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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 5

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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Game Recap 9/20/11

Written by Jeremy Reed on .

Braves 4, Marlins 0

The Braves entered their tilt with the Marlins with a 2.5 game lead in the Wild Card, but with their play of late, one would swear they are trailing the Cardinals.  If it weren’t for the Red Sox attempting to do the same thing, there would almost certainly be more press about the Braves’ swoon.  As it is, the lead is only two games in the loss column, so while they are still heavy favorites to hold on, they’ve got to start winning some games.

Thankfully the Constanza infatuation appears to be over, and the Braves are giving themselves the best chance to win by putting out their best lineup, if not in the most optimal order.  It was a promising start with the Braves getting runners to second and third with no one out in the first, but yet again they failed to score.  That’s getting old.  Alex Gonzalez led off the second with a home run to continue his resurgence, Heyward and Bourn doubled, and Prado singled to give the Braves a 3-0 lead.

Randall Delgado threw five shutout innings though he did use 92 pitches to do it.  We should see some more efficiency and a few more strikeouts as he adjusts to this level.  Freddie Freeman led off the sixth with his twentieth homer to make it 4-0.  The bullpen took over at that point, and Cristhian Martinez again did excellent work with two perfect innings.  Anthony Varvaro followed it up with two perfect innings of his own to close it out.

What better way turn things around than a shutout?  The Braves were able to get to Anibal Sanchez enough to take some pressure off of the staff, and hopefully the first half Javier Vazquez shows up tomorrow so the Braves can make it two in a row.  If that’s not enough to interest you, tune in at 7:10 EST to see how much Derek Lowe can sweat in the Miami heat.

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Game 154 Recap

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

Marlins 5 (70-84), Braves 4 (87-67)

W: Clay Hensley
L: Craig Kimbrel

Unreal. Just unreal.

This game seesawed from another disappointing performance by a slumping Braves squad to a scrappy, inspired comeback that would be punctuated with another dominant three-inning gamut of Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel to a shocking, hang-your-head in disbelief loss. Ricky Nolasco no-hit the Braves through four, and it wasn't until Jason Heyward homered that the team showed signs of life. Unfortunately, Mike Minor was spending his time getting to see just how hard and far Mike Stanton (two homers, and continued evolution into a hold-your-breath every time he hits a flyball guy) and Logan Morrison (one donger) could hit baseballs.

Things looked bleak until the seventh inning, when Dan Uggla led off with a homer. After recording two consecutive groundouts, Nolasco looked like he might escape unscathed ... but then issued back-to-back walks and was lifted for Mike Dunn. Dunn induced weak contact from Michael Bourn, but unfortunately for Dunn, weak contact isn't a bad thing when you've got Bourn's speed. Bourn beat it out, and Alex Gonzalez scored to bring the Braves within one. Then, Ryan Webb walked Martin Prado to tie the game and Omar Infante booted a Chipper Jones grounder to allow the go-ahead run to score.

Rarely had the Uggla trade looked so good.

And then it was time for the Braves bullpen to do Braves bullpen things: three innings, one run to protect, no problem. O'Flaherty pitched around a couple baserunners, Jonny Venters was perfect, and all that was left was for Craig Kimbrel to close things out. Kimbrel retired the first two batters without incident, then induced a high chopper to third. At this point, circumstances conspired against the Braves as Chipper lost sight of the ball due to the ahem suboptimal placement of the field lights, and displayed all the grace of a palsied rhinoceros as the ball skipped past him.

And then I think that what happened is Omar Infante demolished a fastball that Kimbrel didn't elevate quite enough and it somehow ended up in the left field bleachers. I'm not real sure, 'cause I sort of blacked out, but, yep, that seems to be what Twitter is telling me.

So, y'know, the Wild Card lead is now something like -45 games (+2.5) and god is dead (I feel like that might've been mentioned before) and all is dark in the world. Find yourself your beverage of choice and raise your glass high to Randall Delgado, who takes the mound tomorrow against Anibal Sanchez And His Ears in what is kind of an unfair if you ask me one-vs-three showdown. 7:10 EDT y'all.

Game Recap - 9/18/11

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Mets 7, Braves 5

WP: Byrdak (2-0)
LP: Venters (6-2)
SV: Acosta (2)

This was a really really frustrating game. After taking a 1-0 lead, Brandon Beachy put two on in the fourth inning. With two outs, Fredi decided to bust out some of his classic overmanaging and walk Justin Turner (he of the .699 OPS) to get to pitcher Dillon Gee. At this point in the game, Beachy already had three unintentional walks. His control was a mess. Why would you put yourself into a situation where a walk definitely means that a run is coming in? Predictably, Beachy walked Gee to tie the game up at one. The next hitter was Ruben Tejada, who hit a bases-clearing double to make it a 4-1 game. It was unnecessary to walk Turner (especially in the FOURTH INNING OF THE GAME) instead of going after him. This was something Bobby would do all the time, and it drove me crazy then. It still drives me crazy now.

The Braves would battle back to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth. Alex Gonzalez started it with a homer, Michael Bourn singled in Jason Heyward, and a bases loaded ground out by Dan Uggla tied it at four. The game remained scoreless until the seventh, when Freddie Freeman, who came into the game in a double switch early on, singled in Gonzalez to make it 5-4. Jonny Venters handed that lead right back, though. Venters sandwiched a pair of walks around a single to load the bases, and another walk to RONNY BLEEPING PAULINO tied the game at five. Tejada was next up, and he blooped a single into right to give the Mets the lead. Heyward threw a missile at the plate to nail another runner at the plate to stop it from being a 7-5 game. But that didn't matter, because the Mets got a solo homer in the ninth from Lucas Duda off Craig Kimbrel (!!!!) to make it 7-5. The offense threatened in the ninth, putting two on with one out, but a pair of ground outs ended the game.

This one was on the pitching staff. The Braves offense scored five runs and pounded out 12 hits. That should be enough. Sure, they should have had more, going 3/15 with runners in scoring position and stranding 15. But good lord, the team blew two leads in this one; one by Beachy, and one by Venters. The Braves pitching staff wasn't sharp against a Mets lineup that didn't have Jose Reyes in it. They walked eight hitters. EIGHT. Cristhian Martinez and Eric O'Flaherty did a good job at shoring up the game once Beachy exited, getting eight outs without allowing a baserunner. Hell, all five of Martinez's outs came on the ground. Venters has a 5.40 ERA in September, walking seven and striking out ten. He's as tired as a dog, with now 84 innings pitched on the year. But as long as the team is playing close games, he's going to get used. I just hope we don't keep seeing meltdowns like today.

Offensively, like I said....the team was fine, but could have been better. Heyward reached base four times in five plate appearances, as did Chipper. Freeman reached three times after not starting the game. Gonzalez, Uggla, McCann and Bourn each reached twice. So what the hell was the problem? Crappy luck. Many of the hitters reaching base did so with walks as opposed to hits. Not that I really mind all that much, but some hits with runners in scoring position would help out a ton. Diaz started against a righty, saw six pitches, and got one hit. He was double switched out for Freeman, who was productive all day. I would have liked to have seen what would have happened if Freeman played all day as opposed to just for the back end of the game. It also would have been nice for Heyward to be hitting higher in the lineup. He reached base four times today, and has reached in 20 of his last 43 plate appearances since being given the first two games off in the Philly series. Gonzalez has been solid with the bat, but Diaz? Matt Diaz, who is 5/20 with one walk and no extra base hits since coming back to Atlanta? Come on Fredi, you're smarter than that.

The magic number is still seven, and it's not going to get any easier as the Braves head to Miami to take on the Marlins for the final time this season. Why isn't it easy? Their three starters are Nolasco, Sanchez and a white hot Javier Vazquez. The Braves three starters are a pair of rookies (Minor and Delgado) and the incredibly ineffective Derek Lowe. The Braves need to take two outta three here. That would cut the magic number to five at the lowest, with the Cardinals still having two in Philly and then three with the suddenly hot Mets. This will be an odd situation, cheering for the Phililes and Mets in the same week....but here we are. I'd really like to get this wild card locked down before heading home next week for three against the Phillies. Make it happen, Braves. 

Game Recap - 9/17/11

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Braves 1, Mets 0

WP: Hudson (15-10)
LP: Dickey (8-13)
SV: Kimbrel (45)

This game can be summed up in two words: Tim Hudson. The Braves starter was absolutely electic today, throwing eight shutout innings, allowing four hits and two walks, and striking out a season high ten. After two poor starts in a row, it was a great rebound for the veteran. Hudson also got 11 ground ball outs and threw first pitch strikes to 13 of 29 hitters. Craig Kimbrel finished the one run victory off by striking out the side on 16 pitches in the ninth, getting whiffs on five pitches. That's how you do it.

Offensively, the team continued to struggle. RA Dickey was nearly as good as Hudson, allowing just three hits on the day, but walking six hitters. The walks didn't catch up with him until the eighth inning, when Jason Heyward led off the inning with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice, and to third on a ground out. Dickey then walked Martin Prado to bring up Mets-killer Chipper Jones, who drove the stake deep again with a single to center field. Dan Uggla would walk to load the bases and give the Braves a chance for some more insurance, but Tim Byrdak came in and got Brian McCann to pop out to end the frame. Two of those three hits went to Jones, who's OPS on the season is up to .835. He doesn't look done at all. Freddie Freeman walked twice, and Prado added a single to his walk, back in his customary second spot in the order.

The team's magic number is down to eight, and the lead in the wild card race is at four games with the Cardinals playing in Philadelphia tonight. Jake Westbrook takes on Roy Oswalt there. Tomorrow in Atlanta, the pitching matchup will be Dillon Gee and the dominant Brandon Beachy, while in Philly, Chris Carpenter takes on Cole Hamels on Sunday Night Baseball. First pitch for the Braves-Mets game is at 1:35. Let's get that magic number down and maybe clinch this week, OK guys? 

Game 151 Recap (9/16/11)

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

Mets 12 (72-79), Braves 2 (86-65)

W: Chris Capuano
L: Derek Lowe, obviously

Things that happened in this game:

  • Derek Lowe gave up nine hits, walked a batter and struck out a pair en route to allowing six runs in two-and-a-third innings pitched. He also sweated.
  • Julio Teheran, despite being functionally the opposite of Derek Lowe, fared nearly as poorly: two-and-two-thirds IP, four hits, four runs, two walks, two strikeouts. 
  • Braves pitchers threw 202 pitches on the night. 
  • The Braves had six hits as a team. If you picked any two of Jose Reyes, David Wright, Lucas Duda, Nick Evans or Josh Thole, you'd get at least six hits.
  • Eric Hinske went up to the plate with a beer coozie on his bat. He lined out.
  • Dan Uggla's dip became sentient. Understandably distracted, Uggla went oh-fer.
  • Michael Bourn tripled and stole a base. 
I'm not actually sure that Lowe was sweaty, since it was a chilly night in the ATL and I didn't get home until Lowe had already been mercifully taken to the clubhouse and put down, but take my word from it as someone who, like any Braves fan, completely and utterly checked out of that game. That's information you can rely on.

I don't know, though, what else do you want to hear? The Braves, for the second time this season, couldn't get a bat on sub-90s heat and a loopy slider. The quartet of Miguel Batista, Tim Byrdak, "Josh" Stinson (if that is in fact his name) and Ryota Igarashi held the Braves hitless for the last four innings of the game, and didn't look particularly troubled in so doing. Teheran and fellow heralded rookie Arodys Vizcaino were ineffective, Scott Linebrink did Scott Linebrink things, and it took Anthony Varvaro to "stop" the bleeding and allow a run on three hits in two innings. 

With the exception of a dazzling play by Alex Gonzalez, who ranged impossibly far to his left, snared a grounder and threw out Jason Bay by way of a jumping throw and a Freddie Freeman teabag of the first base dirt, this was an ugly, ugly game. And not just because of Uggla's dip assaulting the bat boys and telling a woman that she didn't need that hot dog she was eating.

If you didn't subject yourself to watching this game, just know that my version of tonight's events is far better than whatever actually happened on the field. So, ok, whatever: tomorrow! 4:10 EDT is the time, R.A. Dickey (who must be steamed that he wasn't pitching on Star Wars night at Turner Field) will take the mound opposite Tim Hudson. My prediction: blood. Because I don't think the grounds crew wrangled up that dip yet.

Game Recap - 9/14/11

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Braves 4, Marlins 1

WP: O'Flaherty (4-2)
LP: Nolasco (10-11)
SV: Kimbrel (44)

The Braves offense was as dead as a doornail for the first six innings of the game, tallying just a pair of hits against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco, who was excellent. Through six, he has walked just one hitter and struck out five. Nothing was going on. But in the seventh, magic happened. Freddie Freeman started the inning with a fly out, and Dan Uggla started the rally with a walk. Brian McCann singled to put runners on the corners with one out for the terribly slumping Martin Prado. Prado went unorthodox though, and laid down a perfect bunt. Uggla scored on the safety squeeze, and all hands were safe on base. Jason Heyward flied out, and that brought up Alex Gonzalez, who has been on a crazy roll during the Marlins series. Gonzalez then took an 0-2 pitch and slammed it over the fence in left field to give the Braves a 4-1 lead that they wouldn't relinquish in the game's final two innings. Gonzalez and Prado, the two heroes of the game, each had two hits. The team had five in total. You do the math there.

The rookie parade of starters continued today, with Randall Delgado making his fifth career start today. It was another impressive outing for him, as he went five innings, walked two, struck out four, and allowed just one run, on a solo homer by Greg Dobbs in the second inning. Aside from that Dobbs homer, Delgado never had any problems aside from a high pitch count, throwing 101 pitches over those five innings. The second inning was the only one where he had multiple runners on base. The Braves bullpen stepped up to the plate big time yet again, with Cristhian Martinez and the O'Ventbrel trio combining to throw four perfect innings, striking out five and geting five ground ball outs. At the end of the day...yeah, I'll take that.

The team's magic number is now down to nine, as the Cardinals won in Pittsburgh. The Braves have an off day tomorrow before welcoming the Mets to Turner Field for three. Game one will feature Derek Lowe taking on Chris Capuano. The Cardinals are also off tomorrow, so the maigc number will remain at nine for another day. The Braves will hopefully saw off a couple digits on that this weekend, as the Cardinals are going to Philly to take on the reigning NL East champions. One problem: Philly clinched a playoff berth today with a win over the Astros. They might start resting some guys, and put out a team that isn't built to beat St Louis's brains in. That's not a good thing at all. St Louis is scheduled to face Cole Hamels on Sunday and Roy Halladay on Monday, so maybe both of those guys will still get their full starts in and dominate the Cardinal to give the Braves some breathing room. Fingers are crossed.