For former National League West inhabitants, the Braves never look comfortable out west.
This would be an optimal time to change that, with four in Arizona and three in San Francisco comprising the second-to-last road trip of the season. When the Braves complete this trip, they’ll have only 16 games left on the schedule.
Seven will come against the Phillies who, as of Thursday afternoon, trail the Braves by three games in the East. The head-to-head games might well determine the winner, but how the Braves fare over the next week sets the stage.
The Braves’ results against the NL West are well-documented. They’re 9-18 against the division this season, and carry a 29-64 mark since 2013. The Braves are 6-10 in Phoenix over that span, without a series win in the desert since 2012.
Once this quartet of games ends, they travel to San Francisco, which mauled them in an early-season sweep at SunTrust Park. Simply put, there’s some disaster potential on this trip. But there’s also the chance to solidify their standing with the postseason weeks away.
Fortunately for the NL East leaders, their inconceivably bad collapse Wednesday – botching a 7-1 eighth-inning lead to the Red Sox – didn’t cost them a spot in the standings. The hapless Marlins beat the Phillies.
“We have a good group of guys in here and we have our eyes on the prize, and that’s to win this division,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “You can’t dwell on a loss. It’s just a loss. It doesn’t matter if we lost by 100 runs or one run, we’ve got to move on.
The Braves have lost six of their past eight, yet the Phillies have gained only 1-1/2 games. They lost a series in Miami while the Braves were decimated by Boston.
Philadelphia plays at the Mets and host the Nationals during the Braves’ west coast trip. The Phillies have the added benefit of seeing the Marlins and Mets again before the end-of-season stretch against the Braves.
One game at a time, as manager Brian Snitker reiterates. The opponent at hand is the Diamondbacks, whose bats have been up and down throughout the season, but need to catch fire as Arizona plays 17 consecutive contests against first-place teams.
Arizona dropped four in a row before salvaging the finale against San Diego. It sits two games back in the NL West, and with an even tougher slate than the oft-analyzed Braves schedule, put-up-or-shut-up time is setting in.
For the Braves, it’s a chance to put away the western demons and draw closer to a postseason berth. Even holding serve would peel valuable days off the calendar, while putting more pressure on the faceoffs with the Phillies.
If the Braves do win the East, it’s increasingly likely their opponent will be the West winner. The Rockies, Dodgers and Diamondbacks were all within two games of each other Thursday.
“This is a big series for us,” Freeman said. “We’ve got tough matchups all through this weekend. So we’ve got to play well and put (Wednesday) behind us and hope we get off to a good start this road trip.”