Author Archives | Brett Kettyle

Epstein faces huge challenge with Cubs

Theo Epstein has finally been announced as the new President of Baseball Operations with the Chicago Cubs, where he will try to break the club’s record-setting losing streak.

Epstein will take over with Chicago, although the teams still haven’t finalized the compensation that the Red Sox will receive, and his former Assistant GM, Ben Cherington will take over as the Red Sox general manager.

Also expect more changes soon since the Cubs have been given permission to talk to Padres GM Jed Hoyer who worked with Epstein for years in Boston.

While Cubs fans are undoubtedly excited to have a new front office overhaul, Epstein will have his work cut out for him coming off a huge Red Sox collapse and a few questionable free agent signings. Boston’s recent signings of John Lackey and Carl Crawford haven’t worked out and Epstein will have a lower payroll and much less flexibility due to some bad contracts currently lagging the payroll down.

One huge challenge will be figuring out what the Cubs can do with Alfonso Soriano. Best suited as a DH at this stage of his career, Soriano still has three years left on his monster contract and that will make moving him difficult.

Carlos Zambrano is also still under contract with the Cubs, although his relationship with the team continued to sour this past season and culminated in distracting locker room scenes and threats of retirement.

Free agent wise, Epstein and Hoyer will have to make decisions on Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena while also deciding whether or not to exercise the option on Ryan Dempster.

While the Cubs are known as one of the big spenders, Epstein won’t have the boatloads of money that he did with the Red Sox. While he should be able to rebuild the farm system, doing so might take more time and effort than with one of the top three spenders in the MLB.

While Cubs fans seem confident Epstein will bring the club their first World Series title since 1908, he will face numerous challenges in turning around the longest suffering fan-base in baseball.

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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Nolan Ryan predicts Rangers in six games

Following the St. Louis Cardinals victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, the 2011 World Series matchup was finally set and will pit the Cardinals against the Texas Rangers who reached the series by beating the Tampa Bay Rays and the Detroit Tigers.

The Rangers knocked the Tigers out in six games behind a couple of extra inning wins. Nelson Cruz, the ALCS record-setting MVP, hit a pair of homeruns in the eleventh inning in separate games to lead the Rangers to victory.

Despite winning the series, the Rangers picked up 0 wins from its starting pitching but took the series after the team’s offense scored over six runs a game.

The Cardinals reached the World Series with a come from behind win over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS and then beating the Brewers, who won the NL Central (also the Cardinals division) during the season.

Like the Rangers, the Cardinals starting pitchers struggled in the series (aside from Chris Carpenter) but a good bullpen and an offense that put up more than seven runs per game.

Heading into the World Series both teams will look for their starters to step it up a notch to bring the Championship trophy home. Chris Carpenter has really been the only consistent starter for either team as he shut down the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS before beating the Brewers in Game 3 of the NLCS.

The two teams starters have combined for a 5.43 ERA this postseason (and both were worse in the Championship Series than the Division Series) and will now have to face offenses that are firing on all cylinders.

In the regular season, the Rangers (2nd, 3rd) and Cardinal (5th) were in the top five in the Majors in both Runs and OPS. Both teams sported average pitching staffs over the year and we should see a series full of fireworks, especially with some of the games being played in Arlington.

If there wasn’t enough anticipation for the World Series, Nolan Ryan threw some gasoline on the fire already predicting the Rangers would win in six games. While the Cardinals don’t need any more reason to want the Championship, it’s still bulletin board material from one of the All-Time greats.

The World Series will kick off Wednesday night in St. Louis with Chris Carpenter facing C.J. Wilson.

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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Al Davis 1929-2011

Two Slogans. Six Words. “Just Win Baby” and “Tradition of Excellence.” No two phrases represented what one team, or one owner stood for better than these two did the man who made them famous: Al Davis.

The Oakland Raiders legendary owner who passed away at 82 on Saturday morning was the personification of the Silver and Black; a renegade owner who went against the grain and led his team to more success than any other franchise in the 70’s and 80’s.

But Davis was more than an owner of a great team; he was an innovator, a rebel and one of the most important people in shaping the NFL as we know it today.

Davis was a brilliant football mind and a terrific salesman who once lured an Italian recruit from New Jersey away from Joe Paterno and Penn State to play football for The Citadel. He was the youngest man to hold the titles of head coach and general manager and a one-time commissioner of the AFL who greatly influenced the merger with the NFL.

It was Davis who went against the grain to try and sign players away from the more established NFL which eventually led to the leagues coming together. It was Davis who hired both the first African-American (Art Shell) and Latino (Tom Flores) head coaches in the NFL. It was Davis who sued the NFL and voted against it even after he was part of it. Even this past year, Davis abstained from voting on the new NFL rules.

For the Raiders, Davis created the teams that had 16 straight winning seasons and won Three Super Bowl Championships with a cast of players that could best be described as outcasts. Ken Stapler, Jack Tatum and Lester “the molester” Hayes all suited up for Davis’ teams and helped lead the Raiders to greatness.

Davis cared about few things in life more than the Raiders. He was the owner, the general manager and for all intents and purposes, the coach. He selected his players through the draft and made sure that his team was full of hard-hitting, super athletic players who had some attitude. While many questioned some of his draft selections (especially in recent years) Davis stuck to his guns because that’s what made the Raiders great.

In his 49 seasons with the Raiders franchise Davis is believed to miss only three games (one of them two weeks ago in Buffalo) despite numerous health ailments over the past few years.

Giants owner Steve Tisch summed it up best “The Raiders personified Al Davis. Al is the Raiders.”

The team, which found out yesterday morning of Davis’ passing, will play in Houston today against the Texans.

Jason Campbell summed up Davis’ feelings toward the Raiders, saying, “The only thing Mr. Davis would want us to do is win. That’s the only thing he ever talks about is winning, and going out there and playing as hard as you can play.”

The NFL will hold a moment of silence at all games to honor Davis, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 1992.

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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Phillies ousted; join high-spending Yankees

Just a night after the Yankees fell just short against the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS, a pair of NL teams got within one run of advancing only to lose Game 5 and be sent home for the year.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks decided that five games weren’t enough, going into extra innings in Miller Park to ultimately decide which team would move onto the NLCS.

The Brewers, who led by one run late in the game, escaped a bases loaded jam in the eighth inning without allowing a run against the heart of the Diamondbacks order but got some unexpected production from the bottom of the lineup in the ninth.

After a Gerardo Parra double and Sean Burroughs single, Willie Bloomquist laid down a safety squeeze to bring home the tying run. The Diamondbacks were unable to capitalize and score more runs when John Axford retired Aaron Hill, Justin Upton and Henry Blanco in order with two men on.

In the bottom of the tenth, Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz entered the game. After retiring Craig Counsel, he allowed a single to the speedy Carlos Gomez, who promptly stole second base. The next batter, Nyger Morgan shot a ground ball up the middle to score the winning run and send the Brewers to the NLCS with the 3-2 win.

For the Diamondbacks, it was a sour end to a surprisingly terrific season. Picked by many to finish last in the NL West, the D-Backs nearly upset the Brewers to head to the NLCS. Chris Young made a highlight reel catch in the inning, going over his shoulder on a deep fly ball and bringing images of Willie Mays to mind.

In the other NLDS Game 5, Chris Carpenter faced off against Roy Halladay in Philadelphia. Low scoring was to be expected, and it turned out exactly that way with the only run in the 1-0 game being scored in the top of the first by St. Louis.

Rafael Furcal started the game off with a triple for the Cardinals and Skip Schumaker followed with a terrific at-bat against Halladay. After falling behind 0-2, Schumaker fouled off a number of pitches and worked the count to 2-2 before driving a double to right field on the tenth pitch of the at-bat and giving the Cardinals a one run lead.

The Phillies had a couple chances to tie the game early but missed them. Shane Victorino hit a one out double in the second inning but couldn’t advance any farther. The Phillies got runners on first and third with two outs in the fourth but again failed to capitalize when Raul Ibanez flew out to the warning track in right field.

The Cardinals got some terrific defense on the night from their middle infield, and Carpenter just shut the Phillies down after the fourth.  They had just two base-runners in the last five innings, one of whom (Chase Utley) was erased when trying to steal second and the other who reached on a dropped third strike.

Carpenter retired Ryan Howard on a groundball to the second baseman to complete his three hit shutout and send the Cardinals to the NLCS. Howard injured his Achilles tendon on the play and will have an MRI as he was unable to run halfway to first base.

Carpenter allowed just three hits and no walks (one hit batter) while throwing the complete game. Although he struck out only three hitters, he piled up 16 groundouts to send the Phillies and their vaunted pitching staff home.

The Brewers and Cardinals (both from the NL Central) will face off in the NLCS starting Sunday. Zack Greinke will get the nod for the Brewers and will likely face Jaime Garcia.

With the Red Sox (3rd) collapsing before the playoffs began, the Yankees (1st) losing yesterday and the Phillies (2nd) falling in five games to the Cardinals, the three highest spending teams in baseball are all out of the race.

The four remaining playoff teams have spent over $100 Million less than the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox. The Tigers have the highest payroll of the remaining teams and they rank 10th in the MLB. The Cardinals (11th), Rangers (14th) and Brewers (17th) are all in the middle third of spending, proving once again, money can’t buy playoff wins.

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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Tigers show they belong in ALCS

All season long the AL East made a strong claim for the best division in the league, producing three of the five best AL teams and sending Tampa Bay into the playoffs as the Wild Card.

In the end, neither the low budget Rays or the big spending Yankees could overcome their opposition to move onto

Photo/Wikimedia Commons

the ALCS.

After winning Game 4 behind A.J. Burnett, the Yankees went into yesterday’s game at Yankee Stadium with Ivan Nova on the hill against Doug Fister.

Nova picked up the win in Game one after CC Sabathia was forced to leave following a rain delay and suspension. The Yankees got to Fister for six runs in just 4.2 innings that game and had to like their chances heading into Game 5.

But the Tigers started things off with a bang (two of them actually) as Don Kelly and Delmon Young hit back to back homers to give the Tigers the early lead in the first inning.

Nova worked just two innings before Phil Hughes entered the game. After the game it was revealed that Nova was feeling tightness in his forearm and will have an MRI. Sabathia, working out of the bullpen on short rest entered in the game in the fifth but allowed Detroit’s third run to cross the plate.

The Yankees struck back, adding a solo homerun by Robinson Cano in the bottom of the fifth. They again cut the deficit in the seventh inning when Mark Teixeira drew a bases loaded walk from Joaquin Benoit. The Yankees wasted other opportunities however when Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher struck out with three men on.

After struggling in the seventh, Benoit allowed just a two out single in the eighth, getting a one run lead to closer Jose Valverde who has been perfect in save opportunities this year.

Valverde retired Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano on flyouts before striking out Alex Rodriguez on four pitches to clinch the series for Detroit.

The Tigers escaped a number of jams on the mound and will move on to face the Texas Rangers (who defeated the Rays 3-1 in their ALDS) to try and become the AL Champion.

The first game of the ALCS will be on October 8th and will likely pit Justin Verlander and C.J. Wilson against each other.

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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MLB’s multi-implosion of the ages

Coming into September people were worried that there would be no real pennant races this year, prompting more discussion that the MLB should add two more playoff teams. Had the new two Wild Card series been in place, none of the thrilling conclusions last night would have mattered.

On September 2nd, the Red Sox had a nine game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL Wild Card; the Braves had an 8.5 game lead over St. Louis in the NL.

Now both are on the outside looking in as we head into October, completing the greatest tandem collapse in sports history.

As if a September from hell wasn’t enough for both teams, they each lead with three outs to go before choking away any chance of extending their seasons.

In the National League, the Braves started off well enough against the Phillies. With ace Tim Hudson on the mound they jumped out to an early 3-1 behind a homerun from Dan Uggla (his career-best 37th) and led 2-1 when their dominant bullpen trio O’Ventbrel came into the game.

While the Braves were battling for their lives, the Cardinals easily took care of the last place Houston Astros, jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning and never letting the game get close.

After a rocky eighth inning with Jonny Venters walking the bases loaded, the Braves had a one-run lead to turn over to closer and Rookie of the Year candidate Craig Kimbrel.

Kimbrel, like Venters, struggled with his control and allowed a single and three walks to knot the game up at three. Kris Medlen had to be called on to get the final out of the inning.

While the Braves had a chance to win it multiple times (the closest came when Chipper Jones nearly doubled with Michael Bourn on first base) the momentum was sucked out of Atlanta and Scott Linebrink eventually allowed a run on an infield single to Hunter Pence.

After failing to score, the Braves completed their collapse in 13 innings and lost out on the NL Wild Card.

In the American League, the Rays and Red Sox were continuing to battle even after Atlanta’s marathon game ended. The Red Sox sat through a rain delay and looked poised to win the Wild Card without a playoff as they led 3-2 going into the ninth and Tampa Bay trailed 7-0 in the eighth.

But Boston’s closer, Jonathan Papelbon allowed three hits, all with two outs, to blow the game while the Rays staged a dramatic rally.

Down 7-0, the Rays put six men across the plate in the eighth inning, three on an Evan Longoria homerun, to cut the Yankees lead to one. After Corey Wade recorded the first two outs, pinch hitter Dan Johnson hit a blast to right field to time the game and send it into extra innings.

After a scoreless ninth and tenth, Evan Longoria came up facing Scott Proctor (a name Braves fans will remember well) and sent a walk-off solo homerun down the line in left just a few minutes after the Red Sox lost to clinch the Wild Card for Tampa Bay.

The wild night capped improbable collapses for two teams that spent most of the season with two of the top four records in baseball.

The Rays run to the playoffs seems to be shaping up as a storybook ending (where have we seen a movie about a small market team making an improbably playoff run recently) especially since they overcame the high spending Red Sox on the last day of the season in dramatic fashion.

All in all, Wednesday night created a buzz and was one of the most exciting in baseball history, with two dramatic comeback stories wrapping up around the same time.

Just think, if the MLB had already instituted its new playoff formula (where two Wild Card teams play a one game playoff), the Braves and Red Sox would be playing the Cardinals and Rays tonight and nothing that happened yesterday would matter. Perhaps someone should remind Bud Selig, “If it aint broke…”

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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Ozzie Guillen to Miami Marlins

Polarizing manager Ozzie Guillen who is known for his expletive filled rants is finally on his way out of Chicago and headed to the Florida Miami Marlins. That’s right, the team will be renamed the Miami Marlins and take a look at their new logo, pictured below, that has many of their fans screaming for mercy.

Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Guillen managed the White Sox to a World Series Championship in 2005 and reached the playoffs again in 2008. Overall he spent eight exciting years managing the White Sox (with whom he played for 13 of his 16 MLB seasons) and was often in the news for his controversial comments.

This isn’t the first time that Guillen’s name has come up as a candidate for the Marlins job. Last off-season there was speculation that the relationship between Guillen and White Sox GM Kenny Williams might lead to Guillen’s departure from the team.  However, Guillen managed the Sox to a 78-82 record in 2011, falling short of preseason expectations.

After Guillen was unable to secure a contract extension, he asked to be released although the White Sox retained the right to be compensated if he signed elsewhere. The Marlins will send a pair of minor league players, Jhan Marinez and Osvaldo Martinez.

Guillen was on the Marlins coaching staff when the team won the World Series in 2003 and will be returning to the organization to lead them into their new ballpark in 2012.

While managing the White Sox Guillen was constantly in the news for his disagreements with Williams and his noteworthy quotes.

He talked some smack about Wrigley Field:

“I puke every time I go there.”

About how he trusted Scott Linebrink after he claimed he was too ill to pitch:

“I believe him because he’s a real religious guy. Someone else tells me they have a migraine, I know they’re hung over.”

And about why he will be remembered:

“Who’s the manager they remember the most? Billy Martin. They don’t remember Sparky Anderson. They remember Billy Martin because he was the crazy one.”

While the Marlins will look to rebound from a disappointing season, the combination of Logan Morrison’s twitter and Ozzie Guillen’s crazy comments should keep the team in the headlines year round.

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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“Smoltz used pine tar” – Braves coach Mazzone

While the 1990’s Atlanta Braves are known for having one of the greatest trios of starting pitchers ever, their former

Photo/Don Peek Wikimedia Commons

pitching coach Leo Mazzone may have helped them by having a few tricks up his sleeve.

Mazzone, who was being interviewed by Evan Cohen and Steve Phillips, was discussing whether or not the New York Giants were faking injuries in their win over the St. Louis Rams.

While discussing “gamesmanship,” Mazzone stated that he had “all kinds of goodies to take care of a baseball to get a little more movement on it.” He also stated that former Braves great, as both a starter and closer, John Smoltz put Pine Tar on balls when he pitched.

“One time Smoltzy had it on his shoes and I said, ‘John you can’t keep bending over and touching your shoes all the time. Let’s put it someplace else!’”

Smoltz, originally acquired by the Braves in a 1987 trade with Detroit for Doyle Alexander, spent 20 years in Atlanta winning 210 games and saving another 154. He split his final season between Boston and St. Louis but struggled as a 42-year-old.

The 1996 Cy Young winner and 8-time All-Star has yet to comment on the allegations, but it seems that Mazzone knew what was going on. He used the “everybody’s doing it” excuse later in the interview.

The Braves pitching staff, built around Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Smoltz is one of the best threesomes ever, and helped lead Atlanta to a record 14 consecutive Division titles.

Now, it seems the record may be tainted.

While Mazzone didn’t implicate other players, he also didn’t make it seem like this was something that only applied to Smoltz.

A future Hall-of-Fame candidate, it will be interesting to see if these allegations are held against Smoltz the same way performance enhancing drugs are currently being held against sluggers like Mark McGwire.

Mazzone and Smoltz were together in Atlanta from 1990 through 2005 (although Smoltz fared just as well in his final three years with the Braves) and the Braves longtime pitching greatness will face serious scrutiny soon.

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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Rays hot, Red Sox not; leading into weekend series

Just twelve short days ago the Boston Red Sox appeared to have a lock on the AL Wild Card spot, leading their division foe the Tampa Bay Rays by a seemingly insurmountable nine games already into the final month of the season.

Had things continued to play out as planned, the Red Sox would likely be focusing more on next weekend’s match-up with the division leading Yankees than their current one against the Rays.

Instead, the Rays have gone on a hot streak while the Red Sox have slumped, cutting the Wild Card lead to four games with two weeks left in the season. Starting today, the Red Sox and Rays open a four game set in Boston that could go a long way in determining which of the two AL East squads will be heading to the playoffs.

Obviously a sweep is unlikely for either team, but in doing so each could drastically alter the playoff picture. The Red Sox have a chance to essentially put the Rays away (they would be eight games back with 10 left to play) while the Rays have a chance to tie the Red Sox for the Wild Card lead and prevent them from gaining any momentum.

Aside from this weekend’s series, the Yankees will have a lot to do with who the Wild Card winner is, playing a combined 10 games against the Rays (7) and Red Sox (3). However, one of their series with the Rays is the final set of the season and the Yankees may be looking to rest some players with an eye toward the postseason.

The Rays look to have an edge in the pitching matchups this series. Boston will have to use Kyle Weiland (he of three MLB starts), Josh Beckett (who hasn’t pitched since September 5th), Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield (he of a 5.13 ERA) in the series.

The Rays will counter with Jeremy Hellickson (a ROY candidate), James Shields (who has a 2.87 ERA in four starts vs. Boston this year), Jeff Neimann and David Price.

On paper, the only matchup that really favors the Red Sox is Lester vs. Neimann while the Rays should have a great advantage in both the first and fourth games.

The series kicks off at 7:10 tonight on MLB Network and should be the first of many exciting games between two rivals fighting for a playoff spot.

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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Strasburg held to strict limited pitch counts

The Washington Nationals are struggling in fourth place and haven’t had much to play for as the season winds down. It’s a perfect time to get Stephen Strasburg back into the line-up to rekindle the fans’ excitement.

Almost a year after he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery, the Nats pitching phenom returned to the mound to once again show he has the ability to dominate.

Making his first start on September 6th against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Strasburg threw five shutout innings allowing just two hits while striking out four batters. He was on a limited pitch count (throwing just 56 pitches) but was incredibly efficient.

S.S. took the mound again for his second start against the Houston Astros and showed flashes of brilliance with a reminder he isn’t quite all the way back. In that game, Strasburg made it through just three innings with a similar pitch count but allowed just one run on three hits. The fastballer struck out four without walking a single hitter.

However, against the Astros, Strasburg’s control wasn’t as good as normal and some of his pitches were a tick slower than last year. He threw more pitches (57) in his three innings than it took him to get through five in his first start.

Despite not being perfect, Strasburg looks like he should be back to full strength for the Nationals in 2012, giving the team hope they can be relevant for the first time since moving to Washington, D.C.

Strasburg should make three more starts this year, taking it slow and hopefully avoiding any setbacks. When he was injured last season, numerous comparisons to Mark Prior were made, and will stick with Strasburg until he proves he can stay healthy over a full Major League season.

Strasburg can out the gate with a bang last season, striking out a record-setting 14 hitters in his 5-2 debut win then followed that game up with another impressive outing. Considered one of the best young pitching prospects ever, he signed a record $15.1 million contract but soon ran into arm trouble that led to the surgery.

With a full year of Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals could finally build the top of their rotation and will look to challenge the Braves and Phillies for a playoff spot if things go according to plan.

Used with permission of the author.

Brett is the editor and a contributor for www.BravesFTW.com. He has covered MLB and the Braves for numerous websites and is a regular contributor to Sports Climax. Follow Brett on Twitter.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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