Philadelphia – We’re going to guess that the resounding opening-night win for the Braves on Sunday probably made the off day Monday a whole lot nicer for the Braves/MIB blog denizens, as it undoubtedly did for Bobby Cox and his team.
But with the parachutists and World Series banner-raising and ESPN’s single-game focus out of the way, it’s time to get down to the regular grind portion of the schedule, beginning with Round … err, Game 2 tonight against the Phillies and Jair Jurrjens vs. ancient lefty Jamie Moyer, who’s literally twice J.J.’s age.
Don’t know if most of you noticed how unusually pleasant (for Philly in early April) that the weather was on opening night, but it’s gone now. Replaced by the sort of chilly greyness we expect (hey, we like the city, but not the weather).
This was a good start.
Sure, he had a promising spring, striking out only five times (three of those K’s in the last week) and hitting for a high average. But until late in the spring, he didn’t hit any balls out of the ballpark. And besides, hitting for a high average in Grapefruit League games is one thing, doing it here is another.
So for Francoeur to turn on that inside fastball and power it to the left-field seats, a ferocious line drive that seemed like it took only a fraction fo a second to get out … well, that was big stuff for him and the Braves.
“He’s a huge key for us,” Bobby Cox said after Sunday’s game. “We’re predominantly left-handed, and we need that [Francoeur's right-handed power] in the middle of the order, behind Mac and [Garret] Anderson. We need that badly.”
Francoeur’s homer was on the first pitch Myers threw him. Which meant that, one pitch into his season, Francoeur had half as many homers as he hit in his last 68 games in 2008.
Yes, that’s correct. Beginning July 11, in his last three games before the All-Star break through the end of the season, Francoeur hit .245 with two home runs, 29 RBI and a .331 slugging percentage in 257 at-bats.
Braves fans who’ve seen him this spring surely noticed the changes in Francoeur’s approach, the shorter and simpler swing, the slightly more-open stance, the front foot planted sooner, etc.
But Phillies fans seeing him for the first time this year are probably hoping he’ll struggle and then revert to his old ways. Against the Phillies last season, Francoeur hit .224 with just one extra-base hit (a double) and three RBI in 76 at-bats over 18 games.
As you all know, the Braves lost 14 of 18 against the Phillies.
McCann, the folks of Philly are used to seeing him rake. He hit .356 with 10 doubles, three homers, 17 RBI and a .472 OBP against the Phils last season.
But Francoeur, that’s a different story. And one the Braves hope will play out in 2008, against the Phillies and everyone else.
Of course, it’s a bit early to get too excited or start making assumptions. In 2008, Francoeur hit .297 with 10 extra-base hits (three homers) and 14 RBI in the first 18 games of the season.
Then he hit .231 with no homers in 104 at-bats over his next 26 games.
But he also didn’t look as sound in his approach last season as he does now.
”He’s seeing the ball much better,” Cox said. “Last year, he just got in a funk and couldn’t get out of it. Sometimes it plays with your head. His first two years he drove in 100 [RBI] with the same swing as he started with last year. You get into funks, and in major league baseball, they’re going to exploit your weakness after they figure it out.”
Francoeur and the Braves believe, or hope, the right fielder has made that tougher for pitchers to do. Because everyone knows how uncomfortable it became seeing Francoeur hit for much of last season, particularly in key situations.
The same guy who was known for big hits when he first got to the majors, hit just .192 (34-for-177) with runners in scoring position in 2008, including .175 in 80 at-bats with two outs. He hit .215 in 93 at-bats in the late innings of close games.
Oh, and who can forget that with bases loaded, Francoeur went 6-for-33 (.182) with eight strikeouts and grounded into five double plays.
”It’s amazing how you can have one guy in the lineup struggling, and the big situation finds him every game, if not two or three times per game,” Jones said. “I think he’s ready to atone for some of those spots where he failed last year…
”The bottom line is, he’s in a better spot mentally than he was last year.”
The Braves hope so. As Cox said, they really do need his right-handed bat in the middle of the order.
Oh, by the way: McCann’s first-inning bomb Sunday matched his homer total from his last 25 games in 2008. Doesn’t that seem hard to believe? It’s true. He hit .321 with a .374 OBP and .893 OPS in that 25-game span, with one homer and 12 RBI.
♣ Jurrjens vs. Old Man Moyer: As a rookie in 2008, Jurrjens went 1-2 in four starts against the Phillies despite a 3.33 ERA. The Braves scored zero runs while he was in the game in the two losses, and two runs in the no-decision.
The Curacao Kid had no problems at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, going 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA in two starts, with eight hits (no homers) and two runs allowed in 15 innings.
Jurrjens tailed off a bit in his home starts in the second half last season, but not on the road. In his last nine road starts, he was 5-2 with a 2.41 ERA and eight quality starts. He had a .230 opponents’ average in those games, with one homer allowed in 59-2/3 innings.
Don’t know if you guys saw my Jurrjens story in today’s paper (and online), but I did a stat on how he compared at a similar stage of his career with a few pitchers who became Braves icons.
Jurrjens is 16-11 with a 3.82 ERA in 38 starts, including seven for Detroit in 2007.
In their first 38 starts, Greg Maddux was 12-19 with a 4.93 ERA, John Smoltz was 14-18 with a 3.53 ERA, and Tom Glavine was 7-19 with a 4.99 ERA.
Couple others of note: Brandon Webb was 12-13 despite a sparkling 3.07 ERA in his first 38 starts, and Jake Peavy was 14-15 with a 4.61 ERA in his first 38.
Oh, and get this: Tim Hudson was 21-4 with a 3.68 ERA in his first 38 starts for Oakland (damn). He did have a stunning 7.5 support runs per nine innings pitched, but still … 21-4.
Yeah, whatever: That was pretty much the reaction Chipper Jones had Sunday upon learning that his 14th opening-day start was an Atlanta Braves record. Albeit not as colorful. He said, “Just means you’re a grizzled old f***er.”
After all those opening days, the old f***er also said he doesn’t get too worked up about a single game, even if said game comes with a flyover (or parachutists) and pregame lineup introductions along the baselines.
He told of being in the visiting clubhouse players lounge before Sunday’s game.
”I was sitting in there with Francoeur and Mac [McCann], and they were bouncing off the walls, sky high,” Jones said, smiling. “They said, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I don’t have butterfly one.’
”Win or lose, we’re gonna come right back Tuesday and do it again. Right back to the same old grind.”
At that point, a grizzled old f*** of a baseball writer mentioned to Jones that some veteran players and managers have said that when you don’t feel butterflies anymore before opening day or the postseason, it might be time to hang it up.
Jones had an answer to that.
”I just feel prepared, that’s all,” he said. “There’s nothing out there at the end of that tunnel [from the clubhouse to the dugout and field] that I haven’t see 100 times before. It’s just another nine-inning game.”
He had swagger the day he got to the majors, and clearly hasn’t lost any of it.
♣ An off day in Philly: So how does one spend a sometimes-rainy off day in downtown Philly? Maybe go to some of the greatest museums in America? Check out the Liberty Bell? Take an umbrella and stroll around the Penn campus?
Of course not. Not when Funk-O-Mart is only a few blocks away.
First, I had my favorite Philly lunch — the sublime roast pork sandwich (with provolone) at Tommy DiNic’s in the Reading Terminal next door to my hotel.
Then, to burn off a few of the million or so calories in that belly bomb of a sandwich, I walked to a few record stores in the Center City part of downtown, beginning with a return visit to the spectacularly named Funk-O-Mart on Market St., which bills itself as “The Underground Sound of Philadelphia” with “the largest selection of vinyl on the planet.”
Hey, I don’t know about largest on the planet, but it’s substantial, alright. I got three used LPs — first edition pressings of Funkadelic’s Uncle Jam Wants You and The Best of King Curtis, and some sort of special album that was sent out to James Brown fan club members in the 60s, with a colorful cover that includes this gaudy, raised silver-lettering graphics thing going on.
I also headed over to the not-funky Borders, where they had a sale, 40-percent off on selected CDs and DVDs. After being so good about not spending much money on music during spring training, I broke down and brought Townes Van Zandt’s For the Sake of the Song and Radiohead’s expanded two-disc version of The Bends, plus Midlake’s Trials of Van Occupanther from a few years ago. Also got a Jerry Lee Lewis DVD of live performances from the ‘50s-‘70s, and The Clash’s Rude Boy DVD.
Gonna have some fun playing/watching all that after I get home this weekend.
♣ Rescue Me: Saw a praise-filled review of the new season of Rescue Me, which starts tonight. DVR, tied with Ipod shuffle for greatest inventions of the past decade? Oh, and please, if you watched House last night, do us who didn’t a favor by not giving away whatever the surprise was.
♣ New radio team: I mentioned this deep in comments section of the last blog. So for those who missed it, I’ll mention again. The AJC’s Steve Hummer is doing a story for Sunday on the new radio broadcast team of Don Sutton and Jim Powell. If you’ve got an opinion you’d like to have in the story, about the new team and/or how you’re getting by without Skip and Pete, then e-mail it to Hummer (not me) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, e-mail to Steve, not me. Thanks.
♣ Speaking of broadcasts … It was brought to my attention by a Braves fan in Alabama that the Braves radio network no longer includes a station in Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile or Huntsville, and the one listed for Dothan is actually about 30 miles away and can barely be picked up in that city.
Is that possible? I mean, it’s one thing for TBS to stop beaming all Braves games to the entire country (and beyond). But to not even have a radio-network affiliate in Alabama’s largest cities? Wow. That’s one I don’t understand.
I’m sure someone from the stations that used to carry the Braves there can fill me in, at least off the record, as to what happened.
♦ Oh, and here’s some boys (and one girl) from Alabama. From their great Southern Rock Opera album…
“LIFE IN THE FACTORY” by Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers)
Let me tell ya’ll a story
So far fetched it must be true
Bout a bunch of fatherless boys from Florida and a boy who was man enough for two.
Practiced twelve hours a day in the Hell House
In the swamps out side of town.
100 degrees without no open windows
Heat radiating off the tin.
They named their band Lynyrd Skynyrd, after the coach who kicked them out of school.
Practiced seven days a week cuz Rock’s the only thing to save them from life in the factory.
They spent years inside the Hell House
Then they opened foe The Who
90 degrees, outdoor, summer festivals
Them, boy’s wouldn’t even break a sweat.
Played each show like their lives depended on it
300 a year will take its due
They kicked The Stones ass out at Knebworth
Ask anyone who was there and they’ll tell you
They hit the road doing ninety
Leave them steel mills far behind.
Ain’t no good life at the Ford plant
Three guitars or a life of crime
Sold out shows and platinum records, New York critics and redneckers
Bunch of boy’s from Florida had them eating from their hands
They got the fame and all the glory
But folks, it’s still a sad story when legend over shadows the songs and the band.
Let me tell y’all a story that more or less is the truth
From the swamps of Northern Florida to the swamps just north of Baton Rouge.