Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meltdown in Philadelphia

Last Sunday the Atlanta Braves completed a three-game sweep of the New York Mets on the road. When that game ended the Philadelphia Phillies were in the process of playing the Washington Nationals. The Nationals were leading the Phillies 6-3 in the 9th inning. But, the Phillies (thanks to Jayson Werth) scored 4 runs in their last at-bat and beat the Nationals 7-6.

The Braves could have pulled into Philadelphia for an important 3-game series with some momentum and only two games out of first place on Monday. Could've, would've, should've...that didn’t happen.

Jair Jurrjens
injured himself in a routine off-day throwing session and the Braves were forced to start Brandon Beachy, who wasn’t even called up September 1. Throwing the AAA pitcher at the red hot Phillies was not exactly what Bobby Cox had in mind. But, Beachy didn’t pitch that badly. He kept the Braves in the ball game but we couldn’t do anything with Cole Hamels and lost 3-1. The Braves, once again, left too many runners in scoring position and they made two errors including a huge one by Jason Heyward.

You know the game didn’t go well when one of the video “highlights” was of Matt Diaz assisting Philadelphia security in
capturing a fan that got loose on the field. A bad day for Bravesdom.

Last night we started another AAA pitcher, Mike Minor, against Roy Halladay. It was a mismatch on paper and turned out to be one in reality.
The Phillies won 5-3 and dealt our hopes of winning the division a terrible blow. Halladay made a strong case for the Cy Young award with his 20th win of the season. The only real highlight of the game was Freddie Freeman’s first major league home run. He will likely be the Braves starting first baseman in 2011.

So, Tommy Hanson took the mound tonight for Atlanta and did his part. He held the Phillies scoreless over 6 innings on just two hits. But, the Phillies got a run off Jonny Venters in the bottom of the 8th (their last at-bat). Meanwhile, we could only manage one skinny hit the whole night. Anemic. Phillies win 1-0. Riding a 10-game winning streak, Philadelphia is currently the hottest team in baseball. They are peaking at just the right time. I'm not sure anyone can stop their big three pitchers from winning them the 2010 World Series.

So, now we’re down to just nine games left. The math becomes very simple at this point and it is definitely not in our favor. Winning the division would take a minor miracle. So, now we have to focus on the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, and the Colorado Rockies for
the Wild Card spot in postseason play.

The odd thing is, we still have to beat the Phillies. We have three of our last nine games are against them in Atlanta. So, forget the division championship, we have to beat them just to win the Wild Card race. Barring a complete meltdown (of Atlanta Braves proportions) by the three NL West teams, it is unlikely we can get to the postseason without taking at least 2 out of 3 from Philadelphia the last three games of the season.

But, for now, we have to concentrate on winning the next series in Washington against the lowly Nationals. Then we have to win the series against the always tough Florida Marlins. There's no room for error anymore. As of tonight, the Padres won and the Giants lost, which places Atlanta in a tie with the Giants in the loss column for the Wild Card position. (The NL West is truly a "wild" race at a time when pretty much every other division is baseball is decided.) We need to go something close to 6-3, in my opinion, to have a shot at giving Bobby Cox one last play-off run.

As long-time readers know I don’t like the concept of the Wild Card. Baseball traditionally has been the most difficult sport to make the play-offs. Only the elite were allowed. But, in today’s era of baseball-as-entertainment vs. baseball-as-sport, we find the need for all these Wild Card shenanigans in order to drive television revenue which, in turn, helps pay players the salary of Hollywood actors.

I think back on my dozen simulations of the 2010 season using OOTP back in the spring (see May 5, 2010 post). The Braves didn’t win the NL East in any of those sims. They did, however, make the Wild Card 3 of 12 times. They survived the NLDS once (against the Giants) and lost to the Phillies in the NLCS. Interesting. Even if each season played out very differently in terms of trades and injuries and player performances, as a general rule the average of the simulations has been remarkably close to reality at an overall win-loss level.

So, back to reality now. Nine games left, ending with three against the Phillies in Atlanta. I’ll be at the final regular season game on October 3. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, it will not the Bobby Cox’s farewell game. Hopefully, we will be planning to face either the Cincinnati Reds or whoever wins the very close NL West in the play-offs. Our best hope is probably that the Giants and the Padres keep swapping the lead back and forth or the Rockies surge as the other two teams lose, while the Braves put together a small winning streak of maybe 4 games. That just might do it.

Winning the Wild Card is not exactly the “poetry” I referred to in my last baseball post. But, Cox going out with a spot in the postseason makes for a nice verse, if not for a complete sonnet.


God help the Atlanta Braves.

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