The Atlanta Braves began September appearing nearly certain to reach the playoffs.
That's changed dramatically.Clinging to a one-game lead for the NL wild card, the Braves seek to end their struggles against both the Philadelphia Phillies and Roy Oswalt on Tuesday night.Atlanta (89-71) led the wild-card race by 8 1/2 games through Sept. 1, seemingly comfortably on its way to a second straight playoff berth.The Braves have collapsed since then, going 8-16 to reduce their lead to one game with two to play. St. Louis is getting the luxury of playing its final series at major league-worst Houston, but that didn't help Monday as the Cardinals lost 5-4 in 10 innings.Atlanta to take advantage, squandering a two-run, fourth-inning lead to lose 4-2 to Philadelphia -- its fifth consecutive defeat in the series."This is a tough loss for me," said rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman, who came up three times with a runner at second and failed to come through. "The last thing I want to do is watch another ballgame."Freeman's bid to become the first Brave to win NL Rookie of the Year since Rafael Furcal in 2000 may be taking a hit. He's batting .150 over his last 12 games.Atlanta is batting .183 and is 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position during a three-game losing streak.That may not get better against Roy Oswalt (8-10, 3.86 ERA), who's 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his last four starts against the Braves -- three of them Phillies victories.The right-hander didn't get a decision in a 3-2 home win over Atlanta on Sept. 7, when he yielded two runs and four hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings.Oswalt will try to regain positive momentum after giving up six runs in 7 2/3 innings of a 6-1 loss to Washington on Thursday, his second loss in three starts.The Braves will counter with Derek Lowe (9-16, 4.92), who has posted an 8.24 ERA in September while losing a career-worst four straight starts.That slide started with a 9-0 loss at Philadelphia on Sept 5, as Lowe surrendered seven runs, eight hits and four walks in five innings. The right-handed sinkerballer was better Wednesday, allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings of a 4-0 loss at Florida.Lowe has lost six of his last eight starts against the Phillies with a 4.59 ERA, but has received only 1.7 average runs of support in those outings.Philadelphia (100-60) needs one victory to match the franchise record set in 1976 and matched a year later, the only other times the club has reached 100 wins."Last year we had the best record in baseball and we didn't win (the World Series)," outfielder Shane Victorino said. "It's nice to win 100 games but ultimately, when the postseason starts, that all goes out the door."Victorino had two hits and two runs Monday. He's batting .542 in his last six games at Turner Field, and .396 in the season series against the Braves.