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.