It All Comes Down To This

They safe life comes down to just a few defining moments and this is one of them for the Atlanta Braves. These last 3 games are not just about the 2011 season. These last 3 games can create or erase a possible legacy that could haunt the Braves franchise for years to come. Being up 10.5 games at the end of Aug and not making the postseason could go down as one of the biggest late season collapses of all time. People still talk about the 2007 Mets and other teams that failed to make the postseason after possessing such a large lead in the standings so late in the season.

You don’t want to become a catch phrase or a locker room joke. “Don’t pull an Atlanta Braves collapse”. This season could be referenced in the poorest context for years to come. If we were to make the postseason and get swept in the first round none of this would even matter. No one talks about teams that have gotten swept in the playoffs, that happens all the time. However teams with 10.5 game leads usually don’t cough them up and fail to make the postseason.

If you had asked me a month ago if we would be in this situation, I would have said no way. Now here’s the thing. Yes I did  think the Braves were a good ball club and they seemed to be taking care of business on a nightly basis. I had the utmost confidence in this ball club. However my other reason for being so confident was the teams that were chasing us didn’t seem to have much life left in them. The Cardinals were struggling and at one point like I mentioned fell 10.5 back. I thought that was the breaking point for them. When we took 3/4 from the Giants at Turner Field I could feel their momentum start to disappear. Their offense was just horrible and they were putting far too much pressure on that pitching staff. So I honestly looked at the standings and said even if the Braves struggle some down the stretch, who could possibly catch them?

And that’s why you PLAY THE GAMES. No one saw the Cardinals getting that HOT down the stretch and I didn’t think the Braves would play so poorly down the stretch either. The two combined have left me absolutely stunned. I saw this team as a lock for the Wild Card and actually thought we were a likely contender to play in the NLCS contenders.

Over the month of September so much has changed. The “collapse”, as bad as it looks in the standings could have EASILY been avoided. Let’s take a closer look at some of the Braves September highlights. The first time I really looked at things this closely I wasn’t sure if I felt better or worse.

The Braves have gone 9-15 in the month of Sept.

The Braves have lost 6 games this month by ONE run

The collapse really began when the Braves were swept by Philadelphia

Just a few days later we were swept by the Cardinals

Craig Kimbrel blew two crucial saves this month. One against the Cardinals and one against the Marlins

Johnny Venters coughed up an 8th inning lead against the Mets in what would prove to be a crucial loss

An additional two losses came in defeats where the Braves lost the game by just TWO runs.

That’s far from a detailed breakdown of the Braves final month but it does show that things haven’t completely gotten away from them. When I first looked at these stats I wasn’t sure if I felt good about things because it showed that the Braves were still fairly competitive this month despite losing a lot of games. Or did it make me feel even worse because this team had so many opportunities to close this thing out. Our season could have been lost on 2 outs. The last out in St. Louis and the last out in Florida where Kimbrel got 2 outs on both teams in both games and we couldn’t close them out. We get those 2 outs and we have a 3 game lead going into the final series. No one would be worried or panicked at all. We win one game or the Cardinals lose one game and we’re in. Simple as that.

This may be one of my last positive spins of the season so I know you guys want to hear it. This may be getting old but it still holds true at least for right now. We are the team being CHASED, not doing the chasing. Tomorrow worse case scenario is that we’re tied. Still not chasing.

If we win 2 out of 3 from the Phillies and the Cardinals win 2 out of 3 from the Astros then WE are the team going to the playoffs. They need a little bit of luck and we control our own destiny. They have to play one game better then us in the final series of the season JUST to force a one game playoff. Yes, it’s in St. Louis but we would still have a shot to win that game. No one can put someone as a 100% chance to win or lose in a single game that could go either way. NFL style.

Another thing to consider is this. What will each of the 2 opponents bring to the table. The Astros are a team that’s been out of it since like May and have absolutely nothing to play for. Are they motivated to try and play spoiler or are they ready to get their golf clubs and head home for the winter? It could go either way. I suspect they will come out and play because a lot of guys on the roster are fighting for spots on next year’s team. Not to mention the Cardinals are a division opponent which always adds some incentive.

The Phillies are another team with nothing to play for and that’s a very difficult thing to do. They have struggled badly over the past week or so and who’s to say that won’t continue tonight? Maybe they come out a little flat tonight and the Braves jump all over them? It’s not like the Braves haven’t beaten Cliff Lee before and it’s not like the Braves haven’t beaten this same Phillies team earlier in the season when both clubs were hungry for wins.

In my opinion I have to put my money on the hungry dog. I believe that the hungry dog will fight harder for a meal then a dog that’s well taken care of. When your backs against the wall then people see what you’re really made out of. The Braves have been playing postseason like games for the past week if not more. If they do make it to the postseason the stressful atmosphere shouldn’t bother them too much.

If I was forced to make a prediction I would say that both the Cardinals and the Braves BOTH win 2 out of 3, leaving the Braves to claim the Wild Card. I have a feeling that the Astros will put up enough fight this series to grab one game from the Cardinals. And that win might come tonight with Wandy on the mound, it’s probably  their best shot.

The Phillies will probably pack it in for the final game, I’ve heard they will be going with a “bullpen mix” for the final game and the Braves will throw Tim Hudson. So I think we will win game 3 of this series and either game 1 or 2. I think that will be enough to clinch a Wild Card spot.

By: Bob McVinua




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