All about the Braves and baseball events.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nine Is Not Fine; Cards Complete Sweep of Braves


There really isn't much to tell about this game. Rookie starter Jamie Garcia continued his good work in the early season, limiting Atlanta to just four hits through seven innings. The Braves only managed to get three men in scoring position the entire game. They had the best chance in the eighth inning when Yunel Escobar doubled and Martin Prado singled off of reliever Kyle McClellan, but Chipper Jones flied out and Troy Glaus struck out.

The Cardinals scored five runs (three earned) off of Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami, who is now 0-4 on the year and 1-7 with a 6.28 ERA in April over his brief major league career. He allowed three runs himself, but got charged with an additional two when reliever Jonny Venters let both inherited runners score. Skip Schumaker scored two runs, Colby Rasmus and Albert Pujols both had a double, single and intentional walk and run scored in their bodies of work.


The game got ugly quick and continued to get uglier, though not all of it had to do with the Cardinals offense. Both Jair Jurrjens and Yunel Escobar had to leave the game with injuries in the Braves' 10-4 loss that stretched their losing streak to nine games and completed their 0-7 road trip. Jurrjens left with a strained hamstring after finishing the first inning (and coughing up a home run to David Freese, who had six RBIs on the day) and Escobar strained a hip muscle as he was throwing to first base in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Colby Rasmus scored four runs for the Cardinals with two walks and two singles. Freese and Matt Holliday scored two runs each. The Cardinals did most of their scoring off of Braves reliever Jesse Chavez, who gave up five runs in two innings, including four in the fifth after he got the first two batters out.

The small highlight of the day was Jason Heyward's at-bat in the seventh inning. He lined a home run off of El Lanzador Gordo Dennys Reyes (if you saw him and know Spanish, you'd call him that too). It was the first home run the Cardinals bullpen had given up since Todd Wellemeyer, now a Giant, gave up one on October 4th of last year.

Adam Wainwright started for the Cardinals and allowed three earned runs on six hits in six innings, the "big blow" being a two-run single by Eric Hinske.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Same Old Story; Cardinals Come Back, Hold Off Braves


It's almost like I was watching a re-run of last night's game. The Braves jumped out to an early lead, but the starting pitcher (and bullpen) couldn't hold it and the Braves were unable to come from behind. This time, it was by a 5-4 score.

The Braves took a 2-0 lead in the second inning thanks to an RBI groundout by Nate McLouth and a first-pitch RBI single for Derek Lowe. The Cardinals struck back with a one-out solo home run by Ryan Ludwick in the fourth inning. Albert Pujols followed with a single and the Cardinals didn't get another hit until the sixth inning.

Lowe and Cardnials starter Chris Carpenter were matching each other pitch for pitch up to then. Lowe had no walks and two hits allowed through five innings while Carpenter had three walks and one hit allowed.

It wasn't meant to last for Lowe, though. Brendan Ryan led off the inning with a single, and with one out, Ryan Ludwick hit a double to left-center, scoring Ryan to tie the game. Albert Pujols was intentionally walked to get to Matt Holliday and he hit a ground ball to Chipper Jones at third base. Instead of throwing to second to try to start a double play, Chipper thought he could start it, so he forced out Ludwick at third. However, Holliday beat the throw to first.

This proved to be crucial to the inning. Colby Rasmus worked out a walk after being down 0-2 and Yadier Molina lined a single up the middle to give the Cardinals a 4-2 lead. Lowe was removed in favor of Peter Moylan and he coughed up an RBI single to David Freese, making the score 5-2.

The Braves were able to answer in the seventh inning thanks to some sloppy Cardinal fielding. Reliever Blake Hawksworth took over for Carpenter, who went six innings and allowed only two runs on three hits and three walks. He got Nate McLouth to ground out, but Brooks Conrad ripped a double off of him, then Yunel Escobar singled him to third. Martin Prado then hit a comebacker to Hawksworth. He attempted to throw home, but Molina was trying to get Prado's bat out of the way and couldn't grab the throw. The ball went to the backstop and Conrad scored. Chipper Jones then singled to second base, scoring Escobar.

Tony LaRussa then played the LOOGY-ROOGY game he loves to play every so often. The Cardinals manager brought in lefty Dennis Reyes to face Brian McCann. The catcher flied out to deep left next, advancing Prado. Mitchell Boggs was summoned to face Troy Glaus walked, but he walked. Veteran lefty Trever Miller faced lefty Jason Heyward and struck him out looking to end the inning. He stayed on in the eighth and paired with Jason Motte (1 2/3 innings) to hold the Braves off the scoreboard the rest of the game. Kris Medlen and Billy Wagner finished the game for Atlanta.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This Time, Bullpen Blows Lead; Cardinals Work Late-Inning Magic Once More


First it's the leadoff hitters, then it's the RISP hitting, now it's the bullpen's turn to get into the act. St. Louis scored three runs off of Atlanta's bullpen to pull out a 4-3 victory over the slumping Braves.

The game started out well for Atlanta. While they once again failed to bring a runner in from third base with two out in the second inning, the team finally chased in an opportunity in the third. With the bases loaded, cleanup hitter Brian McCann hit a sacrifice fly to left field and Troy Glaus singled up the middle, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead. They added a run in the fourth inning when Nate McLouth doubled in Melky Cabrera from first, but he was stranded as Escobar walked and was caught off first base after Martin Prado hit a liner that was snagged by Cardinals third baseman David Freese.

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols had three hits on the day, but his first hit in the second inning was an odd one. He hit a drive to left field that he thought was a home run, so he trotted to first base. The ball hit the left-field wall on the fly and Cabrera was able to throw out Pujols at second base.

The Cardinals were kept at bay by Braves starter Tim Hudson for most of the game. The veteran didn't allow a baserunner to score until the sixth when Skip Schumaker scored on a ground ball to short after walking and going to third on a single.

The Braves were held hitless after McLouth's double until the ninth inning, which gave the Cardinals the opportunity to make their move. St. Louis, as a team, scores 21.8% of their runs in the seventh through ninth innings (17 of 78 before yesterday's game). This is where that showed.

Colby Rasmus led off the seventh inning with a line drive home run off of Tim Hudson to right field. After Hudson walked Yadier Molina, Cox brought in Peter Moylan, who hadn't pitched in three days. Molina attempted to steal a base after stutter-stepping against Molyan and was successful when McCann's throw was short. Freese flied out to the warning track and Brendan Ryan struck out, but pinch-hitter Brian Anderson hit a flare to left field that dropped in for a hit, scoring Molina. Moylan walked Schumaker, but then got Ryan Ludwick to ground to short.

The Braves couldn't answer in the eighth despite getting two men on with two out. So Cox brought in Takashi Saito to face Pujols and Matt Holliday. Pujols led off the inning with a double ripped down the third-base line. Holliday flew out to Brooks Conrad (who was in the game as a pinch-runner to Troy Glaus and switched positions with Prado) in short right field and Rasmus was intentionally walked to get to Molina, another right-hander. Molina spoiled the strategy by hitting a ground-rule double to left-center, scoring Pujols with the go-ahead run. Freese grounded to Conrad at second who threw out Rasmus at the plate. Ryan struck out looking to end the inning.

Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin allowed a swinging bunt single by pinch-hitter Matt Diaz to lead off the ninth, but got pinch-hitter Eric Hinske to ground into a double play. Yunel Escobar reached first on a ball hit up the middle that Schumaker could only knock down, but Prado grounded to the second baseman to end the game.

Odds 'N Ends: The Braves' leadoff spot has reached undiscovered territories of epic stinkiness. The team's leadoff hitters are a combined .099/.178/.148 in 90 plate appearances. The main ones, Cabrera (7 games), McLouth (6 games) and Diaz (5 games), are a combined 7-72, with Cabrera only having one double and Diaz with the double and triple in the Rockies game. Even the Braves pitchers are batting better than they are (.131/.197/.213 in 73 PAs), including the same amount of hits (eight)!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Silliness Continues; Mets Take Rain-Shortened Game


Sunday's Braves-Mets game was a little like getting Whammied on Press Your Luck. Atlanta repeatedly failed to get runners in from second and third base, had an unearned run scored off of them and the skies opened up in the sixth inning, allowing the Mets to sweep the Braves by a 1-0 score.

It was almost like clockwork: the Braves had the bases loaded with two out in the first inning, men on first and second with two out in the second inning, men on first and second with one out in the third inning and men on first and second with one out in the fifth inning. A pop-up to short by Jason Heyward, a strikeout by Martin Prado, a double play grounder to short by Heyward, and a double play grounder to third by Troy Glaus ended each of those threats.

The Mets got their run off Braves starter Tommy Hanson in the first inning when Jose Reyes singled with two out, stole second and scored on an errant throw by Chipper Jones to first base in an attempt to get Jason Bay. It appeared that Chipper could have chosen to go after Reyes to tag him out, but he decided to throw to first anyway. The ball took a funny hop and bounced away from Glaus, allowing the run to score.

Hanson and Mets starter Mike Pelfrey wriggled out of that kind of trouble all game. Whlie striking out eight batters, Hanson was able to strand the other six baserunners he allowed via three singles and two walks. Pelfrey was able to strand every Braves runner, who got on with two doubles, three singles and five walks.

Odds 'N Ends: At least Tommy Hanson didn't have a quality start for the Braves to blow. As I think I mentioned yesterday, the Braves are 3-5 in games where the starter has a quality start.

Troy Glaus has seemed to become the bane of many Braves fans' existences. He leads the team with 10 hitless games where the player has started the game. Glaus has started 15 of the Braves' first 18 games. Calls for Eric Hinske to start more frequently have already begun, and probably won't be realized until about mid-May or so if Glaus continues to hit like he did coming back from shoulder surgery last year.

More Woes And Weirdness Lead To Second Mets Win


Okay, now it's just getting silly.

Yunel Escobar made a key baserunning gaffe in the fifth inning with a scoreless tie and the Braves wasted another quality start from Jair Jurrjens with poor RISP batting, losing to the Mets 3-1.

The Braves left the bases loaded in the first inning and Chipper Jones, who turned 38 years old yesterday, appeared to hurt himself on his first swing. He tried to go back out in the third inning, but he couldn't extend himself and had to come out of the game. Martin Prado, who was getting the day off, took his place at third base the next inning. Chipper is day-to-day with a hip injury.

Matt Diaz and Melky Cabrera struck out with the bases loaded to end the third. Atlanta left men on second with two out in the second and third innings.

With one out in the fifth, Escobar walked. Prado then hit a double in his first at-bat, sending Escobar to third. Troy Glaus then flied out to right. Seemingly forgetting the situation, Escobar failed to tag up at third, while Martin Prado did tag up at second and ran to third on Francoeur's catch. By the time Escobar realized what was going on, it was too late. Prado tried to get in a rundown, but he was quickly tagged out before Escobar could score.

However, the Braves did take the lead off of of starter Jon Niese in the sixth. Cabrera hit a one-out double, his second of the year, and scored on David Ross's single to give the Braves the lead. The Mets then brought in former Brave Manny Acosta, who shut down his old teammates through 1 2/3 innings.

In the bottom of the sixth, Jose Reyes took a two-out walk and stole second base. He went to third on David Ross's poor throw, which skipped into the outfield. Jason Bay then drove Reyes home with a double.

Rookie first baseman Ike David led off the seventh with a walk. Jeff Francoeur then hit a high fastball (which is pretty much one of the only things he can hit) to the 415 sign in right-center, scoring Davis with a triple. He was brought home by Henry Blanco's sacrifice fly. Jurrjens got pinch-hitter Frank Catalaotto to ground out, but a walk to leadoff hitter Angel Pagan ended his day. Eric O'Flaherty got Alex Cora to ground out to end the inning.

The Braves got another man in scoring position off reliever Pedro Feliciano with Jason Heyward beating out a double play relay and moving to second on a walk to David Ross. Brian McCann then lined a pitch to shortstop that was tailing on Reyes, but he made a great diving catch to save a run.

Kris Medlen held the Mets scoreless in the ninth and Francisco Rodriguez had a much-less shaky ninth inning as he put the Braves away 1-2-3 for his third save of the year.

Jurrjens went 6 2/3 innings and allowed just one earned run on four hits and four walks. Mets starter Jon Niese similarly allowed just one earned run, but on five hits and five wlks in 5 1/3 innings.

Odds 'N Ends: So far in the series at Citi Field, the Braves are 3-17 with RISP, with six walks and 3 RBIs. Those three hits are only singles.

Batting Average With Balls In Play is designed to show how often the defense turns a player's batted ball into an out. Sometimes, it shows that a player is very unlucky and other times it shows that a player is playing at an unsustainable level.

As of this post, the league average is .296. Out of the Braves' nine regular players, only three of them have a BABIP above the league average:

    Martin Prado - .473 BABIP (.409 BA)
    Jason Heyward - .344 BABIP (.254 BA)
    Chipper Jones - .306 BABIP (.283 BA)
The rest of the Braves' starters have significantly lower BABIPs than average:

    Matt Diaz - .241 BABIP (.175 BA)
    Brian McCann - .238 BABIP (.258 BA)
    Yunel Escobar - .218 BABIP (.194 BA)
    Troy Glaus - .211 BABIP (.175 BA)
    Nate McLouth - .208 BABIP (.150 BA)
    Melky Cabrera - .174 BABIP (.143 BA)
McCann is especially unlucky because his average is higher than his BABIP.

The last time the Mets swept a three-game series from the Braves in New York was August 19-21, 2008.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Near Misses, Strange Plays, Offensive Woes Add To Mets Win


Nate McLouth missing the game-tying home run by about 5-10 feet capped the weirdness of this game as the Mets defeated the Braves 5-2 in the opener of their three game series.

The game started normally, at first: the Braves struck first with Chipper Jones's RBI single off of starter John Maine. New York almost tied the game when former Brave Jeff Francoeur just missed a home run, hitting a ball off of what I would like to call the Black Monster in left field. Francoeur took third base on an ill-advised throw by Cabrera to second base. He then tried to score on Rod Barajas's grounder to third, but Chipper was able to throw him out at the plate.

Maine would leave the game in the middle of the fourth inning as he felt some muscle spasms in his left elbow. "Rookie" reliever Hisanori Takahashi, a 10-year veteran of the Yomiuri Tokyo Giants, went on to strike out seven of the twelve Braves that he faced.

In the meantime, the Mets tied the game with Ike Davis's first major league home run, a bomb to straight right off of Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami that knotted the score at one. New York went ahead in the bottom of the sixth on consecutive triples by Jose Reyes and Jason Bay. David Wright's sacrifice fly to the warning track in center field plated Bay and the Mets went up by two runs.

Kawakami finished the inning and left with his second quality start in three tries, with six hits and three earned runs allowed in six frames. The Braves finally chased Takahashi with a leadoff double by Omar Infante and a two-out single by Martin Prado.

The bottom of the seventh is where things got wacky. With one out and setup man Takashi Saito on the hill, Angel Pagan singled to left. He went to second on Luis Castillo's walk. Jose Reyes then hit a pop fly on the infield and the infield fly rule was called. Here is the rule and its points:

2.00: An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.

6.05(e): A batter is out when An Infield Fly is declared.
This rule was made to prevent fielders from intentionally dropping balls to start double or even triple plays. Another key to this rule is that when the ball is dropped, it's still a live ball; any base is fair game if unguarded.

That's exactly what happened: Chipper Jones dropped the ball and picked it up as the Pagan and Castillo advanced a base. McCann then left home plate unguarded as he tried to get an explanation on why he didn't need to throw it to first. The ball was still live, however, because Saito didn't have it and he wasn't on the mound. So Pagan, with a heads-up notice from base coach Chip Hale, bolted for home plate and beat McCann's tag by a full second.

David Wright added on to the free run with a single, so it looked like the Mets would coast to a victory.

Not quite.

Pedro Feliciano and Jonny Venters provided a scoreless eighth inning, so it was up to Frankie Rodriguez to earn the save for the Mets. Melky Cabrera, who was 0-3 in the game, greeted him with a single to right. Infante, who had three hits up to that point, gave the Mets an out with a first-pitch fly ball to center.

However, Rodriguez then lost control against pinch-hitter Yunel Escobar, walking him. That brought up Nate McLouth, who had struck out three times already. He battled with Rodriguez a bit, and at one point absolutely crushed a high fastball that ended up 5-10 feet to the right of the foul pole. Rodriguez got him looking on a change-up on the outside corner then blew away Prado with an 0-2 breaking ball to end the game.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Old Junkballer Strikes Again; Phils Take Series


Forty-seven year old Jamie Moyer just keeps chugging along. Two years younger than Julio Franco when he retired in 2008, the crafty left-hander carved up Braves batters. With near immediate support, he helped the Phillies cruise to an 8-3 win.

The Philles struck first off Braves starter Derek Lowe with three singles and a sacrifice fly in the first inning. They added three more in the third aided by an errant throw by second baseman Martin Prado on an attempted double play that sailed high and bounced off of Escobar's glove. Two runs scored on that play and shortstop Juan Castro added a third run with an RBI single. He ended up with three hits on the day. Greg Dobbs and Chase Utley both scored two runs in the two innings.

The Braves got a similar break in the fifth inning. Walks by Melky Cabrera and pinch-hitter Omar Infante put men on first and second with one out. In the next at bat, Matt Diaz grounded a ball to short. Castro's throw bounced off of Chase Utley's glove, allowing Cabrera to score and Infante to move to second. Prado then grounded to Castro at short and Utley threw wildly to first base while trying to avoid Diaz's slide. That allowed Infante to score. Chipper Jones lined to Dobbs at third to end the inning.

Philadelphia tallied a run off of Kris Medlen in the sixth with Shane Victorino's sacrifice fly and became the first team to get to Peter Moylan, scoring two runs off of him in the seventh. Ross Gload and Victorino had consecutive RBI singles off of the sidearmer.

The Braves threatened in the sixth with men on second and third with one out, but Jason Heyward struck out looking and Melky Cabrera popped out to Castro at short. That ended Moyer's day; he finished with only four hits and two walks given up in six innings. The three Phillies starters in the series didn't allow a single earned run.

Brian McCann was able to get a run in with the bases loaded with one out in the seventh with a sacrifice fly, but Troy Glaus struck out swinging to end the Braves' threat. The team had to endure a similar indignity in the final frame. After Diaz turned a leadoff Eric Hinske single into a double play, Prado hit a grounder that Castro couldn't quite corral and Chipper doubled to left. The two got five of the Braves' nine hits on the day. However, McCann flew to the warning track to end the game.

Odd 'N End: I may as well keep a running tally of the Braves' offensive futility as long as they're struggling:

AVG: .229 (T-14th in NL, T-24th in MLB)
OBP: .329 (10th in NL, 15th in MLB)
SLG: .361 (13th in NL, 23rd in MLB)

So, basically, the Braves' NL-leading 72 walks are keeping them from having a totally putrid offense.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

No Miracle With Doc On Mound; Phils Shut Out Braves


Your bullpen blow a game you had in the bag? No problem: just put the majors' leader in complete games over the past decade on the mound, add water, stir, bake and enjoy.

Phillies ace Roy Halladay twirled a few lucky breaks and some great defense into a five-hit shutout as the Phillies took Game 2 against the Braves by a score of 2-0.

Halladay set down the first eleven Braves he faced until Chipper Jones doubled to left-center. This included a drive by Troy Glaus in the second inning that center fielder Shane Victorino snagged just before it went over the wall.

In the second inning, Jayson Werth hit a pitch where he thought he had a home run and he bumped fists with first base coach Davey Lopes as he rounded first. The ball hit off the wall and Werth had to hustle to second for a double. This led to some apparent confusion by Braves radio announcer Don Sutton on whether Werth should have been called out on the play. This is the rule that he was referring to:

Rule 7.09(h): In the judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base, or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base.
Since Lopes wasn't assisting Werth in running the bases while the ball was in play, he wasn't called out. Raul Ibanez drove him in with a ground-rule double to right-center. Juan Castro singled to put men on the corners with none out. However Carlos Ruiz flied out to short right, Halladay struck out and Victorino hit a soft liner to center that McLouth got with a sliding grab.

Ryan Howard led off the sixth inning with a check swing that resulted in a freak single to left field. This proved to be significant because he scored on Werth's double. Raul Ibanez was intentionally walked and Hudson got three straight groundouts to end his day, including Escobar throwing out Werth at home for the first out.

The Braves tried to get rallies going the next two innings, but they were snuffed out both times. Melky Cabrera singled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, but was stranded with four pitches resulting in three outs. In the seventh, Jones and McCann hit back-to-back singles to start it off. Glaus struck out, but Heyward drew a walk to load the bases. After a five-pitch at-bat, Escobar hit a hard liner up the middle that bounced off the mound. Chase Utley was able to corral it and start an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play, the Phillies' only one of the day.

Eric Hinske hit a bloop double down the left field line with one out in the eighth. He moved to third on Nate McLouth's groundout, but was stranded at third base when Martin Prado grounded out.

Tim Hudson was able to pitch around trouble after damage was done. The Phillies scored runs in the second and sixth innings. Both times after the scores, they had men on first and third with no one out. Both times, Hudson was able to keep the Phillies off of the board. He pitched six innings, allowing six hits, two runs (both earned), two intentional walks and five strikeouts. Jonny Venters continued his success, pitching two innings in relief, allowing no hits and getting two strikeouts. Takashi Saito finished the game for the Braves.

An Odd 'N End: The Braves are scuffling offensively as a team: they're 15th in the league in batting average (.227, three points above Houston's .224) and 13th in the league in slugging (.360, one of four teams below .400). Their league-leading 69 walks is what puts their on-base percentage tenth in the league (.329).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Miracle on Hank Aaron Drive: Late Long Bombs Lead Atlanta


The Phillies have now had their Tommy Hanson-Rafael Soriano moment. After a dominating performance by starter Kyle Kendrick, Charlie Manuel turned the 3-0 game over to his closer and could only watch as the Braves went on to win the game 4-3.

Kendrick, who had an ERA of 17.27 in 5 2/3 innings over two starts, simply dominated the Braves with his sinker. The one inning he ran into trouble in was the fourth. Martin Prado singled with one out and Chipper Jones hit a double off the right-field wall to move Martin to third base. Brian McCann was intentionally walked to get to Troy Glaus. Glaus to grounded to Polanco at third to start an inning-ending double play.

The Braves didn't have another base runner until McCann singled in the seventh. A walk to Nate McLouth in the eighth inning provided the Braves with their only other baserunner against Kendrick. The Phillies starter went eight innings and allowed four hits and two walks, striking out two Braves hitters.

Tommy Hanson, on the other hand, had a strange game. He pitched well, but the Phillies lineup made him throw a lot of pitches and got a couple of runs thanks to some funky hits. With one out, Chase Utley checked his swing on a full-count pitch and ended up grounding the ball down the line past third base for a freak double. Ryan Howard then grounded into the overshift, but the ball kicked off of Glaus's glove for a single, allowing Utley to score. In the fifth, Placido Polanco had a similar double to Utley's hit.

Hanson was removed after 4 2/3 innings in favor of Eric O'Flaherty to face the lefty Phillie mashers. Utley foiled that plan by singling up the middle, scoring Polanco and putting the Phillies up 2-0. O'Flaherty got Howard to line out to Glaus to end the inning.

Peter Moylan pitched a scoreless inning and Kris Medlen went two innings. He allowed a run on two singles and a fielder's choice in the seventh, but didn't allow anymore damage. Jesse Chavez pitched a scoreless ninth for the Braves.

In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies brought in Ryan Madson, who was 3-3 in save opportunities this year. Prado, the leadoff batter, grounded out to short to start the inning. Jones then coaxed a walk out of Madson to bring up McCann. The Braves catcher lined out to Raul Ibanez in left for the second out. Glaus then swung and missed at a fastball then watched a pitch in the dirt. The next pitch, a fastball down the middle, was deposited in the left-field seats. Jason Heyward, who was 0-3 on the day, was next. He watched a fastball on the outside corner then got a change-up down the middle of the plate. The ball ended up in the right-field seats and the game was tied.

The Phillies didn't score off of their former closer Billy Wagner in the top of the tenth, so Manuel sent in The Ageless One (as Braves announcer Joe Simpson called him) Jose Contreras to pitch the frame. Braves outfielder Nate McLouth was the first to face him. The struggling center fielder tomahawked a 2-2 pitch to give the Braves an improbable victory. The whole team went into the clubhouse so as McLouth returned to the dugout, there wasn't anyone but a batboy there. The team celebrated in the hallway to the dugout instead.

My Take and Odds 'N Ends: I was prepared to accept defeat, but knowing that Kyle Kendrick was coming out of the game gave the Braves players and their fans (including me) some hope. It paid off immensely.

When I said the Phillies now have their Hanson-Soriano moment, I was referring to a game on September 9th last year where the Braves got eight innings of five-hit shutout ball from Hanson and he had only thrown 98 pitches. Despite that, Cox put in Soriano to close the game, when he had pitched in three of the last four days. Almost like clockwork, the Astros scored two runs with a single, double, intentional walk and another single to win the game. Thankfully, I think Cox is shying away from that type of managing this early on in the season.

All alone, Jason Heyward has driven in 25% of the Braves' runs (16 of 64). Far and away, he's the best player at adding Win Probability percentage points for his team (2.6 total), which is twice the total of Brian McCann's amount (1.3). For what it's worth, the Braves player right now who has the lowest total is Troy Glaus (-1.6).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Heyward Strikes Again; Braves Pull Out Wild Win To Win Series


The game was a hundredth of a second from being over on Troy Glaus's groundout. A walk later, the game was over as Heyward bailed out his team with a two-run single, getting the Braves a 4-3 victory.

Braves starter Jair Jurrjens, who faced cocerns due to his drop in velocity in his terrible start agsinst San Diego, pitched eight strong innings, becoming the first Brave to go past the seventh this season.

However, it was almost all for naught.

The Braves took the lead in the first inning when Matt Diaz led off with the Braves' first hit, a tripe to right-center. This was the Braves first hit since Brooks Conrad's double in the eighth inning of Friday's win. Diaz came home on Martin Prado's liner to left fielder Seth Smith. They would have had a second run in the second inning on Matt Diaz's single to right, but Carlos Gonzalez threw Melky Cabrera at the plate trying to score.

The Rockies answered quickly in the second inning with a double by shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and a one-out RBI single by third baseman Ian Stewart. The Braves took the lead again when Jason Heyward walked with the bases loaded and two out. Rockies starter Greg Smith got Cabrera to strike out to prevent anymore runs from scoring.

The next few innings were dominated by Jurrjens and more missed opportunties by the Braves. Matt Diaz doubled with one out in the fourth, but was stranded there. In the seventh, Chipper Jones walked and moved to second base on McCann's flyout, but was picked off by reliever Joe Beimel. Jason Heyward drew a walk from Rafael Betancourt to lead off the eighth, was sacrified to second and moved to third on a wild pitch with Eric Hinske at the plate. But he was stranded as Hinske grounded to first and Diaz flew out to center fielder Dexter Fowler on the first pitch.

By that time, Jurrjens had been victimized by two solo home runs. With one out in the seventh, Ian Stewart yanked a ball down the right field line to tie the game. Carlos Gonzalez then led off the eighth inning by hitting a fastball similar to Stewart down the right field line. That gave the Rockies a 3-2 lead. Jurrjens finished the inning with two strikeouts and a foul fly to Escobar. He allowed just five hits and three walks, striking out nine Rockies, but he was slated to take the loss.

Closer Franklin Morales came in to finish the game for the Rockies. Here's how the inning transpired:

  • Prado led off with a single.
  • Prado advances to second base on a balk.
  • Jones flies out to center field.
  • McCann walks and is replaced by pinch-runner Nate McLouth.
  • Troy Glaus bounces to Todd Helton off first, who throws to second to force McLouth. Glaus beats the return throw to Morales at first base. Brooks Conrad replaces Glaus as a pinch-runner.
  • Yunel Escobar walks.
  • Heyward grounds a single to left field, Prado and Conrad score.

Frankly, I can't think of anything else to say other than this is a game I'm glad the Braves won.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ubaldo Makes History At Braves' Expense; No-Hits Atlanta At Turner


A first-inning run by the Rockies off Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami turned out to be all the scoring they needed. Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez pitched the first no-hitter in Rockies history, blanking the Atlanta Braves 4-0.

Jimenez needed 128 pitches to complete the feat. His control wasn't the greatest; he had 56 balls compared to 72 strikes, and walked six Braves hitters. But in the sixth inning, he pitched exclusively from the stretch and retired every Braves batter he faced from then on, ending the game by retiring the last 15 Braves batters.

The closest calls to ending the no-hitter came in the seventh inning. With a 3-1 count, Troy Glaus smacked a pitch into left-center. Dexter Fowler, who was shading him a little towards right field, sprinted to his left and caught the ball with a perfectly-timed dive. The next batter, Yunel Escobar, hit a low sinking line drive that Fowler caught about two feet off the ground.

Kawakami went five innings for the Braves and allowed four runs on eight hits. He also got picked off of second base on a perfect throw by catcher Miguel Olivo. Jimenez also hit a two-out single off of him that scored the second run for the Rockies. Carlos Gonzalez, who doubled and scored the game's first run, drove in Jimenez and Ian Stewart with another two-bagger, giving him two on the day.

The Braves bullpen was the only bright spot, featuring the major league debut of left-hander Jonny Venters. He did his job, going three innings, allowing just one hit and one walk, striking out two Rockie hitters. Jesse Chavez pitched a scoreless ninth to finish the pitching for the Braves.

Odds 'N Ends: The last time the Braves were no-hit was, of course, Randy Johnson's perfect game on May 18, 2004. Chipper Jones is the only Brave to participate in the two recent no-hitters.

Martin Prado, whose 14-game hitting streak was snapped, was the only Braves players to walk twice.

Jonny Venters joined four other Atlanta Braves players to pitch three innings in their major league debuts:

  • Jonny Venters, 4/17/2010 vs. COL - 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO
  • Kevin Barry, 6/26/2006 vs. NYY - 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO
  • Trey Hodges, 9/10/2002 vs. NYM - 3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO, W
  • Derrin Ebert, 4/6/1999 vs. PHI - 3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO, S
  • Cecil Upshaw, 10/1/1966 vs. CIN - 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO
Kenshin Kawakami has only gotten three runs of support this year from the Braves, continuing a pattern from last season. If Kawakami had qualified last season, he would have had the worst run support in the National League (3.55 R/G).

Braves Back Lowe's Tightrope Act Once More, Beat Rockies


At the end of the day, Braves veteran Derek Lowe became the second National League hurler to win three games, getting the victory in a 9-5 Braves win.

Of course, he got the victory the way he always does: pitching just good enough and getting a lot of offense behind him. The Braves blew the game open in the second inning, chasing Rockies starter Jason Hammel. Seven singles, three walks, a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly led to seven runs in the frame. The Braves added another run in the third off of Manny Corpas when Eric Hinske singled home Nate McLouth, driving in his third run of the game.

Lowe danced around a first-and-third, none out situation in the first inning by striking out Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki. Ryan Spilborghs was caught trying to steal second base by three feet.

In the fourth, after inducing a double play from Helton, Lowe gave up a single to Tulowitzki and a double to Brad Hawpe, breaking the shutout. The situation became a lot more dicey when Ian Stewart reached on an error by Hinske and Lowe walked Clint Barmes. Pinch-hitter Seth Smith launched a fly ball to deep right field. Jason Heyward, who had two singles on the day, attempted to scale the scoreboard wall and catch the ball, but it landed two rows out of his reach, making the score 8-4.

Chipper Jones was able to answer in the bottom of the frame with a two-out solo home run. His blast came after he looked silly flopping over the plate after fouling off a pitch from reliever Joe Beimel.

Lowe walked Hawpe to start the sixth, but got Chris Iannetta to ground back to him. Cox then removed him in favor of lefty Eric O'Flaherty, who worked Thursday. Lowe finished the day with seven hits and three earned runs allowed, with two walks and five strikeouts.

O'Flaherty stayed in the game, finishing the seventh inning. He allowed a run on a walk and a double, but struck out three batters. Kris Medlen finished off the game for the Braves with two very effective innings. His only hit allowed was a single to Spilborghs, and he struck out three batters.

Odds 'N Ends: Cabrera had his first multiple-hit game with the Braves, garnering two singles. The only other game where Cabrera reached base more than twice this year was the 5-4 loss to the Giants where he reached base with a double and two walks.

Martin Prado has a fourteen game hitting streak over two seasons, batting .458/.529/.644 over that span. His 19 hits in 10 games to start the season matches the club record set by Deion Sanders in 1992. Prado needs one hit to tie Neon Deion's record for 11 games and two hits to set a new one.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Double Feature Post: Braves Take Final Two At PETCO To Win Series


Brave starter Tommy Hanson pitched six effective innings and the Braves exacted a bit of revenge for Monday's thrashing, defeating the Padres 6-1.

Hanson and Padres left-hander Clayton Richard, who looked extra-intimidating in the Padres' camouflage jerseys and green cap, traded zeroes for four-and-a-half innings. The Braves
had just three hits in their five half-innings and struck out five times.

San Diego struck first in the fifth. With one out, Hanson nicked Richard on the shin with a breaking ball. After striking out Everth Cabrera, David Eckstein singled and Adrian Gonzalez followed with another single, driving home Cabrera. Hanson got out of the inning by getting Kyle Blanks to ground out to Chipper at third. He finished the day with four hits, four walks and seven strikeouts.

The Braves struck back quickly in the top of the sixth. With one out, Martin Prado hit a double past Gonzalez down the right field line, bringing his consecutive game hit streak to twelve. Chipper Jones walked and Brian McCann smacked a double to right-center to score two and give the Braves the lead again. Troy Glaus singled him to third and he was erased on a fielder's choice to third. Jason Heyward then singled Glaus home. Hanson only allowed a walk in the sixth to finish his day.

Atlanta added three more in the seventh with Troy Glaus's first home run of the season. The 417-foot shot to left that landed in the second deck upped the score to 6-1 and that's where it stayed. Peter Moylan, Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner each pitched a scoreless inning for the Braves; Saito and Wagner struck out two batters each.

My Take: I've sometimes questioned the way Bobby Cox uses his relievers, but it's all right that Moylan, Saito and Wagner pitched in this game; Moylan hadn't been in a game in three days and Saito and Wagner were shelved for four. Wagner did throw in the pen in Lowe's last start. As Joe Simpson and Chip Caray mentioned in the color commentary, it's a question of "rest vs. rust".

At long last, Troy Glaus had his first extra-base hit of the season. This streak (7 games) was the longest that Glaus has started a season without an extra-base hit. His previous high was three games, starting the 2000 season with the Angels. His repaired shoulder may still be a factor for him.

Brian McCann had two doubles in Wednesday's game. That marks the 32nd time he has had two extra-base hits in a game and the 13th time he has had two doubles in a game.


Despite Tim Hudson's impression of teammate Derek Lowe, the Braves held off the Padres on Throwback Thursday/Jackie Robinson Day and pulled away in the eighth inning to earn a 6-2 victory.

Both teams sported uniforms from the 1984 season. What was unusual about them is that every player wore #42 as part of an MLB-wide tribute to Robinson, baseball's first black player to break the "unofficial" color line. That was 63 years ago today. Prior to that, the last black player to play a major league game was Moses Fleetwood Walker, a catcher who played 42 games for the American Association's Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884.

The baby-blue clad Braves struck quickly off of Padre starter Mat Latos. Martin Prado hit a long home run to left field that gave the Braves an early 1-0 lead. They tried for more in the second, but Jerry Hairston, Jr., who plays just about every position, made two excellent plays to take hits away from Yunel Escobar and Jason Heyward in the second inning.

The two combined to get the Braves a second run in the fourth. With two out, Escobar singled and stole second base. Heyward then smacked a long double to right-center that scored Escobar. Atlanta added a run in the fifth when Chipper Jones, who reached on a fielder's choice, scored on Brian McCann's double to left-center.

Will Venable, who was 12-35 with four homers and 11 runs scored against the Braves in 8 games plus two at-bats, added a fifth homer that bounced off of the top of the scoreboard in right field. After a great jumping grab by Prado and a bouncer back to Hudson, pinch hitter Matt Stairs doubled to right-center and Cabrera chased him home with a single.

From that moment, the Braves bullpen shut down the Padres for the rest of the game. Kris Medlen, Eric O'Flaherty, Moylan, Saito and Wagner combined four 3 1/3 innings of no-hit, no-run ball with four strikeouts.

To support the effort the Braves added three runs in the eighth inning. Jones walked and stole second. After McCann popped up and Glaus struck out, Escobar singled past a diving Chase Headley at third and the ball was deflected into left field, allowing Chipper to score standing up. Heyward then launched an opposite-field blast that nearly gave him his fourth homer of the year. Instead, the ball bounced off the warning track, giving him a double that scored Escobar. Eric Hinske brought Heyward home with an opposite-field single.

My Take And Odds 'N Ends: While I still believe that having every player wear #42 was tacky, the annoyance subsided as the game wore on. It was a little humorous to see "42" displayed in everyone's number slot graphic on SportsSouth.

I think a more meaningful tribute would be to have one player nominated or elected from each team to wear #42 from now on. Some teams may not have to do that, like the Yankees.

1984 was also the year of an intense game between the Braves and Padres that became a beanball war from the very first pitch. The August 12th game featured three bench-clearing fights, with several Braves players, two Padre pitchers and both managers being ejected. Two Padres coaches serving as managers were also ejected. There were even a few fans who were arrested for joining the fighting. Pascual Perez, the target of the Padres pitchers the entire night for hitting Alan Wiggins with the first pitch, pitched eight innings of five-hit ball, allowing just one run. He got removed for a pinch-runner after he was finally hit by a pitch in the bottom of the eighth.

After walking no one in his first start against the Giants, Tim Hudson was bit by whatever walk bug bit Derek Lowe and he lost control with his pitches. In his Braves career, Hudson has walked five batters seven times; he has a 3-4 record in those games. Even more interesting: in each win, Hudson allowed exactly two earned runs.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Let The Hand-Wringing Commence

In a recent column by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, Orlando Hudson claims that black players are being discriminated against in the free agent market. What's worse is that Passan seems to agree with it.

MINNEAPOLIS – As Major League Baseball prepares for its annual Jackie Robinson Day on Thursday, one prominent African-American player questioned teams’ commitment to employing black players past their prime years.
A "commitment" to employ black players "past their prime". Just one sentence into the article, we have a problem. Why should a team take on a player who may not contribute as much as they did in the past with the color of their skin as a factor? That's a classic definition of racism.

“You see guys like Jermaine Dye without a job,” Minnesota Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson said Monday. “Guy with [27 home runs and 81 RBIs] and can’t get a job. Pretty much sums it up right there, no? You’ve got some guys who miss a year who can come back and get $5, $6 million, and a guy like Jermaine Dye can’t get a job. A guy like Gary Sheffield, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, can’t get a job. …

“We both know what it is. You’ll get it right. You’ll figure it out. I’m not gonna say it because then I’ll be in [trouble].”
We know it, huh? Lets see who we're talking about here:

During the off-season Dye turned down a $3 million contract offer from the Cubs, was rumored to be linked with the Nationals during the off-season after Elijah Dukes was released, and talks petered out with the Brewers.

If Dye was looking for more money from some team, he struck out and now he doesn't have a job. It definitely seems as if it's mostly his own fault.

Gary Sheffield, on the other hand, is a 41-year old outfielder who hit well in a part-time role with the Mets, but was brutal in the field. Now, he's one year older and probably still has a glove of iron. No National League team is going to take him and there are only 14 DH spots in the American League.

What Hudson wants to say: He believes there is a racist element to the free-agent market in baseball, and that it’s paralyzing the 36-year-old Dye’s ability to earn what non-blacks with commensurate numbers received in the offseason.
Wow! What a damning statement! I'd sure love to see you back that up while Dye lobbies the Mariners and Sheffield tries to get younger.

“Call it what you want to,” Hudson said. “I ain’t fit to say it. After I retire I’ll say it. I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff to say after I retire.”
So, he's not fit to say it now, but after he retires, he's going to go all Kitty Kelly on us?

Hudson’s comments came on the heels of Dye turning down a one-year contract offer from the Washington Nationals for less than a quarter of his $11.5 million salary with the Chicago White Sox last season. After a first half in which he slugged .567 and hit 20 home runs, Dye spent the second half of 2009 in a deep slump from which he never emerged, batting .179 and slugging .297 while playing subpar defense in right field.

Hudson believed Dye’s credentials – 164 home runs in the last five years and an OPS 21 percent better than the league average – would buy him the benefit of the doubt.
Okay, let me get this straight: Hudson believes that Dye should be paid according to his track record despite the fact that he utterly tanked for three months last season offensively and defensively. If that is the case, then that should work for trades too. The Braves should have been able to get something more for Jeff Francoeur and something, period, for Kelly Johnson because of their positive track records.

Dye hoped to play for a contender, and while he understood he would take a pay cut, he expected a deal in the $4 million-plus range. Hudson said he and Dye spoke on the phone this offseason about his status, though they never broached specifics about why the market never materialized above $3.5 million, a number approached or exceeded by a number of players with inferior credentials.

“We don’t even get into it,” Hudson said. “We both know what it is.”
Translation: Dye wanted to get paid. He didn't get paid what he wanted and now he doesn't have a job. It must be because he's old and black.

And what's this about "players with inferior credentials"? Hm. I probably have to keep reading for that.

The Baltimore Orioles guaranteed $4.5 million to first baseman Garrett Atkins, 30, after he hit .226 and slugged .342 in 354 at-bats last season.
Atkins, a white guy, is also a corner infielder and six years younger than Dye, thus more likely to return to his pre-2009 production. Dye was unlikely to play first base despite expressing interest, so I'm not sure this a particularly good comparison.

Thirty-three-year-old Aubrey Huff’s(notes) on-base percentage was 30 points lower than Dye’s and his slugging percentage 69 points lower, yet the San Francisco Giants gave him $3 million
Another white guy, but three years younger than Dye also a player who had been playing first base and DHing for a few years. He shuffled between DH and the corner infield and outfield spots his entire career. The only times Dye has been in the infield are for one game at first and one at short in 2005 with the White Sox.

The Chicago Cubs paid 31-year-old Xavier Nady $3.3 million after an elbow injury limited him to 28 at-bats last season.
A third white guy, he's also five years younger than Dye and called on to be a utility-type like Huff once was. He's already played in the outfield and first base this year.

Whether teams with first base openings didn’t trust Dye’s ability to convert or others with outfield slots preferred different players, his presence on the open market in mid-April is particularly puzzling when coupled with the fates of other black players.
The elephant in the room behind Curtain #2!

Second baseman Ray Durham, coming off a 2008 in which he got on base at a .380 clip and slugged .432, couldn’t get anything more than a backup sniff as a 37-year-old. Durham’s case, one source said, is among those being looked at by the MLB players’ association in its potential collusion case against MLB.
I'm not sure how they can argue collusion with this. Durham did have a fine season (.289/.380/.432), but it was in a diminished role with two teams (304 PAs with San Francisco, 112 PAs with Milwaukee). Maybe there was concern that he couldn't take a full role any longer.

Also, I'm noticing a trend here: Every black player cited so far is above 35 years of age. As of this blog post, according to's Play Index, there are only 81 baseball players 35 or older. Out of those 81 players, only 14 are outfielders or first basemen. That either means that there are entrenched players at the positions or teams want to go younger at said positions. Dye's real crime may just be getting older.

Outfielder Kenny Lofton(notes) put up an above-average OPS as a 40-year-old in 2007 and hasn’t been seen since.

And Sheffield, 41, remains a free agent after slugging .451 with spacious Citi Field as his home stadium.
I was wondering when we'd get to them. Kenny Lofton somewhere along the line has garnered the reputation for being a "malcontent". In recent years, he hasn't done anything to disprove that. After he left the Yankees, he was rumored to trying to steer C. C. Sabathia away from signing with the Yankees. This came after he agreed with teammate Gary Sheffield's comments in which he said black players were treated differently than whites in the Yankee clubhouse. This essentially branded longtime manager Joe Torre as a racist.

There are other factors, of course. The free-agent market has shifted drastically against older players. The game places a greater emphasis on defense. And in the individual cases, Lofton came with a difficult-to-handle reputation, as did Sheffield, who once alluded to possible racism from his manager with the New York Yankees, Joe Torre – an accusation backed up by Lofton.
Okay, I win. Blog post over.

But wait, there's more...

Never has Dye been lumped among the malcontents, and his case lends credence to a belief among some black baseball players that should frighten MLB: They’re treated differently. True or not, it doesn’t matter. The specter of racism in a game still haunted by its history – and trying to rejuvenate itself among black youth – is a disturbing reality.
First, note the scary adjectives and noun:

  • should frighten MLB
  • The specter of racism
  • a game still haunted by its history
  • is a disturbing reality
That paragraph could have been so much better, but it's watered down by hyperbole. Whether black players believe there is a racist conspiracy against them is their problem. Major League Baseball shouldn't just sign unemployed black players because blacks and most Hispanics were shut out of the major leagues for 63 years. Not only that, but no one has let them forget about those 63 years for the 63 years since.

There are some things that go on in the game that shouldn’t be going on,” Hudson said. “But it’s part of baseball. It’s part of life. Deal with it.”

Perhaps Hudson’s stake is personal. Two years ago, he entered free agency seeking a multiyear deal. He ended up taking an incentive-loaded $3.4 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This season, the 32-year-old hoped for multiple years again. He signed with Minnesota for $5 million over one year.
The second-base market is one that has been closed off to most free agents over the past few years. Almost every team has a regular starter at second base, with a few exceptions. Hudson had to sign with the exceptions both times. That doesn't mean baseball is racist.

Hudson’s words spoke enough that Dye and his agent, Bob Bry, declined to comment Monday night. Hudson going public was unique, too, as other players worry it will have a negative effect on the issue.
Right: You're going to get a bunch of dudes on the Internet disagreeing with it.

While some will accuse Hudson of race baiting and paranoia, the reality is quite the opposite: He is taking public a concern that promotes discussion and forces MLB to be honest with itself about the precipitous drop in African-American players over the last two decades.

"Promotes discussion"? If accusations by Sheffield, Lofton, Hudson and many other black players hasn't led to a solution, there are two reasons for it:

  • MLB isn't going to bother with it.
  • The problem is so overstated that it isn't significant.
You'd think that with so much racial sensitivity in today's society that Major League Baseball would bend over backwards to make sure black players find employment. Apparently, that's not happening.

As for the drop in black players overall, the main culprits are the NBA and NFL. Basketball and football seem to be much more popular with black Americans and that's why Major League Baseball is stepping up their inner-city programs.

Between the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program and Urban Youth Academies, baseball has tried to resolve that chasm between the sport and black children. The issue: Compared to the football juggernaut and the stranglehold of basketball, baseball finishes a distant third.
... wow, I scare myself sometimes.

While the tremendous influx of black talent in the major leagues in recent years – from Ryan Howard and Carl Crawford to Justin Upton and Jason Heyward – is a positive sign, it doesn’t eliminate the feeling that others have been and continue to be mistreated.
Funny how all of those players have more talent than Orlando Hudson. And who are these "other" black players, by the way? All this article has really proven is that one player is upset that he can't get a secure job and is upset about another who screwed up his shot at getting a job and may not get one this season. If this is all about "promoting discussion", then anyone at all who feels as if they're being discriminated against should speak up and not make it seem like it's an isolated case.

So as players receive their special jerseys this week with the No. 42 on the back and the sport celebrates Robinson breaking the color line, baseball will examine itself again and wonder how it can change a perception that is now six decades old and seems to be going nowhere.
It's a perception that's most likely born of suspicion and paranoia: "Because my ancestors were wronged because of the color of their skin, I may be wronged too." That's not good.

By the way, everyone wearing #42 on Jackie Robinson day is a total and utter farce. I was fine with individual players doing it, but having it be mandatory for everyone is just going too far.

EDIT: Slight grammar fix
SECOND EDIT: Deleted three "(notes)" from quotes

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chargers 17, Falcons 2. Oh, Wait...


Jair Jurrjens didn't have anything. Jo-Jo Reyes didn't have anything either. That pretty much sums it up.

Highlighted by a frantic 10-run fourth inning, the San Diego Padres defeated the Atlanta Braves by a score of 17-2.

Will Venable started his big day in the second inning with a triple to the right field corner. He scored on Nick Hundley's infield single.

This is how the fourth inning transpired:

1. Chase Headley doubles.
2. Will Venable singles, Headley to third.
3. Nick Hundley walks, Venable to second.
4. Tony Gwynn, Jr. walks, Headley scores, Venable to third, Hundley to second.
5. Kevin Correia hits a bloop single to right, Venable and Hundley score, Gwynn, Jr. to third.
6. Everth Cabrera grounds to second base, Omar Infante throws home to Brian McCann, Gwynn scores. Correia to second.
7. David Eckstein flies out to right.
8. Adrian Gonzalez hits a ground-rule double. Correia scores, Cabrera to third.
Jo-Jo Reyes comes in to pitch.
9. Kyle Blanks doubles, Gonzalez and Cabrera score.
10. Headley singles and reaches second base on an error by McCann, Blanks scores.
11. Venable hits a home run to center field, Headley scores.
12. Hundley walks.
13. Gwynn, Jr. strikes out looking.
14. Correia strikes out swinging.

The Padres added more in the fifth inning off of Reyes when Blanks belted a three-run homer, making the score 14-0. The Braves were able to break the shutout the next inning with an RBI single by Troy Glaus and a bases-loaded walk by Jason Heyward. The Padres got back two of those runs and one more in the seventh. with an RBI single by Hundley and a two-run double by Gwynn. Jesse Chavez was able to put out the fire for the Braves by striking out four of the five batters he faced.

Safe to say, that's pretty much the story of the game. Kevin Correia's 5 2/3 inning stint where he allowed just two runs got lost in the barrage of runs. The Padres pen threw 3 1/3 scoreless inning, striking out five batters in total.

My Commentary: The lineup returned to the same one as Opening Day. Of course, it didn't have the same result. Chipper Jones went 0-3 in his return, but didn't appear to have any ill effects from his right oblique injury.

The Padres beat the Braves by fifteen runs. They've won by that amount or larger just four times in franchise history; the most recent drubbing came at the expense of the Florida Marlins on August 23, 2002 (18-2). Their 24 hits tied the club record, last accomplished on April 19, 1982 against the Giants.

Melky Cabrera isn't exactly being a great leadoff hitter so far. In six games positioned in the leadoff spot, he's just 2-26 (30 PA) with one double, four walks and two runs scored. This is a little strange, as he has good career splits as a leadoff hitter:

297 PA, .290/.373/.408, 13 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 36 RBI.

Coincidentally, Cabrera is horrible as the very first batter of the game:

64 PA, .179/.281/.231, 1 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR

So it remains to be seen what he'll do if he remains in the leadoff spot. He'll bat better than .077, surely, but how productive will he be?

EDIT: Added link to box score

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Freak and Kung Fu Panda Vault Giants Ahead of Braves


Atlanta was cruising along with good pitching and the lead, and then something bad happens to make them lose the lead and eventually, the game. The same script played out just like Friday's game, except the teams didn't need extra innings to finish the Giants' 6-3 victory.

In the first inning, Brian McCann got the jump on Tim Lincecum with a two-run, two-out homer into the stands in right field. Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami, who earned the nickname "Dragon Slayer" for pitching his best when opposing other teams' aces, made that stand up as he retired the first eleven batters he faced. Pablo Sandoval broke that streak with a triple and scored on Aubrey Huff's single, which beat Atlanta's unusual right infield shift on him.

The Braves couldn't get anything else going against Lincecum in the meantime. After the top of the sixth, they had only mustered four hits since the home run and struck out six times (seven overall). In the bottom of the sixth, the Giants grounded out twice to start the frame. Sandoval then singled and Huff walked to move him to second. Mark DeRosa then singled to right field. Jason Heyward attempted to throw out Sandoval at the plate, but his throw was up the third base line and McCann couldn't block it. The ball struck Sandoval and rolled into foul territory behind the plate. The confusion allowed Huff to come around and score the go-ahead run. Kawkami finished the inning and left the game in the seventh for a pinch-hitter. His day included just one walk and five hits allowed in six innings.

Lincecum struck out the side after getting the 3-2 lead to finish his day with seven innings pitched and ten strikeouts. Kris Medlen answerd in the bottom of the inning by striking out two of the three men he faced.

The Braves were held off the scoreboard in the eighth by set-up man Jeremy Affeldt. Aaron Rowand led off the Giants' half with a single was erased on a fielder's choice by Escobar. Sandoval then smacked Medlen's first offering into the right field seats to increase the Giants' lead to three.

With two out, Huff hit a fly ball to left field. The wind messed with it enough that Diaz had the ball go off his glove. Huff reached third on the error, probably assisted by Diaz dropping the ball as he was trying to pick it up. Bengie Molina drove Huff home with a single.

Heyward somewhat made up for his error with a similar home run to yesterday; an opposite-field shot to left. That closed the gap to 6-3, and that's how the game ended after Matt Diaz struck out.

My Commentary: The Braves blew another quality start, which makes them 1-2 in that department after six games. Atlanta was 64-35 in quality starts last year. It's always frustrating when a quality start is blown, but two in one series almost makes it unbearable.

Heyward now leads the Braves in the young season with three home runs. He may lead the league in strikeouts (9), but the production has been there for the first week.

In an illustrative note about small sample sizes, Jeff Francoeur has a bigger OPS+ (299) in the first week than all the Braves outfielders' OPS+es added together (278):

Melky Cabrera - 11
Matt Diaz - 24
Jason Heyward - 180
Nate McLouth - 63

The problem is likely Diaz and McLouth getting limited action and Cabrera being exposed as Gregor Blanco with power.

Atlanta Halts AT&T Jinx, Heyward Helps Power Comeback and Win


Derek Lowe lost control of his pitches yesterday, but made it through his start relatively unscathed. Jason Heyward helped pick him up with a home run and the Braves piled on runs with the aid of Giants miscues to win the game 7-2.

The first three innings featured the Giants and Braves trading goose eggs. Atlanta left three runners on base in the first two innings and the Giants left the bases loaded in the third.

San Francisco struck first when Juan Uribe executed a successful hit-and-run with one out, driving in Aubrey Huff from third base. Uribe was thrown out trying to steal and Eli Whiteside struck out to end the inning.

After leaving seven runners on base through four, the Braves got on the board when Jason Heyward hit a letter-high fastball over the wall in left for his second career home run. That tied the game and Derek Lowe made it hold up despite losing control of his pitches. Sandoval grounded to second to start the inning, but Glaus couldn't handle the throw. Lowe then walked Huff on six pitches. He got Mark DeRosa to ground to Prado to start a 5-4-3 double, but then he lost control again and was forced to walk Uribe to load the bases. On the second pitch to Eli Whiteside, he hit a hard grounder that Escobar slid to corral and he spun and fired to Glaus at first. Whiteside slid headfirst into the base but was out by about a step as Glaus picked the ball out of the dirt.

The Braves opened the floodgates in their next three frames, scoring six runs with the aid of four walks, an error, and four wild pitches. Troy Glaus was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force in the go-ahead run and Jason Heyward had an RBI single to bring home the third run. Infante scored on a wild pitch in the eighth and singled home Eric Hinske in the ninth. Hinske had a pinch-hit double, which drove in Heyward, and reached third on a balk, after which he scored.

Peter Moylan and Takashi Saito each pitched a scoreless inning, with Saito striking out two batters. Jesse Chavez came on to pitch with a 7-1 lead and allowed a walk and two singles, which scored a run, but he got a double play to end the ball game.

My Commentary: Lowe set a career-high in walks in a game with seven (two intentional). He became the 33rd Braves pitcher in recorded baseball history to be credited with a victory and have seven or more walks in his stint. The franchise record is 11, set by Jimmy Freeman on a complete-game effort on September 1, 1972 against the Phillies. The Braves won the game 11-5.

It was almost pathetic to see Lowe lose control of his pitches like he did. To his credit, he kept it up and was able to get out of the sixth inning thanks to that amazing Escobar play and Glaus dig. The advanced fielding metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating and Fielding Runs Above Average may not show it, but I do believe that Escobar is an above-average fielding shortstop at best.

Jason Heyward's home run shows exactly what kind of power he has. If he can continue to be consistent, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll win the NL Rookie of the Year, even if Stephen Strasburg comes up in the middle of the season.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Marathon Ends With Some Controversy, Giants Victorious


The Braves went from cruising, to devastated, to excruciated and then disappointed.

The Giants erased the Braves' two-run lead with one out in the ninth and managed to push across a run four innings later, winning by a score of 5-4.

Tim Hudson, the Braves starter, was sharp from the start, allowing just two Giant baserunners through six innings. Jonathan Sanchez was as ineffective by comparison, as he left in the fifth inning trailing 2-0. The score became 3-0 when Matt Diaz singled in a run off Brandon Medders, the new pitcher. In the seventh, the Giants got on the board with two RBI groundouts following a single by Aaron Rowand and a double by Edgar Renteria. The Braves added a run in the eighth on a bases-loaded walk to David Ross, but left the bases loaded at the end of the inning.

Takashi Satio pitched a perfect eighth and the Braves were held off in the ninth. On Billy Wagner's first pitch in the bottom of the frame, Eugenio Velez smacked a double. Rowand struck out, but then Edgar Renteria hit a game-tying home run to send the game into extra innings.

The Braves left runners in scoring position in the 11th, unable to score off Brian Wilson or Sergio Romo. The Giants had a runner on second base with one out in the 11th but were held off by Peter Moylan. Pablo Sandoval reached second base on a bloop double to lead off the 12th against Kris Medlen and went to third on a sacrifice bunt. However, Travis Ishikawa's grounder wasn't deep enough in the infield to score Sandoval and Eli Whiteside struck out.

In the 13th, after Brian McCann went to second base on a throwing error by Affeldt, Kris Medlen was called out on missing a bunt attempt and Bobby Cox was tossed out arguing the call. Melky Cabrera flied out to right, Prado walked and Escobar flied out to right to end the inning.

The Giants' John Bowker flied out to right to start the 13th. Juan Uribe walked and tried to steal second base with two out and Aaron Rowand at the plate. Rowand swung and missed and may have hit McCann with his backswing because McCann threw the ball awkwardly into center field, allowing Uribe to move to third. Rowand then hit a grounder that got past Martin Prado into short left field. Escobar desperately tried to throw out Rowand, but was off the mark as Uribe scored and the Giants pulled out the victory.

My Commentary: The Braves may not miss Chipper Jones in this series, but it seemed as if the situational hitting problems that plagued Atlanta last year were happening again in this game. The Braves left 14 men on base and were 3-17 with runners in scoring position, including 0-3 in the 13th inning alone.

Jason Heyward continued to struggle as he garnered the Braves' second golden sombrero of the year. Since his home run to start his career, Heyward has been two for his last 17 with one walk and nine strikeouts. Only one of those strikeouts was of the looking variety.

Billy Wagner blew Tim Hudson's seven-inning start Friday afternoon. It was the first quality start of the year for the Braves' pitching staff. The team had 15 blown quality starts that ended up as losses last year.

Martin Prado is the sixth Brave since 1953 to get on base six or more times in a game and still have his team lose:

- CF Sonny Jackson, May 22, 1971: 4-4, 2B, BB, 3 R, ROE (New York 8, Atlanta 7, 11 inn.)
- LF Barry Bonnell, October 1st, 1978: 5-6, 2B, BB, 3 R, ROE (Cincinnati 10, Atlanta 8, 14 inn.)
- RF Claudell Washington, July 4th, 1985: 3-8, 3B, 2 BB, ROE (New York 16, Atlanta 13, 19 inn.)
- RF Dale Murphy, May 23, 1987: 1-3, 5 BB, 2 R (Chicago 7, Atlanta 6, 16 inn.)
- 3B Terry Pendleton, September 14, 1996: 5-5, 2B, BB, 3 R (New York 6, Atlanta 5, 12 inn.)
- 3B Martin Prado, April 9, 2010: 3-4, 3 BB, 2 R (San Francisco 5, Atlanta 4, 13 inn.)

Writer's Note: I did not see the entire game because of a previously-scheduled engagement, but I saw from the first to middle of the top of the fifth, then caught the 10th inning forward.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Two Is Enough; Cubs Shut Out Braves


As much as things went right in the first two games of the series for the Braves, nearly everything went wrong for them Thursday night. Randy Wells and the Cubs bullpen made two solo home runs stand up as Chicago shut out Atlanta 2-0.

Wells pitched six innings and allowed six hits and three walks. Twice he was able to get out of situations with runners in scoring position by getting double play groundouts from Troy Glaus in the third and Yunel Escobar in the sixth. Glaus's double play came after an error by Wells on a dropped throw to second base that loaded the bases.

In the meantime, Tommy Hanson was trying to match Wells, but he fell behind 1-0 in the second inning on a long home run to right by rookie Tyler Colvin. The blast was Colvin's first in his major league career. Marlon Byrd launched a blast to left field in the fourth inning to increase the lead to two runs. That's where pitching and defense took over.

Hanson, who struggled to hit the outside corner all night, managed to allow just five other Cub baserunners in 5 1/3 innings of work. He gave way to Eric O'Flaherty, who pitched 1 2/3 innings of relief, allowing no hits.

When Wells was removed in the sixth inning, Pinella chose his pitchers strictly on lefty-righty batters the rest of the game. Sean Marshall pitched to Jason Heyward and Nate McLouth, then he gave way to Esmilian Cardid, who pitched to pinch-hitter Matt Diaz to finish the sixth inning. Caridad worked into the seventh and left with Martin Prado on first and two out for the left-hander John Grabow to face Brian McCann. McCann walked, so Grabow was removed in favor of closer Carlos Marmol. He got Glaus to ground out, his second such result with a runner in scoring position, to end the inning.

Jesse Chavez, who had a terrible spring training (10 IP, 21 H, 14 ER, 12.60 ERA), pitched two innings of perfect relief in the eighth and ninth for the Braves. In the Braves' half of the ninth, Yunel Escobar lead off with a single. Jason Heyward then swung and missed at three sliders low and inside. After working a full count, Nate McLouth walked and Eric Hinske came on to pinch-hit. On a 2-0 count, he launched a pitch to center field, but it died at the warning track. Escobar moved up to third. The next batter, Melky Cabrera, struck out looking on a 1-2 pitch to end the game.

My Commentary: Hanson looked good early on, but he was having trouble all night trying to locate pitches on the outside corner, mostly to right-handed batters. This caused him to throw a lot of pitches and be taken out in the middle of the sixth inning. He was lucky that he only had those two runs scored off of him. It's great that he struck out seven batters, but he probably needs to throw a lot less pitches doing that.

The Braves bullpen has been perfect so far. Every pitcher has done excellent work; O'Flaherty mowed down the Cubs batters quickly tonight. I wonder how long that scoreless streak (10 2/3 innings) will last.

Troy Glaus had two singles and didn't strike out once and Martin Prado continued to stay hot early, getting three hits.

I know I railed against small sample sizes earlier, but what I'm fearing about Melky Cabrera seems to be coming true. Through the first three games, he's 1-13 with just a single and two walks while the former leadoff hitter Nate McLouth is 2-8 with two singles, three walks and a hit by pitch. Cox said that the Braves may change their lineup for Friday's game against the Giants. The game is against Johnathan Samchez, a left-hander, so Diaz may start in left field and David Ross at catcher while Cabrera and McCann get days off.

Jason Heyward looked every bit like a rookie in the ninth inning with Escobar on first and none out. I hope that he's learned his lesson quickly; the Braves can't afford to have him do that when the team needs him the most.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Chipper Authors Comeback, Braves Win First Series


Ryan Dempster and Sean Marshall shut the Braves down. John Grabow did not. With one out and Martin Prado on second, Chipper Jones smacked a home run to left-center field to give the Braves the lead and an eventual 3-2 victory.

The road to the final score was paved by pitching. Both starters, the Braves' Jair Jurrjens and the Cubs' Dempster, allowed just three hits and two walks in their stints.

However, the Braves struck first in the second inning.

With Brian McCann on first base and one out, Yunel Escobar swung and missed on a botched hit-and-run. McCann would have been tagged out had shortstop Mike Fontenot not lost control of the baseball. This assisted Jason Heyward, who smacked a double down the right field line, scoring McCann and giving the Braves a 1-0 lead.

Jair Jurrjens allowed just two hits and no runs into the fifth inning. After Byrd walked, Soriano grounded into a fielders choice as he appeared to beat the throw to first. Replays showed he was out by a half-step, but the inning continued.

Mike Fontenot fouled off some pitches before getting a single, moving Soriano to third base. Geovany Soto then was walked as Jurrjens again couldn't find the strike zone. Dempster then hit a ball that handcuffed first baseman Troy Glaus as he tried to backhand it; that error scored a run. Ryan Theriot then lifted a sacrifice fly to center to give the Cubs the lead.

In the meantime, the Braves hadn't gotten a batter on base since the third inning and were held in check as they struggled to hit Dempster's pitches. The Cubs' former closer racked up four straight strikeouts at one point, finishing with nine in six innings. Sean Marshall, who tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings in the series opener, struck out two batters himself.

Long reliever Kris Medlen came on in relief of Jurrjens in the sixth inning after the starter threw 94 pitches. Medlen allowed just two singles in two innings of work. He was helped in the sixth by Glaus spearing a liner hit by Marlon Byrd and doubling up Aramis Ramirez.

In the eighth, after allowing a one-out single to Fukudome a stolen base and a walk to Derrek Lee, Braves reliever Peter Moylan got Ramirez to ground to Escobar for a 6-4-3 double play.

Grabow then came in to pitch for the Cubs. With one out, Martin Prado hit a high fastball to the wall in left-center, just missing a home run. Jones then worked Grabow to a 3-1 count. Grabow then tried a change-up on the outside corner and Chipper belted it into the left-center field stands, giving the lead back to the Braves. Young reliever Esmailin Caridad came on and struck out Troy Glaus, his fourth whiff of the game, to end the frame.

Billy Wagner entered in the ninth and struck out the side, interrupted by an Alfonso Soriano single. It was his first save as a Brave and his first in nearly two years. It also marked the 30th time in Wagner's career that he struck out three batters for a single-inning save.

My Commentary: At least this game showed that this Braves team has the ability to come back in a close game.

Melky Cabrera doesn't seem over-matched, but he's pulling his best post-6-for-6 Willie Harris impersonation in the first two games. Then again, everyone pulled that off against Dempster tonight (at least from the third inning forward).

Martin Prado was eaten up on a hard grounder that took a bounce past him, but he did wonderfully on the double plays. Only Glaus's backhand error was the most obvious flub of the night.

Jurrjens just lost complete command in the fifth inning. He has a tendency to nibble a lot when he's in trouble and that gets his pitch count up very quickly. He had that same problem last season.

Pitching two or three innings in relief at a time is something that Kris Medlen was born to do. I hope Bobby uses him a lot more as a two-inning fireman.

The loss of control was odd for Moylan, but he worked out of the jam.

Lastly, when Billy Wagner's on, forget it.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

So Much For Small Sample Sizes


Highly-touted prospect Jason Heyward started his major league career with a bang. The right fielder hit his first major league home run which gave the Braves a 6-3 lead. That helped open the floodgates, as the Braves won by a score of 16-5.

After Yunel Escobar tied the game with a two-run single, moving Brian McCann to second base, Heyward endured two up-and-in fastballs from Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano. Then, Zambrano tried to throw a fastball over the plate around Heyward's knees. With a short, powerful stroke, Heyward blasted the pitch into the Braves bullpen. That sent most of Turner Field and watching on television into euphoria.

The second inning proved to be Carlos Zambrano's last as he committed a throwing error to third base, allowing a straying Martin Prado to score. The last straw was a solo home run given up to McCann. Zambrano became the fourth pitcher since 1920 to last less than 1 2/3 innings on an Opening Day start, giving up at least 7 earned runs:

- Carlos Zambrano, 4/5/10 @ ATL - 1 1/3 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO
- Jose Contreras, 4/2/07 vs. CLE - 1 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO
- Dave Stewart, 4/6/95 @ TOR - 1 1/3 IP, 5 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO
- Brad Havens, 4/5/83 vs. DET - 1 1/3 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO

Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzija didn't fare much better than Zambrano. The former Notre Dame wide receiver gave up six runs, five earned, after walking the bases loaded to start the frame.

Braves starter Derek Lowe fared better than Zambrano, but he wasn't exactly stellar. The sinkerballer gave up a first-inning, three-run home run to Marlon Byrd, which gave the Cubs an early 3-0 lead. Lowe lasted six innings, giving up five hits, including two-run home run to Aramis Ramirez in the third, which closed the gap to a score of 8-5.

A pivotal play occurred in the sixth inning with none out and Kosuke Fukudome on first. Byrd hit a hard line drive to left-center. Center fielder Nate McLouth dove at the last second and caught the ball. Unfortunately, when he hit he ball, it squirted free. He threw the ball back to the infield on his back.

In the meantime, Byrd was called out. Aramis Ramirez was confused by that and stood on second base while Yunel Escobar collected McLouth's throw. After Escobar tossed the ball to Troy Glaus, the first basemen stepped on the bag and the umpires ruled it a double play. Television replays clearly showed that McLouth lost control of the ball, but it was somehow shielded from the umpire's view. After Lou Pinella argued and the umpires conferred, the play was upheld and the Cubs runners were erased. Lowe struck out Alfonso Soriano to end the inning and a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the inning ended his day.

The Braves bullpen threw three perfect innings. Relievers Peter Moylan, Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner struck out five batters combined. The three pitchers pitched because of Tuesday's off-day and to get in some work.

The Cubs' Sean Marshall and James Russell tossed 4 2/3 scorless innings in relief of Zambrano, while Justin Berg and John Grabow finished the game. Chicago's pitchers combined for eight walks; six of those runners came around to score.

My Commentary: The Braves showed how patience and some power can lead to very good things. I hope they keep that trend up.

McLouth's failed catch-turned-double play in the sixth inning shows that instant replay needs to be implemented for those plays. It could work with some ground rules on where to place the runners after such a play is overturned.

In my last blog post, I listed the Braves hitters' previous numbers against Carlos Zambrano. Escobar got a two-run single despite being 0-6 over two games (one in 2008, one in 2009). Jason Heyward homered in his first at-bat and Melky Cabrera went 0-1 with a walk and a run scored; both of them had no previous experience against him. Brian McCann had a single and a home run against Zambrano, boosting his career line against him to nine hits in 14 at-bats.

Things like that illustrate that batter vs. pitcher stats aren't particularly meaningful. They are fun stats, but they don't prove that McCann has Zambrano's number or that Zambrano owns Escobar. The sample sizes don't increase quickly enough to have significant statistical meaning.

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