Don’t look now, but the Bravos are back in this thing!

They’re back in it. We can’t know if they’re going to win it, but they’re in it. The Braves went 6-4 on their loudest homestand in years, and if 6-4 doesn’t sound all that hot, let’s recall they were 2-4 as of Sunday morning. Let’s also recall that only five days ago a lot of us figured they’d wind up 2-8.

But they didn’t. They roused themselves and played at a higher level than we had seen since Memorial Day, which not coincidentally marked the last time they had won a series. Back then they swept the Blue Jays, who were leading the AL East. This time they swept the reigning World Series champs, who arrived leading the NL East but who depart in a first-place tie.

The Florida Marlins are now co-leaders, and the Braves, while still in fourth place, are only two games back. Talk about exquisite timing. Lose three to the Phils and they would have been eight games out and surely looking to dump salary at month’s end. They’re not dumping anything now. They figure with their pitching and the expected return of Tim Hudson, they’ve as good a shot as anybody. They might be right.

Good things are happening now, the sort of things that didn’t happen for nearly three months. Martin Prado turned into Joe Morgan. (Slight hyperbole there, but you get the point.) Matt Diaz turned into Joe Rudi. (Again, you get the drift.) Derek Lowe found himself. Yunel Escobar finally played a game and made it a beauty. And the Braves began to get a little lucky, which never hurts.

Thursday night, top of the eighth, tie game. Mike Gonzalez, who nearly blew Tuesday’s game, walks Jayson Werth, who steals second and moves to third on Brian McCann’s throwing error. Then Gonzalez make an even worse delivery, sailing a pitch over McCann’s mitt to the backstop. (”I lost it in the scoreboard,” McCann will say afterward.) But the catcher pivots and pounces and whirls and throws, and Gonzalez tags Werth and the inning is done, the tie still in place.

Can the Braves actually win the division?

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And then the Braves, who to hear their critics know nothing of fundamentals, play a lovely half-inning. McCann singles to left. Escobar bunts Jair Jurrjens, in to pinch-run, to second. Diaz doubles him home. And then Garret Anderson hoists the first pinch-hit homer of his career — the first pinch-hit homer any Brave has struck this season — into the home bullpen. Three-run lead. Three-game sweep

“Winning this series is huge, huge for the year,” Gonzalez said. “It could be a changing series for us. We played as a team.”

And when the Braves do that, they’re not half-bad. Their pitching could scarcely have been better over the concluding two series — the Red Sox and the Phils mustered 13 runs between them — and the Braves begin to hit a bit. “Timely hitting,” Bobby Cox said. “That’s what does it.”

In the aftermath of the bitter 1-0 loss to Boston on Saturday, the Braves’ season seemed down to its final throes, realistically if not mathematically. But Tommy Hanson got out of bed and threw a big game, and here his team sits, resuscitated and perhaps reborn.

“Two games out,” said a buoyant Frank Wren, making his way to clubhouse. Two games out, and the Men of Wren suddenly wear the look of a contender.

132 comments Add your comment

Brad in Jasper

July 2nd, 2009
10:57 pm

Lot o’ season left. Anything can happen.

buckhead benny

July 2nd, 2009
11:09 pm

Finally Martin Prado and Diaz in the lineup- I think they have one of the better teams in baseball if kelly johnson is sitting the bench- i mean you can’t have 3 sure outs in your lineup and expect to win every night- K.johnson, j.francoeur, and pitcher- now at least you have only two- maybe now even though jeff has been hitting better they can start winning some of these close games- I still would like to see Bobby platoon Jeff- I think he is shot out- and doesn’t work the pitch count enough like a Diaz would- They have arguably the best pithing in baseball- now with a lineup- of Mclouth, prado, Escobar, Chipper, McCann, Anderson-Diaz, Francouer (last in lineup) this team can play with anybody with this type of pitching- Just have to hope Bobby doesn’t get any crazy ideas and start feeling sorry for K.Johnson and Francouer- There professionals- Team should come first from here on out- How about Diaz batting 300? Bobby care to explain why he doesn’t split more time with Francouer when you need runs?

JM

July 2nd, 2009
11:10 pm

That’s easily the biggest series win for us since 2005.

cornfuzed

July 2nd, 2009
11:14 pm

Great series and good to get back within striking distance. Wren still needs another outfield bat (RF especially). WIth Hudson coming back, could they afford to trade Francour and a reliever for a bat and let Hudson work relief?

MikeInValdosta

July 2nd, 2009
11:21 pm

Well if they are not going to win it, please keep it interesting until September 5!

Mark Bradley

July 2nd, 2009
11:23 pm

I’d say it just got a bit more interesting. And I’ve been saying for two months that if they could just hang in until Hudson gets back … well, that could prove even more interesting.

Buckman

July 2nd, 2009
11:28 pm

Gotta sit Francouer don’t you? Runners 1 and 3 nobody out early in the game.. all you have to do is make contact and we’ve got a run on the board (and maybe we get Vazquez a win for a change). Nope. Anybody else get depressed when he’s walking to the plate?

Mark Bradley

July 2nd, 2009
11:29 pm

There’s a nice touch. The Braves sweep the Phillies, but let’s rip Francoeur!

bigjohnchopfan

July 2nd, 2009
11:31 pm

Now THAT’S how you put a team away!!

Find a way to keep Diaz in the lineup NIGHTLY!!!

GO BRAVES!!!

Buckman

July 2nd, 2009
11:31 pm

Only because he deserves it.

JM

July 2nd, 2009
11:31 pm

Do we even know what they’re going to do with Hudson when he comes back? I know he’s said he’s open to pitching out of the bullpen, but how do you not have your best pitcher (assuming he’s close to the pitcher he was pre-Tommy John Surgery) in rotation? My guess is Kawakami goes to the bullpen. I’d hate that for him, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Jeff

July 2nd, 2009
11:35 pm

Sorry Mark, but there is no avoiding the fact that Frenchy is painful to watch. Not really a major leaguer.

RW

July 2nd, 2009
11:36 pm

Have we found some mo jo?

Reid Adair

July 2nd, 2009
11:38 pm

The last three nights have been fun to watch. Like Bobby Cox said, “Timely hitting…” Who knows what will happen if the offense can have some sort of consistency.

Mark, you may have written about this before (if so, forgive me), but what wouuld you do when Hudson returns? Put him in the rotation or the pen? If in the rotation, whose spot – Kawakami’s?

TF

July 2nd, 2009
11:40 pm

2008: 9th inning, 2 outs, KJ drops popup against Phils, lose 11 in a row, season over.
2009: 9th inning, 2 outs, Prado (KJ’s replacement) makes great catch on infield popup after getting the Braves offense going the whole series…suddenly the season is resurrected.

bulldog bubba

July 2nd, 2009
11:43 pm

I like the platoon system Bobby is using right now.Look at the last out Prado made.He is so in the “zone” right now that he needs to keep playing . I don’t think Kotchman would have gone after ball as agressively.Matt Diaz came through big tonight and Garrett Anderson also. We are finally getting help off the bench.I say play anybody that will get you results even if you have to sit the starters down every 4-5 days. GO BRAVES!!!

jon

July 2nd, 2009
11:44 pm

Braves are showing some life, which winning a little will do. I think they were embarrased by their play against Baltimore.

The team has shown they can play with the best the ML has, but hey have to learn to beat the dregs.

Just a Customer

July 2nd, 2009
11:44 pm

Great win tonight and I’m excited about baseball in the city again. However, I went to the park tonight and left wondering if anyone from the Braves front office ever actually experiences a game as the average fan does.

Took over an hour to negotiate the traffic into an out of the park…..parking lot attendants and people in charge of people movement are inept to say the least.

Got conflicting directions from numerous stadium attendants, making getting into and out of the park, getting concessions, etc. a real nightmare.

The best….on a hot July night, the park actually ran out of beer in the 6th inning. Last I checked, beer is the highest gross margin product they serve…go figure.

When out of town sports journalists wonder why seats are empty, you can add the EXPERIENCE of actually attending a game as part of the cause.

Provide a quality experience and people will come…..and lose the room-temperature IQ employees that make the experience frustrating….or keep playing to empty stadiums……or do they really care.

Go Braves, but front office take note. Improve the game experience by doing the little things right….and the fans will come.

MJ

July 2nd, 2009
11:46 pm

Yes they are in it but the Braves need to get back to .500 before anyone can say anything. But they are on the right track and this was a huge sweep. Now, lets try and stand prosperity and take care of the crummy Nationals!

cornfuzed

July 2nd, 2009
11:47 pm

I think we’re all happy they swept, but the reality is that this is still a sub-.500 team at the moment. The Phils will right their ship. The Mets have $79M in payroll on the DL and at some point most of those players will get healthy. The wildcard will not come from the NL East, so the Braves need to win the division. This is still a flawed team, and the biggest flaw (and easiest to fix) is the gaping hole in RF. Another 0 for 3 night with 2 strikeouts from Frenchy is another hurdle that they can’t leap over every night.

Joe S

July 2nd, 2009
11:52 pm

Great series for the past three days. The really tough and rough June schedule has prepared our Braves for this upcoming 4 months left of the season and wait until Tim Hudson comes back he’ll do us a fine job in giving Kawakami a start or two off. Prado should have a fan club called “Martin’s Martini’s.” That would give Martin some extra spirit there. Gregor Blanco’s winter league team the Tiburones de la Guaira, should be a fan club called Gregor’s Sharks (Tiburones means “Sharks”) so I think there should be more fan enthusiasm now that we are winning now.

house divided

July 2nd, 2009
11:52 pm

I know most aren’t going to say it, but what happens with Omar Infante? He and Martin Prado play virtually the same role of being able to play Mark Derosa and give guys days off. Based on everything, would sending Kelly to triple-A be an option? He just needs a little luck and confidence because he can hit. The whole Glavine thing looks different now that Hanson is pitching well but can you rely on a rookie to pitch well for an entire rookie season. He is good, but I don’t think he is Justin Verlander. I see the braves only making minor moves hoping that what core they have can produce unless someone overwhelms them with some kind of francouer-medlen trade. Finally what the braves need is more trust in the players that are getting the job done. Why on earth was Gregor Blanco the forgotten man with us watching the humiliation that was jordan shaffer? I find the true strength of this team to be its pitching, but also its bench when full: Diaz(he platoons but counts), Blanco, Infante, Ross, and Prado. Hernandez also has potential. What other team has a back-up catcher with six home-runs and bats over .290? I rest my case. If the braves had production from kelly and jeff, this offense would not be a problem based on the depth.

raindawg722

July 2nd, 2009
11:58 pm

Criminy! Look at the medallion on McCann. That must have cost quite a few doubloons.

bali

July 2nd, 2009
11:59 pm

what a great win and homestand for the braves.. glad to see Escobar playing tonight 2 games out and who knows what is going to happen.. gotta love it ……… sick of atlant so called fans who are ready to sit players or trade players ….go braves

NO MORE BOBBY

July 3rd, 2009
12:01 am

No one wants to win this division. Its ours to take.

JUST WIN.

Pete Nose

July 3rd, 2009
12:04 am

Phillies are still the team to beat.the Braves need to make a trade for a power hitter if they want to stay close in the second half of the season.Pitching seems to be the strenth of the team and with Hutson coming back will be even stronger.The braves with the right moves could be in this thing all the way.And hats of to bobby cox for holding this team togather and only 2 games out of first place.

Herschel Talker

July 3rd, 2009
12:05 am

Nope. They’re done. Not gonna happen. Stick a fork in ‘em. Number 1 reason: Booby Cox

Ted Striker

July 3rd, 2009
12:16 am

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard “I lost it in the scoreboard” before tonight.

I have, however used the phrase — “I was distracted by the allure of your deep blue eyes and your dreamy soft rose petal lips” — after accidentally spilling a glass of wine while on a date.

esco

July 3rd, 2009
12:17 am

are only 4 games, but we still need to get one more bat ( right field) and that’s it…..

we have pitching
we have bullpen
we have no power, but with mclouth and escobar we can hit more clutch.

i don’t think we can win the world series, but we are close from being contenders, GOOD JOB WREN. he still looking medium-long term. if we win now great, but he is looking long term succes.

hanson= cheap for 5 years
JJ = cheap for 4 years
lowe= 2 more years
KK= showing me something and 2 more years ( understanding american game)
medlen would be (winning the lottery)
HUDSON = 1 more year at least
5th we can go and get a (john tomson, paul byrd and so many other 5th starters)

you trade vasques and don’t sign hudson and you have 25 mill to spend again and 4 good starters,!!!!!!!!!!!

wren is GREAT

esco

July 3rd, 2009
12:19 am

thomson and byrd was an example of what we use to do (mullholland as well)

slow roller

July 3rd, 2009
12:20 am

Really really really fun to watch lately!!! Almost like 1991 again….staying up late because you know they got a chance to win no matter what. Now, I will tell you why Vasquez can’t win……he can’t hit a run scoring groundout. Does anyone remember how Kerry Wood single-handedly beat the Braves with his bat in the playoffs several years ago? A good pitcher that can sacrifice, move runners, get on base is a deadly weapon. Terry Pendleton, do your job with pitchers, get them play golf, whatever. They need to swing the bat in order to win a championship!!!

esco

July 3rd, 2009
12:23 am

Bravos33

July 3rd, 2009
12:24 am

Say what you want, the Braves are playing better, and whether many of you want to admit it or not, Frenchy is improving. The results may not always be there yet (today’s AB with 1st and 3rd an example), but he IS having better AB’s and working counts. If he is patient with his approach the results will come. It looks like some of his hard word is going to start to pay off soon

GO Braves!!! and Mark, thanks for keeping the pulse of this team for us! While it may seem like your predictions and statments are fairly volitile, they are actually on point! That WAS a huge series. This season HAS been on the ropes a few times already. But they keep hanging around…maybe that means we can make something happen. Lets hope so.

Jackie Moon

July 3rd, 2009
12:25 am

A sleeping giant has been awoken…………….

The Handsome Pierogi

July 3rd, 2009
12:42 am

This pitching staff is the best in the division by far (don’t tell me about Florida). Please, Frank W., keep us in this thing with a smart move that gives the offense a few more runs each week!!!

Matt the Brave

July 3rd, 2009
12:43 am

Mark, do you think that with the offense picking it up that they may move Francouer into a position that he might see better pitches? I think that he’s finally making the adjustments to be a better hitter. Good to see that he’s above .250…gotta take baby steps to walk!

esco

July 3rd, 2009
12:43 am

esco

July 3rd, 2009
12:45 am

frenchy may be 2nd mcclouth could be on base often and chipper after him.

Supes

July 3rd, 2009
12:55 am

Bench Jeff and Kelly, use them as subs (when needed).

Start Diaz in RF, Anderson in LF and Prado at 2B (at least until Infante returns), at which time Prado can play LF if need be.

Bobby Cox has finally “awaken” from his slumber and benched Kelly and even decided to “bench” his son Jeff after seeing him go 0 for 3 with 2 beautiful stirkeouts, it’s evident that Jeff can NO LONGER drive a fastball even! (that last at bat was enough apperantly for Bobby Cox).

LOAF is still “Loaf” in the field, but the guy can hit and can turn on a mistake pitch.

Diaz has turned into a servicable outfielder and takes some ugly swings, but he can TURN on a pitch and hit. He’s a career .300 hitter (lifetime average).

Prado will “come back to earth” a bit, but he makes contact, hits a LOT OF line drives (unlike Kelly with that uppercut swing hitting pop ups) and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Ultimate team player.

When Omar gets back…it’ll be a shot in the arm.

Also getting Huddy back is like adding an all-star pitcher via trade, b/c he’s already said he’ll do whatever the team needs him to do…bullpen, start, whatever.

There is definitely a chance for the Braves. NL East is weak top to bottom. Braves have as good as shot as any of the top 4 teams right now.

Mets – Chokers
Fish – Scare me
Phillies – Horrible pitching and the addition of 1 SP isn’t going to fix anything. They need 2-3 quality starters!

So Braves are very much in it.

Mark Bradley

July 3rd, 2009
12:57 am

Back under .250 now, Francoeur is.

I’d never heard “I lost in the scoreboard” either, Ted. But wasn’t it Bob Veale who said he lost a grounder in the sun?

Just a Braves Season Ticket Holder

July 3rd, 2009
12:59 am

Just a Customer @ 11:44 pm -

You are DEAD ON about the Turner Field “Experience.”

Going to a Braves game truly is that bad on a typical night, and the Braves have the nerve to wonder why so many of us season ticket holders would rather let the money we have already spent on our tickets go to waste rather than going to the ballpark for such inept service.

intellibird

July 3rd, 2009
1:01 am

If Blanco, Prado, and Escobar are going to be our new stars then the Braves might as well start having various Hispanic days. Maybe this would help our poor attendance.

These guys have a lot of heart and I believe that they would make a good core group of guys to build our team around. Chipper and McCann ain’t leadership guys.

Soriano and Gonzales can probably help, too. We need to have some attitude at the plate. Get some confidence and forget the bland duo of Cox and Pendelton.

If Francouer swings at a bad (shoulder high) first pitch, then jump up on the stairs and yell at him. Stop sitting in the dugout bouncing your knees.

Jurrjens4NLCY

July 3rd, 2009
1:11 am

Hmm, well I wouldn’t worry about the Fish, they will most likely go down in August/September because thats when school starts up again (Youth joke….little youth joke). Seriously though, I don’t see them carrying this into the late season. No veterans. Phillies and Mets stand as the only threat. In that order too. Mets are injured, weak, and hopeless, for now. Have to get ahead of them as soon as possible.Braves are playing well against the east. Thats the most important thing. How well you do against your own division. And I still believe the WC comes from the East.

Jurrjens4NLCY

July 3rd, 2009
1:20 am

“Chipper and McCann ain’t leadership guys.” What!?! Are you kidding. Chipper is. And Blanco and Prado will never be the leaders of this team…maybe Escobar, Maybe.

Knock-a-homerun

July 3rd, 2009
1:22 am

Oooooooo- a-ooooo-a-oooooo!
Aoooooo-aoooo-a-oooooo!

Coach (2010 or Bust)

July 3rd, 2009
1:25 am

Um, excuse me. Those Marlins finished the month of June 17-11 with an inter-league result of 10-8. I wouldn’t make the mistake of overlooking the fish just yet.

Knock-a-homerun

July 3rd, 2009
1:35 am

Francouer doesn’t want to be here. It’s obvious since he turned down the contract offer 2 years ago even after McCann signed his. He greatly overestimated his own value and is now struggling to prove his “worth”, which is nothing or else he would already been traded.

His disloyalty by going outside the organization for batting instruction and unwillingness to change his way too aggrasive style shows his selfish mindset. A typical overly coddled athlete out of touch with reality.

It’s not all his fault though. Blame the “The Natural” cover story curse, the people who coddled him, possible earlier steroid use that boosted his early numbers(remember Jodrad Schafer), and a greedy manager. All that combined with his own ego has created this monster. And the Braves are stuck with him without making a radical move.

Cutler

July 3rd, 2009
1:36 am

Mark, is KJ out of options? If not, do you see him being sent down when Infante gets healthy. Or will it be Hernandez?

Jurrjens4NLCY

July 3rd, 2009
1:49 am

The Marlins were pretty good last year too… Look where that got ‘em.

Braves326

July 3rd, 2009
1:53 am

Keep your eyes on the Phils/Mets series, folks…