Lincecum shuts down Braves; so what’s next Plan B?

The Braves aren't great offensively but Tim Lincecum made them look silly. He struck out 14 in a complete-game shutout. (AP photo)

The Braves aren't great offensively but Tim Lincecum made them look silly. He struck out 14 in a complete game.

(Last update at 1:10 a.m.)

SAN FRANCISCO – The last time the Braves won a playoff game, John Smoltz outpitched Roger Clemens (I guess performance-enhancers didn’t work that night), Andruw Jones had three hits and a rookie catcher named Brian McCann slammed a three-run homer in his first career postseason at-bat.

That was five years ago, hardly an eternity.

So why does this seem like some scratchy radio clip from the ’50s?

The Braves opened the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants Thursday night. To understand just how drastically things have changed since their last postseason appearance in 2005 — an NLDS loss to Houston — consider that McCann is one of only three carryovers on the active roster. (The other two: Tim Hudson and Kyle Farnsworth, who doesn’t really count, and certainly most would rather not count.)

The 2005 team still had some punch but was on the descent. The 2010 team is one that has been hanging from a thread for months. We saw more evidence of that in Game 1 against the Giants.

San Francisco won the opener, 1-0. Facing two-time Cy Young winner and part-human Tim Lincecum, the Braves finished with as many errors (two) as hits (two).

The Braves have a hard enough time touching even normal pitchers with this lineup. So you can imagine how they fared against Lincecum. He struck out 14. Some, he didn’t humiliate.

“He’s different now than he was early in the year — he’s even better,” Matt Diaz said. “His slider was absolutely nasty. I don’t know where he learned it but I’m not happy with whoever it taught it to him.”

Now what?

Are the Braves out of Plan Bs?

The Braves got what they needed most – terrific starting pitching. Starter Derek Lowe allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings. He was followed by Jonny Venters, who coaxed an inning-ending double play from Pablo Sandoval and retired the side in the seventh. The Giants managed only one run (a disputed one at that) and five hits off of five Braves pitchers.

That wasn’t good enough. The Braves’ potential undoing in the postseason figured to hinge on their erratic defense and anemic hitting. Both maladies continued. Lincecum allowed a leadoff double to Omar Infante. Then he retired 19 of the next 20 — 10 by strikeout.

He was so good, he was borderline illegal.

Brooks Conrad thought he had applied the out tag on Buster Posey but the umpire ruled him safe. Posey eventually scored the game's only run.

Brooks Conrad thought he had applied the out tag on Buster Posey but the umpire ruled him safe. Posey eventually scored the game's only run.

Injuries have wrecked the the Braves’ lineup, both offensively and in the field. Brooks Conrad (now playing second) committed an error for the fifth straight game (though it didn’t lead to a run). Rick Ankiel had an error. Omar Infante (now playing third) let a grounder by Cody Ross bounce over his glove and into left field in the fourth, allowing Buster Posey to score from second. The play was ruled a hit but even if Infante just knocks it down the game remains scoreless.

The  Braves’ had only one legitimate gripe: Posey never should have been allowed to score. He had reached second on a stolen base, even though Conrad appeared to have applied the tag before he reached the bag.

Posey didn’t dispute this. When asked if he was safe, he responded: “It’s a good thing we don’t have instant replay.”

But credit the Braves for not excessively whining about the call. Lowe said, “I thought he was out but that’s part of it.”

Conrad echoed: “[The throw] was a tad up the line but I definitely thought I put [the tag] on him before he got to the bag. It was just a tough call. But obviously we didn’t get the job done offensively.”

How different is this from five years ago?

At least that lineup still included Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, Julio Franco, Brian Jordan and Jeff Francoeur (he was good then). Relatively speaking, that was Murderers Row compared to the Braves’ lineup Thursday night. (No. 5 batter: Alex Gonzalez, .240).

The question now is whether the Braves have any special moments left in their bag.

This has been a strange but special season. Chemistry and resolve have allowed the Braves to overcome an early-season nine-game losing streak, a blur of injuries that took out two No. 3 hitters (Jones and Martin Prado), two starting pitchers (Jair Jurrjens and Kris Medlen) and others. They had to find a new shortstop when they gave up on petulant shortstop Yunel Escobar. They had to find a player with potential power when Troy Glaus seemed to age 10 years overnight.

All of that is why, when the Braves finally did clinch the wild card on the final day of the season, there was such an explosion of pure joy in the clubhouse, one seldom witnessed by even veteran players.

The unfortunate part is, we may never know how good this team could have been.

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

485 comments Add your comment

MatthewH

October 8th, 2010
12:17 am

What frusutrated me the most was all of the first-pitch swings that the Braves had. We all know that Lincecum is mostly outside of the strike zone. Let him get into a hole. Don’t make it easier for him!

Mike Pa

October 8th, 2010
12:24 am

I know i cant remember how many times i screamed at the tv. How does no one in the dugout pick that up and say take a pitch. It looked like we were pressing at the plate and trying to do too much instead of taking pitches what has worked for us all year.

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:24 am

http://yfrog.com/7edluuj

How about some umps who know how to do their job?

Tony E

October 8th, 2010
12:25 am

Hey Mathew, that’s what the Braves do in the postseason – swing at the first pitch – strike or not.
The least patient postseason team ever.
EVER.

kaminari

October 8th, 2010
12:26 am

Brad

October 8th, 2010
12:27 am

Derek Lee is incapable of swinging…I’m convinced.

crabapplejoe

October 8th, 2010
12:28 am

You got to hand it to the kid, Lincecum….that was one of the most dominating pitching performances I have ever seen….the kid is so confident and seemed to get stronger as the innings went by. Tomorrow’s another day.

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:28 am

And to still be able to battle with Alex Gonzalez hitting 5th and Brooks Conrad and Rick Ankiel in your lineup says a lot about this team. If they just sign anyone that can remotely hit this team will be really good next year. Jason Werth would look nice in left field as would Carl Crawford. The Braves could make it happen but we all know they won’t.

m bradley

October 8th, 2010
12:29 am

lowe’s inability to hit the longball really hurt the braves tonite-he hits 2 home runs and braves win.

LuisG

October 8th, 2010
12:31 am

McCann gunned down Two baserunners, but one of them eventually scored. I thought Lowe pitched well (got to a lot of 3-ball counts and that s^cked a little), but the bullpen held them in check and the offense didn’t figure out Lincecum’s pitches. They could’ve still been playing…

bulldog bubba

October 8th, 2010
12:32 am

dEREK lEE REMINDS ME OF aNDREW jONES AT THE PLATE.HE JUST STANDS THERE AND WAITS FOR THE BAD PITCH.UNBELIEVEABLE.THEIR LACK OF PLAY MEANS WE ARE 3 AND OUT.I WISH I COULD BELIEVE!!!I NEED A CLUSTERS MOMENT

John

October 8th, 2010
12:32 am

What a joke.

E

October 8th, 2010
12:33 am

Very Overrated! None of the players Atlanta went out and got have not stepped up.

You so funny

October 8th, 2010
12:33 am

m bradley

October 8th, 2010
12:29 am
lowe’s inability to hit the longball really hurt the braves tonite-he hits 2 home runs and braves win.

HAHAH funny.

Oh Well

October 8th, 2010
12:34 am

Should’ve saw this coming.. This team has been pathetic for the last month at bat and defensively. I mean how easy is it to stand at the plate and look like a fool while taking strikes and swinging at balls? Swinging at pitches up to their waist and in the freaking dirt? Lincecum should send the Braves a basket because they made him look brilliant tonight.

Derek Lee, Rick Ankiel, Alex Gonzalez, Brooks Conrad and Matt freaking Diaz? Hahahaha that’s what we’re counting on to get us to the World Series and potentially win it? Get real the Giants will sweep the Braves and get swept by the Phillies.. 2010 World Series Champions Philadelphia Phillies..

Good riddance Bobby and take Terry with you! If he becomes the new manager I will go nuclear!

Jason

October 8th, 2010
12:34 am

Derek Lowe absolutely pitched his tail off tonight… Brooks Conrad has no business starting for the Nationals, let alone us… Tonight’s game was soo hard to watch… As said before, Lincecum is out of the strike zone a lot and I felt if we would have taken more pitches and tried to draw walks like we did all season that we would have had a chance… 1st inning set the table for the whole game though…. Leadoff double by Infante and we can’t even get him over to 3rd! Real solid guys! This thing will be over in 4, if not 3… Better luck next year, HOPEFULLY!

LuisG

October 8th, 2010
12:34 am

Uh, and please, could Bobby put Alex Gonzalez to bat into the 10th or 11th spot of the lineup? Could it be possible?

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:37 am

E,

Overrated? What position players on this team are even rated, period? McCann and Heyward are the only players worth a damn on the team right now because of injuries. I mean Alex Gonzalez is hitting 5th. Brooks Conrad is in the starting lineup. Need I say more. The team is beat up and should be applauded for even making the playoffs, or the NL should be ripped that a team this beat up could make the playoffs.

Larry

October 8th, 2010
12:38 am

The difference in the game was one simple thing: The Giants’ Manager put a runner in motion that swiped a base and this led to the winning run. The Braves Manager chose not to play for an early run by not bunting Infante over in the first inning.

We have the worst postseason manager in the history of the game who has a losing postseason record. You saw why tonight!

Herschel Talker

October 8th, 2010
12:38 am

Schultzie:

Turn out the lights. But it’s OK – little was expected of them this postseason, and the future is promising.

HT

TNBravesFan

October 8th, 2010
12:38 am

I’m just wondering where the hitting coach was trying to help these guys make adjustments each at bat. It seemed like every at bat was the same as the one before, normally ending with a breaking ball in the dirt and a strike 3 call.

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:39 am

McCann and Lowe are the only ones that showed up tonight. McCann was great on defense tonight, too bad the umps screwed over one of his thrown out runners.

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:40 am

TNBravesfan,

I was calling it from my couch what Lincecum was going to throw. When Lee and Mccann struck out in the first I called it, slider down and each time they chased it in the dirt. Unbelievable they couldn’t lay off that pitch when they had to know it was coming. I would have rather been fooled on a fastball than swing at that pitch out of the zone and breaking.

MatthewH

October 8th, 2010
12:41 am

By the way, he was out at second on the steal. But no use crying over spilled milk.

MWC

October 8th, 2010
12:42 am

Fan since 68… can’t recall a Brave team look so bad at the plate…

MatthewH

October 8th, 2010
12:42 am

TNBraves Fan- Hitting Coach? What hitting coach?!?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brent S. Gambill, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Lincecum shuts down Braves; so what’s next Plan B? http://bit.ly/cntpoj [...]

E

October 8th, 2010
12:43 am

When will we ever enjoy a winning team around this city! What a F-ing joke it must be a great feeling as other teams win championships for their city. WOW!

atlpaddy

October 8th, 2010
12:43 am

Hate to be the voice of reason tonight, but let’s be honest. The late season 2010 Braves didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know a few weeks ago. Our third-string third baseman was playing third. Our third-string second baseman was playing second. Our pitching kicked @ss. It is what we thought it was. We knew we wouldn’t score a ton of runs and would have to play flawless defense (Posey was out by the way) and we ran into a buzzsaw of a pitcher and two time Cy Young winner…and lost 1-0. We can take them tomorrow with the split coming back to Atlanta and be good to go. Let’s not freak out folks.

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:43 am

At least Posey just admitted that he was in fact out at second. Dave O Brien just tweeted about it.

Oh Well

October 8th, 2010
12:45 am

Without Prado and Chipper we’re done. I’d take Yunel at this point, the Alex Gonzalez trade wasn’t a good one at all.

matt r

October 8th, 2010
12:45 am

Quit whining about the SB, last time I checked we didn’t score a run, and were showing no signs that we ever would.

senoiadawgs

October 8th, 2010
12:46 am

Put Glaus and 3rd and Infante at 2nd. Conrad is pinch hitter at best. Does Cox not like Glaus?

rc35

October 8th, 2010
12:47 am

Sadly, the turning point of this game was in the first inning. Omar on second, one out. D-Lee swings at a pitch in the dirt. McCann swings at a pitch in the dirt. If those two pitches had been taken, we would have had the bases loaded with one out. Of course, the A-Gon(y) would have resulted in a DP, ending the inning there, but if anybody else (except Ankiel or McLouth) had been batting fifth, we’d have had at least a glimmer of hope.

BTW–Where was Hinske?

Thanks, Lowe and the bullpen–y’all did your job!

Is there any photographic evidence that the Braves are still taking batting practice? Are they making contact?

MWC

October 8th, 2010
12:48 am

Oh Well,
Agreed, that trade in the long run looks like crap. Thanks again FW.

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:50 am

matt r,

The Giants offense is just as bad as the Braves offense. If the Giants don’t score on that blown call they might not score either. Then it’s a battle of bullpens. The Giants are just as bad on offense, if not worse, than the Braves.

John

October 8th, 2010
12:51 am

How come Braves fans don’t realize that their team suks, must be the same UGA fans that think the dawgs are good too.

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:52 am

I agree Hinske needs to be in the lineup tomorrow. Either at 3rd or in left field. Didn’t Hinske win the rookie of the year playing 3rd for the Blue Jays?

Rey

October 8th, 2010
12:52 am

ALEX GONZALEZ is a joke. I’d take Escobar and his “so called attitude” any day over this clown.

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:54 am

John,

The Braves won 91 games this year. They do not suck. They are just really short handed because of injuries. If the team was at full strength they would beat the Giants in a 5 game series 9 out of 10 times. The Giants offense is horrible and they aren’t plagued by injuries.

Da Mick

October 8th, 2010
12:54 am

Top notch piece of sportswriting tonight, Jeff, the kind we’re not used to seeing in these parts. Your observations are spot on, and the lack of boosterism is refreshing. Especially impressive piece, especially considering it was written on the fly immediately after a game. Keep on the good work.

Rupert

October 8th, 2010
12:56 am

Actually I dissagree with the earlier posts. The batters took plenty of pitches, especially earlier in the game with Lincecum was wild. The problem was that they kept working the count and got behind, which made them swing at his changeup in the dirt for strike three. If you swing early, you avoid this problem. Mac missed 2 crushable hits in his first at bat. Several guys did the same. Working the count is great, but some nights, you can’t let a guy get ahead of you. Obviously, they could not lay off the 2 strike change, so why work the count? Swing early, maybe you nail a get-over pitch, which there were a few.

A side note, you can’t whine, and the players and Bobby didn’t, but it’s hard to sit here and criticize the team when the Giants only run scored on a blown call that even Buster Polsey admitted was wrong. I mean suck it up, this is baseball, blah blah blah, but damnit it, that was not the right call, and it was the only run, and it cost the Braves the game. Of course, ESPN says NOTHING about it, if it was in the Yankee game it be all over everything but I digress.

Played an OK game. Pitching was awesome, batting horrible, defense sub par. Good news is a win tomorrow and Braves have the advantage. I am not scared of their lineup, especially against Hanson, just gotta scratch a run or two out.

scottbravesfan

October 8th, 2010
12:59 am

Rupert,

I agree the call was important because both team’s can not score runs and have awful offenses. Any type of blown call like that is huge because one run is all the other team really needs to get.

Old time Dog

October 8th, 2010
12:59 am

Whats all the complaining about. When you make 2 errors, miss a ball that doesn’t get called an error, get a bad call and strike about about every other at bat it is dammed good to only lose by 1 run.

Braves

October 8th, 2010
1:00 am

Why is so hard for the Braves to play small ball/manufacture runs?!?! When the signing period start, please, please make an attempt to sign Crawford and Werth!!!

captguitarman

October 8th, 2010
1:00 am

I played little league baseball for 8 years. I played high school baseball for 4 years. In all of those years, I cannot recall (even little kids) such undisciplined choice of pitches and such free swinging at every bad pitch they saw, and then standing like statues and looking at fast balls coming right down the pike. The last swing by Heyward was an total embarrassment – one of many, many total embarrassments at the plate. Did this kid from San Fran have the Braves’ number? Yep. Their home phone, cell phone, license plate, address, zip code, birthday, wedding day, social security number, draft number, winning lottery number . . . did I miss any? He didn’t dominate them – he CRUSHED them at the plate, and he used bad pitches do it, and they were more than eager to swing at every in the dirt pitch they saw, while leaving the good pitches unmolested. They looked like FOOLS. I guess, because they were. I never saw such poor discipline at the plate in my life, and I had to wait until a MLB playoff game to see it. What a complete joke. My prediction is that Philly will not swing or wave their bats at all the crap in the dirt and not let this kid get their number,

VinceVanGo

October 8th, 2010
1:03 am

Maybe it’s time to put Diory Hernandez in the lineup. Cox has tried everything else. He may not help on offense but he would shore up the defense. Let him start at second for Conrad or put him on third and move Infante back over to second where he seems more comfortable. I like Brooksy but he’s a pinch hitter at best. And please Bobby just put Matt Diaz in left and leave him alone. He’ll come through more than anybody else. You can play any of the 3 Stooges(Ankiel, McClouth, Cabrera) in center as you wish and it won’t really matter. There’s not much tinkering that Cox can do that he hasn’t already tried. Play Diory and see what happens.

Jeff Schultz

October 8th, 2010
1:06 am

FOR THOSE OF YOU STILL AWAKE: Updated the blog with some comments. Note Posey’s comment on the out/not out stolen base. He basically admits he was out. But gotta credit the Braves for not whining excessively about it afterward. When you get shutout and manage only two hits, problem No. 1 is offense. … BTW, great job on the live blog tonight.

Chief76

October 8th, 2010
1:08 am

Larry,

You saying you would have J-Hey bunt? Or Derek Lee? Jeez – you are obviously just a Bobby Cox hater. Betcha dollars to doughnuts if Jason had bunted you would be screaming what an idiot Bobby is for having a home run hitter bunt. Pathetic

Bad Call

October 8th, 2010
1:12 am

The Braves looked awful at the plate. However, that bad call on the stolen base was pathetic in a playoff game that close.

Who was the idiot ump?

Many playoff games are o-0. Look at the 1991 WS. You would think that MLB would have decent umps in the playoffs.