Wiedmer: Braves may be done as collapse continues

Wiedmer: Braves may be done as collapse continues

September 22nd, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

On September 4, the Atlanta Braves led the St. Louis Cardinals by 8.5 games in the National League wildcard race.

After Wednesday night's 4-0 loss at Florida, that lead is down to 1.5 games, and but a single, slender game in the loss column. Let the Cards knock off the Mets this afternoon in St. Louis and Atlanta will lead by one with six to go.

And while the Braves must conclude their season with three on the road at pesky Washington - including possibly facing Stephen Strasburg on Friday - and three at home against Philadelphia, St. Louis closes with three at home against Chicago and three on the road at the Houston Dis-Astros.

Given that scenario, which team do you think has the advantage?

Which bring us to an interesting question:

When the Phillies completed a similar collapse in 1964 - losing 10 straight late in the season to blow a 6.5-game lead with 12 to go - it became known around the City of Brotherly Love as "The Phold."

So what to call the Braves' breakdown, assuming it ends as badly as it looks like it will? The Brave-yard Shift? The Big Screech? Fredi's Folly?

Not that anyone should place the majority of blame for this meltdown on first-year manager Fredi Gonzalez. He may have made a couple of questionable moves the past few weeks, but he's not hitting less than .174 with runners in scoring position. The players are struggling, players being paid millions, players who - truth be told - have pretty much struggled all season, and a couple of seasons before this one.

After all, Atlanta's lived in the bottom 25 percent of the National League in hitting for most of the year. Pitching and the occasional clutch hit - often in their final at-bat, where they've led the majors in last at-bat victories - have saved the Bravos all season.

But Wednesday night is a prime example of what's doing this club in as it seeks to earn a second straight wildcard bid into the playoffs.

Facing red-hot former Brave Javier Vazquez, Atlanta managed just two hits. Vazquez's consecutive scoreless innings streak reached 25 on Wednesday night, the most ever by a Marlins starter.

Attempting to defend Braves starter Derek Lowe, who surrendered three runs and six hits in seven innings of work, Gonzalez said, "D-Lo was good tonight, but going against Vazquez he needed to be great. It's just hard to win getting two hits."

It's also hard to win when you're sliding south at roughly the same speed as the guy chasing you is heading north.

After all, with the kind of lead they owned at the start of this month, the Braves might have been able to lose 14 of 21 with only marginal damage had the Cardinals not been winning 16 of 21 over that same time period.

Obviously, you can't say it's over until or unless St. Louis catches Atlanta.

And Gonzalez didn't sound ready to hand the wildcard bid to the Cards just yet.

Said the Braves skipper late Wednesday, "We've just got to go to Washington and regroup and start winning ballgames again."

If they're going to hold off the Cardinals, they might need to win the rest of them, lest they join the '64 Phillies as the worst finishers in baseball history.