I had my lecture notes ready, and the subject was, “Patience, children.” The Braves had overridden a 4-1 deficit through much help from the opponent and were one out from victory, and victory would mean a 3 1/1-game lead with eight remaining. And Craig Kimbrel, Mr. Automatic for the People, was on to do what Craig Kimbrel does, and after a nervous couple of days — heck, a nervous couple of weeks — order was set to be restored.
Then Craig Kimbrel, who had yielded one home run in his first 97 big-league appearances, was touched for his second in two days. Doing the deed: Omar Infante, former Brave and author of five homers this season. And the lead’s down to 2 1/2 games with eight left, the Cardinals somehow having gained ground on a night when they faced Roy Halladay and the Braves were one out from victory.
And now I say, “Patience? It can be overrated.”
As of Sunday afternoon, I was convinced the Braves were still in fine shape. They were 4 1/2 up and had a one-run lead on the Mets, and the Braves with a one-run lead this season have been safe as houses. But Jonny Venters started walking people, which Jonny Venters sometimes does, and this time he couldn’t tiptoe out of it. One blown save, one game lost on the field, one game lost (after St. Louis beat Cole Hamels on Sunday night) in the standings. And now this reversal in Miami. And now …
My faith is, shall we say, undergoing a test.
Even in a season where Dan Uggla stopped hitting for three months and 40 percent of the rotation has gotten hurt, these Braves have been able to bank on their bullpen. It’s why they were 8 1/2 games in front the morning after Labor Day. It’s why they figure — figured? — to be a tough out in the postseason. But now the bullpen is showing the strain, and if that goes then what’s left?
I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure I want to know the answer. All I know for certain is this: I no longer consider the Braves a postseason certainty.
On paper, they still should make it. But some games are so galling they make you wad up that paper and toss it in the trashcan.
By Mark Bradley