Results tagged ‘ Yankees ’

Time for the Braves to experience a prolonged winning streak

When I arrived at my Pasadena hotel this afternoon, I clicked on MLB.com and had to laugh when I saw the image used to lead into the story about this weekend’s four-game series between the Yankees and Red Sox.
 
Standing in the middle of this image was John Smoltz, who while opposing Joba Chamberlain during tonight’s series opener, is going to have a chance to set the tone for what occurs over the next four days in the Bronx.
 
Nevertheless, it’s still quite odd to see Smoltz wearing that Red Sox uniform and suddently standing as one of the key figures in what is undoubtedly the game’s top rivalry.
 
Sure, you have the Cubs-Cardinals and the Dodgers-Giants.  The Interleague era has obviously allowed intrigue to follow some of the matchups between the Mets-Yankees.   But nothing beats the anticipation of what precedes those four-hour, epic affairs the Yankees and Red Sox are seemingly destined to encounter every time they oppose each other. 

With the Dodgers having to travel to San Francisco on Monday to begin a three-game series against the second-place Giants, can the Braves hope that Manny Ramirez and his mates will look beyond this weekend’s four-game series at Dodger Stadium?  Or did I simply spend too much time reading college football magazines on this morning’s cross-country flight?

Seriously though, while the Dodgers still own the best record in the Majors, they are currently in the midst of their roughest stretch of the season.  They’ve lost eight of their last 13 games and unfortunately for the Braves, two of the five wins notched during that stretch occurred last weekend at Turner Field. 

While splitting their first 20 games since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have experienced the same rollercoaster journey that has followed the Braves, who have won 16 of their past 26 games?   Or is it more timely to say that they’ve lost five of their past nine? 

Whichever way you want to view it, with 54 games left this season, the Braves can’t afford to experience any more extended stretches of mediocrity.  They’ll enter tonight’s series opener five games back in the Wild Card race with three teams in front of them (Giants, Rockies and the tied NL Central combo of the Cards/Cubs).  As for the Marlins, their 55-53 record is identical to Atlanta’s. 

The Braves have 13 games remaining against the Marlins and three against the Cardinals.   While they’re done playing the Giants and Rockies, they can hope that these two NL West rivals beat each other up in their remaining division contests.   The same line of thinking can be used when thinking about the Cubs and Cards, who are lining up produce a great battle to win the NL Central.

 There’s hope if the Braves win the games they’re supposed to against the likes of the Nationals and Padres.  But at the same time, they’ve put themselves in a position where they need to also find success against the game’s elite.

With pitching matchups of Derek Lowe vs. Randy Wolf, Jair Jurrjens vs. Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw vs. Kenshin Kawakami and Javier Vazquez vs. Hiroki Kuroda, the Braves certainly have a chance to win at least three of the four games played this weekend. 

Lowe beat Wolf last weekend.  Jurrjens pitched effectively before experiencing his forgettable two-out struggles during last Sunday’s loss to Billingsley.  I’ll take Vazquez against most any other Major League pitcher right now. 

And once again, we’re looking at Kawakami’s start as the one that draws doubt.    The Braves have lost each of the past four games started by the 34-year-old Japanese right-hander.  Those four losses account for half of the total they’ve compiled in 20 games since the All-Star break. 

Minor’s bonus:  As I write this Mike Minor is likely dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” to secure the $2.42 million signing bonus the Braves have offered him.    This is the highest bonus ever given to a player selected seventh in the Draft and the largest one in the organization’s history.
 
But at the same time, it’s a cost the Braves knew they were going to incur while provided their highest Draft selection since 1990.
 
While it would have been nice to get Minor into the system as early as possible, the fact that he was able to rest his left arm most of this summer could also prove to be beneficial.  The 21-year-old southpaw completed 110 2/3 innings for Vanderbilt this year and spent last summer pitching for Team USA.
 
If Minor proves to be a quick climber, there’s a chance he could move into the back end of the Braves rotation some time during the 2011 season.   Lowe will be in the final year of his contract and if they follow their current path, Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson will form a formidable 1-2 punch at the front-end of the rotation.  

Cincy has become a nightmare destination

After Tuesday night’s 7-2 loss to the Reds, Braves manager Bobby Cox essentially said that if you record 12 hits, you’ve got to win.   But since Great American Ball Park started to become his team’s house of horrors two years ago, Cox has come to realize this isn’t necessarily true.
  
While winning just two of the past 10 games they’ve played at GABP dating back to Aug. 21, 2007, the Braves have won just one of the six games during which they’ve recorded a  double-digit hit total. Their other win during this span occurred on April 24, when they tallied four hits, the first of which came courtesy of  Jeff Francoeur’s  two-out, fifth-inning homer.
 
So much has occurred over the course of these 10 games that it’s hard to pinpoint why Cincinnati has recently caused Cox more heartburn than Skyline Chili.   This skid started with Jo-Jo Reyes blowing a three-run second-inning lead by allowing the Reds to produce a five-run third-inning.
 
One day later, Edgar Renteria came off the disabled list and then went right back on it before even having the opportunity to do anything more than check his swing during his first-inning at-bat.   Then to cap off that three-game stretch in August of 2007, Adam Dunn continued his assault of Bob Wickman with a 12th-inning, walk-off homer.
 
Given that Wickman was released the following day, I guess you can say something good has come out of this 10-game stretch, during which the Braves have competed against the Bengals for the right to be considered the least successful team in Cincinnati.
 
Looking back at last night’s game, things might have certainly been different had Francoeur not grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the sixth.
  
But things like this are going to happen.  Former American League MVP Justin Morneau has grounded into 16 double plays (third-most in the Majors) during the 240 at-bats he’s compiled with runners in scoring position since the start of the 2008 season.   But he’s also compiled a .350 batting average and collected 130 RBIs in these situations.
 
The frustration that stemmed from Tuesday’s sixth-inning has to do with the fact that these situations seem to always find Francoeur.   The 250 at-bats he’s had w/ RISP since the start of 2008 ranks as the fourth-highest total in the Majors  –  a distinction that is partly  product of the fact that his aggressive nature limits his walk total and consequently increases his at-bats total.
 
If completely ignoring the big picture by solely looking at this from an RBI perspective, you would be able to say that Francoeur compares to Alex Rodriguez.  In 285 plate appearances w/ RISP since the start of 2008, Francoeur has tallied 85 RBIs, which is just one shy of the mark A-Rod has collected in 274 plate appearances.
 
But upon exiting the delusional world, it’s obvious that A-Rod has proven more productive while hitting .262 with a .403 on-base percentage and .463 slugging percentage during this span.
 
Those numbers don’t seemingly scream $59 million (A-Rod’s combined salaries in 2008 and 2009) worth of production, but they’re certainly more impressive than the ones posted by Francoeur, who has hit .216 with a .284 on-base percentage and .316 slugging percentage w/ RISP since the start of last season. 
 
Among the 14 Major Leaguers who have had at least 275 plate appearances w/RISP  since the start of last season, Francoeur and Rockies third baseman Garret Atkins (.226) are the only ones who haven’t hit at least .250 or compiled a .300 on-base percentage.

Among the 46 players who have had at least 250 plate appearances w/RISP since the start of last season, Francoeur’s .316 slugging percentage ranks dead last.  Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano’s .371 mark ranks as the second-worst.
 
Now re-entering the optimistic world and taking the approach that you’re only as good as your last at-bat, we’ll say Francoeur took a step in the right direction while scoring Chipper Jones from third base with his eighth-inning single on Tuesday night.
 
Unfortunately for the Braves, that single, which brought them within a run, only served as a tease.  Jones’ throwing error helped the Reds tally four unearned runs in the bottom of the eighth against Mike Gonzalez, who had allowed six hits while holding opponents scoreless over his previous nine innings.
 
This was another instance where Gonzalez encountered struggles during a non-save situation.  Just four of the 13 runs  he’s surrendered this year have come in save situations.  Five of the nine runs he’s allowed in non-save situations have been unearned. 

In 14 save situations, Gonzalez has limited opponents to a .200 batting average and .302 on-base percentage.  In his 17 appearances without a save on the line, he has allowed a .270 batting average and .378 on-base percentage. 
 
Yankees and Red Sox tickets:
  Tickets remain for next week’s games against the Red Sox (June 23-35) and Yankees (June 26-28).   While purchasing these at braves.com, you can also buy a daily parking pass that will admit you to one of the team’s lots.  Fans without these passes or season permits will have to find other parking options or utilize MARTA.

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