Braves attempt to get healthy in Philly
After suffering their ninth loss in their past 10 road games on Thursday night, the Braves players had a chance to gain at least an ounce of optimism. As their train rumbled from Washington to Philadelphia, they passed through Baltimore and had the chance to think, “well things could be worse.”
Sitting 13 ½ games behind the front-running Rays in the American League East race, the 8-21 Orioles have already given the Baltimore fans reason to anticipate the kickoff of the NFL season. Despite losing 11 of their past 15 games, the Braves still enter this weekend’s series in Philadelphia just five games behind the first-place Phillies.
Given that they spent most of the season’s first month without their spirited leadoff hitter (Jimmy Rollins), their closer (Brad Lidge), and two-fifths of their projected starting rotation (Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ), the Phillies are thrilled to be approaching the regular season’s sixth week in a familiar spot atop the NL East standings.
And as the hits keep coming (well, at least off the field), the Braves find themselves limping into this weekend’s series without their run-producing shortstop (Yunel Escobar), a projected co-ace( Jair Jurrjens) and the concern that they may need to wait a few more days before putting Jason Heyward (sore right groin) can do anything more than serve as a pinch hitter.
Heyward has lived up to the expectations of those who boldly predicted that he could prove to be an immediate difference maker. But as he enjoys a stellar rookie season , he is starting to understand what Michael Jordan felt before Scottie Pippin started running with the Bulls.
Through his first 27 Major League games, Heyward has compiled eight homers and 26 RBIs. Simply referring to these stats as team-high totals provides just a portion of the story.
While primarily hitting in the sixth or seventh spot of the lineup, Heyward has compiled more RBIs than the combined totals of Brian McCann (9), Chipper Jones (7) and Yunel Escobar (8). His eight homers match the combined totals of McCann, McLouth, Jones and Glaus, who have each gone deep twice, or two fewer times than Heyward has over the course of the past seven games.
Regardless of how the rest of the Braves fare over the course of this season, the story of Heyward’s rookie season seems destined to be memorable.
But if McCann, Jones and Troy Glaus continue to combine for 31 RBIs over the course of 28-game stretches, the story of Bobby Cox’s final season will be one that Stephen King could pen.
Still while there has been plenty of doom and gloom surrounding the Braves recently, the makeup of a 162-game season still provides them the opportunity to exit Philadelphia on Sunday with the belief that they still have a chance to prevent the Phillies from winning a fourth consecutive division title.
Given the benefit of not having to face Roy Halladay this weekend, the Braves could certainly at least take two of three and reduce their division deficit to four games.
But with Kris Medlen making a spot start on Saturday and Kenshin Kawakami going up against a recently-rejuvenated Cole Hamels on Sunday, it feels like the Braves have to win tonight, when they send Derek Lowe to the mound to face Jamie Moyer.
The 47-year-old Moyer has allowed at least four earned runs in four of his first five starts and carries a 5.70 ERA into this series opener. Further proving how anemic Cox’s offense has been, Moyer’s only strong effort of the year came on April 22, when he limited the Braves to two unearned runs and four hits in six innings.
Dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season, Moyer is 15-12 with a 5.06 ERA. In three appearances against the Braves during this span, he is 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA.
But with Lowe on the mound tonight, isn’t the Braves offense due to erupt?
Yes the Braves have scored seven or more runs in four of Lowe’s first six starts this year. But while he was allowing the Phillies on five runs — four earned — in five innings a couple of weeks ago, Moyer was helping limit the Braves to just three runs.
As I was leaving Nationals Park last night with the AJC’s Carroll Rogers, I was reminded of one of the best goodbyes I’ve ever heard in a press box.
After watching the Braves blow a five-run lead for the second straight day in Philadelphia on July 27, 2008, Rogers drew the attention of the Philadelphia Daily News’ Paul Hagen and said “I’m sure glad that I don’t have to cover 81 games in this ballpark.”
The quick-witted Hagen responded, “I’m sure glad I don’t have to cover your team’s bullpen for 162 games.”
As the Braves head into tonight’s series opener, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most of you are hoping to spend the next five months following something different than what you’ve witnessed during this season’s first 28 games.