After Donovan Solano’s second home run in Tuesday night’s win, I was ready to delay the celebration one more night. I should have known better. I should have known that the game is never over until the last out or until Prado is rubbing dirt on the back of someone’s neck. I should have known Freeman would come through when we needed him. I should have known because this is not 2011.
I expected this team to make the playoffs. That’s been true since game one. But the road to October has been anything but expected. They did it with Brandon Beachy on the mend. They did it despite Tommy Hanson completely forgetting how to win. (Remember when I predicted that he would win 20 this season? Good times.) They did it with Kris Medlen, a successful starter beyond all expectations. They did it with Uggla swinging blindfolded and McCann swinging with one shoulder. They did it on the back of a forty-year-old man who runs through stop signs and has stamina to leg out a leadoff double in the bottom of the ninth. They did it with a lot of hard work and a little good fortune.
Hopefully none of the guys woke up this morning too hung over, or blinded by champagne and light beer in the eye sockets, because there is still some pretty important baseball to be played in the regular season. The difference between winning the division and making the wildcard game is astronomical. Both teams playing in the wildcard game are immediately thrust onto the brink of elimination. On the other hand, the division winner gets a few days off and a five-game series to prove their worth, even though the first two of those five games will be on the road. For the Braves to conserve their energy through the rest of the regular season and focus on the postseason any time before the NL East title is out of reach would be a massive mistake. Fortunately, the players and the coaches understand this. There’s been no talk of giving up on the division, no mention of focusing solely on the wildcard game. Tuesday night’s celebration was well deserved, but don’t think for a minute that those guys don’t still have their eyes on the Nationals.
The schedule is a favorable one for sure: two more at home against the Marlins, the final home series against the Mets, and three on the road against the fading Pirates. Each game against teams with records below .500. The Nationals have three remaining games against the Cardinals (the current holders of the second wildcard spot), and five more games against Philadelphia. Even though the Phillies aren’t serious contenders this year, they’ve played like it in the second half of the season, including a 15-7 record so far in September. I’ll be rooting for them like a regular Philly Phanatic.
So hand me a mop and give me a hand with pulling down all this protective plastic in the clubhouse. There’s a lot more ball left to play. By the way, keep your eyes peeled for any unopened bottles of champagne. For souvenir purposes only, I promise.