B.J Upton and Evan Longoria greet Johnny Damon after a home run against the Blue Jays
What seemed like an impossible season finale less than a month ago is now reality. Four teams, two playoff spots and two games left. The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox have spent the month of September in a free fall. Boston is 5 and 17 this month and the Braves are 9-16 their worst September since 1989. This helped breathe life into the Wild Card races. As the Braves and Red Sox collapsed the insurgent St. Louis Cardinals having been written off by everyone have pulled within a game of the Braves and would be in a tie if not for an extra inning loss to the woebegone Houston Astros last night. While the Braves collapse is bad the Red Sox collapse is bordering on epic. The Tampa Bay Rays who were 9 games out at the beginning of the month moved even with the Sox last night when they defeated the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles continued their September dominance of a team that has over the past decade made their life a living hell.
The Red Sox look like a defeated team; their words and body language only reinforce the image of defeat. The Rays on the other hand appear confident and ready to win under the relaxed leadership of Manager Joe Maddon. Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria reflected that confidence after the Rays defeated the Yankees Monday night saying “We’re in the driver’s seat in our opinion. It’s our job just to go out there and win.” To get in the playoffs Boston must win both of its final two games and pray that their arch rivals, the New York Yankees beat the Rays. Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said “We’ve backed ourselves about as far as we can go,” after last night’s loss to the Orioles. That loss was devastating as their best pitcher Josh Beckett lost and now the Red Sox must depend on the struggling Erik Bedard 5-9 3.50 ERA who lost his last outing against the Orioles tonight and possibly John Lester pitching on three days rest Wednesday. Lester 15-9 3.49 ERA has embodied the collapse of the Sox going just 1-5 with a 5.71 ERA in September.
The Braves are up by one game but still face a daunting task. They must win against the Philadelphia Phillies and hope that the Astros can defeat the Cardinals at least once in the next two games. The Braves task is made harder because they face Phillies starter Roy Oswalt who is 1-0 in four starts with a 1.71 ERA against the Braves this season. Meanwhile the decimated starting rotation of the Braves must pitch the slumping Derek Lowe who has a 4.59 ERA and has lost 6 of his last 8 starts against the Phillies. Lowe has had a miserable September has lost his last four starts and has an 8.24 ERA. The Braves hitting has also failed them of late and to beat the Phillies their pitching staff and hitters must perform better than they have in September. Braves legend Chipper Jones simply said “We have nobody to blame but ourselves for being in this present situation.”
This certainly will be interesting to watch. As someone that follows the game and looks at statistics, records and history the month of September appears to be an epic month with not just one but possibly two teams losing what appeared to be insurmountable leads. As a baseball fan I like to see the improbable happen. As an Orioles fan just hope that the Birds continue to beat the Sox.