Game Recap 9/27/11

Written by Jeremy Reed on .

Phillies 7, Braves 1

There’s not much to say about this one that hasn’t already been written.  It feels like Bull Durham, except that the Braves started well and then forgot how to play baseball.  The Braves are depending upon the Astros, and that’s probably all that needs to be said.

The team desperately needed a vintage performance from Derek Lowe tonight, but Chase Utley dashed those dreams with a first inning home run.  It didn’t get better either.  The Phillies added two in the third and one in the fourth, and Lowe’s night was finished after a leadoff single in the fifth.  Homers from Pence and Rollins would make it 7-0 at the end of seven.  Game, set, and match.

The Braves’ offense was again MIA, AWOL, or whatever you want to call it.  The only run came on a ninth inning Prado home run.  Base runners = runs.  People have to get on to score, but the Braves managed five base runners in nine innings.  It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

This probably sums it up the best:

Game161 

Courtesy of fangraphs.com

Here’s hoping the Astros can do it again.


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How Crucial Is Tonight's Game?

Written by Joe Lucia on .

With a win tonight, and a Cardinals loss, the Braves can clinch the NL Wild Card tonight. If either of those results happen, they clinch a tie. If the teams end up tying at the top of the standings, the Braves would travel to St Louis on Thursday, where the Braves just lost three games by a combined total of five runs three weeks ago. This would not be a good thing. If the teams are tied, the pitching matchup would be Kyle Lohse versus Brandon Beachy. Neither pitcher threw in the series in St Louis, so the slate is clean. Beachy did face the Cardinals way back in April, and went seven innings, allowing just three hits, two runs, one walk, and five strikeouts. He allowed just two baserunners in his first seven innings, before allowing the first two to reach in the eighth, and Jonny Venters allowing them to score. The Cardinals lineup that Beachy faced that night was much different though, with Colby Rasmus, Gerald Laird, Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene in the lineup instead of Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, Ryan Theriot, and Rafael Furcal.

But if Beachy had success against St Louis, why is tonight's game so important?

If the Braves clinch tonight, they could scratch Tim Hudson from tomorrow's start with the playoff berth locked up, and save him for Game One of the NLDS, with Beachy starting Game Two. If the Braves DON'T clinch tonight and have to go into Wednesday's game looking for a win, then Beachy will be starting Game One. And if they go to a playoff on Thursday...well then, I have no idea who is starting Game One. The closest starter on normal rest is....Randall Delgado. Randall Delgado of the seven career starts. I think Mike Minor, who started Sunday in Washington, would be a better option than Delgado at this point in time.

Delgado isn't necessarily a bad option at this point, but figure this. In his seven starts, he's gone five innings in all but two: in one, he went six, and in his major league debut, he went four. He's walked 14 and struck out 18 in 35 innings this season, and allowed five homers. Those are NOT great peripherals at all. That's a FIP above 5.00. Having Delgado start any playoff games would be a major down point for the Braves. Look past the 2.83 ERA, and you see a rookie pitcher who is getting pretty damn lucky. He's got an 86.5% strand rate and a .220 BABIP. I don't want to see him regressing in Game One of the playoffs.

Mike Minor, at this point in time, would be a better option for Game One, and hell, for the playoff rotation, than any other starter aside from Hudson and Beachy. He's got a good strikeout rate, a manageable walk rate, he's keeping the ball in the park much better than he has for a majority of his career...yeah, he'd be fine. That 4.14 ERA hides a lot of the good things he's done this year. In August and September, he's struck out 51 and walked 15 in 49 1/3 innings.

The best possible rotation would be Hudson-Beachy-Minor, in some order. If Delgado and/or Lowe is shoe horned in there due to the team not being able to clinch or other reasons, the Braves chances in October just took another hit. 

Game 160 Recap (9/26/11)

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

Phillies 4 (100-60), Braves 2 (89-81)

W: Cliff Lee
L: Cristhian Martinez
SV: Ryan Madson

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Or however one spells gloom, frustration, and a crushing sense of futility. Which normally is 'Pittsburgh Pirates,' but, hey, special occasions.

I guess we weren't supposed to expect much, with Randall Delgado squaring off against Cliff Lee. But how can you not have hope that the team you've been rooting for all year can't pull off a win against their division rivals when the playoffs are on the line?

The problems here were several and systemic. No offense after the first two innings, where we saw a Chipper Jones home run. Runs allowed by each of Cristhian Martinez and Jonny Venters. Matt Diaz hitting for himself against righty Michael Stutes.  The team drawing one walk, and stranding nine runners. 

If I were to point out the single biggest factor in the loss, though, it'd be Chipper Jones. Which is weird to say about a guy who hit a home run, but he came up lame on a ground rule double, and then -- I'm assuming here, but come on, it's Chipper -- insisted to Fredi that he was good to stay in the game. And maybe the blame lies on Fredi for listening, but regardless: to describe Chipper's range as 'fall-down' at that point would be kind, and that alone cost the Braves a run: he was unable to get to a Shane Victorino grounder down the line, allowing the speedy Victorino to take second and then score on a subsequent single from Raul Ibanez. Then, batting with the runners on first and second, he hit a slow groundball that, because he was running like ... um, is there any metaphor more evocative for this than 'a 39-year old man with a lengthy history of leg injuries who is also running on one leg'? 

Really, the only saving grace for the Braves tonight is that the Astros are currently winning 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, but ... it's the Astros. If your postseason fate depends on a team that's 55-104 and is also, let's not forget, the Astros, your plan and/or execution went slightly awry somewhere. You know, like if you were going to drive to the store and pick up groceries for dinner, only instead you spent 15 minutes trying to ram your car into the cart return, went to pay at the self checkout, couldn't figure out how to use it, pissed everyone off, and then got back to your car only to find out that all you managed to buy was Saltine crackers and artichoke hearts and also you can't drive your car now because it's impaled in the cart return. 

It's at this point in the metaphor that the car just explodes for, like, no good reason. Because I just looked it up and saw that Derek Lowe is starting tomorrow. So hey let's keep the masochism party going at 7:10 PM EDT tomorrow!

The Season is on the Line, and Fredi Still Doesn't Get It

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The lineup for today's game was released.

Bourn, CF
Prado, LF
Jones, 3B
Uggla, 2B
Freeman, 1B
McCann, C
Diaz, LF
Gonzalez, SS
Delgado, SP

Now, what about that lineup strikes you as odd? Well, it shouldn't strike you as too odd, because it's been happening all season...but Jason Heyward is out of the lineup. Again. Diaz is starting, because apparently, Fredi is legally obligated to start Diaz against a lefty, even if the lefty is a buzzsaw like Cliff Lee that runs through everyone, animal, vegetable or mineral.

When the Braves acquired Diaz at the end of August, I wasn't in favor of the move, mostly because I was afraid of nonsense like this happening. Diaz has a reputation as a lefty killer, so he has to start against the lefty, even if he's the inferior option. When Diaz was acquired, I pointed at his overall splits this year and noticed he wasn't that effective against lefties this season. I was then told "he's been hot lately!" and "he'll snap out of it!". Here is Matt Diaz's slash line against lefties as a Brave this season.

.304/.320/.304

23 at bats versus lefties since returning to Atlanta....seven singles, one walk, four strikeouts and a big ol' pile of BLEH. Jason Heyward, who is the antichrist and cannot hit lefties to save his life and is a platoon player forever (according to some very smart people out there) has a line this season of .192/.270/.308. More power and more walks, with a batting average held down by a .228 BABIP.

That's not even to discount their overall production in the month of September. Heyward's line in September is .262/.387/.377. He's tied for the highest OBP during the month with Alex Gonzalez, who is back in the lineup after missing a chunk of time with a calf injury. But what about Diaz and Martin Prado, both of whom are getting playing time instead of Heyward this month? Prado has 96 at bats, the second highest on the team during September behind just Michael Bourn. Heyward's 61 at bats are....seventh on the team this month. Mostly because he's rotting at the bottom of the order, but I digress. Anyway, what are Diaz and Prado doing during September?

Prado: .240/.263/.313
Diaz: .240/.259/.240

The two have combined for four walks in September. Heyward has....13. Right now, this team is having problems scoring runs. What's the easiest way to score runs? Putting runners on base. And who's the best player on the team at getting on base this month? Jason Heyward. And where does Jason Heyward find himself for the second straight day?

heywardbench 
Thanks to my friend Daiana for the stellar artwork 

On the bench. Well done Fredi, you have the fanbase united...in questioning your decisions once again. 

Game Recap - 9/25/11

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Nationals 3, Braves 0

WP: Detwiler (4-5) 
LP: Minor (5-3)
SV: Storen (43)

I don't know what to say. It's another pathetic offensive performance from the Atlanta Braves, what else is new? The team only put six men on base all game, all of which came against starter Ross Detwiler. The Nats bullpen threw three perfect innings and struck out six in the process. The Braves had one prime chance for scoring, in the third inning with the bases loaded and none out after a pair of walks from Detwiler. Michael Bourn worked the count against Detwiler to 3-0...and the team saw five pitches over the rest of the inning, swinging at three of them. No runs came across the board. The team had another chance to score in the fifth, with men on second and third and one out. The team's next two batters combined to see four pitches and not drive in a run. That would be the last scoring chance of the day for Atlanta.

Mike Minor really didn't pitch too badly, and this game isn't on him at all. He only went 4 2/3, but allowed just one run on a solo homer from Wilson Ramos. He allowed six hits, walked two, and struck out five. It wasn't a bad start. But with the way the offense is going right now (which is, not at all), it wasn't enough. Pathetic, really. One bright spot from the game: Kris Medlen threw an inning, and only needed seven pitches to go 1-2-3 and record a strikeout.

More bad news: the Cardinals lead the Cubs 3-2 in the ninth inning. If that result holds, the lead in the wild card race will be down to just one game. That's not good at all. St Louis takes on Houston to close out the seaon, and tomorrow's game will pit Jaime Garcia against Wandy Rodriguez. The Braves finish their season back in Atlanta against the Philllies, and it's a tall order: Cliff Lee against Randall Delgado. This might not end well. 

Game Recap - 9/24/11

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Nationals 4, Braves 1

WP: Wang (4-3)
LP: Beachy (7-3)
SV: Storen (41)

Sometimes, I just don't know what to say.

The Braves were befuddled by Chien Ming Wang today, and only tallied four hits in Wang's six innings, while he didn't walk a batter. The team scored just run, coming on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman in the 5th. The Braves fared better against Washington's bullpen, putting four runners on base, but they didn't score at all. The best opportunity for runs came in the eighth, with Brooks Conrad on third and Michael Bourn on first with Martin Prado at the dish and one out. On a 1-2 pitch, Bourn ran. Prado checked his swing, and Bourn was out. He flew out to right on the next pitch to end the scoring threat, and any chance the Braves had at winning the game. The only Brave to reach base multiple times was Dan Uggla, who singled and walked. Freeman, who struck out three times in addition to his homer, was the only Brave to have an extra base hit.

The Nationals on the other hand, didn't have an extra base hit. But, they did something against Braves starter Brandon Beachy that the Braves couldn't do against Wang: walk. Beachy walked four and allowed five hits in his six innings, and those walks resulted in four runs, all coming on singles. Beachy struck out nine, but that wasn't the story. He had an inability to finish off hitters, as four of the Nationals nine baserunners against Beachy reached on two strike pitches. This has been a problem for Beachy all season, and it reared it's ugly head yet again today. On the positive side, Beachy did get 21 swinging strikes on his 108 pitches, a great total. He also only allowed three air outs, another positive sign. But this start could have been so much better if Beachy was able to finish off just half of those hitters that reached on two strike counts.

After trailing all game, the Cardinals won in the ninth against Carlos Marmol of the Cubs, with the game winner coming on a walk off wild pitch that was nowhere near the plate. The wild card lead is back down to two, with four left to play. If the Braves are going to clinch, they'll do it at home against the Phillies. Tomorrow, Mike Minor will face Ross Detweiler in DC, Edwin Jackson takes on Randy Wells in St Louis. Gametime for the Braves is 1:35, gametime for the Cardinals is 2:15.

Game 157 Recap (9/23/11)

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

Braves 7 (89-68), Nationals 4 (76-80) W: Tim Hudson L: Stephen Strasburg SV: Craig Kimbrel I'm not going to lie to you fine folks: I did not have high hopes going into this game. Stephen Strasburg, facing this offense? Not exactly a recipe for success, unless you think success is a continued slide toward missing the playoffs. In which case, what the hell, man? But then the Braves racked up three runs in the first inning while also making Strasburg throw 38 pitches. That last point is important because the Nationals aren't ready to take the bubble wrap off their ace yet; a high pitch count early meant that Strasburg was gone after just four innings, and the Braves took advantage immediately. Two walks and a pair of doubles later, the game was 6-1 and all but over.

Of course, this being collapse season, things didn't continue quite so smoothly. Tim Hudson, who scattered nine hits over five and two thirds innings, was left in in the sixth despite suffering an as-yet undisclosed injury; he allowed a pair of runs in the frame. Two innings later, Jayson Werth got his hands inside a Jonny Venters fastball and deposited a souvenir in the left field bleachers and all of a sudden Braves fans' hearts got real familiar with their throats. That anxiety was assuaged via everyone's favorite home remedy: a speedy baserunner on second getting hung up, getting back to second base only to find the aging franchise legend already standing there, then taking third when said legend tries to scamper back to first and, at long last, scoring because all the opponents were apparently too busy to cover home plate. Just like Grandma used to make, right? Mine is also fond of a nice dessert-ish touch where the rookie closer comes in and strikes out a pair of batters to nail down the win, but that's something of a luxury, I know.

So, yes, nice win - as they all are at this point - but lest I be accused of being a turncoat to the Official Sabermetric Cause of questioning Fredi Gonzalez, I have to wonder: why was a fairly ineffective Hudson allowed to remain in the game after getting hurt? I'm sure there was talk about Hudson being a warrior or bulldog or whatever, but you'd think that the lessons imparted us by Tommy Hanson's shoulder, Jair Jurrjens' knee and Derek Lowe's talent would have made enough of an impression that Fredi would realize a postseason rotation of Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and one lucky fan who found the winning stamp on his ticket is something that would significantly hamper his team's championship chances. Why risk further injury to a key starter? Especially when he wasn't performing that well to begin with?

Early start tomorrow, y'all: 1:05 EDT. Brandon Beachy takes his freewheeling strikeout show to the mound against Chien Ming Wang, so think up your Wang headlines now because Darren Rovell's gonna be asking for em.

Moylan's Season (and Career?) Ends With Another Injury

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The news just broke on Twitter. Peter Moylan, who missed nearly five months with back problems this year, is finished for the season with a torn labrum AND a torn rotator cuff. My initial reaction: holy god, he's done.

Moylan is going to be 33 in December. Having one of these injuries is major enough, but both of them? You have to think that he's done. A torn labrum destroyed the career of Robb Nen. Here's a deeper look at labrum injuries in the MLB. And what about the torn rotator cuff? It's like a hit list of destroyed careers. We don't know yet how severe the cuff tear for Moylan is...but any tear isn't good.

I firmly believe that Peter Moylan's career is now over. His time with the Braves is surely done, as there's no way the team is going to pay him seven figures to rehab a pair of injuries that are career threatening. I could see a team signing him to a minor league deal, but even then, the odds of a full recovery are slim.

Well, what remains as Moylan's legacy as a Brave? 2007 was a phenomenal, breakout season that showed that he was a valued member of the bullpen. He was an absolute ground ball machine. Unfortunately, he blew out his elbow in 2008 after just 5 2/3 innings. Once he returned in 2009, he started to strike out more batters, but his control never really came back, as he walked way too many hitters to be effective. Over his career, Moylan was a liability against left-handed hitters: he walked 68 and struck out just 50 during his career, including walking 45 and striking out only 16 after the Tommy John surgery.

His reputation seems overblown because of his Twitter following, but he was a solid member of the bullpen for a couple of seasons, but he was never a star. His injury could open the door for Cory Gearrin to take over as the "ground ball guy" in the bullpen in 2012.

Where Have the Braves Struggles Been This September?

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Sphincters are tight in the Atlanta. The Braves' lead in the NL wild card race is down to a game and a half over the Cardinals. The team is playing it's worst baseball of the year in the most crucial time of the year, going 8-13 over the month while the Cardinals have gone 14-5 to pick up an astounding seven games in the standings. A game and a half up with six to play...it seemed farfetched at the beginning of the month that we'd be in this situation, but here we are. The Cardinals have one more game left than the Braves, and are playing that game today against the Mets....well, they're scheduled to. It's currently in a rain delay.

If the Cardinals win out, the Braves would need to win five games to force a playoff, and would need to sweep the Nationals and Phillies to win the wild card outright. If the Braves play .500 ball and split the final two series of the year, the Cardinals would need to go at least 5-2 over their final seven in order to force a playoff or win the wild card. The only problem with this is that St Louis plays the Cubs and Astros, two of the bottom four teams in the National League. Meanwhile, the Braves play a Nationals team that looks to complete a four game sweep of the Phillies tonight, and a Phillies team that always plays Atlanta tough and is in full-on playoff prep mode.

It didn't have to be this way, though. The Braves had plenty of chances to drive a dagger into St Louis' hearts this month, but couldn't do it. Three games weigh heavily on my mind where the Braves normally reliable bullpen couldn't get the job done. The first, and most crucial, loss came in St Louis, where Craig Kimbrel blew a 3-1 ninth inning lead, the first save he's blown since June. Including that game, Kimbrel has allowed five runs in his last 5 2/3 innings after not allowing any for a three month stretch. He's also allowed a pair of homers in his last two appearances after allowing just one all season.

Critical game number two: last Sunday against the Mets. After falling behind 4-1, the Braves rallied to take a 5-4 lead going into the eighth inning. Jonny Venters walked in the tying run, and allowed what would end up being the game winning single to Ruben Tejada one batter later. In a game where the team showed great moxie and was able to rally back after getting into an early hole that shouldn't have been there, the loss was a killer. Like Kimbrel, Venters has also allowed five runs in September. Unlike Kimbrel, Venters is experiencing control problems, walking eight batters in 9 1/3 innings this month.

Finally, there was the absolutely back breaking loss on Monday. Down 4-1, the Braves plated four in the seventh and took a 5-4 lead into the ninth. Kimbrel got a pair of quick outs, and got a ground ball to third for what looked like the final out of the game. But Chipper Jones lost the ball in the lights, as a final FU from the park formerly known as Joe Robbie Stadium. The next batter was Omar Infante, and he homered to left to walk off on his former team. It was a devastating loss, especially coupled with the Cardinals win over the Mets later in the evening.

If the Braves win all three of those games, we're looking at a situation in DC where the team can clinch. The lead would be 4.5 games right now, and the magic number would be only two. Instead, here we are...doing a lot of scoreboard watching. It's an absolutely painful situation that conjures up memories of last season, when the Braves got into the playoffs on the season's final day after nearly every regular got hurt over the season's final two months. This year, the only players to get seriously injured were Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. The Braves have no major injuries right now, and we can't blame them for our failures like we were able to last year. Right now, a pathetic offense is choking the team. The Braves have scored just 3.47 runs a game in September. That's not going to get it done. When your pitching staff has no room for error, it's really tough to win games. And that's where the Braves are right now.

All we can really do right now is hope to god that the Cubs and Astros go on awesome runs over the season's final week, and that the Nationals decide to not play up to the Braves level for once. It's still completely possible that the team clinches before Philly comes to town, but it's very unlikely. That final series will more than likely have a playoff berth on the line....just the way that the schedule makers imagined it when they drew it up last year. 

Game Recap - 9/21/11

Written by Mark Smith on .

So it’s getting a bit harder to not be worried about the Braves and their chances at the playoffs. While they still hold the lead and have the best chance of winning the Wild Card, the feeling is fairly dismal around these parts. The Braves simply haven’t done much in any department lately.

And it continued tonight as Javy Vazquez continued his second half surge. For seven innings, he ran roughshod through the lineup, and the Braves were the same impatient team they’ve been for most of the season. Vazquez was certainly good, though, and he looked more like the guy the Braves unleashed on the rest of the world in 2009. But it was a very ho-hum game from beginning to end-- 2 and half hours, a good but not great pitching performance from Lowe, and a terrible offense--without much to talk about in between … well about the game anyway.

The only real talk remains about the Braves’ chances of remaining in the Wild Card lead, but let’s look at the facts. There are six games left. The Cardinals have the easier road remaining with the Cubs and the Astros while the Braves have the Nationals and Phillies. While the Phillies look bad and might want to spoil it for Atlanta, they aren’t likely to pitch more than one of the Big Three to set up for the playoffs, but they’re a talented team regardless. The magic number remains six, and though it may be 5 by an hour or so after this posting, the race will probably come down to the last series of the year. If the Braves can just win 3, the Cardinals would have to win 5. If they win 2, the Cardinals need 4.

I know it’s hard, and I know it sucks. I sit in agony in much the same way many of you do, but even though the team seems to be just bleeding this away, the Braves are still in the driver’s seat. And as for an example of how quickly things turn, remember the 2009 Braves? They were 19-3 and coming up hard on the Wild Card, but a seven-game losing streak ended the season and the team’s hopes of making the playoffs. Hot streaks and cold streaks just don’t last. We just have to hope that fortunes turn soon.

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