The wild-card chase could, essentially if not quite mathematically, be over by Monday night. The Braves play three games against the Mets here and then head to Miami for a three-game set there. The Cardinals play four games in Philadelphia. Any combination of two Philly victories or Braves’ losses clinches the National League East for the Phillies.
But that’s the catch. The Braves need not to lose these next couple of days so Philadelphia has no cause to rest its starters starting, say, tomorrow and thereby give St. Louis a premature break. If the Braves win the next two and the Cardinals lose the next two, the Braves will lead by 6 1/2 games with 10 to play and the WC race will be all but over.
The Braves had some frazzled moments against the Marlins this week, but they steadied themselves and won two of three. That’s usually what happens in September mismatched matchups: You might struggle but you’re not going to lose the series. When you have a 4 1/2-game lead, you’ll be all right so long as you don’t get swept by somebody. (This only tightened because the Braves got swept in St. Louis, but the lead has held at 4 1/2 since Sunday night.)
The playoff odds, as calculated by Baseball Prospectus, show the Braves with a 96 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason. That’s comforting. Of even greater comfort would be a winning start by Derek Lowe tonight.
If the Braves go 6-6, the Cardinals would have to finish 11-2 just to tie. Should the Braves go 6-6, they’ll also surpass last year’s victory total of 91. This has been too good a season to come undone now. Just a few more days’ work and October will be here. And these Braves will be part of it.
By Mark Bradley