It is not a surprise that many who follow the Braves are getting nervous and unsettled. The Braves held a first-place lead for a majority of the season and only blew it in the past few weeks.
At the time they lost the lead, there wasn't much of a worry because it appeared as though the Braves and Phillies would make the playoffs regardless, one as the Wild Card and one winning the division. Now, it seems as if the Giants, who are only a half game behind the Braves, or another N.L. West team may be able to surmount the Braves.
Jon Bois, an editor for SB Nation, wrote an article about the team's playoff chances and what they have to do to make sure they are playing in October.
The team's performance over the past 23 games is the reason many are worried. They are 10-13 over that spread and they haven't played the toughest schedule in the world. Jair Jurrjens is not as good as many think, Mike Minor is running into a bunch of tough luck, Tommy Hanson is striking out batters at a much lower rate than we are used to seeing, and Tim Hudson has a 6.38 ERA over his past three starts.
The starting staff is no longer a sure thing, which is why the Braves have struggled so much, along with lack of production from certain offensive positions. The bullpen is still very solid, but the Braves are having trouble driving runners in and keeping runners off base. That is a recipe for disaster, but it is not necessarily a trend that will continue.
The Braves still have the best run differential in the N.L. That means, with luck pushed to the side, the Braves have been one of, if not the, most efficient teams in the league this season. With 15 games left on the schedule, the Braves need to start playing at the level they should be playing.
Yes, the pitching matchups against Philadelphia in the upcoming series favor the Phillies, but the Braves showed that they can score against top pitchers when they scored three early runs on Adam Wainwright and six total runs against Chris Carpenter just a week ago. In that same series the Braves lost a game in which Tim Hudson opposed Kyle Lohse, so marking certain games down as wins before the game is played is unwise.
Maybe the Braves fall short of the playoffs or maybe they end the season and go into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in baseball. Predicting it at this point is extremely hard to do, especially when you consider how streaky this team has been all season. The pitchers have to step their game up and the hitters have to continue to get on base, because hits will begin to fall with runners in scoring position.
Nate McLouth's resurgence could be a huge boost, but left field and first base need to start producing, regardless of who is playing at either spot. If that begins to happen -- Matt Diaz had a great game yesterday -- then this team should hold of the Giants for a wildcard spot and contend with the Phillies for the division.
If they continue to struggle, then Bobby Cox's career will end much like many of his seasons have ended, with a lot of hope and promise for a majority of the season followed by a quick, sudden end.