It is understandable for Atlanta Braves fans to concern themselves with the Philadelphia Phillies this morning. The Phillies are two and a half games behind the Braves in the National League East standings, which means they are plenty close enough to deny retiring manager Bobby Cox a final division title.
And given how well they’ve played all season in forging their current 73-51 mark heading into tonight’s game at Colorado, it would be a shame if Atlanta lost the East pennant to the Phils.
But even if Atlanta eventually succumbs to Philadelphia’s outrageous talent, the Braves’ numbers of importance have little to do with the Phillies.
They have mostly to do with the wildcard, of which the Braves should secure with little sweat or worry.
Here’s why: To check the National League standings this morning is to see three teams at least 20 games over .500 (division leaders Atlanta, Cincinnati and San Diego) with a fourth team (Philly) within striking distance of that lofty perch, the Phils current 17 over (70-53).
Only two other teams — St. Louis and San Francisco — are more than 10 games over .500, the Cards and Giants each standing 13 games above even.
Let the Braves win 20 of their final 38 games to finish 93-69 and they would be almost impossible to knock from the wildcard spot, regardless of what the Phillies do.
Atlanta also currently has the best home record in the NL (44-17) and only the Giants and Padres have more remaining home games among the contenders than the Braves, which makes it more and more difficult to see Atlanta on the outside looking in once the playoff series begin in October.
Certainly the Cardinals or Giants could rip off 12 wins in a row, the Braves could hit a prolonged slump and all the calculators and spread sheets this side of Bill Gates’ home office couldn’t save Atlanta.
But logic screams otherwise. Logic looks at the suddenly untouchable Tim Hudson, the fact that the Braves appear to be growing stronger rather than weaker, and the calming influence of Cox and figures Atlanta has almost no way to win less than half of its remaining games.
Heck, by winning six straight series for the first time in four years, it’s somewhat tough to see Atlanta doing any worse than 95 or 96 wins, which might still not be enough to hold off Philly, but could deliver the league’s best record otherwise.
No, this doesn’t yet appear to be a great Atlanta team, though it has won 14 of its last 20, which should impress anyone, even the Yankees.
But what should delight Braves fans the most is what either St. Louis or San Fran would have to do to overtake them. Now 67-54 on the season, the Cards would need to win 26 of their last 41 to reach 93 wins, and they only have 17 remaining home contests.
The Giants do have 21 home games remaining — one more than Atlanta — but they’d also need a 24-13 record the rest of the way to reach 93 wins. And seven of their remaining games are against San Diego, whose current 74-49 mark is the best in the NL.
The Braves aren’t without worries. They have six contests remaining with the Phillies, including the final three games of the regular season when Philly visits the Big Peach. If nothing in the NL East is settled by then, tickets for that series might become the most coveted ever at Turner Field, even bigger than the 1999 World Series against the Yankees.
But again, it’s not the Phillies that the Braves should concern themselves with these days. It’s the number 20. As in 20 more wins and a 93-69 record.
There are no gurantees that 93 wins will be enough, of course. St. Louis, San Francisco or both could catch fire over the season’s final six weeks. But 93 wins would have clinched every National League wildcard bid since 2003 and it figures to clinch this one.
After that, the Braves can worry about the Phillies.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...