Braves Check: September 28, 2009

Five.  That’s the Rockies’ magic number this morning after the Braves extended their win streak to six games yesterday.  It was a good week picking on the dregs of the NL East, the Mets and Nationals.  I’m not going to dwell much on the stats this week, but I’ll consider some recent trends and get into this week’s upcoming schedule in a little more detail than usual.

Recent Trends

Martin Prado had an excellent week, so he’s getting hot at a good time.  Chipper Jones also appears to be turning things around a little bit at the plate, having hit his first September home run this week.  In general, the offense is clicking pretty well, although you wouldn’t confuse the Braves’ lineup with the Dodgers or Phillies.  Nate McLouth has gone cold in the last week or so, but for the most part, the regulars are performing pretty well.

Fortunately for the Braves, the same goes for their pitching staff.  The starting pitchers have been outstanding in September with the exception of Derek Lowe, who doesn’t seem to be right.  He’s giving up a ton of hits on balls in play, which isn’t entirely his fault, but his command is also worse than it ever was as a Dodger.

Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, and Javier Vazquez have more than made up for Lowe’s shortcomings, with Tim Hudson also contributing some quality innings since his return from the DL.  Vazquez has given up 3 runs in 32 innings over his last 4 starts.  Jurrjens hasn’t given up more than 3 runs in a start since early August, and he’s averaging 7 innings and 2 runs allowed per start since 8/7.  He’s shown no sign of tiring the way he did a year ago.

The same can’t be said for Hanson, though, who has given up 19 fly balls in his last two starts.  I would speculate that he’s been tiring and leaving the ball up in the strike zone a little too often, although I don’t really have any data to prove it.  I suspect the Braves would shut him down if they weren’t still in the race.

The Road Ahead

The Braves spend the final week of the season at home against the Marlins and Nationals.  The Marlins and Giants effectively eliminated themselves this week by not keeping up with the Braves or Rockies, although they (and the Cubs) are still mathematically alive.  I suppose it’s worth noting that the Braves are still alive in the division as well, although they’re five games back and a severe long shot in that race.

The team to focus on this week, as has been the case for a few days now, is the Colorado Rockies.  The Rockies hold a 2.5 game lead for the NL Wild Card and have an 85% chance to win according to Cool Standings.  They’ve been playing .500 ball since the Braves started their current 14-2 run on September 10th, allowing the Braves to claw from 8.5 back (and a less than 1% chance to win) at that point.

Five Colorado wins would eliminate the Braves even if Atlanta can go 7-0 this week.  Winning will be no easy task, and the current 5:1 odds against it reflect just how little time is left.

Here’s how the Rockies’ schedule looks: 3 vs. Milwaukee Tuesday-Thursday, 3 @ the Dodgers over the weekend.  Both teams will have six games remaining after the Braves and Marlins play today.  For the Rockies, Jason Marquis will get two starts, and the rest of their rotation will get one turn.  They’ll avoid both Yovani Gallardo and Chad Billingsley, but their schedule is still tougher than what the Braves will face:

Mon vsFLA: Jurrjens vs. Anibal Sanchez
Tue vsFLA: Hudson vs. Rick Vanden Hurk
Wed vsFLA: Vazquez vs. Ricky Nolasco
Thu vsWAS: Hanson vs. Garrett Mock
Fri vsWAS: Lowe vs. Livan Hernandez
Sat vsWAS: Jurrjens vs. Ross Detwiler
Sun vsWAS : Hudson vs. J.D. Martin

It’s not exactly an All-Star team of opposing starters this week, although it’s possible that Josh Johnson will start today and move Sanchez and Vanden Hurk back a day.  All seven games are at home, which is also nice.

Can the Braves keep up their current 2.5-week pace and go 6-1 this week?  If so, they only need the Rockies to play .500 or worse to tie or beat them.  Any combination of five Colorado wins or Atlanta losses would eliminate the Braves.  6-1 would be asking a lot, but I’m asking, even though it’s exciting just to see the Braves in contention again in late September.  Hopefully they’ll keep up the streak and give us some more playoff games to watch in October.

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