COMMENTARY | As the saying goes, "One game in April will not make or break your season."
But as it turns out, one game in August just might be the difference for the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves and St. Louis Cardinals are battling neck and neck for home-field advantage down the stretch of the regular season. Through Sept. 25, Atlanta has slid a half-game behind the Cards for the best record in the NL. With just four games to go for the Braves, there is a distinct possibility the two teams could end up with identical records when the final page of the 2013 season is written.
If a tiebreaker is needed to decide home-field advantage in the National League playoffs, the first set of criteria the league looks at would be the two club's head-to-head meetings.
The Braves swept the Cards in their first meeting to jump-start their 14-game winning streak from July 26 to Aug. 9. However, the Bravos dropped their next three with the Redbirds when they met up with them again in St. Louis late that month.
Thank the schedule maker for the lop-sided scheduling because the two teams got to square off for an uncommon fourth game, and Atlanta held on to take the season series on the strength of its 5-2 victory.
The potentially serendipitous nature of this season could come from the fact that if the Braves and Cardinals do end up with identical records, and the tiebreaker is used to determine home-field advantages, the power-packed Atlanta lineup will have Jordan Schafer, Joey Terdoslavich, Gerald Laird, Elliot Johnson and Paul Janish to thank.
The Braves were outscored 15-5 over the first three games of their four-game set in August. Atlanta had just learned it would be without Jason Heyward for a long stretch thanks to New York Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese introducing Heyward's jaw to his 90-mph fastball just 24 hours prior to the Braves' showdown in St. Louis.
Without Heyward's bat at the beginning of the order, the top two Atlanta hitters went 1-for-19 over the first three games. Certainly, if the Braves knew how important Game 4 of this series could turn out to be, they probably would not have made the same personnel moves, but, nevertheless, manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to roll the dice in the final game of the series.
Gonzalez brought Elliot Johnson up to the two-hole in the order, gave McCann and Gattis the day off in favor of veteran backstop Laird, put rookie Joey Terdoslavich in left field, and inserted Janish over Chris Johnson (who was hitting .331 at the time).
As it turns out, on this one day in August, Terdoslavich, Janish, Schafer, Johnson and Laird were the exact right mix of under-the-radar players the Braves needed. The group went 8-for-13 on the afternoon, and contributed four of the five RBIs and four of the five runs scored to help propel Atlanta to a season-series win.
Because of this single victory, Atlanta finds itself in the cat-bird seat for home-field advantage. Even though they are trailing by a half-game in the standings, the tiebreaker ensures that the Braves still control their own destiny. If the Atlanta were to win out, it will not matter what the Cardinals do during their final series. Whereas St. Louis must completely overtake the Braves to earn home-field, all Atlanta must do is catch the Cards to make sure fans are dancing in the aisles of Turner Field for at least one extra game.
No one knows how the year will end, but if 2013 turns out to be a magical season for Atlanta, this one game, and this rag-tag group of role players, could become an important footnote in the history books of Atlanta Braves baseball.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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