History won't discount Braves' chances

History won't discount Braves' chances

ATLANTA -- As the Phillies continue to roll, there seems to be even more reason to wonder if the Braves' hopes of participating in this year's postseason rest solely on their position in the National League Wild Card standings.

But while discounting Atlanta's division title hopes, one would be ignoring the significant obstacles the Phillies overcame while winning the NL East title each of the past two seasons.

Standing at 66-58, the Braves currently own the same record the Phillies possessed through the first 124 games in both 2007 and '08. The fact that they currently trail the defending World Series champs by seven games shows that the Braves' hopes of winning the NL East hinge on the completion of a challenging task.

But if the Braves were to complete this journey, it's not as if they'd be traveling into uncharted waters. While the Phillies were just 1 1/2 games behind the front-running Mets through last year's first 124 games, they had fallen 3 1/2 games back by the end of play on Sept. 10.

Still, given that they'd been seven games behind the Mets on Sept. 12 just one year earlier, that position certainly didn't provide the Phillies reason to doubt their hopes of claiming another division title, one that would vault them toward their first World Series title since 1980.

"If we get to 10 games over .500 by the end of this month, going into September with a ton of games within our division -- within which we've played very well -- I like our chances to get where we want to go," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "If it's not the National League East title, hopefully it's the Wild Card."

Entering Monday, the Braves trailed the front-running Rockies by four games in the NL Wild Card race. Gaining entry into the postseason via this route would also require the Braves to navigate a challenging journey, similar to the ones the Astros and Rockies traveled on the way to the World Series appearances they made in 2005 and '07, respectively.

Through the first 124 games of the 2007 season, the Rockies were 3 1/2 games behind the NL Wild Card leaders. As for the Astros, before eliminating the Braves in the 2004 NL Division Series, they had to overcome the six-game Wild Card deficit that they faced after the completion of their 124th regular-season game.

"Being in our position, you can't go out and make crazy predictions, but we will be disappointed if we aren't playing in the postseason," Braves outfielder Matt Diaz said. "The way that our pitching staff has been all year for us, as an offense, we'll feel like we've let the team down if we're not in the postseason."

Bolstered by a starting rotation that was reconstructed during the offseason, the Braves kept themselves above water during the first two months of this season, when their offense struggled. But the offense started to gain an identity after the June 3 acquisition of center fielder Nate McLouth.

McLouth's addition to the leadoff role and the everyday lineup presence that Martin Prado brought at the end of June served as two of the key catalysts helping the Braves tally an NL-high 190 runs since the All-Star break.

"Now I think we know what kind of team we are," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "The biggest barometer with that is how the team feels about itself. When you get in the clubhouse, these guys feel like they can win on a nightly basis and expect to win on a nightly basis."

While playing the final two games of this past weekend's series against the Marlins without the services of McLouth, Prado, Ryan Church and Garret Anderson, the Braves managed to bounce back from Friday's loss and claim a pair of wins that vaulted them ahead of Florida into sole possession of second place in the NL East and third place in the Wild Card standings.

The Braves entered Tuesday's series opener with the Padres having won 13 of their past 18 games and compiled a .643 (27-15) winning percentage since July 7.

If they were able to maintain this same pace over the final 38 games of this season, the Braves would finish with 90 wins -- a total that would have been good enough to win the NL Wild Card race in each of the past four seasons.

A total of 90 wins would have also been good enough to win the NL East in two of the past four seasons. In fact, that exact mark was the one the Braves posted when they last won a division title, in 2005.

"We're going to try to get to the postseason as hard as we can and hope it's enough," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "If we give it everything that we have, I don't know if we can be too disappointed. But we certainly feel like we can get there."

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