Posted: Thursday September 30, 2010 2:48AM ; Updated: Thursday September 30, 2010 4:05AM
Joe Sheehan

Braves closing in on playoff berth

Story Highlights

Off Thursday, the Braves will monitor the Giants-D-backs and Padres-Cubs games

Bobby Cox wasn't afraid to pitch Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe on three days' rest

Home-field advantage in the playoffs isn't a priority for the Rays, Twins and Yanks

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Billy Wagner and the Braves swept aside the Marlins and enter the weekend with at least a one-game lead in the NL wild-card race.

Five cuts from Wednesday night's action ...

1. So, Whadda You Guys Wanna Do?

The Braves' final off-day of the season could involve sleeping in, hanging with the family, a bit of golf, shopping or maybe even some work in the cage. Come the afternoon, though, you can rest assured that it's going to involve some TV, as their competition for the wild-card plays a doubleheader out west. The Giants, a half-game better than the Braves, lead off at 3:45 p.m. ET in San Francisco, closing out their series with the Diamondbacks. At 6:35 p.m. ET the Padres, trailing the Braves by 1 games in the wild-card chase, look to shave the half by sending Jon Garland out against the Cubs. It could be a big day for the Braves: If the Giants and Padres both lose, the Braves lock up no worse than a tie for the wild-card slot and a one-game playoff.

2. I'm Not Tired

The Braves got another strong start on short rest, this one by Derek Lowe, on the heels of Tim Hudson's solid outing Tuesday. Asking pitchers to start on three days' rest has become as rare as scheduling two games for one day -- kids, ask your grandparents about the "doubleheader" -- or using your best reliever in a tied game in the seventh. Bobby Cox, though, dates from when it was a lot more common, and pushed up his veteran starters, both of whom rely on sinkers, to help the Braves get to the postseason. As with the management of pitch counts on a per-game basis, the reluctance to use veteran starting pitchers on shorter rest cycles is a well-intentioned practice that may be overly limiting. Lowe and Hudson pitched well and are still alive. There's a lesson there.

3. Yeah? Well, We Are

The Rockies dropped their ninth game in 10 outings yesterday, dating to a blown 6-1 lead to the Dodgers on Sept. 19. Even going back home couldn't help them: they lost five of six games on what might have been a season-saving homestand. This collapse, on the heels of a 13-2 run that recalled playoff runs in 2007 and 2009, should put an end to the notion that the Rockies have some special skill that causes them to win in September. They'll finish up their season in St. Louis, taking on the similarly-deflated Cardinals in the "What the Hell Just Happened?" series starting tonight. Both teams might lose three of four.

4. Is This 1900?

You'd think that we were back at the turn of the century -- the last one -- with all this National League talk. The AL, though, provides very little drama, as the four playoff teams are known, with only seeds left to be determined. None of the three teams battling for the 1-2-3 spots is putting that "race" ahead of getting injured players rested and working through options for the final spots on the postseason roster. As it should be: teams with home-field advantage, almost always the better team, are just 45-39 since 1998. It's a unusual ending for the AL, which needed a 163rd game to settle things the last two seasons, and hadn't had all four playoff spots clinched with five days left since 2006.

5. If You Must Watch, Though ...

Arguments over the AL Cy Young race have focused on the excellence in exile of Felix Hernandez, the traditional stats posted by traditional ace of traditional team CC Sabathia, and the mix of both posted by brash sophomore David Price. By some of the more esoteric measures of pitching value, however, those discussions miss the real belles of the ball. Thanks to their work at striking batters out while preventing walks and home runs, Cliff Lee and Francisco Liriano rate as two of the top three starters in the AL. Both take the mound Thursday with last chances to lower their FIPs and send statheads into all-out WAR. (Four of these five guys will be starting next Wednesday in the AL division series. The other is the best pitcher -- and worthiest Cy winner -- of the bunch.)
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