No were not talking about poker. Were talking about the Atlanta Braves starting rotation. Which right now some people are starting to doubt. Personally I may take their side in this debate, as the offense appears to be showing some signs of life and the bullpen is very solid. Yes the offense was shut down by Matt Cain last night, but over all they have been showing signs of improvement. Uggla and Freeman have been hitting the ball extremely well and we’ll let McCann get readjusted to being back in the starting line, then we can make a final judgement call.
For the first half of the season the starting rotation carried this team. They were arguably the best rotation in all of baseball, lead by ace pitcher Jair Jurrjens. I am a firm believer that every team needs an ace. And by ace I don’t necessarily mean a top 5 pitcher in all of baseball. Obviously there are only so many “great” pitchers available for the taking. When I use the word ace, I am referring to a clear cut #1 starter in your rotation. Not 2 or 3 guys that are decent and could probably pitch in a big game down the stretch. Probably won’t get it done come playoff time. By the end of Sept, if not before you need to have all of your roles established. This includes having your #1 starter defined. You only get one shot at playing game 1 in each series. The ever so crucial game 1 dictates the out come quite often. It’s your first chance to jump out in front of the opposing team and make a statement. It’s a game you want your ace on the mound for. Well what if you don’t have a clear cut ace? Well I firmly believe that this leads to confusion and hesitant decision making when determining your rotation in October. You can’t afford to have a wait and see type attitude. Or a “play it by ear” approach.
So that leads me to my next question. Do the Braves have a clear cut ace? The kind of pitcher who can stop a losing streak or take the mound in game 1 of the World Series? If this Braves team lives up to it’s potential, the potential that we all see in this team then they will be forced to put a guy out there in either game 1 of the NLCS or possilby game 1 of the World Series. Who should they turn to?
If we had asked ourselves this same question just 30 days prior to this we would have come to an immediate conclusion. Jair Jurrjens is our ace. He’s the guy we want on the mound come October. With an outstanding ERA of just 1.89 at the All Star break I don’t think anyone would have argued or even debated the fact that Jurrjens was the best pitcher on this staff. Now, do we still feel the same way? I’m not so sure. I’m not one to jump on and off band wagons but to be quite honest Jurrjens doesn’t look like the same pitcher. It’s not just that he’s not getting the same types of results but it appears that his confidence his way down. He’s not his spots and he’s just not able to get big outs in crucial situations. He looks like a completely different guy in the second half of the season.
Jurrjens as I’ve mentioned in prior articles is not a guy who likes to pitch hurt. He likes to be healthy when he takes the mound, he needs to be healthy to make good things happen. We’ve seen the difference between a healthy Jurrjens and an injury plagued Jurrjens. They are as different as night and day. It’s not easy to play hurt, I’m not saying it is. But when you think of some of the game’s best pitchers, they are willing to go out there and lay it all on the line. Is Jurrjens willing to do that? Is he a big game pitcher? I’m not sold on this idea.
In the second half of the season Jurrjens has seen his ERA jump from 1.87 all the way up to 2.84. I’m not saying 2.84 is a horrible ERA, just like I’m not saying his 12-5 record isn’t respectable. None of those statements would be accurate. He has a very strong record and a solid ERA. The only thing I’m pointing out is the massive jump up. His ERA is up almost a full run since the All Star break and he’s only made 5 starts. Not to mention if he hadn’t had a stellar outing against Pittsburgh on the 27th of July where he went 7 strong innings only allowing 1 earned run, his ERA would really be in the gutter. That was his only decent start since the All Star break.
This article is not intended to bash Jair Jurrjens. That’s not my intention, in fact Jurrjens is probably one of my favorite players on this Braves team. I think he wants to win badly, he wants to be that ace pitcher. He’s very young and has great stuff. The future could still be very bright for Mr. Jurrjens. My job as a writer is to pose questions. And this is my question to you. Could Tim Hudson be the ace of this staff as we head down the stretch run? Because I think he can.
Hudson is 4-1 in his 7 starts since the All Star break. He’s gone at least 7 innings in all of those starts and his ERA has dropped from 3.44 down to 3.13. To be a premier pitcher in this league I believe you need to have an ERA of under 3.00. That to me shows dominance and Hudson is nearing that level right now.
Let’s put it this way. His worst start since the All Star break was against the Pirates. He went 7.0 innings. Gave up 5 hits and allowed 3 runs. He got tagged for the loss in that game, his only loss since the break. If that’s your worst start of the 2nd half then you should be pretty proud of yourself Tim Hudson.
The Braves as a team are 5-2 in the starts Hudson has made in the 2nd half. The 2 starts that Hudson wasn’t able to win, the Braves lost those games 3-2 and 3-1 respectively. Not exactly the best run support for Hudson but he still managed to keep them in the game. Hudson also has a fair amount of playoff experience. He’s been to the playoffs 4 times with Oakland and 3 times with Atlanta. He’s appeared in 10 playoff games and has made 9 post season starts. He holds a 1-3 career record with a respectable 3.46era. Now I will admit that Hudson has never pitched past the Divisional Round. So I can’t say he’s a sure bet on the mound in Game 1 of the World Series but some experience is there. Jurrjens, who I know is 11 years younger then Hudson has never pitched under the bright lights of October. He was absent during last years playoff series against the Giants. Hudson however was present during last years battle with the Giants and pitched a stellar game for Atlanta. He went 7 full innings allowing just 1 earned run. If you remember he was the game 3 pitcher who was locked in that duel with Sanchez and was not helped in any way by Brooks Conrad’s lack of fielding ability.
I’m not trying to be a band wagon jumper. I’m not jumping on Hudson because he’s the “hot” pitcher right now. I can however see Tim Hudson being the game 1 starter in the playoffs. I think Fredi likes his experience and right now he is the best pitcher we have. If you were to choose one Braves pitcher to take the mound in a game that decided the fate of this planet, wouldn’t you pick Tim Hudson? I know I would.
By: Bob McVinua
This series could not have started off any better for the Atlanta Braves. There certainly seems to be a lot of magic inside the Ted as of late with back to back walk off wins for the Bravos. Any time you can win close games it gives your team a boost and at the same time begins to slowly suck the life out of the opposing ball club. Heart breaking loses on back to back nights must be eating the Giants a live. To know that they could easily be 4.0 games back instead of 6.0 must be a tough pill to swallow.
Game 2 of this series marked the return of young Randall Delgado, who was making just his 2nd start of the year. His previous outing this season was against the Texas Rangers, a team that in Delgado’s defense is a very good hitting ball club. He managed to go 4 innings while giving up 3 earned runs on 7 hits. Not a terrible outing but he was certainly looking to impress the Braves management this time out and he certainly made a statement.
Delgado went 6.0 innings. Giving up just 1 run on 1 hit. He walked just one batter and struck out 4. Not to mention that the kid had a no hitter going into the 7th inning. Unfortunately it just wasn’t meant to be as Cody Ross lead off the 7th inning with a long home run down the right field line, which certainly let the air out of Turner Field.
For the rookie pitcher it was a disappointing end to what had been a magical night. Cruising a long through the first 6 innings with a very reasonable pitch count. The tough part to swallow for Braves fans was that Delgado would not be able to earn the “W” after his outstanding efforts. The Braves just couldn’t muster any offense against the Giants bullpen who were forced to enter the game in just the 3rd inning due to an ankle injury suffered by Sanchez.
In the bottom of the 3rd inning Delgado would prove that he could handle the bat a little bit, helping himself out at the plate. Constanza reached base ahead of him and Delgado was able to successfully sacrifice him over to 2nd. That was a huge play as the next Braves batter Michael Bourn would single him home to give the Braves an early 1-0 lead. That run proved to big, as this game would be tied at the end of 9 with the score being just 1-1. If Delgado doesn’t lay down that bunt to move Constanza over to 2nd maybe the Giants win this game 1-0 and even up the series.
Now again I find myself writing a recap of the game which you’ve all already seen and heard about. So let’s get onto my take on this ball game. I noticed 2 things that were hurting the Braves as the game went a long.
The first one was horrible base running. It started with Michael Bourn trying to get to 2nd base on his RBI single that scored Constanza in the 3rd inning. Now as you read my articles you will notice a trend. I try to never criticize a player for striking out or giving up a home run on the mound. If I could out play these guys then I’d be on the field, not behind a computer writing articles. I love the game of baseball but am no where near the level of a major league player. One of my pet peeves is writers who criticize players for the physical part of the game when we know darn well that they couldn’t do any better themselves. However I will critique players on 2 things. Those things being effort and decision making. I know the game well enough to justify a comment on a decision being made. Just because I couldn’t actually steal that base I’m well aware of when a good time to steal is. I hope you guys will respect me for that and appreciate the fact that I’m not a critic on things that I can not do myself.
Bourn’s base running blunder was a mistake for one simple reason. Constanza was the guy rounding 3rd and heading for home. Ross had NO chance of throwing him out and I believe that the infielders were well aware of this as well. I was fully expecting that ball to be cut off which would mean I wouldn’t have tried to get to 2nd base. Granted Bourn put in a great effort once he got in the run down, the point is he was hung out to dry when attempting to get to 2nd base. If that base runner is Chipper Jones, Brian McCann or even Dan Uggla and you know that throw is going to make it to the catcher, then yes by all means try to take the extra base. Always consider the runner when making this decision.
The next two are actually worse then the base running mistake mentioned above. In the innings to follow Brian McCann our home town hero got caught napping at first base. Where was his head at? He looked like he was on another planet. The routine pick off by Mota caught McCann completely off guard ending the inning. I have 2 issues with this play. The first is that McCann is not a base stealer by any means. Why was he napping out there? It’s not as if he was thinking about swiping the bag and making sure he had a good lead to do so. That couldn’t have been the case. The other issue is that Freeman was at the plate. A guy who could easily put the ball either in the gap or over the wall. That’s not the time to be getting picked off. That’s such a rally killer because it was an out given to the other team.
Freeman would eventually be guilty of bad base running himself. Smacking a ball down the line in the later innings he got a little to anxious when rounding 1st and got caught being too far off the bag. The Giants made a heads up play seeing that Freeman had taken such a wide turn and nailed him at first base.
Between all 3 of those base running plays the Braves gave away 3 outs. That’s a full half inning of baseball. In a sense they were only playing with 8 innings worth of outs if you think about it. The other thing the Braves continued to do was play to the pace of their pitcher. What I mean by that is they were going down at the plate as fast as Delgado was setting them down the Giants hitters. Were they eager to get the game over with? Did they think the 1-0 lead would be enough for the win? Or maybe since Delgado was cruising along they thought they would just keep the game moving and not leave him sitting in the dugout? Could be 100% coincidence but the Braves hitters were first or second pitch swinging almost every at bat for 3 or 4 innings straight. I think they should have tried to work the count against that Giants bullpen.
So what can we expect from game 3 tonight? Well the Braves will have a healthy Jair Jurrjens on the mound. The thing to keep in mind about Jurrjens is that this is not a guy who likes to pitch hurt. When he’s sore or hurting his performances goes way down. We saw the drop off in production from him last year when he was battling some injuries. That would explain why he’s been struggling since the all-star break. Maybe he just needed a couple of weeks to get healthy. This would be a huge win for Atlanta as it would clinch a series win and give them a dominating 6-0 record against the defending world champions.
What can we expect from the Giants? I don’t know how this team can not be hurting inside after letting 2 straight games get away from them. This can only be to Atlanta’s advantage but we’ll see how much heart this Giants team really has. After putting both Romo and Beltran on the DL yesterday this team is really banged up. Injuries are apart of the game and this club will need to respond in some way shape or form. If they don’t they will find themselves 7.0 out of the Wild Card and that’s dangerous territory as we head into the middle of Aug. The Giants bullpen will be strapped for the rest of this series. They pitched almost 8 full innings last night. There’s no way anyone can tell me that Bouchy won’t be hesitant to go to that pen tonight. They will need an all star effort from right hander Matt Cain if they want to have any shot of winning tonight.
By: Bob McVinua
I’m normally not one for doing game recaps as you can probably tell. I figure that you guys get enough of that from ESPN and MLB Network. On the rare occasion that I do a game recap, I like to at least point out some of the less obvious occurrences. Last nights battle between the Braves and Giants felt like a playoff game. It was truly amazing the tension between the two teams who were playing a game in the middle of Aug, not the middle of October.
Games as good as the one we saw last night deserve a closer look to see if we got any information that might give us an indication or two that one team has the edge. On one swing of the bat Freeman altered the Wild Card standings by 2 full games. This goes right back to the point I made in the previous article, head to head games are critical to your success when in a playoff race. At the end of each game the standings will be altered in one way or another, they can never stay the same as in the case of both teams getting a win when they are involved in two different series. When Freeman hit that ball up the middle scoring the game tying and game winning runs he gave the Braves a 5.0 game Wild Card lead. However let’s picture a different scenario. What if that ball had been a line drive to the 2nd basemen? The out is recorded and now the Giants are facing only a 3.0 game deficit in the Wild Card standings. Clutch hitting for Freeman did the Braves a lot of good in more ways then one.
For some of us it seemed as if Hudson just didn’t have his best stuff last night and to be honest I agree. However it wasn’t quite as bad as it appeared. When Hudson took the mound in the 4th inning he must have been feeling pretty good about himself. He had been able to escape some early trouble and had put 3 zero’s on the board to start the game. The 4th inning would not be nearly as kind to Hudson. Let’s break it down.
The 4th inning was where the Giants were able to tie the game without even recording a single hit. Hudson was not able to make them work for their runs, it was more of a hand out if you ask me. Bourn opened the inning with a huge error in center field. That allowed the lead off man to reach base. The difference that made was huge. Instead of one out and no one on, Hudson had a runner on first with no outs and the feeling in the pit of his stomach that he knew Bourn should have made that play and didn’t. Errors get in pitchers heads, I don’t care how good they are. Hudson would show some of that frustration when he proceeded to walk the following batter and then hit the one after that. The Giants would follow with 2 sac flies to tie the game. Not a single hit was recorded, yet the Giants were able to tie the game.
To make matters worse for the Braves, they continued to allow the Giants to get quick and easy runs. I’m not dismissing the long ball in any way shape or form. However it’s a quick strike attack that doesn’t require any real work. Compare that to a lead off man drawing a walk. Stealing second. Getting bunted over to 3rd. Then scoring on a sac fly. That’s small ball, that’s what I mean by “working” for a run. We didn’t make the Giants do that. They used our own weapon against us. They had home runs by Schierholtz and Fontenot that provided them with a 4-2 lead. All 4 runs were not hard to come by.
The other big story was the Braves being able to get runs off Brian Wilson. This isn’t the first time that the Braves had been able to score off Wilson. It was Nate McLouth who drove in a pair of runs against Wilson earlier in the year when the Braves traveled out west. In the post season last year Alex Gonzalez hammered an RBI double off of Wilson. It’s quite apparent that the Braves do not “fear the beard”. Which to me says that the Braves have taken away one of the Giants biggest strengths. If I’m aware of what the Braves have done against Wilson I’m sure he is equally aware and it must be in his head when he takes the mound against Atlanta.
So how did the Braves score 3 runs off one of the best closers in the league? Well Constanza started off the inning with an infield single. Once again the team speed of the Braves came through in a big way. Eric Hinske would follow with a good at bat, as he would draw a walk putting two men on with no outs. Now Wilson started to panic a little bit. You could see it in his face that he almost had a “here we go again” type look on his face. Bourn then laid down the sac bunt and moved the runners up to 2nd and 3rd with only 1 out. I liked this play from Fredi for a few reasons. One, I like having 2 runners in scoring position with only 1 out. Two very capable hitters were following Bourn in the order and I liked that Fredi eliminated the double play possibility and put his team in a position where a base hit could tie the game. Second, Bourn handles the bat very well. There was even a chance that he could beat out the bunt if the ball ended up in the right place on the infield.
Prado would follow with a clutch hit to score 1 run, Lugo had to be held up at 3rd base. Part of me cringed a little bit because with Wilson you need to score when you have the chance, but at the same time I understand that you can’t risk having a man gunned down at the plate either. McCann would draw a walk, showing good patience at the plate. Uggla despite being red hot was unable to drive in the run from 3rd. Freeman who showed great confidence for a rookie had an awesome at bat. If you guys remember he was down 1-2 in the count. Wilson was only a strike away from ending the game. By Freeman working the count full, he allowed himself to get a pitch to hit. Wilson had to throw a strike, as walking in the tying run was not an option. Freeman took that pitch and drove it up the middle for a base hit which ended the game. An outstanding finish to an outstanding game.
Now I have 2 opinions on this game. Why wasn’t Chipper Jones in the line up? This was clearly a big game as you could feel it in the atmosphere, how could he be sitting on the bench? If you remember Chipper was the first and only guy to call out Jason Heyward for not being out on the field when the team needed him most. He said Jason at 80% is better then most guys at 100%. Chipper could have played last night and chose not to. Chipper has been my favorite player since I was 8 years old. I grew up wearing a Chipper Jones jersey to school in Connecticut where there are only Mets and Yankees fans. I love this guy, there is no doubt about it. I think most Braves fans love him, but think about this. If it was anyone else, would you tolerate it? If this was Dan Uggla choosing to not play because he was sore, would that be OK? Or what if it was Prado or Bourn? Does Chipper have the right to sit out whenever he wants? I know he wants another shot to win a ring, that part is obvious but he needs to be on the field more. If this continues then it might have to be his last season, it’s almost not fair to the team.
My second thought on this game is that not one person has mentioned Christhian Martinez. I know your giving me a weird look through your computer screen but what a nice job this guy did in the top of the 9th inning. A lot of people thought that game was over, Wilson was coming in with a 2 run lead there was no way the Braves would come back. Martinez could have pitched a sloppy inning assuming the game was over but he didn’t. He showed heart and went out there and put a zero on the board. If he had given up just 1 run then that game could have been tied and going into extra’s where anything could have happened. I give him a lot of credit for keeping us in the game.
Other Notes: The Braves are now 4-0 against the Giants this year. With a win against them last night the Braves clinched the season series even if they were to lose the next 3 games. Even if they were to win just one of the next 3 games then they would still finish with a 5-2 record against the Giants which isn’t too shabby.
The Braves got away with only using Hudson and Martinez in last nights game. That means none of the big 3 had to pitch last night. A night off for O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel is a very rare thing. This should mean that they will all be fresh and available for tonight’s game. The bullpen might be more readily used tonight as the Braves are throwing rookie Randall Delgado. I say if Delgado can give us 5 solid innings I’ll take it.
By: Bob McVinua
There will certainly be a playoff like atmosphere at Turner Field over the course of the next 4 days. The Braves will host the Giants in what will be a very important series for both teams. As we all remember there’s a bit of history between these two teams as the last time the Giants left Turner Field they were celebrating a series win and moving onto the National League Championship Series. The stakes are not quite as high this time around but clearly this is a big series. I’d like to preview the series a little bit and give you an idea of what it could mean for both teams.
The first thing we need to examine is that the playoffs could be greatly affected by this series. Both teams have exactly 41 games remaining on their schedule and a major swing in one direction or another could play a huge role in who makes the playoffs and who goes home. Head to head games are the quickest and most efficient way to make up ground in the standings or to expand your lead if your the front runner in either a Wild Card or Divisional race. These series matter.
Where do these 2 teams stand within their own division? Well the Braves currently sit 9.0 behind the front running Phillies. With 41 games left and a near double digit deficit in the standings the Braves will certainly be counting on the Wild Card as their best to shot to make the playoffs. The Giants have a little bit more traction in their quest to climb the playoff mountain. They trail the Diamond Backs by only 2.0 games in the National League West. So I suppose you could look at this as the Giants having 2 outs to make the post season and the Braves looking as if they only have one.
Now what does this series mean to these teams in a head to head aspect? Well the Braves currently hold a 4.0 game lead over the Giants in the National League Wild Card standings. The Braves have seen their lead dip from 6.0 to 4.0 games in just a matter of 2 days as they were not able to finish off the Cub’s series on a positive note. So a 4.0 game lead is not safe by any means. However it does give the Braves the firm upper hand in this match up. The pressure is always on the team that’s trailing in the standings. If the Giants were to sweep this series the worse possible scenario would be that the two teams would be tied for the Wild Card lead. Now if the Braves were to sweep the Giants they would then be 8.0 games out and on the verge of elimination as there only be 37 games left in the season.
I would like to put a slightly different spin on the perspective above. Yes the Braves are the home team in this series. Yes they have a 4 game lead in the Wild Card standings. It appears that the Braves have all the outside aspects in their favor. However we must dig a little deeper to realize the true importance of this series.
The Brave have a 4.0 game lead over the Giants. What about the Cardinals? They are currently sitting just 5.0 games behind the Braves and 1.0 game behind the Giants. A disastrous series for the Braves would not only mean the Giants would be back in this race but it would also mean that the Cardinals would have an opportunity to creep back into it as well. The last thing the Braves want is for this Wild Card race to involve 3 teams. That just makes everything more complicated. Your not just score board watching 1 team, your now keeping track of 2 teams. This would be a great series to make a statement and win 3 of 4 and expand this lead by 2 games. I’d like to see the Braves exit this series with a 6.0 Wild Card lead. That’s what I think needs to happen. At worst they need to split and keep the lead where it is.
Other notes. The Giants play 31 of their remaining 41 games against below .500 teams. The Braves and Diamond Backs are the only exceptions. They have 4 games remaining with Atlanta and 3 with Arizona. The schedule down the stretch will favor the Giants. That’s certainly something that needs to be remembered.
Other notes. The Braves will be throwing rookie pitcher Randall Delgado in game 2. Hanson is back on the disabled list for 15 days. First we saw Mike Minor make a return to the major leagues and now were going to get another look at Randall Delgado. Are the Braves having open auditions for the Lowe’s spot in the rotation? Hudson, Delgado and Jurrjens are the scheduled starters for the first 3 games of this series. Game 4 has a TBD next to it for the Braves. What does this mean exactly? Will Lowe get the start or will they go with Mike Minor?
It will be interesting to see how this series plays out for the Braves. I think we have a few question marks that need to be answered. How will Randall Delgado perform under the pressure of a big series? Who will pitch game 4 in this series for the Braves? Whoever they do call upon should take it as a sign of trust. If they do take Mike Minor over Derek Lowe then I say Lowe’s days could be numbered.
By: Bob McVinua