(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien.)
We’re at the point where every game is important, the end-all-be-all. Yes, agreed, we’re there. But let me venture out on a limb and say tonight is especially so, if, for no other reason than because Josh Johnson is pitching.
The Marlins were going to run Rick VandenHurk out there until they figured out Johnson was well enough from the flu to start (he was scratched from Sunday’s start vs. the Mets). So now, the Braves face one of the best pitchers in the league, if you ask Bobby Cox, and if you look at the radar gun.
Johnson has a mid-90s fastball that doesn’t let up. He’ll throw hard in the sixth inning just as sure as the first. He has a nasty slider and changeup, and together the kind of repertoire that had him no-hitting the Braves into the sixth inning the last time they faced him in Florida on Aug. 31.
You remember that game? When Kenshin Kawakami was the one to finally help the Braves break through with his 10-pitch at-bat off Johnson? That ended in a groundout but loosened things up, and Matt Diaz followed with a single, and the Braves three runs in the next inning.
So from here on out, the Braves will face Ricky Nolasco on Wednesday. And I’d have to think nobody the Nationals are going to throw at the Braves this weekend is coming with this kind of “stuff.” So you figure this is the toughest starting pitcher the Braves will face during these last six games.
And they won’t have the Nationals’ bumbling defense to help them along tonight. And I’d doubt they’ll get another 11 walks like they did last night to grease the skids. They’re going to have to hit well to beat this guy and keep this thing rolling.
And if they do beat him, with Tim Hudson on the mound, winning out because that much more of a realistic goal. And the sky high momentum the Braves have going lifts into orbit.
Plus, the Marlins are on the brink of elimination. If the Rockies win tonight or the Marlins lose, they are done. And that leaves potential for letdown in the series finale tomorrow.
Dare we look ahead?
If the Braves go 6-0 and the Rockies go 4-2, they are tied and there’s a one-game playoff Monday. Lose tonight and the Braves need the Rockies to lose three of their next six games to the Brewers and Dodgers to force a playoff. Precarious.
Speaking of one-game playoff, things would fall in the Braves rotation so that Javier Vazquez would be the starter that day on regular rest. As much as you’d like to have him in a Game 1 of a division series, I don’t know that the Braves would have a better choice for the guy they’d watch to pitch if it came down to one game.
By my math, Jair Jurrjens would be on normal rest for Game 2 on Thursday in the division series. That would leave a decision on Game 1. Derek Lowe would be on regular rest and brings a wealth of playoff experience. Or you have the young Tommy Hanson who’s been dominant, has been more consistent than Lowe of late and throws the kind of blistering stuff you’d like to have in the playoffs.
Interesting decisions ahead, if the Braves can keep this interesting.
Chipper is two HRs away
Chipper Jones needs two homers in the last six games to become the first player to open his major league career with 15 20-homer seasons. He’s tied with Eddie Mathews at 14. That’d be doing something, considering the off year Jones has had, and it’d give him something to feel good about in an otherwise off year.
Cox for one thinks this pennant race is pumping new life into the “ol” 37-year-old.
“He’s swinging really well right now and he’s catching everything at third, running the bases well,” Cox said last night. “He’s gotten energized here I think, with the run that we’re on. And it’s lifted him up a little bit to where he normally is at the plate.”
Nolasco might be a good place to start for Jones. Jones has hit four home runs in 23 career at-bats against tomorrow night’s starter (.478 overall).
He’s hit in four straight, including three multi-hit games in Washington. He’s 7-for-17 (.412) with two doubles and a homer in that time.
I think Jones really just wants to contribute whatever he can to the Braves offense at this point. You gotta love his typical honesty, giving himself a hard time about his situation.
“I guess it’s a pretty good time to be rounding into form, 156 games in,” Jones said. “I would be a lot more upset if I weren’t contributing this time of year, especially with the team doing what it’s doing. I’m still not satisfied with where I’m at but I’m getting there. It’s nice to be coming off a couple multi-hit games and hit a homer in a big win for us. I’m just trying to be one-ninth of the equation.”
Moylan is the man
Congrats to Peter Moylan, who just keeps taking the ball and doing his job. Last night was his 85th appearance, which set the new Braves franchise record, passing Chris Reitsma (2004). He also becomes the first Brave to have two 80-game seasons. He did it in 2007 as well.
If there wasn’t a Chris Carpenter out there, going 16-4 with a 2.30 ERA for the Cardinals coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him most of the last two seasons, then Moylan would be a great candidate for comeback player of the year. Ah, the life of a middle reliever.
Upcoming things at the ballpark:
For the remainder of this homestand, the Braves are holding a drive to raise money for Atlanta flood relief. They started by donating $25,000 from the Braves foundation.
Donations will be collected from 2 ½ hours before the game to the second inning at Monument Grove every game through Sunday. The Braves are asking for monetary donations, gift cards, hygiene items, school supplies, non-perishable foods and baby items.
Tim Hudson will sign autographs Friday from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. at Monument Grove in exchange for book or monetary donations that will go to Clarkdale Elementary in Cobb County, a school affected by the flood.
Fans can bring five new children’s books worth at least $4 apiece or $20 for one autograph or 10 new children’s books or $40 for two autographs.
And tonight the Braves will honor Channel 2 sportscaster Chuck Dowdle, who is retiring after 24 years at the end of the year. He’ll be on the field for a presentation prior to the game at 6:55 p.m.
More from the Ted this afternoon. See you there?