May 2012

Looking back on a couple crazy games and Moyer’s history vs. Braves

As the Braves were moving toward Friday night’s 11-inning win over the Rockies, it was easy to draw comparisons to Wednesday’s 11-inning victory over the Phillies.  Atlanta overcame a deficit of at least five runs in both of these games that were decided by two-run home runs.

Chad Durbin was credited with both victories and the Braves notched 19 hits in both games.

But the eerie similarity was realized when the official scorer announced Friday night’s game had lasted exactly four hours, just like  Wednesday’s win.

There have a number of crazy numbers and facts created over the past few days.  My favorite is that the Braves outhit the Rockies 19-4 after Friday night’s first inning and still had to go 11 innings to get the win.

“That’s kind of scary,” Chipper Jones said when informed of this fact.

The Braves certainly conquered a higher degree of difficulty on Wednesday, when they overcame a six-run deficit against Roy Halladay and then the four-run deficit they were facing in the eighth inning.  But the Braves experienced a bit of rarity on Friday night, when they spotted the Rockies a 5-0 first inning lead and then took advantage of Coors Field’s offensively-friendly environment.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, last night marked the first time in more than 20 years that the Braves won a game after encountering a five-run, first-inning deficit.  The Braves had not done this since overcoming the six-run first inning deficit Charlie Leibrandt created on Oct. 1, 1991.  Four days later, they celebrated the first of their 14 consecutive division titles.

Like Freddie Freeman enjoyed a four-hit game in the three hole on Friday night, Terry Pendleton notched four hits while batting third in that game that was played in Cincinnati more than 20 years ago.  And like Eric Hinske decided Friday night’s game with a two-run homer, David Justice also ended that memorable game in his hometown region with a two-run blast.

Odds and ends about Moyer:  With Mike Minor set to oppose Jamie Moyer in tonight’s game at Coors Field, let’s look at a few fun facts about the Rockies’ 49-year-old pitcher.

  • Moyer was 19-19 with a 5.09 ERA in the 51 appearances (49 starts) he had made before Minor was born.
  • He made his Major League debut (June 16, 1986) before nine members of the Braves’ current 25-man roster were born.  This includes four members of Atlanta’s five-man rotation.   Those nine are Tyler Pastornicky, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Craig Kimbrel, Randall Delgado, Tommy Hanson and Minor.
  • Moyer is older than Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and bullpen coach Eddie Perez
  • Moyer’s first appearance against the Braves was made on May 23, 1987.  The first batter he faced that day was Andres Thomas.
  • Moyer was 3-8 with a 5.42 ERA in the 12 appearances (11 starts) he made against the Braves before his 45th birthday. He is 3-2 with a 4.43 ERA in the seven appearances (six starts) that have followed against Atlanta.

A look at how a couple of the Braves coaches fared against Moyer during their playing days:

Terry Pendleton 4-for-13, 1 HR, 3 RBI

Scott Fletcher  1-for-7 , 1 BB, 1 K

Eddie Perez and Greg Walker did not face Moyer

Martin Prado was  under the weather on Friday night.  But he certainly has reason to feel better today.  He has batted .400 (10-for-25) with two doubles and three home runs against Moyer.

Freddie Freeman has never faced Moyer.  But as long as Moyer is wearing that Rockies jersey, Freeman has reason to be confident.  The 22-year-old first baseman has batted .474 with seven home runs and a 1.644 OPS in his first 38 at-bats against Colorado.  He set a career high with his four-hit performance on Friday night.

Speaking of four-hit performances, Eric Hinske now has two within the past five days.  Before this week, Hinske had notched this career-best total since 2004.  He has 10 hits in his past 15 at-bats.






Hudson aims to conquer Coors Field and Helton

Congratulations Tim Hudson.  Now that you have spent countless hours of rehab and made a successful return to the Atlanta rotation, the baseball gods have rewarded you with the opportunity to be reintroduced to Coors Field and Todd Helton, the guy who has looked a lot like Ted Williams when you have faced him here in Denver.

Unfortunately, the pain pills that helped you get through this offseason’s back surgery will not be an option before you take the mound for tonight’s start against the Rockies.   But go get ’em.  Good luck.  War Eagle and all of that other stuff.

Now that play time is over, it’s time to point out that Hudson is obviously not the first pitcher to have contrasting splits against the Rockies at home and on the road.

Hudson’s four career starts vs. Rockies at Coors Field: 0-2, 7.77 ERA, 3 HR, 22 IP,  18/9  K/BB,  .333 batting average allowed.

Hudson’s four career starts vs. Rockies at Turner Field: 4-0, 1.84 ERA, 0 HR, 29 IP, 19/10 K/BB, .150 batting average allowed

Instead of delving into theories and equations, we can take a stab at explaining this contrast by using just two words:  Todd Helton.

Helton enters tonight’s series opener with nine hits in 10 career at-bats against Hudson in Denver.  He has just one hit in five career at-bats against the veteran hurler in Atlanta.

But if you’re only as good as your last at-bat, Hudson might actually enter tonight’s matchup with the advantage.  After hitting a homer in the first inning of their most recent matchup in July, Helton flew out in his next at-bat and then got hit with a pitch in the sixth inning.

“I don’t know what to throw him,” Hudson said after last year’s start. “I don’t think I’ve thrown him a fastball inside in three years and the first pitch, he yanks it for a homer. He’s a great hitter. Obviously I’ve got to figure out a better way to get him out in the future.”

In case some of you remember that Hudson tossed a one-hit shutout against the Rockies on May 1, 2006, I’ll save you some research time by telling you that Helton did not play in that game at Turner Field.

Hudson allowed 13 earned runs and totaled just nine innings in his first two starts at Coors Field.  During his two most recent outings in Denver, he has totaled 13 innings and allowed six earned runs.  Helton’s first-inning home run accounted for the two earned runs he surrendered during last year’s road start against the Rockies.

Chipper’s last regular season tour of Coors:  When Coors Field opened during Chipper Jones’ rookie year, it immediately became recognized as an offensive haven.  But it took Chipper Jones a few games to take advantage of the friendly environment. He batted just .191 with a home run and a .623 OPS in his first 11 regular season games at Coors Field.

But during the two games played in Denver during the 1995 National League Division Series, he recorded five hits, including a double and two homers, in 10 at-bats.  This served as a sign of things to come.  The 40-year-old third baseman has batted .356 with 11 home runs and a 1.104 OPS in his past 46 road games against the Rockies.

Jones’ left knee must have responded well after yesterday’s flight to Denver.  He is in tonight’s lineup and positioned in the second spot for the first time this year.  He batted second in seven games from Sept. 8-16 last year.

Happy Birthday Eddie: Bullpen coach Eddie Perez, one of the brightest and funniest people to ever be a part of the Braves organization, turned 43 on Friday. While most will forever recognize him as Greg Maddux’s personal catcher, he also can take pride in the fact that he was one of the primary reasons the Braves made a fifth trip to the World Series during the 1990s.

After Javy Lopez suffered a season-ending knee injury in June of 1999, Perez became Atlanta’s starting catcher.  He was named 1999 NLCS MVP after hitting .500 (10-for-20) with two doubles and two homers in that series against the Mets.

Perez was behind the plate for more games (121) pitched by Maddux than any other catcher.  Next on that list are Henry Blanco (82), Damon Berryhill (81), Paul Bako (80) and Lopez (72).







Phillies have nearly doubled the Braves during recent dominance

As the Braves entered the 2010 All-Star break, it seemed like they were closing the gap between themselves and the Phillies.  They sat atop the National League East standings with a four-game lead (4.5 games over the Phillies) and had won 17 of the 30 games played against the Phillies dating back to the start of the 2009 season.

But this division rivalry has since proven to be lopsided in favor of the team that is gunning for a sixth consecutive division title this year.

With Tuesday night’s 4-2 win at Turner Field, the Phillies notched their eighth straight win against the Braves.  You might have also heard, Philadelphia has now won 18 of the 25 games played against Atlanta dating back to the second half of the 2009 season.

If that is not frustrating enough, let me throw in the fact that the Phillies have outscored the Braves 120-67 during this 25-game span.

With Roy Halladay set to oppose Tommy Hanson tonight, would this be a bad time to add that the Braves have scored two runs or fewer in 10 of the 19 games played against Philadelphia dating back to the start of the 2011 season?  Just checking.

Halladay is 3-1 with a 1.72 ERA in six career starts against the Braves.  That loss came courtesy of the go-ahead eighth-inning homer Dan Uggla hit against him on May 15 of last year.

One night after seeing his miseries against Cole Hamels extended, Uggla will attend to extend the success he has had against Halladay.  He has batted .400 (10-for-25) with three homers against the former Cy Young Award winner.

Unless the Braves were trying to hide something when they held the lineup until 5:45 p.m. yesterday, it’s also safe to assume Chipper Jones will be back in the lineup today.  He has seven hits, including three doubles and two homers, in 13 at-bats against Halladay.   That first home run was hit on July 20, 1999 after Halladay was forced to come out of the bullpen in relief of a young pitcher named Chris Carpenter.

Having spent the early portion of his Major League career with Toronto, Braves outfielder Eric Hinske got to know both Halladay and Carpenter long before they won their Cy Young Awards.  Tonight, he’ll likely have a chance to build off Monday’s four-hit performance at the expense of his former teammate.

Unless Jason Heyward’s right side improve significantly, Hinske should get the start in right field tonight.  He has compiled far more at-bats (39) against Halladay than any other Braves player and in the process he has hit .231 with a double and a homer.

Beachy looking more like an ace:  The most encouraging development in Tuesday night’s loss was the effort produced by Brandon Beachy, who has spent the season’s first month legitimizing beliefs that he is ready to serve as a front-line starter.   Beachy has allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his first five starts and limited opponents to a .193 batting average.

Beachy’s determination to be more aggressive in the strike zone has allowed him to work into the seventh inning in each of his past four starts and complete at least seven innings in three of those games.   These are the results he was seeking after pitching into the seventh inning just four times last year.

This altered approach has prevented Beach from notching the impressive strikeout totals he produced last year.  But he believes his strikeout numbers will improve once he finds more consistency with his curveball.

Beachy’s strikeouts per nine innings ratio has dropped from 10.7 to 6.1.  Opponents swung and missed 29 percent of his pitches last year.  That number is down to 17.1 percent this year.

“My breaking balls just aren’t as sharp right now and that is kind of holding me back from putting away a few of the guys in those (strikeout) situations,” Beachy said.

Looking to follow the lead Beachy provided with his seven solid innings on Tuesday, Hanson will take the mound tonight looking to end his string of bad luck against the Phillies.  He is 1-2 with a 2.23 ERA in seven starts against Philadelphia.   He has just one win to show for the 1.23 ERA he has posted in his past five outings against the division rivals.

The Braves have scored one run or fewer while Hanson has still been in line for a decision in four of those past five starts against the Phillies.  Halladay can relate.  The Phillies have scored one run or fewer while he has been in line for a decision in three of his first five starts this year.



Braves, Bourn have altered their fortunes against southpaws

Remember back when it seemed like the Braves were facing a left-handed starter on a daily basis and Michael Bourn was not getting on base against any of them?  Well, it’s safe to say times have changed.

With Phillies southpaw Cole Hamels set to take the mound at Turner Field tonight,the Braves once again have reason to be happy that their struggles against left-handers did not extend beyond the season’s first week.

The Braves batted  .188 batting average with a .257 on-base percentage and .240 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers during the season’s first six games. In the 17 games that have followed, their slash line against southpaws has been.293/.360/.482.

One of the catalysts for the turnaround has been Michael Bourn, who  was traded by the Phillies after the 2007 season partly because they were concerned about his ability to hit left-handed pitchers.  Other than the 2009 season when he hit .287 with a .325 on-base percentage against left-handers, the speedy center fielder has experienced some struggles against southpaws.

Bourn did not reach base in his first 15 plate appearances of the season against left-handed pitchers.  But he has since hit .320 (8-for-25) with a .414 on-base percentage against them.  Yes, it’s a small sample size.  But it is also an encouraging trend for a team that has been recently reminded of the significant value a consistent leadoff hitter can bring.

Bourn has batted .408 with a .468 on-base percentage and .493 slugging percentage in the 17 games he has played dating back to April 13.   With some impressive stolen base totals already stored in his back pocket, agent Scott Boras has spent the past couple weeks smiling and looking forward to the chance to take his client to the free agent market.

During his recent surge, Bourn has consistently given the Braves early scoring opportunities.  The veteran leadoff hitter has reached safely in his first plate appearance in eight of the past 10 games.    Now to deflate you a little as we approach tonight’s first inning, he was facing a left-handed starter the two times he did not reach during this span.

Quick look at Hamels:  Hamels is 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA through his first four starts.  Right-handed batters have hit .247 (19-for-77) against him and left-handed batters have produced a .238 (5-for-21) batting average.  His lone loss came against the right-handed stacked lineup the Marlins compiled for him on April 9.

Given Jason Heyward will likely miss at least one more game with a sore right oblique muscle, Matt Diaz will probably get the start in right field tonight.  Diaz has batted .256 (10-for-39) with two doubles and a home run in his career against Hamels.

Dan Uggla can only hope to relocate the magic that allowed him to halt his struggles against Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey two weeks ago.  Uggla has batted .160 (8-for-50) with two homers in his career against Hamels.

Another crack at the Phillies: The only Major League hitters with more than 10 career at-bats against Brandon Beachy are Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Greg Dobbs, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino.   In other words,  in case you forgot, Beachy has come to know the Phillies pretty well during the early stages of his career.

Beachy is 0-3 with a 3.94 ERA in six career starts against the Phillies.  They beat him during his surprise Major League debut on Sept. 20, 2010 and one more time before that regualar season concluded.  Before suffering an oblique strain in his fourth career start against the Phillies, he talked about how much he wanted to beat Philadelphia.

Well two more strong starts have since passed without a win.  But with a little offensive assistance, tonight might be the night Beachy finally breaks through against a Philadelphia lineup that still does not include Howard or Utley.

The Phillies have scored 76 runs through their first 23 games and 28 of those runs (37 percent) have been scored in their past six games.  Still it’s not like the Philadelphia lineup has suddenly become intimidating again during this six-game stretch.  Polanco has hit .412 with a pair of doubles during this stretch.  But Hunter Pence, Rollins and Victorino have batted less than .250 during this offensive awakening.   Former Brave Pete Orr ranks third on the team with four RBIs in the past six games

Something to Watch For: Bourn and Heyward are about to become the Braves’ top two stolen base leaders in the  post-Rafael Furcal era (since 2005).  Bourn and Diaz are currently tied atop this list with 29.  Heyward ranks second with 28.

Diaz tied Nate McLouth with a team-high 12 stolen bases in 2009.  He has since recorded a grand total of four while wearing a Braves uniform.  Just two of those four have been recorded since Heyward recorded his first career stolen base on May 11, 2010.

As for long as Bourn records his next stolen base within the next four games and before Heyward records two more, he will have needed less than half of a season to record more stolen bases than any other Braves player over the last six-plus seasons.

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