Today is Aug 23rd. There are 33 games left remaining on the schedule for our Atlanta Braves and we are currently sitting on a very impressive record of 77-52. These are very exciting times for Braves fans. Everything seems to be coming together now and we have the perfect blend of veterans and young guys to seriously compete for a World Series.
As excited as I am about the prospect of our team going all the way this year I know we still have to be realistic. Like I said there’s 33 games left in the regular season and anything can happen. So let’s take a look at how the Braves stack up in both of their playoff races.
N.L East – Phillies 82-44 Braves 77-52 (6.5)
N.L Wild Card – Braves 77-52 Giants 68-60 (8.5) Cardinals 67-61 (9.5) Nationals 62-64 (13.5)
So what stands out to you guys? Obviously the Braves are in a very good spot right now. Immediately you notice that the Braves have an 8.5 game lead in the Wild Card. And with 33 games to go you have to figure that if the Braves just play .500 baseball they will get in. The Giants and Cardinals have not shown any signs of making a serious run at this thing and the Braves really crushed the Giant’s playoff chances when they took 3/4 from them at Turner Field last week.
But why settle for the Wild Card? Sure there’s nothing wrong with being the 4th team in. In fact I don’t care how we get in because if you’re in it, you can win it. That saying has been true so many times in not only baseball but other sports as well. However why should we set the bar so low? If you look at the N.L East standings you see the power house Phillies on top, the team that “no one can beat”. The Phillies possess a 82-44 record guys, that’s almost 40 games over .500. Pretty impressive right? I mean lets be fair they are playing well and racking up a lot of victories. However you know who’s not being fair to us? Phillies fans certainly aren’t. Most commentators and analyst aren’t giving the Braves the respect they deserve either. This Atlanta Braves team is 25 games OVER .500 and they are in 2nd place in their division. That has to be a frustrating feeling for the Braves. However lets look at it in a positive light. Despite the Phillies Major League best record, the Brave our just 6.5 games back! We have put ourselves in a position where we are just hanging around and keeping just the slighest bit of pressure on those cocky and arrogant Phillies.
With the Braves sitting 6.5 games back I think they are in the perfect spot to make a late season push at the division. No one pays attention to a team that’s 6.5 games back. I guarantee you that the Phillies are not even giving us a second thought right now. It wasn’t that long ago that this Braves team was 9.5 games back but they slowly started to make up ground and creep back into this race. The Braves are in the rear view mirror and the Phillies are most likely to arrogant to realize it. The Phillies have turned into the Yankees of the late 90’s without the proven dynasty. This team is oozing with confidence and has no idea how tough it would be beat the Braves in a 7 game playoff series come October.
The Braves have the Wild Card in hand, it’s certainly not over but with an 8.5 game lead this late in the season, it’s their race to lose. If they don’t make the playoffs then it will be because of a major collapse that I honestly just can’t see happening. So they are playing loose, a team that has very little to lose in the case of the division. People talk about teams like the Astros and Cubs playing extremely loose because they have nothing to lose, that makes them extremely dangerous. Well what about this Atlanta Braves team? Are they not in a similar boat? Like I said this team is going to make the playoffs one way or another. Are they the Wild Card team or the top seeded N.L East team? That’s the only question. Winning the division would just be an added bonus that most people, including Braves fans aren’t expecting. The Phillies on the other hand will start to feel the pressure if the Braves can inch just a little bit closer. This is a team that’s SUPPOSED to win the World Series, never mind just the division. With that kind of pressure you might see the Phillies press just a little too hard at the plate. Or maybe over throw that fast ball just a little bit. Maybe Charlie Manuel will second guess himself and make a few bad decisions late in games. You never know.
Atlanta is just 6.5 games out of first place in the N.L East with plenty of time to go in the season. The next time the Braves play the Phillies will be on Sept 5th in Philadelphia. That of course will be a big series for both teams. However we can’t over look the fact that the Braves still have 12 more games before that series even takes place. 3 with the Cubs, Mets, Nationals and Dodgers. No disrespect to any of those teams but at the moment they are all sub .500 teams. Going 9-3 over those 12 games would be far from impossible. Even a nice 8-4 stretch would be nice. So it’s quite possible that the Braves could be a game or 2 closer then they are now when that big series in Philadelphia rolls around.
It doesn’t take a lot of time for things to turn around. The Braves have a very favorable schedule for the rest of the season. On top of this they still have 6 head to head meetings with the Phillies, which includes a 3 game set IN ATLANTA the last series of the season. Can you imagine the Phillies holding a 2 or 3 game lead, heading into enemy territory for the final series of the season? Things could get very interesting if the Braves continue to creep up in stealth mode behind the first place Phillies.
No matter how the standings turn out I still for see the Braves and Phillies battling it out in the NLCS. I believe the Brewers horrible play on the road will come back to haunt them as you can’t play all your playoff games at home. And the Diamondbacks are a great young ball club but certainly don’t have the pitching depth to make a serious run. Granted the Giants could pull through and win the West but their offense is struggling so badly I just can’t see it happening.
If this N.L East showdown did occur in the N.L.C.S then I just want all Braves fans to know that we will NOT be the under dogs in this series. And truthfully neither will they. We are two VERY EQUAL teams and we should have NO FEAR what so ever going into Philadelphia for a big playoff game. The Phillies have done nothing to impress me in comparison to what the Braves have done. Check out some of the stats and information below. I think after you read it you’ll feel the same as I do.
1) The Braves and Phillies are tied for their season series. Both teams possess a 6-6 record against each other.
2) Both teams are are 3-3 on the road in these series. So much for home field advantage being a huge factor if the Phillies win the East.
3) Braves are tied for 6th in HR. Phillies are tied for 15th. The true sluggers are in Atlanta, not Philadelphia. We have the long ball.
4) Phillies are ranked 1st in ERA with 3.07. Guess who’s 2nd? Yup. The Braves with a 3.31 team ERA.
5) Braves pitching leads the majors with strike outs (1064). Phillies are in 4th with (988)
6) Phillies are first in WHIP with 1.16. Braves are in 2nd with 1.23
I know I’m just throwing what appears to be “random” stats at you but I think that all 6 of those factors would affect a playoff series. We think of the Phillies as a dangerous HR team with Utley and Howard. Well the Braves are actually capable of hitting more HR then the Phillies are. People are obsessed with the Phillies pitching staff but the Braves have matched them every step of the way.
It’s not about names on a piece of paper. Yes the Phillies have Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. But names don’t win a championship. On the field performance does. Games aren’t played on paper they’re played on the field. Guys like Freddie Freeman, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Brian McCann get it done ON the field. And that’s why I truly believe that the Braves CAN and WILL beat the Phillies in the NLCS.
By: Bob McVinua
Well it’s Saturday August 13th and as I’m sure you’re starting to notice Chop Talk never takes a day off. Just because it’s the weekend doesn’t mean there isn’t significant baseball news to report. Despite the fact that it’s only the middle of August the one thing on all baseball fan’s minds is this, playoff baseball.
Is your team in? Or is your team falling out of the race? If your going to make a move in the standings your time is starting to run out just a bit. A lot of the division battles are becoming 2 team races. The National League Central is down to a 2 team race as the Reds and Pirates have pretty much played their way out of it and the same can be said of the Rockies in the West Division.
With that being said, where do our Atlanta Braves stack up in all of this? Well the Braves find themselves in a comfortable but not optimal place in the standings. Yes they are the Wild Card leaders by 6.0 full games. However they have also suffered large set backs within the division. Since the All-Star break the Braves have lost a lot of ground to the powerhouse Phillies and find themselves 7.5 games back.s
So naturally baseball fans are beginning to figure out the different playoff scenarios that could possibly occur. Well as we speak the standings look just like this:
NL East: Phillies 77-41 Braves 70-49 (7.5 out)
NL Central: Brewers 68-51 Cardinals 64-55 (4.0 out)
NL West: Diamondbacks 66-53 Giants 64-55 (2.0 out)
NL Wild Card: Braves 70-49 Cardinals 64-55 (6.0 out) Giants 64-55 (6.0 out)
So if the playoffs started tomorrow the Braves would be headed to Milwaukee to face the Brewers in a 5 games series. Yes the Brewers have Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun but the one thing they are lacking is a winning record against the Braves. Atlanta has gone 5-3 against the Brewers including a 4 game sweep in May.
Now for better or worse the playoffs won’t start tomorrow no matter how much we wish they would. So what other scenarios could the Braves find themselves in. Well winning the National League East would almost guarantee that the Braves would have the best record in the National League and would give them home field advantage. Is this possible? It’s probably not the most likely scenario out there but it’s definitely possible. I realize that the Phillies and their fans both think the division is theirs. However the Braves have 6 games left against the Phillies and currently sit 7.5 games out. If they want to have any chance of winning the division then they will have to take advantage of those head to head meetings. Both of these final two series will take place next month. The first one will be in Philadelphia taking place Sept 5th-7th and the second one will be in Atlanta the last series of the season. I’d say for the Braves to have a legit chance to win the division they would have to go 4-2 if not 5-1 in these two series. Not impossible by any means. Currently the Braves have a 5-5 record against Philadelphia. So no matter what the Phillies say or think they have not proven they can beat us in head to head meetings.
The Diamondbacks are exactly 2 games behind the Brewers. If Arizona was to win the National League West and have a superior record to Milwaukee, the Braves would head to Chase Field to start the playoffs. How do the Braves match up with the Diamondbacks? Well to the naked eye some would say not to good. Were sporting a 0-2 record against Arizona this season and that field has always been a place of horrors for Atlanta. Now I want to pose this question to my readers. Since when does a 2 game series serve as any evidence that one team is better then the other? We have a series coming up with Arizona that will be played at Turner Field starting the 19th and running through the 21st of August. That should give us a better idea of how we match up with these Diamondbacks.
Other playoff match ups could include the Giants who are currently just 2.0 games behind the Diamondbacks in the National League West and the Cardinals who sit a modest 4.0 games back of the Brewers in the National League Central. With the Braves having a healthy 6.0 game lead in the Wild Card despite their injury troubles I can’t see the Giants or Cardinals passing them for the Wild Card spot. When Jurrjens, Hanson and McCann rejoin the team I think that the Braves will slowly pull away. Just for the record the Braves currently hold a 1-2 record against the Cardinals and a very impressive 3-0 record vs the Giants.
Very simply put I’d like to see the Braves get matched up with either the Brewers or the Diamondbacks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Brewers have a lot of fire power in their offense but we have proven that we can beat them by posting a 5-3 record against them this season, which includes a 4 game sweep at Turner Field. Which brings me to my next point. The Brewers have have an atrocious 26-36 record on the road. Yes if the Braves play them as the Wild Card team then Milwaukee will have home field advantage but at some point they will have to leave the friendly confines of Miller Park and will have to hit the road. When they do the Braves would take full advantage of this weakness winning BOTH games at Turner Field. Which means they would just have to steal one game on the road. Great pitching beats great hitting when it comes to the playoffs.
As far as Arizona is concerned this is a great story for baseball. A true underdog team making the playoffs always gets people excited. However this team has NO playoff experience at all. Their pitching is not deep enough to carry them to a series victory against Atlanta and they would most likely crack under the pressure. The playoffs are a completely different world then the regular season. The Braves would bring playoff experience and a better pitch staff to the table. Arizona would lose that series in 4 games.
Now of course the other side of the coin is the 2 teams I’d prefer NOT to play. Those teams would include the Giants and the Cardinals. The Giants proved last year that they have what it takes to win the World Series. They didn’t get past the Braves, Phillies and Rangers by accident. Their pitching may be up and down over the course of the regular season but the Braves found out first hand last year what it’s like to see Tim Lincecum on the mound come October. I’d prefer to avoid the Giants pitching and scrappy offense. They know how to win and I don’t want to chance it.
The Cardinals are another team that I do NOT want to see come playoff time. Tony LaRussa is one of the all time great managers. This guy is a proven winner and is more then capable of willing his team to a series win. Not to mention the murder’s row that they have sitting in the middle of their order. Pujols, Holliday and Berkman can do a lot of damage very quickly. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and seem to be picking up steam. Their pitching isn’t what it used to be but it’s plenty good enough to win games with the kind of offense they posses. Busch Stadium is also a very difficult place to play come playoff time. They have great fans and it’s a spacious ball park that the Cardinals are used to playing in. The Braves actually travel to St. Louis for a series that runs from Sept 9th – Sept 11th. That will give us an indicator to how we’d fair there in a playoff series.
By: Bob McVinua