Friday, August 31, 2012

Braves @ Padres: Game 2-3 Recap

Well we ended the road trip 4-6, and I was stuck in a conference room for 8 hours a day for the last 2 days listening to seminars on Audit and Tax updates. Yeah. Luckily I'm getting ready to head to Colorado for the long weekend, and I expect many of you are also preparing to enjoy the holiday in your own way. Mine will be with golf and watching football. So without a further ado let's recap these two games and move on to the home stand.

Game 2 was our standout game in the series, since we won it with Medlen on the mound. Do I need to say more than "Medlen" to let you know that we won? He gets the MVP for 8 innings of 5 hit shutout baseball in our 2-0 win. We went 1-7 with RISP which was terrible, but the Padres never even had more than 2 chances to knock an anybody. Our lineup still struggled with Heyward and Freeman both going 0-for, but McCann and Uggla did manage to both have hits in the same game, including Dan going deep in the 5th. However, even though we won a pitcher's duel, that lack of offense would show up in...

Game 3. The Braves had 7 hits, but only went 0-4 with RISP. Notice how we're still living and dying by homers? Oh, and Hanson was bad again. He goes less than 5 innings giving up 4 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks. It's another situation where Hanson gets batters into favorable counts and lets them off the hook with hits. He was constantly putting the leadoff man on base starting in the 2nd inning. The pitches weren't locating, and he was up in the zone on his fastball way too often, letting the hitters punish him repeatedly. The game took a turn in the 5th when Chipper ran into Janish on a popup behind 3rd, and then Tommy literally gave up on a bunt in front of the plate. With two on, and a sac to move them over, a double scored both runs to make the game 4-1. From that point on, we never came back and Tommy had to go. I'm sick of him, and he's the anti-Medlen in my mind. Whereas I never think we're going to lose with Medlen taking the hill, I ALWAYS think we're going to lose when Tommy toes the rubber.

The road trip was full of opportunities with Washington going into a huge skid, but we didn't take any of them. We're still 5.5 back, and 4 games up in the wild card. Nothing has changed. That can be good or bad. It's good from the perspective we played like crap and still managed to keep things even. It's bad that if we'd played a 6-4 trip instead of a 4-6, we'd be 3.5 back in the division race. It's worse when you consider that we lost a series to a Padres team that has no shot at all for the playoffs.

Considering what we know about the playoff picture so far, Washington, Cincy, St Louis, SF, and the Dodgers have the best shot with us to make it. Not all will, but I just wanted to see how we've fared against those teams as a possible playoff series projection. Here's the breakdown of our record in 2012:

San Francisco: 3-4
LA Dodgers: 3-3
St. Louis: 5-1
Cincinnati: 1-5
Washington: 5-10

So, I think you can tell we don't want to play Washington or Cincy. Unfortunately, they are probably going to be #1 and #2 in the NL regardless, so even if we win a wild card and get into the one game playoff, AND win the one game playoff, we'd be stuck with one of them. Ugh. We just gotta start hitting. A lot.

Go Braves!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Braves @ Padres: Game 1 Recap

Monday got us again. I don't know really what else to say. How do you recap a game where you only got 4 hits and no runs? Sure we went 0-3 with RISP, but it's not like that was the problem. The problem was not getting enough people on base at all. Shocking nobody, Heyward, Bourn, and Prado all had hits. Shocking nobody, Brian McCann, Freeman, and Chipper drew an 0-for in the 4-5-6 spots. The middle of our lineup has just been so depressing at times this year. In fact, that's what I'll cover in this little spot, because the game itself was horrible. We lost to rookie pitcher making his major league debut because we couldn't score. The only surprising thing during the game was Uggla getting a hit.

Part of the issue is that Chipper has been bad over his last week, and he's in the cleanup spot. The Braves are 2-5 in Chipper's last 7 games, and he's been batting .174 in that stretch with no RBIs. For a guy who's been awesome all season, those are remarkably tired looking numbers in late August. Freeman in the 5 hole has been something of a enigma. Overall on the season, he's batting .295 with 8 homers in that slot. However, it's been very boom or bust. In 10 games of August he had no hits. In 5 games he's had multiple hits. As a result he's been hitting .234 on the month, and that's nowhere near his .323 onslaught of July. Brian McCann has been on my list for a while, and I'll point out another reason he's there. In August, the Braves are 8-11 with Brian in the lineup. He's also sat out for 7 games during the month. Guess what the Braves record is during those 7 games he was out? 6-1. Hmmmmmmmm. Wonder why? Maybe because the guy in who's slugging .190 for the month gets replaced by the guy who is slugging .387?

I wonder what would happen if we sat McCann and Uggla at the same time? Fredi's never done it yet, but I'm seriously considering it as an option if we want to move some of the problems out of our lineup. Think about it. We gain almost 200 slugging points in the lineup with Ross, and we gain 95 points on the batting average by putting in Reed Johnson and moving Prado to 2nd. Fredi has said he's not going to be as loyal down the stretch, which is music to a fan's ears. We're sick of watching this team struggle in positions where we have no business struggling. Coming off a big win in SF, and then laying an egg against an untested rookie who shuts us out??? Embarrassing. That won't happen tonight with Medlen on the hill!

Go Braves!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Braves @ Giants: Weekend Recap Games 2-4

Well fans, we had ourselves a great weekend. It started with a very ugly loss on Friday that promised to send things into a dreadful shame spiral. However, Minor righted the ship on Saturday, and the bats came alive. By Sunday, the Braves had scored 14 runs in two days. That's more runs than we had scored in our previous 7 games combined. Minor and Hudson were dazzling, the bats were going long, and the lineup finally looked like it might be able to produce their way into the good side of our streaky nature. Let's hope the hits keep on coming against a Padres squad that's suddenly blazing hot.

Game 2 was a bad loss, so I won't waste time on it. That's the benefit of being able to recap these games in bunches after the weekend, in that I don't have to dwell on the crap. Sheets was bad, and it turns out he was injured. Now he's on the 15 day DL to recover for the bullpen when we expand rosters here in a few days. The Braves got 3 runs on all homers, and only had 6 hits. We went 0-2 with RISP because we hardly got anybody on base. It was bad, we're over it now, let's move on. The good news was that Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward were hot, which comes up later in the weekend.

Game 3 was one of those games that had potential disaster written all over it after the first inning. We lead off with both Bourn and Prado getting on base. However, the next 3 hitters stranded them without even sniffing a scoring chance. It looked like we were headed straight into the same ole same ole strand-em-all-and-let-God-sort-em-out strategy. Then Jason Heyward happened in the third. Minor drew a rare leadoff walk, followed by Martin walking. Heyward made Bumgarner pay for his mistakes. He drove on 391 feet to right that gave the Braves a 3-0 advantage. Minor went almost 7 innings giving up 3 runs, but he escaped a big jam in the 5th where he only gave up one after putting 2 on in the leadoff. The Giants bullpen absolutely imploded after they drew within a run at 4-3, and they let the Braves put up 3 runs in 2 innings, including two that were WALKED in. It was bad for them, great for us. Heyward gets the MVP for breaking the ice of our slump with his 3 run bomb. It was as if a very visible weight came off Minor's shoulders, and he was able to pitch like a fiend for 7 innings.

Game 4 was practically a laugher for the Braves after the 4th inning. Sure at that point it was only 3-0, but the way Hudson was controlling the plate, it could have been 10. Hudson went 7 innings with 1 run on 5 hits and a walk. If not for a sacfly in the 7th, Huddy would have had a shutout. Meanwhile, the Braves decided they were going to hit, and Huddy got in on that act as well. He went 2-3 at the plate, and was actively challenging McCann about his batting average since Tim is now hitting .233 on the season. At the time, BMac was at .231, but he didn't take that lying down. Brian had his best night in a month going 3-4, and raising that average to .236 on the year. Maybe he needs more prodding from Hudson to get going? It was all in good fun, but it was good to see them all get going. Huddy gets the MVP for his great pitching and dominance at the plate, but he wasn't alone. Janish also had a 2 RBI triple, and Francisco went WAY deep in the 4th for 454 feet over dead center. Oh, and should I mention that Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman went back to back on home runs in the 9th? Yeah that happened. It was very much an unleashing of frustration on the Giants pitching to staff to help earn the series split on the back end.

I liked that we got out of hock by going deep a ton in one of the largest ballparks in the league. I like that we went 7-25 with RISP in the last two games instead of the wretched 1-12 we'd gone in the first game. It's not perfect, but it's a large improvement. I hope to see more in the Padres series. I loved that Brian McCann had a good game to maybe get him some confidence back in his stroke. I loved that Freeman got the power back in his bat during the series. I loved that Heyward is still very sharp and can get clutch hits. What I didn't like was that we are starting to have to sit Dan Uggla. Even Fredi G doesn't believe he's going to come out of this slump, so we're gameplanning around him. Dan's now 3-32 in 10 games, so I understand the decision, but he's a huge chunk of our lineup in terms of potential power and money that's now meaningless. That's never a good thing unless he makes a breakthrough in limited starts. And I agree with Fredi that they should be limited. I wouldn't give him more than 2 of 3 starts max in a series now until it breaks open.

We face off with the Padres tonight in SD for a 3 gamer. That means more 10PM starts. Ugh. I'll catch the highlights in the morning if we're not leading after 3 innings.

Go Braves!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Braves @ Giants: Game 1 Recap

Admittedly, I didn't stay up to watch the majority of this game, and you probably didn't either, so let me give you a recap on the parts that matter. First, we lost 5-2. Second, we didn't score a single run until the 9th inning. Third, we went 1-12 with RISP. Do you really need to know anything else to hang your head and say, "Here we go again?" I'll tell you when I checked out. Dan Uggla and Brian McCann somehow got back to back hits to lead off the second inning. In that miracle of all miracles, I assumed we were about to break open something supremely awesome. But lo, how wrong I was. Janish grounded out to move the runners to 2nd and 3rd. Tommy slapped the first pitch right at the pitcher, and Uggla hung himself out to dry getting picked off at 3rd trying to scramble back. Then Bourn flied out. Inning over. I literally turned off my TV, made my peace with the fact I didn't have to watch anymore, and went to bed. And you know what? I didn't miss anything.

Credit where credit is due, Uggla didn't have a bad day. He went 1-2 with 2 walks. Anytime he's on base 3 times in a game, he's on fire. Too bad he made several baserunning errors while he was out there. I guess he forgot how to run the bases since it's been so long. Janish and Bourn both drew an 0-for. Prado had a lackluster 1-4 with an 0-2 with RISP. McCann got his one early single and then went into a shell. Zito had everyone up there just swinging at crap, and Fredi G even admitted that "our approach wasn't great against him early on." Well no crap. I guess we won't be "tipping our cap" like we usually do. Maybe holding some of your guys accountable instead of just shrugging and hoping would be a nice chance of pace.

Tommy was a disaster again. Can we stop walking on eggshells around this kid? We all know he's the one that deserves to be sent to the pen. He went 94 pitches in 4.1 innings before giving up 5 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks. Tommy now has a WHIP at 1.47, which is just one tick better than the greasefire of Tim Lincecum. Do you see the problem here? Almost 2 guys are reaching base every inning when Tommy pitches. You can't keep putting out fires like that, and you can't go deep into games. A guy who can gives up 3 runs through 5 innings is useless over the long haul. He's 45th among qualified NL starters in ERA. HINT: There's only 53 of those. Wake up Fredi. The six man rotation is over. This guy has to go.

Tonight we face Sheets against Vogelsong. I am not optimistic. It's also another really late start. Oh, and here's something Atlanta fans never want to hear. HERE COME THE CARDINALS! Guess who's on a 3 game winning streak and has now taken over the wild card position from the Pirates? Yep, St. Louis. Get ready, people. This weekend could get very interesting.

Go Braves!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Braves @ Giants: Series Preview

Oh good, a west coast series. Hooray for late nights and jetlag! Luckily we're coming in off a win instead of a bad sweep by the Nats. We've got to make the most of this 4 gamer against a Giants team that's been very hot lately. A split would probably be nice so we can move on to our next homestand. As you'll see with these two teams, there's a ton of unknowns and ifs in this series. Let's see how the matchups look:

Game 1: Hanson v. Zito
Game 2: Sheets v. Vogelsong
Game 3: Minor v. Bumgarner
Game 4: Hudson v. Lincecum

Give Hanson credit. He's been on the right end of winning results over his last 10 games. The Braves are 9-1 in his last 10 starts, even though his ERA has been extremely suspect. I still don't love his command, and I still think he is inconsistent when it comes to velocity, but the Braves seem to just out-hit any issues he's had. Zito's been a complete mess as well in his last two games, giving up 8 runs in 9 innings of work. However, he's also won both of those games because the Giants out-hit his problems. Nobody knows how this will go. You have two lineups that have been covering up a ton of sins from their starters. This one is a wash based on which starter can actually show up.

Sheets has gone from comeback story of the year to a gigantic long ball question mark. He's had 2 terrible outings over the last two starts, after storming out of the gate with 3 straight wins. Like Tommy, it's a question of which guy we'll get in this game? Will we get the Sheets who goes 7 innings of 1 run ball? Or will we get the Sheets that throws up back to back to back homers? That kind of inconsistency is mirrored in Vogelsong. Ryan in his last two games has been abysmal. He's lost his last two starts 14-2, and 7-1, both times getting knocked out before the 4th inning. He's given up 11 runs in just under 6 innings. I mean we're talking full meltdown on the mound. This all happened after he threw a 7 inning 3 hitter in St Louis. It makes no sense that he's gone into the tank, but it's happened. This is another game that's impossible to call because both of these guys have had such poor starts recently, but they are capable of much better performances.

Minor is battling with Sheets and Hanson for the last spot in the rotation. I think he's probably ahead of the other two because he's a lefty, but he can't afford to give up any ground since he's the least supported pitcher on the staff. If Minor had Hanson's run support, he'd be 9-7 on the season instead of 6-10. He's lost his last 3 starts because the Braves have scored a total of 1 run for him. That's a lineup problem, not a Minor problem. Bumgarner struggles with Braves in limited starts. He's gone 9.2 innings against us with an 0-1 record and a 4.66 ERA. He's prone to walks against us, he's given up more than a hit an inning, and we can score on him in bunches. I actually like this matchup IF IF IF we can finally give Minor the support he deserves.

Huddy has been bizarre. Get him outside of the first inning, and he's a glorious starter. Inside the first inning, he's a total disaster. Last time he faced SF at home, he went 7.1 against Bumgarner with only 2 runs given up. The Braves ended up winning that game on just 3 hits. Huddy got almost no support and still pulled it off. He can do it again because... Lincecum's a pot-smoking pot-hole in the Giants rotation this year. With an ERA over 5 and a 7-13 record, Timmy Smoke's not smoking anybody anymore. In his last 3 games, he's gone 1-2 with an ERA of 4.32. Even lifetime when Lincecum was grooving along, guys like Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, and Martin Prado were still hitting .300+ against him. I think we can win this one, and if it comes down to us being 2-1, we can take the series here.

So, as they said to the pioneers of early America, it's time to go West young men! Head out to the land of fruits and nuts, and come back with a trail mix of victories.

Go Braves!

Braves @ Nationals: Game 3 Recap

Fredi shook up the lineup, and it worked. Medlen went out there like a boss and won. Ho-hum, he sets a record for most consecutive wins by a team when one man is starting. Not the same as "wins" since you have to qualify for those, but I like any pitcher that can get a result. At this point, I think many of you feel the same as I do, he would be your choice for the one game playoff. As one of my buddies Ricky likes to say in emails, "All Medlen does is win!" We'd need that with everything on the line.

The Braves didn't really set the world on fire with runs in the first 8 innings. In fact, they only had two, but the way Medlen was rocking along that was enough. We didn't really crack the game open until the 9th inning when we put 3 on the Washington pen to make it 5-1. Let me say that I think taking McCann and Uggla out of the lineup made a huge difference. Rossy had a hit and a sacfly for a 1-3 day. Johnson went 1-4 with a leadoff single in the 4th. It should have scored a run, but Chipper rapped into a double play. The Braves still went 2-10 with RISP, but that's a lot better than the 1-6 we had in game, or the 14 men we left on base in game one. Atlanta only stranded 4 runners in game 3, with 9 hits and a walk. I hope to see more of this lineup until BMac or Uggla get right.

MVP goes to Medlen aka "The Bulldog" for his domination of the Nats lineup. He went 103 pitches over 7 shutout innings with only 7 hits and a walk. He struck out 7 batters during that stretch. Lucky sevens indeed! Medlen's now 5-1 on the season with a 1.86 ERA. In his last 32.2 innings, Medlen has given up 3 runs. That's a 0.83 ERA in 5 starts. Holy smokes. Toss in the fact he's got 29-5 strikeout-walk ratio? He's had every lineup on tile and is making pitches in the zone. The only downside is he wasn't ready to do this all season due to the Tommy John. I think he's stretched out now though. The chances of him ever going back to the pen after this run went from slim to none.

The Braves now have to jump on a jetliner out to the horrible west coast. We face the Giants for four games, two of which will be played with an EDT start of 10:30. I can tell you without a doubt I won't finish the game tonight at 2AM. I can tell you without a doubt, I will finish the Friday game because it's the weekend! Damn westies and their time zone changes. It's a conspiracy to keep people with real jobs in real states from watching OUR American past-time. Ispo-facto, it's obvious they are trying to keep us from loving America! HOW DARE THEY! That's why we should sweep them.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Braves @ Nationals: Game 2 Recap

That sound you hear is our division championship chances circling the drain. In another horrible hitting perfomance, the Braves lost to the Nationals 1-4 on a rainy Tuesday evening. I'm tired of writing these entries where I have to describe how bad we were at the plate. We all know exactly why it scares the hell out of us as Braves fans. The wound from 2011 when we went dead cold at the plate in September is starting to open up again, and we're grimacing with every loss. My confidence, which is usually unflappable when it comes to this team, will come into question if we don't salvage something from this series tonight. I've pointed at this 10 game stretch as the three series to define our postseason. So far, we're 1-4 in five of those games.

Jason Heyward was outstanding last night. He went 3-4, and 1-1 with RISP, in addition to stealing a base. That was where the good ended. Everyone else was terrible. The Braves went 1-6 with RISP, and outside of Heyward, only 4 other guys touched one bag. Maholm gave up 4 runs on nothing but homers. Even if we don't give up the last 3 run bomb, you have to score more than ONE RUN as a team. The idea that we're going to shut out opponents in an NL division race is laughable. I said in the series preview we'd need about 20 runs to feel comfortable in this series. We've scored 5 in two games. Washington has scored 9.

I'm going to call out the reason we're losing. There are people who are absolutely awful at the plate, and it has to be addressed. First, Brian McCann is batting .146 in August. On the season, Brian is batting .163 with RISP. He's been a disaster, and it's not just this year. It was latter half of last year too. Post all-star break he was batting .203 with 42 strikeouts. I'm very close to being done with him at the end of the year. We'll probably bring him back because he's optioned, but why? He's not producing and he's not defensively strong. Second, it's Dan Uggla. I'm back to wishing we'd traded him when we had the chance. Now, nobody would poke him with a 10 foot clown pole. Uggla's batting .206 in August, and that's after a good start. Third, Freddie Freeman has gone into the tank. He's batting .225 in August and he's only .244 with RISP on the season. Granted he's been clutch in the 2 out scenario, but other than that he's not been great. So there you go, your 4-5-6 hitters in the heart of the lineup have been dreadful this month. And the worst part is that the rest of the team has been performing AROUND them against bad teams. When we beat the Padres 6-0 last week? The three of them went 2-8 with no RBIs. During the last 7 days, all three of them are a combined 9-66 (a .136 batting average). That just so happens to be against the opponents we need to beat to get the playoffs. They aren't stepping up when we need it, and it could kill our season if it goes on much longer.

That's my rant. Here's the thing. I can forgive Freeman. He's a young kid who's been in the league for 3 years. He's an amazing talent in the field. He can pick a ball that nobody else can at first base, and he has been solid leading up to this point in the season. He's still batting near .270 on the year with this slump. The other two? You could dump them tomorrow and I would be ok with it. I'm tired of watching Dan Uggla attempt to break out of it, give us hope, and then dash it against a wall when it matters. I'm sick of Brian McCann being injured or not hitting and then hearing about how much money he's going to cost us next season, or that we'll have to make some tough decisions with our lineup. No, we won't. Let him go and spend that money elsewhere. This isn't me being reactionary. This is a steady progression look at what they've done on this team for a season and a half. Good and bad.

Medlen's on the hill tonight. He's been a winner in the last 14 games. I still think he can win here even though we're in a complete slump. However, if he doesn't, and we get swept by the Nats when it mattered most? Even I'm hitting the panic button. Not just because we'll have tanked the division, but because we're shedding game after game in the wild card race. Let's not let that happen. Go out there and win one tonight for Chipper, for the fans, and for our sanity!

Go Braves!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Braves @ Nationals: Game 1 Recap

Lots of so-called fans are going to want to jump off a bridge after last night's 13 inning loss. Frankly, I say let them. Let them panic and whine and complain. That's what they do. The intelligent fan on the other hand knows exactly what effect it has on tonight's game. Zero. We knew going into that matchup it was going to be the toughest to win. That we were in a position to take it at all after succumbing to a 4 run onslaught in the first is a miracle. The Nats had every chance to run away and hide, and they didn't. We had every chance to win it late, and we didn't. It was a slog where neither team played well, and when that happens, it's usually the team that bats last who wins. Home field advantage is huge in those scenarios.

Let's take a look at what happened after the first inning. We know that it was 4-1 Nats at that point, so it's best to see how we played in the later stages of the game. After that initial inning, the Braves went 1-11 with RISP, and they had 10 hits. We simply didn't get the key hits when we needed them. I'd rather be hitting and struggling with RISP, than not hitting, not getting on base and basically floundering. Yes, it's frustrating that we couldn't push the runs across, but you have to look at production as a whole. Prado had 3 hits, but went 0-2 with RISP. He didn't have a bad day at all, but the hits didn't come when he had a runner. Yet, he scored two of our runs because he was on base. That's the key factor, when you're getting on base, and moving runners, eventually things do work in your favor by the law of averages. When you're not producing, and not getting on base (like Game 3 against the Dodgers) you are dead in the water.

The Nats were no better in clutch positions, stranding runners at an epic rate. We got out of so many jams it's almost impossible to count them all. They stranded 12 runners, we stranded 14. They went 2-12 with RISP after the first. They grounded into two double plays, we grounded into one. They had 6 walks, we had 8 walks. We both struck out 8 times. With 2 on and nobody out in the 6th, they struck out twice and lined out to score nobody. With runners at the corners in the 7th, they grounded into a double play that ended the inning. With the bases loaded in the 8th, they popped up and then flied out to end the inning with no runs. Over and over again, they were just as pathetic at the plate until the bottom of the 13th, when we finally committed fielding errors that lost the game.

There's no point in looking at the pitching. Huddy was bad in the first, then locked down. Zimmerman only went 5 innings because he was just as bad, and then handed it to the pen. The pens battled it out. You can't really take anything away from this game on the pitching front except that Huddy continues to struggle early in games, and that better fix itself or we're doomed in a playoff series. The matchup tonight between Maholm and Strasburg is actually much more in our favor than this game. So, you can look forward to that tonight. My money is on the Braves. In short, don't panic. Don't be that stupid fan who gets reactionary because of one loss in a 162 game season. I'll tell you when you can panic. If we get swept, panic all you want. That's when the division race can officially be declared dead. Otherwise, I'm optimistic about our chances until the math says we're toast.

Go Braves!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Braves @ Nationals: Series Preview

There may not be a more important series in August than this one. Heck, there may not be a more important series in National League in terms of playoff projections. The Braves v. Nationals can swing the balance of power towards a division championship, or a wild card battle with a sweep either way. At the very minimum, I think we can all agree that the Braves have to win this series to stay in the division discussion. A 1-2 record here would put the Nats 6 games up, and we'd only have 3 left against them. That's pretty much impossible to cover unless they go into a tailspin. A series win makes it 4 games back with 3 to play. That just means you need a little help and a sweep. Still long odds, but not as long as others. On to the matchups!

Game 1: Hudson (12-4) v. Zimmerman (9-7)
Game 2: Maholm (11-7) v. Strasburg (14-5)
Game 3: Medlen (4-1) v. Detwiler (7-5)

Game 1 tonight is probably the most important of all the games, and luckily we have our Ace on the mound in Tim Hudson. We need to dazzle tonight, because you can't go down 0-1 right off the bat when you need a series win. The Braves have won 9 of Hudson's last 10 starts, including an 8 game streak going back to July 6th. Tim's coming off a 6.1 inning 2 hit performance where he dominated the Padres. Here's the bad news. That one loss out of ten? That was the Nationals. Huddy needs to keep an eye out for Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman. Desmond's hitting him for .297 across 37 ABs with 2 doubles and 3 walks, and Zimmerman roughed him up in the last outing for 3 hits and 4 RBIs. Meanwhile, Zimmerman is coming off a 1-6 loss against the Giants on the road where he gave up 2 runs. He's carrying a 2.38 ERA on the year, and the Nats have won 8 of his last 10 starts. The Braves lineup is batting .238 against Zimmerman, with the bright spot being Martin Prado, who is 4-8 against him lifetime. Here's the bad news. Freeman, Heyward, and Janish have never hit Zimmerman in 12 combined ABs. Uggla is batting 1-10, BMac is batting 1-7, Bourn is batting 1-6, and Chipper is batting 2-9. We'll HAVE to overcome our poor stats against Zimmerman to notch a win.

Game 2 is probably Strasburg's last start if they decide to shut him down. That being said, I expected to get his full attention on this pivotal series anyway. It's a match on a fire. Here's the thing. Despite his intimidating record, Strasburg is only 5-5 in his last 10 games, two of which he lost to us including that 10-11 late rally. I think we can get after him again. We're hitting .313 across the lineup with 3 bombs against the kid, and 7 doubles. Maholm goes against him, and he's 2-1 with our club. In his last 2 games, both wins, he's gone 16 innings and only given up one solo homer. That's the extent of his runs. Maholm is probably pitching at the top of his game right now, which couldn't have come at a better time. Against the Nats, he's had trouble with a couple of hitters, including the infamous Ryan Zimmerman (.333) and Jason Werth (.375). Otherwise, I actually think we have the better pitcher on the mound for this game, and it's one we'll certain have to win to take the series.

All Kris Medlen does is win. In fact, if he wins in Game 3, he'll set a record for most consecutive starts where the Braves won the game. Medlen has a 2.03 ERA on the year, and I think you all remember his complete game shutout against the Padres last week. Whereas he was tops on the list for probably getting sent to the bullpen after the 6 man rotation concluded, now I believe he's secured his spot at the top of the rotation with Huddy and Maholm. Medlen's only given up 3 runs in his last 4 starts, and Nationals hitters are only sporting a paltry .250 OBP against him. On the other hand, Detwiler has been reeling in his last two starts, going 10.2 innings with 7 runs on 9 hits. He's due for a buttkicking from guys like Chipper Jones (.308 against him) and Martin Prado who is lifetime 9-16 with 3 doubles and a triple! The downside is that Bourn is only 1-13 off Detwiler, so we'll need him to snap out of that to set the table. When it comes to an anchor game, I think this is our most favorable matchup of the whole series.

The key will be runs. Buckets of runs. I dare say that if the Braves don't score 20+ in this series, we may have some issues. Still, I think we can do just that. I think we can rough up these Nats who are expecting to cruise to the finish, shut down their best starters, and wait for us to collapse. NOT GONNA HAPPEN THIS YEAR!

Go Braves!

Dodgers @ Braves: Weekend Series Recap

We were lucky to get one win out of this series. Think about how poorly things could have gone if Juan Francisco doesn't come up big in extras of game one. It's very possibly that this is one of the worst hitting series we've had in a long time. That being said, we hung all our starters out to dry for the most part, even though they deserved better. The bullpen was seriously awful at holding things together in the last game, too. All in all, this isn't the kind of series I wanted to have heading into a big deal series against the Nats in Washington.

In Game 1, Hanson was good, then he was ok, then he went bad. Tommy went for a longer outing than usual: 6.2 innings, but he also surrendered the lead before he left. The Braves were down 3-1 heading into the bottom half of the 8th inning, when the game changed. Paul Janish singled, Reed Johnson singled, and Prado and Heyward got them in. That spurred on the series of events where we went to extras, had a chance with 2 outs in the bottom of the 11th, and Juan Francisco came through with a big hit to score David Ross for the game winner. The MVP of the game was Paul Janish, who went 3-5 with a run scored. He was one of the few guys who really stepped up at the plate during this close win.

Game 2 was a frustrating affair after the Braves took an early lead, but could have had a ton more. Then Ben Sheets gave up back to back to back homers in the top of the 2nd inning. Sheets was bad in this game, and it cost us. In a battle of "who gets left out" of the 5 man rotation, he's now very much in the questionable category. Six runs in six innings with 4 bombs? Yeah, I'll hope I never see that again out of Mr. Sheets. He's been great, but we need it even more down the stretch, and he's had two clunkers in a row now. Meanwhile, we got 5 hits, so it didn't really matter that Sheets gave up 6 runs. Here's where you KNEW things were going to be tough for us at the plate. In the first inning, Bourn walks, Marteeeeen doubles and scores him. Heyward flies out and they walk Chipper. So you have two on, and one out. Freeman pops out to foul ground on the first freaking pitch. That's ridiculous Freddie. He's walked two batters already in this inning and you pop out on the first pitch? Oh and then he walks Uggla, so they are loaded. That made me even more frustrated at Freeman's foul out. Rossy strikes out swinging on what would have been ball 4, leaving them loaded. Braves went 0-9 with RISP. Terrible. Oh but it gets so much worse...

In Game 3. Minor goes 7 inning giving up only a run. At one point he pitched out of a bases loaded no out jam. What did he get for all his work? Three hits of support and no runs. Braves went 0-3 with RISP because very few people could get to second base. We only had 5 baserunners for the ENTIRE GAME. Five guys. Not just a burger joint, but also a terrible day at the plate for the Braves. In fact, this may be the single worst game I've seen the Braves play all season. It was just horrible at bat after another, with Billingsly laughing at our ineptitude. This will be another one of those games where Fredi G would roll out the "Well you just have to tip your hat to <insert starter who owned us here>" Nope, here's why we lost. Bottom of the first, Bourn earns a walk, then Prado strikes out on four pitches, and Heyward grounds into a double play on the first pitch. Note that Billingsly has already walked a guy in an inning, but we're first pitch swining. Freeman went 3-1 before grounding out in the second, Francisco went 2-0 before fouling out in the same inning. Janish lined out on the second pitch in the 3rd. Uggla popped out on the first pitching the fourth. Janish flied out on a 2-0 count in the 5th. It just went on and on and on. Early swings after a guy has shown he can't throw strikes and we let him off the hook again and again. It's like we didn't want the walks. We were determined to put the ball in play, and the results were awful.

We better start hitting soon, because the Nats don't play nice. They beat up on the Mets and are sitting in the catbird seat at home for the game tonight. The only answer to beating these guys is to score 4-5 runs, because they will put some in on our pitchers. In fact, in our last series the Nats scored 24 runs on us in 4 games. We miraculously took 2-2 in a split, but the back end of that series was a nightmare. Luckily, we have better pitchers going this time around. Hopefully, we can support them better than we did against the Dodgers.

Go Braves!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dodgers @ Braves: Series Preview

To be the best you have to beat the best. Right now the Dodgers are the best in their division at 11 games over .500, and they have gone 6-4 over their last 10 games. The Braves are now 20 games over .500, and they have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games. I'd say that we have the better team, but this series also heralds the beginning of the "Six Man Rotation" a move I'm vehemently against. I could be wrong, but we'll see how it pans out. On to the matchups!

Game 1: Hanson v. Capuano
Game 2: Sheets v. Harang
Game 3: Minor v. Billingsly

I hate our matchups in this series. I understand why we're doing it (HINT: we want Maholm, Medlen, and Hudson to go against the Nats), but that doesn't mean I have to like it. In Game 1 you have Hanson coming off the DL against Capuano who is coming off an 8 inning shutout in Miami. Capuano is very much a strikeout artist, having notched 22 Ks in his last 3 starts. However, he's also subject to giving up walks with 7 in those games as well. He's the kind of pitcher you can run up a count on if you're not getting aggressive or going down 0-2 in the counts. Meanwhile, Hanson hasn't gone more than 5 innings and change since July 7th. His pitch economy has been a major issue with his outings, often causing him to leave after just 5 innings with over 100 pitches. He's also been walking people at an alarming rate with 16 walks in his last 4 games. I think this game could be a total disaster for us. Capuano is sporting a 3.11 ERA to Tommy's ballooning 4.29, and our lineup has a .239 average against Cappy. If we win, we win and I'll be pleasantly surprised, but I'm not counting on it.

Sheets goes in the second game against a very steady Aaron Harang. Sheets bore the brunt of a bad start and even worse hitting in his last outing, losing in a misleading 5-6 score. He's due for a large bounceback in my book. Harang has been cruising with a 3.76 ERA, giving up between 2-4 runs a start on most of his games. The thing is, he's rarely picked up enough run support in those matches to notch any wins. As such, he's lost 7 of his last 10, and his ERA is actually higher over those games around 4.45. Even better for us, the Braves has a career .353 batting average off Harang across the lineup. The biggest killers? Bourn, Heyward, and Uggla who slug a combined .660 off the righty. Meanwhile, the guy who hurts Sheets the most, Juan Uribe, isn't even likely to play in this series as he's 3rd on the depth chart at 3rd base. Take him away, and the rest of the lineup is barely hitting .220 off Sheets. I love this matchup.

Minor doesn't worry me as much as he used to coming up in game 3, but against a guy like Billingsly, I have my concerns. Billingsly is red hot, having won his last 5 in a row with a miniscule 1.56 ERA. Minor has lost his last 2 in a row, with an ERA around 4.15 for those games. Bear in mind that those losses against Minor were almost entirely on the Braves lineup scoring only one run in both of those games. Nobody was going to win in those situations. Billingsly doesn't walk many guys, he has a very low WHIP over his last month, and we're batting .248 against him lifetime. This would be the perfect opportunity to sub in David Ross, who is 3-5 against Billingsly, as well as giving Juan Fransisco a shot in place of Chipper who only has 2 hits in 9 ABs off the Dodgers righty. I'm sort of advocating the Sunday GUL (Give Up Lineup) in this scenario because they ironically have better numbers than the starters. Still, winning this one would be a steal, and we will probably need to win it if we want to take the series.

So there you go. As you can see, I'm only really seeing an advantage for us in Game 2. That means Tommy and Minor are going to have to grind, because not only will they be pitching for the series, they are likely pitching for their spot in the rotation.

Go Braves!

Padres @ Braves: Game 4 Recap aka "Chipper Bobblehead Night"

33,000 people showed up on a Thursday game against the Padres, doubling the previous two games attendance this week. There was only one reason. Chipper Jones Bobbleheads were given away to the first 20,000 fans at the gate. But Chipper wasn't done giving. Oh no. The Magic 3rd baseman decided to have his first multi-homer game in 3 years. They were both no-doubters over 400 feet. The old dude still has enough power left to take a young pitcher yard, make no mistake. The 6-0 win is all the sweeter when you got a Chipper Bobblehead nodding away.

This game was about 2 players having an outstanding game, and as such I think they both deserve MVP nods. First, Chipper obviously gets the MVP for going deep twice on his bobblehead night. The two homers plated 3 RBIs, and they both came in clutch situations with 2 outs. Chipper seems to feed on those kinds of expectations and pressure. Second, Kris Medlen had a complete game shutout for the first time in his career. Medlen went the distance against the Padres, giving up only 5 hits and no walks with 6 Ks. It reminded me a lot of Paul Maholm's complete game against the Mets not long ago. Medlen was in complete control of his pitches the entire stretch, and once Chipper had put two in stands it might as well have been 10-0 instead of 6-0.

Besides Chipper, Paul Janish and Jason Heyward also had multi-hit games. Jason and Chipper went back to back on homers in the 5th, moving Heyward to 3-4 on the night. Janish also went 2-4 on the night with 2 RBIs. Those 3 guys pretty much made up the offensive production in two innings, the 1st and the 5th. The Braves only went 2-7 with RISP, but that's the power of the long ball. I'm never in love with it, because it's so streaky, but I like it when it works. I will say that I was right about my prediction on Jason Marquis. We treated him exactly like the Reds did in July with 6 runs on 3 homers. That complete game shutout against the Pirates had no chance of carrying over into this matchup. Since I'm also picking on his this series, Brian McCann went 0-2 with 2 walks. He was hitless over those 4 games. I have my eye on him now. Uggla went 1-4 so my eye is drifting away from him. That's the good news.

So the winning streak extends to 3 games heading into tonight's matchup against the Dodgers. It's the beginning of that 10 game stretch I've been excited/worried about since the beginning of the month. This is make or break time because it includes a series in Washington. I'm concerned that the first game has Tommy Hanson going against Capuano since Tommy is just off the DL. However, I'll get into that more in the series preview. In the meantime, enjoy the series win, Braves fans. Enjoy moving to 4 games back of those crappy Nats. And especially enjoy the fact that shutting down Strasburg seems to be all they can talk about in Washington.

Go Braves!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Padres @ Braves: Game 3

Win one game, and you right the ship. Win two games, and you got yourself a streak. Well, we got ourselves a streak. Paul Maholm was pretty awesome, going 7 innings with 1 run and 7 Ks. He notches his 11th win on the season, and his second win with the Braves. Paul went 23/30 first strikes to the batters he faced, as well as 13-1 ground ball to fly ball rate for balls in play. That's pretty amazing. Even Huddy doesn't produce grounders like that during a game. It all added up to a 6-1 victory for the Braves, and a chance to win the series tonight.

The hitting was good, not great. That's pretty funny to say in a 6-1 win, but it's true. With the Braves only going 3-13 with RISP, I wasn't impressed with our clutch performance. However, I was impressed with one guy in particular. The MVP of the game Martin Prado. Some of you may say, but wait, didn't Dan Uggla hit a 3 run bomb? Shouldn't he be the MVP? To that I say, stop just digging on the long ball. Take a look deeper. Prado went 3/5 with a run scored last night. Going further, he should have been 4/5 on a ball hit up the middle in the first inning, but Bourn was running and the SS moving to cover had a perfect play on the grounder. Also, he should have scored 2 runs, but got hung out to dry at home on a bad grounder to the pitcher. Even though he didn't score, he stayed in the rundown long enough to get both runners back to 2nd and 3rd, setting up the Dan Uggla bomb. Martin Prado was the straw that stirred the drink last night. He was extending innings, getting hits, making the plays, and seeing more pitches than anyone on the team. He's also 7/13 now on the Padres series. Take a look at what Martin is doing, and you'll see a guy that could be MVP every night, backed up by the fact he's now batting .302 on the year. That's top 10 in the NL. He's a gamer.

Another thing to note about the game. Dan Uggla is rising. His OBP is .377 in August and he's slugging .533 for the month. I like what he's doing to get himself out the funk just in time for the division run. It was now or never heading into August, and he knew it. I guess he decided the time was now. Here's the downside. Brian McCann has gone into the toilet again. He's 0-10 in the Padres series. He's 4-33 in his last 10 games. His August batting average is .118, and he's had no homers, no doubles, and obviously no triples. Whereas he bounced back from a terrible June into a robust July, he's settled down again in August. I won't mince words about this month, either, he's been wretched. He has ONE RBI. It's August 16th, people! I know he's a beloved player, and I know he's going to ask for a bunch of money next season when he goes into a team option of $12M. I'm telling you right now, if this is how the guy performs in a contract year, you better wrap your ahead around a Braves team without Brian McCann. Shall I compare him to David Ross who is slugging .533 on the month with 2 RBIs in almost a third the ABs? I don't need a catcher who bats .230 in the back end of the lineup and doesn't throw people out. Yeah, I said it. The only person who's allowed more stolen bases this year is Buster Posey in the NL. At least he's covering it up by batting .330 on the season.

On a happier note, Kris Medlen goes again tonight against inconsistent RH Jason Marquis. Jason has been roughed up quite a bit over the season with a 5.05 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.41, but he is coming off an outing against Pittsburgh with a complete game shutout. I'm not sure what to make of the guy, other than the fact I don't believe lightning can strike twice in consecutive outings. My guess is that we can treat him like the Reds did on July 31, with 7 runs on 8 hits and 3 homers. Also, the crowd will be out in force at Turner Field since it's CHIPPER JONES BOBBLEHEAD NIGHT! Apparently it means a lot to people that collect those things. They were literally lining up at the stadium this morning at 9AM. Crazy.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Padres @ Braves: Game 2 Recap

The Padres didn't stand a chance when Tim Hudson took the mound. Nor did they stand a chance when the Braves unloaded on them for 6 runs. At the end of the game, the Braves got a shutout win, AND the Nats lost. So we pull closer to 4.5 back in the race, and we still have 2 games left on the series. Our 1-4 hitters opened up the game and created most of the offense. Uggla and Prado both had homers, and Freeman and Chipper both had RBIs.

Tim Hudson gets the MVP for his performance last night. He went 6.1 innings with only 2 hits and a walk. Thing is, and he said this himself, he could have gone longer. We just didn't need him to go deep into the game because we had it locked up by the 7th inning. That's how important a solid starting pitcher can be against a team that has no shot. The Padres will fold up their tents if they aren't leading after four innings. They have no reason to fight back. If you can establish early that you are mentally going to win the game, you'll win against crappy teams. It's when you let them score early runs and give them hope, that's where you create problems. So Huddy went out there and established who was the man. The rest is history.

Let's dig a little deeper into the changes from the first game to the second game in our hitting. As I stated before, I was disappointed with our pitch selection at the plate in game one. We weren't working counts at all, and that cost us. In game 2, we still didn't have any walks. HOWEVER, we were doing a much better job at running counts longer before putting action on the ball. In Game 1, our hitters ran the pitch count on Stultz to 100+ in the 8th inning. In game 2, Richard's count was at 100+ in the 7th. At a full inning earlier, the Padres had to go to the pen. On the very next batter, Prado went yard for a 3 run jack. It's important to tire out these Padres starters earlier and get to that pen. Hell, that's important for any team. I'll always want to roll the dice on an opposing teams starter.

The Braves went 3-9 with RISP, crossing over my winning number of .300, and they had a double, triple, and homer in the same game. Heyward and Bourn both bagged steals, which brings Bourn's total up to 31 on the year. That's #1 in the NL for all players, folks. We have the fastest base robber on the field playing for us. Hey Frank Wren? If you don't cut this man a contract deal, I'm going to find you. Venters also looked incredibly sharp last night with his inning of relief in the 7th. It was good to see him look like "the Venters of old" according to Joe Simpson. I would agree that he was getting much more movement on his pitches and made the hitters look silly.

Tonight it's Volquez v. Maholm. Paul Maholm is coming off his 4-0 whitewashing of the Mets where he only gave up 3 hits in a complete game shutout. Volquez is coming off a "win" in Pittsburgh where he gave up 6 runs, 2 homers, 4 walks, and 7 hits in 3.1 innings. In fact, in his last three games, Volquez is sporting an ERA of 11.00, and no you didn't read that wrong. He's given up 11 runs in his last 9 innings across 3 starts. We should light this guy up. I will accept no excuses in this game. Volquez is on tilt and our lineup is going to push him over.

Go Braves!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Padres @ Braves: Game 1 Recap

This one wasn't about a pitcher being better than us. This was about our team being hyper aggressive at the plate and shooting ourselves in the foot. This happens every now and then when the team completely abandons the philosophy of working counts, and we get into trouble. Case in point, we didn't walk a single time in this game. It was frustrating and stupid the way we let Stults look like a world beater when he wasn't even striking anybody out. We just flailed at bad pitchers in early counts and put ourselves in the hurt locker. Second case in point, the game only took 2:23 to lose. That's stupidly fast for a 4-1 finish. I blame all the talk about a six man rotation. Also, Minor was giving up way too many hits to win this game. All in all, just another manic Monday.

Let me show you the difference between a Braves win and a Braves loss. In this game, we had the entire back end of the lineup (5-8 hitters) go 0-14. They saw a total of 40 pitches. That's 2.85 pitches an AB. In our 4-0 win against the Mets, the back end of the lineup went 2-13 with 3 walks, and they saw 3.75 pitches per plate appearance. See the difference? When you see almost a full pitch extra every time we step in the box, that not only runs the starter out of the game faster, but it usually works you into favorable hitting counts. Stults wasn't even getting ground ball outs. It was a 6-14 grounder-fly ratio, which means we were just popping up everything. That's not a dominant performance from a pitcher. That's us swinging like idiots.

Right now the Braves are at 66 wins. We are 5.5 out of the division lead, 3.5 ahead in the Wild Card race. Last year, on this day we have 70 wins, and we were 4 games up in the wild card. We were ripping things up in August back then. By the end of August, we had 80 wins. To match that pace, we'd have to go 14-2 on the remainder of the month. Have no illusions about where we are in this race. Nothing is safe if we go cold at the plate. This is where Greg Walker is going to make his money. We have to slow down, manage the game better, and stop trying to force things. There is a ton of time left in the season, and it's too early to start pushing any panic buttons. However, there are things I know about this team. We are streaky. We are inconsistent. We are mentally shaky at times. And we can beat anybody's lineup with our lineup when we hit. Let's start up the streak of wins again tonight.

Go Braves!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Braves @ Mets: Games 2-3 Recap

Well, I'm disappointed. I wanted to post the brooms. It could have certainly been worse, but I think we all know that we needed a sweep to step up to the Nats winning 8 in a row. When they finally lost, we lost in a horrible fashion. Now, I'm not going to cry about winning a series, but it's the Mets. They are awful. Also, Ben Sheets finally didn't have a good game, but we could have easily covered that up if we decided to get a single hit with RISP. None of that happened. So yeah, I'm disappointed, but there's plenty of time left to catch the Nats after a series against the (suddenly hot) Padres.

Game 2 was an old-fashioned butt-kicking. Santana didn't have it at all, and we made him pay in grand fashion. Leo Mazzone says that "nobody feels sorry for nobody in this business", and I don't feel sorry for lighting up a former Cy Young winner. He may be injured, he may be off his game, hell he may be done in his career. I don't care. We need wins and I'll take them any way we get them. The Braves scored 9 runs in the first two innings, and that was it. Medlen went 6 innings of 1 run work, and easily handled the Mets lineup. MVP of the game was Freddie Freeman again! Freddie had a homer, a double, and FIVE RBIS. Holy smokes. Also, the homer he hit went 455 feet! That's...unreal. It was so far it went over the Apple that pops out of center field. The center field fence is 408 at Citi Field, so that's no joke.

Game 3 was the one that got me fuming. Before the 9th inning, the Braves had gone 0-6 with RISP and one run on a Freeman homer. It seemed that Freddie was the only guy in the series who was consistent. Now, if you looked at the final score of 5-6, you'd think we lost a close one. No, we didn't. The Mets let us back in the door on some horrible pitching, but that was no indicator of how the game went. The reason we lost this game is very simple, and I hate to say it. Chipper and Heyward let us down when they had chances. It started early in the first when Bourn got to 3rd on a stolen base with one out, and Chipper rapped into a double play. That was the game in a nutshell. When we had chances, we blew it. Heyward went 0-4 with 3 Ks. Chip went 0-3 with a walk. Both went a combined 0-4 with RISP. I don't want to dwell on it because they've both done well in this series alone, but when they fail, it's my duty to be fair regardless of the name on the jersey. Also, Uggla went 0-4 with 3 Ks. Yeah.

Moving on, we face the Padres in a 4-gamer starting tonight with Minor on the mound. I don't want to preview the Padres because they have been terrible leading into the last week. Then, all of a sudden they are a completely different team. So instead, I'll tell you about who the Padres are lately. San Diego has won 7 of their last 10, including a series win against the Pirates (our wild card competition). However, a lot of those other wins came against the Mets and Cubs, both awful clubs. The key for the Padres is that they've been scoring a lot of runs. Over their last 7 days, the Padres are 6th in the NL for runs scored, 5 runs behind the Braves. That's a far cry from a team that is 13th in NL wins on the year.

Tonight, we head into another high socks Monday. This is different from the other Mondays because we win. Go get em Minor!

Go Braves!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Braves @ Mets: Game 1

Paul Maholm got out his whoopin stick and beat the Mets about the head and ears for three hours. Ok, that's not entirely true. It only took 2:24 to fully whoop'em. In a lightning fast game of hardcore pitching dominance, the Braves crushed the Mets in a 4-0 smackdown. The Braves only had 4 hits themselves, but they scored 4 runs to go along with them. After 6 walks and two bombs by Jayhey and Dan OOOOOOOOggla, the gave was over.

MVP of the game is obviously Paul Maholm. Check out this line: 9 innings, 3 hits, no runs, no walks. Wow, a complete game shutout with no walks, and he struck out 5 guys. Short of throwing a no-no, that's about as overpowering a performance as you are going to see from a starting pitcher. I think we can agree that Frank Wren has made a solid choice in picking up this crafty lefty for our rotation down the stretch. The only thing that didn't go right for Maholm yesterday was the Nats blowing the Diamondbacks to pieces. Those bums continue to win. I think it's 7 in a row now. Would it kill you to help a brother out, Arizona?

Our hitting was pretty bad except for some long balls. The Mets hitting was atrocious with no upside. In this case, pretty bad trumped atrocious. It wasn't about the lineups, and frankly we didn't even have the whole setup in there. Chipper and BMac were both out, which gave us what Chuck Oliver from 680 the Fan refers to as the "Give Up Lineup" or GUL for short. Often you see it on a Sunday when we need to rest people for a long road trip. Without the contributions of Dan and Jason, it could have been a long long day in extra innings. Still, Rossy had a double, and Freeman got a base knock. Bourn set the table numerous times with 3 walks even though he didn't net a hit, but he did score a run on Jason's dinger.

Dan Uggla is hot, guys. He's nearing dancing bobcat hot. In August, Dan is slugging over .500 with an OBP over .400. Not only is he clubbing the ball (3 doubles and a homer), he's also had 9 hits in 8 games, coupled with 4 walks. In fact, Dan Uggla is the best hitting on the team in the month of August, with his .321 average, followed by Chipper at .318. Chipper, when he's in the game, has already stroked 3 doubles as well. Freddie has 3 doubles, Prado has 2, Janish has 2, and Heyward has 2. We've been doubling teams to death in August and I love it! In fact, we're 4th in the NL in doubles on the month. That kind of production needs to continue as we stretch out towards the 10 game stretch of tougher opponents in the latter part of the month.

Tonight we face Johan Santana. He's reeling right now. Let's make sure we help him go completely over the edge.

Go Braves!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Series Preview: Braves @ Mets

We're still in that lovely stretch where we are playing terrible baseball teams. We have about 7 of those games left before we get a very rude awakening with the Dodgers, Nats, and Giants back to back to back. However, that is then, and this is now, so we have to take advantage of our opportunities before the juggernaught. Enter the Mets. Meet the Mets, meet the Mets, step right up and beat the Mets! Bring your kiddies, bring the wife, we'll beat the Mets within an inch of their life! On to the matchups.

Game 1: Maholm v. Harvey
Game 2: Medlen v. Santana
Game 3: Sheets v. Niese

I was unaware that Steve Harvey had quit his acting gig and decided to pitch for the Mets. Oh no wait, this is some guy named Matt Harvey, a noob out of UNC who's only had 3 games in the majors. I guess the Mets are just trying out new things to see if anything sticks. Harvey has given up 8 runs in his last 11 innings, including 5 runs to the Padres. Yeah, the Padres. That team is 15 games under .500 and getting outscored on the season by 50, but they clubbed Harvey. I want to own Harvey's house when we are done with him. With Maholm out there, we should take the Mets to the woodshed in game one. There are two keys to Maholm's success. One, avoid giving up homers early in the game (probably not an issue in the cavern that is Citi Field). Two, don't screw around with David Wright and Daniel Murphy. They are 12/29 lifetime combined against Paul. Don't feed them in the middle of the plate, and we'll be fine.

Santana has been on a wretched skid over his last 3 games. In 12.2 innings he's given up 28 hits and 19 runs. He's been straight lit up. One of those games was against us when we beat him roundly 6-1, and it could have been worse. He gave up 7 to the Cubs. THE CUBS. They are barely functional as a AAA club. In essence, we are hitting him at the right time, and Medlen is 2-0 in his last two starts with an ERA of 2.37 on the year. This is another matchup that favors us. Keys to Medlen's victory? Keep the changeup working, and try to keep speed off the basepaths for the Mets. They will try to manufacture runs to get early leads, and we won't let them.

Ben Sheets is awesome. Niese has lost 5 of his last 6. Do I need to say more? Ok, I will. In Niese's last game against the crappy Marlins, he gave up 8 hits and 4 runs in a 2-4 loss. He's been giving up fly balls over the last month at a horrifying rate. His strikeouts are down, and his ERA is up. After going 7-3 heading into July, he's now 8-6. As they say down at Tyson Chicken, he's ripe for the plucking. Oh, and our lineup hits .297 against him. Sheets on the other hand, has an ERA of 1.41 and 4 wins in his last 5 outings. Last time he faced the Mets he went 6 innings and gave up only 2 hits in a 6-1 win. He will crush the Mets if continues to dominate like we've seen.

The Mets went 2-4 in their last two series against the Marlins and Padres (aka cellar-dwellers). We should sweep these fools. Honestly. Anything less than a sweep is going to upset me, because we'll have let a golden oppportunity where we don't even face Dickey slip through our fingers. We must break them. We must drive them before us and hear the lamentations of their women!

Go Braves!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Phillies @ Braves: Game 3

What do you do when 6 runs isn't enough? You score 6 more. That's how the Braves solved their little Phillies problem during the rubber game of this series. A win is a win, but a series win over the crappy Phillies is pure sweetness. Aside from the buzzsaw game with Hamels, I felt pretty good about our team all week. Hudson had one epic failure in the 5th inning, but we covered that up with some outstanding offense. If you liked runs and action, this was the game for you.

The Braves had 12 runs, 10 hits, 9 walks, 4 doubles, a homer, 6 2-out RBIs, and went 3-10 with RISP. Also, David Ross stole his first base ever without a throw. So shocked was the entire Phillies lineup that Rossy took off, they just put the ball in their pocket. The game seesawed from down 1 to up 5 to tied to up 6 by the end. Neither starter went long enough to qualify for anything because the game was so bizarre. Kendrick was gone in the 4th, and Huddy couldn't escape his 20 pitch disaster in the 5th. Also, I'd love it if the Braves would stop giving up stupid runs in the first inning. It doesn't inspire confidence that the game is going to be easy for us.

MVP of the game? Who else but Dan Uggla. That's right, Dan freaking Uggla is off the shnide in August. Last night he went 3/4 with 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored in addition to a walk. All 3 of his RBIs came with 2 outs. Dan was hugely clutch last night, and clutch is everything in baseball. What I like to see right now, and what I didn't see from him before, is that Dan is starting to level off on the top half of the baseball. He's making solid contact on line drives that he was popping up or missing a month ago. That tells me that his eye level has gone back to normal and he's seeing the ball like he used to. Is he "back"? Well he's hitting .346 in August so far. If he's not back, he's certainly much improved from his previous starts in prior months, so I'll take it. A big key for me is that he's slowly cutting down on his strikeouts. Right now he's had 7 Ks in 28 plate appearances. Last month he had 28 Ks in 92 plate appearances. That's a 5% reduction in his strikeout rate from last month, and a 3.5% reduction from his season overall. Small victories, folks.

The Phillies, outside of a flurry of offense in the 5th, were completely awful at the plate. In fact, after Hudson went exit stage left, the Braves bullpen only gave up one hit in 4.2 innings of combined work. That's either unbelievably good pitching or unbelievably bad hitting. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Still, I'll point to Minor going to the 7th in a losing cause as a reason our bullpen could come out of the gate fresh in this game. We had the opporunity to throw a rested Durbin, Venters, EOF, and Kimbrel at the Phillies in 4 consecutive innings. That lineup didn't have a chance. Tip your hat to those relief guys for firing on all cylinders, and tip your hat to Minor for giving them the rest they needed yesterday to be dominant today.

We head into an off day today, so I'll leave you with the Good, Bad, and Ugly over the last week:

The Good - Dan Uggla and Chipper Jones are both batting .350 on the week with 6 doubles and 12 RBIs. While the Old Grey Mare has been very good this year, having Uggla step up as well is gravy.

The Bad - Brian McCann only had 3 hits on the week. It's not the worst thing in the world because pitchers have been largely pitching around him. He drew 6 walks for an OBP of .450 for the last 5 games.

The Ugly - We stink in the first inning in our division. During the Phillies games we gave up 4 runs in the first inning combined. We gave up 4 runs in the first inning in the Miami series. In fact in our last 3 divisional series, 9 of our 19 runs we gave up were in the first inning. You get rid of our bad starts, and we could be 10-0 in those games. Let's clean that up.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Braves @ Phillies: Game 2

Were we that terrible, or was Cole Hamels that good? This question rolled around my head this morning as I prepared to do the writeup about our loss to the Phillies. I noted in my series preview that Cole can (when he's right) be extremely dominanting. We've also witnessed our lineup go into a complete shell at times when the game is on the line. It's my job to get deep into the nitty gritty of the game and assess the root cause of our failure. Can it be brushed off by saying a great pitcher had a great game? Let's take a look.

The bottom line was the Braves only collected 5 hits, no walks, and never got a single player to second base. Mike Minor gave up 3 runs in the first, and then shut the door for 7 innings, even though he got the loss. More on that later. Hamels went the full 9 for a complete game shutout, collected 6 Ks, and did it on 111 pitches, 78 which were strikes. So right off the bat you have an ace pitcher throwing strikes at a 70% rate during the game. In his last game against Atlanta he only had 49% strikes. That's a key improvement as to why he didn't walk anybody in this game. Also, 60-65% strikes is a really good mark for a starter in a game. 70%+ is ridiculous. In fact, in Matt Cain's perfect game this season, he had a 69% rate for strikes. The interesting thing about Hamels was that he only went strike one on 15/29 batters.

The Braves tried to work counts as per our usual hitting method against good starters. 18 of our 29 batters at least took the counts to strike 2 before putting action on the ball. It just didn't matter. Hamels wasn't going to be beat yesterday. We did what we could, and he was simply better than our lineup that day. This falls under the "tip your hat" and forget it category. In a 162 game season, you are going to run into pitchers you can't rattle. When you dig deeper into the numbers, you can see this game was more about Cole Hamels playing really well, and less about our lineup settling for bad pitches.

Mike Minor showed us a lot about his mental fortitude, which I had questioned early in the season. Giving up a 3 run first inning would have sent the old Minor reeling for 7-8 runs by game end. Instead, the new Mike went back out there and didn't give up another run for 7 innings, preserving some of our bullpen for tonight's matchup. There's a lot to be said for a pitcher that can go deeper in the game like that even when there is little to no hope of a win. It's something Tommy Hanson CAN'T do on a consistent basis. That will become an important distinction late in the season, have no doubt. Minor kept things close enough for the Braves to strike, and the only bullpen guys we had to burn were Avilan and Gearrin. That means we have Durbin, Venters, and O'Flaherty ready to go tonight if we need them. Kimbrel is always good to go late in the season.

Tonight Hudson takes the mound for the rubber game. This one will be for the series. This one is a must-win for the team who dropped yet another game in the race to the freaking Nats. At 4 games back in August, you damn well better hope we don't get to 5+, because there's no coming back from that unless the Nats collapse. Time for Huddy to saddle up and ride out guns blazing in Philly.

Go Braves!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Braves @ Phillies: Game 1

One down, two to go. We can sweep these fools if we play our game, and they continue to make hilarious errors in the field. McCann was good, Heyward was great, and Sheets was electric. The Phillies got a solo shot in the 4th, and Sheets quickly shook that off for 7.1 innings of shutdown ball. Worley, on the other hand, only made it through 74 pitches and 3.2 innings before getting chased. He took the loss and dropped to 6-7 on the season. Sheets moves to 4-1 with a ridiculous 1.41 ERA, and has cemented himself as the best mid-season aquisition of any club all year.

The MVP of the game goes to Freddie Freeman for his performance in the 3rd inning. The difference in the game happened when Freddie came up to bat with 2 outs in the top of the 3rd. Bourn had walked and moved to second on a Prado single. It was looking like Worley might be able to wriggle off the hook again. Freeman thought otherwise. On a 1-1 count, Freddie laced a ball down the right field line into the corner, scoring Bourn easily, and Martin tested the Phillies D with the play at the plate. The result was that Prado beat the tag, and Freddie moved to 3rd on the throw. That turned out to be key since Freddie scored during the next AB on a wild pitch. By continuing that inning, Freeman was responsible for the Braves scoring 3 runs, and winning the game. He was clutch, and clutch gets you the MVP.

The Braves only went 2-9 with RISP, which doesn't make me very happy. I'll blame that mostly on wasted chances at the back end of the lineup with Janish and Francisco. The thing that DID make me happy was seeing Dan Uggla get two rocket hits during the game. Dan now has hits in 7 of his last 9 games. Yesterday was his first multi-hit game since July 20th, over 2 weeks ago. So far, he's batting .273 in August and showing signs of life. I can't tell you how huge it would be for him to get right down the stretch when we need him.

Dan's the positive story. The negative story is that I'm worried about Michael Bourn. Michael has been struggling since mid-July, and I've been quietly ignoring it because I thought it was an anolomy. Also, I think he's an awesome player so I'm biased. Michael's a career .275 hitter, and you have to expect that his numbers would come down to earth some since he was batting over .300 in June. However, he sets the table, and he's been having issues with hits in August so far. Right now he's only batting .150 on the month, and his walks have decreased over his last 3 games. Since July 15th, Bourn's batting average has fallen 25 points, and his OBP has fallen 22 points. The reason I point this out is because we're playing the worst teams in the league over these last two weeks, and Bourn isn't capitalizing. It's something to watch as we head into the later part of August.

Today we have Minor v. Hamels in the battle of the southpaws. Who will win? The overpaid fancylad or the plucky underappreciated youngster? I'd love to see the Philly fans continue to watch their million dollar signee struggle to get his first win since the payday. We can make that happen.

Go Braves!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Series Preview: Braves @ Phillies

We just played the Phillies in a series, so I think we all know they have gone into fire sale mode since then. We effectively crushed their dreams of coming out of a tailspin post-trade deadline. As such, I don't really need to emphasize how much we need to win the series. We always need to take advantage of bad teams with no hope if we want to win the division.

Game 1: Sheets v. Worley
Game 2: Minor v. Hamels
Game 3: Hudson v. Kendrick

Games 1 & 3 are obvious pitching advantages for us, and I think you can easily see why. Sheets and Hudson both have winning records facing off against two guys with .500 or worse records. Worley has a .281 average against our lineup, and Kendrick has a 4.45 ERA with a .289 average against us. If I'm picking the two "must-win" games of the series, those are the ones.

Game 2 is the question mark. Minor is pitching well, and Hamels hasn't won yet since his payday, but Cole is always one good outing away from making you look really stupid at the plate. In Atlanta, we beat him 6-1 on a lot of walks and Philly errors. I seriously doubt he will walk 6 at home. Minor has one his last two games while only giving up one earned run. If he can work that kind of performance against the Phillies again, they have zero shot at the win.

A recent article by Jeff Schultz brought up an interesting point about Kris Medlen. He's an amazing pitching talent that seems to be good in any scenario. This is only a "problem" in the same way that having 3 All-Star catchers is a problem. Right now the Braves have to decide how to use Medlen (my vote is the rotation) and Schultz brought up the idea of a 6 man rotation. Now, that's wildly insane and will never happen. However, the point is a solid one that Medlen could be used to fill in the gaps with Huddy needing a day off for ankle problems and Minor missing a start isn't going to make anybody cry. The reason this comes up is because Hanson was forced on the DL until the September roster expansion. If he comes back early, I'll be shocked. He's been a disaster in 4 of his last 5 games, but they were all wins for us. I'm torn as a fan about that. He's the reverse Delgado. He pitches horribly and gets massive support.

Anyway, let's just go beat up on the Phillies in their building. I'm tired of people talking about them and their contracts. I'm tired of them being on top. I'm tired of their fans acting confused now that the bottom has completely fallen out. You know why you're losing Philly fans? Because you spent more on your starting rotation and closer than your entire starting lineup. Completely shocking nobody with a brain, that means you're 21st in the majors in on-base percentage. Oh noes! I feel bad for your rotation that's making more than my entire team and only has 36 wins. Not really.

Go Braves!

Astros @ Braves: Series Recap

No brooms for this series, although there should have been. The Braves took 2/3, which is fine, but you would have loved them to really run the worst team in the MLB right out of town on a rail. As such, we are only 3 games back of the Nats instead of 2 going into our series against the Phillies. Still, we are in the hunt, and we're playing against sub-par teams for the first half of August.

Game 1 was dominant pitching mixed with barely functional hitting. Hudson was amazing with 7.1 innings of 4 hit, 1 run ball, while the Braves went 2-13 with RISP. If it wasn't for the fact that Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla doubled in the 3rd, this game could have gone sideways on us. Amazingly, the Braves had 5 doubles, and 8 walks, but only scored 4 runs. What??? That doesn't make any sense. Unfortunately that carried over into Game 2. However, the MVP of Game 1 had to be Tim Hudson and his 116 pitch performance to get the win and go 11-4 on the season.

Game 2 was a carryover disaster at the plate. Paul Maholm pitched a good game to the majority of the Astros lineup, but he made the mistake of pitching to Justin Maxwell. The CF Maxwell hit two bombs in the game that netted 3 runs. You'd think against the world's worst team, the Braves would be able to mount some offense to overcome a 3 run deficit. Well, you'd be wrong. The Braves only got 4 hits all game. FOUR. The fact we got 2 runs on those four hits was pure luck, considering that Dan Uggla singled after 3 straight walks by Lucas Harrell. Still, a major problem with this game was that Bourn was completely non-functional (and for most of the series as well), and we grounded into 2 double plays that killed the rallies. End of the day, we lost to crappy Houston team on nothing but one guy's homers.

Game 3 was the day where the bats finally woke up. Medlen and the bullpen did a great job holding the Astros to only a run, but the Braves finally opened things up by scoring 6 runs on 9 hits and 6 walks. The MVP was David Ross, who went 2/3 with a homer, a walk, and scored 3 of the 6 runs. It's great to see him come into the game as the best backup catcher in the business (which even Chipper Jones said in the interview). Honorable mention goes to Paul Janish who had 2 RBIs in the 6th to crack the game open. As a whole the Braves went 3-8 with RISP, which  is much closer to the numbers I expect from our team. As we head to Philly, we need to take that kind of plate presence with us, and forget about the first two mediocre games we played.

Go Braves!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Marlins @ Braves: Game 4 Recap

We took 3/4 from the Marlins with the win yesterday 6-1, and the game was never really in doubt. In fact, the only questionable thing from the game was whether or not Minor would get credit for the win after the rain delay. Sadly, he did not. Instead, Martinez got the benefit of the doubt even though he was the only guy to give up a run on the Braves staff. The offense was early and often, and you could tell that it completely demoralized the Marlins club, who is just running out the clock on the year.

The whole lineup touched base yesterday in the 6 run affair. Everyone got at least a hit, except for BMac who drew 2 walks on the day. The flurry of scoring happened in the first two innings, and after that the Braves decided they were just going to cruise to the finish line. The clutch hitting was huge as the Braves went 5-11 with RISP, and with 2 doubles. The Braves had 6 runs on 10 hits, 4 walks, and only 3 strikeouts. On the other side, the Marlins went 1-7 with RISP, had 1 run on 8 hits, and generally stunk up the joint in clutch situations. Gotta love that!

The MVP of the game is Jason Heyward. He had a 3/5 day at the plate, with 2 runs scored, and an RBI. Heyward is currently batting .275 on the year with a .333 average over the last week. If you jump in the time machine and take a look back at Jason's numbers from 2011, at this point last year he was batting .224 for the season. That's over a 50 point difference on his batting average from this year to the last. Also, he's slugging close to 90 points higher than the prior year. It's really a return to the form we believed that Jason could always play with at the plate. He's still strong in the field, and he was tested several times last night, but we need him to be the rock in the 3rd slot of the lineup once the Old Grey Mare rides off into the sunset.

We transition from the Marlins series into a series against the terrible Astros. Right now we're 6-1 on the home stand, and Chipper Jones himself said he would accept nothing less than a 8-2 record at home during this run. There's certainly less to worry about when the Braves are beating up on the bottom feeders in the league, because we're not in first place yet. We will be, though, if we continue our quality pitching and timely hitting that we've come to expect in this first two series.

Go Braves!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Marlins @ Braves: Game 3 Recap

Ben Sheets had a bad first inning, and the bats couldn't close the gap. The streak comes to an end, and we have to march forward as a team so we can win this series. Honestly, I'm not that shocked we lost considering both Bmac and Bourn had the night off. With two of your hottest hitters right now on the pine, it's no wonder we stunk at the plate in clutch moments. Also, we won seven games straight, so I'm not going to hammer the team over a loss. It's amazing we got that far into the streak, plus the Nats lost again.

Reed Johnson had a nice debut with the team, starting in the OF and going 2/4 on the day, but the downside was that Heyward and Prado were uncharacteristically awful, going hitless in 8 ABs. Chipper didn't have a hit either. Add it all up, and you get a 2-10 with RISP stat that is a sure fire way to lose you games when your starter digs a 3 run hole right off the bat. Uggla did manage to get one of those RBIs, though, and he's showing signs of not going quietly into the night. When we get the regular lineup in the game tonight, I would bet we see more of the same from him.

Sheets had a problem getting strikes against batters early in the counts, and they made him pay with big swings in favorable counts. Remove that bad first inning, and the effort by Sheets was pretty good. However, the Braves are having issues getting out of the gate strong in this series. So far in the 3 games we've played, the Marlins have put 4 runs on us in the first inning. That means they've only scored 3 runs in all the other innings combined. We need to stop the early bleeding in the first inning, and the Marlins seem to go into shutdown mode by themselves.

We need to make sure we take advantage of the gifts we get in August. Until about mid-month, we're scheduled to play nothing but teams with losing records. That's the kind of stretch where you can win or lose a division. If we take advantage of the teams that have sold off all their talent at the trade deadline (Phillies, Padres, Astros, Mets) then we stand a good chance of being up in the standings when we face the tougher teams (Washington, Dodgers, Giants) at the end of the month.

Tonight, Minor goes against Eovaldi in a battle of the barely legal to drink starters. If we get the good Minor, the Fish have no chance. If we get the bad Minor, this could become a disaster in short order. I'll just be happy to see Bourn back in the field, and McCann back behind the plate, so they can take a few hacks at this 22 year old out of LA.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Marlins @ Braves: Game 2 Recap

This feeling is what happens when you ride the top edge of a Braves streak. We're at 7 in a row now, and we're clubbing the ball to get there. Medlen got his first start of the year, and after a shaky home run in the first inning, he locked down on the Fish. The bats immediately stepped up by putting 3 on Nolasco in the bottom of the first to retake the lead. Beyond the first inning, it was all Braves. BMac homered, Pastornicky homered, Heyward and Freeman came through with RBIs, and the Braves won 7-1. The game included a rather random 1 hour 53 minute rain delay which interrupted what would normally be a quick win for the Bravos. Instead, a game starting at 7PM didn't end until 11:30.

Medlen went 5 innings in his first shot at the rotation, and he only gave up the aforementioned home run in the first. Other than that, he held the Marlins to 4 hits in 5 innings with one walk. It was a very solid first performance punctuated by the fact that Kris was going strike one on 14/19 of the hitters he faced. Since he was usually ahead in the count, Kris was able to dictate the pace of the game and impose his will on the batters. He also did it economically with only 57 pitches in those 5 innings. The reverse was true for Nolasco, who also went 5 innings, but gave up 4 walks, 7 hits, and 4 runs. He was all over the place, and was well over 100 pitches in those same 5 innings. The difference was obvious. One pitcher was in complete command of the zone, and the other wasn't.

The Braves had tons of chances to run the score up during the game. With 13 hits, 4 walks, and the 2 Miami errors the Braves put 18 men on base during the game. It was a multihit night for everybody except Bourn (who had one hit), and Janish and Uggla who got blanked. So Uggla's 2 game hitting streak comes to a close. Hopefully he starts one up against tonight. The RISP was only 3-14, so it's not great, but when your pitching staff was firing on all cylinders it didn't matter. Seven runs should be enough for any pitcher to cover up some sins. Prado, Francisco, and McCann all had doubles, and Freddie Freeman even managed to swipe a base. In the field, the Braves turned 4 double plays on the Marlins due to some amazing pitching by Medlen, Gearrin, Durbin, EOF, and JJ to close it.

The MVP of the game is Juan Francisco. Juan went 3/3 with a walk and 2 RBIs on the day. He was the very definition of perfect at the plate. Also, those 2 RBIs came with 2 outs, which made them even more clutch. As it turns out, since they happened in the first inning to make the game 3-1, they were also the game winning RBIs. Juan doesn't get a lot of chances to play unless Chipper takes the day off, but he's been pretty solid at the dish when he starts. Currently, Juan is slugging .486 with 8 homers. In Francisco's last 3 starts in July, he's gone 8/11 with 5 RBIs. That's hot, folks. That not just hot, it's thermonuclear. Over the last week, Juan is batting .778 for his average. WHAT?!?! That's not possible. Ride him like a rented mule Braves, because that can't last forever.

In "injury" news, Tommy Hanson gets sent to the DL with a back something. It's complete crap. The same thing happened to Jonny Venters when he was struggling. He got pulled into the office by Fredi G and told he was injured. You know this because 1 - Medlen is up in the rotation and pitching well, 2 - We just traded for a LH arm out of the Cubs, and 3 - Tommy is struggling with his out-pitch. What do I mean by that? Take a look at Tommy's last 4 starts. He's gone 5 innings, 5 innings, 4 innings, and 5.1 innings. Look at the hits and walks. During those 4 games he gave up 26 hits and 16 walks. He's getting bailed out by good fielding, bad hitters, and lots of offense. He's won all four games, but that's because the Braves have scored 34 runs for him in those starts. The main problem is that when Tommy takes the mound, it's almost a certainty he's going to give up hits and stolen bases, and he's going to overtax the bullpen. That has to change, because the better teams will take advantage of those baserunners down the stretch.

Today, the best recovery story in baseball takes the mound. Ben Sheets goes against Matt LeBlanc from Friends. Oh no wait, it's Wade LeBlanc out of Alabama. I think Matt LeBlanc probably has a better straight change. He's replacing the emotional bomb in Zambrano. That's a shame, because I was looking forward to the inevitable mental breakdown/explosion/arrest/jailtime. Leblanc is a lefty making his first start of the year, so let's greet him with a barrage of homers. Nothing says welcome to Atlanta like Heyward taking you deep.

Go Braves!