Bobby Cox is coming back for one more season but that doesn't mean his club has written off the rest of this year - at least not yet. Atlanta completed a sweep of the decimated Mets last night. The 5-2 win was the eighth straight for Atlanta vs. New York - and it was an absolute must to keep the club's fledgling playoff hopes alive.
The most painful part of this offseason, if Atlanta falls short of October baseball, will be knowing the Braves chances were ruined not by the Mets, but by the Padres and Reds. Atlanta's pivotal seven-game trip to Philly and Florida that began the last week of August was preceded by a three-game set vs. San Diego, at home, and the lowly Padres took two of three. After losing two of three in Philly, Atlanta responded by winning the first two games of a four-game set in FL - but then lost the final two games of that series.
Cincinnati was supposed to be the Braves get-well team - a three-game home set against a second-tier club (no offense, I'm writing a book on Cincinnati and I grew up a huge Reds fan).
In dire need of a sweep to get back on track, instead, the Braves were swept by the Reds, tying a season high five-game losing streak at the worst possible time.
That was the point I think most people believed the Braves season was done.
Well, not yet.
The Braves won a season high seven straight (would have been nine straight except for Rafael Soriano's ninth-inning meltdown vs. Houston) to get back in it - and last night's win vs. New York made it eight out of the last ten, and two sweeps of the Mets in two weeks. Admittedly the odds of Atlanta overtaking Colorado are slim - however, for the first time there are no teams between the Braves and the Rockies and, every bit as important, the schedule heavily favors Atlanta as the season winds down.
The Braves are down four with ten games to go - but bear in mind, that deficit was eight games with twenty to go. In the last ten games, Atlanta was 8-2 while Colorado was just 4-6.
And if we do that over the next ten games . . . well, you can do the math.
Colorado took advantage of a ten-game home stand against some weak opponents earlier this month, going 9-1 vs. New York, Arizona, and Cincinnati - but the Rockies now must face two of the league's top teams in the Cardinals and Dodgers to close out the season.
As for the Braves, well, it's almost too good to be true, but . . .
Atlanta plays seven of its final ten games against the worst team in baseball, the Washington Nationals, including four straight at home to close out the season.
If the Braves can close the gap to two games then things will be very interesting one week from Friday - Colorado will be in LA, and Atlanta will host Washington. And don't think the Cardinals or Dodgers will roll over for the Rockies just because their playoff spots will be secured already.
Just check the standings, St. Louis, LA, and Philly are fighting for the league's best record and home field advantage in the playoffs - and then check out the Dodgers won-loss record at home this season, and you better believe Joe Torre's players understand how significant next weekend's series is for his ball club.
And that bodes well for the Braves, assuming of course, the Nats don't hose us like the Padres and Reds.
Trivia tidbits: Bobby Cox's plan to manage the Braves one more season will allow him to join some elite company. Next year will be his 25th as the Braves manager, making him just the third skipper in baseball history to manage one ball club for at least 25 years. Connie Mack managed the Athletics for 50 years and John McGraw managed the Giants for 31 years.