Thursday, August 26, 2010

We Lose, They Lose...Going Nowhere

These notes give you some idea of what kind of roller coaster ride baseball can be on a daily basis for a serious fan of the game. There are many highs and lows in the time frame presented. First, let’s go back to July 30. A great come from behind win for the Braves that is indicative of how this team can play when it gets its act together. Unfortunately, Martin Prado hurt himself on this play which resulted in 15 days on the disabled list.

Atlanta kind of struggled a bit going 7-5 after they won that game, then I started these little notes…looking back there is a sense of foreboding throughout them. Can we actually win the division in Bobby Cox’s final season? Lots of video highlights presented throughout.

Thursday, August 12 – Phillies rally for 8 runs against the Dodgers in the last two innings to beat them 10-9. A chance to gain a game in the loss column goes by. Phillies are second to the Braves in last at-bat wins.

Friday, August 13 – Braves win 1-0. Tim Hudson is making a great case of a Cy Young Award. 8 more shutout innings. Billy Wagner gets the save. No errors tonight. Brooks Conrad starts at third and basically secures the win for Hudson with the game’s only run – a massive home run to dead center. Conrad covered for the injured Chipper Jones very well tonight. Chipper brought out the line-up card to start the game. His last “official” act of 2010. He has surgery tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Mets beat the Phillies by the identical score of 1-0. The Braves are now three games up in the all-important loss column. Only bad news is the Braves were 0-9 with runners in scoring position. That needs to change. We continue to squander too many chances. The Braves recalled minor league third baseman Brandon Hicks from AAA Gwinnett to replace Chipper Jones. I doubt that he sees much action.

Saturday, August 14 – Lost to the Dodgers 2-1. Tough loss for Derek Lowe. We were 1 – 10 with runners in scoring position. Too many squandered opportunities and no clutch hits. This seems to be to common thread for the past few weeks. Before the all-star break the Braves were batting .249 as a team with runners in scoring position. Since the break we have batted only .160 in those situations. We are pitching good enough to win but won’t win the division like this. The Phillies beat the Mets so our lead is back down to just two games. We committed one error tonight.

Sunday, August 15 – Braves bats come up huge for a change in a 13-1 clubbing of the Dodgers. Jair Jurrjens pitched a great game. Infante had three hits, Troy Glaus homered which was good to see. We need Glaus to get hot again like he was in May - June. Rookie Jason Heyward sat out this game, he’s not 100%. No errors today. Prado is supposed to try playing a game or two at AAA before rejoining the team after injury. It will be nice to have him back if he comes back as a .300 plus hitter with some pop in his bat like he’s been all season.

Monday, August 16 – Braves win their 20th last at-bat game against the Dodgers 4-3. The Braves scored 3 runs in the bottom of ninth to win it. Melky Cabrera had the huge bases loaded single to drive in the tying and winning runs. Great celebration on the field. It is nice to see that the team enthusiasm is still high. The only bad thing was Tommy Hanson pitched another great game but got no decision. The Phillies were off tonight so we maintain our two game lead in the loss column.

Tuesday, August 17 – Mike Minor pitched very well in his second start and got the first win of his young major league career. Prado returned from the DL, playing third base as Bobby Cox decides to leave Omar Infante at second tonight. Prado didn’t miss a beat with three hits including a double that drove in two runs. Matt Diaz also had a double with two RBIs. Back to back big innings (four runs each) helped the Braves beat the lowly Washington Nationals 10-2. We need to sweep these guys. The Braves seem to be heating up at the right time. They have won 11 of their last 15 games. Unfortunately, the Phillies are hot as well. They beat the Giants tonight to keep pace. This is shaping up to be a very hot pennant race. ESPN featured the Braves as they kicked off their “Dog Days” analysis of play-off contenders.

Wednesday, August 18 – Kris Medlen had Tommy John surgery today. With any luck he might be back about this time next season. Meanwhile, the Braves General Manager Frank Wren announced that the Braves had secured a right-handed veteran power hitter first baseman from the Chicago Cubs, Derrek Lee. Glaus just sucks hitting-wise (just 2 home runs in his last 46 games) and we can’t wait around. Hopefully, Lee will bring the pop we need when he joins the team, in Chicago as fate would have it, on Friday. Meanwhile, Hudson struggled, for him, but managed to hold the Nationals to 2 runs over 7 innings. Jonny Venters and Wagner were brilliant in relief, striking out 2 and 3 respectively. Heyward got the big hit in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win. The Braves 21st last at–bat victory. Don’t underestimate the importance of that kind of reliance.

Thursday, August 19 – Another uninspiring performance from Lowe. He’s now 11-11 with a 4.32 ERA after losing to the Nationals 6-2. But the Phillies dropped one to the Giants 5-2 so we’re still two games up in the loss column. Instead of Glaus we tried Eric Hinske at first. He went 0-4 with three strikeouts. Thank God we’ve got Derrek Lee from the Cubbies starting Friday. We need him to be hot, or at least consistent. Infante had two hits and is batting .342. Impressive. Diaz had a big double that drove in the two Atlanta runs. He seems to be finding his stride which is great to see.

Friday, August 20 – Jurrgens struggled but kept it close. Rick Ankiel (a name I haven’t mentioned before) gave Atlanta its 22nd last at-bat victory, a 5-3 over the Chicago Cubs. Ankiel hit a based-loaded, two-out, two-strike triple. I questioned why Cox let Ankiel – who, though great defensively in centerfield, hasn’t shown me much at the plate - face the Cub closer Carlos Marmol. But, as is so often the case, Cox was right. Ankiel becomes the 12th member of the Braves to contribute to those 22 last at-bat wins. Sign of a very balanced team. Only 5 hits for Atlanta today though. Lee didn’t do much of note in his debut as a Brave. Meanwhile, the Nationals got 10 hits against 4 for the Phillies but Philadelphia won 1-0. So they keep pace. We activated Eric O’Flaherty today. Our bullpen is perhaps the strongest part of our team.

Saturday, August 21 – Hanson has pitched great lately and has entered the baseball record book as the first pitcher to do something that hasn’t happened in 58 seasons. Only it is a bad kind of record. From ESPN’s pregame report today: “Hanson has posted a 1.93 ERA in eight starts since July 9, but is 0-3. Against the Dodgers on Monday, the right-hander allowed one run and five hits in seven innings, but didn't get a decision in the Braves' comeback 4-3 win. Hanson's tough luck has reached an historic level. By throwing at least six innings while yielding one earned run in each of his last five starts, Hanson became the first pitcher to have five such outings in a row without a victory since 1952.” Hanson didn’t pitch well today and the Braves lost 5-4. We played sloppy, making 3 errors. The Nationals beat the Phillies 8-1. Suddenly, the Phillies might be slumping at the plate again. Interesting to watch. That happened to them in May and we pulled away. Hoping.

Sunday, August 22 – Cubs manager Lou Piniella retired today in what is probably the end of a great career in baseball. But, the Braves showed him no mercy, whipping the Cubbies 16-5 behind 6 strong innings from Mike Minor. The young leftie struck out 12 batters, tying an Atlanta Braves record for a rookie. You have to think Minor has picked the team up from the Medlen injury. Infante and Heyward had two home runs each. Infante is tearing up opposing pitching. 20 hits in the last 10 games. Impressive enough to earn him National League Player of the Week honors.

Monday, August 23 – Out to Colorado for three games. Hudson pitched well in Coors Field tonight but the Braves lost 5-4. We battled back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game at 4-4 but Venters couldn’t hold them. It was Venters’ first loss of the season. Nobody’s perfect. But, the Astros beat the Phillies 3-2. So, nothing changes. Atlanta is 29-35 on the road. Not a good statistic for the team with the fourth best record in baseball. Glaus was sent to AAA Gwinnett for a rehab assignment.

Tuesday, August 24 – Another loss to the Rockies 5-2. Lowe didn’t look good at all. But, then he hasn’t looked good since the all-star break. We made two costly errors. But, surprisingly, the Astros beat the Phillies again 4-2 in 16 innings. So, no harm done other than another wasted opportunity to open up some breathing room on Philadelphia. We are still two up in the loss column.

Wednesday, August 25 – A devastating loss to end a horrible series. The Braves blew a 10–1 lead and lost to the Rockies 12–10. It is only the third game we have lost all season where we have scored 5 runs or more. I feel really down. Getting swept by the Rockies better be a wake up call to this team. If not we are sunk. Jurrjens looked horrible out there. But then, Coors Field makes a lot of pitchers look bad. This is definitely, the low point since our 9-game losing streak back in April. Thank goodness we are headed back home where we tend to win. Miraculously, the Astros beat Roy Halladay and the Phillies 3-2. So, we are still where we were two weeks ago. Two games up in the loss column. Man, we should be 4-5 games up by now. It’s frustrating, but I’m sure the Phillies feel just as frustrated burning up all this time and gaining nothing.

This is shaping up to be a very close race. Too close. A two-game lead means nothing right now. We play the Phillies head-to-head six times in the final two weeks of the season. If there is a bright note it is in the fact that the Braves have the best home record in baseball (44-17)...and most of our remaining games are at
Turner Field.

Thursday, August 26 - Wow. Lowly Houston swept mighty Philadelphia, winning today 5-1. The Phillies lost four straight to the Astros in Philadelphia. Amazing. To repeat something I noted earlier, the Phillies are not scoring runs. That could be huge. The Braves are now three games up in the loss column. Exactly where we were on August 13. It makes yesterday's disappointment all the worse. We could be four games up right now. A much more comfortable lead. Still, I'll take a Philly loss any time. The Braves don't play tonight, so we can't screw it up this time. To win a close pennant race you have to be both lucky and good.

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