Atlanta Braves: The 6 September Games That Doomed Them

James HulkaAnalyst ISeptember 22, 2011

Atlanta Braves: The 6 September Games That Doomed Them

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    When August turned to September, the Braves had a eight-game lead in the Wild Card, still had the Phillies in sight and were a season-high 26 games over .500 at 81-55.

    Since then, the Braves have lost 13-of-20 and seen their lead now shrink in the Wild Card to one-and-a-half games over the once completely out of it Cardinals.

    The reasons are many. The offense has gone cold especially in situations where a key hit or two would drive in runs. The starters who aren't injured are barely good for five-plus innings a start, taxing an already overworked back of the bullpen.

    The Braves' magic number is six with six games to play, and the Cardinals breathing down their throats. Everyone said the Braves had an easy finishing schedule, but in the last nine games against the Marlins and Mets, the Braves have gone just 4-5.

    On the verge of one epic collapse (and the Red Sox might join them), the Braves will have this six-pack of games to look back on and have no one to blame but themselves if they don't see either the Brewers or Arizona in the NLDS about 10 days from now.

Friday, September 2 vs. LA Dodgers

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    The Braves jumped out to an early 5-0 lead after three innings against Dodgers' starter Chad Billingsley. Brandon Beachy's first turn through the LA lineup was easy, but he ran into trouble the second time around as the Dodgers cut the lead to 5-3 when Beachy left after six innings.

    Arodys Vizcaino came in to pitch the seventh and didn't make it very far. After striking out Rod Barajas, he promptly gave up four straight hits, threw a wild pitch and walked a pair. After he departed down 6-5 due to James Loney's bases loaded double, Cristhian Martinez came in and surrendered a two-run single to Andre Ethier. Just like that, the Braves were down 8-5.

    The Braves got two runners on in the seventh, one in the eighth but none scored. Only Dan Uggla's solo HR in the ninth scored a run as the Braves lost a game against a bad team, at home, blew a five-run lead and had a two-run lead in the seventh. The next day, the bats were also silent.

Wednesday, September 7 at Philadelphia

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    Beachy's next start came against the Phillies five days later. He needed to be sharper and was. His only mistake was a solo HR allowed to Raul Ibanez and throwing a few too many pitches that he couldn't finish the sixth.

    Chipper Jones' RBI single against Roy Oswalt in the top of the frame tied the game, and after plunking Chase Utley, Eric O'Flaherty struck out Ryan Howard to end the sixth then pitched a clean seventh after Freddie Freeman scored Jason Heyward with an RBI single in the seventh to give the Braves a 2-1 lead. The Braves' inability to add any insurance runs after getting the first two runners on in the top of the eighth proved to be crucial.

    Jonny Venters was able to get Shane Victorino to strike out for the second out in the eighth after a single and a sacrifice. However, Placido Polanco's single through the hole scored John Mayberry to tie the game at two.

    The Braves got a runner in scoring position with less than two out in the top of the ninth but couldn't get the hit to bring him home.

    With the game tied, Peter Moylan came in and induced a groundout to the leadoff hitter. However, a single, walk and then Ross Gload's bouncer just inside the first base bag were the Braves' undoing as they were swept for the first time all season in a series of three or more games.

Friday, September 9 at St. Louis

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    The Braves scored two runs in the first inning to give Randall Delgado a lead. The Braves gave one back in the bottom half, but the score stayed 2-1 Braves until the ninth.

    Michael Bourn's triple gave the Braves an insurance run. Craig Kimbrel got two of the first three hitters in the ninth. Tight strike zone aside, he walked the next two hitters to bring up Albert Pujols. Pujols' bouncer inside the first-base bag scored the tying runs, as the winning run was cut down at the plate.

    An inning later, Scott Linebrink came in and gave up hits to the first two batters, after a sacrifice and intentional walk, Nick Punto's sacrifice fly scored the winning run as the Braves lost another late lead 4-3.

Monday, September 12 vs. Florida

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    In a back-and-forth game where the Braves did have a 2-1 lead, the Braves wound up tied with the Marlins 4-4 in the ninth inning. Single runs scored via an Alex Gonzalez RBI double, sacrifice flies by Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward and an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth by Alex Gonzalez that tied the game.

    After a relatively quiet top of the ninth, Michael Bourn doubled to lead off the inning followed by a walk to Chipper Jones. Freddie Freeman failed to advance the runners and struck out. Dan Uggla legged out an infield single to load the bases. Brian McCann took a called strike three before Martin Prado grounded out weakly to end the inning.

    In the bottom of the 10th, a leadoff walk to Jason Heyward and sacrifice by Jack Wilson put a runner again in scoring position. He advanced to third on another groundout but was stranded.

    Much like the ninth, the Braves got the leadoff hitter on, and Dan Uggla's walk advanced pinch-runner Jose Constanza to second with one out. Brian McCann struck out swinging, and Martin Prado grounded out sharply to short to end another threat without the Braves scoring.

    Anthony Varvaro walked the first batter, and after a sacrifice, walked another. He got the second out, but Cristhian Martinez came in and promptly surrendered Mike Stanton's pinch-hit RBI single.

    In a repeat of the 10th inning, Heyward walked, and Wilson sacrificed. He was stranded there as Boscan and Bourn didn't get the ball out of the infield, and the Braves lost 5-4 in 12 innings. The Braves were 3-for-20 with RISP, and two of the hits were by Alex Gonzalez. The Braves had 14 hits, were walked five times and the Marlins made two errors but only scored four runs out of 21 baserunners. They stranded eight runners over their last four innings.

Sunday, September 18 vs. NY Mets

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    The Braves scored first, but Brandon Beachy gave up four runs in the top of the fourth inning, all after two were out. Two consecutive walks loaded the bases, walked in a run before Ruben Tejada's double cleared the bases, and the Mets had a 4-1 lead.

    The Braves scored three in the bottom of the fourth with an Alex Gonzalez's solo homer, an RBI single by Michael Bourn and an RBI groundout with the bases loaded by Martin Prado. McCann earned an intentional free pass to reload the bases, but Matt Diaz couldn't get another clutch hit.

    The Braves took the lead in the bottom of the seventh when Freddie Freeman drove in Alex Gonzalez with two outs.

    In the top of the eighth, Jonny Venters had an inning that mirrored Beachy in the fourth. After a strikeout, he gave up a single and a walk, before an infield groundout left runners on first and third with two outs. Two walks and an RBI single later, the Braves were down 6-5, and only Jason Heyward's throw home prevented any more runs from scoring.

    Craig Kimbrel surrendered a solo HR to Lucas Duda in the ninth inning to make the final score 7-5. While Kimbrel allowed the Mets to score an insurance run, the inability of Venters to get through the eighth meant Lucas Duda had a chance to bat in the ninth.

Monday, September 19 at Florida

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    The Braves finally got to Ricky Nolasco and turned a 4-1 deficit into a 5-4 lead in the top of the seventh inning. After Dan Uggla's solo HR cut the lead to 4-2, the Braves rallied with two outs. A single and two walks loaded the bases then Michael Bourn beat out an infield single to make the score 4-3. Martin Prado drew a walk to force in the tying run, and Chipper Jones' hustle coupled with Omar Infante's hurried throw after a botched grounder gave the Braves a 5-4 lead.

    Fast forward to the ninth. Craig Kimbrel gets two quick outs before Emilio Bonafacio's chopper gets lost in the lights. His fastball to Infante was up and got too much of the plate as the Marlins walked off a 6-5 winner.

What Remains

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    With six games to go, the Braves need a combination of six wins or Cardinals losses to make the playoffs. With seven games remaining against the Mets (one), Astros (three) and Cubs (three), I have a tough time seeing this St. Louis team which is firing on all cylinders right now losing any more than two.

    The point of this is that it was all unnecessary.

    If the Braves just won HALF of these six-pack of games, the magic number would be either two or three heading into their series in Washington, and the Philly series would mean nothing. It's conceivable that the Braves could be heading to Philly on Sunday night TRAILING in the Wild Card unless they fix all that they are doing wrong and win games.

    Four of those six games would mean the Braves could clinch when I go to Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon to watch Beachy vs. Detwiler. I'm hoping that when I head back on the Metro around 4:30pm that the Braves' Wild Card lead is two games or more, and I'm celebrating a Braves' victory. Recent history tells me that's wishful thinking.

    Injuries aside, if the Braves don't make the playoffs they deserve to be put in the group of the biggest chokers along with the 1951 Dodgers, 1969 Cubs, 2007 Mets, 1995 Angels, 1978 Red Sox and 1964 Phillies, and possibly, the 2011 Red Sox. That's not a class the Braves want to be part of.

    If they do, the offseason better bring some major changes to make sure 2012 Braves know how to win and close things out—preferably with Larry Parrish and Derek Lowe not wearing a Braves uniform.