HOUSTON -- For the second consecutive year, the Braves find themselves with no room for error and needing to win the final two games of the National League Division Series. The scenario proved too much to overcome against the Cubs last year.
But last year's team isn't this year's, which has prided itself on being an underdog that seemingly plays best when their backs are against the wall.
With that in mind, the Braves were disappointed after dropping an 8-5 decision to the Astros in Game 3 of the NLDS at Minute Maid Park on Saturday afternoon. But at the same time, they are still alive, and that's enough for them to remain optimistic heading into Sunday's must-win Game 4 showdown against Roger Clemens.
"It's no secret, if we lose tomorrow we're done," said Marcus Giles, who along with Chipper Jones and J.D. Drew, has proven to be a non-factor offensively, while the Braves have lost two of the first three games of the best-of-five series.
While they lost John Thomson for the rest of the postseason after he threw his fourth pitch on Saturday, the Braves are at least hopeful the bats of Giles, Jones and Drew -- the second, third and fourth batters in their lineup -- will finally reappear on Sunday against Clemens and an Astros team that has won 19 straight home games.
"Nobody in this clubhouse thinks this thing is over," Jones said. "Certainly they want to come out and take care of business. There's only one team that wants this to go back to Atlanta, and that's us."
John Thomson / P
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
If the Braves are going to defeat Clemens like they did Matt Clement on the road in Game 4 last year, they'll need at least some production from the middle of their lineup. Combined, Jones (0-for-11), Drew (2-for-12) and Giles (2-for-15) have produced just one RBI during this series. Both of Drew's hits have been infield singles -- including one that hit the roof of the retractable-dome stadium on Saturday.
"Our 2, 3 and 4 hitters need to step up," Giles said. "You ask them, they'll say it. It's no secret. I'm not bashing them. If I'm bashing them, I'm bashing myself."
There's no time for the Braves to bash each other or lament the fact that they had to call upon Paul Byrd after Thomson reinjured his strained left oblique muscle. When he originally suffered the injury last Saturday, it didn't provide near the discomfort it did after he threw his fourth pitch of the afternoon to Jeff Bagwell.
"I've pitched with a torn labrum before and this was worse," said a dejected Thomson, who had been looking forward to making the most of his first career postseason appearance.
Paul Byrd / P
Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Thomson's exit enabled Byrd to make his first career postseason appearance in a tough situation. He pitched effectively, but surrendered a third-inning, two-run homer to Carlos Beltran and two consecutive two-out, RBI hits before exiting in the fifth with a 4-2 deficit.
Byrd's fifth-inning dilemma began with one of the nine walks that were issued by Braves pitchers. Houston's three-run sixth inning against Antonio Alfonseca and Tom Martin, who didn't retire any of the three batters he faced, was aided by two walks.
The crushing blow in the sixth inning came when Morgan Ensberg delivered a two-run double off Martin that screamed past Jones' glove at third base and went into the left-field corner. It only added to the agony of the veteran third baseman, who had at least played flawless defense in the first two games of the series.
"I think seven out of 10 times I make that play," Jones said. "Unfortunately, I didn't make it that time."
Andruw Jones / CF
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
The Astros' ability to take advantage of walks and the Braves' bullpen in the middle innings negated Andruw Jones' two-out, three-run homer off Russ Springer in the eighth inning. This Jones, who now owns nine career postseason homers, is hitting .500 (6-for-12) during the series.
Chipper is well aware of the fact that he's been the less effective Jones during the past three games. He says his bruised right hand only played a factor during the first game of the series.
"It's very frustrating," Chipper said. "I'll take an 0-for-20 if we're still going to win the series. You always want to contribute. It's just a bad time to be struggling."
At the same time, it's not a time for the Braves to overly concern themselves with their current unenviable situation. Instead it would be more beneficial to carry the positive mind-set of Giles, who said, "This thing is far from over. We've won two games in a row plenty of times."
Braves' postseason sluggers
The Braves proved everybody wrong when they were six games under .500 on June 23 and again during Thursday's victory, when they were facing a two-run, seventh-inning deficit. Now it's simply time for them to prove their resiliency again.
It's either that or make plans this week, to do something other than continue their postseason run.
"It's not a real healthy way to live," Chipper Jones said. "But it's the way we choose to live. Hopefully we'll continue to live by it and not die by it.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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