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
Well it’s Saturday August 13th and as I’m sure you’re starting to notice Chop Talk never takes a day off. Just because it’s the weekend doesn’t mean there isn’t significant baseball news to report. Despite the fact that it’s only the middle of August the one thing on all baseball fan’s minds is this, playoff baseball.
Is your team in? Or is your team falling out of the race? If your going to make a move in the standings your time is starting to run out just a bit. A lot of the division battles are becoming 2 team races. The National League Central is down to a 2 team race as the Reds and Pirates have pretty much played their way out of it and the same can be said of the Rockies in the West Division.
With that being said, where do our Atlanta Braves stack up in all of this? Well the Braves find themselves in a comfortable but not optimal place in the standings. Yes they are the Wild Card leaders by 6.0 full games. However they have also suffered large set backs within the division. Since the All-Star break the Braves have lost a lot of ground to the powerhouse Phillies and find themselves 7.5 games back.s
So naturally baseball fans are beginning to figure out the different playoff scenarios that could possibly occur. Well as we speak the standings look just like this:
NL East: Phillies 77-41 Braves 70-49 (7.5 out)
NL Central: Brewers 68-51 Cardinals 64-55 (4.0 out)
NL West: Diamondbacks 66-53 Giants 64-55 (2.0 out)
NL Wild Card: Braves 70-49 Cardinals 64-55 (6.0 out) Giants 64-55 (6.0 out)
So if the playoffs started tomorrow the Braves would be headed to Milwaukee to face the Brewers in a 5 games series. Yes the Brewers have Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun but the one thing they are lacking is a winning record against the Braves. Atlanta has gone 5-3 against the Brewers including a 4 game sweep in May.
Now for better or worse the playoffs won’t start tomorrow no matter how much we wish they would. So what other scenarios could the Braves find themselves in. Well winning the National League East would almost guarantee that the Braves would have the best record in the National League and would give them home field advantage. Is this possible? It’s probably not the most likely scenario out there but it’s definitely possible. I realize that the Phillies and their fans both think the division is theirs. However the Braves have 6 games left against the Phillies and currently sit 7.5 games out. If they want to have any chance of winning the division then they will have to take advantage of those head to head meetings. Both of these final two series will take place next month. The first one will be in Philadelphia taking place Sept 5th-7th and the second one will be in Atlanta the last series of the season. I’d say for the Braves to have a legit chance to win the division they would have to go 4-2 if not 5-1 in these two series. Not impossible by any means. Currently the Braves have a 5-5 record against Philadelphia. So no matter what the Phillies say or think they have not proven they can beat us in head to head meetings.
The Diamondbacks are exactly 2 games behind the Brewers. If Arizona was to win the National League West and have a superior record to Milwaukee, the Braves would head to Chase Field to start the playoffs. How do the Braves match up with the Diamondbacks? Well to the naked eye some would say not to good. Were sporting a 0-2 record against Arizona this season and that field has always been a place of horrors for Atlanta. Now I want to pose this question to my readers. Since when does a 2 game series serve as any evidence that one team is better then the other? We have a series coming up with Arizona that will be played at Turner Field starting the 19th and running through the 21st of August. That should give us a better idea of how we match up with these Diamondbacks.
Other playoff match ups could include the Giants who are currently just 2.0 games behind the Diamondbacks in the National League West and the Cardinals who sit a modest 4.0 games back of the Brewers in the National League Central. With the Braves having a healthy 6.0 game lead in the Wild Card despite their injury troubles I can’t see the Giants or Cardinals passing them for the Wild Card spot. When Jurrjens, Hanson and McCann rejoin the team I think that the Braves will slowly pull away. Just for the record the Braves currently hold a 1-2 record against the Cardinals and a very impressive 3-0 record vs the Giants.
Very simply put I’d like to see the Braves get matched up with either the Brewers or the Diamondbacks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Brewers have a lot of fire power in their offense but we have proven that we can beat them by posting a 5-3 record against them this season, which includes a 4 game sweep at Turner Field. Which brings me to my next point. The Brewers have have an atrocious 26-36 record on the road. Yes if the Braves play them as the Wild Card team then Milwaukee will have home field advantage but at some point they will have to leave the friendly confines of Miller Park and will have to hit the road. When they do the Braves would take full advantage of this weakness winning BOTH games at Turner Field. Which means they would just have to steal one game on the road. Great pitching beats great hitting when it comes to the playoffs.
As far as Arizona is concerned this is a great story for baseball. A true underdog team making the playoffs always gets people excited. However this team has NO playoff experience at all. Their pitching is not deep enough to carry them to a series victory against Atlanta and they would most likely crack under the pressure. The playoffs are a completely different world then the regular season. The Braves would bring playoff experience and a better pitch staff to the table. Arizona would lose that series in 4 games.
Now of course the other side of the coin is the 2 teams I’d prefer NOT to play. Those teams would include the Giants and the Cardinals. The Giants proved last year that they have what it takes to win the World Series. They didn’t get past the Braves, Phillies and Rangers by accident. Their pitching may be up and down over the course of the regular season but the Braves found out first hand last year what it’s like to see Tim Lincecum on the mound come October. I’d prefer to avoid the Giants pitching and scrappy offense. They know how to win and I don’t want to chance it.
The Cardinals are another team that I do NOT want to see come playoff time. Tony LaRussa is one of the all time great managers. This guy is a proven winner and is more then capable of willing his team to a series win. Not to mention the murder’s row that they have sitting in the middle of their order. Pujols, Holliday and Berkman can do a lot of damage very quickly. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and seem to be picking up steam. Their pitching isn’t what it used to be but it’s plenty good enough to win games with the kind of offense they posses. Busch Stadium is also a very difficult place to play come playoff time. They have great fans and it’s a spacious ball park that the Cardinals are used to playing in. The Braves actually travel to St. Louis for a series that runs from Sept 9th – Sept 11th. That will give us an indicator to how we’d fair there in a playoff series.
By: Bob McVinua