Facing a seven-game deficit in the NL East with approximately six weeks remaining in the season, a league championship for the Braves is not entirely out of the question. We still have six games to play against the Nationals, as well as eighteen games against the rest of the NL East teams (all of whom sport winning percentages at or below .500).
However, Washington is the hottest team in baseball, while the Braves struggle night in and night out to muster any sort of run support. With this in mind, only the most optimistic (read crazy) fans can really hold out hope for an NL East pennant.
So if the Braves have a legitimate hope of playing October baseball, it’s the wildcard, which means the dreaded one-game playoff. Here’s a look at how we stack up against the other top contenders in the NL Wildcard race:
Pittsburg (64-61): Two games out of the wildcard lead, Pittsburg is in fourth, right behind the Braves. With both Milwaukee and St. Louis ahead of them in the NL Central, they have practically no chance at overtaking their division. They’ve lost six in a row, including a rout at the hands of our Braves on Monday. Their rotation is average, but they lack a true stopper, critical in the one-game playoff. Liriano is their best, be he’s far more hittable than in previous years and has shown some issues with control. Most importantly, Andrew McCutchen remains sidelined with a broken rib, putting a real hamper on the offense. It’s doubtful he’ll be back to top form before season’s end. Atlanta should be able to handle the Bucs, and, with six games against Pittsburgh remaining on the schedule, they have the chance to prove it before October.
St. Louis (67-57): The Braves are 2-4 against the Cardinals in 2014. We haven’t seen them since May and we won’t see them again. The are still serious contenders for the NL Central, but Milwaukee is playing great baseball, and it would be an uphill battle. Like the Braves, the Cards have struggled mightily on offense. In fact, they’ve scored three fewer runs this year than Atlanta. The Braves have a better team ERA, but the Cardinals have two starters (Wainwright and Lynn) far better than any of Atlanta’s pitchers. Memories of the 2012 one-game playoff are best kept buried. I don’t like our chances against St. Louis.
San Francisco (65-58): Interestingly enough, a one-game playoff against the Giants could pit the Braves against their old friend Tim Hudson. He’s been their surprising ace this year, bettering teammates Matt Cain, Madison Baumgartner, and Jake Peavy. The San Fran offense has been underperforming, with a team average even worse than Atlanta’s, but their pitching staff has kept them afloat with a NL-leading 1.14 WHIP. On the season, we’re 1-5 against the Giants, including a three-game sweep in Atlanta during which we scored one run in each game. Head-to-head, they’ve outscored us 23-14. To make matters worse, Julio Teheran, the top candidate in my opinion for starting the one-game playoff, has a history of trouble pitching on the West Coast.
It won’t be a cakewalk, but the Braves have what it takes to contend in this heated wildcard race and make the playoffs. The hard truth is that, even if they make it, they would almost certainly be the biggest underdog of the postseason. For the most part the rotation has been good—better than we could ask for—but far from dominant. And if the offense doesn’t find a groove soon, we won’t even have an October matchup to worry about.