When the Braves began the recent stretch of six games, the team knew just 12 games remained on the schedule.
And after winning the first three-game series of the month against the visiting Marlins, the Braves looked to build off that momentum heading into a weekend series against the Mets.
But things got off to a dreaded start Friday night, as the Mets poured 12 runs on the Braves, getting to Derek Lowe early while Chris Capuano kept the Atlanta bats quiet.
Chipper Jones sacrifice fly and Martin Prado’s solo shot were the only runs the Braves were able to put up in the 12-2 defeat, as Lowe gave up 6 runs on 9 hits over 2 1/3 innings.
With the Braves pitching staff in need of a savior, Tim Hudson provided just that Saturday afternoon.
The veteran right-hander shut the Mets down, scattering 4 hits over 8 shutout innings.
R.A. Dickey continued to stifle the Braves bats until the 7th, when Chipper Jones led off the inning with a double, but was left stranded.
But in the 8th, Jason Heyward led the inning off with a walk before taking advantage of a little small ball and scoring on a Chipper Jones single, giving the Braves the decisive 1-0 lead before Craig Kimbrel locked down the 9th for his 45th save.
The next two days provided the Braves with unnecessary heartbreak, as the offense rallied to take a late-inning lead, only to watch the often dependable, and highly-worked, bullpen blow two consecutive saves.
It began Sunday, with the Braves taking a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the 8th, as Fredi Gonzalez called on Jonny Venters to hold the lead.
The Braves began the scoring takign a 1-0 lead on a Chipper Jones RBI double before the Mets scored 4 in the top of the 4th, making it a 4-1 game.
Wasting no time, the Braves offense quickly tied the game in the bottom half of that 4th inning with a three-run rally, sparked by Alex Gonzalez’s leadoff homer.
The Braves took a 5-4 lead in the 7th after Freddie Freeman’s single scored Gonzalez.
Unable to escape his recent struggles, Jonny Venters allowed two runs and the Mets to regain the lead before Kimbrel gave up a run of his own in the 9th, as the Mets went on to win, 7-5. Monday began as Sunday ended, watching the opposing team, this time the host Marlins, get on the board early with two quick runs before the Braves, on a Heyward homer, cut the lead in half.
Even as the Marlins posted two more runs on the board, the Braves offense took the lead for the first time in the top of the 7th, led by a leadoff homer from Dan Uggla before the visiting Atlanta offense posted three more runs to take a 5-4 lead.
For the second day in a row, the Braves held a late-inning lead before handing it over to the bullpen.
And the first two, Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters, got through their innings without harm, the same was not said about Kimbrels 9th.
After getting the first two outs, Kimbrel was victimized by a high chopper and the wacky football lights, as Chipper Jones lost the ball before former Brave Omar Infante victimized Kimbrel and drilled his high fastball behind the scoreboard in left field, walking-off with a 6-5 win.
With the Cardinals and Giants both gaining ground quickly in the Wild Card standings, the Braves desperately needed a win, and behind Randall Delgado, they got just the pitching performance they needed to earn the 4-0 victory, and a crucial one, if they planned to keep pace with their pursuants.
The Braves got going early Tuesday, as Alex Gonzalez hit a leadoff homer in the 2nd, sparking a three-run rally before leaving the game with a lower leg injury, which forced him to miss Wednesday’s finale.
Freddie Freeman hit his 20th homer in the 6th to give the Braves a 4-0 lead and Delgado his first MLB win. For the rookie Freeman, it was the first time since 1995 a Braves rookie had hit 20 or more home runs. That rookie was Chipper Jones.
Wednesday’s game as a goodbye of sorts for the Braves, who were playing their final game at Sun Life Stadium, as the Marlins open a new home in Miami at the beginning of the 2012 season.
What once was known as Joe Robbie Stadium, hosted two World Series in 1997 and 2003, watching the Marlins emerge victorious during both series.
But the final game showed just how frustrating the season, and the time spent in Miami, had been for the Braves.
While Derek Lowe used every pitch in his arsenal to keep the Marlins bats quiet as best he could, the offense ran into the hottest pitcher of late in Javier Vasquez.
Vasquez scattered two hits over 7 shutout innings while Lowe allowed 3 runs and 6 hits over 6 1/3 innings, giving the Braves a quality start they needed desperately, especially following Delgado’s performance the night before.
But only Jason Heyward and Martin Prado were able to notch hits off Vasquez, as the Braves watched their Wild Card lead dwindle to 2 1/2 games over the Cardinals and 3 1/2 over the Giants and nights end.
After going 2-4 over a crucial 6 games, the Braves kick off the final stretch Friday afternoon, when they visit the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg, who gets the starting nod for Washington.
Strasburg begins the series for Washington, who follow up with Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detweiler before the Braves head home to Turner Field to wrap the regular season up with the Phillies.
The Braves counter in Washington with Tim Hudson, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy.
With the Cardinals losing Thursday afternoon, the Braves hold a two-game lead over St. Louis in the Wild Card, while holding a four-game lead over the Giants, who lost in Los Angeles Thursday evening.