From the beginning of the season this year felt different for the Atlanta Braves. Walk-off wins were the norm and despite the Braves nine game losing streak in May the team came together to take the lead in the NL East while the Phillies were dealing with injuries.
Even as the Braves lost key players (Chipper Jones, Kris Medlen) they kept winning close ballgames. Late in the season, the Braves were overtaken by the Phillies, but the Braves seemed like a lock for the playoffs as recently as this past Friday morning.
Now, the Braves are tied for the Wild Card lead after dropping two games against the Phillies despite having favorable pitching matchups in both games. The team that could come back from any deficit seems gone and a new, punch-less squad has taken their place.
The most disturbing part has been the Braves lack of offense against Kyle Kendrick and rookie Vance Worley. The Braves scored five runs on Friday (although they were at a point when the outcome of the game really wasn’t in doubt) before getting shut out Saturday.
To make matters worse, the defense has also been shoddy lately. Atlanta has allowed six unearned runs over the first two games of the series.
Baseball often comes down to pitching, defense and offense. As the saying goes, to win you need to be good at two or more of the three. Right now, the Braves have above average pitching and have been terrible elsewhere.
Both Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt are scheduled to pitch a couple innings on Sunday, so Tim Hudson will have to bring his A-game because the Braves offense likely will again struggle to score runs.
With the Padres and Giants playing at four tomorrow, there are plenty of scenarios that could play out.
- The Braves Win and Padres Lose: The optimal scenario for Braves fans, with a win and Padres loss the Braves would clinch the Wild Card despite every effort to give it away.
- The Braves and Padres Win: A three way tie between the Braves, Padres and Giants would create a couple playoff games. The Padres and Giants would first have to decide the West before the loser played the Braves for the Wild Card.
- Braves and Padres Lose: The two teams would end up tied for the Wild Card and in a one game playoff. In this case (and the last one as well) Derek Lowe would likely pitch for the Braves in that game.
- Braves Lose and Padres Win: The Braves miss the playoffs despite taking a two game lead into the final game of the season.
Only one of these scenarios would get the Braves eliminated, but at this point that scenario probably has the greatest chance of happening.
The season has one regular season game remaining, and the Braves will likely need to regain their late-inning magic to send Bobby Cox to the playoffs one last time.