It’s not exactly fourth and ten, but to the Atlanta Braves it may feel like that. Just when it looked like the Braves were a shoe-in for a playoff berth, along came a sweep by Philadelphia and some untimely losses to lowly Washington.
Gone is the chance for a divisional title so now the Braves will return home for their final season ending six game homestand with a wildcard berth in reach. The Braves trail the Padres by one half game in the hunt but have home cooking the rest of the way.
For the Braves (87-69), the race for the wildcard starts tonight against the Florida Marlins who are trying to get over the .500 mark for the third straight year. Manager Bobby Cox will give the ball to his steady right-hander Tommy Hanson (10-11, ERA 3.51) who has a career 3-1, 3.64 ERA against the Marlins.
Hanson has pitched well for Cox but is certainly the hard-luck pitcher of the year. In his last 16 starts, Hanson has fashioned an impressive 2.61 ERA but has only won three decisions in that span.
The young Marlins will counter with Alex Sanabia (5-3, 3.99 ERA) who has pitched himself into a probable starting position in 2011. Sanabia is 0-0, 5.79 ERA against the Braves.
Sanabia and the Marlins will be facing a packed house as the Braves honor Manager Cox all week. The retiring field manager has won 2500 game but is one game away from losing 2000. Atlanta is especially tough at home where their record is 52-23, best in the NL.
The Braves will not have Chipper Jones but the lineup has been bolstered by the pickups of Rick Ankiel, who homered in yesterday’s loss, and Derek Lee to go along with veterans Omar Infante and Brian McCann and rookie Jason Heyward.
Tonight, we see the Marlins as a dangerous opponent playing with surprising passion, but Bobby Cox did not win 2500 games without pulling the right switches in key games. We like the Braves in a tight one tonight.