New ballpark. Same old rivalry.
Say what you want about the cats and rats that existed at old dingy Shea Stadium. But you can’t deny the fact that there was almost always a great sense of excitement whenever the Braves traveled to play there over the course of the past decade.
Whether it was a creation of John Rocker’s pot stirring or just a sense of jealousy that developed during Atlanta’s run of consecutive division titles, there’s no doubt that Mets fans have grown to love to hate the Braves.
The most obvious love-hate relationship is shared by Chipper Jones and those Mets fans who have always showered him with chants of “Lah-REE”. You can bet that those same mocking references to his given name will be heard at Citi Field.
But for now, we can only hope that the modernized stadium in Queens creates the same type of hostile atmosphere that was present in Shea. There’s just something great about those moments when fans truly raise the game’s energy level.
Since the Braves moved into their modernized digs at Turner Field, there have been numerous moments when the fans have caused goose-bump-type atmospheres. But as many of you will attest, those moments occurred much more frequently during the early 1990s at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Much of that had to do with the sudden sucees enjoyed by a previously pitiful Braves organization. But there’s also reason to wonder if the new stadium’s environment set the tone for a more tranquil atmostphere.
Whatever the case, Jones is hoping that Citi Field presents the same blue collar atmosphere as its predecessor.
It would be nice to see Jones’ sore right elbow prove to be healthy enough for him to be in the lineup for tonight’s series opener against the first-place Mets. We’ve got a nationally-televised game featuring a pair of aces (Derek Lowe and Johan Santana) who will both be attempting to prolong their respective team’s current success.
Jones’ participation would only add to the intrigue.
The primary reason the Braves have won four of their past five games stems from the fact that they’ve once again become whole with the returns of Brian McCann and Garret Anderson. Taking Jones out of the lineup would produce the same negative effect that manager Bobby Cox encountered far too often during the season’s first month.
Still there’s no indication that Jones is battling anything serious and so if you’re looking at the big picture, it won’t be a big deal if he needs just one more day to rest the elbow that he hyper-extended with two seperate swings on Sunday.
Winners of seven straight games, the Mets have every reason to feel good about the fact that Santana is taking the hill tonight. Still while asserting himself as the game’s top pitcher, the veteran left-hander is still winless in five career starts against the Braves.
During the four starts he’s made against the Braves since the start of the 2007 season, Santana is 0-2 with a 2.57 ERA. He has worked seven innings during each of those outings and allowed as many as three runs just once.
His most recent start against the Braves occurred on Sept. 13, when he tossed seven scoreless innings and then exited after allowing consecutive singles to begin the eighth. Two batters later, Jeff Francoeur tied the game with one of the six hits he recored last year in 33 at-bats with the bases loaded.
The numbers tell a lot about the game. But they don’t create the stories that develop.
PHILADELPHIA — Mets fans might have to wait one additional day to welcome Chipper Jones to Citi Field.
Jones hyper-extended his right elbow and then removed himself from the 4-2 win the Braves claimed over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon. The 37-year-old third baseman said there’s probably a 50 percent chance that he’ll be ready to play on Monday, when the Braves begin a three-game series against the Mets.
But the man that Mets fans affectionately recognize as “Lah-REE” says he doesn’t believe that this ailment will force him to miss more than one game.
“We’ll see how it feels tomorrow,” Jones said on Sunday. “If I can throw, I’ll play. If I can’t, then I won’t…That area is pretty jacked up right now. But I don’t see it being more than a day.”
Jones revealed that he’s been battling some tendinitis for a few weeks and that his right elbow discomfort was enhanced when he initially hyper-extended his elbow during a fifth-inning strikeout.
Two innings, later, with a swing that produced a lazy fly to right field, he felt the elbow hyper-extend again.
“I’ve had a pretty serious case of tendinitis in my elbow all year and that combined with the hyper-extension prevented me from really throwing across the infield,” Jones said. “So once we got the lead, I told Bobby to get (Martin) Prado in there because I didn’t want to hurt us defensively.”
While going hitless in three at-bats, Jones was denied the opportunity to become the sixth player since 1954 to construct a 30-game hitting streak against one club. His 29-game hitting streak against the Phillies had extended back to April 5, 2007.
According to SABR’s Trent McCotter, Jones is one 11 Major Leaguers since 1954 to compile a 29-game hitting streak against one team. Just five players have carried the streak to the 30-game mark.
If chicks really do dig the longball like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine told us in those old Nike commercials, then this should be a delightful Mother’s Day for those moms watching today’s series finale between the Braves and Phillies at windy Citizens Bank Park.
Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami is certainly susceptible to enduring the damage of the longball. But the five homers he’s surrendered in his first 26 2/3 innings are nothing compared to the National League-high 10 homers that Brett Myers allowed during his first six starts this season.
Myers has gone 0-3 with an 8.59 ERA in his past three starts against the Braves. He has surrendered three homers during two of those starts and during the other outing, he was touched for 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings.
With a strong wind blowing out to right field this afternoon, you’re going to see some defensive adventures and possibly hear some postgame quotes that include the mention of some cheap homer that was blown over the outfield wall.
Jorge Campillo, who has been on the DL since April 18 with a fatigued right shoulder, will throw a bullpen session on Monday and then possibly begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Friday.
We’ll keep this post short. But I want to again say Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, who thanks to the arrangement I made with TBS is able to watch today’s game back in Wheeling, WV.
She continues to do whatever she can to help her children. Knowing that my hotel’s cable package didn’t include Versus and forgetting about the power of the internet, she callled moments after the Penguins completed last night’s overtime victory over the Capitals.
This is the same woman who believes hockey is the worst sport going. One day when my sister and I were young, my dad proposed that we all head to Pittsburgh to see the Pens.
Mom’s response: “I don’t know why I have to go. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Well it’s good to see a Braves pitching staff producing dominant stats similar to the ones that Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine produced back in the day. Unfortunately it seems like the some of the guys producing these numbers in Gwinnett County are still a few weeks away from making the 30-mile trek to the organization’s home base in Fulton County.
In their past 15 games entering Saturday, Triple-A Gwinnett’s starting rotation had posted a 1.17 ERA. That equates to 11 runs in their past 84 2/3 innings, or one fewer run than Kenshin Kawakami has allowed in his past 9 2/3 innings.
Tommy Hanson has allowed two earned runs in his past 18 innings and Kris Medlen has totaled 13 consecutive scoreless innings to lower his season ERA to 1.17. Charlie Morton limited Durham to one run and six hits in eight innings on
Friday night. The lanky right-hander has allowed just three runs in
his past 20 innings.
Obviously it hasn’t been surprising that the two weakest links in the Atlanta rotation this year have been Kawakami and Jo-Jo Reyes, who has assured himself of going at least 11 months between Major League victories.
Because the Braves decided to give Kawakami a three-year, $23 million contract in January, some might have gained the impression that he could prove to be a difference maker. But at 33 years-old the Japanese right-hander has provided every indication he’s nothing more than a fourth or fifth starter.
But with Hanson and Medlen waiting in the wings, it would be hard to argue how Kawakami could fit in as one of the top five pitchers in the Atlanta rotation over the life of his three-year deal, which runs concurrently with Derek Lowe’s.
As for Reyes, he has shown flashes that he has the capability of being solid third starter. But as his developmental process continues to grow even longer, the 24-year-old left-hander continues to find ways to extend a losing streak that now extends back to June 23.
With improved control and the development of a solid breaking ball, Reyes possesses almost all of the tools he needs to be a successful big league pitcher. But he’s still lacks the ever-important ability to overcome adversity.
As soon as Yunel Escobar botched a second-inning grounder during the second inning of Friday’s game against the Phillies, you could basically see Reyes come unwound. He then issued a four-pitch walk to the .182-hitting Chris Coste before lobbing Cole Hamels’ swinging bunt into right field.
Should Reyes have let Hamels’ slow roller roll foul? Should he have simply thrown through Hamels to draw an interference call? Taking either one of these actions might have provided an immediate solution that would have likely prevented the Phillies from constructing their four-run second inning.
But mistakes like this are going to occur and Reyes’ most glaring sin proved to be how he reacted to the growing adversity that he faced following Escobar’s error.
I’m certainly not going to be hypocritical and claim that Morton should have been brought to Atlanta before Reyes. Because he was injured most of Spring Training, Morton really wasn’t even an option when Reyes joined the big league rotation on April 18.
In addition, I was among those who believed Reyes was the better choice because he seemed to be mentally tougher. But if he struggles on Wednesday against the Mets, Morton should be given a chance to prove himself during the final weeks of May.
Obviously, Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen are the top options available in Gwinnett. But because they aren’t on the 40-man roster, Morton be given the chance to maintain a rotation spot until one or both of those young right-handers are promoted in June.
Or Morton could at least fill a rotation spot until Tom Glavine is ready to return in a couple of weeks.
Regardless of how you analyze this, Reyes is running out of opportunities to prove himself. Despite the fact that he’s improved over the course of the past year, it’s hard to see great potential when you look at the fact that he’s 0-9 with a 6.61 ERA in his past 18 appearances (17 starts).
While the Braves have the option to move Reyes back to the Minors, they aren’t exactly in a position where they could do the same with Kawakami. First of all, he deserves more than five career starts to prove himself and secondly, by doing so the organization would be acknowledging the mistake that they made by giving him the lucrative three-year contract.
Things aren’t exactly going to get any easier for Kawakami when he opposes the Phillies at the homer haven known as Citizens Bank Park on Sunday. Having allowed five homers during the first 25 2/3 innings of his career, the baseball gods have given him the cruel assignment of making consecutive road starts in the band boxes located in Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
When I drew the analogy that this would be like sending Appalachian State into Ann Arbor on consecutive weekends, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien reminded me that going into Michigan isn’t much of a challenge now that Rich Rodriguez is coaching there.
And with that, my day has been made. It’s nice to know that non-West Virginians are now making fun of the man that both the Hatfields and McCoys love to hate.
Three weeks ago, it seemed like Tom Glavine’s next big step might be preparing his retirement speech. But the 43-year-old left-hander’s troublesome shoulder has steadily proved to be less bothersome and he made another good impression during a bullpen session at Citizens Bank Park on Friday afternoon.
“He looked good,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He had some life and he felt good.”
While primarily using a moderated effort level, Glavine threw approximately 90 pitches and revealed no signs of concerning discomfort. He utilized all of his pitches and according to some bystanders did so with impressive precission.
“Everything went well,” Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said. “He threw all of his pitches and each of them looked sharp.”
This was just the second time that Glavine has thrown off a mound since shoulder discomfort forced him to exit a Minor League rehab start with Double-A Mississippi on April 12. As long as he recovers well, he’ll likely increase his effort level during another bullpen session early next week.
During this next bullpen session, Glavine may attempt to essentially simulate a two or three-inning outing. Right now, building arm strength is more important to him than getting used to throwing to hitters again.
With the possibility that he may need to make just one or two Minor League rehab starts, there’s certainly a chance that he could rejoin the Atlanta rotation before the end of this month.
After completing Friday’s session, Glavine flew back to Atlanta to be present this weekend for his son’s First Communion.
Coming off a relaxing two-day stretch away from the team, I certainly wasn’t happy to be introduced to the two-hour delay that Delta presented this morning.
But refreshed from the two-day break, I’m going to keep a positive outlook and be thankful that the long concourses at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport provide wide-ranging ways to pass the time. Thus instead of feeling my blood pressure rise while the AJC’s Dave O’Brien continued to complain about the delay, I opted to participate in the more tranquil activity of dancing barefoot on a bed of nails.
OK, enough stretching the truth to simply deliver a point. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a light at the end of every tunnel and the Braves have seemingly started to dig themselves out of a mess by beginning this eight-game road trip with a two-game sweep of the Marlins.
When you’ve got your ace (Derek Lowe) going up against a Minor League replacement (Graham Taylor), you’re obviously supposed to win. Then when you finally give Jair Jurrjens the little bit of run support that he’s been seeking over the past couple of weeks, you certainly need to take advantage of this opportunity to sweep your way out of South Florida.
But the Braves have simply passed level one during this game that we’ll call May’s influential road trip. Fortunately like in the world of video games, passing this first challenge has gained them the opportunity to enter their upcoming battles against the Mets and Phillies with a new weapon in the form of Brian McCann.
With his new prescription Oakley sports glasses, McCann is expected to return to the lineup for tonight’s series opener against Cole Hamels and the Phillies. It’s going to take him some time to get comfortable with his new goalie-style mask. In addition, he’s going to have to find a way to limit the amount of fog that gathers on his lenses as a result of heat and perspiration.
But as long as he can continue his productive offensive ways, the Braves are going to start consistently providing the support that their pitching staff has been consistently denied over the past three weeks. We’re 28 games into the season and it’s been 24 games since McCann made his presence felt in the lineup.
This is the primary reason that it’s truly remarkable that the Braves are just two games behind the front-running Phillies in the National League East race. If we truly are trying to look at things in a positive light, would it be ridiculous to at least allow yourself to think about the possibility of them sweeping their way to the top of the division by the end of the weekend?
In order to defense against being held responsible for jinxing the possibility, I will say that the numbers prove that there’s no way in Philadelphia that Jo-Jo Reyes will beat Hamels tonight.
During his 11 career starts against the Braves, Hamels has allowed two runs or fewer six times. In his past three appearances at Citizens Bank Park, Reyes has worked 12 2/3 innings, allowed 20 hits and posted a 9.24 ERA.
But this is the new-and-improved Reyes and Hamels has to go all the way back to Sept. 18 to remember his last win against the Braves. Five days later, while allowing two earned runs in seven innings, he suffered his first loss against them in a span of nine starts.
The decisive blow that provided Mike Hampton a win that Sept. 23 evening came courtesy of Casey Kotchman’s sixth-inning solo homer.
If you are only as good as your last game, then Kotchman is coming into Philadelphia on a power barrage. The Braves first baseman homered for the first time this season during his three-hit performance against the Marlins on Thursday afternoon.
While compiling a team-high 12 extra-base hits this year, Kotchman has lived up to the billing of being a solid gap hitter with limited power. But in Hamels’ eyes, the left-handed slugger has plenty of pop in his bat.
In nine career at-bats against Hamels, Kotchman has collected four hits and three of those have landed over the outfield wall. Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Delgado and Jorge Cantu are the only other Major Leaguers who have hit three homers against the Phillies ace and each of them have compiled this total with at least 14 at-bats.
Kevin Millwood is the only other Major League pitcher that Kotchman has homered against three times. He has reached this total in a span of 15 at-bats against the former Atlanta right-hander.
Kotchman is a reserved man who generally hides his emotions. But this will certainly be a special Mother’s Day weekend for him and his family. As many of you know, his mother, Sarah, nearly lost her life when her brain began to hemorrhage last August.
It was great to see Mrs. Kotchman and her husband, Tom, at Turner Field on Monday. They are justifiably proud of their son and it was truly a delight to talk to them about the miraculous medical ordeal that they encountered last year.
I want to thank them for taking time to talk about the event and end this blog by saying Happy Mother’s Day to my mother, Sara Bowman.
Many of us will say thank you to our mothers this weekend. But can words truly convey the appreciation we have for the women who gave us life and then sacrificed so much with the hope that ours would at least be as great as the ones they’ve enjoyed?
Welcome to the most influential 10-day stretch the Braves have encountered during this still-young season. Over the course of the next 10 games, the Braves will have a chance to keep themselves in the thick of the National League East while solely playing the Mets, Marlins and Phillies.
In the process, they might also have the chance to construct some lineups that include Brian McCann and Garret Anderson, who are both hoping to be activated from the disabled list this week. Anderson is expected to be activated for Tuesday’s series finale against the Mets and as long as his prescription Oakleys prove to be beneficial McCann could end his DL stint in time to be behind the plate for Friday’s series opener in Philadelphia.
Braves manager Bobby Cox’s Opening Day lineup had McCann batting cleanup and Anderson sitting behind him in the fifth spot of the order. That exact lineup has been utilized just three times this year and Cox has had a total of four lineups that have included both McCann and Anderson.
“We miss Anderson and Mac, they’re two of our big thumpers,” Cox said. “They’ve been out together for a long time. So it’s a lot to overcome.”
Given that injuries have also sidelined both Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar for at least three games this year, the Braves have even reason to feel fortunate that they are just 2 ½ games behind the front-running Marlins in the NL East race.
With a significant portion of their projected power (Anderson and McCann), it’s easy to understand why the Braves rank 10th in the National League with a .405 slugging percentage and 14th with 19 home runs.
Of course most of that production occurred during the opening series in Philadelphia when McCann’s vision was still allowing him to perform like one of the game’s top catchers. In the 21 games that have followed, the Braves have hit .258 with 11 homers and a .383 slugging percentage.
Without surprise, the two least productive positions during this 21-game span have been the ones originally reserved for McCann and Anderson. Since the Philadelphia series, the Braves left fielders have hit .215 with a .642 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and their catchers have hit .232 with a .763 OPS.
While David Ross has at least provided some production in McCann’s absence, it’s obvious that the Braves need McCann to return to form and provide Chipper Jones necessary protection.
Obviously the sore left thumb that he carried out of Spring Training has played a part in the fact that Jones has hit .273 with one homer and an .838 OPS in the past 13 games. But so too has the fact that the injury-depleted lineup has given pitchers less reason to provide the veteran third baseman with a chance to hurt them.
Kelly returns to the leadoff spot: Cox has put Kelly Johnson back in the leadoff spot tonight against the Mets, who are starting right-hander John Maine. Johnson has three hits, including a triple and a double, in 12 career at-bats against Maine.
Coming off the first consecutive three-strikeout performances of his young career, Jordan Schafer is once again batting in the eighth spot. Schafer’s NL-leading 30 strikeouts are a product of overaggressive rookie play and the fact that he too often hasn’t shortened his swing when he’s fallen behind in the count.
In the 37 plate appearances that he’s gotten ahead with a 1-0 count, he’s drawn 13 walks, recorded 11 strikeouts and produced a .514 on-base percentage. In the 51 plate appearances that he’s fallen behind with an 0-1 count, he’s drawn five walks, struck out 19 times and produced a .333 on-base percentage.
More concerning than the strikeouts themselves is that Schafer has hit .111 (2-for-18) with eight strikeouts and no RBIs in 24 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
Jordan Schafer’s stint in the leadoff spot was short-lived or at least interrupted by the fact that the Astros were starting a left-hander during Sunday’s series finale. My guess is that we’ll see him back in the top spot against some right-handed starters in the very near future.
But Schafer didn’t exactly make a good first impression in the role on Saturday, when he struck out three times and mistakenly read left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak’s pickoff move during a fifth-inning stolen base attempt.
Manager Bobby Cox’s decision to move Schafer back down to the eighth spot on Sunday wasn’t as surprising as the fact that Kelly Johnson found himself back on the bench for the fourth time in five games. The second baseman broke out of a 4-for-39 funk with a pair of hits on Saturday.
Obviously the right-handed hitting Omar Infante has been hot recently, recording six hits in the 12 at-bats he recorded in the leadoff role last week. Using him in a strict platoon role at second base is easier to understand from a defensive perspective. Statistically, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
This year Johnson has hit .308 (8-for-26) against left-handed pitchers and just .174 against right-handed pitchers. Dating back to the beginning of the 2008 season, the 27-year-old second baseman has hit .330 (58-for-176) against left-handed pitchers and .260 (115-for-443) against right-handed pitchers. <p>
Anderson delcines rehab: Like I’ve said in the past, Garret Anderson is a nice guy who had a nice career with the Angels. But as time passes, he simply gives more reason to reason to wonder how motivated he is to play in Atlanta.
I can understand that he has a reserved personality that makes it difficult to truly understand his passion. But given a chance to at least prove his motivation through actions, he still leads you to simply shake your head and wonder what he’ll provide when he’s activated from the disabled list on Tuesday.
Per his right, Anderson declined the Braves request to see some live pitching during a Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Gwinnett. Nobody was asking him to fly to some scenic Minor League town. He would have simply needed to drive about 20-30 minutes north on I-85 to get a few at-bats.
Is that asking too much from a guy who has registered a total of 49 plate appearances since the American League Division Series concluded last year?
Kenshin set to pitch: When a lengthy rain delay limited Jair Jurrjens to two innings on Saturday, there was reason to at least wonder if the Braves might opt to bring him back to start in place of Kenshin Kawakami on Tuesday against the Mets.
But Kawakami has provided the Braves every reason to beleive that his right shoulder is feeling good enough to make Tuesday’s start. The 33-year-old right-hander hasn’t pitched since allowing eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Reds on April 26.
Braves manager Bobby Cox has put Kelly Johnson back in the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Astros. But Johnson will be batting sixth, while Jordan Schafer gets his first chance in the leadoff role.
Schafer is undoubtedly the closest thing the Braves have to a prototypical leadoff hitter. During the past nine games, the 22-year-old rookie center fielder has hit .273 with a .529 on-base percentage. The 12 walks he’s drawn during this span are encouraging and also a product of the fact that opposing pitchers have been more comfortable facing the other hitters at the bottom of the Braves lineup.
In the 19 plate appearances he’s collected while beginning an inning this year, Schafer has hit .375 with a .474 on-base percentage.
The fact Schafer has just one stolen base attempt this year is also a product of his former position near the bottom of the order. He has the speed and instincts to record at least 25 stolen bases this year.
Plus while batting in front of Yunel Escobar, who has a 3.75 groundball-to-flyball ratio, Schafer is going to find himself involved a lot more hit-and-run attempts. Escobar also puts the ball in play, striking out just seven times during his first 77 at-bats.
You have to like Schafer and Escobar at the top of the lineup together. There was little doubt that Cox wasn’t going to put Johnson back in the leadoff spot and yesterday I ran these graphs while wondering if Cox would use Escobar at the top of the lineup and wait a little longer to put Schafer in this role:
In 72 career plate appearances while serving as his team’s first batter
of the game, he’s hit .429 with a .444 on-base percentage.
In the 251 plate appearances he’s gathered while leading off an inning, he’s hit .333 with a .378 on-base percentage.
But with that being said, Schafer is the best option in the leadoff role and I don’t think putting him there will affect his development. He’s had just one rough week during his first month in the Majors and I think you’ll see him show some of the same patience that he has displayed while hitting seventh and eighth this year.
The only question is, will pitchers approach him in the same manner?
This move also benefits Johnson, who has the ability to be a solid run producer. In the
133 at-bats he combined for while hitting sixth or seventh last year, he hit .294
and seemed much more comfortable in roles that allowed him to maintain
his aggressive offensive approach.
Despite his three-RBI performance last night, Jeff Francoeur is hitting fifth today. With the Astros starting right-hander Roy Oswalt, Cox has put the left-handed hitting Casey Kotchman back in the cleanup spot.
Back from being with his wife while she delivered their newest child yesterday, David Ross is back behind the plate for this afternoon’s game.
Brian McCann has come to the realization that he can’t cure his impaired vision with contacts. Thus the All-Star catcher will explore one more alternative before facing the possibility that he’ll have to once again undergo Lasik surgery.
McCann has ordered a pair of prescription Oakley glasses that should arrive in time for him to begin another Minor League rehab assignment next week. He’s hoping to get better results than he gained with the contacts on Tuesday and Wednesday, while playing for Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach.
“The contacts didn’t work,” McCann said. “They made my eyes too dry. I tried using drops and it would be fine for a while, but then it would be blurred again. We’re going to try the glasses as a last resort.”
McCann, who is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 8, has experienced blurred vision in his left eye since Opening Day. He has attempted multiple of remedies with the hope that he won’t have to undergo the same Lasik procedure that was performed on him after the 2007 season.
McCann has been told that his inability to wear contacts is a result of the original surgery.
“When you do Lasik, it changes the shape of your eye and right now the contacts don’t fit the shape of my eyes,” McCann said.
Although his problem has been with his left eye, McCann was prescribed contact lenses for both eyes earlier this week. While he played two games for Myrtle Beach, the power in his left lens was -.50 and the power in his right lens was -.25.
McCann will likely begin his next rehab assignment on Monday or Tuesday.