Braves still quiet on the trade front
All remains quiet on the Braves trade front and there’s no reason to expect that the Phillies acquisition of Cliff Lee is going to force Frank Wren to feel like he has to make a deal before Friday’s deadline.
The Braves have spent the past couple days inquiring about some relievers and primarily found the ones that interest them aren’t available. This isn’t to say Wren won’t pull the trigger within the next 48 hours. But at this time, it appears that he’ll stand pat.
While Lee will certainly upgrade the Phillies rotation, his presence in Philadelphia doesn’t exactly significantly alter the challenge the Braves face in their bid to advance to the postseason. Entering Wednesday, they were eight games behind the front-running Phillies in the National League East race and understanding the reality that it would be wise to worry more about the 3 1/2 -game deficit they face in the Wild Card race.
“You hate to see the team that you’re chasing get better,” David Ross said. “But if you want to make the playoffs and reach the World Series, you’re going to have to beat the Roy Halladays, Cliff Lees and Josh Becketts. In one sense, I wish the Phillies hadn’t gotten better. But in another sense, I don’t think that he’s unbeatable.”
Obviously Lee’s presence presents the possibility that the head-to-head matchups against the Phillies will prove to be more challenging. But the Braves have gone 20-15 against left-handed starters this year and they have won seven of the nine games they’ve played against the Phillies this year.
Braves starting pitchers have allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of the nine games played against the Phillies this year. If they can continue this success during the final nine games played against the defending world champs, Lee won’t have much of an effect on their hopes to at least gain entry to the postseason via the Wild Card.
When Rafael Soriano entered Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins with the responsibility of protecting a one-run lead, it was easy to draw the same assumption that was present when the Braves used to send John Smoltz to the mound to close games.
The Braves had won 29 of the previous 33 games during which Soriano had pitched and he hadn’t allowed a run or hit during two of the four losses suffered during that span. The only other blown save he’d experienced in 15 previous opportunities occurred during the May 13 game that the Braves won when Martin Prado doomed the Mets with a 12th-inning homer.
But while pitching with three days of rest last night, Soriano showed some signs of impending trouble when he issued Cody Ross a four-pitch, leadoff walk. He hadn’t issued a walk to any of the previous 33 batters that he’d faced and during his previous five appearances, he’d thrown 53 of his 67 pitches for strikes.
After Soriano recorded just three strikes in this 10-pitch appearance against the Marlins, Braves manager Bobby Cox complained about Jerry Meals’ strike zone. But really the only thing that mattered at the end of the night was the fact that Soriano grooved a 3-1 fastball that Ross Gload turned into a two-run, walk-off homer.
With Josh Johnson set to oppose Kenshin Kawakami tonight, this certainly wasn’t an opportune time for Soriano to prove to be mortal. But at the same time, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to worry about how this one shaky outing will affect the stone-faced closer.