Archive for the ‘Focal’ Category

Braves slumping at bad time, as September looms

SAN FRANCISCO – When it’s late August and the Braves go directly from surging over a 40-game stretch to losing five out of six, well, their followers get anxious for obvious reasons.

Zito had struggled in recent weeks, but against the slumping Braves he was dominant again Thursday. (AP photo)

Zito had struggled in recent weeks, but against the slumping Braves he was dominant again Thursday. (AP photo)

Because as much as some of them have asked us since spring training to please stop mentioning the September collapse, until the Braves bury that meltdown of a year ago by finishing a season strong and going to the playoffs, it’s going to hang overhead like a cloud. And right now, that cloud is getting darker.

Let me be clear: No one I know is predicting anything similar to last year’s 10-20 finish, simply because this is a better, healthier team that those Braves were down the stretch.

The 2011 Braves turned to rookies and prospects to hold together an injury-riddled starting rotation during the critical stretch drive, and two of the Big Three relievers were running on fumes, …

Continue reading Braves slumping at bad time, as September looms »

Medlen belongs in Braves rotation rest of season and beyond

SAN FRANCISCO – There was an email in my box this morning from a Braves fan (and one of our blog regulars), who just wanted to say how much fun it was to watch Kris Medlen every time he pitched, how it had become “must-see TV” in his house. And I understood exactly what he meant.

The Braves have won 16 consecutive games started by Kris Medlen, breaking a franchise record previously held by John Smoltz.

The Braves have won 16 consecutive games started by Kris Medlen, breaking a franchise record previously held by John Smoltz.

But beyond his demeanor, energy, and overall assured (and assuring) presence on the mound, there are ways to quantify why Medlen needs to stay in the Braves rotation for the rest of the season and, assuming they make it, why he should be a starter throughout the postseason.

And beyond.

First, the obvious: The Braves enjoy playing behind him and win when he starts. They have won a remarkable 16 consecutive games started by Medlen going back to 2010, breaking John Smoltz’s franchise record of 15 team wins in a row when he started.

Medlen is 9-0 with a 3.01 ERA in 19 starts …

Continue reading Medlen belongs in Braves rotation rest of season and beyond »

Uggla, McCann scuffling at tough time for Braves

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

Washington – The ninth inning in last night’s game summed up the Braves recent offensive struggles, didn’t it?

They had runners first and third with nobody out, down 4-1, with a chance to make a real stink on the Washington Nationals and closer Tyler Clippard. Then Dan Uggla popped out in foul ground to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Brian McCann popped out to Adam LaRoche at first. Juan Francisco is the only one who got hold of a ball but flew out to end the game.

In a matter of five pitches, the scoring threat was over. .

“When you’ve got a couple guys who are struggling in the lineup, it seems like the big at-bats always find you,” Chipper Jones said when I asked him about that sequence last night and Uggla and McCann’s pop-ups. “They’re scuffling a little bit, they’ve got to just keep grinding out at-bats in hopes that they find a rhythm here pretty soon.

“But like I said, …

Continue reading Uggla, McCann scuffling at tough time for Braves »

Braves have to move on from tough loss to Nats

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

Washington – So….where do the Braves go from here?

Last we saw them, a few short hours ago, they had given up three infield hits (one ruled generously) in an unlucky 13th inning that ended with a ball stuck in Dan Uggla’s glove and Danny Espinosa scoring from third. And the Braves had lost 5-4 in their longest game of the year, and in some ways the most excruciating.

To fight that hard and that long only to have the game come down to something so fluky, and in the situation the Braves were in last night – against the team they’re chasing, with the clock ticking louder and louder. The clubhouse was as subdued after the game as I’ve been around this season.

But simply put, the Braves are going to have to find a way to drop it and move on. They’re going to have to do exactly what the Nationals did the last time the Braves were in town. Remember that Braves comeback win from nine runs down …

Continue reading Braves have to move on from tough loss to Nats »

Setting up the Braves-Nats showdown

(Staff writer Carroll Rogers if filling in for David O’Brien this series.)

Washington – Greetings from ground zero. Or at least as far as the Braves are concerned…They open up a three-series series with the first-place Nationals tonight in what could well decide if they are gunning for a division title during the stretch run, or trying once again to hold on for dear life in a wild card race.

The Braves enter the series five games behind the Nationals, which means best-case scenario, they leave here two games back, worst-case eight-games back.

A more realistic goal for the Braves is to win two out of three and fly out of here for the west coast down four games. But if they lose two out of three? They’re down six games. And with 38 games left in the season after that, that’s a tough margin to recover from, especially against a team that won’t lose if the Braves don’t make sure of it themselves.

That’s pretty much the picture Chipper Jones painted yesterday when …

Continue reading Setting up the Braves-Nats showdown »

Braves have one more vs. Dodgers before Big Trip

Good morning or afternoon to everyone out in Braves Country and parts beyond. In case you missed it earlier, the line of the day has already been uttered. It was in the clubhouse this morning, Tim Hudson announced to the rest of the players that chapel would be starting shortly.

Without missing a beat, Eric Hinske replied, “Take my bats with you.”

Ba-da-bum tcsh.

The Braves will leave town this afternoon to start a crucial 10-game road trip that kicks off with a marquee matchup against the NL East-leading Nationals at Washington, a series that will feature two of the three hottest teams in the majors over the past six weeks (Cincinnati is the other) and could go a long way in determining whether the Braves can realistically catch them.

Chipper Jones is resting his achy knees today, which means he might try to play all three games against the Nationals in the big series starting Monday.

Chipper Jones is resting his achy knees today, which means he might try to play all three games against the Nationals in the big series starting Monday.

After D.C., they’ll trek across the country for a four-game series at San Francisco and …

Continue reading Braves have one more vs. Dodgers before Big Trip »

Fill-in shortstop has given Braves what they needed

The Braves traded for shortstop Paul Janish strictly because of his strong defense, so they wouldn’t lose much in that area while rookie standout Andrelton Simmons recovered from a broken hand.

The Braves traded for Janish for his defense while Andrelton Simmons was on the DL, and the fill-in has been everything they'd hoped for and more.

The Braves traded for Janish for his defense while Andrelton Simmons was on the DL, and the fill-in has been everything they'd hoped for and more.

Janish has given them what they anticipated in the field, but provided more than expected lately with his bat. He had three hits in Friday’s 4-3 win against the Dodgers, including a pair of key singles when the Braves tied the score in the eighth inning and won in the 11th.

The night before, he had two hits, two RBIs and a flashy defensive play in the ninth that helped Kris Medlen finish off a shutout against the Padres.

“I appreciate him,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The hits, those are great … but I appreciate the hell out of him defensively. The stuff he can do. The relay to cut the runner out at the plate with two …

Continue reading Fill-in shortstop has given Braves what they needed »

Chipper could be first since Georgia Peach to hit .320 in final season

He’s hitting .317 now at age 40 in his final season, and if Chipper Jones could finish the season at .320 he’d do something no one has done in more than eight decades.

Jones' second homer in Thursday's game was also the 2,700th hit of his career. (AP photo)

Jones' second homer in Thursday's game was also the 2,700th hit of his career. (AP photo)

Coincidentally, the last batter to hit .320 or higher in 350 or more plate appearances during his final season in the majors was also a gem from Georgia. Well, actually, he was the Georgia Peach. That’s right. Ty Cobb.

A friend, John Lowe at the Detroit Free Press, did the research and determined that not since Cobb hit .323 for the Philadelphia A’s in 1928 has a hitter finished at .320 or better in his last season, at least not with that modest minimum of 350 plate appearances.

Cobb obviously was a different type hitter and did it during an entirely different era, so his .323 average, .389 OBP and .431 slugging percentage aren’t really otherwise comparable to what Jones is doing this season. Cobb had 27 doubles …

Continue reading Chipper could be first since Georgia Peach to hit .320 in final season »

On Chipper’s bobblehead, injuries, 3,000 hits and HOF

The official Chipper Jones tribute night is Sept. 28 against the Mets, the Friday opener of his final home series. But tonight’s game at Turner Field could have the feel of a sendoff preview of sorts, since it’s Chipper bobblehead night – the last of those – and there’s a pretty good chance that the retiring third baseman could also reach another milestone of sorts.

Young Chipper missed an entire season at the outset of his career for the first of his six knee surgeries, which was the first of two ACL reconstructions and rehabs he'd endure.

Young Chipper missed an entire season at the outset of his career for the first of his six knee surgeries, which was the first of two ACL reconstructions and rehabs he'd endure.

He needs two hits to reach 2,700, and Jones is 6-for-14 with three homers against tonight’s San Diego starter, ex-Braves righty Jason Marquis. Chipper would be the 65th player in major league history with 2,700 hits, and the sixth switch-hitter.

Someone asked me this morning on Twitter if I thought Chipper would have 3,000 hits were it not for his two ACL knee surgeries. And I said yes, since the first of those surgeries cost …

Continue reading On Chipper’s bobblehead, injuries, 3,000 hits and HOF »

Can Braves afford to keep Bourn? Can they afford not to?

He’s their best center fielder since Andruw Jones and most dynamic leadoff man since Rafael Furcal, and Braves players and fans have seen enough of Michael Bourn in 12 months to know he’s someone the team needs to make every effort to keep from leaving Atlanta as a free agent this winter.

The question isn’t just whether the Braves, with their middle-of-the-pack payroll, can afford to keep him. It’s can they afford not to keep him? That is, without taking a step back from the progress their offense has made with Bourn at the top of the lineup.

Chipper Jones is retiring after this season, and the iconic Braves third baseman sounds as if he has an idea where his own $14 million salary that’s coming off the books should be allocated. Toward a contract for the speedy center fielder, who could possibly command more than that per season in a long-term deal of six or seven years.

Re-signing Bourn (above) should be a "No. 1 priority" for the Braves, says Chipper Jones.

Re-signing Bourn (above) should be a "No. 1 priority," says Chipper Jones.

“It should be a No. …

Continue reading Can Braves afford to keep Bourn? Can they afford not to? »