I spent all day trying to find some positives in the Braves current situation. It’s true the Cards were 1 1/2 back but they were playing the Mets who had folded like a wet napkin in the previous games of the series. Somehow however the Mets conspired to poke a hole in Tony LaRussa’s September balloon by staging a 6 run 9th inning comeback to beat the Cards who had entered the inning up 6-2. Our Wildcard lead is once more two games and the magic number is down to 5. Ahead for us are the Nationals who have given us fits this year and Stephen Strasburg.
The Nats rookie phenom is still looking for his first win this year after returning from TJ surgery. Last time out Strasburg went six innings allowing only one run on four hits against the Marlins. It was his best performance since coming returning last outing was his best since returning to the Majors. As you probably know the Braves will send out Tim Hudson to once again stop the slide. I won’t bore you with numbers – okay I will, 13-3 record with a 1.95 ERA in 22 starts –, Huddy has been on a roll this month, he can smell the post season and see the finish line. How’s that for mixing metaphors? But of course Hudson will need help in the form of runs from our perplexing and frustrating lineup.
In the last week we’ve been .206/.311/.345 with six homers and just 16 RBI; it’s no wonder why we aren’t winning games. Meanwhile the Nationals have been a little hotter….ok a lot hotter. There line in the last week is .251/.311/.393 with 5 homers and 27 RBI. The good news is that Chipper Jones will start and Alex Gonzalez probably will as well if his calf strain has calmed down as expected.
Strasburg is going to throw strikes and be around the plate and hitters won’t want to get behind him because as well as that high 90s heat he has a devastating changeup and nasty slider. In the14 innings he’s thrown in the three starts since returning, Strasburg has allowed two runs on nine hits and no walks while striking out 11. His 1.29 ERA, 0.64 WHIP and .188 average against is scary but it is a VERY small sample size.
The secret to beating the Nationals? I’ll give you a hint. Since last Friday the Braves are 7-50 (.140) with RISP. No matter how good the pitching you simply do not win many games like that. I know everyone on Twitter and the blogs wanted to hang Derek Lowe but when your team doesn’t score it’s impossible for any pitcher to win. To fix that the hitters have to stop trying to knock it out of the park and take what the opposing pitchers give you; hit the ball the other way, try to advance a runner by hitting behind him and btw, a sacrifice fly is a good thing.
The real pressure in on the Cardinals and Giants. They can’t allow themselves to lose period. I know the Cards schedule is weak – three each with the Cubs and Astros – but the Cubs would like nothing better than to end the Redbirds season. The Giants schedule is really the worst around – they have to play the Dodgers in LA tonight then play three with the Diamondbacks in Phoenix before heading home to face the Rockies.
In spite of hiccups our bullpen is still the best in the league. Our lineup has players who know how to hit and drive in runs. If we can bring both of those attributes together this weekend we can sweep the Nationals and not worry about anyone helping us or how many games we have to take from the Phillies. Heck, this is a piece of cake!