PITTSBURGH -- Second place is not a position the Braves are accustomed to, trailing in a division they have owned for much of this decade.
Yet, entering Thursday night's series finale against the Pirates, the club that describes itself as "The Team of the 90s" trailed the first-place Mets by two games and was in a virtual tie with the Reds for the wild card spot.
In past years the Braves have sprinted away from the field in the second half. Not this season. They are 9-11 since the All-Star break and have lost seven games in the standings to the Mets.
"The postseason isn't a sure thing this time around," pitcher Tom Glavine said. "I don't think we're panicked about it, but because of the injuries, I think there's a little bit of doubt. We're kind of waiting to get on a roll and not sure we're going to do it."
This team hasn't been in a pennant race since 1994 and there aren't many players still around who were here five years ago. So, while the Braves are a veteran club, that doesn't necessarily translate to a team accustomed to pennant pressure. How well they handle it over the next two months will determine their October future.
"Certainly no one is going up the plate with both hands wrapped around their throat," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "If there are guys feeling that kind of pressure they're in the wrong business and with the wrong team."
During their second-half slide the Braves have forgotten the fundamentals that allowed them to build a five-game lead at the break. The little things like hitting behind runners, getting bunts down and driving in runners with clutch hits. Brian Jordan said, "Everybody is trying to win the game with one swing," following Wednesday night's 3-2 loss and he's right. Losing makes players feel they have to do more than they're capable of, an attitude Glavine is warning his teammates to drop.
"You've got to play every game like it's a normal game," he said. "You don't win pennant races by making spectacular plays, you win pennant races by making the plays you're supposed to make. Just do what you're supposed to do. I can't go out there and try and throw a no-hitter and a guy who's a .240 hitter can't try and hit .300 with 30 homers. You start pressing, you take yourself out of your game and that's when you start making mistakes."
Shortstop Jose Hernandez was back in the lineup Thursday night, but not at leadoff. That experiment died a quick death after his six-out (two strikeouts, two double plays) performance in Wednesday's loss, his first game since a three-hit, five-RBI game with the Cubs last Saturday.
Hernandez said he wasn't pressing because it was his debut with the Braves, but manager Bobby Cox said he watched his first at-bat on TV and thought Hernandez's bat looked "like it weighed eight pounds."
"I wasn't even thinking about that," Hernandez said. "I was thinking it's another game. I hit the ball pretty good, but had no luck, right at people. I hope tonight everything changes."
GOOD FIELD, NO BAT:
Bret Boone has struggledat the plate for the last two months and won't match last season's 24 homers and 95 RBI. His defense has remained steady, however, despite Wednesday's throwing error that led to a pair of unearned runs. He's been charged with six errors, three less than last year's total, and the fewest among Atlanta's regular infielders.
ROCKER ON ROLL:
Closer John Rocker is riding a shutout streak of 10 2/3 innings with 15 strikeouts, but has made just one appearance since July 25. He remains tied for sixth in the league with 21 saves, but he's had only six save opportunities since July 1.