The Braves are rightfully proud of their regular season.
“You win 94 games, a lot of teams win the division with that,” Chipper Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I certainly think we played well enough to win the division this year, but Washington just played a little bit better.
"We’ve got to get over this one-game playoff thing to give ourselves a legitimate shot at what we were all shooting for out of spring training.”
Ah, the "one-game playoff thing" that Bud Selig pulled out of his hat this year. That final hurdle is the source of some consternation in Atlanta.
A year after rallying to knock the Braves out of the wild card slot, the Cardinals hope to pick them off again in Friday's play-in game.
Atlanta has been the far better team this season but the Cardinals have enough of everything – starting pitching, relief pitching, offense, defense – to win it all again.
And anything can happen during a single baseball game, as Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley wrote:
It says a little something that the Braves took five of six from St. Louis this season and were, on the record, a better team over the six-month season. Still, you could outrank the opponent in every category from WHIP to BABIP, and if you have a bad day at the ballyard you can lose.
As much as we like to believe sports serve to measure skill and will, they don’t always. Sometimes it comes down to luck. Sometimes you just need to call “heads” and be blissfully right.
Last season's epic collapse could make the Braves better focused on the one-game pressure cooker Friday. After all, redemption will be just nine innings away.
“Like I said last year at the end of the year, I think we’ll look back on that September as a learning experience more than anything else,” Jones said. “And you saw no better example than the way we played this September.”
MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE
Questions to ponder while wondering if Kyle Lohse is ready to pitch the game of his life:
When some nut job gets violent on a train, isn't it nice to have a pro wrestler on your side?
Is anybody in Montreal sad to see their old team going to the playoffs in Washington?
QUIPS ‘R US
Here is what some of America’s leading sports pundits have been writing:
Gwen Knapp, Sports on Earth: “Forget about ‘Moneyball 2.’ It’s an insult to the 2012 A’s to suggest that they go Hollywood. They’re bigger than that. They’re ‘Who’s on First?’ with less wordplay and more comedy. They’re orphans about to be adopted by any sensible baseball fan left at-large for the postseason. They’re Australia’s team. They’re South Korea’s, and probably Cuba’s as well. They’re myth-busters and tear-jerkers, and most of all, they’re impossible. Thoroughly impossible. Dare to imagine a route for their World Series parade, and you’ll feel vertigo taking over. That would be too much. Then they’d be the ’69 Mets, with a hint of Buster Douglas, in a garish gold-and-kelly-green package. Only the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team could outrank a 2012 Oakland World Series champion on the list of sports miracles.”
Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports: “From nowhere – other than perhaps Billy Beane’s imagination – came the A’s. From 88 losses last season. From predictions of the same, at best, for this one. From veteran starters being lost to injury or drug suspension, from an offense that batted .238 for the entire season, from a handful of trades that appeared more suited to easing owner Lew Wolff’s financial burden than winning championships. The A’s finished the season with five rookies in their starting rotation. Rookie pitchers combined for 54 wins. Rookie hitters combined for 56 home runs. Both happened again Wednesday afternoon. You know what general managers do at the ends of seasons that lean that heavily on that many rookies? They beg for their jobs.”
Tom Verducci, SI.com: “You may not know it, but you are an Oakland Athletics fan. You are an Athletics fan because you are a baseball fan, and being a baseball fan means you believe desire is worth more than payroll. You believe where you sit on your couch influences the baseball gods. You believe in next year like you believe in your next breath. You believe you would play this game for nothing and so you believe in those who look like they really do. You believe the best seats in the house come with peanut shells around your feet, not a moat, a members-only restaurant and a $15 glass of petite sirah.”
Randy Galloway, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “No matter how thoroughly gutless it was Wednesday afternoon on the West Coast, say this on behalf of the Texas Rangers: They will never, no matter what, be able to out-gag the franchise's most historic gag job. Game 6. One Strike Away. Twice. Speaking of twice, it is beyond disturbing, of course, that for the second time within a year, the Rangers have somehow managed to claim their own little cul-de-sac in baseball hell. It's a dead-end called Choker Street. Nothing, obviously, can compare to Game 6 in the World Series an October ago, but, man, very few, if any, World Series had seen anything like that. Over the years, the game has witnessed many a late regular-season collapse by a once way-out-in-front club, but you can't necessarily say the game has seen a team fail dramatically on the World Series stage, come back in less than a year and then go belly-up once the regular-season stove got real hot.”
David Whitley, FanHouse: “The New York Yankees got the champagne Wednesday night, but the Baltimore Orioles shouldn’t feel too bad. It took God six days to create the heavens and the earth. It took the Yankees 162 days to eliminate the Orioles.”
Charles P. Pierce, ESPN.com: “I have to admit. There has been something peaceable for me about the way the Red Sox have disincorporated this season — the long, messy, slow dissolve into outright rancor and mutiny, and then the almost completely irrelevant endgame over the past two months, in which we saw various mystery guests don the uniform while everyone waited for Bobby Valentine to show up one day to find all the locks changed. This was the way it was in my childhood. These were the kind of days that brought me back to my youth, the way all the baseball propagandists say the game is supposed to do. These were my Red Sox — overpaid and underachieving backbiters who ended up as comic relief. This was the Fenway Park of my youth — a rancid snake pit of venomous egos, and not a theme park. This was how I became a Red Sox fan before Becoming A Red Sox Fan became a piece of performance art.”
“Ever since Day 1 I've been here, it's been, the A's can't compete with the payroll, can't compete with this team or that team. We're better off if we're down. It just gives us the extra energy.”
A’s catcher Derek Norris, on his team's unlikely division title.