September 2010

Prado will miss the remainder of the season

Martin Prado will miss the remainder of the season.  Results from an MRI exam performed Tuesday afternoon revealed that he has a torn left oblique muscle.

This was damaging news for the Braves who already were prepared to be without him for a week or two while he recovered from a left hip pointer suffered during Monday night’s win over the Marlins.  The oblique strain will require at least two months of rehab. 

With Prado sidelined, the Braves will use Brooks Conrad as their primary third baseman. Diory Hernandez would serve as the next best defensive option at third.  Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske could play the hot corner in an emergency situation. 

Prado seemingly suffered the hip pointer and oblique strain while going across his body and leaping to grab Dan Uggla’s fourth-inning line drive in the fifth inning of Monday night’s win over the Marlins.

One inning later Prado landed on his hip again and slowly rose to his feet.  During the bottom of the fifth, he hit a chopper back to the mound and then went to the ground after taking just a step or two out of the batter’s box.    

Resilent Braves attempt to march on without Prado

While limping their way toward the finish line over the course of the past month, the Braves have proven to be a maddening bunch.  But if they are preparing for a postseason series at this time next week, they’ll be heralded as the “resilient bunch that gave Bobby Cox one more chance to experience the thrill of the playoffs.”

The Braves gained a half-game lead over the Padres in the National League Wild Card standings last night and lost their most valuable player in the process.  Nobody ever guaranteed that Cox’s final days on the bench were going to be a walk in the park. 

When Chipper Jones was lost for the season in August, the Braves sat atop the NL East standings and had the comfort of knowing that Martin Prado was more than capable to serve as a reliable third baseman. 

Now with Prado sidelined for an undetermined amount of time with the left hip pointer he suffered last night, the Braves have no room for error and only reason to hope that Brooks Conrad continues to serve as their Mr. Clutch. 

While serving as Prado’s replacement at third base, Conrad should have little problem serving as a capable defender.  At the plate, he might not be able to provide the same kind of consistency. 

But given the situation, this might be the prime opportunity for Conrad to shine. 

During the first six innings of games this year, Conrad has batted just .190 (11-for-58).  In the seventh inning or later, he has compiled a .275 batting average (22-for-80).    

In close and late situations, Conrad has compiled a team-best .298 (14-for-47) batting average and tallied 16 RBIs.  Jason Heyward has notched a team-best 17 RBIs in these situations with 33 more at-bats than Conrad.    

Well the Padres are close and it’s certainly getting late, so maybe this is the prime time for Conrad to soften the blow incurred last night, when Prado limped off the field with the painful injury. 

With Prado sidelined, it seemed like Cox might finally heed the wishes of others within the Braves organization by putting Heyward in the third spot of the lineup. But Brian McCann will sit in the three hole tonight.  

Heyward has struggled recently, recording just five hits (all singles) in his past 34 at-bats. But while hitting .418 with a 1.216 OPS in the 26 games that preceded this mini-slump, Heyward certainly looked more than capable of producing in that three hole.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

Infante 4
Heyward 9
McCann 2
Lee 3
Cabrera 7
Gonzalez 6
Conrad 5
Ankiel 8
Hudson 1

Time for the Braves to dig out of another hole

Some of you gave up on them when they lost nine straight near the end of April.  Others chose to exit Turner Field or quit monitoring the May 20 game against the Reds before Brooks Conrad delivered his walk-off grand slam to cap a seven-run, ninth inning. 

Now that they’ve lost 14 of their past 23 and fallen behind in the National League Wild Card race, it once again feels like it’s time to give up on the Braves.

Go ahead.  That’s the way they like it.  This is the same bunch that spent the season’s first five months making last at-bat victories seem as routine as the seventh-inning stretch or a Jonny Venters appearance. 

If the Braves manage to win the Wild Card, they’ll be recognized as a club that has proven capable of digging themselves out of messes.   If not, they’ll be known as a club that dug themselves into one too many holes. 

Losing three straight to the Phillies when they’re pitching Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt might not qualify as a sin.  But losing six of the nine games played against the Pirates and Nationals during the season’s final month is a punishable offense that could lead to solitude once the playoffs begin.  

Last week I said that the Phillies series shouldn’t be viewed as the most important of the season and I stand by that conviction.   If it was so vitally important, then why do the Braves still have life?

With that being said, they are obviously approaching their six most vital games of the season.  Throughout the year, we hear the players talk about the need to simply take two of three to win a series. 

It’s an approach that makes sense until you put yourself in this situation, where you’re a half-game behind in the Wild Card race with just six games to play.  Now it seems better to look at the situation like they have six holes left to play and without room to make another bogey. 

With six games left in the 2009 season, the Braves were two games back in the Wild Card standings and riding the momentum of a seven-game winning streak.   Their next victory would be notched on Opening Day this year.

Now the same Marlins bunch that essentially killed Atlanta’s playoff hopes (with help from a
Matt Diaz baserunning blunder) last year is back at Turner Field for a three-game series that begins tonight.    The Fish have lost nine of their last 13 games and no longer have the luxury of calling upon Josh Johnson every five days. 

I’m guessing that Jair Jurrjens won’t be able to start Tuesday night against Anibal Sanchez.   Still with Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe possibly getting the ball with short rest during the final two games of this three-game set, the pitching matchups seem to favor the Braves. 

Tommy Hanson will be paired against Alex Sanabia.   Hudson and Lowe would be matched up against Sanchez and Andrew Miller in the final two games.   It’s only fitting that the Braves get another crack at Miller, who helped get them in this current funk by limiting them to one run in a 103-pitch, five-inning effort on Sept. 3. 

While going 0-4 with a 12.89 ERA in the four starts that have followed, Miller has looked much more like the guy who went 1-8 with a 6.01 ERA for Double-A Jacksonville this year.

As Martin Prado continues to limp his way down the stretch while dealing with a groin strain that has plagued him for a couple of weeks, the Brave once opportune offense appears lifeless.  They have hit .246 this month (.247 vs. RHP and .240 vs. LHP).

After hitting .254 in close and late situations from May 10-Aug. 31, they have hit just .189 (23-for-122) in these close and late situations this month.   Their left fielders have hit .268 with a .457 slugging percentage from May 10-Aug. 31.  This month they have batted .188 with a .294 slugging percentage. 

Still with all that has gone wrong, the Braves enter this final week with reason for optimism.  
While they’re playing a Phillies club that won’t have much to play for this weekend, the Padres and Giants  will battling each other in San Francisco.

We’ll keep our eyes on how the Padres fare against the Cubs this week and how the Giants do against the D-backs.  But really the only thing that matters this week is what transpires at Turner Field. 

There might ultimately be some room for error.  But for now, the Braves essentially have to approach these final six games in a do-or-die manner.  

It’s not an enviable position.  But this is a club that obviously doesn’t like the comfort it possessed as recently as a week ago, when they possessed a 2 -game lead in the Wild Card standings.

Cox at least thinking about using Huddy and Lowe on short rest

Braves manager Bobby confirmed that he is at least thinking about the possibility of using some of his veteran starters on short rest during the season’s final week. 

This could certainly have an adverse effect on how Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe would fare in the postseason. But as his club entered Saturday staring at a half-game deficit in the Wild Card standings and facing the reality that Jair Jurrjens likely won’t be available for more than a week, Cox simply has to find a way to get to the playoffs. 

“You’ve got to start thinking that way,” Cox said.  
 
The Braves could send Tommy Hanson to the mound with regular rest during Monday’s series opener against the Marlins.   Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe could then be asked to pitch the final two games on short rest.   <p>

Lowe has gone 2-1 with a 5.09 ERA in the four regular season starts he has made with three days of rest.  He pitched effectively in three of his four outings.  But while making his most recent attempt on May 18, 2008, he allowed the Angels 10 hits and seven earned runs in five innings.   <p>

Hudson has proven more successful, going 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA in the three regular season starts he has made with one fewer than the normal four days of rest.   He tossed eight scoreless innings while making his May 24, 2005 start against the Mets on short rest and found similar success while limiting the Marlins to one run in seven innings on Sept. 17, 2006.   <p> 

Hudson’s only other start on short rest occurred July 18, 2006, when he limited the Cardinals to one run through the first five innings and then allowed them to tally four runs in the sixth inning.  <p>

Braves return to their house of horrors

Everything seemed quite festive on the afternoon March 30, 2008.   As ESPN’s Buster Olney and I waited to get through the extra security provided for President

Bush’s  presence, we spoke about some of the optimism the Braves carried out of Spring Training.  

As 28 other teams relaxed and prepared for the ’08 season, the Braves and Nationals were preparing to kick it off in a spacious new ballpark.   Nationals Park was the place to be.
 
A few hours later Ryan Zimmerman would christen the new park with a walk-off homer against Peter Moylan.  When the Braves returned two weeks later, Moylan tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and Tom Glavine suffered a groin strain that would force him to go on the disabled list for the first time since he had debuted 21 years earlier.
 
Two more weeks later, the Braves returned to D.C. and were swept during a two-game series in which they used Blaine Boyer, Royce Ring, Buddy Carlyle, Jeff Bennett, Jorge Campillo and Manny Acosta out of their bullpen.  (This is where you have to question why just a few weeks earlier I was actually telling Buster that I felt there was some optimism entering the season.)
 
When they were once again swept out of D.C. during the final three days of August that year, you almost had to wonder if the Braves wished the Nationals were still playing that dark, dingy bowl called RFK Stadium.   

Two years have passed and the Braves have significantly upgraded their pitching staff.  But Nationals Park still doesn’t’ seem like the place to be for them to be, especially right now while they are attempting to battle through a tight Wild Card race.

The Braves have lost 15 of the 24 games that they’ve played at Nationals Park.   In fact, they’ve won just  seven of their past 21 games played in D.C.

The Braves have participated in 10.2 percent of the games played at Nationals Park and accounted for 14.3 percent of the home wins notched by the Nationals since they opened their new park.   None of the other National League East teams have posted a losing record in this stadium   —  Phillies (16-8), Marlins (19-7),  Mets (14-13). 

So with a half-game lead over the Padres in the Wild Card standings, the Braves will return to the “horror away from home” tonight to open a three-game series against a Nationals club that just took three of four from a previously-hot Astros club.  The only other victories the Nats have posted in their past 15 games were those two that they claimed at Turner Field last week
.  
The Nationals have won eight of 15 against the Braves this year.  The only other NL clubs to post a losing record against Washington this year are the Pirates (1-5), Mets (7-8) and D-backs (3-4).  

Now in an attempt to change the tone of this entry, I’ll point out that the Braves did win the only three vital games that they’ve ever played at Nationals Park.  During a 15-2 September streak that put them back in the playoff picture last year, the Braves swept the Nationals in D.C.

With Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe set to take the mound with an extra day of rest, the Braves  seem to have the advantage in the first two games of this series.   The Nationals will counter with a pair of rookies (Jordan Zimmerman and Yunesky Maya), who have combined for 24 career big league starts.
 
Sound familiar? Too soon?   Sorry, didn’t mean to open fresh wounds.  I mean, what happens in Philly stays in Philly, right?

Hudson halted his struggles with a steady performance in New York last weekend and enters tonight’s game having gone 10-1 with a 1.55 ERA in 17 career starts against the Nationals.   He has allowed one earned run or fewer in 12 of these outings. 

With three consecutive solid starts under his belt, Lowe no longer looks like the guy who has primarily struggled against the Nationals the past two seasons.   He’ll enter Saturday afternoon’s outing looking to duplicate the success he encountered Sept. 13, when he notched 12 strikeouts and held the Nats scoreless over eight innings.  

 Random Thoughts:
 
The Braves fate may rest on how Jair Jurrjens’ right knee reacts when he attempts to start against the Nationals Sunday.  They can’t afford to have Brandon Beachy make another emergency start in his place.

But I don’t think it would be detrimental if the Braves opted to have Beachy take Mike Minor’s spot in the rotation next week. 

Minor’s offspeed stuff has been inconsistent during each of his past four starts and fatigue has prevented him from being able to amp up his fastball in two-strike counts.  The kid, who matched a franchise rookie record with 12 strikeouts on Aug. 22, quite simply doesn’t have an out pitch right now.
 
It wasn’t too surprising to hear that Stan Kasten will no longer serve as the Nationals president.  We’ve heard rumblings over the course of the past year.  His departure does provide reason to reflect on what he gave the Braves and the city of Atlanta during his multi-faceted reign there. 

While serving as the Braves president, Stan Kasten didn’t have to be the public figure that he was while attempting to build the Nationals and flame the fires produced during Jim Bowden’s tenure.   John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox were more than capable to serve as the organization’s leaders.  

Kasten’s tangible lasting impressions in Atlanta are present in the form of Turner Field and Philips Arena.  But his contributions to the Braves extend far beyond the conversion of the Centennial Olympic Stadium. 

When Cox came to Atlanta to serve as the general manager after the 1985 season, his mission to overhaul a horrible Minor League system was primarily aided by Paul Snyder’s keen eye for talent and Bobby Dews’ ability to develop talent.

But it was Kasten who allowed this plan to materialize.  It was Kasten who convinced Ted Turner that it was best to show patience through some lean years while pumping most of the club’s money into scouting and player development.  

It was also Kasten who lured Schuerholz to Atlanta to successfully cultivate the seeds that had been planted by Cox, Snyder and Dews.   

I’ll be the first to admit I was among those who took Stan’s role with the Braves for granted.  But when you look at the 14 consecutive division titles that were won after he convinced Turner to do the right thing, it’s impossible to ignore his fingerprints.

Braves attempt to salvage series

Asked this afternoon if he was worried about his club after losing the first two games of this series against the Phillies, Braves manager responded, “Well we’ve won three of our past five.”

The two losses during this span came when the Braves sent a pair of rookies to the mound to face two members (Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay) of the Phillies Big Three. 

On paper, the matchups were mismatches.  Still the Braves walked away from both games knowing they had a chance to win.  If Martin Prado’s ball hadn’t gone just foul Monday night, we might have seen a different outcome.  And if Brian McCann hadn’t attempted to take third base on Derrek Lee’s sacrifice fly last night the Braves might have overcome Mike Minor’s horrendous start. 

After watching Kenshin Kawakami struggle in Florida on Sept. 3, I didn’t think I’d see another start that proved to be that bad for a while.  Well Minor nearly matched it two days later when he allowed the Marlins seven extra-base hits in just four innings.

They yesterday while throwing 73 pitches in just 2 1/3 innings, Minor proved to be every bit as bad as Kawakami was in Florida.  Fatigued at the end of his first full professional season, the 22-year-old rookie hasn’t been able to use his fastball as a strikeout pitch this month.

Making matters worse, he has not been able to command his change or curve.  Thus when he gets two strikes on a hitter, he’s basically been in throw-and-pray mode. 

The Braves need to win tonight to salvage this three-game set.  In fact with Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe getting these next three starts, they need to carry a three-game winning streak into Sunday’s series finale in Washington. 

When asked if Jair Jurrjens would be able to pitch Sunday, Cox quickly responded, “He better be.” 

This club that has prided itself on pitching all year now heads into its final 10 games with what can be deemed just three reliable starters. 

Thus I’m going to ignore what I wrote two days ago about “importance” during a baseball season and deem Jurrjens’ start against the Nationals Sunday as the most important influence on what transpires over the next few days and weeks.    

Somebody other than Chipper will have to solve Halladay

Now that the Braves have squandered the chance to steal a series-opening victory with Brandon Beachy on the mound, they will return to Citizens Bank Park tonight hoping to take advantage of the recently most-vulnerable member of the Phillies Big Three.

Roy Halladay enters tonight’s start 3-2 with a 4.41 ERA over his past five starts.  It’s safe to say he hasn’t enjoyed the same recent success encountered by Monday night’s victor Cole Hamels  (5-0, 0.49 ERA in his past five starts) or Wednesday’s scheduled starter Roy Oswalt (5-0, 1.25 in his past six starts).

So there is some reason for optimism if you choose to overlook the fact that, well Halladay will be facing the Braves. 

In four career appearances (three starts) against the Braves, Halladay has gone 3-0 with an 0.63 ERA.  The two runs he surrendered in these games were compiled over the course of 11 years and both came courtesy of the solo home runs hit by Chipper Jones  —  July 20, 1999 @ Toronto, July 5, 2010 @ Philadelphia.

Jones’ first-inning homer during that post-Independence Day game played two months ago accounted for the one of the 10 hits Halladay has surrendered while posting complete-game victories in both of the two starts made against the Braves this year.

While pitching for the Blue Jays at Turner Field last year, Halladay fell victim to the National League game and had to be pinch hit for after limiting the Braves to five hits over seven scoreless innings. 

So over the course of the three starts Halladay has made against the Braves within these past two seasons, he has completed 25 innings, surrendered 15 hits and allowed just the one run.

Forget what I said about vulnerable.  The Braves can only hope that the big right-hander is due to prove mortal against them tonight, while opposing the latest Atlanta rookie to be thrown into the thick of a postseason chase. 

When Mike Minor takes the mound tonight to make his eighth career start, he’ll look like a grizzled veteran in comparison to Beachy, who made his 22nd career professional start while experiencing his Major League debut last night.

This is what prompted me to greet Tommy Hanson yesterday with, “What’s up old man?”

Hanson will be making the 53rd Major League start of his career during Wednesday’s series finale.  Beachy and Minor have combined for 55 starts at the professional level. 

Entering this series, the Braves
projected starters had totaled 174 professional starts.
Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels had totaled 376 Major League wins.

It seems like an obvious mismatch on paper.  But as we witnessed yet again last night, anything can happen on any given night. 

If Jason Heyward secures Shane Victorino’s slicing and knuckling fifth-inning fly ball, Beachy might have allowed just one run in an effective five-inning effort that might have set the stage for these teams to battle beyond the ninth inning.

But Heyward’s three-base error opened the door for the Phillies to tally a pair of unearned runs in the fifth and preserve Hamels’ strong eight-inning effort, which was aided by three double-play groundouts. 

Martin Prado accounted for two of those twin-killings while once again providing the appearance that his body is pretty well beat up as we near the end of the season.  There’s no doubt that his right pinky finger (fractured on July 30) is still bothering him.

But the All-Star second baseman has also provided reason to believe that his legs are fatiguing down the stretch.  He has recorded just eight hits in his past 33 at-bats and been held hitless in five of his past seven games.

Still you can never question the determination and attitude shown by Prado, who still stands as the club’s most valuable player this year. 

Now let’s get back to those double plays.  The most costly was undoubtedly the one that killed the second-inning that started so promising, with the Braves collecting three of the six hits that Hamels would allow. 

Matt Diaz followed Brian McCann’s RBI double with a single that put runners at the corners with nobody out.  Alex Gonzalez struck out before Melky Cabrera grounded into a double play.

Before going any further, I have to ask, was Melky even in the view of the television cameras when Diaz raced into left center-field to rob Placido Polanco with a sliding catch in the first inning?

Maybe the better question would be, “Why was Melky even back in the starting lineup for last night’s game?” 

Dating back to the start of the Cardinals series, I’ve felt the Braves would be best served to have Nate McLouth in the lineup on a daily basis. My thought is that he should play center against left-handed starters and move to left, while Rick Ankiel starts in center when the opponent starts a right-handed pitcher. 

We’ll likely see Ankiel and McLouth in the same lineup tonight.  But when the Braves have faced a left-handed pitcher Cabrera has managed to keep finding his name in the lineup.

McLouth has hit just .135 against left-handers this year.  He’s been hitless in the four at-bats he’s totaled against them this month.  But hasn’t the rejuvenated success he has experienced this month (.324 batting average and three homers) at least earned him more of an opportunity to prove that he can also hit left-handers now?

Cabrera has batted .190 over the course of his past 20 games.  The switch-hitting outfielder  hit .268 against left-handers through the end of July, but has since batted just .152 (7-for-46) against them.

There are no guarantees that McLouth will suddenly prove successful against left-handers.  But it seems pretty safe to assume that he would provide better defense and prove to be at least as productive as Cabrera has been against southpaws. 

 

 

 

 
 

Jurrjens will travel to Atlanta for MRI

Clubhouse Updates: 

When Jair Jurrjens reported to Citizens Bank Park this afternoon and was unable to complete his pitching delivery without feeling any discomfort in his right knee, the Braves took the precautionary route and opted to allow Brandon Beachy to start this series opener against the Phillies. 

Beachy will be making his Major League debut and starting for the first time since tossing six scoreless innings for Triple-A Gwinnett on Sept. 3.  The 24-year-old right-hander, who was signed out of the Virginia Valley Summer League in 2008, has spent the past couple of weeks on a throwing program devised by Minor League pitching coordinator Dave Wallace.

Jurrjens twice declined to talk to reporters today about this knee ailment he incurred while completing a bullpen session Friday.  He will fly back to Atlanta later tonight and undergo an MRI exam Tuesday.  The Braves are hoping he misses just this one start.

The Braves did get some good health-related news today, when an MRI revealed that the shoulder discomfort that Takashi Saito experienced Friday night was likely due to tendinitis.  Initially, there was reason to believe he would miss the remainder of the season. 

But Bobby Cox said Saito might be able to pitch again later this week. 
 

 

Braves look to extend their success against the Phillies

Contrary to what will likely be repeated when the Phillies visit Atlanta for the last three games of the regular season, this week’s three-game set in Philadelphia is indeed be the most-anticipated series the Braves have experienced since last visiting the postseason in 2005. 

There is no reason to deem this or any other regular season series as being any more important than the others.  Had the Braves been swept this weekend by the Mets, could you still argue that this series was any more important than the one that had just been played in Queens.

The importance of this series against the Phillies was salvaged by what happened over the past three days at Citi Field.  

If the Braves were to take two of three this week in Philly and move to within two games of the Phillies in the National League East race, can you really deem this series any more important than any of the next three remaining on the schedule?

The optimism created this week in Philadelphia could prove to be every bit as influential as the destruction that could be felt if the Braves don’t find a way to finally end their Nationals Park woes this weekend.  

It sounds cliche, but the journey through a baseball season can only be completed one day at a time.  What’s achievable today is based on yesterday’s events.  Tomorrow’s potential is based on what is achieved today.  

Series outlook:  That sense of urgency currently being felt by Braves fans is a product of everything that has transpired since Derek Lowe threw the season’s first pitch on April 5.  The latest bumps  – a pair of series losses to the Pirates and Nationals — on this roller -coaster ride lessened the comfort level, but certainly didn’t destroy the Braves postseason hopes. 

Had Jayson Werth not energized the Philly fans with his walk-off homer yesterday, the Braves would have entered this series just two games behind the Phillies in the National League East standings.

But at the same time, the Braves playoff hopes were seemingly strengthened yesterday when the Dodgers staged their own late-inning comeback and claimed an 11-inning victory over the dangerous Rockies. 

The Braves own a 2 1/2-game lead over the second-place Padres in the National League Wild Card race.  Had the Rockies held on to win yesterday, they would have matched the Padres record. 

Considering the Rockies have won 13 of their past 16 games and the Padres have lost 17 of their past 24, it’s easy to understand why the Dodgers’ walk-off victory might prove to be just as influential to the Braves as the one produced by the Phillies.

Because it gives them a chance to at least win the division, the Braves are embracing the  chance to play six of their last 12 games against the Phillies.  But at the same time, this means they’ll be spending half of these final two weeks playing against this year’s most successful NL club. 

The Braves have won seven of 12, including five of their past six, against the Phillies this year.  But what transpired in the early days of June and July certainly doesn’t guarantee that they will encounter equal success during these final days of the season. 

Remember when the Phillies were swept in a four-game series against the Astros?  Well the two-time defending NL pennant winners have won 19 of the 23 games that have followed, including each of their past seven.

Now they’ll head into this three-game series against the Braves ready to send Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt to the mound to oppose what could be two rookies (Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor) and 24-year-old right-hander Tommy Hanson. 

If Jair Jurrjens’ sore right knee prevents him from making his scheduled start in tonight’s series opener, the Braves will ask Beachy to make his Major League debut in the thick of a tight pennant race and within what is certainly the NL’s most electric environment. 

“We know what we’re getting ourselves into,” Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. “We’ve all been there.  We’ve all played in front of the crowds.  They’re going to be cheering from pitch one.  We’ve got to be ready and I think we will be. 
 
“This is what you play for.  You play the game for these moments.   This is what you train hard  for in the offseason.  Going to Spring Training and all the hours you put into baseball is to play in a playoff-type atmosphere and to make it to the postseason.”  

When Hamels was named the World Series MVP in 2008, Beachy was still trying to figure out what had transpired over the previous few months.  When he left Indian Wesleyan University in late May of that year, he went to the Virginia Valley Summer League with the belief he’d simply return for his senior season to continue his role as third baseman/closer. 

The Braves signed him that summer and sent him to their Rookie Level affiliate in Danville to finish the season.  There certainly wasn’t reason to believe two years later, he’d develop into a quality starter, who would lead the Minors in ERA (1.73) and get a call in late September to join the big league club and possibly aid a pennant race.

But what else did you expect during a season that has been filled with surprsises?

Some within the Braves organization seem hopeful that Jurrjens will be able to make this start. Others seem a little more hesitant to believe it’s a good idea to send him to the mound and possibly risk him aggravating the knee to the point where he might be sidelined for a few more weeks.

Jurrjens has been far from consistent while posting a 7.09 ERA in his past five starts.  But it would seemingly be in the Braves best interest if he arrives at the park and proves that he’s even less bothered by the knee ailment he incurred during a bullpen session Friday night.

Neutralizing Victorino:  It goes without saying that the Braves need to limit the power produced by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth.  But most importantly, they need to find a way to keep Shane Victorino off the base paths. 

With Jimmy Rollins sidelined, Victorino has found comfort at the top of this potent lineup. Since moving back into the leadoff spot on Sept. 6, he has hit .389 and compiled a .459 on-base percentage.

Now he’s going to attempt to extend this success against a team that has frustrated him all year.  In 12 games against the Braves, he has hit .120 (6-for-50) with a .151 on-base percentage.  Two of his six hits have been homers. 

With the Phillies sending a pair of former 20-game winners and a World Series MVP to the mound, the Braves are certainly at a disadvantage based on the starting pitching matchups.

But if the Atlanta starters can at least hold steady, the advantage could shift in the later innings.   The Braves bullpen ranks second in the NL with a 3.02 ERA.  The Phillies rank eighth with a 4.02 mark. 

The Braves have won 17 of the 30 games played against the Phillies since the start of the 2009 season.  Along the way, they have won eight of the 15 games played in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think any of us are looking at it as ‘oh my God we’ve never been here before,'” McCann said. “I got to play in the playoffs when I was 21 (years-old).  I can’t imagine it being any more nerve-wracking than it was then.   There’s a lot of young guys in here.  But we all expect to be here.  We all expect to produce at this level.  I don’t  think anything is going to take us away from that.” 

     
 
 

Braves fans have already started to panic

With the Braves losing six of their past eight games and the Rockies once again providing reason to wonder if they’re essentially invincible in September, there are a number of Atlanta fans who have already hit the panic button.   

This is the expected response from fans when their club begins trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time.  But while the Braves have significantly minimized the comfort level that existed just a week ago, they still haven’t lost anything yet.   

Yes, they’ve lost the National League East lead that they held from May 31-Sept. 6  —  their longest tenure at the top of the division standings since 2003.  But as long as they can right their ship soon, they can directly impact their attempt to regain this division lead while playing the Phillies six times over the course of the season’s final 12 games.  

And what was a four-game advantage over the Giants last week has been reduced to the one game lead the Braves currently hold in the Wild Card standings.  Still despite the fact that the Giants sit in second place in this race, there is seemingly much more reason to be concerned about the Rockies, who have moved to within 3 games of securing the NL’s final postseason spot.   

Before beginning their three-game sweep of the Braves on Aug. 23, the Rockies had lost three of four and 10 of their previous 18.  Since the start of that three-game series against Atlanta, they have won 13 of 17, with two of the losses coming on the road.  

While the Giants certainly stand as a threat to Atlanta’s postseason hopes, the Rockies seem to pose an even greater threat, especially if the Padres continue to fade and allow the Giants to overtake them in the NL West standings.  

With that being said, the Rockies could easily emerge victorious in that division race.  They have gone 47-22 at Coors Field this year and will play 13 of their final 22 games at home. Among all Major League clubs, their home record has only been topped by the 49-20 mark the Braves have posted at Turner Field this year.

Last night marked just the third time this year that the Braves lost a second consecutive home game.   They had won 18 of 25 at Turner Field since last doing so July 16-17 vs. the Brewers.     Their only other consecutive home losses occurred April 21 and 22 against the Phillies.  

Before embarking on the nine-game road trip that will pit them against the Mets, Phillies and Nationals, the Braves certainly improve their position and psyche if they could at least find a way to win five of the remaining six games of this homestand.  

The cards (no pun intended) seemed to be stacked against them tonight, when they will send
Mike Minor to the mound to oppose Chris Carpenter.    But even with Roy Halladay drawing his own rookie counterpart in Jenrry Mejia tonight, the Phillies can’t enter tonight’s series opener at Citi Field with overwhelming confidence.  

The Phillies have totaled seven runs while winning just two of their previous six games at Citi Field this year.  Of course, it should be noted that each of those seven runs were scored during their two most recent games in Queens.  

Meanwhile the Rockies will host the D-backs this weekend and the Giants will conclude their four-game series against the Padres in San Diego.  

It’s time to give McLouth a shot:  It’s no surprise to see Nate McLouth in the lineup to face Carpenter tonight.   McLouth looked good during last weekend’s series in Florida and continued to impress while recording the only hits (2 singles) that Adam Wainwright surrendered after enduring a three-run first inning.  

Rick Ankiel has batted .209 since joining the Braves at the trade deadline and just .167 in his past 15 games.   Melky Cabrera has hit .196 in his past 18 games and proven to be a defensive liability more than once over the course of the past couple of weeks.  

While there is certainly a chance that McLouth will continue to struggle like he has throughout most of this season, he is certainly capable of doing more than Ankiel or Cabrera have done over the course of the past few weeks.  

My suggestion would be to platoon McLouth in left field with Matt Diaz.  When Diaz is in the lineup against left-handed starters, McLouth could play center field.  

Ankiel is undoubtedly the better defender in center field.  But if the Braves continue to squander scoring opportunities and fail to gain a playoff berth, there won’t be anybody talking about how great it was to have Ankiel’s arm and legs in center field.  

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

Infante 4
Heyward 9
Prado 5
McCann 2
Lee 3
McLouth 8
Gonzalez 6
Cabrera 7
Minor 1   

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