The Braves are ever-so-slightly getting my hopes up that they can stage some sort of miraculous rally into the Wild Card. They've won nine of 11 to creep to within three games, although the fact that they trail three teams makes a recovery a virtual impossibility. With a three-game set against the Phillies and the Padres collapsing, a last-gasp run would be possible, but the Rockies presence in the mix two games ahead of the Braves makes the playoffs a pipe dream. Incidentally, the Braves are tied with the Rockies right now for the best Pythagorean record in the NL. If both sides miss the playoffs, would that be a further argument for the weakness of the NL that its two best teams are not in the mix?
Even if the Braves don't make the playoffs, their run at the end of the year is gratifying on a couple levels. First, if they take care of business the next two nights (and with Smoltz and Hudson throwing, it's quite possible that they will), then they'll likely keep the Phillies out of the playoffs. While I was not especially geeked this weekend that the net effect of the Braves winning three of four would be to send the Cubs to the playoffs (I'm still bitter about '03), it would be especially satisfying to deny the worst fans in American sports October baseball for the umpteenth year (and I'm still bitter about '93). Second, finishing with 87 or 88 wins is better than finishing 82-80 because the Braves can say to themselves that they had a good season. The complaint that the team got screwed by its Interleague draw will have validity if the Braves miss the playoffs by a game or two, although there really is no counter to "forget the Red Sox; you went 1-6 against the Reds." Third, Liberty Media is more inclined to open the checkbooks this off-season if they perceive that the Braves are on the cusp of being a contender in the National League again. While I would be fine with the team letting Andruw walk, one of the messages of this season is that it's very hard to get quality pitching on the cheap, so the team will hopefully suck it up and pay some of the outrageous sums that pitching commands on the open market in the winter. Average pitchers cost an arm and a leg, but the alternatives are Mark Redman and Kyle Davies.