Braves set to conclude a memorable May

Before looking at how the Braves have positioned themselves to move into first place within any of the next three days, I want to thank my father, uncle and each of you who have given us this opportunity to take time today to remember why we have been afforded the chance to enjoy the freedoms provided us here in the United States. 

Based on the way the Braves have played over the course of the past three weeks, there was growing reason to believe there could come a point where they would start seriously challenging Philadelphia’s National League East supremacy.  But two weeks ago, when they sat a season-high 6 1/2 games back, there certainly wasn’t much reason to think they could enter June as the division leaders. 

With the Phillies having scored a total of seven runs while losing six of their past eight games, their manager Charlie Manuel brings a staggered bunch into Turner Field this week.  Winners of 15 of their past 19 games, the Braves enter this afternoon’s series opener just a half-game back in the NL East race. 

Over the course of the previous four seasons, the Braves never even held a share of first place after May 15.   In fact during the 2006, 2008 and 2009 seasons, they never sat above second place this late in the season after April 12.

Now if Phil Niekro can get his arm loose and find some of his get his knuckleball to start dancing again this week, the Braves might really be able to prolong Philadelphia’s offensive woes this week.  

The Phillies have been shutout five times over the course of their past eight games and the only time they scored during any of the six losses that encompassed this span was when they tallied three ninth-inning runs after knuckleballer Tim Wakefield blanked them for eight innings on May 23.

Forty-eight hours after being handcuffed by Wakefield’s knuckler, the defending National League champs were blanked by the one delivered by R.A. Dickey.   This prompted Bobby Cox to playfully tell one of the members of his club’s media relations staff, “why don’t you throw Niekro in there as one of our probables for the Phillies series.”

“With that lineup, it’s just a matter of time before they bust loose,” Chipper Jones said. “Fortunately I like our pitching staff and I think our pitching staff can continue to hold them down.”    

With Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe set to take the mound this week, the Braves seemingly match up much better than the Phillies, who will not be sending Roy Halladay or Jamie Moyer to the mound during this week’s series. 

Like knuckleballers have been Philadelphia’s kryptonite, Moyer arguably had the same effect on the Braves when they endured their nine-game losing streak at the end of April.   The 47-year-old left-hander has allowed at least four earned runs in six of his first 10 starts this year.  But in two outings against Atlanta he has completed 15 innings without surrendering an earned run. 

Halladay marked the beginning of that nine-game losing streak and the next night Moyer prolonged it by throwing six scoreless innings at Turner Field.  Seven days later, the Braves had endured a nine-day stretch during which they had hit .223 and totaled 17 runs.

As miserable as that span seemed to be, the potent Phillies offense has actually been even worse recently.  During their past eight games, they have batted just .186 and tallied seven runs.

Within these eight games, the Phillies have missed Jimmy Rollins’ presence at the top of their lineup and seen Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth combine to hit .130 (11-for-84) with two extra-base hits  (a double and a triple). 

In the 16 games played since Martin Prado began handling the leadoff role on virtually an everyday basis, the Braves have hit .289 and scored 5.6 runs per game.  Whey exited Philadelphia on May 9, they had gone through the season’s first 31 games hitting .232 and scoring 3.9 runs per game. 

It appears this is a much different Braves club than the one that lost four of its first six games to the Phillies this year.   But if they are going to maximize the dividends created by the turnaround they have enjoyed this month, they need to make a statement this week at Turner Field. 

Exiting this series in first place would simply be a by-product of the more important opportunity to gain further confidence by claiming a series victory against these Phillies, who are currently vulnerable and always dangerous. 

NOTES:  If the Braves are able to claim a victory with Hanson on the mound this afternoon, they will have gone 20-8 in May.  In other words no matter what happens in this series opener, they will not lose more games during this 31-day stretch than they did during that forgettable nine-game stretch in April…Jason Heyward enters this series opener with an NL-best 1.017 OPS.  He’s legitimized his candidacy for an All-Star bid and also given reason to be an early MVP favorite…Prado leads the NL with a .325 batting average. Back when they were playing in the Minors, Brian McCann predicted Prado would win a batting title.  We’ll see if his words prove prophetic this year.

26 Comments

I would also like to my thanks to all the fine men and women that have indeed given ” The full measure of devotion” for their country. Also a tip of the cap and few moments in reflection for those currently serving.

Now on to baseball, Great to see the Bravos playing this well. Especially nice for the few that kept the faith on the blog.

As oppossed to going on a nightly rant and laying down a diatribe about how the offense was beyond hope.

Just nice to see some starting to realize that the Braves as currently constructed are a pretty good team. Still need one more righty bat to log some time in the Outfield(no not Diaz) without selling the farm.

Now part of the improvement in May can be attributd to the caliber of teams. Starting today the level of compettiton will improve and I also look for the Braves to continue their fine work.

I look for Esco to really bust out of his malaise. Will be nice to get JJ back hopefully before the month is over.

Braves are indeed a NL Contender!

Mark, thanks for the reminder to me (and to all) that this day we can celebrate our freedom because of men and women who have made and paid the ultimate sacrifice to give us the freedoms we enjoy.

Many young men who were promising athletes and baseball players sacrificed not only their careers, but their very lives for our country.

One particular annual remembrance of mine is a promising young minor league player named Frank Draper, Jr. who was one of the first to fall in the landing in Normandy. But there have been SO many others. God bless and protect our troops, and God bless America!

It is a particular joy that May has seen nearly all of our struggling bats finally rise above the Medoza line. I believe that only Nate McClouth now remains below. It is also worth noting the improvement of the Brave’s offense and record since Bobby made the decision to put Prado in the one slot, and Heyward into the two slot in the line up. Memorial day is the first mark on the season measuring stick. It is truly amazing to me as we approach this first measuring point that the Braves have overcome their injuries, and 9 game losing streak to place themselves in a position to contend. Let’s all hope that there is no June Swoon!

In follow up to the above, I thought some of you might want to read about baseball in wartime:

http://www.baseballinwartime.com/in_memoriam/draper_frank.htm

As a Canadian it actually took me a minute to figure out why you were all talking about those who had served… so I’ll give a shout out on behalf of my grandfather who served in the US Army.

I like the Lineup today! It’s the first time in a couple of weeks I’ve seen what to me is THE Lineup for the Braves – and I’m glad it includes Hinske. I could go either way on Cabrera/McLouth right now.

I am wondering though… does anyone think Chipper might fit in better in the 2 spot? He’s walking, Heyward can knock him in. I’d kind of like to see it tried anyway…

When’s the last time a rookie has won the MVP? Boy, that would be something…

Prado is the man, and at times is carrying the team himself.

I’m really trying to hold back my excitement and expectations. For one, it always seems so hard to get that .5 game that would put us on top…also, as it’s been mentioned, we all know Philly is too good to let this continue longer. They’re due. Hope I’m wrong.

I’ll retract my Chipper/Heyward flip request in light of Chipper’s first inning homer after Heyward flied out, but I’ll emphasize my Hinke comment in light of his rbi single

bravenorth, I know that I proposed last week that Heyward bat behind Jones in the cleanup spot. But I think I am with you in the belief that they would be best suited having Jones sit in the two hole and Heyward in the three hole. Chipper is still going to draw his walks there and also move Prado over consistently with the bat control that he still possess.

Like in today’s first inning, Chipper will still occasionally show some power. But I’m not sure if he has enough left to maximize the value you want coming out of the three hole.

Hanson has been fighting control problems each of these past few outings. But what makes him so special is his ability to stay calm and make the adjustments that he has today and during last week’s start in Florida.

You know guys, if our offense keeps being this potent, I’d be contempt with McLouth hitting like crap as long as he continues taking walks and playing solid defense.

I just got off work and have been watching the play by play on my blackberry. Great game so far! Can someone tell me why Charlie Manuel got ejected? All it said in the play by play was “on field delay”.

The Atlanta Braves have sole possession of first place in the National League East. Feels pretty good to say that.

It’s between Heyward and Glaus for Braves player of the month of May. Hudson too, if you want to include pitchers.

Braves Player of the Month, what about NL player of the month? And you need to include Prado, he had 22 RBI’s in May compared to 19 for Heyward and 28 for Glaus and that was batting after either McLouth or the pitcher’s spot. SoCar Manuel got tossed because he argued the reversal of a HBP call. 1st place. SWEEEEET!!!!!!

Lets all take the time to say a prayer for those who gave their lives so that we can live in a free country and for those who still fight to keep it that way. I lost a lot of friends in Vietnam and still think about them. God Bless all of our soldiers. I am glad to see the Braves in 1st place. Its been a long time coming. I am wondering though, do you think with this being Bobby’s last year, each team they play will somehow show their appreciation and respect for him by doing something during the last game they will play with him

Lets all take the time to say a prayer for those who gave their lives so that we can live in a free country and for those who still fight to keep it that way. I lost a lot of friends in Vietnam and still think about them. God Bless all of our soldiers. I am glad to see the Braves in 1st place. Its been a long time coming. I am wondering though, do you think with this being Bobby’s last year, each team they play will somehow show their appreciation and respect for him by doing something during the last game they will play with him

Any word if the Braves will pick up Dontrelle for maybe some bullpen depth or starting rotation depth on the upside he is a good hitter and could be use as a pinch hitter off the bench, hey who know he could be the next Ankiel.

Great to see the Braves playing so well this month, and a solid day by Chipper today as the Braves move into first place ahead of Philly. I still think this lineup is more formidable with Heyward in the three hole. Now with Escobar beginning to hit, maybe he moves into the two spot and Heyward will finally find his new home in the three spot.

Can’t complain too much with first place team though. Keep up the great work Bravos!

Loving this current run, but june is going to be a huge month for the braves, some very very hard games in june.

Lets be honest, this may schedule for the braves couldnt of been much kinder, they basically played a procession of awful teams, and had to have a huge month. June is key, a good june and I think we will make the postseason. We need to go +.500 in june

anyone got stats on the combined record of braves opponents in may as what their opponents in june will have as a combined record?

We have been made to look very good by some awful sides, lets hope it doesnt fall back to 85-90 win season form in june

that last post didnt make much sense, basically i was wondering (as of june 1st) what is the combined record of opponents of the braves in may as opposed to what it will be in june. I fear this will calm us all down with respect to our expectations of this side going forward

Just got back from Atlanta where I enjoyed the Saturday/Sunday games against the Pirates. First place feels good! I have to give credit to The Braves staff and Turner Field. Great game day production! The whole “This is Braves Country” theme is awesome, and the ticket takers, ushers, etc… were over-the-top friendly and welcoming. just reminds me of what a first class organization we root for.

On to baseball – We’re playing GREAT baseball right now. I think we all realize deep down that we’re not going to runaway with this thing. It will be an absolute dog fight with the Phils. They will indeed turn things around. However, the Braves have temporarily quenched my thirst for another power bat. I actually think we have enough pop right now to keep us afloat. Of course that depends on if they all continue to produce the way they have been.
I do, however, still think a move needs to be made to acquire a lead off hitter. Prado has been GREAT at lead off. However, I would LOVE to put him back at the 2 hole and move Heyward down to the heart of the order. For as many rbi’s as he has, he would have a lot more if he was batting 3-4-5.
The Phillies will get better. We also can’t forget about any of the other division foes. I still think we’re a move or two away and I think Wren will try something before the trade deadline.
Of course, there is the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”… Can’t wait to see how this all plays out before the trade deadline. Hopefully the Phils continue to spiral down and we create some space between them!

I agree with you Bill…..Prado could easily be NL player of the month. However, you can’t discount the amazing months had by Heyward, Glaus, and Huddy (don’t forget he’s swinging the stick a bit as well).
On another note, it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens when Jurrjens is inserted back into the rotation. I can’t help but think that Medlen’s upside is too much to put him back in a long relief role. I don’t dislike Kawakami, but I think at this point he is better suited in the ‘pen. And who knows, maybe that gets him going and he finds a niche down there.
Also, WHERE IS LUIS VALDEZ?

Speedy, I totally agree, never meant to dismiss the efforts of Glaus and Heyward. Now Huddy would maybe make a great leadoff hitter too, jk… And as much as I would like to see Medlen in the 5th starter spot it would be really difficult for FW to explain why he was paying a long reliever 7M/yr.

As far as approaching the trade deadline, I think we have one really glaring need which doesn’t seem to be getting better on any front. Schafer doesn’t seem to be making any rapid progress in his rehab and McLouth’s swing is worse now than it was in spring. It seems like he is resisting any efforts to change it to get a better result. The problem is going to be finding anyone on the trade market who fits the bill. I’m not sure FW has any money left to spend on a contract and i’m not sure he could move Nate even if he was willing to eat a bunch of salary. One would hope NMc would get better out of a top of the lineup spot with less pressure, but if May was a experiment it failed miserably.

I realize that its been documented that Nate has already changed his batting stance, but maybe its not the mechanics that are the problem. To me, it sounds just as much mental as it is physical. Maybe he should try laying down a few bunts and spraying the ball the other way just to get used to hitting the ball again. I’m no hitting coach but its just a suggestion, because he’s not getting on base with the way things are going now. But, to be honest, if he doesn’t watch out we could see Melky take a majority of his playing time. Hinske has been great with the stick this year and deserves to play a great deal as does Infante. There really isn’t room in the lineup for a guy to start everyday with a batting average below the mendoza line.
Oh, and billreef, I agree that KK will probably stay in the rotation because of his paycheck, but I just feel the bullpen would be best for him at this point. Because, unfortunately, there is a lot more to the game than just how well you are playing.

The last guy that won ROY and MVP was Iricho.

The last guy that won ROY and MVP was Iricho.

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