"Mmmmm...that's good Brave!"

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I Love It, Now Make Me Hate It

And so it goes, with the bullpen blowing yet another lead, as the Nats came back to beat the Braves 5-4. Hampton was pulled, apparently as a precaution, after four shutout innings, Cox thus forcing himself to use the scraggly, frayed end of the bullpen to protect a 3-0 lead.

Bernero pitched two innings and gave up 2 runs in the sixth -- he's been struggling lately, but obviously Cox needed two innings from somebody. Then came the incongruous sight of Roman Colon attempting to protect a lead in the seventh, and the carousel of futility began. He gave up two singles (one was a bloop) while getting one out, and Groundball Gryboski was summoned with runners on first and third. As has been his wont of late, he gave up a hit to Guillen, which drove in the tying run. Foster then came in and gave up a two-run double to Nick "The Unquick" Johnson. Then, finally, entered Jorge Sosa to clean up the mess, which he did with alacrity.

Why did it take so long to get Sosa in the game? He's been much more effective than Colon, and would have seemed the obvious choice to start the inning. I suppose Cox was playing a hunch, because it's not like he usually trusts Colon with a late lead -- Colon's only "hold" occurred on April 8, and this was the first time since then that he's pitched with a lead of 3 runs or less (he did enter a tie game vs. Boston, but that was in the fifth inning and he gave up the winning runs). Every team has a garbage-time pitcher, but that guy is not helping the team if he can't hold the occasional lead. The departure of Mondesi might presage a gradual purge of all non-contributors -- if so, Colon is next on the chopping block.

Patterson vs. Hampton - The Just-off-the-DL game

With the Braves' offense going into the tank, we find ourselves once again in a pitchers' park after losing Game 1 to the Nationals on Memorial Day. (Did we really stand a chance against the Nationals in Washington on Memorial Day? I think there was a legislative decree outlawing a Nationals' loss).

Tonight's matchup will feature two pitchers fresh off the disabled list in the Nats' John Patterson and our own Mike Hampton. John Patterson started the year quite nicely, sporting a 0.98 ERA in four April starts. This included seven innings of shut-out ball against the Braves in which he gave up only two hits. Fortunately the Nats had Christian Guzman that game, and the Braves ended up winning because he is Christian Guzman. (Recap here)

The Nats still have Christian Guzman, and John Paterson isn't the same pitcher he was in April. In three May starts, Patterson's line is ugly: 14.2 IP, 11ER, 17 hits and nine walks versus 12 Ks. I don't think Patterson's injury is to blame for his dropoff. He went on the DL due to back spasms, and no one to my knowledge ever linked his bad performances to this injury. Maybe he is just being John Patterson. Here is what I mean.

At one point, the 6-6 Patterson was supposed to be the second coming. He was drafted fifth overall in 1996 by the Expos of the Montreal variety, and using some crafty draft trickeration, he ended up signing with Arizona for a $6.1 million bonus. Oh, this kid was going to be great.

Then, in 2000, Patterson found himself under the eye and scalpel of famed ligament-man Dr. James Andrews. Although Tommy John surgery is often the nadir for pitching careers, Patterson did not hit bottom until he was traded back to the Expos in 2004 for Randy Choate. Yes, Randy Choate.

Now, after making is annual trip to the DL (this is actually true - Patterson has been on the DL every single year of his professional career), Patterson will face another injury-prone pitcher in Mike Hampton. Hampton has been spectacular this season, with a 1.96 ERA and an uncharacteristically low WHIP of 1.02. In fact, before leaving with an injury against the Dodgers on May 14, Hampton hadn't given up a run in his last 12+ innings, including a two-hit shutout against the Astros. (I know, it's the Astros).

Arm injuries, however, are always scary, so hopefully Hampton's injury is nothing to be concerned about and proceeds to pitch like he did prior to hitting the DL. And hopefully the Patterson we see tonight is the pitcher he is rather than the one he was supposed to be.

Nats 3 Braves 2

What this game needed was an NFL referee or, better yet, a French Open linesman. With the score 2-1 Nats in the seventh, Jordan hit a ball down the left field line that appeared to hit the black part of the foul pole at RFK. Initially ruled a home run, the umps were evidently persuaded by ornery old Frank Robinson to change the call to a foul ball, resulting in a predictable tirade by ornery old Bobby Cox in which, miraculously, Cox did not get tossed.

Here's the thing, though -- the original call was correct. The ball unquestionably hit off the dark pole. I'm glad the umps are doing a better job of convening on tough calls, but some version of the NFL replay rule should apply here -- if you're not absolutely sure the original call was wrong, the call should stand. I believe they went with a "preponderance of evidence" test, which evidently took into consideration the REACTIONS OF THE FANS. I can't prove that, of course, but I can't imagine what other conflicting evidence they could have had.

Why the French Open linesman? It's simple, really -- if you're not sure of a call, just go look at the spot. Just as a tennis ball leaves a mark on clay, there was a mark on the pole where the ball hit. How difficult would that have been? Why, those umps would have been praised from coast to coast for their diligence in getting the call right.

Ah well. Davies gave up his first run in 14 innings, just missing the team record to start a career, held by Larry McWilliams. Can anyone tell Brave-O-Matic the other claim to fame of the redoubtable McWilliams (answer below)?

A: It was McWilliams and Gene Garber who stopped Pete Rose's 44-game hitting streak.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Braves 7 Phillies 2

After two dispiriting losses, the Braves avoided a sweep at the hands of the Phillies by winning handily today. The offense exhibited disdain for Brett Myers's newfound stature as one of the best NL starters as they unveiled their new number 3 hitter (for today, anyway), Kelly Johnson. Johnson went hitless, but reached base twice via a walk and fielder's choice, notched his first major-league run and RBI, along with a beauty of an outfield assist, nailing Thome at the plate.

Of course, Johnson's on-field contributions are secondary to the impact of his mere presence on the roster, as he replaced Mondesi, who's been offered a AAA slot that he's almost certain to pass on. Recent mention of nagging injuries has been offered as an excuse for Mondesi's poor play, but I think that's just Cox and Schuerholz being polite, stand-up guys. From where Brave-O-Matic sits, Mondesi just looked through. No complaints about his comportment while a Brave, but he'll be soon forgotten, except by those troubled souls whose dreams are populated by the ghosts of Rico Brogna, Ken Caminiti, T.P. v.2, Robert Fick, Jose Hernandez, and Dave Gallagher (betcha forgot about him).


And, with that, our long local nightmare is over. Okay, half over.

Goodbye, Raul.

Phillies 12 Braves 5

The Braves kept this one close for a while, until one of their patented late-inning bullpen meltdowns. Credit should go to the top of the lineup for keeping them in the game while Horacio struggled from the get-go. The Phils had no trouble figuring him out, to the tune of 11 baserunners in 3 2/3 innings. Horacio has had some success over the last couple of seasons, but his lack of a strikeout pitch may be catching up with him.

Good to see Giles get his doubles stroke down -- he's now the major league leader, with 19. FWIW, Estrada is tied for 7th with 15 and Chipper is tied for 12th with 14. The Braves trail only the Reds in team doubles. There, a silver lining.

Hudson versus Brett Myers today -- should be a pitchers' duel.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Phillies 5 Braves 1

This game was unwatched by Brave-O-Matic, which is just as well. Looks like Smoltz had some first inning trouble, and the Phillies made it hold up. Furcal continues his good work on the homestand, and Andruw appears to have gone back into a funk that's brought his numbers right back in line with what we're used to getting from him.

Here's the game recap -- Horacio vs. Lieber this afternoon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Braves 3 Mets 0 (8 Innings)

OK, frequent readers of Brave-O-Matic know that, for us, the game ends upon Dan Kolb's entry, so in our best-of-all-possible universe, the Braves notched a 3-0 win over the Mets tonight. Anything that happened after the eighth inning is your fault for watching. (LATE NOTE: Psych on Brave-O-Matic!! Ominous rumblings of Kolb were premature -- Reitsma was allowed to go 2 innings for the save! Gloryosky...)

I'm no proponent of "small ball", but if ever a team should play that way, it's against the Mets' battery of Zambrano-Piazza. The term "fundamentally sound" usually applies to position players, but it must be said that Victor Zambrano is one of the most fundamentally unsound players I've seen this year. First, he botched a sacrifice bunt by popping up a pitch up around his shoulders. Then, in the fifth inning, Estrada at second and Langerhans at first with no outs, Pete Orr attempted a sacrifice bunt. Zambrano fielded it and, apparently mistaking Johnny Estrada for an African spotted leopard, threw the ball wildly to third, allowing two runs to score.

Furcal proceeded to single in Orr, and then stole second and third against Piazza, who just can't throw at all. I was asking out loud for a patented Bobby Cox squeeze after the steal of third, but Giles isn't a bunter. Pity that -- I have no doubt it would have worked.

Zambrano was doing Piazza no favors on the steals, though. By my count, he faked more throws to second base (3) than he attempted throws to first (0). Given his lack of any other ancillary skills, it wouldn't surprise me if he's prohibited from throwing anywhere but plateward.

Back to Piazza. Not only did he give up 5 SBs in the game, but Davies made him look horrible on two strikeouts, one on a check swing on a high fastball, and the other on a nasty curve he could only flail at. He's 36 and has caught 1470 games -- we may be witnessing the end of a Hall of Fame career. At the least, he's looking more and more like a DH wearing the tools of ignorance.

Ahh, Davies. The kid had it going once again. This was my first look at him, and it's obvious that his fastball, changeup, and curve are all major-league quality. He took a ball off the ribs in the sixth and had to leave the game, and hopefully he's not hurt too badly. As mentioned previously, we need him, and he's coming through like a champ so far.

The offense didn't do much -- all three runs were a direct result of Zambrano's foolish play. Marcus did have three hits.

Incidentally, Pete Orr is quite the adventure in left field. I commend Cox for trying something different and getting Mondesi off the field, but.... On one play, a bloop hit fell in front of him, as he was probably distracted by Furcal running at him. Then he was flummoxed by the smoggy Atlanta twilight and lost a fly ball that fortunately dropped foul. Finally, on another tweener that Furcal couldn't catch, he had Marlon Anderson dead to rights rounding third base. A throw behind the runner would have nailed him, but Orr's throw came home instead. Again, it worked out okay, as no runs scored, but a more experienced outfielder would have probably gotten the out.

And finally, props to Furcal for some fine defensive plays and aggression on the basepaths. He'll always be a high-risk, high-reward player, and tonight he was a pivotal cog in the victory.

Fantasy Kvetching

I think that a great weekly feature should be a chance for all our many readers, coast-to-coast, to have a chance to bellyache about their fantasy players who played and stunk or didn't play and really kicked a--. Or even a chance to brag about a decision that worked out right.

For me, my boy Ryan Freel had yet another steal today, and a home run. Getting a stolen base from Freel, my favorite free agent, virtually every other day. And I picked up 2 more from Rafael Furcal today too.

And my previously acclaimed relivers, Lidge and Looper, managed to produce ERA's of 10.8 and 9.0 respectively over the past week, with a combined save total of 0. Weak indeed.

What say you, angry rotisserie guy? Who had Jason Bay on the bench Tuesday, when he went 3 for 6, with a homer and double and a single? Who done your team wrong?

Braves 4 Mets 0

For the first few innings tonight, the Braves held to their recent pattern -- Hudson was giving up baserunners galore and barely escaping, while Glavine was shutting us down without breaking a sweat. Neither team was scoring, but the fact that Hudson was starting on short rest and not fooling anyone lent an ominous air to the proceedings.

Gradually, though, the Braves seemed to realize who their opponent was and, most particularly, who the opposing pitcher was. Singles by Mondesi, Estrada (who's been putting it together lately -- 3/4, up to .271), and Langerhans pushed across a run in the fifth, and they scored three more in the seventh, highlighted by Furcal's second triple in two days to chase Glavine.

And Hudson, after his rocky start, began to deal. For the first time in weeks, he was pitching like we know he can -- everything breaking at the knees, and working inside and out masterfully. Eight shutout innings on short rest was a godsend for a weary pitching staff, and Reitsma may gain confidence from his dominant ninth inning performance.

I didn't hear whether Glavine was greeted with the customary boos from the Turner Field crowd. Now, I'm in the minority in these parts, but I hold no bitterness towards Tommy G for leaving. He got an extra year from the Mets, and that's no small consideration. It would be silly of me to expect loyalty from any free agent, especially when it's standard operating procedure for management to trade on expected loyalty when making their offer. The expectation of loyalty would have demanded that the Braves not let Maddux walk, yet that's what happened. Glavine's decision probably cost him a shot at 300 wins, but he's still going to the Hall of Fame with a Braves cap on. That said, I hope we get to face him again this season -- we've got his number.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Closer Market, Episode 1

I'm sure we'll have several posts on this topic in the coming days. But to get the market updates rolling, here's what it looks like at 8am on Tuesday:

Expensive option- Houston's Brad Lidge. A solid reliever, despite some history of arm trouble. But It'll cost a solid, established player.

Cheap option- Cinci's Danny Graves. Schueholtz loves to grab the cheap discards for rebuilding projects. And Graves will be cheap. But a closer with a 7.36 ERA? And more walks than K's? I don't like the Graves option, but I'm sure its being considered strongly by the low-dollar folks in the Turner Field front office.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Braves 8 Mets 6

The Mets lineup tonight was missing Beltran, Piazza, and Matsui (although Cairo may actually be an improvement on Kazuo), and on the mound was Kazuhiza Ishii, who has little to recommend him other than his status as starting pitcher on the All-"ii" team (the only other members to my knowledge are Torii Hunter and Larry Biittner). Easy win for the Bravos, yes?

Win? Yes. Easy? You haven't been watching lately.

After a David Wright HR gave the Metropolitans a 1-0 lead, the Braves mounted a rally in the bottom of the second. After two outs, the unlikely triumverate of Mondesi, Brayan Pena, and Wilson Betemit managed to load the bases, then Ishii walked Horacio for the tying run. How bad is that? Then Furcal (who, I'm guessing, is happy to be home) tripled on an Ishii-patented "nothing pitch" to clear the bases.

Marcus Giles checked in with a 3-run HR in the fourth, and the Braves were cruising 7-3. Horacio left after seven innings, having given up 4 runs, but looking pretty good overall. Then the fun began.

Adam Bernero was uncharacteristically shaky, allowing a hit and two walks, the second walk with the bases loaded. Reitsma came in to face Mientxzrw#%sstz, who grounded sharply to first. Julio threw to second for the force on Wright, but Furcal's return throw was wild, and two runs scored to tie the game, just as you knew would happen.

But wait! In comes the second base umpire and, in the equivalent of calling travelling in the NBA, calls M----- out due to interference by Wright at second. Wright got tossed for arguing, but the replay showed that it was an obvious call. So obvious, in fact, that not to call it would completely obviate the need for the rule.

The Braves scored an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, which in retrospect might have been the worst thing they could have done, as Reitsma's spot came up in the order, and Cox pinch hit for him. With nothing but right-handers due up in the ninth, the game was left to Dan Kolb (or Dank Lob, as he's known over at Braves Journal). And by the strictest definition of the word (get three outs before the other team can score three runs), he did the job. That's the best I can say.

Couple of other notes:

--Andruw came thisclose to catching Wright's HR, the ball popping out of his glove as his wrist hit the top of the wall. Then he coulda/shoulda caught Reyes' 9th inning triple, but Brian Jordan was too busy playing safety and nearly collided with him. Good news is Andruw wasn't hurt. Bad news is Jordan wasn't either.

--Wilson Betemit managed a double and two walks, and is now batting a cool .308/.444/.556. I wouldn't have guessed it before the season, but the fallen prospect has been a real asset for us in Chipper's absence.

--Rush Limbaugh visited the booth in the second inning, and Skip gushed "I listen to you all the time". No comment, I'll leave that one to A Brett.

We Need Our Whipping Boy

We need a chi reversal in a bad way, and here's hoping that the Mets provide the usual salve to soothe our woes. Historically, we kill the Mets, and have loads of fun while doing it. And after this road trip, we need to have fun again.

We come limping home after a 4-8 road trip which should have been more like 6-6 if not for a nasty bullpen implosion. You could almost hear the wind whooshing from the Braves' balloon in San Diego, exacerbated by Thomson's and Hampton's injuries. Now we are short-staffed and forced to work our top-tier starters on short rest for the next couple of starts. Ramirez needs to step up, because the Braves are getting beat in most uncharacteristic fashion. During the last seven games, (2-5) the Braves have been out-hit .283 to .222. We simply aren't getting on-base as our OBP during this span is only .280.

But the Mets - ah the Mets - come to town, and hopefully we'll channel our pent-up frustrations to the field and start hitting again. The Braves own the Mets at Turner Field, with a 40-25 lifetime record, including 2-1 this year and 7-2 last year. Plus, we get to go against our favorite whipping boy on our favorite whipping team - Tom Glavine. In eight starts against us, he has gone 1-7 with a 9.36 ERA while giving up a .378 batting average. Why those numbers are downright fun looking.

All the Braves fit to print

Today's Sports section of The New York Times is awash with Braves coverage. The print version sports a story on the ageless wonder, Julio Franco. See . The article talks about the things that have passed during his incredibly long career, such as parks he's played in that are now gone, from Cleveland to Texas to Detroit. A sidebar notes his teammates during his first season (1907). These include Sparkey Lyle, Tug McGraw, Dusty Baker, Lee Mazzilli and Willie Randolph. A fun read.

But the on-line Times also has a piece on the Kolb problem -UPDATED WITH THE RIGHT LINK-( , and a really great column about the wizardry of Leo Mazzone, confirming that he is indeed the greatest pitching coach ever ( This story will become an instant classic for stat geeks (no offense), with gripping prose such as this:

"Using multiple regression techniques, he isolated the effect of pitching under Mazzone and not. The change turned out to be even more than Bradbury expected: a decrease of 0.62 in E.R.A., essentially turning a mediocre pitcher with a 4.10 E.R.A. into a quite valuable one at 3.48. Or, as Bradbury put it, "about the same as the Coors Field effect in the opposite direction."
A perfect illustration of the Mazzone Effect is Remlinger, a middle reliever with a 4.63 career E.R.A. before he pitched for the Braves from 1999 to 2002. He posted a 2.65 E.R.A. in his four Atlanta seasons, and with the Cubs it has since risen to 3.73. Even after Bradbury considered factors like Remlinger's ages as a Brave (33 to 36) and how he left a park that favors pitchers (Turner Field) for the opposite (Wrigley Field), his adjusted E.R.A. was 3.82 before Mazzone, 3.35 during and 4.23 after."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Red Sox 5 Braves 2

Aside from Smoltz's early resilience, this was a fairly desultory performance to mark the end of a 4-8 road trip. Of the 12 games, the Braves led in about 14 of them by my count, only to be stymied by their own bullpen almost every day, followed by a lack of offensive punch to get back the lost leads. With the news that Hudson and Davies will be starting on short rest this week, coming home doesn't seem like much of a respite for a tired team. We can only hope that Hampton's "forearm strain" isn't worse than they're letting on -- we need him back ASAP.

Recap unnecessary, nothing positive to report.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Brave-O-Matic Off The Schneid !!

Finally, a Braves win to recap here on Brave-O-Matic! Unfortunately, I didn't get to see it...

Certainly we couldn't have asked for a more timely pitching performance than the one Kyle Davies authored tonight. Fantastic job by the kid, because this had potential disaster written all over it -- major league debut, in a bandbox, against a great hitting team, trying to stop the Braves longest losing streak in 3 seasons, and in the driving rain to boot. As I said before, I don't know if he's ready, but with 40% of our starting rotation on the shelf, we sure do need him. No pressure, though!

I see that Andruw donned the golden sombrero, and barely avoided a fifth strikeout -- what manner of gilded headgear would that have connoted, one wonders??

Pinch Running for Estrada?

Some people may question Cox's decision not to pinch run for Estrada with one out in the ninth inning of a 4-3 game, but I think Cox was consistent with his usual strategy in that situation, and I agree with him. He will often keep the slow runner on first with fewer than two outs, only to pinch run if he advances into scoring position. You give up the possibility of scoring from first on a gapper, but the far more likely scenario would be an advancement to second or third base on a walk or single. At that point you pinch run in case of another hit or sacrifice fly. If Cox pinch-runs immediately, and the runner is then forced out, you've lost your catcher.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Red Sox 4 Braves 3

The mound giveth, the mound...well, you know the rest. The good guys were in the midst of a rousing 9th inning comeback -- with the score 4-1, Chipper doubled off the Monster (then gave the dugout a smirk that said "wow, that sure seems easy to do"), then LaRoche cued one to Renteria for an out. Andruw, quien esta en fuego, tripled to center. Estrada came up with one out and hit a grounder that hit off the right side of the mound, turning an easy play into a hit, as Bellhorn, not a great fielder, couldn't come up with it. Andruw scored to make it 4-3. Then Julio hit a patented scorched-earth grounder, which looked like it would get through. Unfortunately, the mound intervened once again, this time slowing up the ball in time for Renteria to grab it and start a game ending double play.

So, the mound played a neutral role in the outcome. I can't say the same first base umpire Andy Fletcher, who called Giles out swinging in the eighth on a play in which the bat never got THREE INCHES OFF HIS SHOULDER. Giles barked something at him as they went to commercial, and I bet my dad that he would be gone by the time the game came back on. Sure enough, he made a "baseball charge" at the ump and got tossed.

(For those unfamiliar, a baseball charge is when you sprint menacingly toward your target, seemingly with murderous intent, only just slowly enough to allow someone to grab onto you before you get there)

The rookie versus old nemesis Wakefield tomorrow. If Timlin gets into the game, it will seem just like the 1992 postseason....

(Braves now 0-4 since the inception of Brave-O-Matic. Is it something we said?)

Pop Quiz

Q: Two NL shortstops have an OPS over 800. Who are they?

A: Clint Barmes (1019) and Cesar Izturis (817).

Would you have guessed before the season that Barmes and Izturis would be the most deserving NL SS All-Stars? In fact, all things considered I believe Izturis is the best SS in the league, hot start or not. The difference in road OPS (to correct for their home park effects) between Barmes (849) and Izturis (832) is not significant, and Izturis is plainly a better defensive SS. He's young (25), he's shown steady improvement at the plate (last 3 years OPS 597, 711, 816), and he's got a great defensive rep. I'll predict that Nomar Garciaparra will never again be as good as Cesar Izturis, and I don't really think that's going out on a limb.

Closed down?

What in the world is going on with the NL closers this year? Every team seems to be having severe problems with these guys. As recently mentioned on these pages, Danny Kolb has been horrendous. But what about Mota on the DL? And Benitez. And Tsao (although its a good career move for a closer to go on the DL until traded from Colorado). And look at the Cubs troubles with Hawkins and Dempster, et al.

What is going on with the ranks of the closers? Is it poor conditioning? Over-use? Lack of steriods? Maybe complete game pitcher will make a comeback this season. Out of pure necessity.

Braul Jordesi: The Two-Headed Monster

What havoc hath this Braul Jordesi creature wrought upon our beloved game of baseball? Will any stat-respecting, adoring fan of the game remain standing in the wake this creature's onslaught of 0-fers?

Legend has it that Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi have fused into one terrifying two-headed, two-batted beast most frequently seen manning the corner spots of the Braves' outfield. Now that they are generally considered as one, let's add their stats together and see how they stack up against their one-headed counterparts.

Braul Jordesi:
BA - .215
HR - 6
RBI - 33
SB - 2
OBP - .275
SLG - .331
OPS - .606

Now, Braul Jordesi compared to more normal, mono-cranial NL players:

- .215 combined BA ranks 84th out of 88 (tied with Royce Clayton)
- 6 combined HRs rank 38th (tie)
- 33 combined RBIs rank 3rd (tie). Way to go Jordesi!
- 2 stolen bases rank 33rd (tie)
- .275 combined OBP ranks 82 out of 88 (just ahead of Jason Lane and below Chad Tracy)
- .331 combined SLG% ranks 81st out of 88 (tied with David Bell)
- .606 combined OPS ranks 83rd out of 88 (interestingly, this falls between the erstwhile Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan)

So whoever said that two heads are better than one clearly does not play in the Braves' outfield.

Thomson out 2-3 months

It was reported last night that the Braves will be without the services of John Thomson for the next two to three months, which is horrible news. He suffered some freak accident that saw a partial tear of his flexor tendon in his middle finger. Nasty stuff.

Thomson was 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA and a nice ratio (WHIP) of 1.26. He will be sorely missed, as Thomson was the best fourth starter in the league. This isn't speculation either. I did my homework, which is unusual because usually I'll say any damn thing that pops into my head. For example, now. But the Marlins officially list that freak Dontrelle Willis as their fourth starter, which if true, he is obviously doing better than Thomson this season. But Leiter, officially listed as number two, has a 6.06 ERA with more walks than strikeouts. So in taking a pure view of a team's top four starters, Thomson gets the prize. Can Davies step in and pitch like Thomson this season? Doubtful, and the way Horacio looked at San Diego, I'm not champing at the bit to give him more looks, although that is obviously what will happen.

We will need to rely heavily on our offense as we start interleague play down two starters and a bullpen in tatters. It doesn't help that while the Marlins get the juggernauts in the Devil Rays, we get the defending world champions.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Kyle Davies

With the Braves likely to bring up Kyle Davies soon, most likely for a May 24 start against the Mets, lets take a look at the man who would replace John Thomson:

First things first: he's a Decatur GA boy, which also happens to be the home of your intrepid correspondent. The Braves picked him in the 4th round of the 2001 draft straight out of Stockbridge HS.

Career minor league stats are here:

His 2005 numbers are here:

He has consistently posted ERAs in the mid-2's in A and AA, striking out more than one batter per inning at each stop, with impressively low hit ratios. His prospect status got its biggest boost at AA Greenville last year -- 40 hits vs. 73 Ks in 62 innings as a 20-year-old is outstanding. The 9 HRs were a bit high, though, and may have portended a struggle against tougher competition.

He's had 9 starts with Richmond so far, and has posted a ~5 ERA, giving up a hit per inning and walking a batter every other inning. He's still getting his strikeouts, so it's evident that he has the stuff to succeed.

Bottom line: Davies appears to have what it takes to earn his keep with the big club, but he's not quite ready. I'm looking forward to seeing him -- but only briefly this season.

UPDATE: Looks like Hampton will
miss his next start
, meaning Davies major league debut will probably come against the World Champion Red Sox at Fenway Park this Saturday. Good luck, kid!

UPDATE #2: To get back at M Norman for messing up my earlier post, I offer this juicy tidbit in reference to one of his earlier missives.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

It's Official - Dan Kolb Out As Closer

This news is somewhat surprising because we rarely see Bobby Cox take such bold actions. Here is what Cox said before today's fiasco with San Diego (as reported by the AP):

"We're going to put Kolb in the middle somewhere for a while and let him work on some stuff. We'll do the closing by matchups and whoever's rested and things like that.''

While this is good news for those of us with short tempers and heavy, TV-breaking objects at arm's length, the truth of the matter is that this is actually quite bad. Just six weeks into the season, and we do not have a bona-fide closer. This simply doesn't happen to good teams.

The Braves made a bold move going out and acquiring Kolb, and it has backfired. We now need to make another bold move if we hope to win the NL East for the 14th time in a row.

Anybody up for it?

The West Coast Sucks - a Mid-Game Report

As of this typing, the Braves are getting their head handed to them by the Padres, 7-0. Our bullpen is such shambles right now, it looks like Horacio Ramirez will be asked to take one for the team. He has given up eight hits, and all seven runs are earned. Of course, taking a good-ole butt kickin' like this is much preferable to the manner of our last two losses - excruciating snatching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory type losses.

On an even more depressing note, I have Khalil Greene (2HR and 6 RBIs through 4 innings) on my fantasy team, but in my infinite wisdom, I have him on the bench today. I truly suck.

So, a quick summary of this road trip, if everything holds to form:

3-6 record
2 injured starting pitchers (Thomson probably quite serious)
4 blown saves
a deep introspective into my own sucktitude as a fantasy baseball manager

Clearly, not much good came from this road trip.

The Call-In Show

I was thinking of dialing up the Braves Pre-Game call-in show. I thought I should ask for an explanation of the infield-fly rule and how to calculate slugging percentage. I'm also interested in a list of all the players who have made 3 put-outs in a single inning. What other questions would you suggest I ask?

Help Wanted: Closer

A Major League baseball team with a tremendous history of success seeks a reliable, go-to guy to finish games. Must be dependable and not piss me off. Must not suck EVERY time upon taking the mound. Must cease to blow great games pitched by John Smoltz.

Ability to throw strikes required. Fastball in mid-90s preferred, but not required. Send v.c. to:
Bobby Cox
c/o Atlanta Braves
Turner Field
755 Hank Aaron Drive
Atlanta, GA 30315

Brave-O-Matic 8-Inning Game RecapTM

Man, what a terrific game! Smoltz shut down a fearsome Padre lineup, allowing only one run on an 8th inning sac fly. Small-ball impresarios Mondesi, Betemit, and Furcal manufactured a run in the 5th, Mondesi scoring on a medium-deep fly ball by Raffy (who looked like he could hit medium-deep fly balls all day long -- such a useful talent for a leadoff hitter!), and Andruw hit a solo HR in the 8th. That was it for the scoring, and the Braves have to feel good that they bounced back after Monday's loss.

Oh, they did play an extra "ninth" inning after I went to bed, but I heard Cox was bringing in a "closer", so I wasn't worried. Anyone who's worked in sales knows what a "closer" is -- he's the guy that seals the deal after the necessary groundwork has been laid. Usually acknowledged as the best the team has to offer. Good system, works well.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Do Regular Season Wins Count?

Since 1991 the Braves have amassed 13 straight divisional titles and 1,273 regular season wins. (Omitting, of course, the cancelled season of 1994.) Amazing and unmatched. Never finished the 162 game schedule out of first place. No other team comes close. Even the Yankees have fewer divisional titles (9) and wins (1,201). It’s a model of efficiency and an example of success despite all intervening circumstances, be they free agency, injuries, payroll cuts or even John Rocker. Win, win, win. Since 1991.

And yet, every September, all we hear from the media and self-proclaimed fans is that the Braves are failures because they’ve won only one World Series during the same span. Yankee fans and, most annoyingly, Marlins fans claim to be the better franchise based solely on World Series titles. Time and again I hear that the Braves must change everything- players, manager, GM, coaches- if they don’t win it all this year.

But I dismiss the criticism entirely, and the Marlins fans I dismiss in particular. They shout about 2 World titles, yet they can boast of ZERO divisional titles. In fact, they’ve never even seen a 100-win season. Or even 95. While Braves fans are treated to victory time-after-time, game-after-game over the long haul of a 162-game schedule, Floridians (those who aren’t condemned to the Devil Ray’s market) must wait till the season ends and hope for an upset in the second season to see their team win. They got 3 great weeks in 1997 and 2003, we’ve had 6 months of sustained success every year since 1991. Who’s getting the better deal?

As a fan, I watch the Braves almost every night. Even if I don’t see the game, I read the boxes for every game. It’s half of every year that I invest myself in MY team. But the whiners and Brave-haters dismiss the regular season and only get involved for the second season. I submit that they are not baseball fans, but merely band-wagoners.

The long run is the real test. That’s why the regular season runs so long. When baseball was really baseball, the only teams in the post-season were the NL regular season champs and the AL regular season champs. That’s it. No wild-cards, no second chances. The best team every day, day-after-day, is the only real test of who is best. And by that measure, the Braves are the standard by which all other teams must measure themselves. They have nothing to prove in October when they’ve proved it from April to September for 13 straight years.

Now if we could just get a solid closer................

Matt Childers

Thomson went on the DL today, and the Braves promoted Childers, who's performed fairly well so far this season at Richmond. Of course, last year he was a 25-year-old swingman with a ~5 ERA for the Brewers' AAA affiliate, so he ain't got much in the way of bonafides...

An extended absence by Thomson would be very bad news indeed. He's slotted as our fourth starter, and one advantage the Braves have had the last couple of seasons is depth in the rotation -- John Thomson is the best 4th starter in the NL, unless you count the recently activated Brad Penny (I know, Greg Maddux is the Cubs 4th...I'll still take Thomson). Kyle Davies is the likely call-up to replace Thomson in the rotation for the time being. We've been awfully fortunate with the performance of our Richmond call-ups lately (Thomas, Green, Orr, Colon last year, etc), but Thomson-to-Davies is a falloff we'll be lucky to absorb.

What Happened to My Stubby Clapp?

One of the coolest baseball names ever resurfaced to me recently - Stubby Clapp. I wish I were named Stubby Clapp. Repeat it a few times - that's right. Stubby Clapp. Stubby Clapp. Stubby Clapp.

The Braves signed Stubby Clapp to a minor league contract in 2003. While Stubby Clapp was no great shakes as a baseball player, Stubby Clapp instantly became the diehard fan's favorite. We all pulled for Stubby Clapp. And you never could just call Stubby Clapp Stubby or just Clapp (nor could you use a pronoun as a substitute for Stubby Clapp). Everyone always used both names - Stubby Clapp. Unfortunately, Stubby Clapp, in 286 AB at Richmond that year, hit only .217 with 3 HRs, 23 RBIs and 6 SBs. Thus, Stubby Clapp never was called up and eventually was traded (I believe, unless Stubby Clapp was outrighted) to the Toronto organization, playing in 2004 for both the triple-A and the double-A clubs.

Why mention Stubby Clapp now? Well, as I have hinted at above, IT'S THE COOLEST FREAKING NAME, (haven't you been reading), so why not? Second, the latest Baseball America, in writing about Independent Leagues, mentioned Stubby Clapp as the "new face of Edmonton's franchise." Here is what Edmonton GM Mel Kowalchuck had to say about Stubby Clapp:

"[Stubby] Clapp is bigger than Triple-A in Edmonton. For us, if we needed icing on the cake to show we're a legitimate ballclub talent-wise, he's icing on the cake."

Stubby Clapp. There's just no getting rid of a Stubby Clapp.

Game 2 ATL vs. San Diego

At one point, the Braves were fairly high on Darrell May, though the praise was fleeting as we designated him for assignment in 1996, with Pittsburgh eventually claiming him off the waiver wire. San Diego got him through a trade with Kansas City.

This will be May's second start of the year, and let's hope he pitches like he did in that first one. Against the Cards, May coughed up 7 hits, 4 ER 2 BBs with 2 Ks in just 3.2 innings. Historically the Braves hit left-handers well, and we are doing so again this year, as our batting average, (.259 vs. .289), slugging percentage (.435 vs. .478) and OPS (.758 vs. .834) are all higher than our overall stats. And May is a sub-standard lefty at that, so I like our chances with Smoltz going in a profoundly pitching-friendly park.

I mean, really, it is Darrell May after all.

Adam freaking LaRoche!

On a brighter note, Adam LaRoche is raking the ball, and in general, our offense is beginning to click. On May 1, LaRoche was hitting .212 with 2 HR and 10 RBIs. After last night's 3-4 performance, he is hitting .283 with 6 HR and 27 RBIs. That's a pretty good fortnight's worth of work.

Chris freaking Reitsma

DAMMIT!!! Is it not enough that I have sedate myself everytime Kolb gets up in the bullpen, now I have to start worrying about Reitsma? I mean it's okay to give up one run every now and then - that is simply part of the game. But Reitsma has gotten shelled the last two games, giving up leads and looking horrible in the process. I say we just give him a few days off, let him sit under the San Diego sun and get this out of his system. Because without Reitsma being the pitcher we saw earlier this year, the seventh through the ninth innings are going to be very uncomfortable, and I simply don't keep enough sedatives around.

Padres 5 Braves 3

Looks like Reitsma authored his second 2004-style performance in 4 days, thus undoing a fairly large portion of the good work he'd done so far this season. I find this particularly disappointing, as I maintained that his late season meltdown last year was a result of overwork. The fact that his last two meltdowns happened after midnight may be the only thing that will save him from the boo birds when the team gets back home.

Young Mr. Langerhans is also, shall we say, making less than the most of his opportunity. He's someone else I've agitated for -- I remain impressed with his defense, but I think he'd be more of an asset in right field than left. Jordan may be washed up, but Air-Mail Mondesi is just a very silly person.

Former Brave farmhand Darrell May, who fits the "lefthander with a pulse" profile, goes up against Smoltzie tonight. Jeff Porter will be in a four-point stance throughout....

Monday, May 16, 2005

Braves vs. Padres (in progress)

Looks like I won't make it to the end of the game tonight, so I'll just jot down a few impressions so far:

1) Tonight's opposing pitcher, Tim Stauffer, could not be more unlike yesterday's (Scott Erickson). Stauffer, who appears to have a bright future, has had his ML service clock start early due to injury, while Erickson has been pitching with a loud TICK-TOCK in his head for years now. Makes you wonder how bad the Dodger farm system must be, to have to start a guy who hasn't given league-average performance in six years. Anyway, Stauffer gradually settled down after some early command issues to pitch quite well.

2) Furcal is completely lost at the plate right now. If he's sitting next to Mondesi in the dugout, Pendleton would be earning his paycheck to just go sit between them.

3) No word at this point about Thomson's injury, but kudos to Adam Bernero for exhibiting grace under pressure once again. He may become Exhibit 2005-A for putting Mazzone in the Hall of Fame...

4) Is it just me, or is Ryan Klesko looking rather svelte these days??

Brayan Pena

Brayan Pena with Richmond is now leading the International League in hitting with a .414 average in 99 ABs. B. Pena (not to be confused with Tony Pena Jr. a shortshop at Richmond whose dad is none other than Tony Pena, former stud on Big Red Machine and former Royals manager) is a 23-year old catcher who prior to this year had a .298 career batting average.

While the .414 sounds awfully promising (as does the .298 career BA), what is startling is that B. Pena, out of 41 hits, has only five extra base hits - four doubles and one triple. In fact, for his career, B. Pena has only eight HRs in 1088 career at bats. I don't think the Big Club will be clamoring for his services anytime soon.

The other Pena, Tony, doesn't have any pop either. In 1784 ABs, el Gato Menor has only 19 HRs, prior to this season. What's with the punchless penas?

Going to San Diego

Unfortunately, most of those bombs we hit in LA will be easy fly-outs at Petco. And, really, to let that fossil Erickson shut us down for five innings was really worrisome. I mean, c'mon. We lit Gagne up the night before but looked like a cast of fools against an octogenerian with an ERA in the troposphere.

But it was good to take the series against the Dodgers - we usually suck quite deeply on the Pacific Coast. The Padres have won something like 12 of their last 15 games, have overtaken the Dogers for second place and are only 1/2 game behind the Diamondbacks, who I predict will lose like 30 games in a row pretty soon.

Fortunately, we do not have to face Peavy in the series. It will be interesting to see this kid Stauffer, though. He was 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA in the pitching-friendly Pacific Coast league - good for sixth place - with 31 Ks and only 8 BBs in 38.2 IP. He can bring it. His first start was pretty good considering he pitched at Cinci - giving up only two runs and four hits to those juiced-up behemoths. Typically the Braves are pretty futile against recent call-ups - so this will be interesting to see.

Braves 5 Dodgers 2

This was a game straight out of 2003. Three HRs (Jones, Jones, LaRoche) accounted for 4 of the 5 runs, and Hudson did his best Russ Ortiz impression -- baserunners everywhere, 109 grueling pitches through six innings, but he kept wriggling out of trouble. Don Sutton had it right, I think -- a true ace can find a way to win without his best stuff. Of course, this scenario accounted for about 75% of Ortiz's starts....

It must be said that I didn't see the end of the game, as I can't bear to watch Dan Kolb at this point. He's the Bizarro Pavlov -- he answers the bell, my mouth goes completely dry. Perhaps future game entries on this blog will consist of 8 innings of game recap followed by a review of whatever program I switch to in the 9th. Professional bowling..."Iron Chef"..."She's The Sheriff"'s all good. Anyway, looks like he did the job yesterday, but he's still on double secret probation with me.

Strange game scenario: Top of the 7th, two outs, Mondesi at the plate. Hudson is due up next, and Julio comes to the on-deck circle. Mondesi drew a walk (causing donkeys to fly), and Cox then pulls back Julio and sends up Betemit instead. I know Betemit is a switch-hitter, but a lefty was on the mound, so he was batting righty anyway. Can anyone help me out with this?