Kevin Price commentary: Braves exorcise 2011 demons

October 3, 2012 

For a couple of weeks, it has looked like this would be the matchup for the one-game National League wild-card playoff -- Atlanta will host St. Louis on Friday.

The Washington Nationals clinched the NL East Division title on Monday when the Braves lost to the Pirates, meaning the Braves would be forced into the wild-card playoff game.

The Cardinals became the Braves' opponent for the win-or-go-home game late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning depending on where you are when the Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated by San Francisco, giving the second wild-card berth to the Cardinals.

In this season of redemption, it seems fitting for the Braves that the Cardinals are the playoff opponent.

This was clearly a season in which the Braves needed to wash away the bad taste left over from their epic collapse last September, when they allowed an 9½-game lead over the Cardinals to evaporate. The Braves went 9-19 in September last season, allowing the Cardinals to pass them on the final day of the season for the wild-card berth. (Last year, there was only one.)

The Cardinals carried their red-hot September right on into the playoffs and won the World Series. It was easy for the Braves and their fans to imagine that could have been the Braves.

The Braves proved there was no hangover from last season with their play last month. Instead of folding like they did a year ago, the Braves had one of their best months of the season, going 19-8 and clinching one of the two wild-card berths on Sept. 25. In yet another sign of redemption, it was first baseman Freddie Freeman who hit the two-run walkoff home run to clinch the playoff berth.

It was Freeman who grounded into a double play in the last game of the 2011 season, sealing the Braves' fate of missing the playoffs.

They even clinched the home-field advantage for the one-game series a day later.

Atlanta was able to produce such a sparkling record in September mainly thanks to its pitching. As it has all season, the offense was wildly inconsistent. The Braves averaged only 3.6 runs a game in the month. They scored 3 or fewer runs 17 times and 1 or fewer eight times.

Meanwhile, the pitching staff allowed just 2.8 runs per game.

It's hard to tell where the run will come from once the postseason starts Friday. Dan Uggla has had a horrible season and his hand is hurt. Brian McCann has had almost as bad a season and his back hurts.

If the Braves are to win the World Series, they are going to need something out of those two veterans. Or they need some more final-season magic from Chipper Jones.

But no matter how they got there, the Braves have fully exorcised the demons of 2011 and earned a playoff berth this year. And as the Cardinals proved last year, if you make the playoffs, even as a wild-card team, you have a chance to win the World Series.

Kevin Price, 706-320-4493

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