After shedding Sept. 2011 albatross, Braves celebration fitting

Glad I didn’t write anything about it beforehand, because I’ll admit I was like the afternoon radio hosts who drew the ire of Chipper Jones, after he heard them criticize the Braves for their celebration after clinching a spot in the wild-card game.

When we were in Philly last weekend I mentioned to Mark Bowman that didn’t know if the Braves should or would celebrate clinching a spot in the wild-card game, as opposed to clinching a spot in an actual postseason series. Then when I asked the Braves PR man, he told me he was pretty sure they would celebrate if they clinched a wild-card berth.

And so they did. They drenched each other – and later a lot of fans who stuck around till the Braves came back on the field – with dozens of bottles of champagne and cases of beer after Freddie Freeman’s dramatic two-run walk-off homer gave them a 4-3 win Tuesday that clinched a wild-card berth, even though the Braves said they were still aiming for a division title.

Braves young (Heyward) and old (Chipper) celebrate after clinching wild-card berth (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

Braves young (Heyward) and old (Chipper) celebrate after clinching wild-card berth (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

The next day, after Chipper heard the aforementioned radio guys criticizing them for celebrating just getting into the do-or-die Wild Card game, a game many of us have referred to as a postseason “play-in” game, Chipper blasted back and said you’re damn right they’re celebrated, because this team deserved it after what it went through, he said.

That included last year’s September collapse and the countless questions they faced in the ensuing months and, in fact, right up through the first week of this month when the Braves were in a brief slump and many were writing them off and saying “here we go again” with September Swoon, Pt. 2.

But they didn’t collapse. Far from it. And after hearing Chipper and a couple of other Braves talk about the celebration and what it meant to them and Fredi Gonzalez to shake off the albatross that was last season’s 10-20 finish and blown wild-card lead of 8-1/2 games in September, well, I changed my mind and came around to their way of thinking. If they felt like celebrating – and they did – then good for them for letting it all out and enjoying themselves. They earned it.

And for any skeptics who assumed that after celebrating like that, the Braves would come out flat or hung over or whatever the next day, and play poorly for a game or two and lose the momentum they had built up, well, they proved that assumption wrong by shutting out the Marlins on Wednesday.

Looking back on it, celebrating like they did, when they did, could help the Braves in the bigger picture. They got it out of their systems, made it official that last year’s collapse was behind them, celebrated the accomplishment of at least extending this thing beyond the regular season. And with that celebration coming more than a week before the end of the regular season and 10 days before their wild-card game, they will both have something to draw from – how good it felt to win, to rally from a run down in the ninth and win – and enough time between that game and their next hugely important game, the wild-card game, to get back to the business of hand and just playing baseball.

So I was wrong. No damage was done by celebrating. To the contrary. They partied for a night, celebrated being one of the 10 major league teams that will play beyond the regular season, and let off plenty of steam after finally, officially shedding the stigma of last year’s collapse, which they’d carried around for 12 months and which so many had predicted would linger and and ruin another season.

By the way, one other thing regarding this last week: Even if the Braves weren’t still mathematically alive in the NL East race, I’m one of those who believe they’d be dead wrong to rest uninjured guys for multiple days, to run out spring-training lineups for most of the last week as they prepared for the wild-card game and possible division series. I say this because I’ve seen it time and time again, teams that clinch early – like so many Braves teams that clinched division titles early – then go into rest-and-coast mode for the last week or two, aren’t able to flip the switch and get back to hitting on all cylinders again.

So those teams that played so well for so long to get to the postseason, come out sluggish or just out of sorts for a game or two and fall behind in the division series, while the team that had to play hard until the end just to get into the tournament, that team barely has time to catch its collective breath and then plays the same kind of ball in the division series that it played for the last month or so to get there.

And that’s why we’ve had an inordinate number of wild-card teams, or division-title teams with far lesser records than others in the same postseason field, go on to win the world series. And so many 95- and 100-win teams get beat in the first round and go home.

• RISP? Pfft: So the Braves are still dead last in the majors in hitting with runners in scoring postion, their .230 average actually lower than it was a few weeks ago when it seemed it could get no worse. The next worst RISP averages belong to the Cubs (.231), Padres (.232), Astros (.233) and Marlins (.234), Mariners (.236), Indians (.237) and Pirates (.240) .

And what do all of those other teams have in common? All have losing records, and all but the Pirates are last or next-to-last in their respective division standings. (The Pirates are fourth in the six-team NL Central, ahead of the Cubs and Astros.)

So why have the Braves been able to overcome that horrendous RISP average? Two things, the first one being obvious: Pitching.

The Braves went 4-10 with a .213 team batting average, 41 runs and a 4.02 ERA in 14 games through Sept. 1, but since then they are 16-6 with 80 runs and a 2.48 ERA in 22 games, including 9-2 with a 2.19 ERA (though only a .225 batting average) in their past 11 games.

The Braves have allowed one or no runs in five of their past 11 games.

Like the Tampa Bay Rays (.245), who are tied for the ninth-worst RISP average in the majors, the Braves offset it with pitching.

Since the All-Star break, the Rays lead baseball with a 2.64 ERA and the Braves are second at 2.98, while the next two behind them are more than one-third of a run back since the break – the Phillies (3.35) and Nationals (3.39). The Rays (.211) and Braves (.239) also have majors’ lowest opponents’ batting averages since the break.

The other thing the Braves have is harder to define. It is “it,” an umbrella term of sorts to describe any number of intangibles that certain teams and/or players have in spades. The Braves have shown “it” at varying times this season, like they did a few years ago when they kept pulling out late-innings comebacks. But that team didn’t have the pitching this team does.

Freeman's walk-off homer clinched a playoff berth and was another example of the "it" intangible that this Braves team possesses. We'll find out how far that and good pitching will take them. (Curtis Compton photo/AJC)

Freeman's walk-off homer clinched a playoff berth and was another example of the "it" intangible that this Braves team possesses. We'll find out how far that and good pitching will take them. (Curtis Compton photo/AJC)

When Freddie Freeman hit that two-run homer, it was just the second game-ending homer that brought a team from behind to clinch a postseason berth. The other was the famed “Shot heard ‘round the world” by Bobby Thomson for the 1951 New York Giants. You’ve seen the footage, however old you are. “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

Freeman was also just the fourth player to clinch a playoff berth with his first career walk-off homer, joining Alfonso Soriano (’99); Hank Aaron (’57), and Thomson (‘51).

No, Freeman’s homer didn’t win a division series or league pennant – there were no division series back then, just the World Series – but it was dramatic, and it came off the bat of a kid who struggled at times this season with vision problems, a finger injury, and then RISP woes. But Freeman stepped up and delivered when it counted, and of course it was Chipper who’d begun the rally with a double and was standing at third, ready to raise his fist in triumph, as soon as Freeman blasted that ball over the center-field fence.

It. They have it. How much of it, we’re going to find out. Because between stellar pitching and some hitters with “it,” you can do a lot of damage if you mix those two things together at the right time.

• Dynamic trio: So I was going through sortable stats today, checking on pitchers and ERAs and such, since Medlen won’t have enough to qualify for the ERA title because of his unusual split-season between middle relief and starting.

Anyway, what I came up with was pretty startling: Among pitchers who’ve worked at least 50 innings this season, the Braves have three of the majors’ six lowest ERAs, led by Craig Kimbrel (1.04) in 60-1/3 innings, which is second-lowest behind Rays closer Fernando Rodney (0.63). Kris Medlen is sixth at 1.64 in 132 innings, and Eric O’Flaherty is seventh at 1.76 in 56-1/3 innings.

Among pitchers who’ve worked at least 75 innings, Medlen is the major league leader by a wide margin, and I’ll bet you can’t guess who is second on the list. Take a moment to think about it before you go to the next paragraph….

Did anyone say Brandon Beachy? Yes, he’s second with a 2.00 ERA in 81 innings. Among pitchers with at least 75 innings this season, third behind the two Braves is Seattle’s Tim Wilhelmsen with a 2.26 ERA in 75-2/3 relief innings, and no one else is as low as 2.40.

• O’Flaherty’s unsung season: Speaking of O’Flaherty, check out his ERAs for the first four months of the season: 4.91 in April, 3.18 in May, 1.86 in June, 0.90 in July. Sense a pattern?

His ERAs in August and September: 0.00 and 0.00.

In fact, he hasn’t allowed an earned run since giving up one in his first appearance after the All-Star break on July 13. In his past 27 appearances, O’Flaherty has given up 15 hits, one unearned run and seven walks with 19 strikeouts in 24 innings.

I asked Fredi Gonzalez about O’Flaherty this afternoon, how he doesn’t get much attention because he’s not a closer.

“He’s under the radar. Baseball people know who he is, but he’s in that role where you’re not in the limelight,” Gonzalez said. “Unless someone is keeping up with holds… And you know what? Knowing his personality, he’s right there. He doesn’t care who gets the glory or the accolades, he just wants to do his job.”

Gonzalez paused a moment and added this: “He’s the most professional, prepared guy that I’ve been around.”

• KKKKKKKKimbrel: As for the Braves closer, in his past 49 appearances Kimbrel has a 0.55 ERA and .103 opponents’ average, allowing 17 hits and three runs (on three homers) with six walks and 92 strikeouts in 49-1/3 innings. His stats read like typos, don’t they. I mean, seriously. Six walks and 92 strikeouts in 49-1/3 innings.

• Battle Axe leading off: No surprise when Chipper hit a leadoff double in Monday’s climactic ninth inning. He’s led the NL for much of the season in OBP when leading off innings, and currently ranks fifth in the majors at .444 in that category (Reed Johnson is 10th in the NL at .407).

When leading off innings, Chipper has hit .353 (30-for-85) with four doubles, five homers, 14 walks, seven strikeouts and a .997 OPS. Not bad for a 40-year-old.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

  1. Constanza cf
  2. Prado lf
  3. Heyward rf
  4. Chipper 3b
  5. Freeman 1b
  6. Uggla 2b
  7. Ross c
  8. Simmons cf
  9. Hanson p

• Etc.

Evan Gattis made Baseball America’s Double-A All-Star team despite having only 272 at-bats including 182 in Double-A. He was the only Braves minor leaguer to make any BA classification All-Star team….

The Braves are hot, and so is the team they are targeted to face in the wild-card game: St. Louis is 8-2 with a 2.09 ERA in its past 10 games. Meanwhile, Washington is 5-7 with a 3.36 ERA in its past 12, including 0-3 in one-run games…

Before today, the Brewers were 17-7 with 137 runs and 32 homers in September before today, but lost three of their past five games and allowed 10 and 12 runs in two of those losses.

• Let’s close this with a classic from the peerless Nina Simone, which you can hear by clicking here.

ninasimone_bp

“I WANT A LITTLE SUGAR IN MY BOWL” performed by Nina Simone

I want a little sugar
in my bowl
I want a little sweetness
down in my soul
I could stand some lovin’
Oh so bad
feel so lonely and I feel so sad

I want a little steam
on my clothes
Maybe I can fix things up
so they’ll go
Whatsa matter Daddy
Come on, save my soul
Drop a little sugar in my bowl
I ain’t foolin’
Drop a little sugar in my bowl

Well I want a little sugar in my bowl
I want a little sweetness down in my soul
You been acting strangely
I’ve been told
Mooove me Daddy
I want some sugar in my bowl

I wanna loose steam
on my clothes
Maybe I can fix things up so they’ll go
Whatsa matter Daddy
Come on save my soul
Droppa little sugar in my bowl
I ain’t foolin’
Drop some sugaaar – yeah – in my bowl.

— David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog

767 comments Add your comment

Venice Jim

September 27th, 2012
6:46 pm

Thanks, DOB!!!

Venice Jim

September 27th, 2012
6:46 pm

Thanks, DOB!!!

cabravesfan

September 27th, 2012
6:47 pm

Thanks, DOB!!!

;)

David from Athens, AL

September 27th, 2012
6:48 pm

Thanks DOB!!!

Mathematical Whiner

September 27th, 2012
6:49 pm

David O'Brien

September 27th, 2012
6:51 pm

Thanks folks!!

Kat

September 27th, 2012
6:52 pm

“The Blogger Formerly Known as Billy” from the old blog.. if you go here and search for the game you can watch pre and post game interviews etc http://www.vipboxsports.eu/sports/baseball.html

Bat Masterson

September 27th, 2012
6:58 pm

Good stuff, DOB. Thanks

flange1

September 27th, 2012
6:58 pm

Thanks for the work DOB!

Sopheee

September 27th, 2012
6:59 pm

Gracias, DOB!

Kat

September 27th, 2012
6:59 pm

Thanks David! (I’ll be different haha)

GTI in Brooklyn

September 27th, 2012
7:03 pm

One more, Thanks DOB, from me!!!

The Blogger Formerly Known as Billy

September 27th, 2012
7:04 pm

posted this in the last blog:

Hey anyone know of a live stream anywhere online for that C. Jones pre game stuff and is it Friday or Saturday?

Jay Dubu

September 27th, 2012
7:04 pm

Let’s see if the Cards can take 3 from the Nats and give the Braves a chance to close the gap on the division.

The Blogger Formerly Known as Billy

September 27th, 2012
7:04 pm

Trader Jack

September 27th, 2012
7:05 pm

To the best beat writer in the biz, thanks DOB

Darryl Blackberry

September 27th, 2012
7:06 pm

I sure wish Evan Gattis had been among the September call-ups. Can’t wait to see this guy play…

Lane Kiffin

September 27th, 2012
7:10 pm

ASUBoozer

September 27th, 2012
7:10 pm

Awesome!! As Always, Thanks DOB!!! Nina Simone for the win! “Sun in the sky, you know how I feel…”

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:12 pm

Lets go Tommy.

Give us at least 5 innings and we’ll call it a happy blog.

Trader Jack

September 27th, 2012
7:12 pm

Nats 1 Phils 0

Harper solo shot

Lane Kiffin

September 27th, 2012
7:12 pm

All the chipper pregame stuff will be on the radio if you can’t catch it on TV. You can catch the stream.

Sopheee

September 27th, 2012
7:13 pm

I already like socks up Tommy better than slouchy Tommy.

Cracker

September 27th, 2012
7:13 pm

Tommy’s 1st pitch looked exactly like one of Medlen’s. I’m pulling for him to do well. 1st two outs: no sweat.

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:14 pm

Harper ‘wants’ it.

Lane Kiffin

September 27th, 2012
7:14 pm

To those coming without a pass be smarta take marta

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:15 pm

What?

A 1-2-3?

Nice!

Venice Jim

September 27th, 2012
7:15 pm

Got in the double thanks as a tribute to Ace…

GTI in Brooklyn

September 27th, 2012
7:16 pm

Good 1st inning, and a few words of support to Tommy from Chipper as they head into the dugout.

GTI in Brooklyn

September 27th, 2012
7:21 pm

I’d love to see KIMBREL win the CY, but if it isn’t gonna be him, I’m rooting for Mr. DICKEY, and I’m happy to see he picked up his 20th win this afternoon.

Darryl Blackberry

September 27th, 2012
7:22 pm

GTI:

I second that. Dickey’s played on a lesser team than has Gio Gonzalez, and has still managed 20 wins with limited run support. Remarkable.

Jay Dubu

September 27th, 2012
7:23 pm

Looks like Mr. Hanson has his A-game tonight. Just looking at the box score, don’t have any other access to the game. Three outs on 10 pitches, with 8 of them being strikes.

Let’s go Hanson!!!

usnavyvolfaninva

September 27th, 2012
7:24 pm

kat,
thanks for the link…I tried it, but apparently it either got removed or is broken.

keyLargo

September 27th, 2012
7:26 pm

How could there be no MARTA station at Turner Field when the stadium was built for the Olympics? It makes no sense.

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:26 pm

Get somebody up Fredi.

Trader Jack

September 27th, 2012
7:29 pm

Phils 3 Nats 1

ncbravesfan90

September 27th, 2012
7:31 pm

And Lee was out at first by the way…..

JC Brave

September 27th, 2012
7:31 pm

Scott Cousins, the Posey-killer.

Cracker

September 27th, 2012
7:32 pm

You have to pull for a guy like Dickey. The personal demons he’s overcome and the bumpy career path he’s had to follow would make putty of most of us. And the guy is a humanitarian, active in both aid to Latin America and the fight against human trafficking. Oh, and he’s had a dream season.

Looks like Hanson has been tutored on his pick-off move by his buddy Medlen: he had Lee at 1st.

JC Brave

September 27th, 2012
7:34 pm

Might be a good idea to have someone playing catch in the pen right from this moment…

Brava

September 27th, 2012
7:34 pm

Thank you, DOB.

Tomahawk Mafia

September 27th, 2012
7:35 pm

Hanson looks pretty weak thus far.

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:37 pm

He’s all over the place and will fall in love with his curveball….and get burnt.

kerryb

September 27th, 2012
7:37 pm

Tommy Hanson is the Derrick Lowe of 2012.

Tomahawk Mafia

September 27th, 2012
7:37 pm

Poor Hanson, just is unable to get out of his own way.

Cracker

September 27th, 2012
7:37 pm

Tough inning. But maybe getting out of it will boost Hanson’s confidence.

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:37 pm

Thank. You. Jacob.

Brava

September 27th, 2012
7:38 pm

Whew! Hanson makes me so nervous.

Rick C

September 27th, 2012
7:38 pm

Damn he had to throw a lot of extra pitches because of that missed call.

Fredo

September 27th, 2012
7:38 pm

10 pitch first, 29 pitch second

Fredo

September 27th, 2012
7:39 pm

homerus are killing the Phillies in these last 2 games

Chipper's Southern Bell

September 27th, 2012
7:40 pm

Thanks DOB. I took picture of Jason and Chipper from blog to keep. Thanks

David O'Brien

September 27th, 2012
7:41 pm

It’s getting louder each time Chipper comes to bat. Standing O in his first at-bat tonight, before the pitch. Tips helmet to crowd.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo

September 27th, 2012
7:41 pm

he is just like his father…..

jeffrey d

September 27th, 2012
7:41 pm

Is that the longest “Crazy Train” has played for Chipper?

Capt.Mudd

September 27th, 2012
7:42 pm

Chippers final days at the Ted…..standing ovations, supportive fans. Great atmosphere tonight.

Capt.Mudd

September 27th, 2012
7:44 pm

@Honey Boo Boo

Having any luck controling those repetiive bouts of sneezing?

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:47 pm

Turner looks good.

Real good.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo

September 27th, 2012
7:49 pm

George_George

September 27th, 2012
7:49 pm

Thanks David.

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:50 pm

Good start Big Red!

Capt.Mudd

September 27th, 2012
7:50 pm

@DOB……… Thanks, great work from our favorite journalism professional.

kerryb

September 27th, 2012
7:51 pm

Tommy Hanson should be the last possible pitcher to start a playoff game. He’s only good for 5 innings if he gets that far.

Tomahawk Mafia

September 27th, 2012
7:51 pm

Watching Hanson is no fun at all.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo

September 27th, 2012
7:51 pm

and dont get me confused with some back of the woods hicks…….

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:55 pm

Whew, almost cost us a Freddie F. right there.

kerryb

September 27th, 2012
7:55 pm

Tommy Hanson is a danger to his own team mates.

Bat Masterson

September 27th, 2012
7:55 pm

Enter your comments here

Kat

September 27th, 2012
7:56 pm

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
7:57 pm

ncbravesfan90

September 27th, 2012
7:57 pm

That was a great 1-2 pitch, an ole hanging cement mixer…..

TBbravesfan

September 27th, 2012
7:58 pm

I wish tommy could get with the program.

kerryb

September 27th, 2012
7:58 pm

Tommy Hanson is garbage. Medlin gets an 0-2 count on a hitter and he’s just as good as out. Hanson goes 0-2 on a hitter and the hitter has him right where he wants him.

The A Bomb

September 27th, 2012
7:58 pm

Killjoy Hanson strikes again.

Capt.Mudd

September 27th, 2012
7:58 pm

Tee off on Tommy after getting a nice straight pitch….really considered ‘a gift’ on this level.

Tomahawk Mafia

September 27th, 2012
7:59 pm

Yet again, Hanson is unable to put a hitter away after jumping ahead of him 0-2. That is the story of his career.

Capt.Mudd

September 27th, 2012
7:59 pm

Why was Freddy running at full speed there?

T-Dawg

September 27th, 2012
7:59 pm

Batting Practice engaged

George_George

September 27th, 2012
8:00 pm

Here we go, wish someone would make HANSON get rid if that hitch in his delivery

TNScott

September 27th, 2012
8:00 pm

Why pitch to someone that owns rental property on your arm with first base open?

Fredo

September 27th, 2012
8:00 pm

Tommy on track for his usual 5 innings pitched

Braves for Life

September 27th, 2012
8:01 pm

Hanson really sucks. It’s that simple. NO confidence in throwing a 89 MPH fastball. All you have to do is sit back and wait for a curve ball. I am curious what his curveball to fastball ratio is.

Bob

September 27th, 2012
8:01 pm

When Tommy “Full Count” returns to Tommy “Throw Strikes”, you’ll see him winning games again. Somebody needs to quit messin’ with his head. Just my opinion.

One Big Dummy

September 27th, 2012
8:01 pm

Hanson better not be back with this team in 2013. We don’t need him.

Bat Masterson

September 27th, 2012
8:01 pm

Come on, Tommy. Get this guy out before I fall asleep.

T-Dawg

September 27th, 2012
8:01 pm

The good news is that Hanson is throwing a lot of pitches.

Chipper's Southern Bell

September 27th, 2012
8:01 pm

I hope fredi pulls him if he gets in trouble

bitman

September 27th, 2012
8:03 pm

Tommy sux, as usual.

Cracker

September 27th, 2012
8:03 pm

Hanson fell in love with his curveball in that inning. Five or more of them were big league hooks, but you can’t triple up on a pitch to a hitter like Lee.

bitman

September 27th, 2012
8:03 pm

Tommy sux, as usual.

George_George

September 27th, 2012
8:04 pm

Outta here to watch game. have a good one. Nite all.

kerryb

September 27th, 2012
8:05 pm

I hope this is the last start we see from Tommy Hanson this year. IF we were tied with the Nats on Tuesday when his next start came up would anyone start him?

Capt.Mudd

September 27th, 2012
8:05 pm

He’s a player…..glad to have him with us.

Bat Masterson

September 27th, 2012
8:08 pm

Come on, Marteen

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
8:08 pm

C’mon Teen!

Park another one!

Bat Masterson

September 27th, 2012
8:10 pm

Oh well, come on, Jason

Sopheee

September 27th, 2012
8:10 pm

T-Dawg

September 27th, 2012
8:10 pm

Love Prado but he’s trying that inside out swing in almost every at bat. That pitch was way inside….great pitch to pull.

ncbravesfan90

September 27th, 2012
8:10 pm

Ouch offense….

Mixxo

September 27th, 2012
8:11 pm

Jason’s fighting it.

Add your comment