Tagged: Cardinals

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


161 Games Weren’t Enough

Baseball is a funny game. It really is. The Braves and Cardinals have each played 161 games and nothing has been decided. I realize that this is not the first or last time this will happen but when you really think about it, how crazy is it that two teams that have played that many games have identical records? With all that goes on during the regular season you would think it’d be extremely unlikely. However here we are, the situation isn’t a good one for the Braves but yet I still find comfort in the fact that it could be worse.

There is obviously a lot of emphasis on game 162 tonight, as there should be. Two teams are fighting for the final playoff spot in the National League and both come from very different situations. The Braves are a team that started out strong and built a huge lead in the standings, only to let it slip away. The Cardinals on the other hand, saw a late season surge that allowed them to get right back into this race.

Two teams in the same spot that took two completely different paths to get there. Now sure momentum is huge here and the Cardinals certainly have that. However both teams find themselves in a VERY dangerous situation. It’s a one game season right now and you never know what will happen in any given game as it is just a TINY piece of the baseball season. For all we know Carpenter can take the mound for the Cardinals tonight and give up 6 runs in the first inning. Would that be the first time an ace pitcher has gotten hammered? How will Hudson fare under the bright lights of game 162? We just don’t know. The key for both teams will be to get off to a fast start.

A lot of people look at these match ups and say that the Braves are in a tougher spot then the Cardinals. Yes on paper the Cardinals are playing the Astros and the Braves are playing the Phillies. But lets look just a little bit closer. Hudson will face Joe Blanton who hasn’t made a ton of starts this year and the ones he has made haven’t been very good at all. The Braves have a HUGE advantage in this game as they also have the home town fans on their side and to me that does make a difference.

The Cardinals are playing a team with over 100 loses. But tonight they are facing a red hot Brett Myers who has an era of under 2.00 for the month of Sept. He’s throwing the ball extremely well right now and he is capable of shutting down the Cardinal offense and hopefully he will. Carpenter will give the Cardinals a great chance to win as well but the pitching match up here is much more balanced then the one that will be going on in Atlanta.

The Braves have backed themselves into a corner but still control their own destiny. At no point in this season have they needed another team to lose so badly. They just needed to take care of their own business which they have failed to do. They have had the Wild Card lead since the 20th of June! That’s over 3 months of being on t op in the standings and to lose it all on the last day of the season would be heart breaking.

If the Braves win and the Cardinals lose they are in.

If the Braves lose and the Cardinals lose then they have a one game playoff

If the Braves win and the Cardinals win then they have a one game playoff.

If the Braves lose and the Cardinals win then they will be eliminated.

3 out of the 4 scenarios are decent for Atlanta. They would at least give them the chance to play an extra game tomorrow. Only 1 of the 3 scenarios is troublesome. So in a sense we still control our own destiny. If we win today then we can’t go home and that’s something the Braves need to take comfort in.

By: Bob McVinua


A Season Of “Lowes” Can End Tonight

Derek Lowe has struggled badly this year. During the dog days of summer all we heard was that Lowe was going to turn things around in Sept. It never happened. I could sit here and throw a whole bunch of stats at you to try and prove one point or another. I’m not going to do that, for two reasons actually. One I don’t feel like looking up Derek Lowe’s stats right now and two they wouldn’t matter at this point anyways. The Braves in so deep right now that they just need to win games and no stat on this earth is going to get you to be a Derek Lowe believer if you weren’t already.

Derek Lowe has been terrible all season. I’m not trying to defend a guy who has failed to get it done all year and especially down the stretch. However this guy has been known to turn it on during the biggest moments in his career. When his team needs him the most he comes through in the clutch. There is every reason in the world to doubt Derek Lowe right now. However somewhere in my heart, as a fan that is. I feel as if Derek Lowe will give us a big start tonight. And a big start tonight would wipe away an entire season of struggles, especially if we clinch the Wild Card later tonight.

We have pressure on us, there’s no doubt. A 1 game lead isn’t much but I’d rather be up 1 game then down 1 game right now. There isn’t 5 or 6 games left anymore, were down to just 2 ballgames left on the schedule. If the Braves win back to back games, that’s it. The race is over and the red birds are going home. End of story. They need to win the last 2 games and we need to lose at least one of them just for there to be a 1 game playoff.

The Cardinals losing that game last night was huge for the Braves and really gave them new life. Cliff Lee last night presented the biggest test of the series for the Braves. Oswalt who is a very solid pitcher will go tonight. He’s a good but not great pitcher. He’s right handed which also helps the Braves. He’s not Cliff Lee, not in anyway shape or form and the Braves need to remember that.

Game 3 of the series and the final game of the season will be a gift wrap for the Braves. If they don’t win that game then they will only have themselves to blame. The Phillies will have a ton of guys coming in and out of the game and no pitcher will have a chance to settle in and get hot. No one will pitch more then 2 innings so the Braves can feast on all of their bullpen guys over the course of 9 innings. Not to mention the Braves will have their ace Tim Hudson on the mound that day. Like I said, if Hudson can’t be the Phillies bullpen tomorrow night then I don’t know that the Braves deserve that last playoff spot in the N.L.

At some point you need to stand up and help yourself. Not just in baseball but in life. A person can catch all the breaks in the world and get tons of help from other people whether it’s in school or business, but at some point they will find themselves in a situation where they need to stand up and get it done. The Braves are in that spot tonight, they need a win. Yes they are facing the Phillies but so what? It’s not like they haven’t beaten this team before. They’ve done it before and they can do it again.

The Braves are clearly sick of this whole situation. They are not fighting for a playoff spot that they figured to have had wrapped by now. Yes they did it to themselves but it’s still frustrating. If this team gets into the postseason I think their attitude might change some. I actually think they will feel less pressure when they get into the playoffs then they do now. Fighting for a playoff spot along with trying to avoid an epic collapse has been tough on these guys. They will breath a huge sigh of relief if they can clinch tonight and lock up their playoff spot.

By: Bob McVinua


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




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

Braves Wild Card Lead Down To 2.5

I’m not a professional sports writer, never claimed to be. I’m just a fan like everyone who is probably reading this blog right now. I was searching for a more upbeat title for this post but just couldn’t come up with one. Although I always try to take a positive spin on things, I can’t deny the facts. The Braves saw their Wild Card lead slip to 2.5 games at the same time as they watched Infante’s 2 run blast sail over the left field fence.

Those games always feel like a punch in the gut. I don’t know about you guys but I would have rather lost that game 4-1 then the Marlins walking off on us. I’m sure Kimbrel feels terrible and that he wishes he could have that pitch back. Sadly he can’t and the Braves can’t redo the 9th inning. Games like that so often come back to haunt a team during the stretch run. Battling for a playoff spot you can’t afford to lose any games, never mind having your closer blow a lead with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th.

Now here’s what you guys have been waiting for I’m sure. The positive spin that I have now become well known for by your reactions on Twitter. I get daily messages from Braves fans asking me what I think, knowing that they are hoping for a positive response. Keep them coming, I enjoy getting them. If you don’t like my positive approach then I’m not sure what to tell you. I’ll never apologize for having an upbeat attitude. Negativity has never gotten anyone anywhere. Life is all about your mindset and how you perceive things. Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you react to them. You can’t control if your tire goes flat on the highway or if your coworker calls out sick and leaves you with double the work. You can however choose to take a positive approach. Getting all mad and bent out of shape is only going to make the situation worse. If you calmly assess the situation, quite often you will realize it’s not as bad as it appears. I’ve never been one to “panic”, it’s just not in my nature. If the Braves do finish off this collapse I will be devastated. I’ll be the first to admit it and I will take it as hard if not harder then anyone else. Don’t mistake my positive attitude for not caring cause that’s not the case at all. I want this team to win so badly, just like all of you guys do. Tomahawk Nation, were all on the same side here. We may have different takes on this situation but at the end of the day we all want nothing more then to see the Braves win a World Series. I was 8 years old the last time they won a world championship and I feel they are long over due.

So let’s start in with some positive outlooks here. If we dig deep enough I’m sure we can find a reason to keep our heads held high as we go down the stretch run. Here’s what I’ll lead off with.

Anyone who played on last years Braves team is no stranger to the situation were in. Last year we were only 1.0 game up on the San Diego Padres. That’s it. So if anything were in a slightly better spot then last year, not by much but a little bit. And hey, everyone game counts right? Chipper and Prado I believe were both injured at this point last year and that was a huge hit to our team. We stumbled down the stretch but still managed to make it into the postseason. Yes it was an early exit but we lost to the World Series champions and gave them a better fight then anyone else in my opinion. The Braves clinched the Wild Card on the very last day of the season and almost had to go into a 1 game sudden death playoff if the Padres had managed to pull one out in San Fran. Weren’t we worried then? I’m sure we were but we often forget our past concerns when we KNOW that the scenario turned out alright.

Where does the .5 game go? I think this is a HUGE factor that not many people are addressing. That half game will either turn into a full game advantage for the Bravos or it will even out the standings. Which one will it be? Well we will certainly find out on Thursday when the Braves have an off day and the Cardinals battle the Mets.  A Cardinals loss on Thurs could be big for Atlanta if it helps bump us up a full game in the standings, don’t over look the Mets, as they took care of business against Atlanta on the road this past weekend.

The Cardinals have no more off days the rest of the season. The Braves will have the benefit of one on Thursday. Absolute worse case scenario I’m laying out is this. The Braves loss the next two games in Florida. The Cardinals win the next two games against the Mets plus the extra game on Thursday. So were saying the Braves loss 2 straight and the Cardinals win 3 straight. Now were DEAD EVEN with 6 games to play and it’s anyone’s race.

Best case scenario is the Cardinals cool off and lose 3 straight, the Braves win the last 2 games in Florida and then the lead goes up to 5.0 games with 6 to play and the race is over. See how quickly things could turn in our favor? The Braves need to win the next 2 ball games. And the Mets just need to win 1 of the 3 against St. Louis. That puts us up 3.0 games with 6 to play. That’s what I think will happen. It’s a middle of the road scenario so I’m not being super outrageously optimistic guys. I’m admitting the Cardinals will most likely take 2 of 3 from the Mets and I do think we’ll bounce back and win the next 2 against the Fish. That’s exactly what happened when they came to Atlanta.

I can’t see anyone sitting there and saying that the Braves are done when they are up 2.5 games. That to me makes no sense, if you’re saying it out of frustration then that’s fine. Everyone needs to vent from time to time. I’m not saying no one should ever get nervous and panic about their team, I’m not exactly thrilled with how tonight ended either but level heads will prevail and we have to realize were still in a good spot.

Do you know how many other teams would DIE to be up 2.5 games right now, playing meaningful Sept baseball? A lot. Don’t you think the Cubs, Pirates, Royals, Rockies, Padres, Orioles, Mariners, Twins etc would all like to be where we are right now? They wouldn’t be complaining about a 2.5 game lead, they’d be jumping for joy because they aren’t completely out of it. Imagine how frustrating it would be if we were 15 games out right now, playing meaningless games the last week and half? What fun would that be? At least were relevant and we have LIFE!

I believe the Braves have lost 7 games in the loss column since Sept 1st. That was a quick calculation on my part so don’t quote me on that and please correct me if I’m off. I’m not sure where that fits in as far as biggest collapses in MLB history. Maybe it’s a top 10 but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as the 2007 Mets. I’m from the North East don’t forget so I experienced the Mets 2007 collapse first hand. All the media coverage and all of the fans who were just in agony over it. I don’t want that to be us and hopefully we can avoid it all together. If we get into the post season this will all be forgotten. It won’t even matter and no one will mention it.

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I’m a firm believer in that. If the Braves don’t get “killed” at the end of the season, they might be better off because of these struggling times. They know what it’s like to fight for it and have to battle down the stretch. Teams like the Phillies who are clearly on cruise control right now are developing a passive attitude. You can’t turn your intensity on and off, Braves fans know that. It has to be there all the time. Phillies might not be able to turn it on during the playoffs, we saw last year how the Giants wanted it more then they did. Braves need to show how badly they want.

New season starts tomorrow. Braves have 8 games left to play. Let’s go 5-3 down the stretch. Force the Cardinals to play mistake free baseball the rest of the way with no off days.

By: Bob McVinua


Braves Heading Down The Home Stretch

With today’s 7-5 loss to the Mets the Braves now only have 9 games remaining in their season.

Today’s loss was very tough. Holding a 5-4 lead in the 8th inning we as Braves fans have become accustomed to Venters and Kimbrel making these scenarios automatic wins. To be honest we are quite spoiled in that respect. Not many other teams have a bullpen trio like ours and these types of things are bound to happen from time to time. When you have 3 guys at the back end of your bullpen who pitch as often as ours and they still all have era’s under 2.00, you really can’t complain.

Venters appeared to have some serious control issues today as the Mets didn’t even have to work that hard to push two runs across in that 8th inning. That of course was very frustrating but we have to look back and examine this game as a hole. There were several other issues that played into us losing this game.

It didn’t help that Beachy walked the pitcher with the bases loaded to force in a run. Which then of course set up Tejada’s 3 run double. Dillon Gee isn’t even a good hitting pitcher. They intentionally walked the 8th place hitter to get to the pitcher. There should have been no hesitation there when it came to throwing strikes. To be honest when Beachy threw a 2nd ball I was a little disappointed. There was no reason to go past a the first ball in my opinion. Just go right after him with the fastball, don’t even try to get cute. Even if he hits the ball, most likely it won’t be hit hard and your fielders can back you up.

Beachy has done a great job for us all year and I’m not in anyway trying to take anything away from the guy. However that was a critical mistake that you just don’t make. Those 4 runs were more then enough to make the difference in the game. If Gee strikes out there and Tejada never gets to bat, I find it hard to believe that we wouldn’t win that game.

Of course at this point in the season a Cardinals loss tonight would certainly make this loss a lot more bearable. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to expand the Wild Card lead but at this point if we don’t give up any ground then it’s a very good thing. The Cardinals are back in Philly tonight and have the tough task of trying to beat a very good Phillies team. This of course only can work in our favor.

Now looking ahead to a few different scenarios. The worst possible one being that the Phillies win tonight and cut the lead to 3.5 games. Then they play on Thursday and were off, that’s the .5 game that has been throwing off the Wild Card standings thus far. Now if the Cardinals were to win that game as well, the lead would essentially be at 3.0 games with 9 to play for both teams.

Now I realize the Braves play 3 more games prior to the “catch up” game for the Cardinals but that would basically be the case. You can’t really argue with a 3 game lead with only 9 to play. We would just have to play solid baseball down the stretch. Nothing more and nothing less.

Now if the Cardinals were to loss tonight and loss that “catch up” game then we would essentially be 5 games ahead with only 9 to play. So there are a lot of scenarios to consider here as we head down the stretch.

The Marlins and Nationals usually give the Braves fits, especially on the road so we really need to step up to the plate and show that we want this thing. I’d prefer to TAKE the wild card away from the Cardinals then have them gift wrap it for us. I just think it would be nice to have some momentum going into the post season and not just stumble in.

So this week the Braves will need some help from the Mets and the Cubs. Hopefully they can play with some pride and give the Cardinals some tough games. The Mets clearly seem to still be into this season after getting ripped apart by their manager the other night. So I think they’ll come ready to play and we all know there is NO LOVE LOSS between the Cubs and Cardinals. I’d be anything that the Cubs would love nothing more then to help knock the Cardinals out of the playoff race.

Yes the Braves have the Phillies in the final series of the season, sounds familiar right? I believe that was the case last year when we were able to win on the last day of the season to clinch the Wild Card. The Phillies have already clinched the N.L East with PLENTY of time to spare. I think they’ll be in cruise control the rest of the way so I seriously doubt they will come into Atlanta the final 3 games and risk injury to their star players. That just wouldn’t be a smart move.

And if you’re feeling stressed about the Braves, just talk to a Boston fan. With their meltdown this weekend they are in an even tougher spot then us. That should make you feel better.

By: Bob McVinua


Time Is The Braves MVP Right Now

The most dangerous thing in the Braves clubhouse right now is not Brian McCann. It’s not Dan Uggla and it’s not Chipper Jones. The most dangerous thing in the Braves clubhouse is TIME.. Right now I almost feel as if I’m watching a very long version of an NBA game. One team is down only 10pts but there’s only 3 minutes left in the game. Pressure is mounting.

That’s the situation that the Braves have put the St. Louis Cardinals in. With only 13 games left on their schedule (12 remaining for Atlanta) the Cardinals are going to have to play near perfect baseball to make up the 4.5 game deficit. Now I’m not saying 4.5 games is an insurmountable deficit by any means but time is running out, it’s not the middle of July here.

The Cardinals take there hopes and dreams of making the playoffs on the road this weekend as they visit Philadelphia. One interesting thing to note; the Phillies have TBD for all 3 starters in this series. I wonder why that is? Are they planning on taking their foot off the gas just a little bit? Will they throw young guys to get them some late season experience since they are already a lock for the playoffs?

If this is the case then it would not be a good thing for Atlanta. I was hoping that Philadelphia wouldn’t ease up quite yet and that they would really take it to the Cardinals as if the series meant something at least. This may or may not be the case, if Philadelphia eases up then the Cardinals might have a chance to at least split the series. Not something the Braves wanted to here.

Atlanta of course will be going full strength as they inch closer to their magic number. They will throw Lowe, Hudson and Beachy at the Mets this weekend hoping for another 2/3 series victory.

The Braves don’t have to play perfectly down the stretch but they can’t falter to the point where they are getting swept in multiple series. They need to win baseball games and just cross days off the calender. I think the last series with Florida was a big one for this club. They saw 3 games get crossed off the schedule and although they didn’t gain any separation from the red birds, they also didn’t lose any ground and at this point in the season, it’s just as good.

The Braves control the shot clock right now. Just play smart down the stretch. Win at least half the games and they are a lock for the playoffs. Mets always play the Braves tough but I’m confident they can win 2/3 which will be more then enough.

With any luck the Braves will have gained at LEAST 1 full game in  the N.L Wild Card Standings by Monday morning. Then we can reevaluate the situation from there.

Where are all those people who said the Braves would choke and miss the playoffs? Are they still around? Just curious.

Never panic too fast, that’s the lesson we can learn from this. The Braves won 2 big games against the Fish and are now sitting pretty in the N.L Wild Card.

By: Bob McVinua


Braves inch closer to playoffs..

At this point I’m not even sure what I should be saying as a Braves blogger. Should I stay positive and ride the train of “they’ll be fine” or do I sit here and say “Oh man the sky is falling in Atlanta”. I guess I just don’t see the point in being overly negative. Will being negative and bashing the team’s poor play really change anything? Probably not. All it will do is get me more riled up then I already am.

This team is not playing good baseball right now. Why? It’s really tough to say at this point. There are slumping players and poor pitching performances occurring more and more often. That could be it but I mean this team has over come all of those things this season. Is this the first time the offense has slumped? Is this the first time the pitching has faltered? Not at all.

However this is the first time that this team has not been able to figure out how to win games. Bad pitching or bad offense this team has always been able to figure out ways to win. It’s that simple. Right now this team appears to be in a free fall. You know the saying “when it rains, it pours?”. Well that’s the Braves right now. They are on sort of horrible slide right now and they just can’t seem to turn it around.

Will switching the order around help? It’s possible but I mean I’ve never heard of a World Series caliber team who switched their line up every single night. I think players need some consistency. These guys never know who’s playing, where they’ll be playing or in what spot in the order they’ll be hitting in.

As we search for answers I think that we will find ourselves beating a dead horse. I could write 40 more paragraphs telling you that the Braves aren’t playing good baseball. But the only way they can fix this thing is to start winning games. YES! It’s that simple. String together a few wins. Right now they are going to the ball park expecting to lose and hoping to win. Let me say that again. They are going to the ball park expecting to lose and hoping to win. You can’t have that type of attitude in professional sports.

I think the critical stretch for the Braves comes this weekend against the Mets. Braves will be playing a weaker division team at home, while the Cardinals will have to travel to Philadelphia for a 4 game set.

This stretch is crucial for 2 reasons. One the match up for the Braves is much better. I’d much rather play the Mets at home who are putting a AAA line up out on the field every night then go to Philadelphia to face the Phillies great pitching staff. Look at what the Phillies did to the Brewers. That should say it all. We have a very favorable match up where we can win 2/3. I doubt the Cardinals will win more then 1 game in their series.

The second reason this weekend is big is because the Cardinals will make up some ground on the schedule. Where will that “half” game that’s lingering in the standings go? Will the lead bounce up to a 5 or down to 4? Or where ever it may be at the time. I’d love to have that half game turn into a full game with a Cardinals lose this weekend.

I think we need to win the next 2 in Florida and then see where were at. Mike Minor is on the hill tonight. Hopefully he’ll give us a solid effort. That’s all we can hope for.

By: Bob McVinua



Braves Fans Beginning To Panic?

This is a rarity for me as a writer. I never write my blog entries the night before I post them. Yet here I am at 12:20 at night sitting in front of my computer screen writing an article for Chop Talk. It’s a Saturday night and I can’t even think about anything else because of the Braves loss tonight. The point of my articles are to always try and put a positive spin on things when it comes to Braves baseball. You can go anywhere on the internet and read negative articles about everything from sports to politics. But what good does that really do us? When has being negative ever helped any situation?

One of the best quotes I’ve ever read was this: “Life is not about what happens to you but how you react to it”. Your reaction can make bad situation worse or it can make it better. At the end of the day this is just sports and we all know that. But at the same time it’s a passion of ours. We are die hard Atlanta Braves fans and we want what’s best for our team and we get frustrated when things don’t go the way we had hoped.

This is when the team needs us the most. This is when fans need to stand up in adversity and show that they will support their team through thick and thin. I’m sure none of my readers feel this way but I’ve been on several Braves sites tonight and saw tons of comments referencing the Braves missing the playoffs. Saying that this was going to be a horrible choke from the Atlanta Braves. I realize that the Wild Card lead has slipped from 8.5 games down to 5.5 games and I’m well aware of the fact that the Braves aren’t playing great baseball right now.

But at the end of the day they’re 5.5 games up in the Wild Card race with a little over 2 weeks to go in the season. That’s really not a horrible spot to be in. If someone told us that the Braves would be where they are today back in April we all would have been thrilled. Look at all the teams that are completely out of it, which by now is the vast majority of both leagues. Teams like the Orioles, Royals, Pirates, Dodgers, Padres, Cubs, Blue Jays, etc are all out of it. So many other teams are as well.

And it’s not like we’re the only team that’s getting a scare right now. I’m sure Texas isn’t too happy with their lead in the A.L West which has almost completely evaporated. Or how about the big bad Red Sox who hold a smaller Wild Card lead then the Braves. I’m sure that they aren’t feeling so great about themselves either. Were not the only team that’s experiencing a late season slide is all I’m saying.

The Braves have one more game against the Cardinals. Tim Hudson is pitching and right now he’s probably the best guy we have so I’m feeling fairly confident. If we can win tomorrow then we leave St. Louis with a 6.5 game lead in the Wild Card and will only have 15 games left to play. That’s not such a bad deal. It would basically come down to us playing .500 baseball the rest of the way.

The Braves will be opposed by the Marlins and Mets this week, both series will be played at home. I’m sure this team is dying to get back to Atlanta so they can settle in and start playing good baseball again. I’ll say the Braves win 4 of 6 from the Marlins and Mets. Who could argue with that prediction?

The Cardinals will make a trip to Philadelphia at the end of this week for a 4 game set. That could potentially be a 4 game sweep but I’ll predict that Philadelphia will take 3 of 4 which would still help the Braves tremendously. So in that respect I think were in decent shape. We will all have to swallow our pride and root for the Phillies next weekend as it’s in the best interest of the club.

Baseball is a tough game. It’s so different then all the other sports because of the length of the season. In the first half the Braves pitching was so dominant and that almost seems like a different year to me. Jurrjens is hurt and so is Hanson. Lowe is horrible and that leaves a ton of pressure on Tim Hudson to carry this staff. The young guys have pitched well though.

Dan Uggla has turned his season around. Chipper is swinging the bat well. Freeman has emerged into a great player. So many things happen during the course of 162 games. And the thought of having to go through all that and still miss the playoffs is the worst feeling in the world. Baseball fans cheer their team on and get wrapped up in the games EVERY SINGLE night. Football fans deal with it once a week, there’s a huge difference.

I’m going to go on record and say that I firmly believe that the Braves will still make the post season. It’s not a guarantee and I know if they don’t I will be mocked for the entire off season but I’ll take that chance. Baseball is a funny game but the Braves just need to get back into the swing of things. Right now they’re playing a little too loose and their focus just doesn’t seem to be there. I think with the lead at only 5.5 games it will help wake them up a little bit.

Let’s get through tomorrow Braves fans and then head back home. This will all be a decent memory in a few days. Tomorrow’s game does have big implications. It’s the difference between a 3 game sweep and the Cardinals only gaining 1 game in the standings. Hudson needs to come up big and I think he will.

We’ll get through this. I’m just as frustrated as you guys are but deep down I believe things will turn out alright. This team has over come adversity this entire season. This is no different.

By: Bob McVinua