September 2011

Chipper already ranks among the elite of the elite

During a recent airing of MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk”,  former Major League reliever Mitch Williams said Chipper Jones will not be a first ballot Hall of Famer if he does not end up with 500 career homers.

Given that Jones would have to play at least two or three more seasons to record the 47 homers that he needs to raise his career total to 500, this is a milestone the 39-year-old third baseman may never reach.

But those who believe Jones needs 500 career homers to gain a first-ballot induction simply do not understand that his body of work (thanks Scott Boras) already puts him in an elite group that is limited to the greatest of the great hitters to ever play the game.

Jones has batted .305 with a .403 on-base percentage and .534 slugging percentage in 2,375 career games.  He has totaled 523 doubles, 453 homers and 1,556 RBIs.

This makes Jones one of six players in Major League history to hit .300 with a .400 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage, 500 or more doubles, 400 or more homers and 1,500 or more RBIs.   The other five are Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Manny Ramirez, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig.

Williams and others are entitled to their opinions of what constitutes a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  But the fact that Jones fits in this incredible list appears to be proof that he already ranks among the elite of those elite players who have been granted the honor of a first-ballot selection.

Among switch hitters in Major League history, Jones ranks second in batting average and RBIs;  third in slugging percentage, doubles and homers;  and fourth in on-base percentage.   His .936 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) ranks third behind Mickey Mantle (.977) and Lance Berkman (.954).

Among third baseman in Major League history, Jones ranks first in slugging percentage and OPS; third in doubles, homers and RBIs;  and  fifth in on-base percentage.   He needs just 40 more RBIs to pass Mike Schmidt and George Brett and also assume the lead in that category.

Jones is a seven-time All-Star whose career accomplishments include a batting title (2008) and a National League MVP Award (1999).   This is his 17th full season with the Braves and within the next couple weeks, he will likely celebrate a 13th postseason berth with the club.

The voters will determine whether Jones is a first ballot Hall of Famer.  His credentials  indicate that he has surpassed Hank Aaron, Dominique Wilkins and John Smoltz on his way to becoming the most successful professional athlete in Atlanta history.

Speaking of Hall of Fame, former Braves manager Bobby Cox recently revisited Cooperstown with his wife.  It was something they planned after going there in July to see his good friend Pat Gillick inducted to the Hall of Fame.

Click here to see some pictures of Cox’s visit.  It’s pretty cool to see him holding one of Musial’s old bat.  Stan the Man was his favorite player.

Now that the Braves have won a couple games and kept their 4 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card standings, it’s once again time to debate who manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell will decide to put in their postseason rotation. 

Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy are the only locks for the playoff rotation.   The other two spots will likely go to Derek Lowe, Mike Minor or Tommy Hanson.

With Hanson, it’s simply a guessing game.  While his shoulder has been cooperative lately, time is running out for him to be prepared to make a start in the Division Series.   Plus, it was tough to gauge exactly how excited he was after completing his most recent bullpen session Wednesday.

Based on the way he felt yesterday, Hanson might be able to provide some more clarity today.  But even if he were to go to Florida early next week to begin throwing in some Instructional League games, it still seems like a long shot for him to be ready for the playoffs.

So it seems like a better bet to see Derek Lowe and Mike Minor in the final two spots of the playoff rotation.  Gonzalez said he is not too concerned about the lack of experience Minor, Beachy or any of his other young starters might bring to the postseason.

“You’re not afraid to run them out there,” Gonzalez said. “They seem poised.  Sometimes those young guys don’t know any better.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  They don’t even know who some of these (opposing batters) are.  They’ve probably seen them on Xbox or PlayStation or something.”

While Beachy and Minor have never pitched in the playoffs, Lowe has thrown the second-most postseason innings (95.1) among all active pitchers.  The only current  pitcher with more playoff innings is Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (139.2).

Lowe will oppose Chris Capuano in tonight’s series opener against the Mets.  When Capuano tossed a two-hit shutout on Aug. 26, he seemed to be facing a group of Braves players who were not focused on the game.  Some had been forced to return to their Manhattan hotel that afternoon to get their luggage once they found out they would be playing just one game because of Hurricane Irene.

Going to have to guess there will be a little more focus placed on tonight’s matchup against Capuano.

 

 

 

 

Odds and ends: McCann back in the lineup; Chipper’s thoughts about hitting second

With today’s early start, this will be a brief entry to update you on a few items and more importantly put something on top of yesterday’s “McCann, Prado enhance concerns surrounding Braves” entry.

One day after stranding five runners with a pair of strikeouts in the final four innings of Monday’s 12-inning loss, McCann returned to Turner Field Tuesday and looked nothing like he had while hitting .159 over the previous month.

With the assistance of some minor mechanical adjustments and the decision to use a little lighter bat, McCann enjoyed a two-hit night that included four impressive at-bats.  His three-run, sixth-inning homer proved to be the decisive blow in a game the Braves needed to win.

Dan Uggla, who set a new career-high with his 34th homer, Tuesday provided a good description of McCann’s homer.

“It wasn’t just a three-run homer,” Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. “That was one of the biggest home runs we’ve had this season, as far as instilling confidence back in us and getting our swagger back.”

McCann was smiling again Tuesday night and before he left the stadium he exchanged a heartfelt hug with Braves Minor League manager Luis Salazar, who was getting ready to leave Atlanta after spending the past week as an extra coach on the Major League staff.

Just seven months earlier, Salazar had lost his left eye and nearly his life after getting hit by a foul ball off McCann’s bat during the Division Series.    Since then he has served as an inspiration to McCann and many other members of the Braves organization.

After catching the entirety of Monday’s 12-inning loss and Tuesday night’s game, McCann returned to Turner Field and was back behind the plate for Wednesday’s noon start.

Chipper Jones was also back in the second spot of the lineup for the sixth time in the past eight games.    He remains hopeful to move back to a run producing spot of the lineup before the season concludes.

Click here to read Jones’ thoughts and get an update on Tommy Hanson, who felt good during today’s bullpen session.

The Braves will host the Yankees and play them in the Bronx next year.  They will also visit Boston to play the Red Sox.  Click here to view the 2012 schedule.

McCann and Prado enhance concerns surrounding the Braves

Three weeks ago the Braves’ primary concern centered  around whether they might have enough healthy arms to form a respectable starting rotation for the playoffs?  Life was so much easier for Brian McCann, Martin Prado and the rest of the team back then.

The Braves have spent the past couple weeks understanding Jair Jurrjens’ return was doubtful and holding out hope for Tommy Hanson will be ready for the start of the playoffs.  Now with just two weeks remaining in the regular season, they can only guess what they might receive from the once ever dependable duo of Brian McCann and Martin Prado.

Prado produced a key triple and came within a few feet of delivering a potential game-ending hit in the 11th inning of last night’s 12-inning loss to the Marlins.   But it’s safe to say he simply hasn’t been the same while batting an uncharacteristic .260 this season.

Right now does not seem to be the time to debate whether Prado’s struggles are a product of his move to left field, the staph infection that sidelined him for a month or lingering effects from last year’s torn oblique/hip pointer.  Instead, the Braves are simply holding out hope that he’ll start looking a little more like the guy who hit .307 both of the past two seasons.

Last night as the Braves recorded just three hits in a season-high 20 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Prado and McCann both went 0-for-3 in these situations.

McCann struck out with the bases loaded and one out in ninth and again with runners on first and second base and one out in the 11th inning.  The frustration showed on his face as he sat at his locker and assumed his responsibility to be held accountable.

When asked if he is still bothered by the left oblique strain that sidelined him at the end of August, McCann quickly deflected the question.   If the oblique was a serious issue, he’d likely be dealing with too much pain to play.  But since coming off an 18-day DL stint in August, he has struggle to regain the form he had while spending most of the season as the club’s most valuable player.

Since completing a Minor League rehab assignment that lasted just two games, McCann has batted .159 (14-for-88) with five homers, a .275 on-base percentage and .352 slugging percentage.  But the most telling stat might be the fact that he has struck out once every 3.67 at-bats during this span.

When McCann enjoyed a two-homer game against the Cubs Aug. 25, he seemed relieved that some extra time in the batting cage had helped him regain comfort at the plate.  But he did not play the following night and Hurricane Irene forced the Braves to remain idle over the following three days.

Since then McCann has once again struggled to find comfort at the plate.   He has batted .146 (7-for-48) with a homer in the 13 games since the storm necessitated a mini break.    Once again the most telling stat might be the fact that he has struck out 16 times (once every three at-bats) during this span.

If this sample size is too small, utilize the 3.7 AB/K mark he has posted since returning from the DL and you’ll still see a disturbing trend.   Before going on the DL, McCann’s career AB/K ratio was 6.4.  Simply accounting for this season, his AB/K ratio before going on the DL was 5.4.

So yes, McCann was striking out more frequently even before he went on the disabled list.  But since returning from the oblique strain in less than three weeks, he has been swinging and missing more frequently than ever remembered during a one-month span.

WORTH NOTING: Peter Moylan impressed with two strikeouts in a perfect inning during Monday night’s loss.  It was Moylan’s best outing since returning from back surgery and one that should give the Braves even more confidence to use him in clutch situations during the remainder of the season.

Brandon Beachy issued a costly sixth-inning walk and struggled to command his fastball while totaling 73 pitches in the Monday night’s first three innings.  But while needing just 16 pitches to get through the fourth and fifth innings, the rookie hurler once again showed some of the poise and determination that has caught the attention of many around the baseball world this year.

Beachy needs just four more strikeouts to pass Irv Young for the most strikeouts by a Braves rookie pitcher since 1900.  Young recorded 156 strikeouts for the 1905 Boston Beaneaters.

With the Cardinals’ loss to the Pirates Monday night, the Braves maintained their  4 1/2-game advantage in the National League Wild Card race.   With just 14 games remaining, the Braves still have some cushion  But given that they have won just five of their past 16, it might be worth noting the Giants are also now within 6 1/2 games.

The Braves will play their next 11 games against the Marlins, Mets and Nationals.  With the Phillies coming to Atlanta for the season’s final three games, it might be in their best interest to clinch the Wild Card over these next 11 games.

The Phillies will have already clinched the division by the time they arrive in Atlanta.  But they were in the same position when they came to Turner Field to end the 2010 regular season and I’m quite sure many of you remember that they still managed to win the first two games of that series.

things were exactly the same last year, when they won the first two games of the series and forced the Braves to win their regular season finale to clinch the Wild Card berth.

Things can’t get much worse for the Braves

As Serena Williams continued to unleash venom toward the chair umpire during Sunday afternoon’s U.S. Open Women’s Final, it seemed quite easy to deduce that she too pulls for the Braves, Falcons and the University of Georgia.

With all due respect to Notre Dame supporters, the most most miserable sports fan this past weekend was the one who was pulling for the Falcons and Braves less than 24 hours after watching their Dawgs fall to 0-2 with a tough loss to South Carolina.

Yeah, the city of Atlanta felt a whole lot like Cleveland this past weekend.

The Falcons have more than three months to make things right and with a little help from Tennessee or Florida, UGA could still play in the SEC Championship Game.  As for the Braves, they can only hope the final two weeks of this season prove to be more memorable than the past two weeks have been.

Dating back to Aug. 26, the wacky day that preceded Hurricane Irene’s arrival in New York City, the Braves have lost 10 of 15 games.   They’ve also won just eight of their past 11 games with two of those victories coming during last Thursday’s doubleheader sweep of the Mets.

If you’re a Braves fan and wondering why traffic seemed a little more miserable today, you should know that your team has won games on just three of this month’s first 11 days.    And of course you know the fans in St. Louis have seen their team win games during each of the past three days.

Still even as bad as things might seem in Atlanta, there are a lot of fans in St. Louis who wish their team was still in the position the Braves are entering tonight’s series opener against the Marlins.

After getting swept in St. Louis this past weekend, the Braves are 4 1/2 games ahead in the Wild Card chase.   With 15 games, remaining they are obviously still in great position to secure a second consecutive postseason berth.

Of course with just five wins in their past 15 games, they have also positioned themselves to potentially live in infamy with the 2007 Mets and 1969 Cubs.

The ’07 Mets blew a seven-game lead in the National League East race with 17 games to play in 2007.  The ’69 Cubs owned a nine-game lead in the NL East with 42 games left to play and ended up finishing eight games back after losing 18 of the season’s final 26 games.

The Braves owned a 9-game lead in the Wild Card standings entering Aug. 30 and an 8 1/2-game lead before they began last week’s horrific road trip.   Before getting swept by both the Phillies and Cards, they had not been swept in a season series this year.

The casual outside observer who has not kept daily tabs on the Braves might suggest that this was bound to happen once the club was forced to send rookie starting pitchers to the mound in four consecutive games last week.

Those of you who have agonized with every painful turn of events over the past couple weeks will remember that the Braves won two of those four games and would have won the other two had Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel simply done what they have done most of the year.

There is certainly no reason to criticize Venters or Kimbrel, who have been instrumental to this year’s success.  Unfortunately they are among the many who have chosen the wrong time to be wearing a Braves uniform.  If it could go wrong for manager Fredi Gonzalez’s team over the past couple weeks it has.

This 11-game skid began with Brandon Beachy and Arodys Vizcaino combining to blow the five-run, third-inning lead the Braves had on Sept. 2.   Two days later, the Braves mounted a three-run seventh-inning rally against NL CY Young Award candidate Clayton Kershaw and avoided being swept by the Dodgers in the three-game series.

The Braves were in position to avoid a sweep last week in Philadelphia until Venters allowed the Phillies to tie Wednesday’s game with two outs in the eighth inning.   Then during Monday’s series opener in St. Louis, the Braves owned a one-run lead until two outs in the ninth, when Kimbrel allowed his first two runs since June 11.

When Hurricane Irene forced an early exit from New York City a few weeks ago, the Braves were not thrilled about the fact that they had to return for the doubleheader played against the Mets last week.

But given everything else that has happened over the past couple weeks, that doubleheader sweep claimed last Thursday seems to be the one thing that has allowed the players and many of you to remain sane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Braves have slumbered since hurricane break

If the Braves hold on to clinch the National League Wild Card, they should feel fortunate that there will be just two days separating their regular season finale and the first game of the Division Series.   As the past couple months have proven, this club does not exactly perform well after getting a few days to rest during the regular season.

The Braves stumbled out of the All-Star break and they have obviously not been too impressive while losing five of the eight games played since Hurricane Irene forced them to remain idle for three days.   Had they not manufactured Sunday’s seventh inning comeback against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, they could be entering tonight’s matchup against Roy Oswalt and the Phillies in the midst of a five-game losing streak.

With six losses in their past nine games, the Braves should feel fortunate that they still own a 7 1/2-game lead in the Wild Card chase over the Cardinals and Giants.     Of course if their struggles continue through tonight’s series finale against the Phillies and during Thursday’s doubleheader against the Mets, things could get very interesting when they head into St. Louis this weekend for a three-game series against the Cardinals.

Over the past couple weeks, it has seemed unthinkable that the Braves could actually lose their lead in the Wild Card race.  But while hitting .236 with a .292 on-base percentage and producing a 5.01 ERA in their past nine games, they haven’t looked like a team primed for October.

Yes the Braves are hurting now that their starting rotation is no longer benefiting from the consistent value Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson provided before the All-Star break.  But the offense has to burden much of the blame for the current struggles.

Like the pitching staff carried the load during the first few months, this is a stretch where the offense has needed to pick up the slack.

As he assessed the state of the team after Tuesday night’s loss to the Phillies, Chipper Jones referenced the fact that the top of the lineup has provided little spark lately.

In between his four-hit game on Aug. 25 and Tuesday night’s three-hit game, leadoff hitter Michael Bourn (6-for-34) hit .176 with a .200 on-base percentage over an eight-game stretch.  In the 10 games before the aforementioned four-hit game, he had batted .244 with a .295 on-base percentage.

The Braves could certainly benefit if Bourn proves to be a little more consistent down the stretch.  But they really need Martin Prado to start playing up to his capabilities once again.

When Prado stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game against the Dodgers, there was reason to ignore his recent struggles and believe he was the guy the Braves needed at the plate in that situation.    Yet while he proved clutch again in that situation, Prado has spent this entire season trying to find a groove.

Last week I mentioned that Prado had spent more than an hour hitting in the indoor batting cage at Turner Field last week while his mother sat across the hall watching television.   His mother was the one who had told him to stay in the cage as long as necessary to get his swing right.

Well it’s safe to say Prado still has some work to be done.  He has batted .217 with a .279 on-base percentage and a .302 slugging percentage in the 31 games played dating back to Aug. 1.  In the 48 games played since returning from a one-month absence caused by a staph infection, he has batted .244 with a .291 on-base percentage and .330 slugging percentage.

To maximize the benefit of gaining a legitimate leadoff hitter like Bourn, the Braves need Prado to prove much more consistent in the second spot of their lineup.

WORTH NOTING:  The Braves will have rookie starting pitchers start each of their next four games.  Brandon Beachy will face Oswalt in tonight’s series finale against the Phillies.  Mike Minor will start the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Mets and Julio Teheran will start the nightcap.  Randall Delgado will start Friday’s series opener against the Cardinals.

Beachy, Minor, Teheran and Delgado have combined for 48 career starts.  Beachy has accounted for exactly half of that total.

It was great to see Luis Salazar join the Braves yesterday to serve as an extra coach over the next week.   As he passionately talked about the players he had managed with Class A Advanced Lynchburg, he wore a pair of clear Oakley sunglasses to protect the glass eye he has worn since losing his left eye after getting hit by a Brian McCann foul ball in March.

Salazar was thrilled to talk about how his switch-hitting first baseman Joey Terdoslavich had set a new Carolina League record by notching his 52nd double during Monday’s regular season finale.   He was also excited to point out his shortstop Andrelton Simmons won the league’s batting title while hitting more than 20 points better than the runner up.  Simmons hit .311 with a .351 on-base percentage and .408 slugging percentage.

Brandon Drury also tied for the Appalachian League’s batting title with the .347 batting average he produced for the Rookie Level Danville Braves.   Drury, who recently celebrated his 19th birthday, recorded a .367 on-base percentage and .525 slugging percentage.

When the Braves were in Denver playing after the All-Star break, Rockies All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki approached Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and told him, “take care of (Drury), he’s like my little brother.”

Drury spent this past offseason training with Tulowitzki and he’ll likely do the same this year.

Beachy prepared to prolong impressive rookie season

With weather.com essentially guaranteeing rain will continue to fall in Philadelphia through the night, the Phillies remain optimistic that tonight’s game against the Braves will be played.   This is the only approach a team can take when they’re already scheduled to play 25 games without a day off during the regular season’s final 23 days.

If tonight’s game is postponed, there’s no doubt players from both teams will be hoping it will not be played at a later date.   The Braves will not want to play a doubleheader Wednesday and then travel to New York to play another twinbill against the Mets Thursday.

Nor will they want to return to Philadelphia on Sept. 29, one day after playing their last scheduled regular season game in Atlanta against the Phillies.  <p>

In all likelihood, the game would only be made up on Sept. 29 if the outcome affected the playoff picture.

With the Braves owning an 8 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card chase and sitting behind the Phillies by the same exact margin in the NL East race,  right now it’s hard to imagine the game could affect the playoff picture.

But even with the Braves having just 22 games remaining, it’s still too early to simply make these assumptions.  The Phillies have 25 games remaining and if they were to get swept during this weekend’s four-game series in Milwaukee, then the Brewers could be in position to overtake Philadelphia and gain home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Long shot?  Yes.  But, this might explain why the Braves and Phillies might have to at least schedule a potential makeup date for tonight’s game.

Corrected:  Tim Hudson is starting tonight.  Brandon Beachy is scheduled to start Wednesday.

Beachy has made it known multiple times that he is not happy about the fact that he is 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA in five career starts against the Phillies.  “I’m going to get them”  he has been heard saying on at least two different occasions this year.

Less than one full year into his Major League career, Beachy has left a strong impression on many within the baseball industry.    Yesterday a veteran NL scout said, “How’s Beachy doing?  I love watching him pitch.”    Other scouts have expressed similar compliments in the 25-year-old pitcher’s direction.

Despite missing a month with the oblique strain, Beachy ranks second on the team and among all rookie pitchers with 135 strikeouts.

Beachy’s 10.10 strikeouts per nine innings ranks as the third-best total posted by all Major League starters this year.  He only trails Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke (10.67) and Toronto’s Brandon Morrow (10.41) in this category.

To truly put Beachy’s 10.10 strikeouts per nine innings in perspective, it ranks as the fourth-best mark posted by a rookie starting pitcher in Major League history.   His mark only trails those posted by former Rookie of the Year Award winners Kerry Wood (12.58) Dwight Gooden (11.39) and Hideo Nomo (11.10).

With Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman enjoying their own stellar rookie seasons, Beachy is not even considered the best ROY candidate in his own clubhouse.  But as he nears the end of his impressive rookie campaign, he is in position to play a key role for the Braves.

Given that he will not even throw off a mound again for two weeks, Jair Jurrjens will not be ready for the start of the playoffs.  While Tommy Hanson was encouraged by yesterday’s long toss session, his status for the start of the postseason remains questionable.

And with Derek Lowe struggling during last night’s loss to the Phillies, the Braves can only continue to guess what he might provide in October.

As has been the case over the past couple weeks, Tim Hudson and Beachy stand as the best bets for the playoff rotation.  The makeup of the remainder of the rotation will be influenced by how Mike Minor and Julio Teheran/Randall Delgado perform over the next few weeks.

After last night’s game, the Braves were very complimentary of Cliff Lee, who had just limited them to five hits while rolling toward his sixth shutout of the season.    To put this in perspective, Braves pitchers have totaled six shutouts (Hudson 4, Jurrjens and John Smoltz) over the course of the past six seasons  (2006-11).

Blog: Braves prepared to battle Phillies again

When this season’s Braves  schedule was released, two of the most intriguing series were obviously the ones scheduled against the Phillies in September.   Entering the first of these two series the Braves trail the Phillies by 7 1/2 games.

With the Braves having just 23 games remaining, it would be an obvious shock if the Phillies did not win a fifth consecutive National League East crown.  Of course if you want to remain optimistic, you can remember Philadelphia won the first of these consecutive division titles in 2007, when the Mets owned a seven-game lead with just 17 games remaining.

This year’s Phillies obviously aren’t the 2007 Mets.   In fact, it has been suggested many times that they are one of the best teams to be assembled over the past couple decades.  Chipper Jones compared them to the 1998 Yankees a few weeks back.

But as you long-time Braves fans have learned multiple times, the best teams do not always win.   My opinion has always been that the 1998 Braves team was the best of those from the string of 14 consecutive division titles.   Just off the top of my head, the 1993 an 2003 clubs would rank right behind that club.

The 1998 team got beat by Sterling Hitchcock and like the other two aforementioned clubs did not make it to the World Series.

Last year as I stood at Citizens Bank Park before Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, a member of the Giants front office said based on what he heard on the radio that day, he “wasn’t sure why they had even made the trip to Philadelphia.”

About two weeks later, he and all of the other members of the Giants organization were celebrating a World Series title.

The Giants’ pitching staff got red-hot down the stretch and remained so throughout October.  Over the next couple weeks, the focus on the Braves will be on their pitching staff.

The Braves will likely provide an update on Jair Jurrjens’ right knee today and Tommy Hanson is expected to play long toss.   Updates will be provided later this evening.

Braves GM Frank Wren said last week that he remained optimistic that Hanson will pitch again this year.   There is certainly time for him to do so, but the clock is ticking.   In other words, the big right-hander really doesn’t have much room to experience even a minor setback.

There will also be plenty of attention placed on Derek Lowe as he attempts to rekindle last year’s late-season success and build on his last few starts.  He is 3-2 with a 3.00 ERA in his past five outings and he enters tonight’s start having gone 1-2 with a 2.84 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this year.

Lowe will be opposing Cliff Lee, who is 5-0 with a 0.45 ERA in his past five starts.  The Phillies’ left-hander is 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA in three starts against the Braves this year and 0-3 with a 5.60 ERA in the five career starts he has made against Atlanta while playing for Philadelphia.

Lee’s home run against Hanson on July 9 accounted for the only run the  Phillies have scored while he has been pitching in his last two starts against the Braves.

The Braves and Phillies have split the first 12 games played this season.   The six games played this month might not dramatically affect the standings.

But if the Braves continue to find some success against the Phillies, there is a chance it will aid them from a mental perspective once October arrives.

 

Blog: Right time to pull Hudson; Kimbrel’s Ks and Heyward is heating up

There was nothing wrong with Tim Hudson displaying some heat-of-the-moment disgust when he was removed from Thursday night’s game after six innings.  But there certainly would have been reason to question Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez’s decision had he sent Hudson back to pitch the seventh inning.

With a three-run lead and a comfortable Wild Card lead providing him reason to start planning for the postseason, Gonzalez needed to do exactly what he chose to do  — hand the ball to his lethal late-inning relief trio   — Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel.

Given that Hudson had thrown just 86 pitches, there might have been absolutely no harm had he returned to pitch the seventh inning.  But there was also no reason for the 36-year-old pitcher to stay in the game.

While he has to at least start thinking about how to handle things down the stretch and in the playoffs, Gonzalez’s primary thoughts last night centered around winning a game.

Contrary to what Hudson might playfully suggest,  the odds of the Braves adding to their three-point advantage increased with Brooks Conrad or Matt Diaz pinch-hitting for Hudson with runners at the corners and two outs in the sixth inning.  And of course there was really no reason to be concerned about handing a three-run lead to O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel.

But Gonzalez’s managerial responsibility extended beyond last night.  With injury-related uncertainty surrounding Jair Jurrjens (right knee) and Tommy Hanson (shoulder), Hudson currently stands as the one pitcher the Braves could confidently send to the mound in the playoffs.  Brandon Beachy has earned this distinction.  But given this is his first full year as a starting pitcher, there still has to be at least some reservation about how he might react in October.

The Braves will not baby Hudson down the stretch.  But in an attempt to prevent him from duplicating some of last year’s September struggles they should continue to minimize his workload when given a prime opportunity like the one afforded during Thursday night’s win over the Nationals.

Through his first 25 starts last year, Hudson worked 171 2/3 innings and posted a 2.15 ERA.   He posted a 5.32 ERA over his next seven starts (44 innings) and a 4.89 ERA in his final nine regular season starts.

Yes the 2010 season was his first full one coming back from Tommy John surgery.   And yes he did come up big while pitching on short rest against the Marlins during the regular season’s final week.

But with Hudson having thrown 183 innings this year, it just make sense for the Braves to take advantage of an opportunity  that didn’t exist when it every single game they played during the season’s final month was vital.

The only run Hudson surrendered Thursday night came when Jayson Werth belted his 0-2 fastball to Midtown during the sixth inning.   This marked just the second time in Hudson’s career that he allowed a home run on an 0-2 pitch.

According to the STATSPASS database, Hudson’s two homers allowed on an 0-2 count are the fewest among all Major League pitchers who have completed at least 300 starts and totaled at least 1500 innings dating back to his 1999 rookie season.   A.J. Burnett, Tom Glavine and Brad Penny are the only other members of this group to allow as few as three homers in this pitcher’s count.

Dave Hansen is the only other player to homer on an 0-2 pitch against Hudson.  He did this during an Mariners-A’s game on April 21, 2004.

Transitioning from the world of odd stats to the world of ridiculous numbers, Craig Kimbrel has now converted 24 consecutive save opportunities and held opponents scoreless over 34 2/3 consecutive innings  — the longest streak in the Majors this year.

With three strikeouts in Thursday’s scoreless ninth inning, Kimbrel ran his season total to 110.  He is now four away from matching the franchise record for a reliever.  Steve Bedrosian notched 114 saves while coming out of the Atlanta bullpen in 1982.

Kimbrel’s 14.85 strikeouts per nine innings ratio ranks fourth all time among Major League relievers during a season in which they recorded at least 30 saves.   His mark sits behind those posted by Carlos Marmol  (15.99 in 2010) Eric Gagne (14.98 in 2003) and Billy Wagner (14.95 in 1999).

Having worked each of the past three nights, Kimbrel will likely rest tonight.  But stay tuned, there’s a good chance he will post plenty more ridiculous numbers before this season concludes.

Odds and ends:  While drilling a missile through the middle of the infield and hitting a triple to the right field corner last night, Jason Heyward looked a lot like he did during the first two months of the 2010 season.    Actually dating back to last week’s series against the Cubs, Heyward has had a number of encouraging plate appearance that signal he has indeed benefited from some of the extra work he has done over the past few weeks.

With Matt Diaz now around to face tough left-handers and Jose Constanza coming back to reality (5 hits in his past 32 ABs),  Heyward should playing right field a lot more frequently over the next couple weeks.

As I was leaving Turner Field around midnight Tuesday, I was told Martin Prado was still in the clubhouse taking batting practice while his mother was across the hall watching television in the room reserved for family members of players and coaches.

When I casually asked bullpen coach Eddie Perez, who threw the BP pitches, why Prado had chosen to keep his mother there so late,  he said, “She’s the one who told him to stay in there until he got things right.”

Prado has batted just .217 since the beginning of August.  Given a chance to rest Thursday, he entered as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and lined out to first base.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wren increases optimism with in-season shopping spree

Braves general manager Frank Wren had plenty of reason to feel proud as he exited Turner Field late Wednesday night.  Over the course of the previous 12 hours, he had completed his shopping list with the acquisitions of Matt Diaz and backup infielder Jack Wilson.

While these obviously weren’t earth-shattering deals, they were the kind of August trades that can prove profitable down the stretch and in October.  With Diaz he gained right-handed hitter who balances a left-handed heavy outfield mix.  With Wilson, he gained a high-character veteran infielder who certainly stands as a better option than Julio Lugo.

As the Braves exited June and prepared for the July 31 Trade Deadline, their shopping list included a right-handed hitting outfielder, a right-handed reliever and a middle infielder.    As July progressed, they determined that they could not afford to remain patient with Jordan Schafer and overlook that this year’s team desperately needed a centerfielder/leadoff hitter.

Wren gained the centerfielder/leadoff hitter with Michael Bourn and proved correct in his assessment that Arodys Vizcaino would serve as the extra right-handed reliever his bullpen needed.    Then of course he completed his in-season shopping with Wednesday’s additions.

Over the course of the past month, Wren has made his team much stronger without having to part ways with any of his top pitching prospects  — Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor and Vizcaino.

Of course when Wren said he wasn’t parting ways with any of these arms, he didn’t know the Braves would enter Aug. 31 with reason to legitimately wonder if  their postseason rotation would consist of Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy and either Minor/Teheran or Delgado.

Seriously if you were sitting at home projecting the rotation at any point yesterday (after watching Jair Jurrjens Tuesday night), you had to seriously mention Minor/Teheran or Delgado as potential candidates without chuckling.  Then of course Derek Lowe went out and pitched well enough last night to give you hope that he might repeat last year’s remarkable late-season turnaround.

Jurrjens has five more starts to attempt to right himself by either proving he’s healthy or allowing himself to trust that he can push off the rubber without having to worry about his right knee.   Yesterday’s post focused on his drop in velocity.

Before last night’s game, a National League scout who had last seen Jurrjens in early July said, “He doesn’t even look like the same guy.”

Instead of using a variety of different numbers, it’s easy to sum up Jurrjens’ decline by simply saying he is not getting away with mistakes and escaping jams like he did through the first half.  There’s certainly a chance he could turn things around.  But right now, he would have to be considered questionable at best to earn a spot in the playoff rotation.

Along with hitting the first legitimate homer of his life (click here for video proof), Lowe limited the Nationals to one run and three hits over six innings.   The only run he allowed came when his only pitch of the seventh inning was hit over the right-centerfield wall by Mike Morse.

Lowe has been good in four of his past five starts and he has limited opponents to a .172 batting average while posting a 1.50 ERA in his past three starts.    Suddenly it looks like he is primed to make a late-season run similar to the ones he enjoyed in 2008 and again last year.

Before going 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his final five starts last year, Lowe entered September with a  4.53 ERA.  This year he enters with a 4.52 ERA.

If the Braves needed to form their playoff rotation right now, it would likely consist of Hudson, Brandon Beachy and Lowe.   But as we saw last year, a lot can change in the season’s final month.

At this time last year, Lowe was battling right elbow discomfort and there was reason to wonder if he would pitch again.  As for Beachy, well we’re still a couple weeks away from the anniversary of the day when many of you likely heard his name for the first time.

 

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