Monday, June 8, 2015

Bye Bye Pirates, Hello Padres (And Some Familiar Faces)



The Braves didn't manage the series against the Pirates very well, and I have some severe criticisms of how Fredi Gonzalez managed the games as well. I'm not a kill the manager guy, and I frankly don't harbor the hate for Fredi that other Braves fans do. But I will point out when he does something stupid, because the manager job is not supposed to be complicated. And when you make it unduly complicated I will call you out.

Game 1 saw Williams Perez finally look like the replacement level pitcher that I've expected to see for a while now. That's not to say he can't be better, but this game was a clunker for him, going 5 innings with 4 runs due mostly to a 3-run homer by Starling Marte in the 5th. The problem wasn't the 5 hits. The problem for Perez was the 5 walks. That's a WHIP of 2.00 in the game, and that's a recipe for disaster. But Perez was bailed out by the Braves offense thanks to four runs, mostly courtesy of Pierzynski hits.

But here's Fredi Gonzalez mistake number one of this series. Brandon Cunniff came into the game in the 6th inning to relieve Perez. Cunniff pitched to 2 hitters, with 9 pitches, 6 of them strikes. He got both outs and the bases are clear. He's absolutely fine out there and doing a rare thing for the bullpen lately which is to throw strikes with a clean sheet. But what does Fredi do with 2 outs? He goes to Avilan because of lefty-righty match-ups. That's absurd. When your bullpen is struggling and it's obvious you have a functional guy out there, you don't yank him with one out left in the inning. But that's what Fredi did, Avilan came in cold, walked a guy, and gave up a 2-run homer to make it 6-4 Pirates.

That was basically your ballgame, even though the Braves rallied back some. Uribe made it 6-5 with a RBI single, but the Pirates struck back in the 8th because of Fredi mistake #2 in this game. What mistake was that? He left Trevor Cahill in the game for an extra inning with a 1-run deficit. Trevor Cahill sucks. Unequivocally. I will barely ever say that about a player because almost everyone on an MLB roster does something well. But not Cahill. He blows and needs to go away. And by a freaking miracle he made it through the 7th inning unscratched, even though he should only be coming in with 3 run deficits or 5 run leads. So after playing reliever pinball in the 6th, Fredi inexplicably lets our worst pitcher go out for a second inning, and Cahill gets shelled for 3 runs. 9-5 Pirates, and the game would end up being a 10-8 loss for the Braves.

Game 2 actually saw Julio Teheran look better pitching, but the results were just as frustrating as before. My problem with Julio continues to be placement, but he seemed to be getting better in this game early on at getting his fastball to go where he wanted. The Braves struck first with some early runs thanks to a Chris Johnson homer and a Freddie Freeman sac-fly. But then Julio made a mistake to Andrew McCutchen (NOT the guy you want to make a mistake to), and the ball left the yard 412 feet later to tie the game at 2-2. Fredi G tried to leave Teheran in as long as he could since the bullpen is a disaster, but with 2 straight singles in the 8th, Julio was done. Jim Johnson couldn't hold off the Pirates getting a hit with 2 outs, and they tied the game again at 4-4.

Jason Grilli actually made an appearance in this game in the 9th and blew away the Pirates to keep it tied. It was great to see Grilli get the appearance, and even better to see him do what he did on the mound after a long rest. But the best was yet to come as young Christian Bethancourt, a much maligned player by people like myself, managed to smash a shot down the right field line that just barely snuck over the wall inside the foul pole, and the Braves won 5-4 in a walkoff. That wasn't C-Beth's only hit though, he had himself the best day of his career, going 3/4 with the homer and 2 RBIs.

Game 3 wasn't much to write home about offensively. The Braves not only got skunked by Gerrit Cole, the Pirates ace, but they also got plunked twice and did nothing about it. Oh, and Alex Wood got ejected after the 5th inning for arguing balls and strikes with the umpire on the way to the dugout. And here's Fredi Gonzalez mistake #3 of the series, he did absolutely nothing. Alex Wood didn't curse, didn't get in the umps face, and had literally turned to walk away when he was ejected. It wasn't close to fair. Did Fredi defend his player and argue the ejection? No. Did he get ejected himself? No. Did he support Alex in the post-game comments? No. What he did do was say Alex couldn't get ejected there. WELL NO CRAP, FREDI! Glad you managed to understand that. Now your job as the manager is to show umpires they can't do that to your players without seeing your Hellfire. But you're not Bobby, and I guess you didn't learn the lessons that made him a first ballot Hall of Famer. Right or wrong, you support your guys, and our team looked like candyasses in this loss 3-0 to the Pirates. PLUNK SOMEBODY, GET EJECTED, DO SOMETHING! Act like you aren't gonna take it!

<deep breath>

I'm fine. I'll get over it. It's just, man, that frustrates the hell out of me as a fan, and as a guy who likes to watch good baseball. Anyway, we lost the series so there's no 3 Things I liked. Instead, here's some neutral thoughts.
  1. Julio looks better - The results aren't there yet, but he went deeper, his armslot looks better, and his velocity on the fastball was back up in the low 90s. I like his progression and if he keeps it up the numbers will match it.
  2. Uribe is much better than I thought - Uribe is probably riding a tide that will fall off at some point, but for now he went 4/12 with a double, and 2 RBIs in the Pirates series. I think we may have fleeced the Dodgers and the Cardinals in one year.
  3. Bullpen is still a disaster - How many runs did we give up in the pen this series? Let me get my abacus. Uh...looks like 6 were earned, but I'd add 2 more for the ones Jim Johnson gave up that got credited to Julio. Either way, they blew game one, and that's the difference between winning and losing the series.
Honorable mention for the MVP nod, since there is no MVP when we lose a series, goes to Bethancourt. He hit his first homer and it was a walk-off. Getcha some, young gun. I hope he continues to hit, but I fear with his swing until he makes some serious adjustments, that's not going to happen soon.

So in the efforts of combining recaps and previews, and also making these articles longer than ever before, let's jump into the 4 gamer with the Padres! Here are the matchups:

Game 1 - Miller v. Kennedy
Game 2 - Foltynewicz v. Shields
Game 3 - Perez v. Ross
Game 4 - Teheran v. Cashner

At this point you know that all our starting pitchers have been doing fairly well, or at the very least they aren't the problem. So let's focus more on the opposing pitchers and take a look at the hitter matchups. Ian Kennedy has an ERA that's ballooned to 6.60 on the year with a WHIP at 1.47, and 5 losses on his record in 9 starts. The Padres as a team have only won 3 games when he's taken the mound. Also, Freddie Freeman absolutely crushes this guy to the tune of 6/10 with a bomb and 2 doubles. Look for Kennedy to pitch around Freddie, which means guys like Markakis and Maybin will have to surround him with some hits to force the issue. Other than that? Let Shelby dominate and give him some runs.

Game 2 we get the Padres best pitcher, 7-0 James Shields with his 3.58 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. His record is impressive for a guy in the mid-3's on ERA, which honestly means I wouldn't pay that much attention to it, or get discouraged by it. He's been getting tons of run support, which I DO worry about with a guy like Folty on the mound who is a rookie. Nick Markakis has tons of experience against Shields, and he's hit him really well with a .841 OPS in over 70 plate appearances. His approach and tips should help other hitters in the lineup who haven't seen him as much. Also, keep an eye on Juan Uribe in this game if he plays. He could be the key with some power against Shields.

Game 3 is Tyson Ross, who has an ERA near Shields at 3.75, but his WHIP is much higher at 1.51. You know what I say about WHIPs that get over 1.50, you're begging for trouble. The fact his ERA is actually under 4.00 with that kind of WHIP number is something of a miracle. But Ross has strikeout stuff, and he can get himself out of jams with no contact if he gets into big trouble. The key for the Braves in this game will be to capitalize when Ross puts runners on. If they can put the ball in play and amass a few RISP hits? Ross will implode and the Braves will win.

Game 4 is against Andrew Cashner, and he's a greasefire right now. In his last 3 outings, Cashner has been progressively worse giving up 3, then 5, and finally 7 runs. Yet somehow, the Padres won 2 of those 3 games. Why? Because their offense has been hitting on all cylinders. Again, look for Juan Uribe in this game since he's had some really good luck off Cashner. I'd like to see him be the key again. Also, bear in mind that Julio has been traditionally bad against SD with a 1-2 record and 5.79 ERA. But remember that this lineup for the Padres is brand new, and oh yeah! Guess who is in the building? BJ/Melvin/Crappy Upton has been activated. So he might sneak into one or more of these games. Boo him roundly.

This series is really going to come down to the bullpen stopping the bleeding, and keeping San Diego from getting tons of runners on base. Because this Padres team is silently a top 5 in the MLB offense in scoring runs. Yes, you read that right. The reason you never hear about them much is because they are scoring all those runs without the benefit of homers. Remind you of anyone? That means keeping them from dinking and dunking us to death will be key, and the bullpen has done a really poor job of that lately. Shore it up boys.

CPA Predictions:

What's that Haters? That's the sound of the CPA going 3-0 on the series! AWWW YEAH! Too bad it predicted a Braves series loss, but still. Small victories for the prediction metric. The CPA is now 20-31 on the year, and it just needs to keep climbing. Step by step. Day by day. A fresh start over, a different hand to play. Bonus points if you know what that lyric is from. If you were born in the 80s, you probably do.

Game 1 - Braves by 3
Game 2 - San Diego by 1 (very close here)
Game 3 - Braves by 1
Game 4 - San Diego by 1

The CPA likes a split in the 4-gamer, with the 2nd game being a swing game. It's basically 52-48% for and against the Braves in that second match. So if the Braves can make that a Win? Maybe they walk way with a 3-game series win. Hopefully!

GO BRAVES!

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