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.