Archive for June, 2009

Braves vs. Phils: Say no more

Braves need Lowe on his game tonight

 
  I was on an elevator with ex-player and current broadcaster Mark Grace and a couple other people last week, when someone asked about some player who’d been pouting about something or other in the past week (no, not Yunel Escobar).
  Grace had a general answer that I had’t really thought about, for the attitude or entitlement or thin skin that it seems like a lot of younger players have these days.
  ”This is the first generation of players to come along since Little League starting giving out trophies to everyone who played,” he said.
  And the others of us on the elevator had a collective silence for a moment as that sunk in. I think he’s onto something.
  Anyway, just thought I’d share that before we dive into today’s blog, which we’re going to try to keep brief before we head out to the ballpark for the opener of a cruci… oh, I’m not even going to say it.   Not going to say crucial series against the Phillies.
  Because we’ve been …

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Chipper’s perspective on slump

Hanson's pitching today despite sickness

  Chipper Jones is mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, and it’s certainly no coincidence that the Braves’ offense as a whole is struggling mightily.
  Because, well, in this case the whole has not been better than the sum of its parts. Entering today’s series finale against the Red Sox here at steamy Turner Field, the Braves have lost 12 of their past 17 games.
  And scored two runs or fewer eight times in that dreadful stretch.
  Oh, it’s bad.
 They’ve lost nine of their past 14 at home, while averaging three runs in that stretch and scoring two runs or fewer eight times. Eight out of their past 14 home games, two runs or fewer, including three shutouts.
  In case you missed it, I wrote in the comments section on the last blog that Tommy Hanson is going to try to pitch today despite battling a cold or flu bug or something nasty that’s had him feeling lousy for a few days.
 Oh, and Yunel Escobar and Nate McLouth are both out …

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Lowe has rebounded before

  Those who are pushing the panic button on Derek Lowe since he got shellacked last night for the second time in three starts, you might want to pause a moment and consider his history.
  Not to say he will bounce back and reel off a torrid stretch from now until the end of the season, but Lowe has endured similar skids in recent seasons and done precisely that.
  Let’s start with the current slump: He’s 0-3 with a 12.34 ERA and .433 opponents’ average in his past three starts, after going 7-3 with a 3.44 ERA and .240 opponents’ average in his first 13 starts.
  Those three-game stats are heinous, no doubt. But remember, he didn’t pitch badly in the middle game of that skid, actually turning in a quality start Saturday at Boston when he allowed seven hits and three runs in 6-1/3 innings, including one hit through four innings.

D-Lowe has reached a low

D-Lowe has reached a low

  It’s just that Josh Beckett was far more than “quality” that day, throwing a five-hit shutout with no walks against the …

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Braves need win tonight — no, really

  In this great sport that most of us immerse ourselves in, there really are no must-win games in June. None.
  That said, one could make a case that tonight’s series finale against the Yankees is fairly crucial for the Braves.
  I say that only because of the machine that’s due to arrive in Atlanta shortly after the Yankees pull out of town. The BoSox winning machine.

He'll be on opposing bench Friday

He

  The Braves need to win tonight to get a series win and to avoid their fourth consecutive series loss before facing the Boston Red Sox this weekend, beginning with another matchup against ace Josh Beckett on Friday.
  The Red Sox have won 16 of their past 21 games, and thehy’re 8-1 on the road in that stretch, with a .295 batting average, 16 homers, and a 3.32 ERA in those nine games away from Boston.
 Yeah, they’re real good. And it ain’t the Green Monster that makes them good.
 So to keep this 10-game homestand humming along, it’d certainly be advisable for the Braves to win tonight against the Yankees, …

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Mac and Mauer two of best — ever

 Glancing through the Sports Illustrated that I fished out of my mailbox a few minutes ago, and on the cover is Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Story is about the possibility of him being the first since Ted Williams to hit .400.
 Mauer is phenomenal, without question. And he’s a big reason that Brian McCann will probably continue to work in relative obscurity, despite the fact that, if he stays healthy, Mac could go down as one of the best hitting catchers of all time.
  The thing is, so will Mauer. Yes, we’ve got two of the best five or so hitting catchers of my lifetime plying their trade at the same time, and both are young and hungry and have the mentality and desire to keep getting better.

Mac sees ball, hits ball

Mac sees ball, hits ball

  It’s way too early to say that Mauer will challenge Johnny Bench as, in my view, the best overall catcher ever. But if Mauer keeps hitting for power like he has this season for the rest of the decade and into the next one, it’s possible. Just that he’s already had …

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Hanson vs. Yanks at Turner

  Now it begins in earnest, the homestand that could feel a bit like a road trip against the AL East superpowers. Six games against the Yankees and Red Sox at Turner Field, beginning with tonight’s series opener against the damn Yankees.
   While there’s nothing the Braves can do about the tens of thousands of Yankees and BoSox fans who’ll infiltrate Turner Field — nothing except count the money they’re spending, which sure helps the bottom line — there is one thing they can do to keep the opposing teams’ crowd noise to a minimum. And that’s win.
   Yes, if the Braves just play well, jump out in front early and don’t the Yankees and Red Sox fans anything to get too pumped about, well, then it’ll feel like a homestand. So stop complaining about the opposing fans and silence them.
  Yes, that’s perhaps easier said than done, particularly against the Red Sox. But it’s not as if the Yankees are some winning machine that’s coming in on a roll. Tommy Hanson and other young Braves …

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Vazquez needs a lift

   Hey, it’s a rain makeup game today, and the Cubs and I are here to entertain you until the Yankees arrive tomorrow, and DOB returns after a day to catch his breath.

 

   The Braves, like I did last Friday, wake up today to find summer is here in Atlanta, and not summer like it is in the northeast – sticky and humid, yes, but not this.

   It’s dang hot. And that might not be a bad thing for hitters. The Braves offense could use loose joints, and the ball jumping out of the park. I just hope players have been hydrating because they’re going from 63 degrees yesterday at first pitch in Boston to highs around 90s here today. And with the heat index, it feels like 95 already.

   Speaking of hot, the Cubbies come in hot. They’ve won four in a row, with a come-from-behind win over the White Sox and a weekend sweep against the Indians.

   And as DOB pointed out yesterday, the Cubs have won seven of their last eight against the Braves, including all six against the Braves last …

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Is this just another Braves tease?

Aftermath of the ejection mayhem Sunday (that's T.P. holding back Chipper). AP photo

 

 Boston — Derek Lowe is prepping for his big return to Fenway Park tonight, so of course there’s rain headed this way. (By the way, he just got a big ovation from the Red Sox fans as he walked toward the bullpen to warm up.)

 D-Lowe has been the Human Rain Delay this season, a role held in recent seasons by John Smoltz and particularly by John Thomson, who had a season when it seemed like every other start was delayed, postponed or played in soggy conditions.

 But anyway, the Braves want to play tonight, not just because they’d like to avoid trying to squeeze in a doubleheader on what’s expected to be a rainy Sunday getaway day, but because they’re finally hitting a little bit.

Lowe from his Red Sox days

Lowe from his Red Sox days

 

 Hey, it’s just two games, and one of them was last night against Dice-K Matsuzaka, a pitcher who’s 0-4 in four starts at Fenway this season and has an overall ERA of 8.23. The other was …

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Here in rainy Boston….

Boston — Hello from rainy Beantown in the New England corner of Japan, or at least it will feel that way tonight in the pressbox for this highly anticipated (at least by baseball lovers in Chunichi and Tokyo) showdown between your own Kenshin Kawakami and the Red Sox’ “Dice-K” Matsuzaka.

Kawakami vs. Matsuzaka: This one's for Japan (or something)

The overflow Asian media contingent turned out for the spring training matchup between these two pitchers at Dark Star, and we’re expecting at least twice as many reporters tonight for this one (though by “we,” I’m talking about a fairly small and unscientific polling of me and some guy who just started the coffee in the back of the pressbox, thereby winning a place in my heart — and the poll).

Even after my cab driver took the most circuitous route imaginable to get the Fenway (he said something about a major artery being turned into a one-way street because of a bridge that collapsed or was being repaired or blah blah something else …

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Hanson, Part III, when the rain stops

   Cincinnati – OK, first thing to know is this game won’t be starting at 12:35 p.m. We’ll be doing well for it to start an hour late. It’s raining now and a big cell is coming through that’s supposed to keep the rain coming until 1:30. And after that? As Reds PR man Rob Butcher knows from experience here, that’s assuming another one isn’t coming behind it.

 

   So hey, I’m here to entertain and dazzle – aha – while we wait for some baseball. And hope that the 8 p.m. flight I have tonight isn’t in major jeopardy.

   The weather was especially perplexing to Braves guys in the lineup today who rarely are – Matt Diaz was talking smack that he was in the cleanup hole, ready to rake. He’d heard there was hail coming, but said: “We can wear helmets in the field, let’s go.”

   With the left-hander Matt Maloney going today, Cox stacked the lineup with right-handers, like Martin Prado, who gets the start at second base today. David Ross gets his first start of the road trip at …

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