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.
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.