Here we go again. Do you have that sinking feeling that the Braves are doing it again? They are, all of a sudden, struggling in September.
With a three-game losing streak, the Braves are 81-63 on the year, with 18 games remaining in the regular season.
They own the best record of the wildcard teams. The Braves are 5.5 games up on St. Louis, who leads the way for the second wildcard team. The Cardinals are a game up on the Dodgers, 2.5 up on Pittsburgh, three up on Philadelphia and Milwaukee and four up on Arizona. There are six teams battling for the second wildcard spot.
Atlanta has a big three-game series this weekend with the Nationals, who are in complete control now of the NL East with an 8.5 game lead on the Braves. Atlanta then goes on a six-game road trip to Miami and Philadelphia. The series next week with the Phillies could now be important. Atlanta has won 10 of 15 games from Philadelphia this season, but the Phillies have gone 27-14 since July 31st to get back into the wildcard race.
The Braves are 37-40 against teams that have a winning record right now, while they own a 44-23 mark against clubs that are under .500. Last time I checked, losing teams don’t make the playoffs, so if the Braves make it they must do better against teams with winning records. Half of Atlanta’s 18 games remaining are against clubs with winning records (Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh).
The problem the last few days has been the offense. The Braves have scored only six runs in the last four games, with 26 hits. They are also 2-20 with runners in scoring position for those four games. Not sure which is worst – that they have only two hits in the last four games with runners in scoring position, or that they have had only 20 runners in scoring position for the last four games.
Atlanta’s hitters are going through a slump at a bad time. Brian McCann is hitting just .194 since August 1 with two home runs and eight RBI. This is after he hit .296 in July with nine home runs and 21 RBI.
Chipper Jones is slowing down at the plate. He’s hit only .261 since August 1 with four home runs and 16 RBI.
Michael Bourn is having a bad second half. After hitting .311 prior to the All-Star Break, with a .366 on base percentage, Bourn has hit only .224 after the All-Star Break with a .318 OBP.
First baseman Freddie Freeman is hitting .194 in September with only one RBI.
While Jason Heyward is hitting .298 in September and Dan Uggla is batting .294 this month, they have combined for three solo home runs. Heyward has only two home runs and two RBI, while Uggla’s only production is a solo home run.
McCann, Uggla, Jones and Freeman have combined for only four home runs and 14 RBI this month.
Now there three weeks left in the season. For the Braves to not make the one-game, do-or-die play-in game would be catastrophic. They would have to go 5-13 with the Cardinals going 11-8 for St. Louis to win the top spot. In other words, we’d have to have a complete replay of last season.
Last year the Braves had a record of 84-60 after 144 games, so they were three games better than the pace Atlanta is on this season with the mark of 81-63. Atlanta was 7.5 games up on St. Louis for the one wildcard berth. The Braves went 5-13 in their last 18 games and lost the wildcard by one game to the Cardinals.
This year it’s a 5.5 game lead on the Cardinals. But the difference is St. Louis has five teams within four games of their lead for the second spot, which of course is new this season. The Cardinals might have to worry more about keeping their lead on those other five teams, instead of last year when they were simply trying to catch Atlanta.
But the Braves cannot afford to limp into that one-game wildcard. They have to get back on track and start hitting the ball. Atlanta had the 11-run performance last Saturday in New York, but in the four games prior to that they had scored only five runs. So in eight of the last nine games, the Braves have scored a total of 11 runs.
They cannot rest on that 5.5 game lead. They need to know there is an urgency to play well heading into late September. If they struggle in these last 18 games and coast into that one game, no one is going to believe they can win against a team that will probably be playing great baseball. Whichever team does win that second spot will have to be playing well, considering the race is so tight and that there are six teams fighting for that one position.
It all starts this weekend. The Nationals are coming to town, and even though they do have that comfortable 8.5 game lead over Atlanta, don’t expect Washington to act like this series is not important. The Braves must play like they can still catch Washington, just to make sure no one can catch them.
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. Follow Bill on twitter @BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.