr. Obvious

August 25th, 2011
10:50 am

For the most part this season, Jason Heyward has swung his bat the way fat people make love.

I don’t need to see that, either.

Hillbilly D

August 25th, 2011
10:51 am

If the Phillies play .500 ball the rest of the way, they’ll win 100 games. The Braves will have to go 22-9 to win 100 games, which is .710 baseball. That is not impossible and the Braves could play that well and the Phillies that poorly but the chance of both happening is pretty slim.

The numbers are pretty similar for the 2nd place team in the West beating the Braves in the Wild Card race. That’s not likely to happen either.

BraveinPA

August 25th, 2011
10:54 am

Are you speaking from experience Mr Obivious? Will be glad when the Braves shut everyone up especially the sillies up this way- and also last night was classic with Chip Carey saying “root root root for the Bravos” as he led the 7th inning strech at Wrigley.

dtanner

August 25th, 2011
10:54 am

the whole wild card thing was supposed to create more drama and interest,what a joke,drama was 1993 when the braves trailed the giants by 10 at the allstar break and came back to win the division,no wild card then to fall back on,

jeffrey d

August 25th, 2011
10:55 am

That is not impossible and the Braves could play that well and the Phillies that poorly but the chance of both happening is pretty slim.

Well we’ve got the Wild Card lead and the 2nd best record in the NL. What’s the only thing ahead of us? The Phils. Let’s go for it.

Tom

August 25th, 2011
10:58 am

Keep your foot on the accelerator bravo’s. don’t let up till a berth of any kind is clinched

Dr. Phil

August 25th, 2011
10:58 am

I am excited about the Braves’ prospects. September will be interesting with the young pitchers. I don’t recall the Braves having such an assortment of talent in all the years they have been here. In all probability, the Braves will face the Brewers, and that will not be an easy series.

Uh, oh....

August 25th, 2011
11:00 am

I’ve seen this before. Local boy has big rookie season, slowly falls apart, then is traded away where he becomes an average player. Heyward is going the way of Francouer.

goski99

August 25th, 2011
11:02 am

Did anyone notice that during the “big inning” (3 runs against Lowe) that the defense made two errors. Lowe didn’t pitch that bad last night. Even the pitch to Soriano was low and he golfed it out.

Afan

August 25th, 2011
11:05 am

Whats interesting is we do have some money coming off the books. But we apparently dont know where it will be spent.
we know Hinske may be gone. Mclouth is gone. They will keep constanza up. Chipper is back. So what move if any will they make?
Could it be short stop?

bc

August 25th, 2011
11:06 am

Valentine has ruined baseball tonight with his pompous,smug opinions.
Please, espn, find him a team to manage, preferably in Japan,again.

Dr. Sigmund Football

August 25th, 2011
11:07 am

I’m fairly certain Rick Camp has passed on.

a scathing indictment

August 25th, 2011
11:10 am

Originally published 10/08/2002 Rob Neyer ESPN.com

Bobby Cox didn’t help himself in 2002. Ever since 1985, when he managed the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, Cox has lost postseason series because he found himself a hitter or two short at the end of close games. You have to admire people who maintain great strength in their conviction, even after it’s become apparent that their conviction flies in the face of all available evidence. And Cox’s continuing belief in the importance of carrying three catchers on the postseason roster is touching. Reminds me of those people who keep the Flat Earth Society alive.
However, I suspect that it’s not quite so touching if you’re a Braves fan. If you’re a Braves fan, it probably drives you crazy, watching Steve Torrealba rot on the bench while 40-something Julio Franco represented the tying run on first base. If you go back and look at the postseason games the Braves have lost since 1991, you’ll find that they did not lose because their bullpen blew a bunch of leads, and they did not lose because those world-famous starters blew up. Rather, they’ve lost because they didn’t score enough runs, and they didn’t score enough runs because 1) John Schuerholz didn’t provide Cox with a good enough everyday lineup, and 2) Cox, when given the chance to construct his postseason roster, didn’t take advantage and stack his bench with competent hitters.

Let’s hope Fredi is not a member of the Flat Earth Society also.

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record

August 25th, 2011
11:12 am

How can U say this is a pennet race win the Braves R way behind the Fillies?

b

August 25th, 2011
11:12 am

ESPN, please find Valentine a managerial job, preferrably in Japan, again.
The quicker he leaves baseball tonight, the happier everyone will be.

Afan

August 25th, 2011
11:14 am

I dont know that i would call 6.5 games way behind. But if you win the nlcs. wouldnt that be winning the national league pennant?

Sutton's Fro

August 25th, 2011
11:15 am

“If you relax now, you won’t be able to turn it on for the playoffs!” “If you try to win the division, you’ll run of gas for the playoffs!” Gee, which cliche do the Braves need to avoid? I’d say both. This team’s offense has been the definition of “streaky” going through periods of malaise and injury, then they’ll win 5 or 6 games in a row. Fredi seems to be a guy totally committed to “the book,” but he needs to keep rotating guys in and out of the lineup so they can stay fresh without burning out. These guys need some momentum to have a decent chance in the postseason.

If it looks like the Phillies decide to coast (unlikely), then the Braves would be wise to chase down the NL East title. If nothing else, it lines up an opening series at home against the D’Backs instead of on the road against the Brewers.

GP

August 25th, 2011
11:17 am

Big difference between Francouer and heyward is the JF had over 100 RBIs in his first 2 ML seasons. His rookie year (70 Games) he was on pace for more than 100 as well. He never hit lower than .230 in any season which would be a big improvement for JH.

Afan

August 25th, 2011
11:18 am

One of the problems is it seems every time the phillies lose. We lose too.

Hillbilly D

August 25th, 2011
11:19 am

Bobby Valentine Has Ruined Baseball Tonight.

Switch over to MLB Network. Much better programming, most of the commentators are good, and there’s no Valentine. Harold Reynolds is especially good over there. His explanation of Brooks Conrad’s error in the playoffs last year was really interesting. His point was that Conrad was shielded by the umpire and didn’t see the ball until it was right on him, I didn’t hear that mentioned anywhere else.

He then went into a long explanation, complete with film, of how players subtley ask umpires to move. He showed Jayson Werth at the plate, and the 2B umpire was standing on the first base side. With it being a left handed pitcher, the ump was directly behind the pitchers release point and Werth was having trouble picking up the ball. Werth patted the top of his head, which according to Reynolds is the universal sign for asking the ump to move. Then the ump moved and Werth tipped his helmet to thank him. Probably nobody in the ballpark, except the participants ever noticed.

I’m fairly certain Rick Camp has passed on.

You sure about that? I don’t remember hearing anything about him passing on.

Hillbilly D

August 25th, 2011
11:21 am

But if you win the nlcs. wouldnt that be winning the national league pennant?

It indeed would.

BFS

August 25th, 2011
11:21 am

When we were kids playing a pick-up game of whiffle ball, we dreamed of being up to bat in the 9 th inning with a runner in scoring position and the game on the line. 2 outs-full count…wait for it…

Call strike three. You can’t win the big game if you don’t SWING THE BAT!!!

I question Haywards passion for the game at this point.

Heyward for President

August 25th, 2011
11:22 am

Jason is so screwed up right now that he could use some time up in Gwinnett, but he would take a knock to his confidence. We need him on the team BUT producing…… I’d be the Manager if I knew what to do with him. The reason for this post is the complete stupidity Bradley shows on his blogs about the Braves. The pitcher hits Heyward’s bat as Jason swung very hard and Bradley wants to elect him to the HOF. Stick to football Bradley.

oldmike

August 25th, 2011
11:25 am

This team has something other Braves playoff squads lacked. Speed at the top of the order. If they let Bourne loose they can finally manufacture runs. And not sit back and rely on the 5 run homer. Their bullpen in a short (or long) series will only carry them as far as having the lead allows. So we have to play smart playoff baseball the rest of the year. Move runners over. Steal bases. Create some havoc. Thoughts out here on blog land?

bravos fan

August 25th, 2011
11:25 am

Maybe assistance of a sport’s psychologist would be of help. It worked wonders for Smoltz. Heyward has the swing, 5 tool talent to be an elite MLB player. We shouldn’t rush to judge on a 21 year old hitter.

Hillbilly D

August 25th, 2011
11:28 am

oldmike

Good point. The Cubs’ Tony Campana scored a run last night, without benefit of a hit, purely on speed. He reached first base on an error because Uggla was trying to rush the play. He stole second. He went to third on a balk because he affected Lowe’s concentration and scored on an infield ground out.

Bourn can do the same thing.

Hillbilly D

August 25th, 2011
11:29 am

MB

My posts seem to be getting lost in cyberspace again. For some reason it only happens on this blog. Am I tripping the block somehow?

Fred-D

August 25th, 2011
11:38 am

Please give JH a break, if not mistaken, he wasn’t the only one to fail to get a hit last night, just the misfortune of being the last one to not git a hit. By the way what’s the difference between a .200 hitter with 10 at bats and a .300 hitter with 10 at bats? ONE PITCH!!!

PMC

August 25th, 2011
11:40 am

They aren’t sending Jason down because there is no one at Triple A even remotely close to Heyward.

Is this hard to understand?