Live from Braves-Phillies: A playoff series to reach the playoffs

A tight-lipped Fredi Gonzalez before tonight's tilt. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A tight-lipped Fredi Gonzalez before tonight's titanic tilt. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

One game up, three to go. If the Braves take two of three from Philadelphia, they’ll be assured of playing beyond the 162nd game — even if it’s a Thursday play-in in St. Louis. If they sweep the Phillies, this nose-diving team will have bounded into the playoffs and all those who’d dismissed their chances will conveniently forget those dismissals.

“We still control our own destiny,” Chipper Jones said, speaking late Monday afternoon. And it’s true. They do, at least for the moment. But the colder truth is that these Braves haven’t controlled much of anything since Labor Day.

The Braves led the wild-card chase by 8 1/2 games on Sept. 1. They’ve won two of the eight series since, and one of those two wasn’t really a series: It was a doubleheader in New York rescheduled from the washed-out Irene weekend of August. On Sept. 1, these Braves won their 81st game.  Twenty-two games later, they still haven’t reached 90 victories.

The past week has been spent asking where this would rank among epic collapses over the fullness of baseball history — worse than the ‘69 Cubs or the ‘78 Red Sox or the ‘64 Phillies? — but this caveat needs to be attached: All those teams had to win their division/league to reach postseason; these Braves have only to finish first among runners-up. And they’ve spent a month casting doubt on their capacity to achieve even that.

Some of this has been bad luck: When you lose your two best starting pitchers, you’re going to feel it. The Braves are trying to make the playoffs with a rotation that includes three rookies, which nobody can remember happening, and if they get there it’s unclear who, if anyone, will start the games in the Division Series. But that’s a different discussion for (perhaps) another day.

At issue now: Can the flagging Braves steel themselves for three days more? Game 1 didn’t figure to be easy: The Braves were scheduled to face Cliff Lee and the full complement of Phillies starters Monday night, and in a weird way that didn’t seem a mismatch. Because the Braves, who’d won four of their past 10 games, had actually been the hotter of the teams.

The Phillies clinched the National League East on Sept. 17. They then lost their next eight games. Yeah, they’ve been resting guys, but still: Is that the way to prepare for the playoffs? (One thing the Phillies’ skid did do was yield another of baseball’s bizarre benchmarks: This became the first team ever to lose eight straight after winning its 98th game.)

At their September nadir, the Braves have only lose four in a row. They haven’t been winning much, but they’ve won just enough to stay in front. That might sound like the faintest of praise, but it’s still something to note: With three games left, you’d rather be ahead than behind.

Said Jones: “We’ve had more than enough opportunities to walk off the field with wins that would have put this away long ago.”

They have, absolutely. But they haven’t blown this yet, and there’s no guarantee they will. “We have to treat this as a playoff series,” Jones said.

Then, asked about the mood in the locker room: “The locker room’s fine. The dugout might get a little tight at times.”

Someone wondered if Jones, who’s 39, still gets nervous. He smiled. “I don’t really get nervous,” he said. “I break it down to its simplest form: It’s the game of baseball; I’ve done this thousands and thousands of times.”

In his star-spangled career, Chipper Jones has seen everything — a World Series title, an MVP season in which he essentially decided a tight race, 13 playoff appearances. But he has never seen his Braves blow an 8 1/2-game lead in September and miss the postseason. If it happens, this would be a first.

But it might not happen. They might just ride out the worst ride of their lives. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Braves awoke Monday with a 71.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s probably better than they deserve, but in baseball as in life, you don’t always get what you deserve.

And with that, the floor is again open for questions, comments and prophecies of doom. I welcome your input. I value your company. I appreciate your insights.

OK, enough. Join me, won’t you? And I thank you, as ever, in advance.

By Mark Bradley

835 comments Add your comment

Paul H

September 26th, 2011
5:57 pm

Ben

September 26th, 2011
5:57 pm

The Braves can do this…they just have to do things they’ve not done all year. One has to assume that the components of our lineup HAVE hit behind runners, with runners on, or worked pitchers from the first pitch before, right? How’d they get this far otherwise? Also, a nice outing from Delgado would be nice.

Wink

September 26th, 2011
5:58 pm

Crickets…..

Paul H

September 26th, 2011
5:59 pm

They haven’t given us a lot of reason to believe, but it would be a heck of a way to go into the playoffs by taking a series against the Phils in the last series of the season.

J DUB

September 26th, 2011
5:59 pm

Not sure I can take watching these games over the next 3 days!!!!!!!!!!!

Paul H

September 26th, 2011
6:00 pm

Surprisingly, I’m more confident with Delgado on the mound tonight than anyone else save Huddy.

Wink

September 26th, 2011
6:00 pm

What? Nothing to say about this team…crikets!

WoW

September 26th, 2011
6:03 pm

Unless a MASSIVE miracle happens, the Braves are done.

Sonny Clusters

September 26th, 2011
6:04 pm

Someone wondered if Jones, who’s 39, still gets nervous. He smiled. “I don’t really get nervous,” he said. “I break it down to its simplest form: It’s the game of baseball; I’ve done this thousands and thousands of times.”

With the same result. No ring.

Sonny Clusters

September 26th, 2011
6:08 pm

In the photo: Is that cap already tipped?

Mark Bradley

September 26th, 2011
6:08 pm

Not true, Sonny. Chipper Jones was the third baseman on the 1995 World Series champs.

pittman

September 26th, 2011
6:08 pm

score early score early score early This is a huge advantage the braves have as St Louis will be doing some scoreboard watching tonight

Mark Bradley

September 26th, 2011
6:08 pm

I thought about making a hat-tipping joke. But I opted against it.

2012 FEAR THE END

September 26th, 2011
6:09 pm

i would rather not

KenDawg

September 26th, 2011
6:10 pm

Braves win 1 of 3, and the Cards win 2 of 3 in Houston. I see a one game playoff this week.

Skeezix

September 26th, 2011
6:10 pm

It has been painful watching them struggle game after game. I don’t expect the Braves to win this series, but maybe the Astros can surprise the world.

Craig

September 26th, 2011
6:11 pm

Enjoy watching them implode. 1 run in the past 2 games against the nats. This team is a choking collpasing no emotion joke. good riddance and go philly. Sweep these losers.

Wrong

September 26th, 2011
6:12 pm

Actually they don’t control it. The phillies do. The superior team is Philly. Not these losers.

Oger

September 26th, 2011
6:12 pm

Playoffs start now. Gotta get to Lee early. Hopefully with the long ball. If we don’t hit homers I think we’re finished. Hopefully Mac or Uggs steps up and has a big series. Also hope Gonzo still has the hot bat.

Bag-o Bats

September 26th, 2011
6:13 pm

All I can stomach now is the announcement to come in Feburary for pitchers and catchers to show up for spring training. This year is toast! I know it, you know it, the Braves know it and all of baseball knows it. We couldn’t hit our way out of a wet paper bag and neither could our pitchers throw a fit, much less a shutout which is what it would take with our hitters on strike…………………………………….

Sonny Clusters

September 26th, 2011
6:15 pm

Yes, we know but how many times has Chipper gone home early when the Braves seemingly had the best team? We’d rather hear what Hinske has to say. Two rings in three tries. The Braves seem to get the same result year after year. Early exit. Making Opening Day of Deer Season is not a good thing for a baseball player.

aol.com

September 26th, 2011
6:16 pm

Only a few more day before states like Alabama stop ing about the Braves and start talking about how bam a has given mens suits to there players and well the NCAA come down on them after their investigation . Always hate it when the braves season comes to a end. Roll tide

Robert

September 26th, 2011
6:17 pm

It speaks volumes to the ravaged staff that the Braves are barely holding on in a playoff race and are starting a rookie for the 159th game. Yet as banged up as the Braves pitching is, it’s the hitting — or lack thereof — that has doomed the team this month. No clutch hitting to think of. Do I want to see them make the playoffs? Sure. Do I think they’ll do anything with a patch-work rotation and c-c-c-cold lineup? Not really.

J-Man

September 26th, 2011
6:18 pm

The Falcons choking, the Braves choking……….Thank GOD we won’t hvae to see the Hawks choke this year. I will be watching WWE tonight because there won’t be nothing to watch until next April.

Joe

September 26th, 2011
6:18 pm

The Braves going to the playoffs is possible but it ain’t probable. I think the team is too dejected to turn things around at this late date,

J-Man

September 26th, 2011
6:19 pm

Braves and Falcons choke and they stand pat…….well I’m gonna watch Monday Night Raw instead

Dennis Reynolds

September 26th, 2011
6:20 pm

Mark,
How does the attendance look so far?

Frank Shab PA

September 26th, 2011
6:22 pm

The Braves will not win another game this year. This is so sad! The Braves are nearing the end of an epic collapse. This is from a Braves fan since 1959 (Milwaukee then). I’ve endured alot in 52 years but this takes the cake. Very sad time for me in the middle of Phillie Land. Scranton /Wilkes-Barre area.

George Stein

September 26th, 2011
6:22 pm

If the Braves blow this lead, the first finger should be pointed at the manager. He has had 159 tries to design a competent lineup and has failed miserably. He has had 159 tries – in Atlanta, that is – to learn to use a bullpen appropriately without abusing his pitchers and has failed miserably.

Truth be told, even if this team wins the World Series, Fredi needs to go. He has added no value to this team and has likely damaged its chances to win beyond this season.

Runnin With The Dawgs

September 26th, 2011
6:23 pm

So if we end up in a tie with the Cards for the wildcard how does that work? is it a one game playoff or best of four or what?

Dennis Reynolds

September 26th, 2011
6:24 pm

Mark Bradley

September 26th, 2011
6:25 pm

One-game playoff in St. Louis on Thursday

coach

September 26th, 2011
6:25 pm

1. Bourn CF
2. Castanza RF
3. Freeman 1B
4. Uggla 2B
5. Chipper 3B
6. McCann C
7. Wilson SS
8. Prado LF

Mark Bradley

September 26th, 2011
6:26 pm

Crowd is late-arriving

Sonny Clusters

September 26th, 2011
6:27 pm

Clusters babies are born ready to play ball and we was no exception. We was catching and throwing at the hospital and we was hitting when we got home. When we was a little baby learning to play ball and the pitcher was having control problems Coach would always tell us to make the pitcher throw us a strike before we took a swing. That was some sound advice because throwing a Clusters one down the middle will always cost you a run. We won’t be Hall of Fame like somebody on the Braves but we won’t be remembered for always losing in the playoffs, either. It’s a good thing he likes deer because a deer can be a good buddy in the woods. If we was bragging about beating the Phillies in the playoffs and then we blew the wild card we’d go into the woods and not come out for awhile. We’d get a big cooler and stock up on some Dairy Queen and we could last awhile.

smyrnabob

September 26th, 2011
6:27 pm

I believe the Braves have reached that now or never point of the season. It appears they may have worn out that young bullpen.

Dennis Reynolds

September 26th, 2011
6:28 pm

Wow. Why am I not surprised?

You know the players have to love playing for this city….

Skeezix

September 26th, 2011
6:28 pm

A four game playoff? How does that work?

Robert from Woodstock

September 26th, 2011
6:28 pm

If the Braves blow this lead, it will be time for John Schurholtz to find a new general manger and manager. Fredi doesn;t show any emotion in the dugout, maybe a little enthusiasm would help the players.

Heyward grounds out to second

September 26th, 2011
6:28 pm

What’s the feeling in the clubhouse before the game?

Dennis Reynolds

September 26th, 2011
6:28 pm

Wow. Why am I not surprised?

You know the players have to love playing for this city…

coach

September 26th, 2011
6:28 pm

Mark, Why do you think Castanza hasn’t played very much during all these games we haven’t been able to score much in?

Sonny Clusters

September 26th, 2011
6:29 pm

If you think the crowd is small tonight, wait until they start Lowe tomorrow night.

Disaster

September 26th, 2011
6:29 pm

Game 1
Philly 6
Braves 2

Game 2
Philly 5
Braves 3

Game 3
Braves 2
Philly 1

St louis sweeps Houston and wins the wild card.
Boston also makes it making the braves the biggest chokers ever.

coach

September 26th, 2011
6:31 pm

Mark,
Why haven’t the Braves played Castanza more often during their time of offensive struggles? They were winning and playing their best ball while McCann was out, Freeman batting 3rd and Castanza playing havoc on the base paths.

Fan Forever

September 26th, 2011
6:32 pm

Mark,

What are your thoughts on how the Phillies will approach this game? Pitch count limits? Starters rotate out after a certain inning?

From a strategy standpoint I would think the phillies would want us to be in the playoffs over the cards, but I know Charlie is all about playing it out his hardest until the end so I can’t see them throwing the game. Your thoughts?

Speaking of deer

September 26th, 2011
6:32 pm

Chipper looks like a deer in headlights at the plate since his we can beat philly comment. Way to go retard! You created this mess by opening your redneck mouth. Just retire so we dont have to endure another one of your injury plagued loser seasons.

Jason

September 26th, 2011
6:33 pm

Charlie M already said his starters would be on a 75 pitch count. But don’t expect the braves to work the count to get to the bullpen. They dont use common sense.

coach

September 26th, 2011
6:33 pm

Mark, Why haven’t the Braves played Castanza more during their offensive struggles? They were doing good with McCann on the dl, Freeman batting 3rd and Castanza playing havoc on the base paths.

coach

September 26th, 2011
6:34 pm

Why haven’t the Braves played Castanza more during their offensive struggles? They were doing good with McCann on the dl, Freeman batting 3rd and Castanza playing havoc on the base paths.