Despite stirring win, Braves likely to miss postseason for second straight year Print
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Thursday, 06 September 2007 10:30
MLB Headline News

 ATLANTA (AP) -The Braves piled on each other in the middle of the infield, a reminder of the days when Atlanta made the playoffs year after year. The only thing missing was the champagne.
Too bad. It might have been the last chance for the Braves to celebrate in style.
Even while savoring their most thrilling win of their season, Atlanta was faced with this sobering reality Thursday: The playoffs are still a long shot, at best. Barring an improbable run over the last 3 1/2 weeks of the season, the Braves will be sitting at home during the postseason for the second year in a row.
``Honestly, we could win out, and it's still no guarantee,'' Chipper Jones said. ``We're in such a big hole. ... But we're going to keep playing hard and we're going to have fun.''
The Braves had plenty of fun Wednesday, overcoming deficits of 5-0 and 8-2 to beat the Philadelphia Phillies. Atlanta scored four runs in the eighth, then won it with a three-run ninth after the first two hitters made outs.
Jeff Francoeur and Martin Prado reached on infield hits, Yunel Escobar walked, and Matt Diaz brought them all home with a bases-clearing double that skidded off the tip of right fielder Chris Roberson's glove.
Escobar pointed his right index finger toward the stands after sliding across home. Diaz, who had just rounded second, pumped his fists and was mobbed by his teammates, disappearing under a pile near the pitcher's mound.
If the Braves were a little closer to the NL East-leading New York Mets, this sort of win might have been just the spark they needed for a late-season run. But Atlanta, which was off Thursday, still finds itself 7 1/2 games back - a daunting deficit with just 22 games remaining.
The wild card is a little closer. The Braves trail San Diego by 5 1/2 games, but there are more teams contending for that spot, so the odds look just as grim.
``We've got nothing to lose,'' Jones said, trying to put a positive spin on the dire predicament.
The Braves won 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005, a streak unprecedented in any of the major American team sports. The remarkable run ended with a thud last season, as Atlanta struggled to a 79-83 record and finished 18 games behind the Mets.
With an upgraded bullpen and a potent offense, the Braves got off to the sort of start (24-12) that set them up for another run at the playoffs. But Atlanta hasn't had a winning month since April, and their post-May 12 record is a dismal 47-57.
``We can't put a streak together to save our lives,'' Francoeur moaned.
There are plenty of reasons for the long, infuriating slide:
- A rotation that has only two effective pitchers, Tim Hudson (15-7) and John Smoltz (12-7). The other starters are Chuck James, who can't seem to last more than five innings, and journeymen Buddy Carlyle and Lance Cormier. The Braves clearly miss Mike Hampton, who hasn't pitched since 2005 because of two straight major injuries.
- The bullpen, which got a major overhaul last winter but didn't hold up. Mike Gonzalez, acquired from Pittsburgh for slugger Adam LaRoche, underwent season-ending elbow surgery in May. Closer Bob Wickman was unceremoniously dumped late last month after blowing save after save.
as expected, he goes on the free-agent market after the season.
The Braves didn't go down without a fight. At the trade deadline, they gave up several top prospects, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia, to getting slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira from Texas.
Teixeira had lived up to expectations, hitting .302 with 10 homers and 32 RBIs for Atlanta. But the Braves are just 15-18 since the deal.
``There's a lot of pressure on us,'' Chipper Jones said. ``The magic number of games until we're mathematically eliminated is dwindling. Fast. It's frustrating because there's nothing we can do about it. The harder and harder we try, the more and more things go wrong.''
Teixeira, who left a last-place team at Texas, isn't giving up on the playoffs. Even now, he's still got a better chance in Atlanta than he did with the Rangers.
``Sometimes you play your best baseball when people count you out,'' Teixeira said. ``Anything is possible. We just want to go out there, play our best and see if we can make this interesting.''
Maybe that improbable win over Philadelphia will be just what the Braves needed. Maybe they can somehow make things interesting before the calendar flips to October.
``An air came over the team,'' Jones said, describing the emotions in the dugout late in Wednesday's game. ``The heck with it. Let's just go out and be aggressive and have fun. Look what happened.''
Then again, it might have been their final chance to celebrate.
Anyone got some champagne?
Associated Press freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.

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