09/20/10 — OPINION - Braves

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OPINION - Braves

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on September 20, 2010 1:47 PM

The Atlanta Braves have played 150 games this season. The final 12 will determine the fate of Bobby Cox's 25th and final season as manager.

Atlanta trails Philadelphia by three games in the National League East and leads the NL wild-card race by 21/2 games. The Braves begin a pivotal three-game series tonight in Philadelphia.

Atlanta is 34-41 on the road this season, and has won just three road series since the All-Star break.

A trip to the postseason seemed like a forgone conclusion in late July when the Braves led the NL East by seven games. Suddenly, a berth in the playoffs remains uncertain as they begin their biggest series of the season. Atlanta is 7-5 against the Phillies this year including a 3-3 mark at Citizens Bank Park.

Philadelphia has won seven games in a row and is 15-3 in September with a team earned run average (ERA) of 3.49. Atlanta is scheduled to face Philly's Big 3 starters -- Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt.

Chipper Jones' loss for the season with a torn ACL and the decline in production of Martin Prado continues to take a toll on the Braves' offense. Prado hit .299 in May while tallying 38 hits, and batted .353 in June with 41 hits. He earned a spot on the National League All-Star team. His batting average dipped to .268 in September, while his on-base percentage has fallen to .297.

Atlanta has scored two runs or fewer in nine of its past 18 games. The Braves have gone 9-9 during that stretch.

Despite having the third best team-ERA in the National League at 3.59, Atlanta hasn't gotten the starting pitching over the past month that has helped carry it for most of the season. The Braves' starters are just 9-9 in September. Today's starter, Jair Jurrjens, has gone 4-3 with a 4.92 ERA in his last 11 starts. Jurrjens has surrendered 19 hits and 11 runs in 82/3 innings during two consecutive losses.

The good news for Atlanta is it closes the season with six games at home where the Braves are a National League best 52-23. Atlanta has lost just two home series all year. The Braves finish the regular season with three games against the Phillies. Those first three days in October may very well leave a stamp on Cox's final season in Atlanta.

Although the postseason isn't scheduled to begin until Oct 6., it's safe to say the Braves' playoff run begins tonight.