Heading into the final game of the regular season, the Atlanta Braves have blown their lead in the wild-card race that once seemed insurmountable.
Tied atop the wild-card standings, the Braves try to avoid a fifth consecutive loss when they host the playoff-bound Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night.Atlanta (89-72) had an 8 1/2-game lead for the wild card Sept. 6, but after falling 7-1 to Philadelphia on Tuesday for its 12th loss in 17 games, dropped into a tie when St. Louis won at Houston later in the evening."It is what it is," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We've played 161 games and it comes down to one. We've done it to ourselves. No excuses there. We've got to go get it (Wednesday)."If the Braves and Cardinals are tied after Wednesday, St. Louis would host a one-game playoff Thursday night."You never expect this to happen to you," said Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones, who went 0 for 3 on Tuesday. "It's like living out a bad dream."If the Braves are to wake up from this potential nightmare, they'll need to find some offense after totaling four runs and posting a .208 on-base percentage during the four-game skid. Catcher Brian McCann had two of the four hits Tuesday for the Braves, who have been outscored 43-9 during a six-game skid to Philadelphia (101-60).Despite Tuesday's effort, McCann is 5 for 30 in his last nine games. Dealing with an ailing right knee, Jones has batted .195 (8 for 41) with 10 strikeouts in his last 12.Once a potential starter for Game 1 of the NL division series, Atlanta's Tim Hudson (16-10, 3.23 ERA) has been pressed into service as he tries to save the Braves' season.The right-hander is looking for a third consecutive winning start. He allowed four hits and struck out a season-high 10 in eight innings of a 1-0 win over New York on Sept. 17, then gave up three runs in 5 2/3 innings of a 7-4 victory at Washington on Friday.Hudson has gone 1-1 with a 3.48 ERA in three starts versus Philadelphia in 2011.Hunter Pence, 4 for 11 against Hudson, hit one of the three home runs Tuesday for the Phillies, winers of three in a row since a season-high eight-game skid. Pence is 5 for 12 with two homers and six RBIs in the last three games.In a possible audition for the final pitcher's spot on Philadelphia's postseason roster, Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.03) makes his second straight start and fifth appearance since missing almost four months with shoulder inflammation.He has posted a 1.80 ERA in those four games. The right-hander allowed one hit and struck out three in two innings while starting the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets on Saturday."(He has) definitely put himself into the mix," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the Phillies' official website. "He's a pretty good pitcher."Blanton gave up a pair of solo home runs and three other hits over five innings of a 5-3 loss at Atlanta on May 14 -- his third consecutive losing start against the Braves.