Well, the Atlanta Braves have painted themselves into a corner. It’s the final day of the regular season, and they need to have a very good day.
A 9-17 record in September has them in this position. They had an 8½-game lead in the wild-card race on Sept. 5, and now that’s gone.
This is really not a surprise. Considering what has happened during the second half of the season, and specifically during the past month, it’s not a shock. This team has had to deal with a combination of injuries and an unproductive offense, and now the Braves simply might not make it.
It certainly did look good at the All-Star break. The Braves were only 3½ games back of Philadelphia. They were pitching well, with a rotation that at times had the best ERA in the game during the first three months, and the bullpen was exceptional.
The offense was -- and still is -- the problem. Second baseman Dan Uggla had a nightmare first half, but he got on track. It has been the other positions that have caused the lineup to be vulnerable, whether they were playing the dominating Phillies or any other team.
There are three players who were counted on heavily to be key pieces of the offense. But Brian McCann (.204), Jason Heyward (.226) and Martin Prado (.246) have had a rough second half of the season.
Uggla bounced back and salvaged his season, and there’s no doubt his resurgence allowed the Braves to extend the lead in the wild-card race in August. But when the rookie first baseman, Freddie Freeman, was at times the most consistent hitter in the lineup, it was easy to see that Atlanta was in trouble.
Chipper Jones has done the best he can do at this point in his season -- and his career. He’s still able to play well when he’s able to play. Monday night was a prime example. Jones hit a home run early in the game, but then he was so hobbled by his knee late in the game that he almost looked as if he needed a wheelchair to get to the plate.
If we had known at the All-Star break that Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, two pitchers who were in the Cy Young conversation at that time, would only win two games the rest of the way, we might have predicted this trouble. Put that same equation in the Phillies’ rotation, taking away Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, and they would be in trouble, too.
It’s easy to believe if those two pitchers had not gotten hurt, the Braves would not be in the position they are in right now. But it still wouldn’t change the fact that this team hasn’t hit.
Maybe they put it in cruise control when they got the big lead in early September. Maybe they thought the race was over. I did. Remember when I wrote on Sept. 7 that the Braves were going to win the wild card? I thought they had it in the bag. Many people did. But if the team let off the gas pedal and assumed it was over, then the team made a huge mistake.
It now comes down to the final game of the season. Tim Hudson will go for the Braves, and he’s the one you want on the mound for Atlanta in this situation. He’s the ace. He’s the veteran (insert Derek Lowe jokes here). Hudson is the one that can at least give the Braves the chance.
But if the Braves’ offense continues to be dead, wish St. Louis well as they play in October.
If Wednesday does not go well, this will be looked at as monumental choke. You can’t blow an 8½-game lead and not look at it that way. And with how crazy this season has gone, if Wednesday is a good day for the Braves, watch them go do something crazy and win the World Series.
That would be nice. But at this point, one win would do.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.