Results tagged ‘ Bobby Cox ’

In many ways, Spring Training does matter

When Bobby Cox was nearing the end of his managerial career just a few months ago, I began to wonder how so many of our lives might have been different had Ted Turner and the Braves front office not hired Chuck Tanner almost immediately after the 1985 season concluded. 

At the time, Cox was guiding the Blue Jays through their first postseason experience.  Once his club was eliminated, he made it known he wanted to return to Atlanta even though the only job the Braves had to offer was the general manager’s role. 

Had Cox made it known he wanted to get closer to his wife and daughter, Tanner might never have made his way to Atlanta.  At the same time, the Braves might not have gained the direction provided once Cox, Paul Snyder and Bobby Dews committed themselves to overhauling a horrible farm system.

Once Cox returned to the bench in the middle of the 1990 season, he began the historical journey that included 14 consecutive division titles. 

When I asked Cox what would have happened had he returned to Atlanta to be the Braves manager in 1986, he said he would have ended up in “in five different places trying to raise a family.”

Had Cox been forced to continue living the nomadic lifestyle reserved for many baseball managers and coaches, he might have never crossed paths with Fredi Gonzalez — the man he proudly will watch assume his role as the Braves manager.

(Of course if the Braves are 10 games out of first place by the end of May, I’m pretty sure many of you will have wished that Cox never had gained that opportunity to be impressed by Gonzalez.)

Life is full of twists and turns that are influenced on yesterday’s events. There are countless “what if” scenarios that could be analyzed in every aspect of life.  In fact, if we wanted to further the one above, we could ask “what would have happened if the Tigers didn’t make John Smoltz available or if the Cubs gave Greg Maddux what he was seeking?” 

With this said, it was still interesting to sit with Gonzalez this week and hear him talk about “the good fortune” he has experienced during his coaching career. 

While in Atlanta for the final weekend of the 2001 season, the Marlins parted ways with a number of coaches, including Gonzalez.  A few weeks later,  Gonzalez accepted the Braves offer to manage their Class A club in Macon.

It was a role he would have filled had some guy named Carlos Tosca not vacated his role as Triple-A Richmond’s manager to become the Blue Jays manager.  Yeah, this is the same Tosca who will once again serve as Gonzalez’s bench coach this year.

After working in Richmond during the 2002 season, Gonzalez was watching television and saw that Ned Yost was hired to serve as the Brewers manager.  His reaction was simply “good for Ned.”

Soon he realized, it was actually “good for Fredi”.

With Yost no longer around to serve as his third base coach, Cox called Gonzalez and asked him to fill the role. 

It was funny to hear Gonzalez reminisce about taking this call and hearing Cox say, “do you want to talk to your wife about it and call me back?”

Obviously there was no need for Gonzalez to talk to his wife.  This was the opportunity he wanted and the one that brings us where we are today, anticipating how he will do while serving as Cox’s successor.

Those previous 16 graphs were either meaningless or simply longest introduction ever written.  Let’s go with the latter and promise that we’ll make these graphs and thoughts a lot tighter by the time this computer is brought back north at the end of March.

Looking back on the paths traveled by Cox and Gonzalez, we are reminded that every decision and every action can influence what transpires in the future. 

This is pertinent now because over the next few weeks, you’re bound to read or hear somebody say, “it doesn’t matter what happens in Spring Training.”

In some instances, this is somewhat true.  In other words, I don’t think people are going to be overly concerned about what Brian McCann hits or the ERAs produced by Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe during the Grapefruit League season.

Because of the small sample sizes, there really isn’t any reason to put stock in the stats produced during Spring Training.  But with this being said, Nate McLouth is one of those guys who desperately needs to head back north with a batting average that starts with a 3 or above.

McLouth is on a mission to regain his confidence and he’s seemingly made some progress during the winter.  But the only true way for him to truly do this is to find success at the plate during this exhibition season.

As he struggled to hit during last year’s Grapefruit League season, McLouth attempted to convince himself that things would change once the regular season arrived.  When they didn’t, he gained first-hand knowledge of the value of confidence.

The Braves will truly benefit if they are re-introduced to the care-free McLouth, who can provide a power-speed mix at the plate and also play much more aggressive defense than he did during his 2010 nightmare.   

During the past two exhibition seasons, Freddie Freeman has held his own in big league camp.  But now that he’s at the mature age of 21, he will have to do so with the pressure of knowing he’s being counted on to serve as Atlanta’s starting first baseman. 

If he needs any advice about how to handle this pressure, he can simply ask or tweet his good friend Jason Heyward, who truly never seemed fazed by all of the attention he gained when he was in the same position last year.

Heyward, Freeman and many of the other position players will participate in the first full-squad workout next Saturday, exactly one week before the Grapefruit League opener is played against the Mets.

Because the game is in Port St. Lucie, there’s definitely no reason to believe Chipper Jones will be playing in that first game. In fact, it’s probably safe to assume he’ll take it easy during the first week of games. 

But it still appears he’s confident that he’ll be ready to play by the time Opening Day arrives.  Whether or not this proves to be true will be dictated by what transpires over the next couple of weeks.

I‘ll be providing regular blog updates again beginning Monday, when Gonzalez welcomes his pitchers and catchers to camp.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

 

Is this a team of destiny?

With Al Michaels’ voice providing some influence, many of us will always recognize the 1980 U.S. Men’s hockey team as a group of men who helped us “believe in miracles.” 

As the Braves enter this postseason motivated to prolong Bobby Cox’s managerial career as long as possible, they have already give us further reason to wonder if we should “believe in destiny.” 

Cox first guided the Braves to the playoffs in 1991 and now the last Atlanta team that he carries into the postseason is coming off a 91-win season.

Cox’s first and only trip to a big league ballpark during his schoolboy days came when he traveled from his rural hometown of Selma, Calif. to San Francisco and had the chance to to see Stan Musial and the Cardinals play the Giants at Seals Stadium.

Now a little more than 50 years later, Cox’s final postseason journey begins in San Francisco. Unfortunately with both Chipper Jones and Martin Prado sidelined, he carries a lineup that doesn’t posses the offensive firepower that Musial provided in the latter part of his career.

“I was mad because (Musial) didn’t take batting practice,” Cox said. “It was toward the end for him.  No wind sprints, no nothing.  First at-bat, he grabs two bats waves them a couple times in the on-deck circle, steps in the box and  whack  — a bullet.”

At 69 years-old, Cox is still sharp as a tack and obviously very vibrant as we witnessed again Sunday when he celebrated his club’s Wild Card berth with his players.

The Braves organization staged a first-class tribute Saturday afternoon and the fans that packed Turner Field this weekend showed an appreciation that proved that the oft-maligned Atlanta sports fans can display that same passion that exists in Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

But what I will forever remember about this weekend was the fact that Cox truly allowed himself the opportunity to enjoy a couple of fitting celebrations  — the one staged Saturday to honor his career and the one staged Sunday after the Wild Card entry was clinched. 

Cox’s primary focus remained on the games and the postseason race.  But for 25 minutes before Saturday’s game, he allowed himself to wholeheartedly enjoy a fitting tribute.  Then after suffering a demoralizing loss that bruised his club’s postseason hopes a few hours later, he took time to reminisce with some of his former players who had traveled to Atlanta to celebrate his career. 

Getting a chance to see Cox smile like he did both on Saturday and Sunday was something special for those of us who have had the pleasure to spend countless afternoons and evenings with a man that we recognize as much more than somebody who has totaled the fourth-most managerial wins in Major League history. 

Taking the Wild Card route for the first time, Cox will be taking his Major League-record 16th club to the postseason this week.  He and Joe Torre entered the season tied with 15 appearances.

If this is truly it for Cox, he will go out unlike any other legendary manager in the game’s history.  None of the other managers who rank among the top 30 on MLB’s all-time wins list have guided their final club to the postseason.

ROTATION PLANS:  The Braves will work out a Turner Field this afternoon and then travel to San Francisco tonight.  They will likely officially announce Derek Lowe as their Game 1 starter later this afternoon.  Cox and his coaches spent a portion of Monday deliberating whether to use Tim Hudson or Tommy Hanson in Game 2.

Lowe went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five September starts and is 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA in eight career starts at AT&T Park.  This obviously enhanced his candidacy for the Game 1 start.  But the Braves also seemed to want to put him in this position because they feel he is the best candidate to return on short rest. 

With Jair Jurrjens’ status still uncertain, the Braves may work with a three-man rotation during this Division Series.  Lowe would be on short rest if he comes back for Game 4, which would be held Monday at Turner Field.

Whoever starts Friday’s Game 2 (Hanson or Hudson) would be on regular rest for Game 5, which, if necessary, would be played Oct. 13 in San Francisco. 

Jurrjens (sore right knee) and left-handed reliever Eric O’Flaherty (blurred vision and dizziness) may spend the next week in the club’s Instructional League in Orlando, preparing for the possibility to pitch in the NLCS.

     
      

 

Beachy primed for potential clincher

If you want to tell me that coming out of Spring Training, you knew Omar Infante would be an All-Star, I would say, “OK, Whatever.”  If you choose to tell me that you knew on Opening Day that Brooks Conrad was going to play such a critical role this year, I’d smile and simply nod my head. 

Now if you could tell me entering the season that you predicted Brandon Beachy would be the starting pitcher on a night the Braves could clinch, I’d have to rudely interrupt your excitement and ask, “are you are an attorney or a politician?” 

In a season that has simply been improbable, maybe it would be fitting for Beachy to earn his first Major League win in a clincher. I’ll be honest, I knew very little about this kid until July arrived and some clubs were at least showing inquiring whether he would be available via trade.

At that point, I think Beachy had made just two or three starts this year.  Don’t forget that he began this season in Double-A Mississippi’s bullpen. 

If the Braves do clinch before the end of Saturday’s games, Tim Hudson likely won’t start Sunday’s series finale.  The Braves haven’t revealed whether Derek Lowe or Hudson would be start Game 1 of the National League Division Series. 

If Hudson were to pitch Sunday, he would be on regular rest for Friday’s Game 2.  But he said he would rather get some extra rest and possibly throw a couple simulated innings on Tuesday.    

Jair Jurrjens completed another bullpen session today.  The Braves haven’t decided whether he will pitch in relief this weekend.  But they may soon have to decide whether they can afford to put him on the Division Series roster simply with the hope that his right knee remains strong.

Derrek Lee said that he received some “Your Welcome” text messages from some of his former Cubs teammates, who aided the Braves by taking three of four from the Padres this week. 

With the Padres and Giants playing late tonight, the Braves have determined that they won’t celebrate even if they clinch the Wild Card tonight.  With an afternoon game tomorrow, many of the Atlanta players plan to go home at the conclusion of their game to watch the game in San Francisco. 

Andres Galarraga and Gerald Perry are among the former Braves who have already arrived in town to celebrate Bobby Cox’s final regular season weekend.   Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff and David Justice are expected to be present for the celebration preceding Saturday’s game.

Fans attending Saturday’s game should plan to be in their seats by 3 p.m. ET to watch the ceremony.  MLB.com will stream the ceremony live at 3:30 p.m. ET. 

Lowe set to start against Pirates Wednesday

We’ll keep this short on this short morning…

Derek Lowe played catch this morning and returned to the clubhouse to confirm that he will make Wednesday’s scheduled start in Pittsburgh.  While there might be some lingering discomfort behind his right elbow, he isn’t dealing with the pain that was present when he allowed the Marlins five earned runs in just three innings last Sunday. 

Lowe says he has spent most of the past decade pitching with a bone chip in his elbow. The Braves just need him to make at least five more starts this year while battling whatever discomfort it causes.  

If he needs to rest when October arrives, the Braves could easily keep him off the Division Series roster and throw him on the National League Championship Series roster if necessary.

  • Troy Glaus will bat fifth and start at first base today.  He says he hasn’t forgotten how to play first base over the course of the past three weeks.  The Braves are simply hoping that he remembers how to hit like he did three months ago.
  • “It is what it is” is one of the most worthless phrases in the English language.  But I really don’t know if there is any other way to react to the fact that the Marlins have chosen to become the only Major League club that won’t honor Bobby Cox in some way during his final trip to their city.  

In case you forgot, this was Cox’s response to the Marlins decision to fire his good friend and likely successor Fredi Gonzalez in June.

“I know (Marlins owner Jeffery Loria) is unpredictable. But everything that [Gonzalez]
has done for that guy, are [you] kidding me? Every year, they’ve played
their [butts] off. That guy didn’t appreciate anything. He’s one of
those guys that thinks you change [just to change]. He’s always wanting
to fire the coaches. Always. That’s his history. He lost a good one
there.”
  

Returning to work on regular rest

Like Jair Jurrjens, I am returning to work tonight on regular rest.   Over the past four days, I’ve drained both a bank account (down payment) and countless calories (moving boxes, furniture and whatever else Tammy wanted) while moving into our new house.  

Still I wouldn’t say this past weekend was as draining as the experience Jurrjens had last Wednesday, when he squandered a 10-1 lead and played the central role in what had to be the worst meltdown I’ve witnessed during my 10 seasons on the Braves beat.

What?  You guys have all moved past that Coors Field disaster.  Sorry to rekindle a nightmare, less than 24 hours after Matt Diaz and Brian McCann gave the Braves their Major League-high 23rd last at-bat (11th walk-off) win of the season.   

But to once again show why I believe this Braves team is a team of destiny, I had to remind you of the short time span that elapsed between this demoralizing loss and yet another thrilling victory.   

During a radio interview with 790 The Zone Friday afternoon, I was asked if the loss to the Rockies would create a debilitating hangover effect.  It might have seemed like it a few hours later when Tommy Hanson endured a second straight rough outing.   But in all honesty, this was a question that didn’t elicit a quick and clear response.  

The question was certainly justifiable.  But while watching this team score a Major League-high 240 runs after the seventh inning this year,  I guess I’ve forgotten the fact that they might at times be prone to the mental pitfalls that exist in both life and the athletic world.  
There’s no doubt that the flight from Denver back to Atlanta was a little more somber than the many others the Braves have experienced this year.  But this isn’t a bunch that was going to replay Wednesday’s events in their heads too long.
 
Instead, this never-say-die bunch was unknowingly positioning itself to fittingly become the first team to ever win a game that ended with an instant replay review.   OK.  The review obviously wasn’t instant.  But the 86-second review process proved to be shorter than the added argument that would have ensued.  

Infante Watch:  Omar Infante went hitless during the opener and finale of this past weekend’s series against the Marlins.   The last time he went  hitless twice in a span of three consecutive starts was July July 17 (vs. Brewers) and July 20 (vs. Padres).

Infante’s .341 batting average would lead the National League if he had enough plate appearances to qualify to be listed among the league leaders.   The versatile Venezuelan has collected 360 plate appearances and would need to average 4.4 plate per game to reach the 502 plate appearances necessary to qualify for the batting title without penalty.   

Infante has averaged 4.6 plate appearances per game since moving into the leadoff role on a permanent basis on Aug. 2.  If he continues to produce like he has over the past couple of months, there’s certainly reason to believe he could win the batting title after his batting average is adjusted to show him hitless over the number of plate appearances that separate his season total and the 502 needed to qualify without this penalty being assessed.   

Using the assumption that Infante could be given three days to rest down the stretch, his current average would drop from .341 to .327 if you were to account for him going hitless over 15 at-bats.   The red-hot Carlos Gonzalez enters this week leading the National League with a .326 batting average.
 
As Infante continues to compile plate appearances, there will be a less significant effect on his adjusted average.  

Cox’s last ejection?  You have to wonder if yesterday marked the last time that we will see Braves manager Bobby Cox ejected.  With 32 regular season games remaining, Cox has been tossed four times this year (once every 32.5 games).  When you account for the fact that one of these ejections (Jonny Venters’  hitting Prince Fielder) didn’t even include a heated exchange with umpires, there’s certainly a chance that the beloved manager will head into retirement with his all-time ejections record total sitting at 157.  

NOTES:  Jurrjens is 5-0 with a 1.81 ERA in seven home starts and 0-4 with a 6.62 ERA in nine road starts this year.   He has notched each of those five wins while posting a 1.71 ERA in the five starts he’s made at Turner Field since returning from the disabled list…Freddie Freeman has hit .352 with 13 homers since June arrived.   The highly-regarded first base prospect might be too young to fill an everyday role in the midst of a pennant race.  But you’d have to think he could certainly help the Braves in September and maybe even October.  

Let the memorable journey begin

While we don’t know where this journey will lead, those of us (fans and media members) who follow the Braves on a daily basis are seemingly guaranteed to enter this offseason knowing that they have witnessed something special. 

As Jason Heyward introduces himself to what appears to be a bright future, Bobby Cox prepares to say goodbye to a job and organization that he has loved since Ted Turner provided him his first stint as the Braves manager in 1978. 

Hank Aaron will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before this afternoon’s Opening Day game at Turner Field.  As the living legend stands on the mound and hears the cheers provided by a sold-out Turner Field, Heyward can dream of the day when he might be held in the same high esteem. 

But even when you consider how great Aaron was and how great Heyward might prove to be, I still believe that 20 or 30 years from now you could still argue that Cox was the most influential man in the history of a Braves organization that dates back to 1876. 

Those players who were part of the 1982 club that claimed the 1982 National League West crown appreciated Joe Torre’s leadership and recognized that the accomplishment was a product of the determination that Cox had displayed while serving as Atlanta’s manager the previous four years. 

When Cox returned to serve as the general manager in 1986, the organization had once again positioned itself to be the laughingstock of Major League Baseball.  But with the assistance of Paul Snyder and Bobby Dews, Cox changed the attitude and direction of an organization that still provides a blueprint that other organizations strive to follow. 

As this season progresses, criticize Cox just like you have in the past. He certainly doesn’t want to be treated any different during what many of us are calling his farewell tour. 

But when it’s time for Cox to say goodbye, the masses should recognize that no man has ever proven to be as loyal and beneficial to this organization and the city of Atlanta. 

After leading the Blue Jays to the 1985 American League East title, Cox jumped at the opportunity to return to his home in Atlanta to complete what he had started from 1978-81. 

This marks the start of the 25th season since Cox returned to serve as the Braves general manager and once again the city of Atlanta anticipates Opening Day with a sense of excitement and optimism. 

It seems only fitting that this journey would allow Cox to experience at least one more run into the postseason.  But even if he and his troops fall short of this goal, Braves fans will still have reason to look back on this year and realize they had the opportunity to follow the end of a historic run.   

For the first time in recent years, I think the Braves truly have positioned themselves to be a playoff participant.  In fact, I think they have what it takes to possibly overthrow the Phillies as NL East champs.  But as we’ve been reminded over the past few years, you really never know what you will encounter over the course of the marathon known as a 162-game season. 

BRAVES OPENING DAY LINEUP
Melky Cabrera 8
Martin Prado 4
Chipper Jones 5
Brian McCann 2
Troy Glaus 3
Yunel Escobar 6
Jason Heyward 9
Nate McLouth 8
Derek Lowe 1

Bobby Knight praises Bobby Cox

Bobby Knight isn’t going to get a chance to see Jason Heyward play against the Cardinals  this afternoon.  But the college basketball coaching legend did take advantage of the opportunity to express how much he respects Braves manager Bobby Cox. 

“I think he goes about things the way I would like to go about them,” Knight said before Thursday afternoon’s game at Roger Dean Stadium.  He’s tough.  He’s fair and I think he’s really smart. Are there any other superlatives you would like for me to use.” 

While catching up with his close friend Tony La Russa this morning, Knight into the Braves dugout wearing his Cardinals jacket to spend about 10 minutes with Cox.

Count Knight among those who aren’t sure that Cox will actually be able to walk away from the game at the end of this season.

“If his team is really good, this isn’t going to be his last season,” Knight said while simply offering an opinion. 

Check braves.com and MLB.com later to get more of Knight’s thoughts about the Braves manager.

Cox said that he is simply giving Heyward a chance to rest today.  I’m thinking he just didn’t want to upstage Albert Pujols in his home park. 

Seriously though, the most interesting change to today’s lineup is the fact that Melky Cabrera is hitting leadoff and Nate McLouth is in the sixth spot.  While there wasn’t much reason to worry a week ago, the Braves now at least have to start exploring other options to utilize in the leadoff spot.

During the 28 at-bats he’s compiled entering today’s game, McLouth has recorded just one hit and struck out 10 times.  Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton is confident McLouth can fix some of his mechanical flaws before the start of the regular season.

Heyward spent this morning’s batting practice denting the Cardinals offices located beyond the right field wall.  As the 20-year-old phenom continued to launch shot after shot, Braves president John Schuerholz was asked if his club is ever going to put up a net to protect the cars that are parked beyond the right field fence at Disney.

This plan was discussed three weeks ago when one of Heyward’s batting practice blasts destroyed assistant general manager Bruce Manno’s sunroof.

“That’s probably not going to happen this year,” Schuerholz said regarding the installation of the net. “We’re just all going to drive convertibles next year.” 

As he watched Heyward this morning, Schuerholz said that during his long career in baseball he doesn’t remember ever seeing a prospect draw this kind of widespread praise from scouts, coaches, administrators and media members. 

“In my 46 years in baseball, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a prospect draw this kind of attention in terms of the admiration, appreciation and projection,” Schuerholz said.  “He’s done nothing to dissuade anybody from feeling that way at all.” 

Today’s Braves lineups vs. Cardinals
Cabrera 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
Diaz 7
McLouth 8
Infante 6
Ross 2
Hudson 1 

Chavez impresses and Proctor appears to be ahead of schedule

The Braves enhanced the depth of their bullpen this past offseason and while watching his pitchers throw during their first official workout of the season, Braves manager Bobby Cox came away impressed by a number of the new acquisitions.
 
After Saturday’s workout concluded, Cox said he was impressed with what he saw from his closer Billy Wagner and his primary setup man Takashi Saito.  But he also had high praise for Jesse Chavez, the right-handed reliever who was acquired in exchange for Rafael Soriano in December.  

“I remember how hard he threw, but I didn’t know he had that changeup,” Cox said of Chavez. “The way he threw it today, it looked like he’d been throwing it forever, with the location and the break.”  

Chavez made an impression on Brian McCann, who labeled the reliever one of the toughest guys he faced last year.  Now he’ll be spending the next couple of weeks attempting to win one of the final available spots in the bullpen.  

Wagner, Saito, Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty and Kris Medlen are in position to account for five of the seven available bullpen spots.  Chavez, Craig Kimbrel, Luis Valdez and surprisingly Scott Proctor  appear to be in position to battle for the final two spots.  

While Valdez wasn’t present on Saturday because of visa problems that are preventing him from getting to the United States, Proctor impressed Cox with a 50-pitch bullpen session that served as part of the rehab process that has followed the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgical process he underwent in May.  

Originally, the Braves didn’t think Proctor would be available during the first month of the upcoming season.  But Cox said the veteran right-handed reliever might be ready to be part of the Opening Day roster.  

“He’s going to have plenty of time,” Cox said. “We’re going to get him out there as much as we can.   I think he will be ready out of camp.   If he’s not, he’ll be real close.”  

Cox said based on his velocity, Proctor seems to be ahead of where Peter Moylan was during the first week of camp last year.  As you likely remember, Moylan returned from this same surgical process in time to be part of the Opening Day roster.  

Saito and Kawakami chose not to throw live batting practice during the first day of workouts.  Instead both Japanese pitchers opted to get all their work in during 10-minute bullpen sessions.

Braves look to end horrors at Nationals Park

So you’re saying they’ve got a chance? Yeah, I know Mathew McConaughey also sounded a lot  better when he said something similar in Dazed and Confused.

The Braves have gained four games on the Rockies over the course of the past 10 games played by both teams and if they can gain this same margin over the course of their final 10 games, they’ll enter the postseason with a survivalist’s momentum for the first time since 1993.

While winning their 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005, the Braves often cruised into the the first round of the playoffs.  During the 2000 and ’01 seasons, they didn’t clinch until the season’s final weekend. 

But this year, like in 1991 and ’93,  it looks like there will be a chance for them to actually enter the 162nd game of the season in must-win mode. Currently scheduled to start the season finale against the Nationals at Turner Field, Tim Hudson may have a chance to truly make his mark after spending the majority of this year rehabbing from elbow reconstruction surgery.

Obviously, the Braves are  going to need a little assistance from the Rockies to gain this opportunity.  But when you look at the remaining schedules that both teams will have to navigate, you have to think we’ll at least go into next weekend still feeling like the Braves have a chance.

Of course if the Braves were to continue their struggles at Nationals Park this weekend, they may just want to walk down the street to the Smithsonian and place their season among their other items that are now tagged as “history”. 

The struggles the Braves have experienced in D.C. the past two years are absolutely mind-boggling.  They’ve gone 4-11 at Nationals Park and won just two of their past 12 games there.

Since moving out of RFK, which stood for “The Only NL East Stadium worse than Shea”,  the Nationals have gone 64-91 at home. Take away those 15 games against the Braves and they’ve compiled a .379 winning percentage at their new park.

The Nationals opened Nationals Park on March 30, 2008 with Ryan Zimmerman’s walk-off homer off Peter Moylan.  Over the course of the next two weeks, this would also be the site where Moylan would blow out his elbow and Tom Glavine would incur the hamstring injury that forced him to the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Well this should be enough info to provide you the reminder that Nationals Park has essentially been a house of horrors for the Braves. 

If you’re looking for some encouragement, the three worst batting averages produced by Braves players who have had at least 40 plate appearances in D.C. over the past two years are owned by Kelly Johnson (.217), Jeff Francoeur (.184) and Gregor Blanco (.167). 

Martin Prado, who scored the ninth-inning, game-tying run as a pinch runner during that March 30, 2008 game, has hit .484 (15-for-31) at Nationals Park.  Prado is back in the lineup tonight after missing Wednesday’s game in New York because of a bruised left leg that he suffered courtesy of a batting practice liner off Johnson’s bat. 

While the Braves are spending this weekend in D.C., the Rockies will be hosting the Cardinals for a three-game series.  In other words, by the time Sunday evening concludes, you have to think there’s a good chance the Braves could be even closer than the 3 1/2 games that seperate them and the front-running Rockies in the National League Wild Card chase.

After attempting to separate themselves from the Marlins during the early portion of next week, the Braves will stay at Turner Field to end their season with a four-game series against the Nationals.

The Rockies will stay at home after this weekend’s series to host the Brewers for a three-game set.  They will then travel to Los Angeles for a season-ending, three-game series against a Dodgers club that the Braves can only hope will still be motivated by the opportunity to secure home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

There are still a number of things that have to go right for the Braves.  But it’s still nice to know that we may all be able to enjoy the tension and excitement that tight postseason races bring during the season’s final week.

Right move:  It will be interesting to see the emotions that Bobby Cox is feeling as we end the 2010 season and he finds himself staring at his approaching retirement.  But when the Braves announced Wednesday that next year will be the last of his storied career, Cox seemed to respond with a sense of relief.

Part of his relief stemmed from the fact that he would no longer have to answer our questions about his future.  But at the same time, through his words he admitted that he wasn’t going to ever let himself seriously think about retirement until somebody basically talked him into it.

Cox is going to miss the daily stresses that he’s felt as a manager and we’re all going to dearly miss the opportunity to interact on a daily basis with one of the game’s true legends. 

But this arrangement will certainly benefit his health and likely provide us all many more years to be enriched by the knowlege of a man who has been the most influential figure in the long history of the Braves organization.

Prospect Watch: This week Baseball America has started revealing the top prospects from each of the leagues in the Minors.  Two of their first three selections have been Braves.

Christian Bethancourt, a 17-year-old catcher from Panama, was named the Gulf Coast League’s top prospect.  Bethancourt, who you may remamber from the 2004 Little League World Series, was signed for the Braves for $600,000 last year.  He’s still developing offensive power, but scouts have been impressed with his arm, which has regularly gotten the ball to second base at a rate of 1.8 seconds.

Highly-regarded right-hander Julio Teheran was named the Appalachian League’s top prospect.  Teheran, who signed for $850,000 in 2007, proved he was no longer bothered by the shoulder tendinitis that limited him to 15 innings last year.

During his 14 combined starts with Rookie Level Danville and Class A Rome this year, Teheran worked 96 1/3 innings, registered 84 strikeouts and issued just five walks.  The 18-year-old right-hander possess a fastball that rests between 92-96 mph and a plus changeup.

BA will continue to unveil its top prospects from each league over the
next couple of weeks and obviously we’ll soon see Jason Heyward’s name
atop yet another of their lists.

I’m not with the club this weekend.  But I’ll check in periodically over the next couple of days.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

McLouth 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Anderson 7
Diaz 9
LaRoche 3
Vazquez 1

  
   

Cox and Wren have formed strong working relationship

Bobby Cox and Frank Wren aren’t unlike any other general manager-manager combos in professional sports.  Just like the key decision makers in any corporation, they are bound to encounter internal conflicts.

During one of the early days of Spring Training this season, Cox seemingly reached his boiling point after exiting a meeting with Wren and his coaches.

Reacting to a tone that he felt was condescending toward his coaches, the long-time Braves manager contemplated immediate retirement.  

After a few hours of contemplation, Cox opted to stick around.

Cox’s respect for Wren has led him to deny that this event occurred.  But those of us that have been around the team throughout this season, can’t deny the fact that the working relationship shared by Cox and Wren was definitely strengthened in the days, weeks and months following this event. 

No later than Monday, Cox will likely confirm that he’s returning to manage at least one more season.  If he truly felt that he couldn’t continue to work with Wren, the 68-year-old skipper would have already provided more indication that he’s currently spending his final days on the bench.

Like Cox’s successor will have big shoes to fill, Wren didn’t exactly encounter an enviable situation when he assumed the role that John Schuerholz had mastered for so many years.

To simply refer to Schuerholz as a great baseball man would be an insult.  His greatness was gained through the great leadership that he continues to provide the Braves organization as its president. 

Still during the 17 years that Cox and Schuerholz shared a manager-GM relationship, they had their differences.  But over time, they developed a working relationship that drew envy from the peers that shared their positions throughout the Majors.        
  
Wren has done an excellent job ushering the Braves away from holding on to tightly to their successful past.  While saying goodbye to the likes of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, he’s ushered the club toward what he foresees as a bright future.

At the same time, Wren has also shown the willingness to make the adaptations necessary to build the strong working relationship that has given Cox even more reason to stick around a little longer to be part of this future. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,224 other followers