Braves once again attempt to break free from Marlins
Covering a Sunday night baseball game in Philadelphia and then experiencing the majority of your sleep on the flight to Ft. Lauderdale isn’t exactly pleasurable. But arriving in your hotel room and gaining the joy created from the sight of Rich Rodriguez fighting back tears made this a great day to be a West Virginian.
Losing two of three to the Phillies obviously wasn’t the way the Braves wanted to end a week that was also damaged with the two losses they’d suffered against the Padres. But at the conclusion of this past weekend’s series, I’d have to say I felt as optimistic about their postseason hopes as I had earlier this month, when they took three of four from the Dodgers.
Mother Nature affected both clubs on Friday night. But it seems obvious that the Braves were affected more by the fact that they had to remove Tommy Hanson after just two innings.
During Saturday’s game, the Braves baffled Cliff Lee and captured an unexpected win. Then while claiming Sunday night’s series finale, the Phillies took advantage of the events that followed Adam LaRoche’s decision to charge on Pedro Feliz’s surprise seventh-inning bunt that went to the third base side of the mound.
Still Martin Prado got to first base in time and should have sacrificed his body while attempting to secure Chipper Jones’ catchable throw. His decision not to do so created the error that put the Phillies in position to claim a victory that ended with Greg Norton concluding Brad Lidge’s perfect ninth with a strikeout.
Norton has managed to produce a .419 on-base percentage since the All-Star break. But he also has just one hit in his last 19 plate appearances and it’s not like he has the speed to potentially turn a walk into a double.
Still with the benefit of having two middle infielders (Omar Infante and Kelly Johnson) on his bench, Braves manager Bobby Cox stuck went with Norton. In Cox’s defense, Johnson is hitless with three strikeouts in five career at-bats against Lidge and Infante is 1-for-6.
As for Norton, he is 2-for-7 in his career against Lidge and he had drawn walks in each of his three previous plate appearances against the veteran closer this year.
While it was a questionable decision, it wasn’t as if Cox made the worst coaching mistake in sports history. I mean, it’s not like he squandered a chance to go to the national championship game by losing a home game to Pitt or anything. Oh wait, did I mention that Rodriguez was seen fighting back tears this morning?
For those of you who aren’t college football fans, West Virginia’s loss that night to Pitt would be the equivalent of the Braves losing four straight to the Nationals to end the season and erase the three-game WC lead they’d possessed entering the series.
Now back to the Braves postseason outlook. For you Michigan fans not familiar with baseball, this would be like advancing to one of those bowl games that you used to visit during the pre-Rodriguez days.
Unfortunately time isn’t providing the Braves the same margin of error that they possessed on Aug. 9, when they exited Los Angeles having used the series win over the Dodgers to move to within 3 ½ games of the National League Wild Card lead.
At that time, their challenge was to erase that deficit and leap frog four teams in a span of 50 games.
Heading into tonight’s series opener against the Marlins, the Braves have just 32 games to erase this same 3 ½-game deficit that they face in the Wild Card standings. But they now have just two teams in front of them and the opportunity this week to put the Marlins in their rear-view mirror.
This is the third time since July 28 that the Braves and Marlins have started a series against each other with identical records and to further prove how evenly-matched these two clubs appear to be, they’ve split the previous six games played during this span.
Once this series with the Marlins concludes, the Braves will play 19 of their final 28 games against teams that currently possess a losing record. The Rockies will play 19 of their final 31 games at Coors Field, where they’ve gone 36-26 this year.
The Giants play 16 of their final 31 games at home might be more intriguing. They’ve gone 44-21 in San Francisco and 28-38 on the road this year.
CF update: After examining the results of Nate McLouth’s MRI exam today, doctors once again determined that his left hamstring is simply strained and not torn. The Braves will further discuss his status as the week progresses and determine whether he’ll continue to rehab with the big league club or in Minor League games.
With his back feeling better on Tuesday, Ryan Church gained hope that he could return to the lineup on Tuesday.
Jordan Schafer underwent a surgical procedure to remove a bone spur from his left wrist on Monday. The 22-year-old center fielder won’t be able to participate in Winter Ball. But the Braves are confident that he’ll be ready for the start of Spring Training.