The Atlanta Braves’ stunning September surge into contention has featured two seven-game winning streaks, but their failure to extend either to eight may wind up coming back to haunt them.
Now three games back in the NL wild-card race with five to play, the increasingly desperate Braves try to bounce back and avoid their first consecutive losses in more than three weeks Wednesday night in the finale of a three-game set with the visiting Florida Marlins.
Atlanta (86-71) pulled within 4 1/2 games of wild card-leading Colorado with a seven-game winning streak Sept. 10-17. After losing two of three to Philadelphia, the Braves began another seven-game run Sept. 21.
That streak pushed the Braves to within two of the Rockies with six to play heading into Tuesday’s games, but for the second time this month, manager Bobby Cox’s team couldn’t make it eight straight victories. Matt Diaz’s(notes) three-run homer tied the score at 4 in the sixth inning, but Florida (84-74) responded with a run in the seventh en route to a 5-4 win at Turner Field.
“We almost pulled it off,” Cox said. “We had the bases loaded. We had a couple chances. Anything can happen.”
Unfortunately for Cox and the Braves, their deficit didn’t remain two games. Milwaukee scored three times in the ninth inning to pull even with Colorado at 5-all Tuesday night, but Chris Iannetta’s(notes) two-run homer gave the Rockies a 7-5 win in 11 innings.
“We’ll come tomorrow ready to play,” Diaz said of the Braves, who haven’t dropped two in a row since a five-game skid Sept. 2-6.
Colorado’s win did more than just hurt Atlanta. Two hours after winning to keep themselves alive in the playoff race, the Marlins were officially eliminated with the Rockies’ walkoff victory.
“We just want to finish strong,” said Marlins infielder Jorge Cantu(notes), hitting .423 over his last six games. “Whatever happens, we have a winning record. I’m proud of this team. We had a lot of players who came through for us.”
The right-hander has won five straight decisions and has been brilliant in winning four consecutive starts. Vazquez has a 0.84 ERA since Sept. 8, most recently allowing three hits and striking out seven in a 4-1, complete-game win Friday at Washington.
“Just another normal Vazquez start,” Cox told the Braves’ official Web site. “He wasn’t hit very hard at all tonight. That was normal for Javier. He’s finishing extremely strong.”
Vazquez hasn’t been too impressive against the Marlins. He’s 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA in four starts versus Florida in 2009. He’s been hit hardest by Ross Gload(notes), who’s 5 for 9 this season and 15 for 32 (.469) in his career against Vazquez.
Ricky Nolasco(notes) (12-9, 5.28) gets the ball for the Marlins looking for a third straight quality outing. He gave up three runs and four hits while striking out seven over seven innings Friday against the New York Mets, but didn’t get a decision in a 6-5 loss.
Nolasco is 2-4 with a 5.02 lifetime ERA versus Atlanta. Chipper Jones(notes) is batting .478 with four homers against Nolasco, while Brian McCann(notes) is hitting .357 with four homers and Diaz is a .538 career hitter in their matchups.
Florida has won nine of 17 meetings with the Braves this season, and with a victory can clinch its first season series against Atlanta since 2003.