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Mark BradleyMark Bradley

Labor Day dawns, and the Braves are buoyant

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"I think we're better than Milwaukee. What about you?" (David Goldman/AP)

“I think we’re better than Milwaukee. What about you?” (David Goldman/AP)

Four weeks ago, these flying fingers suggested that the arrival of baseball’s third holiday checkpoint would reveal the Atlanta Braves’ playoff chances as a forlorn hope. This grim forecast was based on two observations: First, the Braves’ schedule was about to toughen; second, that the Braves had been, not to sugarcoat things, stinking out Ye Olde Joint.

Which only goes to show: Baseball seasons are rarely quite what they seem. After an 0-8 West Coast swing, the Braves have gone 14-9. (That still puts them three games under .500 over the past 31, but never mind.) Our friends at Baseball Prospectus now levy the Braves’ playoff odds at 49.6 percent, which beats the heck out of the 20.9 percent not quite three weeks ago. In sum, they’ve given themselves a September chance.

That’s not to say they’re a lock. BP lists five National League teams with odds of 62.2 percent or better, the fading Milwaukee Brewers being the fifth of that bunch. Only five teams make the playoffs, as I’m sure you know.

Labor Day arrived with the Braves six games behind Washington in the East with 25 to play, and that’s probably too much to make up. They are, however, within 1 1/2 games of St. Louis and aforementioned Milwaukee for the second wild card. (One of those teams is apt to win the Central.)

With Mike Minor’s return to form, the starting pitching is again dominant. The offense is still spotty — the Braves are 29th in the majors in runs — but we’re accustomed to that. This isn’t nearly a great team, but there are no great teams in baseball in 2014. (Remember the mighty Oakland A’s? They’re five games behind the Angels.) The best any team, from the Nats to the A’s to the Angels to Dodgers, can hope is to qualify for October and get hot once there.

Four weeks ago, I thought the Braves’s shot of playing beyond October was a bad week from nonexistent. That bad week never came. With one month to go, they’re still in it.

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