Are Braves playing dangerous game or can magic continue?

The Braves are getting accustomed to ninth-inning comebacks, but how long can that continue?

The Braves are getting accustomed to ninth-inning comebacks. But how long can this continue?

Before Braves obscurity Brooks Conrad hit the shot heard ’round Atlanta, Pittsfield and Round Rock Thursday, I was on my way to writing a column about the recent collapse of pitcher Tommy Hanson and the team’s starting rotation.

Conrad’s grand salami in the bottom of the ninth against Cincinnati changed all that. A seven-run ninth accounted for the biggest ninth-inning comeback in franchise history. The Braves won in their final at-bat for the third straight game and eighth time this season.

Here’s the question: How long do you think the Braves can keep getting away with these narrow escapes and wins engineered by unlikely sources (Conrad, Troy Glaus, Eric Hinske, etc.)?

These things can work in a short playoff series. But over 162 games in the regular season, the Braves are going to need to start getting more production from their staples.

A brief rundown of the problem areas:

Chipper Jones went 0-for-4 (with two strikeouts) before pulled out of Thursday’s game. His average is down to .225. This is only slightly better than Yunel Escobar (.200) but worse than Brian McCann (.254). Next …

♦ Jones, Escobar and McCann should be the Braves’ primary run producers. I’m not taking anything away from Jason Heyward, who is amazing beyond belief. But the team can’t continue to rely on a rookie. Heyward (30) has nearly as many RBI as Jones,  Escobar and McCann combined (33). That’s a dangerous game.

♦ Glaus went 3-for-4 Thursday and his average is up to .289. Hinske is hitting .355. If these moves work out over the full season, general manager Frank Wren deserves some credit. But Glaus and Hinske should be bonuses, not the backbone of the lineup. The Braves’ top four RBI men are Heyward (30), Glaus (27), Martin Prado (19) and Hinske (18). Conrad? With nine RBI, he’s only two behind Jones (11).

♦ Starting pitching is become an issue. Hanson was shelled by the Reds for eight runs (including a grand slam) in the second inning. He has allowed 13 earned runs, 15 hits and two homers in his last two starts (8 2/3 innings). The Braves already have Jair Jurrjens (0-3, 6.38) on the disabled list (hamstring). He’s expected to be out for another month. Kenshin Kawakami is 0-6 with a 4.98 ERA. Derek Lowe is a very fortunate 5-4. His ERA: second worst on the staff  at 5.47. Tim Hudson has been solid.

The Braves are built on starting pitching and timely hitting by the core players in the lineup. Stories like those of Brooks Conrad are great. They just don’t happen very often.

Recent Braves posts

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Fredi Gonzalez should top Braves’ list to replace Cox

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

284 comments Add your comment

DCbravosfan

May 21st, 2010
11:42 am

Jeff Schultz

May 21st, 2010
11:43 am

Chief Nock A Homa

May 21st, 2010
11:48 am

Third?

May 21st, 2010
11:50 am

The questions about the starting staff are valid, but Lowe and Kawakami have both pitched well in their past 2 starts. So if we’re basing Hanson’s collapse on 2 starts, then we have to consider that maybe the other two are turning it around.

Chief Nock A Homa

May 21st, 2010
11:51 am

Seriously…

I think you are right that those producing right now should be a bonus, not necessarily the norm (although I would expect Glaus to produce if he is recovered, etc…)

I think the question to answer your question becomes this:

Do you think that Chipper, Escobar, McCann, et al are going to begin producing, and that this just happens to be a poorly timed slump for all three at the same time…

McCann you have to believe is going to begin producing… Escobar you would think will at minimum produce more than he is… And, Chipper, is his will strong enough to keep him going enough???

Thoughts??

Delbert D.

May 21st, 2010
11:52 am

Can Jones…wait, I think I’ll stop there.

sportsmandh

May 21st, 2010
11:52 am

Schultz, you are rockin’ it. Thanks for the good coverage.

I knew this was going to be an interesting season, hope it stays that way. As far as the rest of the year goes, I think it will be a lot like last year. I think they’ll be in the hunt for a playoff spot pretty much to the end even if they don’t make it. I think we will see some of our core guys stabalize. I’m still a little suprised people think anything we get from Glaus is gravy. It just took a while for him to get passed his injury. The guy is a very proven player, moreso than LaRoche in opinion (offensively anyway) who most people thought we could live without.

I’m a little concerned about the starters, but not overly concerned. I think Lowe really is coming around, but I’m not getting my hopes up too much on him. Just hope he can provide a lot of innings. If JJ comes back strong we will be good. The other day on DOB’s blog I proposed the idea of looking at a 2nd half trade (rental) of Cliff Lee and got fileted by the blog denizens. B/c my idea was to use Escobar as part of the trade. But I don’t care who they offered if there would be a way to get Lee for the second half as long as they don’t give up too many prospects like they did for Texiera. In my opinion, if they have a shot at the playoffs they should do what it takes to make it, as long as they don’t throw away the farm.

Ethavery

May 21st, 2010
11:52 am

I’m very concerned about Chipper, McCann, Escobar and McLouth but look at the bright side. With these guys struggling, we are 21-20. When they get back, we’ll be tough to stop. Hanson will get it together. You forgot to include Medlen who has been a stud all season. We got some great young pitchers in the minors. How close is Minor to coming up by the way? Go Braves!

stevie zero

May 21st, 2010
11:54 am

really like to see chip hit second, heyward third. and why not start infante at short and have escobar earn playing time. infante was raking

Pat Rocket

May 21st, 2010
11:54 am

wiley

May 21st, 2010
11:55 am

Keep winning that’s all that matters. Hopefully the pitching comes around.

"Chef" Tim Dix

May 21st, 2010
11:56 am

At the beginning of the season the question seemed to be run production from the corners.

Now it appears to be third and center as left was given void.

Here’s hoping Schaffer can come on with the G-Braves and create a senario.

Paul H

May 21st, 2010
11:57 am

I think the fact the Braves overcame a 9 game losing streak shows they’re not afraid of anything at this point.

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:00 pm

Fact is, unless the guys you mentioned get hot, there is no way they will be in contention in August. However, if they do start playing better, and it comes down to the wire, we will look back at these games as pivotal.

NCBravesFan

May 21st, 2010
12:01 pm

To me, the Braves right now are an above average team that is probably not going to the playoffs. Problem areas would be defense, power and speed. Assets are starting pitching and the likelihood that a few hitters you mentioned will improve.

I’d say they’re a player or two away from being a true playoff contender. I vote for keeping Medlen in the rotation. A healthy Jordan Schafer could help at some point. If not, the outfield situation needs to get resolved fairly soon via trade.

VinceVanGo

May 21st, 2010
12:02 pm

I think the Braves will be fine if Bobby Cox makes all the right moves, something he has not always done in the past. If he will play the hot hitters and stick with them until they cool off, and pitch the hot pitchers the Braves have a team that could surprise and make the Wild Card. So what if Hinske and Glaus aren’t multi million dollar players in their prime. They are both doing great and know that will bode well for a contract somewhere next year. They’ll continue to produce. Conrad and Infante are great to have coming off the bench although I still think Infante should play almost everyday and Conrad should spell Chipper a little more often. When I say play the hot hands that includes Chipper and McCann and Escobar. If they’re slumping give them a couple of games off. Make them want to do better when they’re in there instead of knowing Bobby will employ the Norton-Syndrome, “you stink, you still play.” As for pitching I think it’s time that Medlin finds his way into the starting rotation. Pitch the hot hands too. And find some work the young future closer. If Bobby Cox can put all of his years of experience to work, forget playing his favorites and go with the motivated hot ball players the Braves will be okay, I even think that they’ll make the playoffs.

stevie zero

May 21st, 2010
12:02 pm

got to get chip out of the three hole. need at least SOME power and rbis there. his walks and obp are valuable but not in that power slot. medlin has been very impressive and a solid replacement anywhere in rotation. clubhouse confidence has returned. braves are ready to challenge for playoff spot

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:03 pm

The way I look at is, Bobby will keep rolling Mc, Chipper and Yunal out there and they will either:

A) Get hot, keep the braves in contention, and be in the mix in the end, only becaue of our superior talent, in spite of Bobby Cox.
B) Stay cold and Bobby Cox will be the worst manager in the world becaue he keep rolling them out there.

Hollywould

May 21st, 2010
12:05 pm

NCbravesfan read my mind. Schaefer is looking better and better/ Medlin has some nasty stuff. When JJ gets back this staff is as good as any. Pitching can get them thru the dog days. At some point Escobar, Chipper, Brian all will start hitting. Hang tough/bring up Schaefer(Mclouth just soesn’t get it.

Hollywould

May 21st, 2010
12:06 pm

sorry, Mclouth (doesn’t) get it with that uppercut swing.

sportsmandh

May 21st, 2010
12:07 pm

Hollywould,
McClouth gets it better than Melky. I think Schaefer will replace Melky as soon as possilbe, and Melky may be traded for the famous player to be named later.

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:07 pm

Vince, so all you have to do is stay with the hot hitters and hot pitchers? Is it that simple? So, you should not have roles, all the players should feel as though they are one bad game or series away from getting benched. Pitchers should know if they have a bad game, they are out of the rotation.

PMC

May 21st, 2010
12:08 pm

They are what they are. I’m happy with it as long as it’s interesting. I don’t really see more than a week or two tear in it for Chipper at this point. Mac will rebound. Escobar will rebound. They have a nice capable bench. It’s just going to be day to day. This is still a team in transition from what was to a brighter future where playoffs are expected again.

heymmered

May 21st, 2010
12:08 pm

Mclouth has been swinging a hot back the last week and a half to two weeks. He is proving to be a nice 8th hole hitter.

Hollywould

May 21st, 2010
12:08 pm

Also, Just read the new Sporting News yesterday. Has about 6 pages of accolades on Bobby Cox. Good read but disturbing that some players knew Cox would not take them out of the lineup as he was so loyal. I think that is a fault/not a good thing.

bulldog bubba

May 21st, 2010
12:09 pm

My question is why can’t we sit Jones,McCann,Escobar a couple of games a week and use Conrad,Infante and Ross a couple games week? We know Chipper is getting slow and hurt a least once a week.It may freshen th line-up and start to give us more offense.We also have Medlen and Venters in the bullpen could they not start some games and give us a shot to win some games and less chance to lose with Lowe and Kawakami starting every 5 days.Let face it those two are not our best pitchers.Can’t we manage the team a little better?

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:09 pm

How did McClough make the all-star team a few years back?

heymmered

May 21st, 2010
12:09 pm

Hot bat not back

Hollywould

May 21st, 2010
12:10 pm

Sportstsmandh, You are correct on the Melky thing. This guy does not seem to have a clue.

Keith

May 21st, 2010
12:12 pm

Third or a very close fourth. Yesterday”s game was unbelievable, but that is the greatness of the game! It isn’t over till the last out. The big question is, Where will the braves be at the all star break? I doubt that we will be wondering then. Hopefully, we will be surprised, but at this point, I just don”t think the majic will be there. I think the braves will cool off offensively. Pitching will be good, but the bats will go silent. It will be interesting for sure.

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:13 pm

There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, Cox winning % over 29 years is .555. Regardless if you like his style or not, the proof is in the pudding. Sure he has made decisions that have lost games, but he made them what won them too. He put Brooks up last night.

You watch a player take a few at bats, Cox watches them for hours watching film, taking BP, and just going about their business as pros. Cox believe if you have produced, and you do all the right things preparing, that eventually you will reward his loyalty, or patience, or confidence, whatever you want to call it. A .555 career winning percentage tells me it must work.

Reid Adair

May 21st, 2010
12:14 pm

I’m not as concerned about the pitching as I am the offense. Despite the recent late-inning heroics, I am still not convinced the Braves have the capability to put up any semblance of a consistent offense for the next 120 or so games.

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:16 pm

Reid, I am with you, however all I ask for is a reason to watch come August/September. Phils are just a better team, but I do believe in destiny. These games might come up big in September.

sportsmandh

May 21st, 2010
12:19 pm

I think you guys are giving Cox a little too much credit yesterday for ‘having Brooks in the game’. There was no magical premonition about the big comeback. It is more along the lines of what Schultz said. Cox had gone into surrender mode, pulling his starters to give them a few innings off on getaway day when it looked like it was mop up time. It just so happened a big rally happened. That is why they play the games. And it just shows too that this team does have a really strong bench and bullpen.

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Bubbly

May 21st, 2010
12:22 pm

Spotsman, I got money that says Diaz gets traded before Melky.

Hollywould

May 21st, 2010
12:23 pm

Sure, Cox has a good winning % but how much of that was Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine getting the 4inch
outside calls in the 90’s? Umps changed that when they started getting graded. What is his% in the last 5 years? Loyalty can get you in trouble/ask my fist wife!!!

DCbravosfan

May 21st, 2010
12:24 pm

Braves are staring down the barrel of a 75 win season unless the pitching shapes up . . . you can get away with crap hitting if the pitching is there, but as you note, the Bravos’ starters have not been following the script . . .I would have more optimism if the Bravos had a couple candidates for summer call-ups . . . any good news on Shaefer’s wrist? also, any time table on JJ?

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:26 pm

Hey, if you are going to blame cox for decisions that don’t work, you sure got to give him credit when they do.

One other Cox Tidbit, he ranks for in all time wins, one behind Tony Larussa, one of the most celebrated “game mangers” there are.

However, Cox does have a better career winning percentage than Larussa, and also has a better winning percentage than #5 on the career wins list, a guy named Joe Torre.

That Said, both Torre and Larussa have more championships, so I could debate they are better. But the fact is, if you are in the debate with Larussa and Torre, you got to be pretty good.

Furthermore, if I concede that Torre and Larussa are better managers due to their championship, I believe Cox is a better 162 game manager due to his winning %. So, basically, I can make the argument that Cox is the best 162 manager to ever manager the game.

Schultz doesn't actually watch

May 21st, 2010
12:28 pm

One bad start due to sickness and suddenly our rotation is falling apart? Excuse me if I don’t panic. Kawakami allowed 0 ER his last start, Medlen has been great filling in for JJ, Hudson has been a rock and Hanson had the worst outing of his career but he is still an ACE. “The team can’t rely on a rookie?” Sure they can, when this rookie is having the best rookie season since a guy named Albert Pujols (heard of him?). All in all this is an incredibly weak argument if the main problem the Braves have is that players that have proven capable of producing haven’t came around yet.

What??

May 21st, 2010
12:28 pm

A very unbalanced article in my opinion. JS fails to mention that McCann is starting to hit now that he has his eye issues figured out. Escobar is a proven major league hitter who has been probably our most clutch hitter for the past few seasons – HE WILL HIT. Chipper does seem to be in a state of real decline and I for one believe he will retire with Bobby at the end of the season. JS also doesn’t mention Medlen’s excellent pitching or the fact that Hanson was sick yesterday (fighting dizziness). Hanson is far too good to go into a prolonged slump. Lowe is fine as a third or fourth starter (regardless of whether he is overpaid for that role). Kawakami can move to the bullpen once JJ comes back and I think he can play the long reliever role nicely as his issues seem to mostly come in the 5th and 6th innings of his starts. If the Braves are near .500 at the All-Star break, they will make the playoffs. They have always been a second half team under BC and will be this year. If they can keep from digging a whole that is too deep like they did last year, they will take the wild car.

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:28 pm

Hollywood, he had the big 3 for about half his career. Again, if you say he had the “players” that inflated his W%, then you can easly understand that he did not have them the past 5 years.

Again, when they win, it is becaue of the players, lose? Bad Manager.

Hollywould

May 21st, 2010
12:29 pm

DC fan, i am a season ticket holder at Gwinnett and Scheafer is coming along well. Won’t be long until they will have to bring him up. Mclouth and Melky cannot do it.

sportsmandh

May 21st, 2010
12:30 pm

Bubbly,
If so it will only be b/c they can’t find a taker for Melky.

Justafan

May 21st, 2010
12:32 pm

Dick, you was right yesterday saying Braves would win after being down 8-0. What a comeback, little of everything…Is it better to be LUCKY Than good????

Braves will still need to make couple on moves..

wawel78

May 21st, 2010
12:33 pm

any chance the yanks will let us void the Vazquez-Melky trade?

I have not seen mentioned that 5 errors contributed to the heroics over the last 3 days. I don’t think this team is too good but as Domino says “you are what your record is.”

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:35 pm

Bottom line, Cox is good, one of the best ever. If Lonnie Smith touches 2nd base, and Leritz and Kirby strike out, he goes down as one of the best ever.

So, if he got to 3 games away from being maybe the best ever, you go to be pretty good.

Hollywould

May 21st, 2010
12:35 pm

Mr Charlie, I think Cox is a good mgr but I could have managed those teams with that pitching staff and the way umps called it. Look at our pitching guru (mazzone). Didn’t quite work out for him once he left did it? Coincidence?

Mr Charlie

May 21st, 2010
12:37 pm

Vasques got pulled from the Yankees rotation. Dumping him after his career year was a stroke of genuis. I apologize to Frank Wren and Tim Hudson, I was wrong on that one.

wawel78

May 21st, 2010
12:38 pm

but Kirby didn’t strike out, did he? Cox put a LH pitcher in against a guy that was hitting over 340 against them and, I haven’t looked it up in a while but I believe up to that point he was hitting over 300 against Liebrandt. I’m fine if you disagree but I think 162 games cover up Cox’s mistakes. There’s not as much margin for error in a 7 game series and the Braves pay for it.