A little over a week ago, the Braves looked to be in the driver’s seat of the Wild Card race and still had a small chance at the division title. Since then however, they have lost eight of their last 11, fallen twelve games back in the division, and now have just a four and a half game lead over the Cardinals in the Wild Card. To make matters worse, the Braves were swept by both the Phillies and Cardinals, who are first in the National League East and second in the Wild Card respectively. Needless to say, all is not well in Hotlanta. With just fifteen games remaining in the regular season, the Braves are going to have to maintain their 4.5 game lead while playing all division opponents, including a series against Philadelphia and Washington, both of whom have given the Braves fits. Somehow the Braves are going to have to find a way to make the playoffs, as anything else would be a disappointment.
The Braves hold a stellar 9-3 record against the Fish this season. This will be key as the Braves have two series against the Marlins in their final 15 games. The best the Marlins can do is play spoiler at this point, but don’t put it past them to sneak up on the Braves if their already looking ahead to the Mets.
Braves’ Keys to Success
1. Braves’ Pitching – In the eight losses the Braves have sustained since the beginning of September, the Braves have kept their opponents to three or fewer runs just twice. Obviously there have been a few key injuries in the Braves pitching staff, i.e. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, but guys like Derek Lowe (0-2, 11 IP, 17 hits, and 9 earned runs in his two September starts) and Tim Hudson (1-2, 18 IP, 11 hits, and 11 earned runs in three September starts) are going to have to step it up and pitch like aces.
2. Capitalizing on Offensive Opportunities – The Braves have not had a problem putting men on base, but they are not capitalizing on those men on base. In just the St. Louis series alone, the Braves left 44 men on base and never scored more than three runs in any game. Most teams would kill to have 44 men on base period, in a three game series.
3. Consistency in the Lineup – The Braves have not put out the same lineup in back-to-back games since September 2nd and 3rd against the Dodgers. The problem with this is that there is no time to build offensive chemistry when you’re switching positions and lineup spots on a daily basis. During this span, Alex Gonzalez and Jack Wilson have almost equally split time at SS while batting in multiple places, Martin Prado has played three different positions, the Braves have had five different starting corner outfielders, and Chipper has batted in three different batting spots. The Braves need to find something that works for them and stick with it through the long haul.
What to Watch For?
1. Rookies, Rookies, Rookies – The Braves have a disease, and it’s called rookie fever. In this series the Braves will start three rookies in three games, on top of having Freddie Freeman as the starting 1B and Craig Kimbrel as the primary closer. This may not bode well for the Braves in the playoffs, but they do have a bright future.
2. Tommy Hanson progress – Will Tommy Hanson pitch in this series? The answer is absolutely not. However, yesterday Hanson reported throwing a pain free mound session and is expected back in the Braves’ rotation in mid-September (which is now for those of you without a calendar). Realistically, the Marlins may see Hanson in Florida when the Braves come to town this time next week.
3. Aussie Pride – The Braves have been happy to welcome back resident Australian Peter Moylan. Though Moylan has not posted particularly amazing numbers, I do expect him to be in perfect side-arm form come playoff time if the Braves are fortunate enough to find themselves there.
Monday – Chris Volstad (FLA) 5-12, 5.37 ERA vs. Brandon Beachy (ATL) 7-2, 3.29 ERA
Tuesday – Brad Hand (FLA) 1-6, 3.91 ERA vs. Mike Minor (ATL) 5-2, 4.32 ERA
Wednesday – Ricky Nolasco (FLA) 10-10, 4.40 ERA vs. Randall Delgado (ATL) 0-1, 3.60 ERA