Update: The Mets scored six runs in the ninth inning to beat St. Louis 8-6 after the Cardinals’ Rafael Furcal, of whom you’ve heard, couldn’t field a double-play grounder. The Braves lead the Cards by two games with six to play. Big break.
Today is an important day for the Braves, and they don’t even play. (The way they’re going, that’s a good thing.) The Cardinals are scheduled to complete their three-game series against the Mets this afternoon, and what happens in St. Louis will have a direct effect on the Braves’ psyche this next week.
Today’s the day when that half-game in the standings goes away. If the Cardinals lose, they’ll be two back with six to go. That’s still too close for comfort, but it beats the heck out of the alternative, which would be …
One game back, six to go.
The Braves appeared to have steadied last week. They held that 4 1/2-game lead for four days, saw it reduced to 3 1/2 on Friday, pushed it back to 4 1/2 on Saturday. They were positioned to keep it there Sunday afternoon, but Jonny Venters blew a lead and then Craig Kimbrel blew one the next night and suddenly they were only 2 1/2 games in front. After amassing two hits against Javier Vazquez (former Brave) last night while the Cardinals surged past the Mets yet again, the lead’s at 1 1/2.
And nothing’s steady now. The Braves led St. Louis by 10 1/2 games on Aug. 25, by 8 1/2 the day after Labor Day, which was barely two weeks ago. But the Braves have stopped hitting (again) and their rotation has been reduced to Tim Hudson and assorted rookies and the bullpen has started to wobble and …
According to Baseball Prospectus’ playoffs odds, the Braves’ chances of reaching the postseason stand at 70.3 percent. A week ago they were at 95 percent. This time next week they could be at 0 percent.
I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t think they were in real trouble until Monday night. But now I do. They’ve lost consecutive series to teams with losing records. They’ve won one of the past five series. They’ve lost 13 of 20 games. If they’re put in position where one more bad night could mean they’re no longer leading the wild-card race, I’m not sure how they’ll react.
The difference between a one-game and a two-game lead isn’t that much on paper, but with six games remaining a two-game lead could be viewed as almost healthy. A one-game lead could not. For a team that has had little go right this past fortnight, seeing the Cardinals lose today would be a major boost. But those Redbirds don’t seem to be losing much, do they?
The good news: Lefthander Chris Capuano is starting for the Mets, and he can be effective. The bad: He has won only twice in his past nine starts, and both victories, wouldn’t you know, were against the local nine. So the Braves have that going for them, which is … not really nice.
By Mark Bradley