I've been nervous to say anything about the Braves for fear that whatever minimal karmic power this site has will cause the local baseball collective to end its surprising charge at the final wild card spot. So, how about a little pessimism? Tonight's pitching match-up is the least favorable match-up that the Braves have had or will have over the last two weeks of the season. Josh Johnson, the Marlins ace, goes up against Tim Hudson, who has been decent but not outstanding over the past several weeks. (How weird is it that the Braves have had outstanding starting pitching this year, but their two weakest starters are their two highest paid hurlers: Hudson and Derek Lowe. Speaking of Lowe, what is the justification for starting him over Kenshin Kawakami, given that Kawakami has been better over the course of the season and much better over the past two months? In Bobby's defense, starting Lowe over Jurrjens is more defensible than sending Greg Norton to the plate in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game with a runner on third and one out. And yes, I am criticizing our Hall of Fame manager whose team has won 15 of 17.) Tonight could be the end of the run.
If the Braves can win tonight, then they are going to be in great shape because they have a favorable pitching match-up in the final game against the Marlins (Javier Vasquez against Ricky Nolasco) followed by four games against the Nats, two of which will be pitched by the sterling Vasquez and Jurrjens.
The Dodgers could find themselves in an interesting position this weekend in that their success or failure against the Rockies will determine whether they face Colorado or Atlanta in the NLDS. Do they have a preference? The Dodgers are 12-3 against the Rockies this year and 3-4 against the Braves. [Edit: a commenter pointed out correctly that the Dodgers can't play the Rockies in the NLDS, as well as the fact that John Johnson and Nicky Nolasco don't pitch for the Marlins. They might have a slight preference in tanking the final series because it creates a reasonable chance that they would play a team that they have dominated in the NLCS. On the other hand, tanking would dump them into an NLDS with the Phils, who beat the Dodgers easily in last year's NLCS, or the Cardinals, who are a very threatening playoff opponent with Carpenter and Wainwright atop the rotation. Would they rather play one of those teams or a hot Braves team? I'm not sure. The only certainty is that I am an idiot.] There would also be a certain irony in the Dodgers playing such an important role as a spoiler, since the last time the Braves were in a down-to-the-last-weekend pennant race, it was with the Giants in 1993 and a Dodgers win on the final day of the season against the Giants gave the Braves the NL West after the Braves had swept the Rockies, one of the worst teams in the NL that year.
As of this morning, the Braves are 86-70 and have a run differential of +103. They need to go 4-2 the rest of the way to get to 90 wins. The last NL team to win 90+ games and miss the playoffs were the 2004 Giants. The last NL team to have a run differential of +100 or better and not make the playoffs were the 2004 Cubs. In other words, if the Braves finish hot and still miss the playoffs, they'll achieve something that hasn't been done in five years. So we have that going for us, which is nice.