Where Did 10.5 Games Go?

It’s important for everyone who reads my blog to always keep in mind that I am a fan first and a writer second. This isn’t my career it’s just something to do because I’m passionate about these Atlanta Braves. Just like you guys, I want them to win more then anything. I was 8 years old the last time the Braves won the World Series and I can still remember it. My parents actually let me stay up and watch the game and it was the greatest feeling ever. At the time of course I expected that the Braves would win the World Series every year and I wasn’t old enough to truly appreciate the moment. Tom Glavine pitched a great game and David Justice hit a home run for the only run we would need to beat those pesky Cleveland Indians. Even then good pitching beat good hitting.

Over the years memories tend to fade just a bit and with that memory being 16 years old already I sure could use another taste of a Braves championship. I think that we all could. But to win a championship you first need to make the playoffs. That seems to be something that’s going to be a lot more difficult then we all originally planned.

As I sit here typing this I am in absolute shock that the Braves were up 10.5 games on this Cardinals club less then one month ago. Where did those 9 games go? How did we let things get this bad? Why couldn’t we have put them away when we had a chance? So many questions start racing around your mind and the only human thing to do is remember all of those 1 run losses. So many of them stand out and it could come down to the fact that anyone of those games could have ruined our season. I know that does absolutely NO good right now but I just can’t help it. What if Kimbrel hadnn’t struggled early on in the season? What if he had closed out those games? This team has played SO many one run games that we could easily be a 100 win team right now or very close to it. Look at how many save opportunities Craig Kimbrel has? Look how many games we’ve had to use Venters and O’Flaherty. It’s been chaos every single night for these guys. How many times this year have we had an 8 run lead in the 9th inning? I can’t think of too many, can you guys?

This season has just been such a roller coaster of emotions. Dan Uggla can’t hit and we’re worried he’s going to struggle for the entire year. Jurrjens goes from being an early Cy Young candidate to struggling to injured all in a matter of a couple of weeks. So many injuries have plagued this team. Prado, Heyward, Hanson, Chipper, McCann etc have all been hurt this year. The first half of the season our starting pitching was so dominant and the offense couldn’t score any runs. Now the offense has turned it on a little bit and it’s the pitching that’s falling apart at the wrong time.

Although I don’t believe that any of those things are the reason why we are in the spot were in right now. I know that’ sounds crazy but it’s true. The Braves can’t blame injuries for what they’re going through. Granted they are not helping things at all but this team has a huge case of complacency. That’s the only word I can use to describe this team. I think that they got so comfortable being so far ahead that they started to take their foot off the gas just a little bit.

How would this happen? Well the Braves found themselves in a VERY ODD position for a decent part of the season. After the All-Star break they found themselves falling out of the division race. I think there was a sense that they just weren’t going to catch the Phillies at any point. The Phillies were just too deep and too powerful to try and chase down over the long haul. If this team was going to beat the Phillies they were going to have to do it in the NLCS. Take it to a 7 game series and see how it goes. Head to head they’ve done fairly well against Philadelphia despite the 3 game sweep a couple of weeks back.

The Atlanta Braves would wake up in the morning and look at the newspaper. They had a 7.0 or 8.0 game lead in the Wild Card and were at one point 25 games over .500. Then they look over to the N.L East and see themselves 8 or more games out. To them they felt like a division leader. They weren’t going to catch Philadelphia and they didn’t expect anyone to catch them.

It’s very easy to get relaxed when you have a substantial lead in the Wild Card or Division standings. It’s very difficult to play for “staying in first”. It’s a tough spot to be in especially in a baseball season. You have to motivate yourself every single night, it’s not the NFL where you have to get motivated for 1 game a week. This is a totally different ball game, no pun intended.

The urgency gets away from you in baseball. This game was meant to test you mentally as much as physically. In a sport where you can lose 2,3,4 games in a row and not have it end your season it’s tough to stay motivated.  A team in the NFL loses 4 games in a row and they are basically done. You get swept in a baseball series in the middle of Aug, no one really thinks that much of it. This is a game that will kick you in the gut if you don’t come out fighting every single night. It’s a game where you wake up one morning and think what just happened? The kill is slow and painful. It’s not a knock out punch.

The Atlanta Braves were getting ready for the playoffs in the middle of Aug if not before. This team never thought they would be in this spot. Leads can disappear quickly if you’re not careful. Look at the 2007 Mets. They were up 7 full games on the Phillies on Sept 12th and just absolutely collapsed. The bottom can fall out at anytime.

So everyone is thinking. Come on Bob what’s with all the negativity? Well I’m not in denial of what’s going on here and you guys read this blog for my opinions. I wouldn’t be doing you guys any service if I held anything back. I have to give you guys the truth 100%.

What are we facing now? Well we have 6 games left and we’re getting the heck out of Florida. No more looking back we can only look forward. I can’t believe I’m the one who’s saying that right now as I have the toughest time doing that myself.

Were currently 1.5 games up and tomorrow we can FINALLY get rid of that .5 game. Being from the North East I will have full access to the Mets-Cardinals game tomorrow so I will watch as much of it as I can. The Cardinals can close the gap to 1 full game or the Braves can see their lead expand to 2 full games. The schedules will even out and both clubs will have 6 games remaining. I’d actually feel OK with a 2 game lead with 6 to play. Leaves a tiny bit of room for error which I like. It’s obviously better then just a one game lead.

The Braves head to DC to play the Washington Nationals. Tim Hudson will pitch game 1, the Braves ace needs to come up big. The offense needs to score some runs. This is do or die time. The plan to ride it out the storm just isn’t working and we need to take care of business ourselves. Washington rolled over Philadelphia but is that because the Phillies are already packing it in? What kind of Phillies team will we get in the last 3 games of the season? Do they play all out just to spite the Braves? Last year they took 2 of 3 from us to close out the season.

We’ll need Hudson and Beachy to come up big for us in this series. It’s not a “must” but I’d love to see us sweep the Nationals and really get some momentum going as we head home for the last 3 games. I think that’s what this team needs.

It’s still too close to call and the Braves are far from out of this thing but the Cardinals are RED HOT right now and we’re slumping. That could change at any moment though, baseball is a streaky game. It would be a great start if the Mets could actually help us out tomorrow and give us a 2 game lead heading into the final 6. I think that would be a nice confidence and moral boost for this team. Have the Cardinals feel the pain of missing an golden opportunity. It would put a little bit of a damper on their momentum.

Tomorrow is a much needed off day. Fredi Gonzalez needs to motivate this team without throwing them into panic mode. I understand this can be very difficult. Let’s hope he can find away to calmly remind them that the Wild Card is still theirs to lose, the Cardinals aren’t in first we are. But at the same time he needs to stress the importance of winning OUR GAMES and not relying on other teams to do our dirty work. The Mets didn’t get it done in the first 2 games of this series but then again we didn’t do our job either.

By: Bob McVinua

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