Results tagged ‘ Nationals ’

Braves return to their house of horrors

Everything seemed quite festive on the afternoon March 30, 2008.   As ESPN’s Buster Olney and I waited to get through the extra security provided for President

Bush’s  presence, we spoke about some of the optimism the Braves carried out of Spring Training.  

As 28 other teams relaxed and prepared for the ’08 season, the Braves and Nationals were preparing to kick it off in a spacious new ballpark.   Nationals Park was the place to be.
 
A few hours later Ryan Zimmerman would christen the new park with a walk-off homer against Peter Moylan.  When the Braves returned two weeks later, Moylan tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and Tom Glavine suffered a groin strain that would force him to go on the disabled list for the first time since he had debuted 21 years earlier.
 
Two more weeks later, the Braves returned to D.C. and were swept during a two-game series in which they used Blaine Boyer, Royce Ring, Buddy Carlyle, Jeff Bennett, Jorge Campillo and Manny Acosta out of their bullpen.  (This is where you have to question why just a few weeks earlier I was actually telling Buster that I felt there was some optimism entering the season.)
 
When they were once again swept out of D.C. during the final three days of August that year, you almost had to wonder if the Braves wished the Nationals were still playing that dark, dingy bowl called RFK Stadium.   

Two years have passed and the Braves have significantly upgraded their pitching staff.  But Nationals Park still doesn’t’ seem like the place to be for them to be, especially right now while they are attempting to battle through a tight Wild Card race.

The Braves have lost 15 of the 24 games that they’ve played at Nationals Park.   In fact, they’ve won just  seven of their past 21 games played in D.C.

The Braves have participated in 10.2 percent of the games played at Nationals Park and accounted for 14.3 percent of the home wins notched by the Nationals since they opened their new park.   None of the other National League East teams have posted a losing record in this stadium   —  Phillies (16-8), Marlins (19-7),  Mets (14-13). 

So with a half-game lead over the Padres in the Wild Card standings, the Braves will return to the “horror away from home” tonight to open a three-game series against a Nationals club that just took three of four from a previously-hot Astros club.  The only other victories the Nats have posted in their past 15 games were those two that they claimed at Turner Field last week
.  
The Nationals have won eight of 15 against the Braves this year.  The only other NL clubs to post a losing record against Washington this year are the Pirates (1-5), Mets (7-8) and D-backs (3-4).  

Now in an attempt to change the tone of this entry, I’ll point out that the Braves did win the only three vital games that they’ve ever played at Nationals Park.  During a 15-2 September streak that put them back in the playoff picture last year, the Braves swept the Nationals in D.C.

With Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe set to take the mound with an extra day of rest, the Braves  seem to have the advantage in the first two games of this series.   The Nationals will counter with a pair of rookies (Jordan Zimmerman and Yunesky Maya), who have combined for 24 career big league starts.
 
Sound familiar? Too soon?   Sorry, didn’t mean to open fresh wounds.  I mean, what happens in Philly stays in Philly, right?

Hudson halted his struggles with a steady performance in New York last weekend and enters tonight’s game having gone 10-1 with a 1.55 ERA in 17 career starts against the Nationals.   He has allowed one earned run or fewer in 12 of these outings. 

With three consecutive solid starts under his belt, Lowe no longer looks like the guy who has primarily struggled against the Nationals the past two seasons.   He’ll enter Saturday afternoon’s outing looking to duplicate the success he encountered Sept. 13, when he notched 12 strikeouts and held the Nats scoreless over eight innings.  

 Random Thoughts:
 
The Braves fate may rest on how Jair Jurrjens’ right knee reacts when he attempts to start against the Nationals Sunday.  They can’t afford to have Brandon Beachy make another emergency start in his place.

But I don’t think it would be detrimental if the Braves opted to have Beachy take Mike Minor’s spot in the rotation next week. 

Minor’s offspeed stuff has been inconsistent during each of his past four starts and fatigue has prevented him from being able to amp up his fastball in two-strike counts.  The kid, who matched a franchise rookie record with 12 strikeouts on Aug. 22, quite simply doesn’t have an out pitch right now.
 
It wasn’t too surprising to hear that Stan Kasten will no longer serve as the Nationals president.  We’ve heard rumblings over the course of the past year.  His departure does provide reason to reflect on what he gave the Braves and the city of Atlanta during his multi-faceted reign there. 

While serving as the Braves president, Stan Kasten didn’t have to be the public figure that he was while attempting to build the Nationals and flame the fires produced during Jim Bowden’s tenure.   John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox were more than capable to serve as the organization’s leaders.  

Kasten’s tangible lasting impressions in Atlanta are present in the form of Turner Field and Philips Arena.  But his contributions to the Braves extend far beyond the conversion of the Centennial Olympic Stadium. 

When Cox came to Atlanta to serve as the general manager after the 1985 season, his mission to overhaul a horrible Minor League system was primarily aided by Paul Snyder’s keen eye for talent and Bobby Dews’ ability to develop talent.

But it was Kasten who allowed this plan to materialize.  It was Kasten who convinced Ted Turner that it was best to show patience through some lean years while pumping most of the club’s money into scouting and player development.  

It was also Kasten who lured Schuerholz to Atlanta to successfully cultivate the seeds that had been planted by Cox, Snyder and Dews.   

I’ll be the first to admit I was among those who took Stan’s role with the Braves for granted.  But when you look at the 14 consecutive division titles that were won after he convinced Turner to do the right thing, it’s impossible to ignore his fingerprints.

Clark accepts role with Nationals

Roy Clark’s 11-year tenure as the Braves scouting director came to a close on Tuesday, when Clark informed general manager Frank Wren that he had accepted the opportunity to become an assistant general manager with the Nationals. 

Throughout the summer there were indications that Clark was angling to find an organization that would allow him to oversee both the scouting and player development departments.   It’s believed that the Nationals are going to provide him this opportunity. 

Sources have indicated that Clark has already started calling scouts to see who is willing to join him in Washington.

There’s no doubt that Clark is one of the game’s best talent evaluators of amateur talent.  But a  team source indicated that his departure could allow the Braves scouting department to be a more cohesive unit.

Roy has always been good to me and I wish him all the luck as he and GM Mike Rizzo attempt to build the Nationals organization into a winner.
  

Clark to interview with the Nationals

Roy Clark, who has spent the past 11 years  as the Braves director of scouting, will interview with the Nationals on Monday afternoon.  Clark is expected to be interviewing to gain a similar role that would also provide him the tag of being an assistant general manager.

Widely regarded for his nose for talent, Clark has run each of the past 10 First-Year Player Drafts for the Braves.  He joined the club as an area scout midway through the 1989 season and then served as both a scouting supervisor and national supervisor from 1995-99. 

Throughout the summer, there has been speculation that Clark might part ways with the Braves.  Many individuals within the baseball industry have felt he might have ended up with the Padres if Jerry DiPoto was cleared to leave the Diamondbacks and become San Diego’s general manager.

 

 

Infante returns to face red-hot Nationals

Coming off a weekend during which Kris Medlen was one of the many players that proved to be huge at Dodger Stadium, the Braves are back at Turner Field to host the red-hot Nationals.  
Do I get any kind of bonus Scrabble points for describing Medlen as huge and the Nationals as red-hot in the same sentence?  

During my nine seasons on this beat, I’d have to say this past weekend’s four-game set in Los Angeles was one of the best series that I’ve witnessed.   How many times do you see a team bounce back from a potentially demoralizing walk-off loss with consecutive extra-inning victories and then end  up taking three of four against a team that entered the series possessing the best record in the Majors?

While their pitching staff has been weakened by injuries, the Dodgers still are one of the National League’s elite teams and this weekend, the Braves proved to themselves and everybody else that they have the potential to work their way into that same category.   

But everything that was accomplished in Los Angeles will go to waste if the Braves aren’t able to prolong this successful run against the Nationals, who have posted a 3.88 ERA and compiled a .322 batting average during the eight-game winning streak that they carry into tonight’s series opener.  

The Braves have lost 16 of their past 27 games against the Nationals and they realize that taking care of business during these next two days would put themselves in great position this weekend, when they welcome the Phillies to town and have the opportunity to directly affect how things look at the top of the NL East standings.

Chipper Jones seemingly understands the importance of these two games.  When he arrived at his locker before Tuesday’s batting practice he was told that his name wasn’t in tonight’s lineup.

“It’s not in there?” Jones said. “Excuse me a second.”  

A few minutes later after having a brief discussion with Bobby Cox, Jones returned and said that he was back in the lineup.  

Jones strained his left oblique muscle during Friday’s batting practice and was absent while the Braves won three straight against the Dodgers.   The ailment bothered him while he was in Los Angeles, but when he awoke on Tuesday he felt no discomfort and was determined to play.  

“If I can play at all right now, I’m going to play,” Jones said.  

Jones’ return to the lineup led the Braves to shift Omar Infante from third base to second base.  Martin Prado was positioned at first base because Cox opted to sit LaRoche against Nationals left-handed starter John Lannan.  

Since joining the Braves LaRoche has five hits in 14 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.  But he’s batting just .171 (7-for-41) against them since July 1 and is hitless in six career at-bats against Lannan.  

When the Braves activated Infante from the disabled list, they optioned Diory Hernandez to Triple-A Gwinnett.  With Infante’s presence, the Braves no longer needed to keep Hernandez around to serve as Yunel Esobar’s backup. 

While Greg Norton has hit just .138 this year and .087 (4-for-46) from the left side of the plate, it still seemingly made more sense to keep him around with the hope that he’ll turn things around.   It’s not as if Hernandez gave the Braves reason to believe he could be a valuable right-handed bat off the bench.   He’d hit just .143 in the 42 at-bats he’d compiled dating back to June 28. 

It was somewhat concerning to see Nate McLouth return to the bench during Tuesday’s batting practice and tell Bobby Cox that he was still feeling some discomfort in the same left hamstring that sidelined him for a week earlier this year.
 
McLouth, who tweaked the hamstring during Saturday’s 10th inning,  said he really doesn’t feel any discomfort until he attempts to push off while attempting to run down a fly ball.
  
Given McLouth’s blue-collar, win-at-all-costs approach to the game, it’s definitely in his best interest to wait a few more days before returning to regular action.   If he were to push himself attempting to score from second base or while running into one of the outfield gaps, he could incur an injury that would certainly handicap the Braves during this stretch run.  

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