Notes: Smoltz down on his luck

Notes: Smoltz down on his luck

ATLANTA -- Those frustrations John Smoltz expressed after Sunday's loss obviously were fueled by the fact the Braves had just been swept by the Mets. But also playing a contributing factor was the fact that he'd lost yet another game in which he provided a quality start.

Entering Monday's series opener against the Phillies at Turner Field, Smoltz ranked third in the National League with 22 quality starts -- a start in which a pitcher completes six innings and allows three earned runs or less. Yet he has just 12 wins this season and none of those victories have come in games where he's allowed more than two earned runs.

"It's hard to think that could happen in a whole season," Smoltz said. "It's just the way it's gone."

After surrendering David Wright's decisive two-out, two-run homer in Sunday's 3-2 loss, Smoltz shook his head with the disbelief caused by the realization that he still hasn't won any of the seven starts he's made and allowed exactly three earned runs. In fact, just two of his seven losses have come in games where he's allowed more than three runs.

"You get tired at nitpicking over one pitch," Smoltz said. "That's the way it's been. I can only control one thing, and that's when I'm throwing a baseball. I feel like I've done a good job of damage control."

Despite being bothered by his right shoulder for nearly two months, Smoltz can argue that he's actually pitched better than he did during his 16-win season last year. Through his first 27 starts this year, the 40 year-old veteran has posted a 3.09 ERA and allowed opponents a .261 batting average.

In his 35 starts last year, he posted a 3.49 ERA and allowed opponents a .251 batting average.

One prime difference this year is the Braves have given Smoltz an average of 4.39 runs per start. Last year, he received 5.07 runs.

In comparison, Smoltz's teammate Tim Hudson, who has 15 wins and 21 quality starts, has received 6.09 runs of support per start.

With Hudson having already lost to the Mets on Friday night, Smoltz obviously felt an increased sense of pressure that has developed with the growing realization the Braves have no stability at the back end of their rotation.

Combined Smoltz and Hudson have gone 27-14 with a 3.21 ERA. The rest of the Braves starters have gone 22-35 with a 5.68 ERA.

"The amount of pressure on John Smoltz and Tim Hudson to win every time they go out there is tremendous," Chipper Jones said. "We just haven't gotten enough wins late in our rotation to hold our heads above water."

Holding on for hope: Entering Monday, the Braves ranked third in the National League East and trailed the first-place Mets by a season-high 7 1/2 games. In the Wild Card race, they stood 6 1/2 games back with six other teams either even or ahead of them.

"There are no guarantees whatsoever," Jones said. "There are so many teams in front of us in the Wild Card and two teams playing pretty well in the division. We're going to have to play a percentage of baseball that we haven't played in two years."

While it's purely guesswork, many of the Braves believe they need to win at least 19 of the final 25 games to even have a shot at the postseason. Their best 25-game stretch this year came when they began the season with a 16-9 record.

Their second-best stretch came June 25-July 16, when they won 12 of 16 games.

Richmond qualifies: Triple-A Richmond has earned the Wild Card entry into the International League playoffs. They'll open a five-game series against the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees on Wednesday.

As the first-half winners of the South Division of the Southern League, Double-A Mississippi will also begin postseason play this week. Rookie level Danville was eliminated from the Appalachian League playoffs on Friday night.

Coming up: The Braves will continue their three-game series against the Phillies on Tuesday night at 7:35 ET. They'll send Buddy Carlyle (8-5, 5.02) to the mound to oppose Kyle Lohse (7-12, 4.54).

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.