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.
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