Philadelphia – So much for brotherly love. The cab driver who brought me from the airport informed me after I got into his beat-up vehicle on a muggy day in Philly and he pointed a little fan at me in the back seat, a little fan that literally had wires dangling from the roof, that’s when he informed me he had no air conditioning, that he had to put freon in it and hadn’t gotten around to it.
By then we were already pulling away from the terminal, and I was already nearly three hours late, and not about to say stop, let me walk back to the cab stand and get a real ride.
So we pull onto I-95 and, of course, it’s gridlock headed to downtown. An accident or something. Horrible, stop-and-go traffic on a steamy day with no AC.
And that’s when I thought, this is one of those payback days for any time I’ve ever been rude or short-tempered after getting no sleep or whatever.
I’ll keep this brief before we get into Braves talk and Brian McCann saga. Suffice to say, it’s already been a long day. I checked into my hotel more than seven hours after leaving my house at 6:30 a.m. for my 8:30 a.m. flight. A flight that was delayed nearly 2-1/2 hours.
Then the bags were late, as they often are at the Philly airport. Then, the cab with no AC and the traffic snarl on I-95. The upshot of it: I check in at 1:45 p.m., covered in a lovely sheen of sweat and exhaust fumes, instead of the expected 11 a.m. arrival.
Got an hour to get a new blog out, eat some room service pizza, and not shower unless this blog comes out faster than I think it will. Then it’s off to the ballpark and pray for no rain. I really think someone might die if Bowman (he was on same flight as me) and I have to sit through a long rain delay.
♣ OK the stuff you care about: Braves are only two games behind the division-leading Phillies, and we’re expecting McCann to be in the lineup tonight after giving his new prescription sports glasses and hockey goalie helmet mast a trial run last night in a rehab game at Triple-A Gwinnett. He laced a double in his first at-bat in the glasses, and also drew a walk and threw out a runner.
Mac couldn’t have picked a better team to face in his first games back from the DL. He’s hit .343 with 23 extra-base hits (eight homers), 35 RBI and a 1.047 OPS in his past 39 games against the Phillies, including .366 with four homers and 15 RBI in his past 12 games.
He had two homers and five RBI in the three-game series to start the season at Philly’s corporate-bank ballpark, where the dry eye condition first surfaced, the condition that eventually landed McCann on the DL after a 2-for-26, nine-game skid dropped his batting average to .195.
As much as they’ve missed McCann’s bat in the cleanup spot, imagine if this would’ve happened a year ago, when the Braves’ backup catcher was Corkey Miller, and Clint Sammons was struggling mightily with flaws in his swing that he’s since corrected.
Instead of having the Corkster handling the catching while Mac was DL’d, the Braves had David Ross, who’s hit .298 with three homers, nine RBI and a .411 OBP in 47 at-bats and played exceptional defense. He’s got a cannon and a quick release.
Ross signed a two-year, $3 million deal this winter, and I was one of those that raised eyebrows when that was announced. But I was wrong. That’s a smart deal that’s already paid dividends for the Braves.
♣ Chipper’s hitting streak: We’re talking about his rather stunning 27-game hitting streak against the Phillies, which he’ll resume tonight ater missing the last game of the season-opening series with a bruised thumb and hand.
This is one of those obscure stats that goes unnoticed until it reaches the record-flirting lengths that Chipper’s taken this one to.
He’s hit .387 with 24 extra-base hits (11 homers), 25 RBIs and 20 walks for a 1.383 OPS during his 27-game streak against the Phillies, which began on April 5, 2007.
Trent McCotter of the SABR records committee sent me an e-mail to tell me that it’s the longest streak by a Braves player against any opponent since at least 1954, which is as far back as he’d taken the research. Next were Dale Murphy’s 24-game against the Cubs (1981-83) and 22-game streaks by Hank Aaron (vs. St. Louis) and three other Braves — Eddie Mathews, Ralph Garr, Marcus Giles — who had theirs against the Cubs.
McCotter said it’s also the longest such streak by any player against the Phillies in that time frame, ahead of 25-gamers by Hall of Fame players Orlando Cepeda and Pete Rose.
If Chipper plays and hits in each game in this three-game series, McCotter said he’ll have just the sixth 30-game streak in the majors against one opponent since 1954. The longest in that span was Vlad Guerrero’s 44-game vs. Texas, and next-longest after that was Ken Griffey Jr.’s 35-game streak against Cleveland.
The only blemish, as it were, on Chipper’s streak: The Braves have played 37 games against the Phillies during his 27-game hitting streak. So he missed 10, most or all because of injuries.
♣ Speaking of streaks: I didn’t realize until I was going through Casey Kotchman’s day-by-days that he hasn’t made an error in 71 games since being traded to the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal last July.
Kotchman hit a dreadful .149 with no homers, five RBI and a .458 OPS inh is first 22 games for the Braves. In 49 games since then, he’s hit .316 with three homers, 21 RBI and an .833 OPS.
No, he doesn’t have the power you ideally want from a first baseman, particularly in a lineup that doesn’t have a lot of pure power at other traditional power positions. (By the way, how would another of Tex’s typical slow starts being playing in Atlanta about now?)
But Kotchman is contributing with the bat lately in addition to that superb defense. In his past 18 games, he’s hit .355 with nine doubles, a homer and a .960 OPS, though he has just four RBI in that stretch.
The Braves have the second-fewest homers (one) from first basemen (Kotchman just hit his first yesterday at Florida), leaving only the Dodgers and Giants without a homer from 1B among all major league teams.
More importantly, the Braves still have the fewest RBI from first baseman with just seven. No other team in the majors has fewer than 11, and the average from the position is 18 RBI in the NL and 19 in the AL.
But, like I said, he’s shown some encouraging signs lately, at least. And I’ll bet you that tonight’s Philly starter Cole Hamels would rather face another first baseman other than Kotchman.
Have you forgotten? He’s got those inexplicable numbers against the Phillies’ lefty ace — Kotchman is 4-for-9 with three homers against Hamels. Yes, three homers in nine at-bats against Hamels.
Chipper, by the way, is 5-for-15 with two homers against Hamels, and McCann is 8-for-21 with four walks and a .480 OBP against him.
The Braves might need all the offense they can get from Chipper, McCann, Kotchman and everyone else, because Jo-Jo Reyes is starting for them, and he’s had his troubles against the Phillies, for sure.
Reyes is 0-2 with a 7.65 ERA in four games (three starts) against the Phillies, with six homers allowed in 13-1/3 innings of the three starts. He’s given up eight runs and four homers in six innings of his last two games at Citizens Bank Park.
My advice: Pitch carefully not only to big Ryan Howard, but also to that little Victorino fella.
Yes, Shane the Braves Killer has hit .342 with six triples, five homers, 18 RBI and 24 runs in is past 27 games against the Braves, and the Phillies won 20 of those 27. He also had a memorable collision with McCann that left the catcher with a concussion last summer.
♦ Alright, we’re outta time. I just wanted to mention that the only major league qualifier with a higher RISP average than Yunel Escobar’s .517 is none other than Andruw Jones, hitting .636 with RISP for the Rangers, albeit in only 11 such at-bats in his part-time role…. Oh, and Chipper is hitting .395 with an 1.176 OPS in 10 road games, compared to .200 (8-for-40) with a .671 OPS in 12 home games.
We’ve got to get to the ballpark. Take us out, Townes.
“IF I NEEDED YOU” by Townes Van Zandt
If I needed you would you come to me,
Would you come to me, and ease my pain?
If you needed me
I would come to you
I’d swim the seas for to ease your pain
In the night forlorn the morning’s born
And the morning shines with the lights of love
You will miss sunrise if you close your eyes
That would break my heart in two
The lady’s with me now since I showed her how
To lay her lily hand in mine
Loop and Lil agree she’s a sight to see
And a treasure for the poor to find