Archive for September, 2009

Braves learn to win without Chipper

Remember when the Braves struggled mightily with Chipper Jones out of the lineup in recent seasons? How they were a well-below-.500 team whenever their slugging third baseman, amid his late-career hitting resurgence, didn’t play because of various nagging injuries?

Well, the bad news is that his late-career hitting resurgence came to an abrupt halt a couple of months ago, and the nagging injuries have been a problem again lately after his relatively healthy first half-season.

Bigger impact than Chipper lately

Bigger impact than Chipper lately

The good news is that the Braves have gotten by far better without Chipper than they did in the past. Then again, he never had a hitting slump quite like this one in the past. And so, necessity being the mother of invention, and Yunel Escobar being the father of the on-deck-circle leap, and Adam LaRoche of the standing-at-the-bus-stop batting stance….

But anyway, the numbers don’t lie (except when those numbers are a pitchers’ won-lost record, as we’ll discuss in a moment …

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Playing loosey goosey

  (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 …

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Sizzling rotation awaits Mets

(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)

So if a tree falls in the woods…..and the Braves keep winning….well, heck, if you’re reading this blog, you still care.

So that’s a good thing. Even if it’s bizarre that the Mets and Phillies are coming to town this week and there’s just no way to bill it as some “huge series.”

I have to say, some of the more interesting things going on at the ballpark this homestand are off the field: Dan Akroyd singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on Friday night, Matt Kuchar’s autograph session Friday, the minor league players and pitchers of the year being honored Friday, and Melanie Oudin throwing out the first pitch on Saturday night.

Oh wait, what about the purists? Well, judging from the way things have gone of late, there’s still some darn good starting pitching to be seen from the Braves. And maybe, at least, the Braves can make some teams ahead of them in the standings a little nervous, anyway. (Realistically, at …

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Braves surge came a week late

 

Chipper was hurt Saturday on this game-winning McCann double

Chipper was hurt Saturday on this winning McCann double

 St. Louis – The Braves are going to try to complete a sweep of the Cardinals today, and they’ll be doing it without Chipper Jones. He’s hurt again. And on an unrelated not, I’m not looking forward to spending a depressing Sunday night in downtown St. Louis, where you could roll a bowling ball down the street and not hit a car nine times out of 10 on Sunday night. Slooooow. But the airport is even slower — almost no flights out of here on Sunday night.

 Anyway, where were we? Oh, yes. Chipper. He strained his left groin running the bases in the ninth inning Saturday, when he had to hold up rounding third after the Cardinals got the ball in quicker than he’d anticipated on Brian McCann’s winning two-run double to center.

 Chipper had intended to try to score from first on the play, but when he had to hold up suddenly he said it “pulled pretty good.” With the off day Monday, he said “we’ll see about [playing] Tuesday” …

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Would Chipper “ride off into the sunset”?

 

 

  St. Louis — We’ve moved on to St. Louis, where the man Chipper Jones beat out for the batting title a year ago, Albert Pujols, is having a decidedly better go of it this season than is Chipper, who dropped a bombshell yesterday when he said he might retire after next season if he struggles again like he has this year.

  Pujols? He’s  hitting .331 with a league-leading 47 homers and 124 RBI, and has huge leads in on-base percentage (.450) and slugging percentage (.698), where he’s more than 100 points ahead of the next guy (Prince Fielder).

 Meanwhile, Chipper is batting 96 points lower than his career-best .364 average in 2008 and, yes, talking retirement not six months after signing a three-year, $42 million contract extension that runs through 2012.6a00d83451b46269e20120a5ba60c8970c-200wi

 I was as surprised when he mentioned it to me yesterday as most of you probably were when you read my story. But he brought up the subject, with his usual candor.

 And I’ve gotta say, he seemed sincere, like it’s something …

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Hanson’s work goes wasted

 

index_pain  Houston – In a season that’s included more excruciating late-innings meltdowns than the Braves will want to remember, last night’s ninth-inning debacle was particularly excruciating to observe.

 Because frankly, everyone in Minute Maid Park, including the Astros, thought that Tommy Hanson was probably going to throw a shutout against Houston, which would have been his 10th win and the first nine-inning complete game by a Braves pitcher this season.

 But instead, he was replaced after eight innings of five-hit, no-walk, seven-strikeout baseball, after throwing 65 strikes in 98 pitches and leaving with a 1-0 lead.

 And before Rafael Soriano could record two outs in the ninth, he gave up three hits, an intentional walk, and two runs, both of which scored on Miguel Tejada’s game-ending single up the middle to give the Astros a 2-1 win.

 If you’re Hanson, you’ve got to be sitting there going, did that really just happen?

 But the kid is a pro, and his calm demeanor and savvy, …

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Braves say stranger things have happened….

 

 Houston … We still have a problem. Or, rather, the Braves do.
 See, last night’s 2-1 win against the Astros and subsequent result perfectly demonstrated the difficult position the Braves put themselves in by losing those five in a row before last night and falling to 7-1/2 games back in the wild-card race with under four weeks to play.
  Because the end result of last night’s win was a net gain of zero for the Bravos. They were still, at the end of the day, in fourth place in the wild-card race, and most importantly, still 7-1/2 games back of leader Colorado.

Vazquez said Braves "have to keep battling"

Last night's winner Vazquez: "We have to keep battling."

  All three teams ahead of the Braves in the WC standings won.
  That’s what can happen when you’re in a position of not just having to win almost all of your remaining games, but also hoping that other teams knock off those teams ahead of you, particularly the two (Colorado and San Francisco) that you don’t play again head-to-head.
  Oh, what a tangled web they …

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Reeling Braves need rejuvenation … and more

 

 Houston - We have a problem. OK, too easy and hackneyed. How’ bout this: Happy 39th birthday to Neko Case, and good luck to the Braves. They’ll need it. A lot of it. (The Braves; not Neko. She needs no luck.)
  That’s if the Bravos have any hope, any whatsoever, of ending their playoff drought. As most of you understand by now, this five-game skid they’re on, and particularly the sweep at the hands of the Reds at home over the weekend, has changed the whole outlook.
  I mean, they really had a legit shot just under a week ago, after they’d won the first two games of their four-game series at Florida. The Braves seemed poised to put the Marlins behind them and reel in first the Giants, then perhaps the Rockies, in the wild-card race.

When Cox's 150th ejection was the homestand highlight, it's not good

When Cox's 150th ejection was the homestand highlight … it's not good

  But five games, five disappointing games, can really change everything this late in the season. And it did.
Four runs? The Braves scored four runs against the Red in three …

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Back page blues

   (Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)

   So I had to dig through my sports page to find the Braves game story today, which means a) it’s that time of year where college football takes center stage and b) this is not a good time for four consecutive losses. Perhaps the editors, anyway, think the Braves’ six-game gap in the wildcard with 26 games to play is a bit much.
   I think it’s looking that way myself. But hey, they pay me to keep on covering the team and see what twists and turns might be in store these last four weeks.
   So today, we get Tim Hudson on the mound for his first start at Turner Field since his Tommy John surgery. Maybe that will give the Braves a spark they need to stop the bleeding in this Reds series.
I know the atmosphere has got to be a little more uplifting for him than when he made his return Tuesday in Florida against the Marlins. He had to wait out a three-hour rain delay, and only his wife Kim was there to witness …

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It’s gotten late in a hurry for Braves

  To those cynics who’ve been insisting for weeks that there wouldn’t be any big, important days at Turner Field in September, you were wrong. You are wrong. They’re having the annual Atlanta BBQ Festival there one week from Saturday (Sept. 12).
 So there.
 The Braves and a few of us chronicling this thing until the end will be in St. Louis that day, covering a Braves-Cardinals series that could be less than crucial if the Braves don’t win their next two series against the Cincinnati and Houston.
 Even then, it might be too late.
 But if they don’t start winning every series, it definitely will be.
 It’s gotten late in a hurry, folks. That’s what happens when you’re in wild card race with several teams in late August-early September.
 It’s not the same as being a few games behind the division leader and knowing that even if you fall apart and give away wins like the Braves just did the past two nights, you can still pick up ground in a hurry in head-to-head games with the one …

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