Up until tonight’s game, the Atlanta Braves controlled their own fate, but the narrow 5-4 loss tonight not only took control from Atlanta, but may prove to be the most devastating loss of the season. With this loss, the Atlanta Braves now not only must win tomorrow, but the Cardinals must lose to the Chicago Cubs as well for Atlanta to regain Top Seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It was one of those most frustrating of games, where the Braves get tons of hits, get on base frequently, but strand so many runners and waste so many opportunities, that fans just wanted to pull their increasingly graying hair out by the roots! Despite the opportunities to score, Atlanta went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, and put just 1 run across the plate early in the game until the 9th inning and the final out when Justin Upton hit a 3 run bomb that scored three. The Braves had two more on in the bottom of the 9th, but failed to achieve another walk-off.
Atlanta had 12 hits on the night, but the Phillies had 13, and while the Phillies played well defensively, the Braves were quite sloppy tonight, and made some costly errors at a time when they needed to be super sharp on all fronts. Mike Minor, prone lately to giving up homers early, had another rough outing. While he didn’t give up any homers, he has just not been as sharp lately as he’s been most of the year. I have to wonder if Fredi may be re-thinking any of his post-season rotation plans.
With Atlanta’s loss tonight and the Cardinals win, the Braves are now 95-66 and the Cardinals are 96-65. The only good news in that otherwise dreary scene is that Atlanta holds the tie-breaker over the Cardinals. It’s not much of a consolation, because all it means is that Atlanta can still clinch top seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but because of the Braves and Cardinals current record, the Braves MUST win tomorrow (they control that fate still) and the Cardinals MUST lose to the Chicago Cubs tomorrow (a fate the Braves cannot control).
Atlanta can certainly beat the Phillies tomorrow, and while it’s possible the Cubs could beat the Cardinals, it’s frankly unlikely! I can rarely remember ever rooting for the Cubs with reckless abandon, but I certainly will be in Chicago’s corner tomorrow! If that scenario plays out like we want, then the Braves will play the winner of the wildcard game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. If not, then Atlanta will have to play the Los Angeles Dodgers. Either way, the Braves will at least have home field advantage for the division series.
What is potentially so devastating about tonight’s loss is who the Braves may well have to face in the division series. I don’t mean to slight any pitcher anywhere, but I’d much rather the Braves bat against a Pirates rotation of perhaps Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, or A.J. Burnett (in no particular order) or a Reds rotation of Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, or Johnny Cueto (again, in no particular order) – than I would a Dodgers rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, or Edison Volquez. Granted, all the aforementioned pitchers are quite good, but Kershaw and Greinke have pitched in a class by themselves this season.
Perhaps a bit of a bright spot on the horizon is the simple fact that in the last ten games, none of the teams in the picture for Atlanta, with the exception of the Cardinals, have been playing very well, and the Dodgers in particular have struggled lately. You can bet though, in the playoffs they will be bringing all to bear. Atlanta will need to as well, whoever we may face.
I know all Atlanta fans will be tied to their television sets tomorrow, with hopes for both an Atlanta victory, and a shocker pulled off by the Cubs. I’m still confident in this team though! Whoever the Braves end up playing, or wherever the games are played, the Atlanta Braves have been as resilient as any team in baseball this year. They’ve weathered multiple storms, had multiple walk-offs, overcame devastating injuries, and played well all year (for the most part) right when they needed to. Most analysts are underestimating the Braves, and yes – I’ve had my doubts as well, but I’ve no doubt the Braves have what it takes to climb any hill. Yes, the loss tonight could prove devastating, but it might just wake the Braves up! Go Braves, and Go Cubs!