(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this weekend in Milwaukee.)
Milwaukee – So David O’Brien is in Cooperstown this weekend and I’m in Milwaukee. Hm. Fair trade? This time it’s just the calendar, but I was about to start wondering if it’s a coincidence I’m in Milwaukee for the second consecutive year.
Not that I have anything against the fine folks from the Midwest. Just saying it’s not exactly Chicago or San Diego is all.
Well, heck, at least the hotel went a little nuts and put me in a two-room suite. And while, I still say our friends from the north don’t know how to air-condition – they like to make it feel like winter indoors in the summertime – I’ve got a good setup with a mall right next door, the ballpark here is nice, this year I (so far) don’t have two birds chirping outside my window, and hey, maybe I’ll run into Kelso somewhere.
Anyway, onto things baseball-related. The Braves open this three-game series with the Brew Crew looking to erase any trace of memories of yesterday’s game…what game….and looking to build on a pretty nice run for themselves. Granted, they’re still down 6 ½ games to the Phillies, but this time last year, the Braves (and I) were in Philadelphia, searching for something good to happen so the Braves wouldn’t trade Mark Teixeira.
We all remembered what happened there. But right now, things seem on the rise, not on the decline….I just took a look back. The Braves were 7 ½ games behind the Mets at the end of that Phillies’ series last year, heading into the trade deadline. What makes that different though is that Phillies and Marlins were both within a game of the Mets at that time.
At the moment, the Braves are tied with the Marlins in second-place behind the Phillies, both 6 ½ games back.
On July 28 last year, after that Phillies series, the Braves were 10 ½ games out of the wildcard lead, with eight other teams either tied or ahead of them. Right now, heading into this Milwaukee series, the Braves are 3 ½ games back in the wildcard, with four teams ahead of them there.
The Braves enter this series at 49-47, two games over .500. Last year, after this weekend, they were 49-56, seven games below .500 and sinking fast.
But yeah, really, I see this series as pretty big too. I guess they all are now. But the Braves have six games before the deadline to show GM Frank Wren they’ve got what they need to contend or to clue him in to any weaknesses he needs to patch up, without upsetting the chemistry the Braves have established here lately.
With Javier Vazquez going tonight against Manny Parra, with an ERA that’s nearly four runs better, you like the Braves chances. And with Tommy Hanson pitching tomorrow, Mr. 5-0, it’s hard to bet against him, even though Yovani Gallardo (8-7, 3.28) has been tough this year. The Brewers have lost Gallardo’s last four starts (he’s 0-3 with a 5.09 ERA in that time) and he’s walked 13 batters in his last 16 innings.
And you have to figure Hanson will have a little redemption in mind, after giving up three home runs and seven runs total (six earned) in his major league debut against the Brewers on June 7. They’ll see a different Hanson tomorrow night. That’s the series right there, if they can pull it off.
CHIPPER’S NUMBERS DOWN
Coming out of the All-Star break, I mentioned something to Chipper Jones about him being on pace for the most games played in quite a while. That just opened the doors on a conversation where he spelled out how disappointed he is with his offensive numbers.
Entering this Brewers series Jones was hitting .286 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs, just so-so when you consider he’s a career .310 hitter who won the NL batting title last year and is used to hitting somewhere around 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
His on-base percentage was .401 and he had drawn 58 walks, entering this series, but his slugging percentage was only .472. For his career, Jones has slugged .545. He’s on pace to hit 19 homers and 79 RBIs, which is well below what he thinks he should do when he’s healthy.
“Now that I’m healthy I’m not really producing the way I think I should, whether it be batting average, homers, whatever,” Jones said. “On-base percentage is good, I’m taking my walks. I’ve driven in runs when I’ve gotten the opportunities, but those are about the only good things.”
Jones wasn’t going to get excited about the two home runs he’s hit coming out of the break, because they were both hit right-handed. And where he’s the most frustrated is hitting left-handed.
“My mechanics left-handed here are a little off for some reason,” Jones said. “Just having a little trouble finding it. I’m seeing the ball good enough, I’m putting the ball in play good enough, but I’m not driving the ball to the gaps, and driving the ball out of the ballpark the way that I want to. It’s because when I do center a ball left-handed, I’m getting topspin on the ball as opposed to backspin. Can’t hit many homers when you hit topspin.”
So he says he’s getting a one-hop line drive to the second baseman, instead of a ball to the gap, or a sacrifice fly to the warning track, instead of a double to the gap.
He’s not striking out a lot, so it’s not like he’s panicked. He’ll continue to work on his mechanics left-handed and not worry about the numbers.
“Now is the time when you just focus on the team,” Jones said. “The chances of me hitting 30 homers is very, very slim. Chances of me driving in 100 are slim, so you just go out, try to produce a run a game, try to field your position cleanly and do whatever it takes to help the team win. That’s the mentality you take out every day, but you were certainly like the numbers to follow suit and to be where they normally are.”
And yes, he acknowledges he had a bad first half defensively. “I’m pretty disappointed in the way I’ve moved my feet,” he said. “I haven’t moved my feet real well defensively this year.”
Anyway, the stat that started this whole conversation was how he’s now on pace to play 143 games, which would be his highest total since 2003. He played 153 games in 2003, at age 31, the last year of an eight-year stretch where he played in 150 or more games.
OK, speaking of going to the post, better pack it up and find my way over to Miller Park.