September 2012

A Nats win on Sunday would not be all bad

After spending the past six months competing against the Nationals for a division title, the Braves could actually benefit from the Nationals wrapping up the National League East with a win over the Cardinals on Sunday.

With the Nationals’ magic number at one and four games to play, the Braves’ hopes of winning the division are almost dead. They can still certainly hope to win their four remaining games as the Nationals’ lose their last four.  This would set up a one-game playoff on Thursday to determine which team enters the postseason as the division champ.  The loser would be the top Wild Card entrant.

So it’s fine if you want to hold out hope for a division title.  But all will not be bad today if the Cardinals lose to the Nationals and the Dodgers beat the Rockies.  This would bring the Dodgers within one-game of the Cardinals in the Wild Card race and improve the odds that these two teams would need to meet in a one-game playoff in Los Angeles on Thursday to determine which gets to travel to Atlanta for a one-game playoff.

The one-game playoff to determine which Wild Card entrant advances to the Division Series is currently scheduled for Friday in Atlanta. By as ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweeted earlier this morning, there is a chance that game would be moved to Saturday if the Cardinals and Dodgers are forced to play on Thursday.

So you can see why there is reason to reserve today as the only day this year where you will not necessarily be upset to see the Nationals win.

Off the top of my head:  It has been cool to see the rousing ovations Chipper Jones has received before each of his plate appearances this weekend.  As he prepares to play his final regular season game in Atlanta this afternoon, it seems safe to say that he has been genuinely overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of love and support the fans have shown him this year.

When Jones was forced to get a Twitter account because an individual was posing as him in late July, I predicted his account would be utilized as frequently as Tommy Hanson’s.  After a day or two of seeing him Tweet stuff like Yicketty and Mammo, I laughed and told him that I was glad I had not put my money where my mouth was about his Twitter activity.

Two months later, Jones is still entertaining and being entertained via the social media world. He has been genuinely appreciative of the chance to interact with fans and read about the sacrifices that they have made to see him play at least one more time.

When Jones played his first home game as Atlanta’s starting third baseman in 1995, Greg Maddux was on the mound.  As he plays his last regular season game in front of the home crowd today, Kris Medlen will be on the mound.

From Mad Dod to Med Dog, it has been an incredible journey.

If the Braves win today, it will mark their 23rd consecutive victory in a game started by Medlen.  No other Major League team has ever won this many consecutive games started by one pitcher.

Check out the talented and hilarious Ricky Mast’s latest video below to “learn how to Huddy” and enjoy a few pregame laughs:

Odds and ends from a celebratory evening and Medlen’s historic streak

By now you have likely read the recap of last night’s playoff-clinching victory and celebration. You also likely have read about the historical significance of the fact that the Braves have now won each of the past 22 games started by Kris Medlen.  And if you are a true Braves fan who has had no desire to even attempt to focus on work today, you have likely read 10 Reasons Why The Braves Are Heading to the Postseason.

Last night’s thrilling ninth-inning conclusion quite simply added to the many “Wow” moments we have experienced while following this year’s Braves club.  The fact that they erased a ninth-inning deficit against the Marlins was not surprising. But the manner in which the ninth inning unfolded was special.

Sticking with the plot that has unfolded during Chipper Jones’ magical final season, Jones would have been the one to once again deliver the decisive blow.  But last night had to do with much more than Jones.  It was an evening reserved for a team to celebrate the clinching of the opportunity it had squandered one year earlier.

And once it unfolded, it all made sense after Jones began the bottom of the ninth by busting out of the box and hustling into second base with a double.

As soon as Freddie Freeman’s walk-off home run cleared the center field wall, I had a vision of him slamming his helmet to the ground after grounding into a double play to end last year’s 13-inning, must-win regular season finale against the Phillies.

As the Braves sprayed each other with champagne last night, they celebrated a trip to the postseason and exorcised more of the demons that had haunted them since they went 9-19 and blew a 9 1/2-game lead in the Wild Card standings last year.   That epic collapse concluded with Craig Kimbrel blowing a one-run, ninth-inning lead and Freeman grounding into the double play to end a 4-3 loss to the Phillies.

One year later, Kimbrel earned the win and Freeman delivered the decisive blast in a 4-3 win over the Marlins.  The baseball gods have a funny way of making sure this kind of stuff happens.

Now the Braves will focus on attempting to win the National League East.  If they are unable to do so, they want to at least force the Nationals to feel some stress over the remainder of this season.

The Braves trail the first-place Nationals with eight games to play.  According to the Baseball Prospectus playoff probabilities shown now within MLB.com’s standings,  the Braves have a 5.9 percent chance to win the NL East.  With eight games remaining last year, coolstandings.com projected the Cardinals to have an 18.1 percent chance to overtake the Braves in the Wild Card standings.

Perfection might not even be enough for the Braves to overtake the Nationals with just a week remaining.  But there is no doubt that their schedule is much more favorable.  While the Braves will spend the remainder of this year playing against the Marlins, Mets and Pirates, the Nationals will play the Cardinals and five more games against a Phillies team that has made it known they are not fans of Natitude.

Before wrapping this up, let’s take a look at how many times the Braves have come close to losing a game started by Medlen during this 22-game streak.

Before hitting two home runs within a span of three at-bats off Medlen last night, Donovan Solano had compiled 254 career at-bats without a home run.  His second — a two-run shot in the seventh inning —  gave the Marlins a one-run lead for two innings.

The ONLY other time the Braves trailed in a game started by Medlen this year came after he allowed a run in the first inning of his first start of the season against the Marlins on July 31.  The Braves came back to score three runs in the bottom half of the first inning.

The Braves actually trailed in nine of the 11 games included in this Medlen streak from the 2010 season.  On a couple of occasions they trailed for just an inning or two.  But there were also some incredible finishes during the early stages of this streak.

The Braves trailed the Phillies by two runs until exploding for six runs in the sixth against Cole Hamels on July 7, 2010.  Two weeks later, they trailed the Marlins 5-2 before erupting for eight runs in the eighth inning.   During Medlen’s next start, Jason Heyward produced a two-run double that provide a 10-inning win in Cincinnati.

And before last night, there were two other walk-off victories during this streak.   Troy Glaus began the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run to beat the Royals on June 19, 2010.  A more dramatic conclusion developed two weeks later when Omar Infante erased an 11th-inning deficit with a two-run walk-off single against the Marlins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Braves set rotation for Medlen to be in line to pitch potential one-game playoff

Manager Fredi Gonzalez has altered his rotation to line Kris Medlen up to start the one-game playoff the Braves will play if they gain entry to the postseason with one of the National League’s two Wild Card entries.

Though there is still an outside chance the Braves could win the National League East, Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell had to start making plans for this one-game playoff which is scheduled to be played between the NL’s two Wild Card entrants on Oct. 5.   The winner will advance to the Division Series.

If the Braves win the one-game playoff with Medlen on the mound, Tim Hudson would start Game 1 of the Division Series.  The adjustments to the rotation also allow Hudson to start the one-game playoff if necessary.

“It’s no secret. Medlen has been our best pitcher for the better part of a month or two now,” Hudson said. “He definitely has to pitch important games for us, whether it be the first one or the second one.  He’s the guy we’ve got to lean on.  We’ve been leaning on him for a while now.”  <p>

Medlen has compiled a 0.76 ERA and limited opponents to a .195 batting average in the 10 starts he has made since moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation.  The Braves have won each of the past 21 games started by Medlen dating back to 2010.

If Medlen pitches the one-game playoff, he would be available to pitch Game 3 of the Division Series on regular rest.  Hudson will be available to start Games 1 and 5 in the best-of-five series.

“In games like that, you want your best guys ready to go,” Hudson said. “I don’t think it’s any secret that (Medlen) has not only been one of our best pitchers but the one of the best pitchers in the game for the past month and a half.”

To put Medlen in line to start the potential one-game playoff,  Gonzalez simply flip-flopped the red-hot pitcher with Paul Maholm in the rotation.  Medlen will now start Tuesday against the Marlins and then make his final regular season start in the Braves’ home finale on Sept. 30.

Maholm will start Wednesday’s game against the Marlins and the struggling Tommy Hanson will make at least one more start on Thursday.

Hudson will start Friday’s series opener against the Mets and would be in line to pitch the regular season finale against the Pirates. But the Braves are hoping there is not a need for him to make that start.  If they have clinched all that they can clinch at that point, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran could start that last game of the regular season.

 

Smoltz believes Braves should skip Hudson and Medlen in the Wild Card game

While most of you have spent the past couple of weeks debating whether the Braves should start Kris Medlen or Tim Hudson in the one-game playoff that will be played between the National League’s two Wild Card entries, John Smoltz has been arguing that the Braves should look at the big picture by bravely opting to send one of their other starting pitchers  —  Mike Minor, Paul Maholm or Tommy Hanson  —  to the mound for this one game.

This would allow Medlen and Hudson to be available to start the first two games of the Division Series, which is scheduled to begin two days after this one game playoff.    Of course, if the Braves were to lose this one game, this unconventional gamble could cost manager Fredi Gonzalez his job.

Smoltz holds Gonzalez in high regard and is sympathetic of the fact that he is making this argument without his current job as a broadcaster being on the line.  But the former pitcher believes the Braves’ best chance to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the World Series would be to line Medlen and Hudson up to start the first two games of the Division Series which would be played at Turner Field.

“I know it’s unconventional,” Smoltz said. “I know it’s outside the box and I know I’d get fired if I was the manager. But this is what I would do if I was the Atlanta Braves.  I wouldn’t start Medlen or Hudson in that one-game playoff.  I will tell you why.  So what if they win that first game?  So what?  My theory is the Braves’ best chance to win the World Series is to line up their rotation in the (Division Series) with Medlen and Hudson or Hudson and Medlen.”

Because the extra Wild Card was added after the postseason schedule had been made, Major League Baseball opted to cut travel by determining  the  winner of this one game playoff will host the first two games of the Division Series and go on the road for the final three.   Part of Smoltz’s thinking is influenced by the opportunity for the Braves to send their top two starters to the mound in these two home games.

“I think baseball wanted to make managers to use their best pitcher just to get in,” Smoltz said. “That has an advantage for the team that is waiting to play them.  But if their best pitcher doesn’t get them in or they don’t have to use either of their best two to get in, then what advantage does that team that is waiting have?  It is flipped. Now the team that is hosting the first two games has the advantage.”

Smoltz is right when he says, “who cares if you win that one game and then lose the Division Series?”  In the grand scheme of things, every team’s  plans should center around attempting to win the World Series.

With the addition of this one-game playoff the road to the World Series will be a little different this year.  It will likely take a few years for teams to determine the best approach to this new format.

Those who have come to understand Smoltz’s confident and competitive nature over the years are likely not surprised that he has formed this unconventional opinion.

When sitting 250 yards out on a Par 5, I will occasionally attempt to clear the water with the hope of doing something spectacular. Smoltz looks at the same opportunity as a great attempt to create an eagle putt.   This is the approach that has made him tick and prove so successful in his many endeavors both on and off the field.

While Smoltz strongly believes the Braves should take this gamble, he is well aware of the fact that Medlen or Hudson will be on the mound if the Braves have to play this one game against the other Wild Card entrant.

Let’s say Medlen gets the start in the one-game playoff.  He could return on regular rest for Game 3 of the Division Series.  This would set up the possibility that Hudson could start Game 1 and be available for Game 5 on regular rest.

Of course if Hudson starts the one game playoff, Medlen would be available for two potential starts in the Division Series.  T

If the Braves were to take Smoltz’s advice and advanced to the Division Series, they could start Medlen in Games 1 and 5.  Hudson would likely be limited to one start in Game 2.

However you slice it, Medlen or Hudson would be lined up to make two starts during the Division Series.  The other one would be available for one start.

But before worrying about the Division Series, the Wild Card entrants must first worry about winning that one game to get there.  With this in mind, the Braves can’t afford taking the gamble of saving Medlen and Hudson for the Division Series.

 

 

 

 

Odds and ends: Different September, Medlen over Hudson and more Chipper

As the Braves sit with a comfortable lead in the National League Wild Card race with just 14 games remaining, you have to wonder if this month would have unfolded in a different manner had Chipper Jones not capped a five-run ninth inning with his three-run walk-off home run against Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon on Sept. 2.

Before Jones drilled his dramatic shot, the Braves were staring at the possibility of losing for the 11th time within a span of 15 games.  Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins, they have won 11 of their past 15 games and put an end to all of those “here they go again” comments that were being directed toward them as they entered September.

Obviously this September is progressing a little different than the last.  Here is a comparison of some of the numbers through the first 16 games of these past two Septembers:

Sept. 2011:  6-10 record,  .254 batting average, .691 OPS, 13 HRs, 3.6 runs per game, 4.38ERA

Sept. 2012:  11-5 record, .239 BA, .656 OPS, 11 HRs, 3.5 runs per game, 2.79 ERA

These numbers really do not do anything more than confirm that last year’s conclusion would have likely  been different had the fatigued bullpen not been further burdened by a fractured rotation that included three rookies  — Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado — and Derek Lowe.

Tim Hudson was left to carry the rotation on his shoulders last September. Now you have a better understanding about why he needed to undergo back surgery in November.

Speaking of Hudson, I’ve been arguing that he should start the one game that will determine which Wild Card team advances to the National League Division Series.   Some of my opinion was based on the fact that he pitched effectively while starting what was essentially must-win regular season finale games the past two years against the Phillies.

All along, I’ve continued to ask myself, “Yeah, but how can you not go with the game’s hottest starting pitcher in this win-one-or-be-done situation?

Then somewhere in the midst of Miami’s four-run fourth inning against Hudson last night, I altered my opinion.  Now it seems the Braves have to go with Kris Medlen as long as they do not enter that final series against the Pirates still in need to clinch a  Wild Card entry or to secure  home-field for that one game.  In that event, he would likely need to pitch one of those games.

Many of you have talked about Hudson’s first inning woes.  It seems more appropriate to discuss his one-inning woes. Hudson has allowed four runs or more in an inning in eight of his 26 starts this year.  He did so in just two of his 33 starts last year.

In this one-game setting,  the Braves can’t afford to risk the possibility of being doomed by one of the these rough innings.

With this being said, the Braves are still holding out hope of avoiding this one-game playoff by overcoming the five game deficit that still separates them from the first-place Nationals in the National League East race.

For those of you who think it’s impossible for the Braves to overtake the Nationals, I kindly ask you to please look at what Nate McLouth has done for the Orioles.  (Cue Al Michaels:  Do Your Believe in Miracles?)

The odds are stacked against the Braves as they attempt to erase this deficit with just 14 games remaining (Nationals have 16 games).  But the schedule is in their favor.

Each of the remaining four teams  — the Dodgers, Phillies, Brewers and Cardinals  —  the Nationals will face are in a tight battle to secure the NL’s second Wild Card entry.

The Braves’ remaining schedule consists of five games against the Marlins, three against the Phillies, three against the Mets and three against the Pirates, who are still alive in the Wild Card hunt despite losing 12 of their past 16 games.

Odds and ends:   Manager Fredi Gonzalez told Dan Uggla on Sept. 2 that he could not guarantee how much he would play the remainder of the year.  Two weeks later, Uggla leads the Braves in on-base percentage (.407),  RBI (7) and slugging percentage (.522) this month.  In the process of hitting .304 this month, he has raised his batting average from .208 to .217.

Chipper Jones finished his career with a .299 batting average against the Nationals/Expos. Unfortunately, he might have been just a hit or two away from being able to say he hit .300 or better against each of NL East club during his career.   He owns a .300-plus batting average against both the Mets and Phillies.  Entering Tuesday, he has batted .299 (256-for-857) against the Marlins.

With five more games against Miami, Jones has a shot at bringing that mark up to .300.  If he would happen to go 5-for-12 during these games, he’d reach the .300 mark.

Med Dog looks to get the Braves back on track

Seeing how Strasmus was only celebrated for five months this year, I’m sure most of you will not mind me opening this post by wishing you and yours a Happy Med Dog Day.

As Kris Medlen prepares to oppose Ross Detwiler in tonight’s series opener against the Nationals, lets go back to last weekend when Medlen was preparing to face the Mets at Citi Field.  Minutes after entering the visitor’s clubhouse at Citi Field last Saturday, the lively and entertaining pitcher approached a few media members to show us some funny clips he had produced with the “Action Movie” app on his iPhone.

A few moments later Kevin McAlpin of the Braves Radio Network asked, “Have you ever seen a pitcher so relaxed on the day that he is starting?”  After chuckling and shaking my head from side-to-side for a couple seconds, I said, “Yeah, (Greg) Maddux, but he had about 200 wins by the time I got to know him.”

This is not an entry to compare  the talents of Med Dog and Mad Dog.  To attempt to do so will seem ridiculous for at least a few more years.  But there is no doubt that Medlen goes about his business much the same way that Maddux did.

Like Maddux, Medlen enjoys the challenge of getting inside a hitter’s head in attempt to keep him off balance.  Over the past few weeks, he has repeatedly said that he likes the “chess match” that he encounters during games.

Like Maddux, Medlen is a good athlete who benefits from his ability to quite capably field his position.

And like Maddux, Medlen certainly knows how to keep the mood in the clubhouse light.

Fortunately for this current cast of Braves, Medlen does not seem to be as “gross” as Maddux was.  Let’s just say they do not share the same concerns as Maddux’s teammates, who had to reach in the bin of sanitary socks with some concern that Maddux might have left them a gift inside.

OK, that’s enough of the Maddux memories.

This weekend’s series certainly does not possess the significance that was envisioned as recently as this past Sunday, when the Braves completed a three-game sweep of the Mets.  Since then, their offense struggles worsened in Milwaukee and they were on the wrong end of a sweep that put them 8 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the National League East race.

With 18 games to play,  winning a division title seems unrealistic.  But that does not change the significance of this weekend’s three games against the Nationals.

The Braves were fortunate that they did not lose any ground in the Wild Card race while getting swept this week in Milwaukee.  The three teams directly behind them in these standings  —  the Cardinals, Dodgers and Pirates  —  were all getting swept in their respective series at the same time.

But with the Cardinals and Dodgers now in the midst of a four-game series, the Braves would lose ground to one of these teams with each loss that they might incur this weekend.  At the same time, they will assure themselves of gaining ground on at least one of these clubs with every win notched this weekend.

Entering tonight’s game, the Braves are five games in front of the second-place Cardinals in the Wild Card race.  They have a seven-game advantage over the Dodgers, who right now would be the last team eliminated from the NL’s postseason picture.

But there is not any reason to get too comfortable yet.  With 18 games to play last year, the Braves were 7 1/2 games in front of the Cardinals in these same standings.

While winning just 11 of their past 25 games, the Braves have batted .224 and averaged 3.1 runs per game.  They have hit .152 (30-for-198) with runners in scoring position during this span.

After combining for 32 at-bats with runners in scoring position in the final two games of last weekend’s series against the Mets, they totaled just nine at-bats with runners in scoring position during this week’s series in Milwaukee.

Things are likely not going to get any easier this weekend as the Braves face two left-handed pitchers   — Detwiler (Friday) and Gio Gonzalez (Sunday) —  and Edwin Jackson.

Detwiler has gone 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in his four starts against the Braves this year.  Four of the 10 runs he surrendered in this span were scored during the seventh inning of his June 29 win in Atlanta.  His lone loss came on Aug. 22, when he surrendered two runs in 5 1/3 innings and found himself on the wrong end of a matchup against Medlen.

If the Braves win tonight’s matchup against Detwiler, they will have won each of the past 20 games started by Medlen, who has posted a 0.81 ERA in the eight starts he has made this season.

Happy Med Dog Day

 

Chipper joins Ruth and Gehrig in a very elite club

With a little more than three weeks left in his storied career, Chipper Jones has joined an elite group that previously only included Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig.

The walk Jones drew to begin the fourth inning of Wednesday night’s game against the Brewers was the 1,500th of his career.  This marked the last milestone that he had to hit to join these legends in this select group.

Musial, Ruth, Williams, Gehrig and now Jones are the only players in Major League history to record at least 2,500 hits, 1,500 walks, 1,500 runs, r500 doubles, 450 home runs and  1,500 RBIs while hitting .300 with a .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage.

Jones’ career statistics entering Wednesday included: 2,716 hits, 1,499 walks, 1,611 runs, 547 doubles, 468 home runs, 1,620 RBIs, .304 batting average, .401 on-base percentage and a .531 slugging percentage.

 

Chipper sits during his last game in Queens

With his left knee feeling a little better than it had over the previous couple of days, Chipper Jones told Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez that he could play in Sunday afternoon’s game against the Mets at Citi Field.  Some of his motivation stemmed from the fact that this will be the last regualr season game he plays in New York City.

But Gonzalez opted to stick with his plan to sit Jones, who has had to get regular rest while his left knee has proven bothersome throughout this season.

“I feel better today,” Jones said.  “I actually told them that I wanted to play today.  But I also told them last night that I might need some time. I think he was going to stick with the plan to give me today and see how I feel tomorrow.  It’s just one of those things.  Like I’ve said, I can play three or four days and then stuff starts hurting.”

Jones went hitless in seven at-bats while playing the first two games of this weekend’s series against the Mets.  He was hoping to get at least one more pinch-hit plate appearance on Sunday before saying goodbye to the Mets fans with which he has built a love-hate relationship over the past couple of decades.

“It’s been awesome to come out here and play on this stage,” Jones said. “I’m grateful that I had the opportunity and I’m grateful to the Mets organization for all of their generosity and hospitality this weekend.  The fans have been receptive.  I’ve heard a lot of cheers when I’ve walked up to the plate.  Some chants (Saturday) night, late.  I’m not used to hearing that particular chant.  It’s usually Larry.  Last night, it was Chipper. So that was cool.

“I’ve had a gradual changing of my perception of the fans the last five or six years.  It’s certainly a lot more cordial.  I’m getting a lot of hits from Mets fans on Twitter saying that they still hate me, but still respect (my) career. I think they’re more frustrated with the Mets than they are with me.  But still it’s nice to interact. I never thought I’d look at social media as being a good thing. It turns out, it has because it’s given me a chance to interact not just Braves fans.”

Jones also took time on Sunday morning to thank the Mets organization, which presented him with a classy 3D picture that commemorates all of the success he had playing in Shea Stadium.

“It’s been great,” Jones said. “I’ve enjoyed it.  It’s obviously kind of bittersweet.  It’s the last time I’ll be coming here as a player unless we face the Yankees in the World Series. I wish things would have worked out so I could have played today. I really wanted to get out there today. But as I’ve said so many times, sometimes the body doesn’t allow you to do so.”

Another thing to miss: Jones’ love-hate relationship with Mets’ fans

There are countless things I am going to miss as the 2013 season elapses without the presence of Chipper Jones in the Braves’ clubhouse.  Sure if I stick around long enough, there is a chance I will encounter another analytical and witty Hall of Fame-caliber player who is accessible to the media on a daily basis throughout the calendar year (as long as he is not in a deer stand).

But there will never be another Chipper Jones.   And in all likelihood, I will never again cover a player who has a love-hate relationship as genuine as the one Jones shares with Mets fans.

Mocking chants of “Lah-REE,  Lah-REE” have only fueled Jones’ desire to further damage the hopes of these Mets fans.  But as time has evolved, it has become evident that the two parties have a genuine mutual respect for each other.

“I wouldn’t really have it any other way,” Jones said. “That’s the way it’s been up north, and I don’t expect it to be any different. I’ve been a thorn in their sides for a long time so …”

When speaking to Jones’ parents in July, I mentioned something about this last trip to New York and without any prompting, his mother used “love-hate” when speaking of the relationship her son shares with the Mets faithful.

There really is not a better way to describe it.

Given the nature of this relationship, the assumption has always been that Jones has beat up on the Mets more than he has any other team during his career.  But a quick look at what he has done against National League East foes shows Phillies fans have even more reason to spew venom in the direction of the 40-year-old third baseman.

But while Jones has added to Phillies’ fans frustrations with a couple of walk-off shots this year, he has never done to them what he did to Mets fans in 1999, particularly the final weeks of that season.

The Braves held a one game  lead over the Mets in the NL East standings when the two teams began a three-game series at Turner Field on Sept. 21, 1999. Jones homered in the first inning off Rick Reed and then hit another in the eighth against Dennis Cook.  The Braves claimed a 2-1 win that night.

With Jones also hitting a home run both of the next two nights, the Braves swept the three-game series, gained a four-game advantage over the Mets.  By the time Atlanta traveled to Shea Stadium the following week, a fifth consecutive NL East title had been clinched.

After hitting .400 with seven homers and a 1.000 OPS in 12 games against the Mets in 1999, Jones became Public Enemy Number One in Queens.  The level of hatred Mets fans expressed toward him was fueled by John Rocker’s antics when these two teams met that same year in the NL Championship Series.

With this being said, Jones certainly stirred the pot. After the Braves essentially wrapped the division title, he said,  “Now all Mets fans can go put their Yankee stuff on.”

It was one of the greatest lines ever delivered by Jones.  There have been numerous attempts to get him to say something similar in the years that have followed. But instead of taking the bait, he has usually smirked and said something like “I’ve learned my lesson.”

Now as Jones prepares to spend this weekend playing against the Mets in New York one last time   —  13 years after that memorable 1999 season  —  we  still find ourselves intrigued by the possibility of hearing more “Lah-REE” chants or watching Chipper deliver one last crushing blow.

The Mets are not in the postseason race and the mocking heard since Citi Field opened in 2009 seems much tamer than it was during the days of Shea Stadium.

But this love-hate relationship remains special and something to appreciate for one last time this weekend.

Jones vs. NL East teams

Mets     .314 BA,  49 HR, .963 OPS   998 plate appearances

Phillies     .332 BA  49 HR,  1.041 OPS  1,017 plate appearances

Nationals  .299 BA, 41 HR, .911 OPS  1,123 plate appearances

Marlins   .299 BA,  40 HR,  .898  OPS  1,007 plate appearances

 

Braves and Bourn aiming for a more pleasant finish

After  parlaying Sunday night’s thrilling win over the Phillies with Kris Medlen’s latest gem on Monday, the Braves ran into some bad luck against the Rockies on Tuesday.  It seemed like everything was going wrong until shortly after midnight, when Padres rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal hit a game-tying, eighth inning homer that gave his club a chance to claim its 11-inning win over the Dodgers.

With 26 games remaining, the Braves’ primary focus has to be on finding a way to escape the ills that have followed them as they have lost 11 of their past 17 games.  But they will also be keeping a close eye on the Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants and Pirates, who are clinging to their postseason hopes.

Had the Dodgers preserved the two-run advantage they gained in last night’s seventh inning, the Braves would have awoke this morning with just a 2 1/2-game cushion to secure one of the two National League Wild Card spots.   The Padres’ ability to produce some late-inning magic was much appreciated by the Braves, who are fortunate to have a 3 1/2-game cushion given the fact that they have won just six times since erasing their own two-run, eighth inning deficit in a Aug. 17 win over the Dodgers.

Of the seven wins the Braves have notched in their past 18 games, three have been secured in games started by Kris Medlen and two others in games where they faced a deficit of at least two runs or more in the eighth inning or later.

To prevent a repeat of last year’s disastrous conclusion, the Braves would be best served to halt the maddening inconsistencies that have plagued them over the past three weeks.

During the past 18 games, the Braves have batted .220 with a .296 on-base percentage and .360 slugging percentage.  They have batted .156 (21-for-135) with runners in scoring position, plated 3.2 runs per game and been outscored 73-55 within this span.  Their pitchers have compiled a 3.90 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .261.

In the 119 games played before this rough stretch, the Braves batted .255 with a .327 on-base percentage and a .405 slugging percentage.  They batted .248 with runners in scoring position and scored 4.7 runs per game.  Their pitchers compiled a 3.61 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .249 against them.

A quick look at this comparison of a small and large sample size indicates the offense should bear most of the burden of this slide.   Two of the 12 shutout losses incurred this year have occurred within the last eight days.   Much has been made about the struggles of Dan Uggla, who has been benched, and Brian McCann, who could see less playing time if he does not prove healthy and productive soon.

But some of the blame has to be pointed in the direction of leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, who has batted .204 with a .362 on-base percentage and 14 strikeouts in 54 at-bats dating back to Aug. 18.  Maybe more troublesome is the manner in which he has been thrown out attempting to steal a base in two of the past three games.

Bourn drew some attention on Sunday night when he was picked off after breaking for second base too early with two outs in the seventh inning and Chipper Jones at the plate with the Braves down four runs.  Bourn told manager Fredi Gonzalez that once Jones fell behind with a 1-2 count, he thought it was worth the risk of trying to get into scoring position.  If he got caught, Jones would come up to begin the eighth inning with a clean count.

It seems to be a debatable position. But given that Jones hit his walk-off shot two innings later, I doubt many of you have spent the past couple days cussing this play.

But when Bourn was easily retired while attempting to steal third base with Jones at the plate in the first inning of Tuesday night’s loss, there was more reason to be concerned about his recent struggles. Fatigue can certainly play a factor at this time of the year.

Bourn hit .339 with a .423 on-base percentage in the 19 games he played in September 2010 before suffering a season-ending oblique injury.  Last year, he hit .336 with a .388 on-base percentage while playing for the Astros in June and July.  In the 53 games he played after being acquired by the Braves on July 31, he batted .278 with a .321 on-base percentage.

As he prepares himself for the riches that await him on the free agent market, Bourn certainly has plenty of reason to hope he concludes this season in more memorable fashion than he has the past two.

 

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