Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Marlins @ Braves: Game 1 Recap

Apparently high socks trump curses. That's what Chipper Jones thought would help the team get over the Monday hump, and damned if it didn't work. The Braves won 8-2 on the strength of some absolutely ridiculous hitting numbers. That's not to say Tommy didn't step up with a 5 inning, 1 run performance, but he's still coming up short in innings due to his pitch economy. He could have gone a 6th, but Fredi yanked him after we went up 6-1. I guess that's good strategy, but I think it's better to leave guys in when they are still under 100 pitches and effective.

On to the hit parade. The only thing missing last night was the clowns and elephants. Heyward, Freeman, and Janish all had multiple hits, and everybody had a hit in the game except Prado and Hanson. We even had two pinch hits which never happens. One came from Juan Francisco with his PH 2 RBI single. The other was from Eric Hinske. All in all, it was 13 hits, 5 walks, and 4-9 with RISP that opened up a can of whoopass on the Marlins pitching staff. Buerhle got rocked for 6 runs in 4.1 innings, and the bullpen got pegged for 2 runs in the remainder of mop-up mode.

The MVP goes to an unlikely guy I really want to highlight. Paul Janish deserves the MVP for this game. Paul went 2/3 with a walk and 2 runs scored. He had his best game so far with the Braves at the plate, and I think that deserves the MVP nod. Janish stepped in to Simmons' SS position with little fanfare, but he's done an incredible job in the field. In 15 games he's turned 11 double plays, with a .984 fielding percentage. Here's another thing you may not know about Janish's tenure with the Braves. He's something of a good luck charm. The Braves are 10-5 since Janish has arrived, and they've snapped the Monday curse. Is is coincidence? Absolutely, but I do know that this kid is doing the yeoman's work in a position where we needed a solid glove due to injury. I'd like to hope that he can get his average up before Simmons returns so we can make him into some good offseason trade bait.

Speaking of trades, the Braves picked up Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm for some cash and a couple prospects. Maholm is a lefty starter intended to bolster the rotation in some capacity (I'm guessing that means Medlen gets put back in the pen). I think we got a great deal on our hands if Maholm can keep up the streak he's had since July started. In that month, Maholm has won all his games with an ERA of 1.23 in 36 innings. Reed Johnson is a right handed RF guy hitting .302 this season in a platoon situation with Bryan Lahair. One would imagine he's here to shore up the days where Chipper needs a day off, Prado has to move to the infield, and we have to stick somebody in left. It's probably a better option to put him out there for defense than Hinske. Also, he'll provide some better options in PH situations late in games.

So the winning streak continues. The Braves have taken it to a league-leading 6 in a row (now that Cincy finally lost), and we're 3.5 out of first. With the way the Mets, Marlins and Phillies are playing, this is shaping up to be a 2 horse race in the NL East. The closest team to us right now is the Mets, who are 3 games under .500 and 8.5 games behind us. We need to continue to take it to a bad Marlins team in order to shore up the gap for first. Right now the wild card is way too tight to worry about making it into the post-season that way. I'd much rather start a new streak of division championships by knocking off the Nats this year.

Go Braves!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Marlins @ Braves: Series Preview

The Marlins have traded away their team. Make no mistake, we can't afford to lose this series. This is the very definition of the must-win games you capitalize on when you are in a pennant race. The Marlins have gone 3-7 in the last 10, even though they've won 2 in a row off the Padres. If it was possible, the Padres are even worse than the Marlins. The only downside is we have to play on a Monday. Here are the matchups.

Game 1: Hanson v. Buerhle
Game 2: Medlen v. Nolasco
Game 3: Sheets v. Zambrano
Game 4: Minor v. Eovaldi

If you were looking for a series where you didn't have Tim Hudson going, this is probably the best case scenario. Game one is on a Monday, so I don't really care who's pitching. It could be Cy Young out there for us in his heyday, he's still gotta deal with the curse. Until we break it, I don't bother previewing those games.

Medlen makes his first start of the season on Tuesday. Hallalujah! Somebody finally got the memo that JJ was slipping and Delgado was cursed. I get my wish that Krissy Meds takes the hill against a mediocre, fading to awful Marlins squad. Now, there is the possibility of a trade that could screw this up, but I doubt it. I think the Braves can't get any value for the guys we have right now, unless they are willing to deal somebody like Bourn or Prado, and that would be insane. I'd love to dump Delgado on somebody, but the only takers were the Cubs, and unless Dempster changes his mind that deal is dead. Medlen will go against Nolasco aka "That guy we owned in the face last series." I love that as a starting matchup considering Nolasco has lost 3 in a row, and 7 of his last 9. He's in trouble and we need to step on his throat.

Sheets may not actually be human. He could be some sort of cyborg that came out of retirement with the mission to win games and save John Connor. You've seen the results. He's 3-0 with a miniscule ERA. He faced Zambrano, who is one more violent tirade away from being thrown in prison. Zambrano has lost 8 of his last 9 with a 6.04 ERA in July. He's a walking emotional bomb. All we have to do is light the fuse and watch him blow up all over the infield. That should be relatively simple with Brian McCann hitting .643 off him with a dinger, and Chipper going .333 with 2 homers. Or yikkity's as he calls them. He may be going publicly senile on Twitter. However, he's allowed to make up words because he's Chipper Freaking Jones.

Minor isn't the Minor we remember from the beginning of the season. He's been slowly maturing into a pitcher that can hold his water in tougher spots, but he still struggles with the long ball. The difference now is that he doesn't let it ruin his day when he gives up a solo shot. That, and he's holding the homers to solo shots for the most part. However, last time he faced Miami he lost. Not his fault, since we only scored one run in that game. It's impossible to win at this stage of the year with that kind of offense, so Mike will hopefully get more support. The facts are impossible to deny that he's getting better though, 2-2 record aside. Mike's gone 27 innings in his last 4 games with only 6 earned runs. We should have gone 4-0 in that stretch with that kind of pitching. We didn't because of a bullpen implosion in SF and the aforementioned lack of production in Miami. Going for the Marlins, Eovaldi is a guy you've never heard of. Why? Because he's a 22 year old rook out of LA that they got in a trade. He's probably the guy to take most seriously in this series. He's on a tear in July going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA. That's certainly better than any of the other dregs Miami will toss at us.

I agree with what Chipper said about these two upcoming series. There's no reason why we can't go 3-1 and win this thing. There's also no reason why we shouldn't win a game on Monday. Yet, here we are 0-12 on the season. So, put on your talismans, turn around three times, click your heels together, cross your fingers, and unplug your clocks. We're off to snap a curse.

Go Braves!

Phillies @ Braves: Game 3 Recap

What are those? Are those brooms? Why yes they are! And they are the best kind of brooms since they may have just swept Philadelphia right into the seller's bin. I feel really bad for those Philly fans that were expecting their millions of dollars in payroll to compete this year. Hahahaha, yeah right. The Braves went up 3-0 on the Phillies within the first 3 innings, and never gave up the lead all game. Hudson was in classic bend but not break form, while Halladay struggled to keep the ball in the ballpark. The end result was a Braves win and a bunch of Philly fans left scratching their heads.

We finally had a Dan Uggla sighting! Dan went 1-3 with an RBI, so the 0-for stretch is done. Let's hope he can start a hitting streak, because he'll need to string together about 20 games in a row just to get close to .250 on the year. Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones both went yard to help establish the early 3-0 lead in the game. Then Freddie Freeman came up big late in the game with a 2 run single in the seventh, after Jason Heyward got a run in on an error by the pitcher. Put it all together and you get a Braves team that scored 6 runs on 9 hits and 4 walks, and a 3-13 with RISP. It was a nice hitting effort where we could have put 10 on the Phillies if they didn't catch a few breaks.

MVP was the Old Grey Mare himself, Chipper Jones. Larry went 2-4 with 2 runs and a homer. He's 40 years old and slugging over .500 at the end of his career. David Ross joked in an interview that the only thing Chipper could do to surprise him anymore was actually retire at the end of the year. I have to agree that it's almost become normal for the fans to see a player like Chipper continually hit well on two bad knees. But it doesn't stop there. Chipper also still makes several adroit plays in the field to keep the games in check. Toss in the fact that he's a leader in and out of the clubhouse, and you get the full picture of a man that (if he could play a full 162) would be an MVP of the league, let alone the Braves.

Good news on the Simmons front is that the cast is coming off this week. That means Andrelton could be about 2 weeks away from getting back on the field, with the latest being about a month. That means we should certainly have our best SS back for a September run, where we will face a juggernaut of division matchups. Also in the good news grab-bag is that we face Miami in our next series, a team that's gone 3-7 in it's last 10, with 2 of those wins came against the dreadful Padres. Chipper said it best in his post-game interview about our home stand. He doesn't see any reason why we can't do 8-2 or 9-1 in this stand. Frankly, I don't either.

Go Braves!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Phillies @ Braves: Game 2 Recap

We won a pitcher's duel. It's been a while since that happened, and with Minor on the mound nobody really saw this coming. Just the same, Mike delivered one of the better outings of his career, and the Braves had just enough offense to get the job done. I will say one of the biggest things that jumped out to me was the Philly errors. The Phillies have been terrible in the field this series with 4 errors in the 2 games. Often, they were on simple plays like a ball going through their legs, or throwing to a base where nobody is covering. It's like watching a team actively self-destruct on the field...and deep down I love that it's the Phillies doing it.

MVP of the game was Mike Minor by far. 8 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 9 Ks. He was sparkling for a guy who has struggled over the year. I still think people as a whole are going to distrust days when he takes the mound, but games like this give a lot of ammo to his camp. There's no reason why he can't be a quality starter if he stays in the game mentally like he did. The big test was when he gave up the absolutely huge 427 foot solo shot to Utley in 4th inning, making the game 2-1. That was the point where Mike could have gone to pieces. Instead, he went 4 more innings and retired 12 in a row. That's veteran ace type mound presence, folks. I love to see that because it lets me know where his potential lies long term. Especially since the kid is a lefty starter. Hell, even I've come a long way from wanting to punch him in the face early this season. He's growing up before our eyes.

The Dan Uggla milk carton watch continues. He's now 0 for his last 21. Come home soon Dan. Your parents are worried. The last time he had a hit was almost 10 days ago in Washington. He's now hitting .209 on the season. I wouldn't be shocked if he got another day off due to the quick turnaround on the night/day game today. He's got about a week in August to turn this thing around for good, or he's got to be completely marginalized in the lineup by Fredi. There's simply no way we can put a guy out at 2B batting .200 with a sub-par glove during a pennant race. Oh, and don't think I'm picking on his fielding just because he's not hitting. Dan's tied for 3rd most errors in the NL among second basemen.

Not that he was alone yesterday. The Braves as a whole couldn't hit a thing. 1-6 with RISP and only 5 hits. All 5 came from Bourn, Prado, and Heyward, the new Rocks of Gibraltar of the lineup. The rest of the team was overtly useless. Luckily for us, Philly didn't even get that many chances. With only 4 hits and 2 guys in scoring position, Philly stranded everyone. The only run they got was Utley's solo shot. If you liked pitching, this was a great game for you. If you liked quality hitting with a lot of moving parts, this was a disaster. The thing I like about these wins is they are lightspeed fast. The game as a whole only took 2:14 to finish. Suck on that, Yankees and Sawks.

Today the Braves are hoping to break out the brooms again, this time at home. You couldn't have a better starting pitcher on the mound to do it than Tim Hudson. Opposing him is Doc Halladay. It's a veritable clash of veteran titans. Only in America! Except you get the benefit of it not being on Pay-per-view, and Don King doesn't control the rights.

Go Braves!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Phillies @ Braves: Game 1 Recap

How do you score 6 runs on 5 hits? When Cole Hamels walks 6 batters, that's how. The Braves gave up and early run in the first inning, and I (like many fans) wondered if this was going to be the game where Sheets became human. Luckily for us, and I do mean luckily, that was not to be. Sheets closed the door on a one run inning, and Hamels opened it right back up with 3 walks, an error, and a hit. From down one to up one, the Braves took the lead in the 2nd inning and never let up.

The MVP of the game was Ben Sheets. He worked 6 innings with 6 hits and one run. That improves his record to 3-0 and an ERA of 0.50 on the year. Sheets had the ground ball outs working with a 9/5 ground ball to fly ball ratio. In addition to that, he struck out 5. Also, he retired 8 in a row after giving up the early run in the first. Sheets going into total lockdown mode on the Phillies was a big reason why the Braves stayed in this game mentally.

The Dan Uggla milk carton watch continues. He's now 0 for his last 18, although he did draw a walk and scored a run. Still, none of the Braves hit very well in this game. They made the hits they did get count. The important thing was that we went 3-7 with RISP, even though we only had 5 hits total. The Phillies were the exact opposite, going 0-8 with RISP on 7 hits. The key to the game was our ability to convert our chances, and the Phillies making errors in the field and at the plate.

The was very brisk for a 6-1 win, taking only 2:44 to complete. The reason was probably the 18 total strikeouts across both lineups. I was just happy to see the big contract boy, Cole Hamels, take one right on the chin. Today we face off with Minor against Blanton. We'll see how Blanton deals with the hot-hitting Brian McCann. Brian's hit 2 homers, and 4 RBIs in his last 6 games. Also, Chipper Jones is hitting .381 on the week. Look for both of those guys to set the tone in tonight's matchup.

Go Braves!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Phillies @ Braves: Series Preview

Uh oh, the Phillies are back in town! And they've been winning games. The media wants to paint them as having turned things around, and ready to make a "run" at the playoffs. We're here to put that notion firmly to bed. Given the matchups, I think that may be pretty doable on paper. Off we go!

Game 1: Sheets v. Hamels
Game 2: Minor v. Blanton
Game 3: Hudson v. Halladay

Ben Sheets has been quite the find here in the latter half of the season. He'll be facing off against a man that just got seriously paid in Cole Hamels. I love that. Now that Cole is financially secure, he can go ahead and join the ranks of other pitchers that completely tank after they get the money. The even more hilarious thing is that Cole has been pretty awful in June/July. Over the past 2 months, his ERA has ballooned over a run and change. Cole's been pitching a 3.97 in July with a WHIP around 1.24, and 5 homers. That's only in 3 games pitched so far. He's 1-4 in his last 5 starts, and Bourn, Janish, Chipper, BMac, and Prado all hit over .275 against Hamels. Sheets is 2-0 in his first 2 starts with a 0.00 ERA. Yeah, ridiculous I know. Sheets has had issues with Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco in the past, however Polanco has been out of the lineup recently with back issues. Who knows how effective he will be even if he plays. Even so, Sheets should be careful about putting a speedster like Pierre on base if he wants to win this game.

Joe freaking Blanton is the garbage pitcher in the Phillies rotation. None of their fans want to see him take the mound with his 4.70 ERA. However, he's found ways to win games he has no business winning. In his last 2 starts, he's given up 13 hits, but only 5 runs in 16 innings. Both of those ended up as 1 run victories for the Phillies. However, his last loss was a 6 run disaster against us. We can abuse this guy at the plate, and the numbers show how. Bourn, Freeman, and McCann all his .400+ against Blanton, while Chipper and Prado go for .300+ each. We can club this fool if Minor can hold up his end of the deal. Minor's lost 2 in a row, but the record doesn't indicate his pitching during those games. 13 innings of 3 run ball should have been good enough to win both of those games, but we stunk in the pen and at the plate. Minor faces off against a Phillies lineup that, outside of Ruiz and Victorino, doesn't know how to hit lefty pitching. In fact, the club is 12-20 when facing a lefty starter. Advantage, Braves.

Remember when Roy Halladay was scary? That's not the case anymore. He's sporting a 4.32 ERA, only 65 Ks in 83 innings, and a 4-5 record. Hudson has a 3.71 ERA with a 9-4 record. In his last game, Halladay gave up 8 hits, 6 runs, and a bomb in 6 innings, but he got the win because the Brewers couldn't close a window at the DMV, let alone a four run lead. I doubt our bullpens would have suffered the same fate. Hudson has won four straight because he's simply been better than everyone else, and he's had the support of our hitters. His last game against Philly was a 7 innning stretch of 4 hit, shutout ball. If he is even 75% of that good again, this game will be a breeze. Oh and should I mention our lineup hits .324 off Halladay? Yeah, the whole damn lineup. Chipper Jones is 8/16 against Doc, BMac is 9/23, UGGLA is 10/28. We shouldn't lose this game on paper. We need this to be a win in the anchor game.

The only things that bother me about the first two games are that Hamels can be really good, and Blanton has a way of getting a ton of run support. Other than that, all the numbers are in our favor. The last game is frankly a must-win. We need to send the Phillies completely into sell mode. A series win would probably do that. A series sweep would timestamp it with authority.

Go Braves!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Braves @ Marlins: Game 3 Recap

I love it when a plan comes together. The Braves were licking their chops at facing Nolasco yesterday, since they had feasted on him in the past. Meanwhile, the Marlins are trading anything that's not tied down since they realized that building a new stadium didn't suddenly produce a winning club. Nor did it produce fans that care. They did manage to fill up the building yesterday with screaming children because it was "Summer Camp Day." I think that means kids got tickets for $10 or something. They got to see what a real baseball team looks like, at least. Perhaps we got to them early enough where they will reject the flashy stupidity of the Marlins and become part of Braves Country.

Tommy Hanson was a tempest in a teacup. I have never seen such wild pitching so well controlled on the mound. In fact, he set a record that hasn't been done since the 1930s with Bob Feller. Tommy managed to win a game after giving up 7 walks, 7 steals, 7 Ks, and only one earned run. Think about the insanity of that for a second. The Marlins had 11 baserunners and stranded 10 of them. They went 1-12 with RISP. At one point it was just becoming absurd how many people were running on Tommy, and they STILL couldn't move runners across the plate. With all the trades, the Marlins are now undoubtly the worst team in the NL East in my mind.

The MVP of the game was Juan "Gone" Fransisco. Juan had a homer, 3 hits, and 3 RBIs (two of which were with 2 outs). The dinger he hit off Nolasco was a gigantic 423 feet to right field in the 4th inning. That was the hit that ended up being the game-winner since the Marlins never got above 1 run. Juan doesn't get a lot of publicity because he isn't an everyday guy. However, with some of the injuries and Chipper having to platoon because of his knees, Fransisco has been getting more chances to start. In his last two starts, Fransisco's had 5 hits in 8 ABs. It's possible he's got the hot hand right now.

Dan Uggla was given the day off, so we had to postpone the milk carton watch until next series. Prado stepped in for him at 2nd, and managed to go 0-4. Maybe it's just 2nd base that sucks? Bourn had one hit on the day and it was a man-sized 417 footer to right. I'm constantly amazed that our leadoff guy has that much power for a dude he's shorter than me. He's up to 8 homers on the year, and slugging at .441 for the season. Heyward also added to the long-ball contest with rather dainty 386 foot shot compared to the other two. He was 2/4 on the day, and 3/10 on the series. The kid has worked his way out of major issues with the bat, and it putting up respectable numbers. I'll take .270 and 15 homers out of the guy after last season's debacle.

We head into a Thursday off day. I hate off days. The Nats play the Brewers tonight on MLB network if you actually get that channel. You can root on the Brew Crew to help us pick up half a game. Otherwise, you've got mid-day early Olympics crap on the myriad of networks NBC is trying to cram down our throats. Most of it is soccer matches between countries you couldn't find on a map, so I could care less. ESPN will be doing a feature on the Broncos training camp, possibly so they can get even more Peyton coverage on TV before the season starts. I recommend finding a DVR or a good book.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Braves @ Marlins: Game 2 Recap

This was a quick game that looked like it could have spun out of control in the first couple of innings. Huddy started slow and then came out guns blazing after the 2nd inning. The team as a whole was much more patient at the plate, drawing 6 walks and collecting 7 hits as we scored our 4 runs to win the game. Everyone got on base in the game...except Dan Uggla who flied out with the bases loaded in the 4th. The Dan Uggla Milk Carton watch continues, as he's now 0-15 with 7 Ks.

Meanwhile, the MVP of the game goes to Jason Heyward. During the game, Heyward managed two walks, a hit, and 2 RBIs. Heyward's OBP for the year is now approaching a robust .350. Martin Prado also helped the cause by scoring the game winning run after his RBI in the 4th. Freeman's good eye drew him two walks, one of which came with the bases loaded, so even he drew an RBI without the benefit of a hit. All in all, the Braves approached the game at the top of the order the way we expected. Patience, waiting for opportunities, taking the walks, and taking the balls to all parts of the park.

The bullpen worked two innings of shutout ball following Hudson's effort of 16 straight sat down. Kimbrel was his usual studly self in the save, and EOF only gave up one hit in his inning of work. The Braves went 3-8 with RISP and beat that .300 number I'm constantly hounding. Plus, they did it all in a half full (maybe) ball park. This new field in Miami is probably going to be the biggest financial disaster that town has seen in pro sports. The listed average attendence there is 28,000 for the year. I don't think that's suddenly going to go up now that the Marlins are 12.5 out of first, 8 out of the wild card, and 7 games under .500. Hell, when Minnesota and the Mets opened their parks in the last 3 years, they averaged near 40,000 a game. The Marlins don't deserve a baseball team, let alone a brand new lime green ballpark.

We play a game today in Miami @ 12:40. Any guesses how many fans show up to this one? I'm betting 18,000 would be a win for them, and that's including the people that bought season tickets and won't show. Some good news about the matchup for today. Hanson has won his last 3 games, while Nolasco has lost his last 2. Atlanta is 37-23 against Righty starters, while Miami is 28-38 against the same. Also, Miami is only 16-18 in day games, and 22-29 coming off a loss. Atlanta is 32-21 coming off a win. I can see a scenario where we win this game in big fashion, considering that our lineup is batting over .300 lifetime off Nolasco. In fact, Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and Chipper Jones are all hitting .350 combined off the kid. It's time to pour it on in the Miami sunshine.

Go Braves!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Braves @ Marlins: Game 1 Recap

I took some time to recap this game because I had to let my blood stop boiling. Many of you would think that I was angry over the obvious blown call at first base by Laz Diaz in the 9th inning. That's partially true, but not really the whole reason. You can't really hang an entire time on one bad call in the ninth inning when you were just pathetic for the first 8 innings. That's what people seem to forget when they see that bad call against Heyward. What about the other innings? What about the fact that our lineup produced exactly 1 hit in 8 freaking innings? ONE HIT! That's what kills me.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Shall we start? Heyward, Freeman, Uggla, and Janish never got on base once. Heyward gets a pass for the bad call. The rest of them couldn't do anything. Freeman and Uggla both got hyper aggressive in their ABs and it cost them. As usual, their first attempts were fine, taking counts deep and hitting into outs. The second ABs, Freeman swung at several balls out of the zone when he struck out, and Uggla had a 2-0 count before he grounded out on a bad pitch. Third AB, Freeman sees one ball and starts hacking, flying out on the 3rd pitch. Uggla hacked as well and struck out swinging on three straight. The theme was for these guys to get in trouble, throw patience out the window, and turn into freewheeling fools. We've got to stop this if we want to win. The reason Heyward got doubled up, other than the bad call, is because he swung at a bad pitch with a freaking 2-0 count in the 9th. Again, no patience! When you sum up our wins, we had patience at the plate and worked counts in our favor. When we lost, we got overly aggressive and didn't make pitchers pitch to our zones.

So the Monday curse has increased to epic proportions. It's now taken on a life of it's own. We can't hit on Mondays at all. Oh and Dan Uggla is 0-12 now since his "breakout" game in Washington. I guess it's safe to say he's not broken out. He's now back on the watch list for the next 7 days. We need to get him to calm the heck down and stop hacking. He's two strikeouts away from being tied for the most strikeouts by any batter in the National League. To go more in depth with what Dan needs to do as a constructive outlook, consider the following: when Dan is behind in the count (0-1, 1-2, 0-2), he's batting .170 on the year. When he is ahead in the count (1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1), he's batting .377 on the year. There's a 200 point batting average difference when Dan works counts.

Some good news heading into tonights game. Huddy is on the mound. The Braves are 10-4 on Tuesdays. We are 4-1 when playing a team with a losing record after the all star break. The Marlins are 28-37 against RH starters. And finally, Mark Buehrle lost in June against the Braves in his last start against us. Let's go get em Huddy!

Go Braves!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Braves @ Nationals Games 2-4 Recap

In a matter of approximately 24 hours, the Braves played 3 baseball games. One went well, the other two were complete disasters. I won't pretend that we played this series well. Frankly, we were lucky to escape with a split, which was a great thing for our team in a 4 game series on the road. When you lose the back half of a series like we did, it doesn't seem like a good series anymore, but we have to remember what we needed going into the road trip. In that light, I think we can take our wins, take our lumps, and move on to this week still in contention.

In Game 2, the MVP was Ben Sheets. He was absolutely dominant. After 6 innings of shutout baseball with 6 Ks, it become very obvious to me that Ben Sheets can compete at this level after his layoff. It's a great sign that we're able to pick up a no-risk-high-reward guy like Sheets to supplement the rotation, when we all know there are major holes starting to emerge due to play and injury. Add in the fact that BMac and Chipper both went deep during the game, and you get a well-pitched, well played, close game that ended up in our favor at the end. The shocking thing was that we won the game going 0-5 with RISP. Note that, because it comes back later. Anytime we're living and dying by the long ball in a series, it doesn't bode well for us.

Come Game 3, the back half of the double header. Delgado was on the mound, so I was already not happy. Then, we took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and I started to get slightly optimistic. This was my mistake since we didn't get another hit past the 3rd inning. Delgado gave up two runs to tie the game, but Cristhian Martinez gave up the rest of the damage out of the bullpen. Still, this game was about the Braves not being able to get anything going at the plate under the Curse of Delgado. My theory was that the Braves can hit before Delgado actually takes the mound, thus the 2 early runs. Once he set foot out there, the curse was on, and we never did a damn thing. The Braves went 1-5 with RISP, and the one was in the first inning. Prado and Bourn went 1/8 at the top of the order. That's terrible for them.

Game 4 went completely off the rails early. JJ was dreadful. He couldn't locate again in 2.1 innings with 6 runs on 9 hits, including 2 HRs. This is a bad sign. If JJ gets in trouble with his location, he's doomed. That was the problem he had in the first half of the season before he was banished to the minors. That also makes two games in a row now where JJ has been a trainwreck. One more like that, and he's going to be released. Meanwhile after game one where Uggla came up big, he didn't get another hit all series, so that hurt us. However, this game wasn't about our hitting, even though we went 1-4 with RISP, and had 8 hits. When your starter puts you in a 4 run hole right off the bat, the game is pretty tough to win. When it's a 6 run hole by the 3rd inning, it's almost impossible. We had a chance to get back into the game in the top of the 4th when we had the bases loaded an 1 out, but BMac grounded into a double play to kill the rally. After that, the rout was on.

The real killer of this series was Roger Bernandina. In the last 3 games of this series, Roger went 8/11 with 3 RBIs, a run, 2 stolen bases, and a walk. In this series alone, Bernandina raised his batting average 34 points. He was taking every pitcher in every count, and slapping the ball to all fields. Add in Ryan Zimmerman hitting TWO homers in game 4, and you end up with a game I didn't bother to watch after the 5th inning.

Next we head to Miami to face a Marlins team that's absolutely reeling. They have lost 5 in a row and got swept by the Pirates. We should be able to take advantage of these guys. However, we play on a Monday. Can we break the curse of the Mondays? Can we get a much needed series win? We'll need to get more than 2 runs to do it.

Go Braves!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Braves @ Nationals: Game 1 Recap

How can I quantify pure joy? Last night's game comes pretty close. From the beginning of the game when Tommy went into a complete tailspin, I was furious. He'd taken what was supposed to be one of the pitching duels of the year and screwed it up in the first inning! I couldn't believe it. It got even worse when we got to 0-9 down in the 5th. I was going to turn the game off, but for some reason I couldn't. The game was too big. I couldn't believe we would go out like a bunch of punks in one of our more anticipated games of the year. And we didn't! This team can take my emotions from unadulterated fury to supreme joy in a matter of hours.

I'll start by saying that Hanson couldn't have a worse game than he did yesterday unless he got struck by lightning. Four innings, 8 runs, 4 walks, and 2 homers. Of all the times to pull that nonsense, this wasn't the game to do it. Strasburg was probably laughing to himself in the dugout after the 5th inning, up by nine, wondering what he was going to have for dinner after the game. Thanks to his bullpen, the answer was a big ole turd sandwich. Even with Kimbrel blowing his first save in a long while, the bullpen on our side managed to hold things together pretty well. Martinez, EOF, Medlen, and Durbin all put together 5 scoreless innings that we desperately needed.

The MVP of the game was Dan Uggla. It feels so great to say that. I called him out at the beginning of this series, and said I was willing to write him off if he couldn't step up on the biggest stage. Boy, did he deliver. Dan was on base 5 times with 3 hits and 2 walks, swiped a bag, and he scored four runs in the game including the winner. When we needed him the most, he was there to produce. But it wasn't just Dan when you're down 0-9 and come back. Bourn, Prado, Chipper, BMac, Heyward, Freeman, and Janish all had RBIs in this game. It was a full team effort to pull our chestnuts out of the fire.

We can thank the Nats bullpen for completely melting down and giving us SIX 2-out RBIs. In four innings of relief, the Nats gave up 7 runs. It started with Drew Storen who came into the game and gave up 2 runs without recording an out. Then, Burnett gave up 2 runs, and Clippard gave up 2 runs. At that point, the snowball was rolling furiously downhill and it had already crushed Strasburg's hopes of getting a decision. By the time it was done rolling, it would take the rest of the Nats team with it.

Yesterday, you got to see what happens with Brian McCann and Dan Uggla both get hot at the same time. It's glorious. If that's the case in all our games, we are division champion caliber. I have absolutely no qualms saying it. The rest of this lineup is very good and we've been waiting for them to pick up the pieces. With Bourn and Prado continuing at the top, Chipper contributing when he can, Freeman and Heyward staying on top of their game? You put Uggs and BMac in there and you've got the most dangerous 1-7 lineup in the NL. No doubt.

Today is the double header. In the immortal words of Terrell Owens, "Getcha popcorn ready."

Go Braves!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Braves @ Washington: Series Preview

I like that we start a 4 game series against the Nats only 3.5 back. Mentally, it lets you know that if the series goes well, you are within striking distance of the lead. Also, given our robust road record we have the capability to at least take a series split in our nation's capital. On to the matchups!

Game 1: Hanson v. Strasburg
Game 2: Sheets v. Jackson
Game 3: Delgado v. Lannan
Game 4: Jurrjens v. Detwiler

The game tonight between Hanson and Strasburg is about as marquee a matchup as you're likely to see this month. If you don't watch this game, I question your fanhood, your commitment, and your love of the game. It's that good. Why is it that good? Because this is one of the few times you're ever going to see TWO 10 win pitchers under the age of 25 face off in July. There's only 21 pitchers in the majors right now with 10 wins or more, and two of them are going to pitch in this game. Can I hype it more? Do I need to? Hanson is sporting a 4.02 ERA, but his road ERA is only a 3.00 and he's holding RH batters to a .220 average. There are 5 of those in the Nats lineup. The guy Tommy needs towatch out for? Danny Espinosa who is hitting .375 off him. Strasburg is trucking along with a 2.66 ERA on the year, holding RH hitters to a .185 average. HOWEVER, we employ 5 Lefties in our lineup, and Strasburg has a mediocre .265 average against them. In fact, Chipper, McCann, and Uggla all have .300+ averages against Stephen, and Dan has managed 8 RBIs. How great would it be for him to get off the shnide in this game?

Game 2 we're getting Sheetfaced again. Sheets in his career against the Nats hitters has had major issues with DeRosa and LaRoche. Then again, that was back in the stone age practically, so who knows what happens here. We're all just along for the ride with the Sheets experiment. Edwin Jackson is one of those guys you'd never hear about in the league unless you play him. He's a 5-5 guy with a 3.89 ERA, but his games of late have been really bad. We're catching him at the right time. In his last 3 starts, Jackson has gone 13.2 IP with 16 runs, 3 HRs, and 6 walks. Also, Michael Bourn has a lifetime average of .444, and Bmac and Prado have a .333 average in 18 combined ABs. I like these odds if Sheets can stay breezy. Get it? Breezy? Moving on.

Game 3 is the second half of the double header and Delgado is on the mound. Here's my analysis. Delgado's lost 5 in a row. He's averaged 1.8 runs per game of support in those losses. The Hope Diamond has a less formidable curse on it than this kid. We're doomed, the game is doomed, and I don't like the fact the we still haven't sent the kid down to get the stink off of him. We go against Lannan who is getting called up from AAA after going 4.60 ERA with a losing record in the minors. If you know ANYTHING about how the Braves hit against guys who supposedly suck and are coming back into the majors, Lannan will likely throw a no-hitter.

Game 4 is JJ coming off his worst start of the year, versus Detwiler coming off his best start of the year. I'd love to see those positions reverse in this matchup. Detwiler pitched ineffectively against us in Atlanta back on June 29th, but the Nats won the game because we let them hang 5 on us compared to our 4 runs. Guess what? That was a Delgado game! Shocker we lost. Anyway, with JJ on the mound I have a lot more hope of a victory. The main thing JJ needs to watch out for is hanging pitches to Zimmerman. The dude is 12/33 against JJ with 2 doubles, a dinger,  and 5 RBIs. Flipside, Detwiler is a younger guy who will walk some folks if you are patient. I'm looking at you Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman. Both you guys have hit poorly against Detwiler because you're freewheeling up there. Take a note from Martin Prado who's hitting .538 and slugging .923 against the kid.

This is a great series, people. This is the type of series where you carve out time on the weekend to see how your postseason might look. You can't win the division in this type of series, but you can sure lose it if things go sideways. That goes for both clubs. Also, this is Dan Uggla's last chance to get off my list. If he can't come up big in our biggest series of the second half? Screw him. We've got better guys we can put at second base who can hit better than .200 and not commit errors. I want him to succeed so badly because the team wins when he's right, but we can't wait until mid-August for him to figure things out. Get out there and get some runs, guys!

Go Braves!

Giants @ Braves: Game 3 Recap

I hate mid-week day games, even when we win. It ruins my TV watching experience when I get home because the game has already been played while I was at work. Selfish, I know, but I'm a hardcore fan, and I want to get the full experience daily. Regardless, we ended up squeezing out a 3-2 victory on only 3 hits. I wasn't sure it was possible to win a game with only 3 hits before, but we found a way. Frankly, I'm struggling to think of another time where anybody has won a game on three hits or less this season. Hmm, let's fire up the Commodore 64 here at work and see. Looks like the Oakland A's back on June 27th who won a 2-1 game on 2 hits. Wow. That had to be miserable to watch.

MVP of the game was Tim Hudson. He went 7.1 innings, 8 hits, 2 runs, and worked in and out of trouble all game to maintain our lead. He's the wily vet we need on the mound when our team can't hit worth a damn. Several instances show why Hudson has the instinct to "manage failure" that Leo Mazzone used to talk about. It's not about always being dominate on the mound, it's about managing the runners when you aren't as dominant to keep the game in check. Top of the 5th, Huddy had a runner on second and 2 out. He got the groundout by Blanco to get out of the inning. Top of the 6th, 2 on and 1 out, Hudson gets two straight outs from Sandoval and Pagan. It was a case of Huddy giving up runners, and then stranding them in the key innings. Hudson is nearing 100 innings on the year, even with some time out of the lineup, and he's sporting an 8-4 record with a 3.70 ERA.

The downside was our lineup. Prado, Diaz, Janish, Uggla, and Heyward all went hitless. Bourn got a triple, Freeman and Ross both hit homers. So, the hits we did get were huge, but we're not going very far on only 3 hits in a game. We were also lucky that Janish reached on an error so that Bourn's triple plated him for the second run. HOWEVER, after every series I like to take a look at who's hitting on the week. There's a reason we're so offensively weak over the last 7 days.

Bourn, Prado, Heyward, Uggla, Janish, and Diaz are all batting under .230 on the week. The only guys who were hot on the week were Freddie and Rossy, and they are the only reason we won the game yesterday. It's got to change today as we head up to Washington for a 4 game series, including a day/night double header. I'd really love for this weekend to be about watching great baseball while keeping up with the British Open, so the Braves need to hold up their end of the bargain. Also, can somebody go into the dugout and find out which prior girlfriend has the voodoo doll of Dan Uggla? Because she's screwing up my year.

Go Braves!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Giants @ Braves: Game 2 Recap

Take your hands, put them firmly around your throat, and then apply pressure. That's an adequate impression of what happened with the Braves lineup last night. What a gag-fest. They took a pitchers duel and turned into into a laugher with extra innings. I think the worst part about this game is that it completely takes away the outstanding effort by Mike Minor, Medlen, EOF, and Kimbrel. You can't win a game with only one run given up in 9 innings Braves? REALLY?!?! I'm disgusted. Minor went 6 innings with only 1 run on 3 hits. It was outstanding and he would have gotten an MVP if we won. Sadly, we let em off the hook, as Denny Green was prone to say.

No more excuses from you, Dan Uggla. You went 0-4 last night with 4 Ks. You're now 1-10 with 6Ks. You are pathetic at the plate and it's killing our lineup. We are running out of time and patience for you to "get it together" or "turn it around." It's almost August. If you can't make hay over the next two weeks, we're not only going to be out of the division, we're going to be 6 games out of the playoff hunt. Just so it's clear on how Dan can get better, let me lay it out for you. In the bottom of the 2nd he got his first AB, and it was a great one. 3-0 count to start, he looked at 2 strikes to make it full, fouled off two, and then struck out. I will never fault a batter for striking out after battling for 8 pitches. That's what we want. If you can't get action on the ball, at the very least make it hard on the opposing pitcher. HOWEVER, when Dan strikes out on his first AB, patience often goes right out the window. Case in point, in AB #2, he's got Heyward on 2nd with one out. A base hit = a run at that point. Now, bear in mind, Vogelsong hadn't throw strike one on his first pitch to any of the 3 previous batters that inning. What does Dan do? Swings at the first pitch and fouls it off. Too aggressive, and we stranded Heyward at second. In the 6th, Heyward gets on base again, gets all the way to 3rd, and Dan strikes out. It just went on and on and on.

But Dan wasn't alone. Far from it. Janish and Bourn struck out in the 9th with runners on 2nd and 3rd. Hell, Bourn struck out 3 times. BMac failed to get runners over. Prado went 0-6. We had 8 hits and 13 freaking strikeouts. Nothing, absolutely NOTHING will drive me as completely over the top crazy as strikeouts in a close game. We have to have action on the ball, and anything would have helped us. Yet, we didn't, and we went to extras like lambs to a slaughter. I don't even care that BMac got a homer to tie it or that Chipper got one late. It didn't matter. The damage was all done in the first 9 innings where we should have won that game.

We're losing games to what I believe is the eventual NL West Champion. Does that make it easier? No, but this is probably the second best team we'll play all year. We need to weather this storm and not get swept in this series. With Huddy on the mound, we always have a chance of winning. I'll tell you this, it won't get any easier heading into this weekend on the road in Washington. We're better than this. We're 3rd in the NL in runs, 4th in OPS, and 2nd in sacrifice RBIs. We can move runners, and we can win close games. We just need to stop getting mentally out of the game because we're overly aggressive at the plate, or because things don't immediately go our way in the first 3 innings.

I'm calling you out, Dan and Brian. This is the time when great players shake off the adversity and put a team on their shoulders. You are both 2-13 lifetime against Bumgarner, but he's nothing more than a 22 year old punk with a 4+ ERA on the road and in day games. Do what the Falcons can never seem to do, and RISE UP! Find me Samuel L Jackson, and we'll make a commercial with Martin playing every instrument in the background. I'm not even sure he knows how to play an instrument, but he could learn in about 5 minutes, because he's Marteeeeeeeeeeeeen.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Giants @ Braves: Game 1 Recap

I turned off the game in the 4th inning. Granted, I expected us to struggle in this matchup due to our very poor hitting against Zito lifetime, but getting roasted at home was a pretty ugly way to cull a winning streak. The great thing about baseball is that it doesn't matter how much you lost by yesterday. It starts 0-0 all over again this evening with a chance to still win the series.

Jurrjens was awful. It was his worst outing since the comeback, and he couldn't locate at all. Now, I don't put this all on him, because the Braves had ample chances to get this game back on the rails before the 4th inning disaster. The game was only 0-2, and one run would have mentally made it seem like a winnable contest. Instead, the Braves were no-hit for 3 straight innings. At that point, JJ pretty much knew this game was going to be a disaster, and he mentally imploded in the 4th. He had a bad game, and I plan on writing this one off since the offense decided they weren't going to show up anyway.

Speaking of the absent offense, let me detail who showed up with a hit. Martin Prado (no shock there), Freddy Freeman, Paul Janish, Brian McCann, and Tyler Pastornicky with a PH hit. However, the lineup went 0-5 with RISP, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla combining for 0-3, and Michael Bourn never got on base. If Bourn doesn't even touch a bag, I can pretty much guarantee we lost. In fact, the last time Bourn didn't even get to first base, we lost to Washington on July 1st 4-8. We need him to, at the very least, set the table. It doesn't matter if he walks, hits, or leans into an inside changeup. Bourn getting on base puts us in the game offensively.

The loss means we drop a game in the standings since the Nats beat the Mets in a 10 inning battle. The Mets are starting to act like the Mets we know and love. They are in a second half freefall that may or may not stop before they solve their terrible pitching woes. Washington continues to take advantage of a very easy schedule out of the break before we go into their building for a weekend barnburner, including a day/night double header! A full Saturday of baseball? Yes please!

The Giants toss Vogelsong at Minor tonight. On paper, this is even worse than the last game. However, I am slightly optimistic for a few reasons. One, Minor hasn't lost at home since the Yankees game on June 12th, and he's won his last two starts in a row. Two, whenever the Giants have scored 8 or more runs in a game, they next game they average around 3 runs. And Three, Freddie Freeman is red hot right now. We need to set him up to succeed, and that means guys like Chipper and Heyward need to get on base. So, don't buy into the Vogelsong hype. He's lost his last two road starts, and I think we can make it 3 in a row.

Go Braves!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Giants @ Braves: Series Preview

Sweeping the Mets? Sweet. Sweeping the Giants? The would be epic and unlikely. We're only 2.5 games out of first place, and the top spot is in our sights. Meanwhile, the Nationals complain about having to shut down Strasburg after 160 innings. I have to chuckle. On to the games!

Game 1: Jurrjens v. Zito
Game 2: Minor v. Vogelsong
Game 3: Hudson v. Bumgarner

Game 1 is going to be the toughest test in my book. Zito is a rough lefty who has dominated our entire lineup top to bottom. Even Matt Diaz has a bad record against him, and he hits every southpaw well. Our best chances are Prado and Dan Uggla, who both seem to find holes against Zito occasionally. However, I wouldn't expect big production by our team here. We'll probably have to win this game with 2-3 runs. Which means...JJ is going to have to be pretty lights out, and we'll have to do the little things to manufacture some offense. This also means he'll have to dodge Pablo Sandoval, who hits Jurrjens at a .444 clip. However, JJ is 3-0 in his last four starts, so I think he can go after a team that typically doesn't produce huge run totals. I mean after all, we're talking about a Giants team that won games against a terrible Astros club 3-2 in the 12th.

Game 2 is our lefty v. their veteran stud. Minor has been deft at doing just enough to win, but he doesn't inspire anybody with his command. Honestly, with Minor on the mound you've needed 7 runs to get the job done. Luckily that's happened 5 times over the last 2 months. Unluckily, it didn't happen 6 times. Score or die, when he's on the hill. The bad news is that Vogelsong has been amazing this season. With a 2.36 ERA, Vogelsong hasn't given up more than 3 runs since April 26th. The good news is that after winning 8 in a row, Vogelsong has lost 2 of his last 4. That means he may have cooled off in time for us to take advantage. We'll have to do what nobody else has done since April, though, to get a win with Mike on the mound.

Game 3 looks like it should be a low-scoring duel, but don't be fooled. Sure, Huddy holds the entire Giants lineup to less than .220 during his career, and Bumgarner has a 11-5 record with a 3.14 ERA. The good news for our side is that Bumgarner's numbers on the road are wildly different than his numbers at home. At home, the Bum is a 1.81 ERA 7-1 pitcher, but on the road he's a 4.43 ERA 4-4 pitcher. The bad news is that Hudson has been terrible at home with a 5.40 ERA and a 3-3 record. Both of these guys will be pitching on the opposite sides of their splits, which could lead to a high scoring event. Should that happen, it swings to our advantage, since the Braves rarely lose games with 5+ runs.

This series will hinge on whose starters go deep into games. Both bullpens are good, but they are both nowhere near the talent of the starting rotation going in these games (with the exception of Minor). A series win here would be huge against a division leading team from the NL West. Let's go make it happen with the bats!

Go Braves!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mets @ Braves: Game 3 Recap

See those, Mets fans? Those are brooms. Brooms to sweep your sorry NY butts back to that rotten Apple! The streaky Braves are riding the top side of our streaky nature with 7 in a row. Plus, we don't have to play on a Monday where we all know the streak would have come to a screeching halt. I went to the game yesterday and Sheets was dominant. I love to see a guy like that come back and really find his groove right out the gate. He wasn't throwing incredible hard, but he was finding his locations and confusing the hitters in favorable counts. That's what you want out of a quality starter.

Santana and Sheets played cat and mouse for several innings before the Braves came up in the 5th inning. That's when all hell broke loose. As per usual, it all started with the lefty-killer, Matty Diaz, knocking a leadoff double off the wall in deep center. Our new boy Janish walked, Sheets bunted himself out, and then the onslaught was on. Bourn doubles, Martin sacflys, Heyward singles, Chipper singles, and then Freddie bids one farewell 433 feet into the stands. That's a MAN sized shot. It was death by 1,000 cuts followed by a boot to the skull. After the dust settled, it was 6-0 Braves, and the Mets looked like we'd just run over their dog.

MVP of the game is Ben Sheets. What a comeback after 2 years absence. The man went 6 innings of shutout, TWO HIT baseball. What?!? How in the world do you come back after not playing for two years and throw a two hitter? Frankly, as long as he's doing it for us, I don't care how he did it. With 5 Ks and only 1 walk, Sheets had complete control of the zone. It didn't hurt that the Braves touched up Santana for 8 hits in 5 innings, either. That kind of production certainly gives a starter confidence that we can make our hay when we need it.

Braves went 3-8 with RISP (reaching that magical .300+ number I love), had four 2-out RBIs, 3 doubles, and a homer. Every single Brave including the pitcher and PH got on base. It was the very definition of a team win, with only Chipper having a multi-hit game. I made sure to let Chipper know from my seats how much we appreciated the Old Grey Mare. Also, I liked to see the hustle out of our new boy Paul Janish as he came in head-first to home on the Martin sacrifice. He looks like a good pickup at the SS position to fill the gap until Simmons comes back in August (hopefully). And lastly, I want to give Fredi G some credit on his lineup choices. Not only does he put in the lefty killer Diaz to face Santana, but he also took out Uggla, who previously only had one hit on 21 ABs against Santana with 12 Ks. That's a smart move on the manager's part to play the percentages when you have a struggling player, and a lineup that includes several moving parts due to injury. For the people that love to question Fredi on the bad calls, you have to give him credit on the good ones if you are a true fan.

On to the off day. I'm going to spend it watching reruns of Family Guy, and checking in on the USA national basketball team as they face off against Brazil. Also, there's a crappy Angels v. Tigers game on ESPN if you're starved for baseball. I don't consider the American League baseball, however, so I won't be paying attention to that.

Go Braves!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mets @ Braves: Game 2 Recap

I'm as shocked as you are that we came back to win that game. I figured down 2 heading to the later innings, we were probably toast. Reason being, we're 13th in the NL in batting average after the 6th inning. And yet, even though Hanson was a complete disaster in this game, we still managed to pull out a win on the backs of our 1-2-3 hitters. Also, the offensive dynamic looks really different when both McCann and Uggla are hitting in the same game.

The game was a seesaw for 8 innings. Mets led, then the Braves took it back, then the Mets tied it, then the Braves took it back, then the Mets took the lead, and finally the Braves took it back for good. In a game where you expected two Aces on the hill to keep the scoring down, you got the exact opposite. Dickey and Hanson were both terrible. They gave up a combined 17 hits and 11 earned runs in 5 innings. Then, the bullpens got involved. I'll take our bullpen over the Mets bullpen any day of the week. Durbin ended up letting in two of Tommy's runs, but frankly Tommy deserved it. I need more out of him than just getting to the 6th inning and blowing up. That's always been my knock on Tommy is that he doesn't go deep enough into games, and he doesn't escape trouble like a Hudson does.

MVP of the game was Freddie Freeman. He manged 3/4 on the game with a couple of 2-out RBIs and a double. Heyward, Bourn, and Prado get the honorable mention nod for their late game singles that gave us the lead in the 8th. Both McCann and Uggla got on base twice and scored two runs a piece. That's huge for us if they start producing back in the lineup. Chipper Jones drew a rare 0/5 in the game in the cleanup spot. Luckily, it didn't affect the outcome.

Let me expand on something that's been bothering me a lot. Our pinch hitters are completely useless, and it's driving me crazy. Tyler Pastornicky comes into the game yesterday in the 8th. His ONLY job is to lay down a bunt and move the runners to second and third so a hit will tie the game. What does he do? Bunts two foul and strikes out swinging. COME ON! Then, Juan Fransisco comes in to pinch hit and he strikes out. So, for those of you playing the home game, that's runners still on first and second, nobody did a damn thing, and we have two outs. Then, we unleashed the fury of Bourn, Heyward, and Prado. Still, our pinch hitting almost cost us that game. We're .156 on the season pinch-hitting, folks, and that's dead last in the league. You know what the Nats are? A league 2nd .284 pinch hitting. We absolutely cannot catch a team like that if we continue to absolutely stink a PH scenarios, especially if your only job is TO GET A FREAKING BUNT DOWN! ARGH!

Ok, I'm calm again. Today Ben Sheets goes for the Braves for the first time. I'll be at the game. If you see a guy in a ridiculous Hawaiian shirt and straw hat behind home plate on the left hand side (as the camera faces home plate from center) that's me. I'll be getting a first class view of the "new" old kid on the block. Plus, we're going for a sweep of the hated Mets. Oh and did I mention we've won 6 in a row now? Remember that streaky word I used for the team at the break? Let's just streak our way to a sweep!

Go Braves!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mets @ Braves: Game 1 Recap

We pretty much owned this game except for the 4th inning. Take away that particular mess, and we would have won in a 7-1 runaway. As it stood, we lived a little on the edge with a 7-5 win. A few things jumped out to me about this win. First, Huddy was locating his pitches, but he was having a tough time putting away anybody in the 4th inning. A lesser pitcher would have completely lost his cool, but Hudson just weathered the storm with the lead still intact. Second, Martinez really put out the fire in the 5th when he loaded the bases with nobody out, but managed to strike out two in a row and induce a flyout to preserve the game. Third, Dan Uggla needs to freaking relax at the plate. fouling out on the first pitch with the bases loaded and one out? Why??? Young had just walked in two straight batters before Uggla and walked a guy after him. If Uggla had just chilled out, we could have really put our foot on the Mets early.

The MVP of the game is David Ross. Not only did Ross draw 3 walks in the game, one of which scored a run, but he also hit a 3 run homer in the 3rd that extended the lead to 5-0, and made the difference in the win. Ross is now batting .282 on the season with 4 home runs, and that's as a backup. I am at a loss to think of a batter backup catcher in the league. Probably because there isn't one. Ross was in the game because David McCann had his first child, and went on Paternity leave. He's supposed to be back tonight.

I think I should also note that we had some major issues at SS last night. With Simmons out because of a hand injury, we had to put in Jack Wilson, who then proceeded to damage HIS hand, so we had to put in Martin Prado. The thing is, Martin can basically play anywhere, and he made several good defensive plays there. He's amazing. At one point early in the game the power went out at Turner Field. The going Twitter joke was that Prado had gone under the stadium to work on getting the power restored, before he went back out on the field.

The hitting was pretty spread out and solid by most of the team. Prado drew a rare 0-for, but I credit that to his position transition. 10 hits in the game, and three guys with multi-hit games including Tim Hudson! Oh and to continue his magical run, Chipper decided to go yard again, and hit a double. Watching the Old Grey Mare leg out a double is worth the price of admission. It's sort of like a really awkward shamble to victory. The key part of the game was 2 out RBIs. Six of our seven runs came with 2 outs, and that's the kind of clutch hitting we're going to need to get to the playoffs.

Tonight it's Hanson v. Dickey. The truth is that this is a very even game with some tough pitching. The game on paper indicates it will be a battle of the bullpens if the starters get knocked out, favoring us. However, Dickey has a better streak going than Hanson, so the Braves don't want to be trailing after 6 innings. We need to get an early lead on Dickey so Hanson can establish the zone. Two or three runs will make a world of difference.

Go Braves!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mets @ Braves: Series Preview

Are we actually playing baseball again? Thank God. I was forced to choose between the Espy's and bullet to the skull this week on my sports watching. After 10 minutes of the Espy's the bullet started to look mighty friendly. On to the matchups!

Game 1: Hudson v. Young
Game 2: Hanson v. Dickey
Game 3: Sheets v. Santana

The Hudson match is an obvious advantage to the Braves. He's coming off a second cortizone shot to his ankle for the problem he had in his last start, but he should be good to go after the extended break. As expected, his outing against Philly was in stark contrast to his disaster with Washington. Even better, in 63 ABs, David Wright is only hitting .206 off Huddy. That removes their best hitter and makes them rely on Murphy and Tejada. That's important, because the one guy we can't let beat us in this game is Tejada, who has a .545 average off Hudson in 11 ABs. In the other corner, they have Chris Young, a righty starter that I actually went to high school with back in Highland Park, TX. Nice guy. I hope we put up 10 on him. Young is 2-2 in decisions, but 2-4 in overall games since June 5th. His last outing was a 2-9 loss to Philly. How did Philly score 9 runs? He has no real stats against our batters other than Chipper, who is batting .556 with 2 bombs in 9 ABs. Go get him, Old Grey Mare!

I chuckle like an idiot every time I say RA Dickey. It's a funny last name. I'm also apparently not over the same stuff that made me laugh when I was 12. Dickey's game, unfortunately, is no laughing matter. He's 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA. HOWEVER, that one loss was a 6-14 asskicking by none other than your Atlanta Braves @ Turner Field. The key to getting Dickey will go through 2 guys. Michael Bourn and Freddie Freeman. Both are batting over .300 lifetime off RA, and they will be in positions during the game to knock in some runs. Hanson has been steady as a rock over his last 10 starts. He's posted a 6-2 record with around a 3.50 ERA. He had one blowup game in May against St. Louis that stands as a dark spot on that record. Otherwise, he's been able to hold Tejada & Wright to under .200 lifetime. The guy to watch out for if you're Hanson? Don't pitch to Daniel Murphy and his .455 average against you!

We're all getting Sheets-faced in Game 3! Going 3 Sheets to the wind! Ok, I'm done. There's nothing really to tell you about how this game is going to go on our side, because he's brand spanking new to the team. I can tell you how we fare typically against Santana. It's mediocre to ugly to average. In 7 starts over the last 3 seasons, Santana has a 3-3 record with a 1.94 ERA against the Braves. We don't hit this guy well. That is unless your name is Matt Diaz, who hits .514 in 35 ABs. I would bet my next paycheck that Matty's in the game on Sunday to face Santana. He's going to be very key in helping the offensive train get moving if we plan to win this game.

Realistically, I think there's a good chance we could be 1-1 going into a rubber game on Sunday. At that point, I have no idea what happens with an untested guy on the mound. However, I do believe a series win against the Mets right off the bat would be a great way to bolster our confidence for a playoff run. Let's go make that happen!

Go Braves!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bold Predictions for the National League

Alright, so I've been looking at the records, the stats, and the injury lists, and I think I'm prepared to make some bold predictions about the playoff picture for the NL. Will I be right? Possibly. Should you go to Vegas and plop down $100 on all my predictions? That totally depends on their odds. Most likely you shouldn't. It's a bad economy. Just go put that money towards your credit card debt from when you bought season tickets.

So after much ado, here's the picture of what I see the playoffs looking like at the end of the season.

NL East Champ - Atlanta Braves
NL Central Champ - St. Louis Cardinals
NL West Champ - San Francisco Giants
NL Wild Cards - Washington Nationals & Cincinnati Reds.

So why those teams? Well, firstly I believe the Braves have been really bad at home because our lineups have been wildly inconsistent. Dan Uggla and Brian McCann have both been terrible, but they are showing signs of coming out of it. Uggla bats well in the second half constantly, and McCann has already started to put balls in the seats after flailing for months. Add in Ben Sheets, and a tremendous record on the road? We have a potential to get to 95 wins and a division title.

I realize the Cardinals are 3rd in the division behind the Pirates and Reds right now, but there are a few things you have to take into account. For one thing, the Cardinals are equally good on the road and at home, whereas the Pirates pretty much win at home, and go sub .500 on the road. I see this division really being a race between the Cardinals and the Reds down the stretch as the Pirates do their classic fade into the distance. The last series of the year is the Cards v. Reds and could play into who gets the wild card and who gets the division.

The Giants will most likely overtake the Dodgers because of injuries. Even with the bad good pitching, the Dodgers will have to hope that Kemp and Eithier come back just as productive as when they left. Otherwise, they can't hit their way out of a wet paper sack. The problem is that Kemp's hamstring is a tough thing to overcome and ever get back to 100%. Meanwhile the Giants are getting offensively stronger, and their pitching (outside of Timmy) is just as good.

The Wild Cards will be the two strongest teams left in the stronger divisions. I'm assuming that LA is going to fall apart under the weight of expectation and injury, since it's obvious only two guys can offensively produce. The Mets have overperformed and are likely to spend the second half trying to tread water. The rest of the league is getting close to going into sell mode, with the exception of maybe Arizona or Miami IF they get extremely hot in the first 3 weeks back. I don't believe that will happen, though, because Arizona and Miami are 10th and 11th in NL pitching. Almost nobody makes the playoffs with pitching that bad unless they are raking at the plate, and only Arizona has a shot in that category.

So there's your playoff picture. I looked up the Odds for that, and the Braves are +200 to win the division, the Cardinals are +140 to win the Central, and the Giants are -150. Also, if you are so inclined, the Braves are a robust +600 to win the NL pennant. Now, in the World Series, it's pretty much the Yankees and the Rangers favored above everybody. I have no prediction for that, other than the fact I hate the Yankees.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Second Half of the Season Preview

I won't lie to you guys. The second half of the season is going to be easier than the first, but it's got some very tough sections to deal with over the summer. Let's take a look at our series on a month by month basis and you'll start to see why things could get a little dicey with some of our lengthy trips.

July - Mets and Giants @ home, then Nats(4) and Fish on the road, then Philly and Fish(4) @ home.

Those first 10 game are all against teams that are either ahead or tied with us for playoff spots. That's a brutal start to the rest of the season. After that, we face 10 games against the sub-.500 Miami and Philly clubs, and we need to make up some ground there.

August - Houston @ home, Philly and Mets on the road, Padres and Dodgers @ home, Nats-Giants-Padres on the road.

The beginning is easy with the Astros and the Phillies who are both sellers at the break in my opinions. Then, outside of the Padres, you have a very tough stretch with 10 straight games against top tier NL teams again. We will have to navigate that 10 game stretch at .500 or better to be in the hunt in September. I can point to that set of games as being supremely key to our playoff chances.

September - Rockies @ home, Mets and Brewers on the road, Nats @ home, Fish and Phillies on the road, Fish and Mets @ home, Pirates on the road in early October.

This couldn't set up better for us in terms of strength of schedule for a playoff run. Only 9 games all month are against teams that have a winning record at the break. 9 games are against teams that are in the bottom of their divisions. Six games are against Miami, who may have completely imploded and given up by that time, and the last series is against the Pirates, who may have already gone to pieces or secured their division depending on how they finish.

Two homestands really jump out to me as series where we need to make our bones, so to speak. From July 27th thru August 5th, we play 10 games against Philly-Miami-Houston. Those teams are awful. We should be able to take 7/10 in order to vault ourselves up in the standings. The other homestand is August 31 thru September 6th, where we play 7 games against Philly and the Rockies, both dead last in their division. 5/7 in that series should be reasonable if we hope to have a playoff shot.

The key to making the playoffs should be relatively simple. Don't get swept by the Nats and Mets, weather the games against the Giants and Dodgers, and take a billyclub to the cellar dwellers who you face later in the year. If we do that, we have a very real shot at being a 95 win team and sitting pretty in the division.

Go Braves!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

First Half of the Season Recap

It's been a wild ride so far heading into the All-Star break. The Braves have seen some dizzying highs and terrifying lows on their quest to find some consistency with this team. The players have changed, the injuries have piled up, but we're still only 4 games out of first and sitting in the wild card position with just over 80 games left in the season. What are some of the moments we can look back on and use as motivation for the second half? Also, who were our first half Heroes and our first half Heels? See if my thoughts match how you've felt about the Braves thus far.

Let's talk about streaks. If there was one word I would use to describe the Braves thus far, it would be streaky. That's both good and bad. Let me detail how this season has unfolded in terms of our ridiculous streaks. We opened by losing 4 in a row, then we won 10 of the next 11, we went even for the rest of April, had a sweep in Colorado, dropped 2 to the Cubs, swept the Cardinals, evened out a couple of short series, then went into an 8 game losing skid. After that we won 8 of the next 9, followed by losing 7 of the next 8, then win 3, lose 2, win 2, lose 4 of 5, win 5 of 6. WHAT? We're a rollercoaster. Oh, and our home record is horrific, let alone the ridiculous Monday 0/10 run. If we'd have just gone .500 on Mondays, we'd be in first place. We are a huge cruise ship that turns really really slowly. When we're on course, it's amazing. When we're off course, we're an iceburg away from becoming post-season shark bait.

What can we say the Braves have done well? Well we're scoring runs at a much better rate than we have in the past seasons. Right now we're 4th in the NL, and we're 6th in team average. Our team has been great in the field with the addition of Simmons, and we're 3rd in NL fielding percentage. Also, our bullpen has been extremely strong going 5th in NL ERA, and Kimbrel leading the league in saves. What can we improve? We're 11th in batting average with RISP. The Mets are on our heels in the standings, and they are 3rd in that category. We are dead last in average in the 3 hole, 13th in the 4 hole, and 12th in the 5 hole. The middle of our order, frankly, has been pathetic. Conversely, our 1-2-6-7 hitters are the best in the league. Can you imagine what would happen if our supposed heart of the order got its collective head out of its collective butt?

What else have we learned? Well for starters, we're not very good at hitting late in games. After the 6th inning, the Braves only average 1.28 runs a game. That's 10th in the league. Now, that's not a huge deal if you're winning, because Philly is dead last in our division and they are 1st in the league in late runs. So, that stat can be misleading. Also, we've learned that our pinch hitters are basically useless. We're dead last in the league in pinch hitting with a .160 average and 35 Ks. That could bite us down the stretch because we'll need good pinch hitters for our pitchers late in games. On the plus side, when we load the bases, we're going to burn the other team. The Braves are hitting .296 with the sacks packed, and are 2nd in the league with 64 runs scored in that category. Why do I bring that up? We were dead last in that category last season, hitting only .195 with 29 Ks. Part of the reason we collapsed offensively is because we couldn't capitalize in big scenarios down the stretch. Right now, the team has been making the most of other team's mistakes.

So who stepped up for us this season? Who are the Heroes? My first one is Michael Bourn. Not only is he the best leadoff man in the NL with a .311 average, he's also hitting for power with 7 home runs, 6 triples, and 17 doubles. Oh and did I mention stolen bases? He's second in the league with 25 on the season. It's pretty obvious why he's been a great asset to the team. Not to be one-upped at the plate though is Martin Prado. Martin is 7th in the NL in average with a .321, 100+ hit first half. In fact, Prado is the only player with over 100 hits not to make the All Star team. Part of that is because he's competing with Melky Cabrera in LF who is hitting .353, so it's hard for me to make an argument against that selection. What Martin doesn't get enough credit for is his eye at the plate. Right now he's drawn 33 walks to 38 Ks. That's on par with Joey Votto and David Wright in terms of pitch selection. The third guy is Jason Heyward. From the outhouse to the penthouse this season, Jason has been putting plenty of balls in the stands with 14 homers. He's an all-around player right now with a .272 average, .500 slugging, 11 steals, and 41 RBIs. I like his approach at the plate and I applaud the work he and Greg Walker have put in on his swing. The last one is Simmons, for his amazing glove work and hitting prowess at a young age. It kills me that he's injured and we'll have to figure out something in the meantime, but this kid is going to be a defensive star for years to come if he stays healthy.

Every team has it's Heels, or the players who have yet to perform on the season. The obvious one is Dan Uggla, who made the All Star team with a .221 average somehow. Dan's problem right now is the strikeout. He's been K'd 99 times this season, and that has to stop if he's going to have any second half success. However, Dan's managed to hit .283 for the last 3 seasons after the All Star break, so the numbers are there for him to succeed. Brian McCann is our other Heel in the first half with a .238 average, but he's showing signs of breaking out of it in the Philly series. In fact, Brian's hitting .421 in his last 5 games, so we're all very hopeful he will make the smooth transition from Heel to Hero in the latter half. Our third and final Heel is Eric Hinske. Diesel had a strong start to the season, but he's been a pinch hitting disaster ever since the beginning of May. Whereas Eric was hitting .348 in April, he's hit rock bottom in May and June, going .180 and .130 respectively. Sadly, I think this might be it for Eric on the team. Last season he didn't improve after the break and went .111 in August, and .130 in September. Were I Frank Wren, I'd be looking to make a move for a better pinch hitter in that slot, and probably release Eric on waivers. It's been a good run for him on the team, but I think he's probably reached the limit of his value to the Braves. The fact that he's .206 post-break over the last three years cements the need to make a move.

So that's where we've come from. Tomorrow I'll look at the remaining schedule to see where we are headed. Make sure to tune in tonight to catch the All Star game that Bud Selig wants to determine the winner of the World Series. Or watch something interesting instead. I'll probably be watching Wipeout on ABC, where stupid people run an obstacle course for peanuts. There's something very satisfying about watching gloryhogging idiots get hit in the face with a flying rubber shark on a stick.

Go Braves!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Braves @ Phillies: Game 2 & 3 Recap

Philly Brooms are my favorite brooms! Sweep, sweep Braves fans! I think there is a solid chance we just turned the Phillies into sellers at the break, AND we picked up two games on the Nats over the series. Downside, Andrelton Simmons broke his hand in the 3rd game. There's also a solid chance he may be out for up to 3 months, but we'll have to wait on word from the doctor. I'm hoping for less, but it doesn't look good for a confirmed 5th metacarpal break.

In Game 2, Prado, McCann, and Bourn all decided to carry the team at the plate, while Tommy Hanson held on in a start that could have spun completely out of control in the 2nd inning. However, after that flurry of offense by the Phils, Tommy went into shutdown mode for 5 innings, and EOF and Kimbrel shut the door. MVP of the game has to be Martin Prado with a single and a double, 2 RBIs (one with two outs), and two stolen bases. Prado was all over the place, creating havoc for the defense and the opposing pitchers. BMac gets the honorable mention nod for his 2/4 day with a long bomb, and Bourn for his 3/5 day with a swiped bag. Dan Uggla and Heyward got the sombreros for this game, both going 0/4. A key pitching moment in the game was EOF coming in for Tommy in the 8th, and immediately hitting a batter, putting two men on with no outs. He then induced two ground balls, one for a fielders choice, and one for a double play that got out of the jam. Great work by the fake Irishman!

In Game 3, everyone got in on the hitting act. Even Dan Uggla with a fourth inning bomb! This game was all about Dan Uggla and Brian McCann going deep. It was SOOOOO good to see both of them get going at the same time. I really can't imagine what we are capable with if both those guys start to get right at the latter half the season. It's going to be epic. Brian was admittedly lost, but since talking to a friend of his, he's completely broken his swing down to ground zero and started over. I have to say, I love the results. He looks like a different guy at the plate. Brian gets the MVP with his 2 hit, 2 RBI game, with his game-winning solo homer in the 7th. Honorable mention goes to Uggla for his 2 RBI longshot in the 4th to tie the game. Also, Jurrjens went 7 innings with only 6 hits and 3 runs. Where has this guy been all season? The turnaround has me almost flabbergasted. I don't understand how you can be THAT bad in the first month of the season, go to AAA, and then have a 2.13 ERA on your return? WHAT?!? I guess I shouldn't question the cook, because the meal is outstanding.

A series sweep is ever sweeter when it comes against the Phillies. It's doubly sweet when it makes them realize they are done for the season, and they start offloading their players. Can I tell you how excited it would make me if they dumped Shane Victorino to the AL? I can't stand that guy. He's done nothing but bother us for years like a pesky little gnat. Somewhere, Philly writers and fans are blaming their front office, their team doctors, and their gloriously awful bullpen for their trainwreck of a season. I feast on their tears.

On to the All Star break. This week, check back to the blog for a couple of features on where we're heading for the season. Tomorrow, I'm going to do a recap of the season thus far, with some highs and lows, and our Heroes and Heels of the first half. Wednesday, I'll do a breakdown of our upcoming second half schedule, with the series we have to win, and the series where we'll struggle to make our hay. And on Thursday, I'll do some bold predictions for the rest of the season, including how the rest of the National League might shape up for the playoffs. Make sure to check it out!

Go Braves!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Braves @ Phillies: Game 1 Recap

Wow, what a duel. Also, wow, how terrible is the Phillies bullpen this year? This was a game that had everyone on edge for about seven innings of solid baseball, then we crushed their faces with a hobnail boot. Hudson and Kendrick were equally masterful for 7 innings of shutout, 4 hit baseball. However, in a battle of the bullpens, it's always going to be advantage Braves.

Brian McCann gets the MVP for his one hit of the game. But what a hit it was. The grandest of all hits, and that bomb plated 4 runs to seal the game for the Braves 5-0. I can't say that Brian hit well in this game, because he didn't in his first three ABs. However, he was extremely clutch, and that's all that matters in baseball. Nobody really hit well in this game due to Kendrick's pitching, except for Jason Heyward. Jayhey went 2/4 on the game, and he was the only player with multiple hits. Let's be really fair about this game. We didn't hit well. I'll say it again, WE DID NOT HIT WELL. That's scary considering that Kendrick is pretty awful against everyone else. We got really lucky off a bad bullpen, and that should be the strategy we carry into game two. Work counts, knock Blanton out early, and abuse their crappy pen.

We went 1-6 RISP in this game. The Braves have won their last 2 games with a total of 12 runs, but they are only a combined 2-10 with RISP during those wins. That bothers me because we're living by the long ball. Why does that scare me? Because living by the long ball is like living by the 3 pointer in basketball. It's streaky, and when it dries up, you look really, really, one-dimensionally terrible. The thing about baseball is that you have to look past the results and see how you're getting there. There are bad wins and there are hard-luck losses in a 162 season. I'd qualify this game as one where the Phillies let us off the hook. There's no reason we should have been tied going to the eighth inning against a starter that had a 6.96 ERA in June.

As for scoreboard watching, the Nats dropped a game, the Mets dropped a game, and obviously the Phillies dropped a game. That puts the Braves 5 back with 2 to play before the break. We also have a unique opportunity during these games. We can sink the Phillies to double digits under .500 with another win, and their worst record at the break in over a decade. Personally, I would love to do that. I would love to step on their throats and smile at them while we do it. Can you feel my hatred of that city and their teams? They are everything wrong with sports, and I wish them nothing but sadness on the field for the rest of the season.

On to tonight's game. I want to see us string together some hits tonight. Let's go 4/10 with RISP at the plate and really stick it to them. Hanson will lead the way!

Go Braves!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Braves @ Phillies: Series Preview

The Braves are 6 games back of the Nats, 43-39 total record, and 23-17 on the road. The Phillies are 13 games back, 37-47 total record, and 17-24 at home. Even with those numbers, the series just feels bigger. Sure the Phillies have played poorly and are in last place in the division. Sure, the Braves haven't lived up to expectations at the plate and trail going into the All Star break. None of that matters when these two teams take the field. The rivalry is just that big.

Game 1: Hudson v. Kendrick
Game 2: Hanson v. Blanton
Game 3: Jurrjens v. Worley

At first glance, you have to love the fact Delgado's not on that list. You also have to love that all of our starters are .500 or better, and all of theirs are .500 or worse. In Game 1, you have the obvious mismatch of a 6-4 Hudson against a 2-8 Kendrick. That's even more lopsided given that Hudson gave up an unusual 5 runs in his last start. Philly fans should worry, because the last time that happened at home, Hudson went on the road and fired a complete game shutout. He has a way of rebounding in epic fashion off bad starts. Meanwhile, Kendrick has been getting worse, and worse, and worse all through June. It started to unravel with a 5-6 loss to the Dodgers on June 6th. After that, he's given up 18 runs in 4 games, 5 HRs, 10 walks, and 28 hits. At one point, Kendrick gave up 6 runs in an 7-11 rout by Minnesota. Think about that for a second. Minnesota is 19th in slugging in the majors, and they are dead last in the American League in wins. Yet they posted double digits on Kendrick and the Phils. On paper, this is very much a must-win for the Braves. If the Twins can post 11, I think we can post 10 of our own.

Hanson is coming off a Monday loss, so I don't think we should use those numbers. I prefer to look at his 5 straight wins in June that weren't on cursed days. Against a Phillies lineup that has Victorino, Polanco, Rollings, and Mayberry all batting under .200 on the week? I think he should be able to operate effectively. Just watch out for Hunter Pence. He's hot as a firecracker witha  .417 average and 2 HRs in the last 7 days. Blanton concerns me because the last time we faced him he threw a complete game shutout on a 3 hitter. That was in early May, though. Since then, he's been very average with his 7-7 record and 4.50 ERA. He's been winning most of his games because the Phillies woke up and hit the ball. Run support of 8, 7, 6, and 9 in his June games helped notch 3 wins for his record. What about his record when he gets 5 or less runs? 4-8 overall. Frankly, he's not a good pitcher. It comes down our starter keeping their lineup under wraps. I think Hanson can do that better than most.

JJ is 2-2 now, and looking stronger. The ERA has gone from 9.37 when he returned from AAA down to 5.19 currently. Granted, he can't live at that number and hope to hang around, but he deserves a lot of credit for dropping 4 off his number in 3 starts. I need a solid six out of him in this game with less than 2 earned. We want a good performance from JJ before we head to the break so he can get a 3-2 record. He goes against Vance Worley who is the opposite of a guy like Blanton. Worley is a great pitcher who gets no support. In late June, Worley was sitting on a 3-4 record with a 2.78 ERA. That's almost unthinkable. However, he's gone backwards since then in his last two games, given up a total of 9 earned in 10 innings. He was part of that 1-11 disaster against the Mets on July 3rd. He's a workhorse, and can go really deep with a lead. Thankfully for us, the Phillies haven't given him many of those. Also, he's giving up a .291 average to left handed hitters on the season. Guess what we have on our roster? 5 guys that hit lefty. SCORE!

Overall, I'd say this series has 2-3 in our favor written all over it. The toughest game is probably the last one with JJ v. Worley, but Blanton is also a swing game if we struggle at the plate. Patience will play a huge part in our approach, because we want to drive the Philly starters out of the game ASAP. With a 4.68 ERA, their bullpen is 14th in the NL, and one of the reasons they can't hold it together this season. Push to the pen with us in the lead, and it's all over. Also, given the pitching, there's 20+ runs for us to get in the series if we hit smart.

Go Braves!

Cubs @ Braves: Game 4 Recap

It's amazing what a few early runs will do. It's also kind of creepy that after game one, I asked for 18 more runs out of the Braves for the series, and they scored exactly 18 runs. Also, last night I asked for 7 runs, and they scored exactly seven runs. Today, I'm asking for a winning powerball ticket and a lost Kate Upton to wander into my apartment in a two-piece.

The game was a combination of great long-ball hitting and good pitching. Prado, Heyward, Freeman, and McCANN, all hit extremely well. All of them had a mult-hit game, and Bourn contributed with 2 walks. Amazingly, with 7 runs, we went 0-3 with RISP during the evening. When that happens, there's only one root cause: we were going deep a lot. Heyward, Mac, Freeman, and Francisco all went yard. Minor was also his standard "good enough" that I like to see out of the kid. A big key for Minor is to keep his walks down, and he did that with a line of 6.1 IP, 3H, 2ER, 2BB, 6K. There's two more things I'd like for Minor to do before I really start to get on board with him as a regular starter. First, he needs to improve his first strike count against hitters (yesterday it was 10/23, and I'm looking for over 50%). Second, I'd like for him to improve his ground ball to fly ball rate to a more 50/50 count. Currently on the season it's 101-176. Reason being, ground balls never leave the park, and Minor's big issue has been home runs.

MVP of the game was Brian McCann. It was great to see Brian swinging like the Mac of old, going 2/4 with a homer and a sac-fly, totalling 3 RBIs on the night. We need that so badly in this lineup. Despite Brian's struggles of late, he still has 38 RBIs on the season. It's funny that we see long stretches of bad from him, but he has these concentrated games of awesome. I suppose that's the reason I am hugely frustrated with his performance so far. It's like a golfer that shoots in the 70s once, and then goes out there and has 10 straight rounds in the 90s. As an outsider observer, nights like last night let us know EXACTLY how good Brian McCann can be, so when he isn't we get frustrated.

Yesterday, you also may have heard that Jonny Venters got put on the DL for 15 days. Let me tell you how I believe that conversation went:

Fredi - Jonny, how are you feeling after yesterday? Does your elbow feel hurt?
Jonny - No Skip, I feel okay, just frustrated I can't get the dip on the ball.
Fredi - Think hard, son. You sure you aren't hurt?
Jonny - No, I'm good.
Fredi - I don't think you are, I think you're feeling some tendonitis.
Jonny - What? I don't...
Fredi - Yep. Looks like tendonitis. I can see it from here. You better take some time off.
Jonny - Oh. I see.
Fredi - Yeah, 15 days on the DL should set you right. In the meantime we'll just bring up that AA lefty.
Jonny - ...


Put me in the camp that believes this is just a move to get JV off our roster without publically saying he sucks. It's one of those funny baseball moves, but you'll notice that they give no plan for when he's coming back. They just say it will be "when he's ready." That's a demotion, folks, plain and simple. It's just wrapped up nicely in "injury" wrapping paper.

Today we head into our last series before the all star break, and it just happens to be against the Phillies in Philly. What a terrible town. I hope our players are immunized against ugly and stupid. Series preview will go up in a couple of hours after I've had several cups of coffee. It keeps me sharp.

Go Braves!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cubs @ Braves: Games 2 & 3

Chipper Jones made a statement in Game 2 that he belonged in the All-Star game with the rest of those young whippersnappers. It would make my season if he went out to 3rd before the game and told the Kung-fu Panda to get off his lawn. As for Game 3, it went the way I expected. The hotter hitting lineup won the game. I fully expected it was the game we would lose due to the Curse of Delgado, neglecting the fact that there was the Curse of the Mondays as well. We have too many curses. I think Fredi pissed off gypsies at some point in his career.

Game 2 was the 5/5 Chipper Jones show, so it's obvious he got the MVP. Jurrjens got his second win to draw even at 2-2, which I think is huge for his confidence in the rotation. The top of the lineup was amazing in this game. The 1 thru 4 spots went 8/16 with 10 RBIs. That's the kind of run production I expect from our team. We are very capable of stringing together runs in a big fashion. Now, if you watched the 3rd inning of this game, you know how terrible the defense was behind JJ. However, he never lost his cool and pitched great for the remainder of his start. The line looks weird because he went 5 inning with 3 runs, but none of them were earned runs. You can thank Dan Uggla for that. Speaking of which, no hits for Dan in this game. BMac got a hit, though! However, both of them have been moved to their appropriate place in the back end of the order, so neither had any RBIs.

Game 3 was a disaster at the plate. What else do you expect? Delgado doesn't get run support, so why should we start now? Prado, Bourn, and Chipper tried their damnedest to keep us in the game, even tying it at one point. Those three guys went 7/12 on the day. The rest of the team? One hit. One...freaking...hit. And God bless him, it was David Ross. I'm so very close to going off the deep end and suggesting we just put Rossy out there in the starter job. I'm not insane enough to do that yet, but if BMac drops under .220 on the season, and we have a backup batting .270+ with a better arm? It's practically unthinkable. And yet, I'm at a loss to figure out what to do while McCann and Uggla struggle in a very public fashion.

Speaking of struggles, can I send Jonny Venters to the minors already? I'm tired of him trying to fix his sinker on the job. He sucks, Fredi. He doesn't have it. He gave up a WP run and a homer, and you keep running him out there. Who came in to put out the fire with a 3 pitch strikeout, by the way? DURBIN. Learn faster, Fredi. Maybe do a quick scan of the numbers before you lock in on a guy. Here's a note for you since you seem to not understand what's wrong with Jonny. He has the worst ERA of all your relievers. He's 4.45 ERA, which is 111th amongst RP in the NL. There are literally more than 100 guys in the National League who are better than Venters, so I have to imagine there's at least one in the minors who can do his job right now.

Overall, I'm going to be disappointed that we can't win the series against a bad team. Them's the breaks, and we need to win tonight to go on a 5-5 homestand. And we will win tonight. I refuse to believe otherwise. I refuse to believe we could drop three games to the worst team in baseball. That will NOT happen. So, go out there Minor, and champion our cause. Channel the control of Greg Maddux and throw the game of your life. And while we're at it, SCORE SOME RUNS! I'm going to say we can get 7 tonight, so get out there and make it happen!

Go Braves!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cubs @ Braves: Game 1 Recap

I want two things. One, I want Bud Selig to readjust our schedule so we don't have to play on Mondays for the rest of the season. Two, I want to clone 8 other Martin Prado's so we can get some consistency on this team. Is there a better player on the Braves right now? Prado is now hitting .320 on the season with 32 RBIs out of a majority #2 slot. He has a hitting streak going back to June 24th. He's only gone 2 games in a row without a hit once all season. He is the rock on a team that lacks any sort of identity right now. Were I the rest of the team, I'd find out what Martin eats, where he sleeps, what kind of socks he wears, what he thinks about before hitting, where he parks his car, and just copy it all.

This game really highlights the Braves problem in the first half of the season. It's not that we can't hit the ball, it's that we can't hit the ball when it really matters. It also highlights the second problem with the team at the plate, strikeouts. We struck out 11 times in this game. That's pathetic. We went 1-6 with RISP, and that one base hit was a 2 out grinder by Prado. We need more grinders. We need less Ks. Hanson was ok until the 7th when he absolutely exploded, not that it mattered since we only got one run. Once again, I will remind people that pitching isn't a problem with this team. With a few rare exceptions, our pitching has put us in positions to win. We just have to score more than 3 runs early in the game to establish a groove.

There's one horrifying stat I've been ignoring up to now, but it's becoming very relevant. Our pinch hitters are only hitting .162 on the season. That's 15th in the NL, just ahead of the very offensively challenged Giants. Folks, if we can't rely on at least some form of pinch hitting late in games, we won't win the close ones, and we certainly won't have any comeback wins. Also, the BMac watch continues. He went 0/3 yesterday, and you may see his MISSING photo on a milk carton very shortly. He's now 0/11 in his last 3 games. At least Uggla managed to get a hit, so I'm hoping he's beginning to shake off the early season woes.

That's your one loss, boys. That's all you get. Now go out there and win the rest of them, because we can't tolerate losing to the worst team in baseball in a 4 game series. We're now 5 back of the Nats, and we're in a danger zone before the break. We need runs tonight. RUNS. Buckets and buckets of runs. I'd like to score 18 more before this series is over, and we can do it.

Go Braves!