Results tagged ‘ Marlins ’

Where is Mark Cuban when you need him?

This would have been a good weekend to have Mark Cuban calling the shots here in Braves land.  I think it’s safe to say that he would have attempted to create some fireworks or simply have some fun by using today to announce Fredi Gonzalez as the newest member of the Braves organization.

In fact, Cuban would have likely done something like stage a press conference to be shown on the big screen in center field while the Marlins are taking batting practice tonight.

But with Cuban worrying about Dirk Nowitzki’s future in Dallas, the Braves will likely wait at least another week or two before revealing that Gonzalez will serve as some kind of advisor for the remainder of this year. 

Admittedly, I rolled my eyes when some of you said adding Gonzalez to the organization would hurt the feelings of guys like Eddie Perez or Terry Pendleton, who at one time may have been in line to serve as Atlanta’s next manager.   I mean this is the big leagues and they are big boys, who entered this season knowing that Gonzalez would become a favorite for the managerial job if he became available.  

But I do get the sense that there are members of Braves management who share this concern.  Thus if they do eventually give Gonzalez a role where he can spend the next few months evaluating the organization’s talent and personalities at both the Major and Minor League levels, they’ll do so much more quietly than Cuban would have. 

While resting yesterday, the Braves gained a half-game on both the Mets (2 games back) and Phillies (4 games back)    Before going to Philadelphia on Monday to compete against what’s left of the injury-ravaged defending National League champs, the Braves will receive a stiff challenge this weekend from three of Gonzalez’s former pitchers.

During tonight’s series opener, Kris Medlen will be opposed by Josh Johnson, who has recently been the game’s top pitcher and quite honestly it wouldn’t be hard to argue that he has been every bit as impressive as Ubaldo Jimenez throughout this entire season. 

In his past nine starts, Johnson has gone 5-2 with an 0.83 ERA and limited opponents to a .183 batting average and  .226 on-base percentage.  Within the 65 innings that have encompassed this span, he has recorded 60 strikeouts and issued 11 walks.  

Jimenez is still considered widely considered the midseason choice to win the NL Cy Young Award.  But his league-leading marks in ERA (1.83)  and quality starts (14) have been matched by Johnson, who leads the NL in WHIP (0.96) and opponents OPS  (.544).  The .199 batting average he has surrendered has been bettered only by Mat Latos (.197). 

In attempt to regain an optimistic tone, I’ll let you know that Medlen ranks fifth in the NL with a 4.15 strikeouts-to-walk-ratio, one spot ahead of Johnson’s 3.96 mark. 

Anibal Sanchez, who has gone 6-2 with a 2.64 ERA in his past nine starts, will take the mound for the Fish on Saturday afternoon to oppose what should be a rather determined Tommy Hanson.  Based on his mood, there hasn’t been any indication that Hanson has been mentally scarred by his past two outings. 

When Ricky Nolasco opposes Tim Hudson in Sunday’s series finale, it will be the first time he has stood on the Turner Field mound since Sept. 30, the night that he recorded 16 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. 

By the time Hudson toes the rubber Sunday night, he will have likely learned that he has gained his third career All-Star selection and first since 2004.  Considering there are a number of deserving candidates, that previous sentence might have been a bit presumptuous. 

But it’s hard to imagine Hudson won’t find a place on this year’s NL pitching staff.  He ranks fifth in ERA  (2.37) and his 13 quality starts are just one off the league-leading mark posted by Jimenez, Johnson and Adam Wainwright.  In addition, he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 16 starts. 

While converting 16 of 18 save opportunities and posting a 1.15 ERA, Billy Wagner has also made himself a solid candidate for this year’s All-Star roster.  His ERA is better than the marks posted by any other NL closer. 

But when attempting to fill a 13-man pitching staff will there be room for Wagner, Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton and Brian Wilson?  Heck I didn’t even mention Francisco Cordero or Matt Capps, who have posted the NL’s top two save totals while compiling higher ERA than any of the aforementioned deserving candidates.

There are also a number of deserving starting pitchers that could bump Hudson out of the equation.  If Michael Bourn isn’t selected to serve as an outfielder, Roy Oswalt might end up being Houston’s representative.  The only other clear possibility would be Astros closer Matt Lindstrom, who could further diminish the odds of Wager gaining a selection. 

Martin Prado, who will likely start at second base in Chase Utley’s absence, and Jason Heyward seem to be the only Braves who should expect to hear their names announced during Sunday afternoon’s selection show (noon on TBS).  I will be surprised if Hudson and Wagner don’t gain selections and there’s still a good chance the players will once again give Brian McCann a selection. 

But some time Sunday afternoon, I think we’ll be looking at Troy Glaus as one of the deserving players who were not selected.  Albert Pujols will start at first base and Reds first baseman Joey Votto will most definitely gain a reserve spot. 

I heard Peter Gammons jokingly say Phillies manager Charlie Manuel won’t go to Anaheim to manage the NL team if it doesn’t include Roy Halladay.  Well the same can be said about Ryan Howard, who along with Adrian Gonzalez will almost definitely gain a selection before Glaus. 

Trade front:  As you know the Braves are looking to add a bat before the July 31 trade deadline.  But right now, I don’t gain the sense that they are actually targeting specific players or even have a preference whether they gain a right-handed or left-handed bat. 

The most popular names linked to them have been David DeJesus, Corey Hart and Jose Bautista. Right now, the sense is that the Royals want too much in return for DeJesus.  But who could blame them.  Last time I checked, I think he was rumored to be on the wish list of 29 Major League clubs and part of the entourage that will be playing with LeBron James next year.

Bautista was simply ridiculous while compiling 12 of his 20 homers in May.  But how much are you going to give up for a career .237 hitter, who has batted .229 this year and just .204 in the 42 games he has played outside of Toronto.  

Just a few months ago, Hart was drawing negative comparisons to Jeff Francoeur.  Like Francoeur, Hart has turned things around this year and in a much more impressive manner.  In the 44 games he has played dating back to May 15, the Brewers outfielder has hit .299 with 15 homers and a .999 OPS. 

In other words, Hart spent the past six weeks living up to the lofty expectations that have surrounded him since he established himself as a 20-20 player in 2007 and ’08.  If he’s available and the price is right, he’s the guy the Braves should target.

It was interesting to see Atlanta-Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley throw B.J. Upton’s name into the mix the other day. During the 2008 postseason, there wasn’t a player that I enjoyed watching more than Upton. 

Though he has struggled in the two years that have followed, the potential is certainly still there for Upton.  My guess is that he won’t be available at this time of the year. But if the Rays grow impatient with his development and attemp
t to cut costs by moving him in the offseason, he should be at the top of Frank Wren’s wish list.     

Does Chipper still have something left in the tank?

Based on what we’ve seen over what has amounted to nearly a full calendar year, it’s hard to imagine that Chipper Jones is just two years removed from his first career batting title. 

Dating back to June 9 of last year, Jones has hit .229 with 12 homers, a .363 on-base percentage and a .357 slugging percentage.

Among every other Major League player who has compiled at least 450 plate appearances during this span, Lyle Overbay (.228), Clint Barmes (.221), Carlos Pena (.216) and Brandon Inge (.208) are the only who have posted a lower batting average.  Barmes, Inge and Pena have done so while totaling at least 20 home runs. 

Jones’ .357 slugging percentage ranks as the 13th-worst mark posted during this span.  To provide some clarity, he has produced less power than Michael Bourn (.365) and just slightly more than David Eckstein and Ronny Cedeno, who have both posted .354 marks. 

But as Marlins right-handed reliever Brian Sanches showed while issuing Jones the go-ahead, four-pitch, bases-loaded walk in last night’s victory, the Braves 38-year-old third baseman is still being pitched to in a cautious manner. 

The 100 walks that Jones has drawn dating back to June 9 have been trumped only by the totals that have been issued to Albert Pujols (104), Adrian Gonzalez (103) and Chone Figgins (102).  His 33 walks this season rank fourth in the Majors and equal the total drawn by the great Pujols.

It’s almost as if pitchers feel like they’re still facing the same guy that hit .352 with a .448 on-base percentage and .618 slugging percentage during a 358-game stretch that extended from June 26, 2006 through June 8 of last year.

Within this stretch that extended through four seasons, nobody compiled a better batting average or on-base percentage than Jones. His .618 slugging percentage was bettered only by the .620 mark posted by Pujols.

Then seemingly overnight everything changed for Jones. Through the first 47 games he played last year, he hit .331 with a .451 on-base percentage and .567 slugging percentage.  While the power was off slightly, the numbers were at least somewhat comparable to the ones he’d produced over the course of the previous few years. 

At 38 years-old, it’s understandable that Jones is no longer producing the same kind of numbers that punched his ticket to Cooperstown. But along with age, maybe his struggles are a product of the fact that he no longer is protected by the same kind of threat that Mark Teixeira provided while he was hitting cleanup in Atlanta. 

There seems to be a popular opinion that it is time for Jones to move out of the third spot in the lineup to make room for Jason Heyward.  While I see this as a logical option, maybe there’s reason to keep Jones where he is and give him the protection Heyward would provide while manning the  cleanup spot, a position that would give the 20-year-old phenom more RBI opportunities than he has had since moving into the two hole.

Like I said last week, attempting to find the best makeup of this Braves lineup is like attempting to piece together a large jigsaw puzzle that has no corners or ends.   But Martin Prado has proven to be the best option in the leadoff role and with the belief that he will start to hit consistently, I think Yunel Escobar might be best served to bat second. 

There might be some late-inning matchup problems if Heyward and Brian McCann (who would bat fifth vs. RHP) were positioned together in the lineup.  But to give Jones one last attempt to prove he still can be a productive threat in the middle of the lineup, I think it’s at least worth seeing what he could do with Heyward sitting behind him for at least a week or two. 

If this wouldn’t work, then Jones certainly needs to move down to the sixth or seventh spot of the lineup.  But before completely giving up on him with the assumption that age has been the primary factor in his decline, it’s seemingly worth giving him a shot to see more hittable pitches.

Tonight’s matchup:  Looking to conclude this road trip with a 4-2 record, the Braves will conclude this three-game series against the Marlins by sending Tim Hudson to the mound to oppose Ricky Nolasco.  As many of you likely remember, Nolasco notched 16 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings when he last faced the Braves on Sept. 30.  

Nolasco had totaled 16 strikeouts in his three previous starts against the Braves last year.  The right-hander posted a 1.82 ERA in the five appearances (four starts) he made against Atlanta during the 2006 season.

But in his past seven starts against the Braves Nolasco is just 2-3 with a 6.02 ERA.

Hudson is 8-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 15 career starts against the Marlins.  In the eight career road starts he has made against them while pitching for the Braves, he is 6-1 with a 2.44 mark. 

   

 

 

Braves once again attempt to break free from Marlins

Covering a Sunday night baseball game in Philadelphia and then experiencing the majority of your sleep on the flight to Ft. Lauderdale isn’t exactly pleasurable.  But arriving in your hotel room and gaining the joy created from the sight of Rich Rodriguez fighting back tears made this a great day to be a West Virginian.

Losing two of three to the Phillies obviously wasn’t the way the Braves wanted to end a week that was also damaged with the two losses they’d suffered against the Padres.  But at the conclusion of this past weekend’s series, I’d have to say I felt as optimistic about their postseason hopes as I had earlier this month, when they took three of four from the Dodgers.   
Mother Nature affected both clubs on Friday night.  But it seems obvious that the Braves were affected more by the fact that they had to remove Tommy Hanson after just two innings.  

During Saturday’s game, the Braves baffled Cliff Lee and captured an unexpected win.  Then while claiming Sunday night’s series finale, the Phillies took advantage of the events that followed Adam LaRoche’s decision to charge on Pedro Feliz’s surprise seventh-inning bunt that went to the third base side of the mound.  

Still Martin Prado got to first base in time and should have sacrificed his body while attempting to secure Chipper Jones’ catchable throw.   His decision not to do so created the error that put the Phillies in position to claim a victory that ended with Greg Norton concluding Brad Lidge’s perfect ninth with a strikeout.  

Norton has managed to produce a .419 on-base percentage since the All-Star break.  But he also has just one hit in his last 19 plate appearances and it’s not like he has the speed to potentially turn a walk into a double.  

Still with the benefit of having two middle infielders (Omar Infante and Kelly Johnson) on his bench, Braves manager Bobby Cox stuck went with Norton.    In Cox’s defense, Johnson is hitless with three strikeouts in five career at-bats against Lidge and Infante is 1-for-6.

As for Norton, he is 2-for-7 in his career against Lidge and he had drawn walks in each of his three previous plate appearances against the veteran closer this year.

While it was a questionable decision, it wasn’t as if Cox made the worst coaching mistake in sports history.   I mean, it’s not like he squandered  a chance to go to the national championship game by losing a home game to Pitt or anything.   Oh wait, did I mention that Rodriguez was seen fighting back tears this morning?  

For those of you who aren’t college football fans, West Virginia’s loss that night to Pitt  would be the equivalent of the Braves losing four straight to the Nationals to end the season and erase the three-game WC lead they’d possessed entering the series.   

Now back to the Braves postseason outlook.  For you Michigan fans not familiar with baseball, this would be like advancing to one of those bowl games that you used to visit during the pre-Rodriguez days.

Unfortunately time isn’t providing the Braves  the same margin of error that they possessed on Aug. 9, when they exited Los Angeles having used the series win over the Dodgers to move to within 3 games of the National League Wild Card lead.  

At that time, their challenge was to erase that deficit and leap frog four teams in a span of 50 games.  

Heading into tonight’s series opener against the Marlins, the Braves have just 32 games to erase this same 3 -game deficit that they  face in the Wild Card standings.  But  they now have just two teams in front of them and the opportunity this week to put the Marlins in their rear-view mirror.  

This is the third time since July 28 that the Braves and Marlins have started a series against each other with identical records and to further prove how evenly-matched these two clubs appear to be, they’ve split the previous six games played during this span.  

Once this series with the Marlins concludes, the Braves will play 19 of their final 28 games against teams that currently possess a losing record.   The Rockies will play 19 of their final 31 games at Coors Field, where they’ve gone 36-26 this year.
 
The Giants play 16 of their final 31 games at home might be more intriguing.  They’ve gone 44-21 in San Francisco and 28-38 on the road this year.  

CF update:   After examining the results of Nate McLouth’s MRI exam today, doctors once again determined that his left hamstring is simply strained and not torn.   The Braves will further discuss his status as the week progresses and determine whether he’ll continue to rehab with the big league club or in Minor League games.  

With his back feeling better on Tuesday, Ryan Church gained hope that he could return to the lineup on Tuesday.
 
Jordan Schafer underwent a surgical procedure to remove a bone spur from his left wrist on Monday.  The 22-year-old center fielder won’t be able to participate in Winter Ball.  But the Braves are confident that he’ll be ready for the start of Spring Training.  

Braves set for another pivotal weekend

During the second week of this season, while the Marlins were in the midst of winning 12 of their first 13 games, I approached Fredi Gonzalez with one of those casual, “How you feelin’?” and he quickly responded with  “How should I be feeling?”  

Gonzalez was feeling good about his club in April and as we approach the first week of September, he has every reason to feel even better about his club, which had registered double-digit hit totals in 15 straight games before recording just four hits during Thursday night’s loss to the Astros.

Having lost their final two games in Houston, the Marlins come to Atlanta this weekend deadlocked with the Braves in third place in the National League Wild Card standings.  These two teams also sported identical records when the Braves traveled to South Florida during the final week of July and lost two of three.

Simply looking at the fact that there’s an opportunity to push ahead of the Marlins provides reason to say  that this will be the fourth consecutive weekend that the Braves will be playing a “big, clutch, crucial pivotal (or whatever adjective you’d like to insert) series.  

But while spending the past three weekend’s testing themselves against the National League’s elite (Phillies and Dodgers), the Braves didn’t have the opportunity that is present this weekend.

If the Braves are able to complete a sweep while having the luxury of not having to face Josh Johnson this weekend, they’ll have a chance to gain ground on both the Giants and the Rockies, who will begin a four-game series against each other tonight at Coors Field.

Entering this weekend, the Braves and Marlins trail the front-running Rockies by four games and they are two games behind the Giants in the NL Wild Card chase.   

What we have here is the equivalent of a Saturday on the PGA Tour.   What occurs during this “moving weekend” could have a significant bearing on who emerges as this year’s WC winner.  

If the Braves or the Marlins were to complete a sweep this weekend in Atlanta, they’d severely damage the postseason hopes of the other team and gain the possibility to move within 1 games of the top spot —  only possible if the Giants were to take three of four from the Rockies.

Looking at a more likely development, if the Braves or Marlins were to take two of three this weekend and the two NL West teams were to split their four-game series, one of the two NL East teams would simply move to within 3 games of the top spot.

So while there’s a chance that significant ground won’t be gained, this still shapes up as intriguing weekend and one during which the Braves and Marlins will want to pull for the Giants to simply reduce the distance between their position and the top spot.

Church’s contributions:
  After last night’s win over the Mets, Braves manager Bobby Cox wondered what he would have done had he not had Ryan Church to play center field while Nate McLouth continues to deal with his strained left hamstring.

Gregor Blanco certainly wasn’t the answer and there’s no reason to even wonder whether Reid Gorecki or Brian Barton could provide what Church has from both an offensive and defensive perspective.

And there’s no doubt that Church has much greater range than Jeff Francoeur, who likely would have only been considered a late-inning emergency option in center field.

In the 28 games he’s played for the Braves, Church has hit .273 with a .373 on-base percentage, a .443 slugging percentage, two homers and 16 RBIs.

In the 36 games, he’s played for the Mets, Francoeur has hit .297 with a .329 on-base percentage, .471 slugging percentage, five homers and 22 RBIs.  

When you factor the value Church has provided with his defensive versatility, it’s once again evident that the Braves were very fortunate to be able to acquire him in exchange for Francoeur.  In fact, I’d have to say this one has worked out even better than Frank Wren could have imagined.

While thinking along these lines, there’s no doubt that Adam LaRoche has proven to be even better than Wren pictured when he acquired him before the Trade Deadline.   In his first 17 games with the Braves, LaRoche has hit .404 with six homers, a .507 on-base percentage, a .754 slugging percentage and 12 RBIs.

There’s no reason to once again compare these numbers to the ones that Casey Kotchman produced in Atlanta.  Instead it’s sufficient to explain LaRoche’s value by pointing out that he leads all NL first basemen in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage this month.  

Because he’d hit just .223 with a .390 slugging percentage against left-handers before he returned to Atlanta, LaRoche has found himself out of the lineup against some southpaws.  But with Martin Prado ailing, he’s taken advantage of the opportunity to prove that he can hit lefties. 

With the Braves, LaRoche has hit .360 (9-for-25) with a .520 slugging percentage against left-handers. 

The fact that the Marlins are scheduled to start three right-handers this weekend should be viewed as a positive for the Braves, who have hit .287 with a .449 slugging percentage against right-handers this month and .248 with a .408 slugging percentage against left-handers. 

During tonight’s series opener, Javier Vazquez will be pitted against Anibal Sanchez, who will be making his first start since being sidelined with a right shoulder sprain on June 2.   Sanchez is 1-2 with a 7.71 ERA in the four starts he’s made against the Braves since the start of the 2008 season. 

Making matters worse for Sanchez is the fact that he’ll be facing a Braves team that now includes Church.  In 16 career at-bats against the Marlins right-hander, Church has hit .500 with three doubles and a homer.
 
Time to head to the park.  I’ll be sure to provide injury updates regarding Prado, McLouth and Garret Anderson, who left last night’s game with some lower-back discomfort.  

 
 

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