Playoff Hopes “Chopped” To Pieces

I will once again reiterate the fact that I’m nothing more then a baseball fan who loves to write sports articles in his free time. This post is not a “sports writers” perspective on the Atlanta Braves, this is a die hard Braves fan who was left heart broken after last nights game. I’ve been a fan of this team since 1994 and I have seen some tough moments throughout the years. The 1996 World Series loss to the Yankees. Making it back to the World Series in 1999 with a great team and once again running into those same Yankees. Year after year of losing in the playoffs because of lack of offense became very frustrating for me. The offense has let us down at some point in the season, whether it was in the regular season or the post season, every year since I can remember. Even in the great string of post season runs we would always fall short because our offense just didn’t have it.

Game 1 of the 1999 World Series Greg Maddux pitched an absolute gem. He ran out of gas late in the game and when you looked at the score board as he walked off the field it was 1-0 Braves. Chipper Jones had hit a home run for his club, a solo shot that was the only run of the game. Once again we could have asked where was the offense?

The point I’m trying to make is that this is nothing new. We’ve been in need of an offensive makeover for quite some time. When was the last time anyone was truly afraid to face the Braves offense? Yea we did have some big bats in the line up in the late 90’s with Andruw Jones and Brian Jordan swinging the bats pretty well and of course we had Chipper Jones in the prime of his career doing everything he could to win games for us.

So what about this years club? Where did we go wrong? What happened? The first thing that we need to realize as sports fans is that EVERY GAME does count even when there’s 162 of them. No there isn’t any point in harping on the past or what the team did in April, May or June. However it does prove a point, one that will never be learned. Last years Braves club made the playoffs by 1 game. They were the ones along with the Giants who ended the Padres season last year. They were the team causing the heartbreak. But even so it was 1 game, they won the Wild Card on the last game of the season by 1 game. If they had won ANY of the close games they lost this year then we’d be playing in a one game playoff against the Cardinals tonight. I realize that close loses are going to happen and that you can’t win them all but when you’re down 5-4 on a hot July afternoon in the 9th inning maybe it makes you realize that you should hustle just a little bit harder or be just a little bit more patient at the plate, as you should never take any game lightly. Just like in politics where 1 vote can make a big difference, one game in the baseball season can do the same.

Chipper seemed quick to remind everyone that they were throwing 3  rookies every 5 days and that was a big part of why they were struggling. Really? So did Randall Delgado pitch better or worse then Derek Lowe this month? Would you rather have had Derek Lowe pitch a late Sept game this year, or would you rather go with Minor, Teheran or Beachy? Think about it. These guys kept us in a lot of ball games this month. I have said this countless times in these posts so I apologize for sounding like a broken record but it’s the truth. The Braves after last night lost SEVEN ” 1 run” ball games this MONTH alone. You can’t even tell me Chipper that you didn’t make the playoffs because you had injuries to the pitching staff. Maybe the injuries of Jurrjens and Hanson would have prevented you from making a World Series run, alright I’ll buy that but they were NOT the reason you didn’t make the playoffs. The offense was the reason that we didn’t make the playoffs and for more then one reason.

The Atlanta Braves hit under .200 with runners in scoring position this month and even in last nights game the big hit eluded them several times. Several players came up to the plate with a chance to drive in what would have been the game winning run on several occasions.  So if the Braves go 2-5 in those 7 games decided by ONE RUN then they are in the playoffs right now. Yup, they would have had to go 2-5 that’s it. They would have won the Wild Card by one game just like they did last year.

An enormous part of the Braves success this season was their ability to AVOID THE SWEEP. They did that very well through the first series of Sept. The bend don’t break attitude of this team was the reason they had such a big wild card lead in the first place. The one thing you need to do in baseball is avoid getting swept. Winning 2 out of 3 on a regular basis will leave you with a solid record at the end of the season. Even winning 1 of 3 from time to time will prevent long losing streaks. The Braves never lost more then 2 or 3 games in a row because they refused to get swept. This team had never experienced a true downward spiral until the end of the season when they got SWEPT THREE TIMES in one month.

Looking back the biggest series of the year was the one where the Braves went to St. Louis. They had a commanding Wild Card lead at this point, one that I believe was around 7.5 games. I said it several times before the series began, DON”T GET SWEPT. In game 1 of the series the Braves had the Cardinals down to their final out. Kimbrel was an out a way from insuring that we would win at least one of those 3 games. He blew the save and the Cardinals would steal the first game right out from under us and go onto win the other 2 games and complete the sweep.

That’s where this season went down hill. Getting swept by Philadelphia twice in one month didn’t help things either but losing all 3 of those games to the Cardinals proved costly. When they left the field after game 3 they were flying high and knew they had a shot to win this thing. That’s exactly what we didn’t want. Things were very different after that series as we would only win 1 more series the rest of the way and continue to plummet once we left St. Louis that day.

Now can you imagine if we had swept them? And the Cardinals were then moved to 10.5 back at that point? They probably would have been so heart broken that they might have fallen off right then and there. That would have been a 10.5 game lead with roughly 15 games left? We would have been a lock even with our recent struggles. Or even if we took 2 of 3 from them like we had been doing to teams all year long. We would have had an 8.5 game lead with 15 to play. Instead we left St. Louis up 4.5 with 15 to play and we weren’t feeling so warm and fuzzy about that.

Now mind you this will be part 1 of 2 in this season ending post. I will blog throughout the off season on various topics if you are still interested in Braves baseball all year round you’re in luck. This post is to sum up what went wrong in month of Sept and point out a few other basic down turns the Braves experienced. The second part will go into more detail about why the team struggled in certain areas and how they can possibly improve their team for next season.

The “collapse” as people are calling it was the entire month of Sept. I won’t deny that because it’s a fact. However let’s use a magnifying glass for a second. Lets zoom in a little closer. On Sept 23rd this team was up 3 games with 5 to play after the Cubs shocked the Cardinals at Bush Stadium. Up 3 games with 5 to play makes this “collapse” even worse in my opinion because despite playing horrible baseball for 3 weeks they were still in a GREAT position to make the post season.

Yes I’m focusing a lot on just the idea of this team making the post season and not so much their chances of winning a World Series or anything like that because to win a championship you need to make the playoffs, it’s that simple. So right now this team can’t look beyond making the playoffs for next season. They will have to regroup this off season and figure out not only what went wrong but how they can fix it. Knowing that something went badly is not enough, you need to be able to fix it as well.

The 2011 Braves gave us a lot highs and lows this year. It’s always disappointing when baseball season ends but baseball is a friend that only moves away for the winter and then comes back to visit again in the spring in summer. Think of it as time share.  🙂

Last night’s loss kind of summed up the feeling that I have been having for the past few weeks. Desperately hoping this team would find a way to get a big hit. Desperately hoping that this nightmare would soon end and I’d wake up and see this team in the postseason. It just wasn’t meant to be. Not this year anyways.

Even as a kid when I would see the Braves get eliminated from the playoffs year after year there would always be heartbreak and a touch of frustration as well. When you play 162 games I think that the concept of “having to start ALL over” is what kills baseball fans who suffer this type of defeat. We have to start all over next spring with game 1 and watch 162 games of baseball before we can even start to envision this team back in the playoffs. It’s never over until it’s over and I think Braves fans will never take another late season lead for granted again and I hope the players have learned the same lesson.

I will write part 2 either later or tomorrow depending on my time schedule. It’s kind of a rainy day up here which kind of suits my mood.

By: Bob McVinua

 

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