In spite of struggles, Braves in tie for 2nd wild card spot

  MIAMI – Just when so many people start saying the Braves’ chances of making the postseason are heading toward slim-and-none territory, after they’d gone 25 innings without scoring a run and pushed across just one run in four games through Wednesday, look what happens.

They scored seven runs in a Wednesday win against the Phillies, travel to Miami on the off day Thursday, and wake up this morning in a tie with free-falling Milwaukee for the second and final NL wild card spot, with skidding Pittsburgh 1 ½ games back.

The Braves will turn to the big man, Aaron Harang, for a big start tonight in a series opener against the Marlins. Atlanta starts a nine-game trip in a tie for the second and final wild-card spot. Harang is winless in five starts against Miami this season.

As bad as the Braves played – or to be accurate, as poorly as they hit most nights and fielded some nights – over the past couple of weeks, they actually gained ground on the Brewers and Pirates in that period. That’s how badly things have gone for those two NL Central teams who are now 4 and 5 ½ games, respectively, behind division leader St.  Louis.

So unless the Brewers and/or the Pirates can right their ship quickly, it appears the Cardinals will cruise to the division title and leave those other two teams to compete with the Braves for the second wild-card spot behind the Giants. And the Braves still have four games against the Pirates in Atlanta in the last home series of the season, before the Braves go to Philadelphia to finish.

I dare say, the playoff outlook has gotten a lot better for the Braves, in spite of themselves. They’d still have to win the Wild Card game to advance to an actual postseason series. Imagine facing the Giants in the Wild Card game – Tim Hudson possibly? – for the right to play a division series against the the NL team with the best record, which right now is … yes, Washington.

If I’m not mistaken, the Braves have done alright against the ol’ Nats.

Anyway, that’s getting way ahead  of ourselves. Right now the Braves just need to worry about an important three-game series starting tonight here in Miami against the Marlins, who are five games behind the Braves and Brewers in the wild-card standings. The Marlins should be jacked up for this series, since it’s possible they could be as close as two games or as far as eight games behind the Braves when it’s over Sunday afternoon.

And they know they have an 8-8 record this season against the Braves, who’ve hit just .233 against the Marlins and been shut out three times by Miami pitchers. The Braves scored two runs or fewer in four of the last seven meetings between the teams.

Not that the Marlins have played well lately, either. Nobody in the race for the second wild-card spot has. The Marlins are 14-16 since the beginning of August, including 3-8 with a 4.45 ERA in their past 11 games.

The Braves are 15-16 since the beginning of August, including 5-6 despite a 2.72 ERA in their past 11 games. They’ve hit .221 and totaled 27 runs and six homers in those 11 games, and been shut out four times in that stretch.

But that’s nothing compared to the dreadful skid that Milwaukee is in. The Brewers have lost nine consecutive games while batting .216 with a 6.27 ERA.

Meanwhile, the Pirates have lost four in a row and 13 of 20, batting .236 with just 73 runs despite 25 homers in that 20-game stretch.

  • Freeman and Stanton: The guy who’s the Braves’ best all-around hitter, Freddie Freeman, and the guy who’s the National League’s best power hitter, Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, have struggled in the Braves-Marlins season series and have just three games left here this weekend to do some damage.

Freeman is 6-for-61 (.098) with one double, one homer and five RBIs in 16 games against the Marlins, with a .191 OBP and .164 slugging percentage. He had been 3-for-54 (.056) with 20 strikeouts in 14 games against them before going 3-for-7 with no strikeouts in their last two games Aug. 30-31 in Atlanta.

While Stanton hasn’t struggled nearly as severely against the Braves as Freeman has against Miami, the man who’s widely regarded as the NL MVP frontrunner is just 13-for-61 (.213) with six extra-base hits (two homers), eight RBIs, eight walks and 22 strikeouts in 16 games against the Braves, for a .304 OBP and .377 slugging percentage.

Those are Stanton’s season-lows in average, OBP and slugging percentage against any of the 11 teams he’s played more than six games against,  and the slugging percentage is his third-lowest among the 20 teams he’s hit against at all this season. He’s hit .306 with 34 homers and 94 RBIs in 122 games against everyone besides the Braves.

•Tonight’s matchup: It’d the well-traveled veteran Aaron Harang (10-9, 3.64) against young Marlins right-hander Jarred Cosart (12-8, 3.80 ERA with Houston and Miami).

Harang is 1-3 with a 5.70 ERA and .316 opponents’ average in his past four starts, after going 4-0 with a 2.55 ERA and .270 OA in his previous nine. His last start was against the Marlins and Cosart on Saturday, when Harang allowed seven hits and four runs (three earned) with three walks in 5 2/3 innings of a 4-0 Marlins win.

Cosart pitched seven innings of seven-hit ball for the win, with one walk and five strikeouts, continuing what has been a torrid stretch for him since being traded from Houston to Miami on July 31. He’s 3-0 with a 0.65 ERA in his past four starts.

Harang has made five starts against the Marlins this season without a win. He’s 0-2 with a 5.10 ERA in those games, allowing 35 hits and 18 runs (17 earned) with 11 walks and 27 strikeout in 30 innings. However, nine runs came in 4 2/3 innings on April 30 at Miami; his other four games against them have been quality starts, including three with two or fewer runs in six or more innings.

Against Harang, Stanton is 8-for-21 with a homer, Garrett Jones is 10-for-27 with a homer, Donovan Solano is 4-for-5 with a homer, Marcell Ozuna is 4-for-13 with two homers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is 6-for-12, and Casey McGehee is 6-for-26.

Cosart went 9-7 with a 4.41 ERA in 20 starts for the Astros this season, and since the trade to Miami he’s 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 1.030 WHIP in five starts. He’s unbeaten in the past four starts while allowing one or no runs in each game and lasting seven or more innings in three of them (he pitched six innings in the other).

Cosart is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA in two starts against the Braves, his best ERA against any team he’s faced more than once this season. He beat them once with the Astros on June 26 in Houston (seven innings, six hits, one run, two walks).

In two starts against the Bravos, he’s allowed 13 hits, three walks and only one run in 14 innings, with seven strikeouts.

Against Cosart, Justin Upton  is 3-for-6, Jason Heyward is 2-for-5, and B.J. Upton, Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis each is 2-for-5. Chris Johnson is 0-for-6 against the right-hander.

• Let's close with one for the guy who asked me today, "Who is John Prine?" Just a national treasure and one of the finest American singer-songwriters who ever lived. It's hard to pick just one from him, but here's one of the many terrific ones. A true artist.

“HELLO IN THERE” by John Prine

John Prine

We had an apartment in the city,

Me and Loretta liked living there.

Well, it'd been years since the kids had grown,

A life of their own left us alone.

John and Linda live in Omaha,

And Joe is somewhere on the road.

We lost Davy in the Korean war,

And I still don't know what for, don't matter anymore.

Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger,

And old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day.

Old people just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."

Me and Loretta, we don't talk much more,

She sits and stares through the back door screen.

And all the news just repeats itself

Like some forgotten dream that we've both seen.

Someday I'll go and call up Rudy,

We worked together at the factory.

But what could I say if he asks "What's new?"

"Nothing, what's with you? Nothing much to do."

Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger,

And old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day.

Old people just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."

So if you're walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes,

Please don't just pass 'em by and stare

As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello."

About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than a decade.