The season is winding down and the Marlins are well back of the Wild Card-leading Astros and the East-leading Braves. But there still is reason for hope. For this weekend (or at least until they lose head-to-head), the best reason for hope is that the Marlins are six back of the Braves and the two teams will face each other six times in the season's final nine games (three this weekend in Atlanta and three next weekend in South Florida).
We sat down with Chief Noc-a-Homa to talk about this weekend's series.
: So Chief - you guys must be pretty confident with a six game lead and only nine games left to play, right?
: Well, the Braves are pretty confident about winning the division. But I think the Marlins should take note of what the Braves have done with their rotation.
John Smoltz should have started yesterday against the Phillies, but the Braves held him back so that he could face the Marlins tonight. I think that makes a pretty strong statement about what a threat the Braves consider the Marlins to be - especially considering that the Phillies are ahead of the Marlins in the standings right now.
The Braves are just glad that they won't have to face Dontrelle Willis in this series.
: Yeah, you're lucky for that. But the Braves will have to face Josh Beckett tonight and A.J. Burnett on Sunday. If you get the good versions of those two, it will be a tough series.
: This is always a tough series. Both clubs have strong starting pitching - as always. The issue for the Braves is that some of their better arms are hurt. Mike Hampton is out for the year.
: Sadly, injuries are a part of the game at this point in the year. The Marlins are playing without Alex Gonzalez, and have effectively played much of the past week without (at least without 100% of) Luis Castillo, Paul LoDuca, and Miguel Cabrera. That's potentially four All-Stars right there.
The difference this season though has been that the Braves have not only survived, but they have thrived through their injuries.
: Injuries have played a big role for the Braves this year. And this is really a credit to the farm system. The time table for a number of Braves was accelerated this year - notably with Francoeur and arguably with Betemit. The Braves are where they are this year because of the depth of their farm system.
: Speaking of the farm system, the Braves are doing something cool this weekend that I've never heard of before: on Saturday night, fans who arrive early can get autographs from "future" Braves. They'll have a number of higher profile minor leaguers (guys who aren't on the September roster) at Turner Field to sign autographs. That sounds pretty neat.
Anyway, good luck to the Braves, Chief. I hope they don't do too well this weekend, but if they do, good luck in the playoffs.