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PHI@ATL: Prado crushes a homer to put Braves on board

ATLANTA -- Derek Lowe's rough regular season concluded in less than desirable fashion. Now the Braves can only hope they have the chance to decide whether they can afford to put him in their postseason rotation.

Once seemingly a lock to earn a playoff spot, the Braves will enter the final day of the regular season trying to win a National League Wild Card race that they have commanded through most of the season.

With Lowe unable to halt his recent woes and the offense showing few signs of life at Turner Field on Tuesday night, the Braves endured a 7-1 loss to the Phillies, then faced the fact that there might not be a postseason spot reserved for them.

"It's like we're living out a bad dream," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "You really never expect this to happen to you, but there are a lot of things that are contributing to it."

This has been a forgettable month for the Braves, who have lost four straight, eight of 11 and 17 of 25. But as bad as things have gone, they can feel fortunate that they still control their own destiny.

The Braves and Cards enter the season's final day tied atop the NL Wild Card standings.

This marked the first time since June 19 that the Braves have shared the Wild Card lead with at least one other team. They were tied with the Cardinals and Brewers that day.

"You can't worry about that kind of stuff," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It is what it is. We've played 161 games and it comes down to one. We've done it to ourselves. There's no excuses there. We've got to go get it tomorrow."

While the Braves barely dented the six-run fifth-inning advantage the Phillies gained against Lowe, the Cardinals battled back from a 5-0 deficit to beat the Astros, 13-6, on Tuesday night and strengthen their postseason hopes, which seemed unlikely when Atlanta entered September leading the Wild Card race by 8 1/2 games.

"When you've played as many games as I have, they all start blurring together," Jones said. "You start flushing the bad ones as quickly as possible and I'm getting pretty good at it."

The Braves have the fortune of turning to their ace, Tim Hudson, on Wednesday, when the Phillies are scheduled to start Joe Blanton and use various members of their staff. The game will begin about an hour before the Cards' regular-season finale in Houston.

If the Braves and Cardinals conclude Wednesday with identical records, a one-game playoff will be played in St. Louis on Thursday at 8:07 p.m. ET.

"The bottom line is we just have to find a way to get in," Lowe said. "We've made it difficult. I made it really difficult after tonight. But you never know. That's the beauty of the playoffs. It would be a shame if something happened where we didn't make it. We played too good for too long not to make it."

With Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson out of the rotation with injuries, the Braves needed Lowe to step up like he did last year, when he was 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five September starts. Instead, they saw the 38-year-old conclude one of his worst seasons in frustrating fashion.

After allowing five earned runs in just four-plus innings, Lowe found his ERA sitting at 5.05. The only time he has compiled a higher mark was 2004, when he made an incredible turnaround in October and recorded the win in each of the series-clinching victories the Red Sox notched to win the World Series.

"When you're 9-17 with a [5.05] ERA, I mean, come on, there really isn't anything I can stand here and say," Lowe said. "I'm man enough to stand here and say I've had a terrible year."

Lowe has battled mechanical issues all year, and his inconsistencies were apparent once again. As he induced four ground-ball outs, it looked like he might overcome the first-inning solo homer surrendered to Chase Utley. But things started to unravel in a two-run third sparked by Carlos Ruiz's leadoff double.

Hunter Pence capped the third with a sacrifice fly and introduced himself to Arodys Vizcaino with a two-run fifth-inning homer that further deflated the Braves. Lowe was pulled after allowing Jimmy Rollins' leadoff single in the fifth.

"It's not what we wanted, obviously. I'm not going to mince words," Gonzalez said. "I'm sure that's not what he wanted also. It is what it is. Now we've got one game to play in the month of September and then October comes around and it's a new month."

October would have likely been a certainty for the Braves had their offense not suddenly dissipated over the past few weeks. Martin Prado's ninth-inning homer off Kyle Kendrick prevented Atlanta from entering Wednesday with three shutout losses in its previous six games.

"You just have to have a game where you break out," leadoff hitter Michael Bourn said. "It can't last forever. You've got to break out at some point."

As Lowe extended his struggles, Phillies starter Roy Oswalt made his final playoff preparations by limiting the Braves to three hits over six scoreless innings. Brian McCann accounted for two of those hits with a second-inning single and a fourth-inning double.

The Braves have 11 runs over their past six games, and seven of those were scored in Friday's win over the Nationals. They have scored two runs or fewer in 10 of their past 24 games.

It's safe to say this has been a month filled with frustration. But with one more opportunity to salvage it, the Braves feel good about the fact they will send Hudson to the mound Wednesday night.

"If we've got to win a game, I'd want Huddy on the mound," Jones said. "He's a bulldog. He goes out and competes. We know what we're going to get -- his best effort tomorrow."

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