Braves-Phillies: A fair fight that might last deep into October

A good start: Martin Prado leads off with a home run. (AP photo)

A good start: Martin Prado leads off with a home run. (AP photo)

They’ve played eight times, each winning four. They’re scheduled to meet 10 times more, and there’s a chance they’ll face off in the National League Championship Series. And what might happen then?

Said Chipper Jones: “In a seven-game series against them in October, I’ll take my guys over their guys. Meaning no disrespect.”

Moments earlier, Jones had offered this: “I have no doubt in my mind we’re as good a ball club as the Phillies.”

Then this: “My worry is not about Philadelphia — it’s about everybody else. [The Phillies] bring it every night, no matter who they’re playing. We don’t do that as often.”

We saw as much this week. The Braves needed a come-from-behind walk-off victory to keep from being swept by the Washington Nationals. Two days later they’re positioned to take a series from the team with baseball’s best record.

Jones again: “The thing that bothered me about that Washington series is that we looked like we were sleepwalking. That’s the difference between the two teams. The Phillies don’t come into a series wanting to take two of three — they want to sweep.”

The Braves have put together a nice team. The Phillies have spent nearly twice as much to build what they hope will be another world champion, but this is no mismatch. These Braves could do as San Francisco did last October and derail the Phillies, with this caveat. Said Jones: “We’ve got to get there.”

Without Chase Utley, who’s due back soon, the Phillies still got the start they needed. The Braves didn’t, but they’ve spent the past three weeks making amends. By winning Saturday, they drew within 4 1/2 games of Philly, which is close enough for now. They still haven’t hit the way they should, but they’ve manage to outpitch the world’s finest rotation.

Said Brian McCann: “We feel like we have a great team. … We can hang with them.”

While waiting for the offense to arrive, the Braves have done as they needed: Help their pitchers by playing defense (which wasn’t a given) and by scratching out just enough runs. They’ve won 14 of their past 21, and at no time in that run have they appeared to functioning at peak capacity. And that’s a good sign.

Take Saturday’s game: “A lot of good things out there today,” said Fredi Gonzalez, the manager, and there were. Jair Jurrjens won his fifth game and went 17 outs before yielding a base runner. The Braves led 2-0 before making an out, Martin Prado and Nate McLouth greeting Joe Blanton with homers. (Said Jones, the third-place hitter: “I’ve had that happen two or three times before, and every time I’ve struck out.”)

David Ross, in for McCann, dropped a deft safety squeeze — it was Ross’ idea, not Gonzalez’s — to score an important third run, and that run was made possible by Dan Uggla, who can’t buy a hit, but who hasn’t stopped playing. On a day when his average slid from .199 to .196, Uggla had nonetheless beaten a force at second base by a hair and would score on Ross’ bunt.

Gonzalez: “Those are things as a manager you like to see. It’s easy to play when you’re getting three hits, but Dan is scuffling and still playing hard. That’s great to see.”

For the Braves, the good news is that Uggla won’t always be hitting .196. (Although we were saying that a month ago, were we not?) The better news is that the Braves have managed to ride out the Phillies’ flying start and hang close enough for it to matter. The Rockies and the Giants and the Cardinals and the Marlins are good, too, but the teams with the best rotations should bear up as the NL’s best.

Jones pronounced Saturday’s victory “the biggest of the year so far,” but Sunday brings another test. The Braves must face Roy Halladay, the best in the business. He’ll be opposed by Tim Hudson, who’s pretty good himself. There’s not much difference between these teams, and it might be until mid-October before we sort this out.

Provided the Braves can bring themselves to beat the Washington Nationals.

By Mark Bradley

96 comments Add your comment

wait

May 14th, 2011
5:34 pm

wait till uggla gets hot.

Najeh Davenpoop

May 14th, 2011
5:35 pm

Who the hell is Dan Ross?

extremus

May 14th, 2011
5:37 pm

It’s good to hear Chipper jones acknowledging that the Braves’ attitude can still use some adjusting; they do usually play up to the likes of the Phillies, but then frustratingly let down against the teams they’re supposed to beat (Washington, Pittsburgh, etc). That’s something the Phillies don’t allow themselves to do as often, and I’m very glad to see our team’s captain realize it. Chipper Jones has matured into more than a player for the Braves (you can see it on the field when he’s taken guys aside as he did to calm McCann after the blown call last night); he’s become a true leader, and I can definitely see him continuing with the team after his playing days are over in a coaching or player advisory role.

Najeh Davenpoop

May 14th, 2011
5:37 pm

“[The Phillies] bring it every night, no matter who they’re playing. We don’t do that as often.””

Seems to be a recurring problem for all Atlanta sports teams.

Jeff

May 14th, 2011
5:43 pm

Mark, you’re right, Uggla won’t keep hitting sub .200, but then again, the Phillies will have Utley and Oswalt back, and at some point Lidge and Contreras as well. The Braves have a good team, but I think they’re a wild card team at best.

Mark Bradley

May 14th, 2011
5:44 pm

I don’t know that the Braves can finish ahead of the Phillies over 162 games, either.

Jeff

May 14th, 2011
5:47 pm

Doubtful. The Phillies have better hitting and more pitching depth unfortunately.

John10:10

May 14th, 2011
6:01 pm

Heyward drops back to 6 hole when he returns. Nate’s playing like he did in Pittsburgh. Praying for Uggla.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

May 14th, 2011
6:01 pm

Keep Chipper healthy. Big key to the offensive production. Uggla will heat up, Heyward needs to get some continued rest. Prado is a beast. The offense has some huge potential if a few things can come together. Anything McClouth gives us like today is plus. The 2nd K he had was a really tough 3rd strike. Just keep playing the game Bravos!

LakeDawg

May 14th, 2011
6:37 pm

Uggla hasn’t started hitting and you know he will eventually. The key to the season is the productivity of Heyward and Freeman. Everybody thinks they are can’t miss types, but Heyward is a quarter into his second season and is frankly not a very good hitter so far and Freeman looks like Heyward. I still think they are going to come around, but I’m starting to squirm a bit. BTW Chipper has become a leader. It has taken him most of his career to become one, but better late than never. It has certainly increased my admiration for him.

Hillbilly Deluxe

May 14th, 2011
6:44 pm

The Braves are giving them a run, so far, but they’re without Chase Utley. It’s a credit to the Phillies that they are doing as well as they are, without him.

marseilles mutt

May 14th, 2011
6:46 pm

The Braves CAN stay with the Phillies- and anyone else for that matter!

Youth and inexperience can offset age and experience and vice versa. However, this year the Baves can play the ‘trade/rent-a-player game with anybody BECAUSE of the pitching/arm depth that they have at every level, from single A through the major league roster.

Considering a new manager, set up guy, closer, ‘pressing’ second basman- and some might say a ‘new’ third baseman as well- they have done pretty darn well. If they falter no w and then, it should come as no shock, but if they should start hitting on all cylinders- look out world.

Putting all ‘if’s and’s or but’s’ aside, this is a GOOD and fairly deep team!

fla dawg

May 14th, 2011
6:47 pm

najeh davenpoop…. you tell us, who is dan ross?

NorCalBrave

May 14th, 2011
7:06 pm

I wonder if Uggla’s frustrations may in part be due to his not measuring up to the fat contract he signed.
Chipper’s right on the money when he says Braves don’t bring it every game; be interesting to see how they play when the mediocre Astros come in after the Phils.

FSUBraves

May 14th, 2011
7:07 pm

bradley, man, lay down the drugs…lol…..the braves have no speed….no base stealers, and that will hurt the braves later on…you will see

Billy Jack's Barbecue & Shrimp Co.

May 14th, 2011
7:07 pm

Fung game to watch today; fun article to read tonight. Thanks MB.

Billy Jack's Barbecue & Shrimp Co.

May 14th, 2011
7:19 pm

Fun game to watch today; nice article to read. Thank you MB.

Chopper to Chipper

May 14th, 2011
7:35 pm

Does Uggla have any type of game plan when he comes to bat? Swing like hell and hopes he makes contact………..reminds me alot of Rick Ankiel.

Grantdawg

May 14th, 2011
7:36 pm

Are we sure Uggla(ly) will ever start hitting? It sure would be nice to “know” that, but I am begining to wonder. And worry about Heyward as well. I want that kid to succeed so bad, but was he pushed to soon?

BRAVESFAN

May 14th, 2011
7:44 pm

I think Frank Wren asked for the wrong Uggla with all the hits.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAu1jNaPI_o
You get what you pay for at IKEA!

Madmike

May 14th, 2011
7:54 pm

Uggla may have a problem with handling the pressure. Its one thing to hit in front of 4000 with no expectations vs. 35000 expecting you to produce. Remember his all-star debacle!

Who Cares

May 14th, 2011
8:07 pm

The braves can play o.k. against the Phils, but the problem is the Phils play good against everybody, and the braves don’t. The Braves have a losing record against the Eastern division teams, and the Phils have a 700 winning percentage against the East. The braves will be lucky to beat out the Marlins for second in the East, or the Nationals for 3rd in the East. The Phils, and Marlins have better everyday players, that are more consistent than the braves everyday players, and that includes Larry Jones, and McCan’t. The Phils and Marlins have just as good starting pitching as the braves also. And the braves have alot of holes in there everyday lineup. Unless Freeman, Heyward, and UGGLY become more consistent, there is no way this team will finish above .500 in the East.

Dr. Phil

May 14th, 2011
8:12 pm

If all of the Braves played like Prado, we would have no trouble with the Phillies or anyone else. I will reserve judgment on Uggla for a while, until after I check Infante’s stats.

BRAVESFAN

May 14th, 2011
8:12 pm

puff

May 14th, 2011
8:21 pm

Glad to hear Chipper calling out the sleepwalking

scottbravesfan

May 14th, 2011
8:43 pm

Seems like the Braves always struggle against the Nats even when they were the Expos.

Error Maniacs

May 14th, 2011
8:54 pm

Uggla played a good game today . . . actually got on base a couple times even if it was on a walk and being hit by pitch. At least he cut down the automatic out swing! Good job, man! Now try and copy Prado . . . you know, like quit trying to pull everything and jack it. Just put the bat on the ball where it’s pitched . . . like go with the pitch! You’ll see the fans will love you a lot better. Homers will come later . . . Got it???? We like your energy and appreciate your effort . . . just take it like Prado and you’ll be a star!!!!!!!!!

ArkyTech

May 14th, 2011
8:55 pm

Mark, no safety squeezes with 2 outs. That was a try for a cheap 2 out RBI and it worked.

ArkyTech

May 14th, 2011
8:58 pm

Dr. Phil, Infante hitting .232 with 0 home runs and 14 RBI. And he’s a nice utility player, but I think Uggla is a better defensive 2nd baseman. Certainly turns the double play better.

phillies 2008

May 14th, 2011
9:03 pm

The amazing fact is that the phillies are where they are with injuries to Lidge, Utley, Contreras, Oswalt, Ruiz, Blanton, and now Victorino. On and on and on come the injuries, yet the Phillies continue to win. I would not count on the Phillies getting complacent. That is why they are the fightin Phils.

Texas Pete

May 14th, 2011
9:47 pm

We sure have been giving Uggla the benefit of the doubt. It’s always, “He’s going to start hitting!” Well, until he starts, why is he hitting cleanup or in the fifth spot? Watching him strikeout twice the other night with runners in scoring position was painful. Not making any contact at all is unacceptable. Uggla has just been downright Ugly!

Braves 2011

May 14th, 2011
10:46 pm

The Amazing fact is that the Braves are where they are with key players not hitting(Uggla), injuries to other key players, and even losing late inning leads. Yet the Braves keep finding a way to win. I would not count on the Braves getting complacent though. That is why they are the Tomahawking Braves!

Fan

May 14th, 2011
10:51 pm

How can you write an article comparing the 2 teams and not mention that the Phillies payroll is 172 million to the Braves 87?

Joseph

May 14th, 2011
11:32 pm

if the Marlins stay healthy, they will finish 2nd. If they can get a good SP before the deadline, watch out, Philly!

brave53

May 14th, 2011
11:44 pm

Uggla … gotta give credit for the hustle. However, he has been worse than zero, he kills just about every rally that starts. We would be better off so far this year with a .230 weak hitter batting at the end of the lineup than Uggla in the center. He is killing our run production with his anemic at bats — he is the opposite of protection for McCann — pitchers pitch around the hitter in front of Uggla so they can strike him out. If he does not start hitting a little then they should move him to 8th in the lineup. If Fredi won’t do this then he is sacrificing the Braves so Uggla feels good.

SawThat1nce

May 14th, 2011
11:52 pm

The Fish will fade. They always do.

Dr. Warren

May 15th, 2011
12:42 am

I wish one of the Hawks had been as direct as C. Jones about sleepwalking through games. I wish all of them had. That’s the difference between hall of famers and also rans, I guess.

J Clay

May 15th, 2011
1:12 am

Not sure I have seen anything from the Bravos that suggests they will even make the wild card. Have issues when Nate McOut is not the worst hitter on the team (strikeout king Uggla). Good ole Chipper always good for some quotes though right. This team to me is not much different than the past 10 years teams, play pretty well against good teams and pretty bad against bad teams.

J Clay

May 15th, 2011
1:15 am

Um, 35000? Haven’t the Braves had 3 of 4 worst attended games at Turner Field already this season?

Larry

May 15th, 2011
3:36 am

Mark,

I trust you have a prescription for the hydrocodone. It does tend to make you a bit more positive and optimistic, doesn’t it?

Many of the reason have bees stated already as to why the Braves will not pass the Phillies this season (No speed, too many free swingers, not nearly enough situational contact hitters, and grossly dependent upon the HR for runs) however, along with roster inadequacies I’m beginning to believe–not suspect–that we lack the instincts, intuition and aptitude at manager. I can think of 3 or 4 games already this season where Fredi’s decisions have led to a Braves defeat and 2 or 3 more that could have had not the players bailed him out.

I said after watching the first 15-20 games that this roster and bench he selected, the lineups he picks, and utterly dumb decisions like the 2 strike Hanson suicide squeeze in the 2nd inning with the fleet afoot Hinske at 3rd against the Mets, that this is an 80-85 win team and this will be a managerial failure with this starting pitching and bullpen. It is just a shame this pitching is not complimented with station to station baseball to win the close games and saddled with Bobby Cox, Jr. in the pilot’s seat.

The Braves will finish somewhere between 10-15 games behind the Phillies and will barely contend for a wild card. They will only take the wild card should somehow Fredi Cox get a little smarter as the season progresses (unlikely) or somehow they make a big trade or two by swapping a bopper or two for some speed and contact hitters to compliment this lineup.

And for all you goobers clamoring for Heyward to bat 2nd, please just zip it and leave the suggestions to those who have played the game and understand the strategic advantages of each slot in the batting order. Our manager is bad enough at this already without listening to you! Just observe the Phillies batting order to get a clue. Charlie Manuel would have his fastest guy and best base stealing threat (McLouth) leading off and the perfect #2 hitter in Prado; Fredi Cox has yet to try just once the obvious!

Save this article, Mark, and we’ll see who’s right at the end of September?

Larry

May 15th, 2011
3:48 am

J Clay,

The reason for the attendance spiraling down is simple: Bobby and Fredi Cox offensive baseball is boring and predictable. Fans love watching their pitching dominate; they also love having this complimented with station to station baseball.

The NFL has evolved from three yards and a cloud of dust to “the greatest show on turf.” since the early 90’s when we incorporated some speed in Otis Nixon, Deion Sanders, Lonnie Smith,Ron Gant, and Marquis Grissom, the Braves for the past 10 years or so have regressed to a lineup dominated with hot or cold free swingers. Too many nights they are just boring to watch strike out 10-15 times in a game and people no longer want to endure this and then get home somewhere close to midnight.

This is why I gave up my seat after 21 seasons…I couldn’t stay awake the whole nine innings!

Mark Bradley`s Booster

May 15th, 2011
3:54 am

The Braves need to play every game like it is the game they must win in order to stay in the playoff race. If they continue to lose series against the Nationals and Dodgers (lost 3 of 4) they will not make the playoffs.

Joey

May 15th, 2011
7:28 am

Jair for Cy Young!

Michael

May 15th, 2011
8:17 am

Meet the new Braves, same as the old Braves. Injuries, injuries, injuries. And still consistently losing to the teams they should be walking over.

007

May 15th, 2011
8:21 am

Despite the presence of Jones, Hinske and a few others, this is a young team. Loss of focus is to be expected. Good on Chipper for dressing them down.

Hey Marcel

May 15th, 2011
8:42 am

Calling it out in the media and calling it out in the dugout are two different things.

Will

May 15th, 2011
8:53 am

With the season one-fourth completed, its a good point to access the results.

Coming out of Spring Training, I had these concerns: Will McLouth ever recover his hitting touch? Is Freeman ready to hit major league pitching and play every day? Is Kimbrell ready to close based on very limited numbers from last year? Will Gonzalez be a better skipper in Atlanta than in Florida? Will Chipper recover and not get injurged again?

I was confident that Uggla and Heyward would be big time hitters and Prado, McCann and the starting pitching would be well above average.

So…..what have we learned? I over estimated Uggla and am beginning to reacess my thoughts regarding Heyward – is he too injury prone and really just a good, not great, player when not injured? Freeman has not performed up to expectations. I think we put too much weight on Kimbrell’s good, but very limited, performance last year.

The good news – the starting pitching has been even better than I guessed – Chipper is playing better than I thought and McLouth is doing better than expected. Prado is emerging as a reliable All Star pick year in and year out. Hinske and Ross are great bench players. Conrad probably will be released before the season ends.

Gonzalez has been a wash – neither helped nor hurt too much but may share some of the blame in not getting the club ready to play lesser teams.

The bottom line – the Braves will not play playoff basebal with Uggla, Heyward and Freeman hitting less than .250 and driving in a limited number of runs – no matter how well the pitching holds up.

Its good that we’ve played Philly even up so far but bad that we have struggled with Washington and other teams that we are clearer the better team.

Let’s all agree to gather again after 80 games and see where we are. Uggla cannot possibly be any worse than he is today. Hopefully Freeman will become more comfortable as a big league player and maybe Heyward can play 25-30 games without getting injured (an interesting aside – a source close to the Braves has told me that Jason’s reported “injuries” are really a combination of legit injury and head games as the Braves try to salvage the younster’s confidence).

After 80 games, I am guessing we will be 6-10 games behind Philly and playing for the Wild Card. I think we will contend for the Wild Card for the remainder of the season but, again, cannot play playoff ball without better things to come from Freeman, Kimbrell (or his replacement), Uggla and Heyward.

reckingball

May 15th, 2011
9:04 am

Some of these commentators on this blog are highlarious.
Some think, that because they have participated in peewee and little league baseball when they were children, that they are now, experts on the game, and actually believe, that they are capable of managing a MLB club, haha.
Some of these people are under the delusion, that the manager and GM, of the Braves, actually read these blogs, to get suggestions from them, on how to run the team.
Some believe that people reading their rants, take them seriously and care about what they are saying.
I’m sure that no one really cares about what I just typed in. Haha.

bbkorbel

May 15th, 2011
9:06 am

reckingball..you just hit it out of the park!

Ash Richburn

May 15th, 2011
9:52 am

All real Phils fans tip their caps to Jair J.