Atlanta in Free Fall
Four weeks ago, the Braves completed a four game sweep of the Mets as part of an 8-3 homestand that left them trailing only the Florida Marlins in the NL East. And even after their road woes continued on the ensuing trip, the Braves took three of four from those Marlins back in Atlanta the first part of last week and entered a series with division-leading Philadelphia at 32-29, 3.5 back of the Phillies and feeling confident that - with or without John Smoltz - the friendly confines of Turner Field would allow them to continue their winning ways and make a play in the division race.
In the first game of that series, the Braves had a 2-1 lead in the 9th when Kelly Johnson dropped a two out pop fly. And that play might go down as the beginning of the end.
The Braves lost 4-3 in 10 innings. The next night, the game was tied at 2 going to the 8th inning. Philadelphia scored two in the 8th and two in the 9th to win 6-2. In the series finale, the game went to the 9th inning tied at 3. The Phillies scored three runs in their half and swept the Braves.
It got no better in Chicago, against the best team in baseball and sporting the worst road record in the majors. Trailing 6-5 in the 8th on Tuesday, the Braves gave up four runs and lost 10-5 in a game that saw Tom Glavine head to the DL. And after getting thumped yesterday, the Braves took a 2-1 lead to the 9th, and after failing to score with the bases loaded and no outs, gave up a tying home run to Jim Edmons, and then lost in 11. Six straight losses, and in those games the Braves were outscored 18-5 in innings 7, 8, 9 and extras. Yikes.
Atlanta has now lost 21 straight one run games on the road, tying an MLB record. The bullpen has accounted for three of these six straight losses, four if you count Jeff Bennett's emergency "good grief can't anyone stay healthy" start yesterday.
The Braves are 32-35 and seven games back of the Phillies, despite being +33 in runs so far this season. And they might as well figure out how to win on the road now, cause that's where they'll be deep into next week: three interleague with the Angels, a Monday makeup at Coors Field and then three more at Texas to complete the 10 game road trip.
Seven games out on June 12 doesn't mean the season is over, but pieces have to be picked up and quickly. Charlie Morton is scheduled to make his first major league start on Saturday to help band-aid the pitching rotation. No one in the bullpen can be any combination of healthy or effective, it seems. And while you'll continue to hear rumors of Mike Gonzalez and Mike Hampton returning, again, the proof remains in the pudding.
The Braves could turn into Chipper Watch 2008, currently at .414. And good for him. But it sucks thinking about the games in August I'm planning on attending right now and wondering if the Braves will be relevant when they roll around.
Nothing's going to solve the road woes except winning out there, and they've got seven more games to do it in. The Angels (41-26) on the heels of the Cubs won't make life easy, but you've gotta figure it out now or fall into oblivion in the standings. The Braves must find a way to win on the road, win close games and get healthy, or this season's going to be over sooner than later.
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