Reds 2 (59-47), Braves 1 (59-45)
WP: Volquez (2-1)
LP: Hanson (8-8)
SV: Cordero (29)
Today, I witnessed one of the most inept, embarrassing offensive performances by a baseball team in quite some time. The Braves had twice as many runners on base as the Reds, thanks to a staggering 7 walks by Cincy pitching. Thats right...12 baserunners for the Braves, and 6 for the Reds. Naturally, the Reds won the game 2-1. The top of the order did their job today: Brooks Conrad, Jason Heyward, Omar Infante, and Brian McCann combined to reach base 9 times. The rest of the lineup went 1 for 18. I repeat: ONE FOR EIGHTEEN. The one was a solo homer by Alex Gonzalez that accounted for the only Braves run of the game. Gonzalez was also plunked to allow him to reach base twice in the game, and Rick Ankiel shockingly walked in his first plate appearance as a Brave. Those would be the only times players outside of the top 4 reached the lineup all game. There were opportunities...oh, there were opportunities. Men on the corners with one out in the first inning...strikeout and a flyout. Men on the corners with two outs in the second inning...strikeout. First and second with two out in the third inning...strikeout. First and second with one out in the fifth...strikeout and a flyout. The one that really irks me...first and second with two out in the seventh with a lefty on the mound...of course, Matt Diaz does *not* get the pinch hit opportunity, and Chipper Jones does instead. He flew out to end the inning. Diaz would end up pinch hitting in the ninth against the righthanded Francisco Cordero, and would pathetically fly out. It was an embarrassing display. The team went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position, and the 1 was an infield single in the first inning. Eric Hinske's day was impressively bad, as he only saw 7 pitches against Edison Volquez, who walked 5 men in 5 innings. If a pitcher is that wild and out of the zone, why in the name of god aren't you looking for a better pitch instead of hacking away and weakly popping up, which is what Hinske did in his second at bat? Inexcusable.
I feel bad for Tommy Hanson. He pitched one hell of a game, and got screwed. Hanson's lone bad inning was the 5th, which is when bot Reds runs scored. With one out, the slower than dirt Ramon Hernandez singled to left. After a lineout, Brandon Phillips came up. Phillips hit a sinking liner near the right field line that Jason Heyward dove for...and missed. Hernandez waddled his way home from first, and Phillips wound up on third with 2 outs. If Heyward plays that ball on a hop instead of diving, you have men on second and third at WORST. So with the game tied and Phillips on third, Orlando Cabrera hit a routine ground ball to Alex Gonzalez, who chose an opportune time to make his first error as a Brave, booting the ball and allowing Phillips to score to give the Reds a lead that they wouldn't relinquish. Back to Hanson for a minute. He was brilliant. 7 1/3 innings with only 5 hits allowed, 1 walk, and 5 strikeouts. In what is a HUGE sign of greatness, he threw first pitch strikes to 24 of the 29 batters he faced. Staying ahead in the count is a huge key for Tommy. He only needed 92 pitches to get those 22 outs as well, and was pulled for Jonny Venters (yes, again. 6 of the 9 games of the road trip saw Venters get into the game), who needed only 6 pitches to dispatch Joey Votto and Scott Rolen. I would have liked to see Bobby keep Hanson in the game to finish his work off and give Venters another day of rest, because lord knows he's going to need it. Thank *god* for Kyle Farnsworth in the house, hopefully getting some high leverage innings to give the taxed bullpen some time off.
That concludes a disastrous road trip. The Braves lost all 3 series and went 3-6. The lead that was 4.5 over the Phillies and 7.5 over the Mets and Marlins is down to 2.5 over Philly, and 6.5 over the other 2 teams. The Braves have a tough stretch ahead of them, but a huge perk is that 12 of the next 15 games are at Turner Field, where the team holds a major league best home record of 34-13. The lone road series is against the woeful, starless Astros, which is a huge opportunity for a sweep. Unfortunately, the team's next offday isn't until Thursday the 12th. Thats a huge chunk of time for a banged up, tired team to wait for a day of relaxation. Troy Glaus could especially use the day off, with how terribly he's slumping. Unfortunately...it doesn't look like he'll get a day off tomorrow, with the left-handed Johan Santana on the mound for the Mets. That will put Matt Diaz in left field, and Hinske on the bench, forcing Glaus into the lineup. If Martin Prado weren't injured, he could slide over to first with Infante taking control of second...but there is no Prado to save the team this week. I don't think Bobby would make the decision to start Conrad at first, which would certainly be...interesting.
As I mentioned, Johan Santana will be starting tomorrow for the Mets, who venture to Turner Field for 3 games. The Braves counter with Tim Hudson, who has been the staff ace for the entirety of the season, and will hopefully be a good stopper for the team. A series win against the Mets would knock them down to the .500 mark (or below, with a sweep) and would effectively shovel more dirt onto their hideous orange and blue coffin. The Braves do get a slight break with their NL East foes' schedules, as the Phillies and Marlins battle in Miami this week. Its crunch time for the Braves right now, and its time to get back on the winning track and get everything into focus in the NL East race.