(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
Not only did Adam LaRoche turn every pitch he swung on last night into gold – minus the one terribly wasted in that one ball he fouled off, aha – he has some great nuggets in the postgame.
LaRoche boiled down this five-game winning streak (six of seven) into the simplest terms: “I think it’s there absolutely nothing to lose right now,” LaRoche said. “There’s zero pressure on us. We’re in a bad position, and everybody’s going out and doing their thing.”
You have to figure it’s too little, too late. The Phillies keep winning and the Braves are still 7 ½ back in the East. The Rockies are giving the Braves a little hope, having lost four in a row to narrow the Braves’ deficit to five games in the wild card. But the Braves have the Rockies, Giants and Marlins all still ahead of them in the wild card, which makes things three times as hard. And of those three teams, the Braves face only the Marlins in their last 18 games – a three-game series Sept. 28-30.
But it’s a marvel to watch this starting rotation really strut its stuff. I can’t remember the last time I wrote that the bullpen was worn down, and that’s saying something.
LaRoche made a great point last night, about how it’s this rotation that’ll make the Braves want to kick themselves for not getting into the postseason, if and when they don’t.
“I feel like we could go a long way in the postseason, a long way,” LaRoche said. “And it’s going to be a shame if we don’t get that chance.”
Roll out Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson right now in any order against any playoff team, and you’re onto something. Scratching together a few runs might not be as simple, but you’d have to like the pitching matchups.
Meantime the Braves face Bobby Parnell tonight, another arm in the hodge-podge Mets starting rotation. The Braves hammered him the last time they saw him, nine runs in three innings.
I’d be surprised if Chipper Jones is ready to get back in there tonight, based out how his groin injury was feeling yesterday. But the Braves seem to be doing fine without him. They are 14-11 this season in games he doesn’t start. This is after they went 17-26 last year in games he didn’t start.
Speaking of Chipper, little random tidbit for you. I know you guys couldn’t have been especially excited to see the Kansas City Royals on the schedule next year, but Chipper was…thinking he might have a chance to play in the one major league city he’s never played in, interestingly enough. But no, actually, the Royals are coming here, June 18-20.
NL rookie of the year
Tommy Hanson is going to make this NL rookie of the year thing interesting. For most of the season, I figured J.A. Happ would have a great shot at it. But now, with this late charge, Hanson might muddle that picture. After last night, Hanson matched Happ in wins and moved ahead of him in ERA.
(And I’m sticking with apples to apples here; Chris Coghlan, Garrett Jones and Dexter Fowler bring even more to the mix as every day players.)
Hanson 10-3, 2.65, 18 games, 18 starts, 108.2 IP, .224 OBA
Happ 10-4, 2.77, 31 games, 19 starts, 149.2 IP, .231 OBA
The “wild card” stats: Happ is pitching for a division-leading team in the Phillies. That carries a lot of weight, especially when you consider he’s been doing it all year, in the heat of pennant pressure. Happ has three complete games, including two shutouts. Hanson has none (yes painful reminder of his last start in Houston).
What’s working for Hanson: Hanson has allowed only 9 homers while Happ has given up 17 (Citizens Bank Park doing him no favors.) Hanson has 7.7 Ks/9 while Happ has 6.23 Ks/9. And if Hanson had the innings to qualify, he’d be fifth right now in the National League in ERA.
Hanson should have three more starts unless the Braves decide to pull the plug and let him rest, which they might if they fall well out of contention here. But for now, he’ll take the mound Sunday against the Phillies. Great opportunity for him there.
Happ has been out of action since Sept. 2 because of a “strained intercostal muscle.” After a 55-pitch bullpen session yesterday, Happ thinks he could be ready to pitch on Friday in Atlanta. So we can keep an eye on this thing up close.
Ernie Harwell, a true Southern gent Just reading this morning about the special night the Detroit Tigers are putting on for their beloved former announcer Ernie Harwell. At 91, Harwell, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and advised against surgery. This is a farewell speech, he’ll be delivering in the third inning tonight, and it makes the hair on my arms stand up just thinking about it.
Harwell has been a baseball broadcaster for 55 years, including 42 with the Tigers. He called “It’s gone” on Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world.” But believe me Atlanta, when I tell you we can call him our own. Harwell was born in Washington, GA and grew up in Atlanta.
Harwell was a batboy for the Atlanta Crackers. He graduated from Emory. He started his career as a copy editor and sports writer for our Atlanta Constitution. He was very proud of his roots, and he never lost his Southern grace.
Visiting media don’t always mix and mingle in the press box. You get wrapped up in your day-to-day business, all the work you have to do, and unless you make the effort, you might just go on about your business hardly aware of writers and broadcasters from other teams. But Harwell is different, a true gentleman. I’ll always remember him approaching a young and nervous beat writer in the Lakeland press box in spring training and making her feel welcome.
My thoughts tonight go out to Ernie.
More from the ballpark this afternoon.