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Atlanta Braves Playoff Path Could Be Fraught With Peril

It’s been a question for Atlanta Braves fans a number of times this season. If the Braves hold on and make it to the postseason, do they have what it takes to get back to the World Series for the first time since 1999?

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Braves looked fairly mediocre against the Washington Nationals and the San Francisco Giants, losing a 3-game series to the Giants and splitting a 4-gamer with the Nationals.

Then they went on hitting and pitching tear against the likes of the Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros, New York Mets and San Diego Padres, and it seemed like the Braves might be on their way to overtaking the division leading Nationals before August was up.

Atlanta then was brought back down to earth by – you guessed it – the Nationals, Giants, and (thrown in for good measure) the new-look, recharged Los Angeles Dodgers. In ten games against three of the best teams in the National League, the Braves went 4-6.

Those ten games were supposed to be the barometer for where the Braves were at this late in the season, and if they were going to be a legitimate contender for a deep playoff run this year. I’m afraid those questions were answered, and not in the manner that Braves fans wanted to hear.

Conclusion: The Braves are good, but just aren’t good enough to beat the best teams.

If the Braves maintain their current position, and make it to the postseason as a wild card team, they’ll have to win a one-game playoff with most likely the Dodgers or Giants.  (I’m not totally ruling out the St.Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh Pirates, but right now the smart money is on a team from the NL West.)

Should they miraculously survive that play-in game, then they’ll probably be matched up against one of the two aforementioned west coast teams, OR the Washington Nationals in a best of five series.  Oh, it’s also possible they’d have to play the Cincinnati Reds, who they have a 1-5 record against this year.

As a whole, against all of those possible playoff opponents, including the Cardinals and Pirates, the Braves have an overall record of 19-25, with three games each left remaining against the Nationals and the Pirates.

Can you feel the dark clouds of gloom forming over Turner Field?

What do those teams bring to the table that give the Braves so much trouble?  Short answer – good pitching, and usually good left-handed pitching. You want to put the odds of beating the Braves in a short series in your favor, just throw out a couple of good lefties and watch the Braves bats falter.  Atlanta has an overall record of 23-26 against left-handed starters this season.

Atlanta has a chance to further build on their lead in the wild card race during September, but all that hard work will be for nothing if they can’t win a single game playoff against one of those teams that has given them fits all season.

The best the Braves can hope for is that the Cardinals continue to hold on to that second wild card team spot.  Atlanta is 5-1 against St. Louis this year.

No Atlanta fans, I’m afraid it’s not time to party like it was “1999″.  The Braves will most likely make it to the postseason, but any hopes getting much further than the division series would seem to be “Delirious” (with all apologies to Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson).