Brave-O-Matic

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

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The End Of An Era (cont.)

No, I'm not referring to anything resembling ceding the division crown to the Mets. The series at Shea began with a loss, too, and a couple of days later we were feeling pretty good. A fickle mistress is baseball fandom -- a powerful and uplifting presence when things are going well, but as brittle as parchment in the sun. Kinda like Cliff Floyd. So Brave-O-Matic cedes nothing (and besides, I didn't see the game).

Anyway, it's a lot easier to write about a topic that raises my ire than one that just depresses me, so let's return to the FOX decision to go with Bob "Yawn" Rathbun and Jeff Torpor on Turner South broadcasts beginning Monday.

The AJC has a longer article today about the decision. There are some important differences between this decision and the aforementioned TBS New-Coke-style "rebranding" a couple of years ago. Whereas TBS essentially fired Skip and Pete before public outcry brought them back, FOX is simply going with the announcers they already have under contract. According to the article, "(Retaining the TBS announcers)...would have required an additional financial arrangement between Fox and Turner, which pays the announcers."

OK, I understand that Joe Simpson's contract was probably not on the agenda during the purchase negotiations. What this means, though, is that a similar public protest of the decision is far less likely to have any impact -- FOX owns the house, and if they want to replace the rose bushes with monkey grass, that's their prerogative. Not to say that we shouldn't voice our displeasure, of course.

You can always depend on Skip Caray for a money quote:

It's disappointing, but our input wasn't requested or needed.


Skip may be a grouch (as anyone who has listened to his pregame call-in shows can attest), but he's also a classy guy:

It hurts me to say this from a personal viewpoint, but they're doing the right thing...they should be loyal to their people.


Then:

I worry more, frankly, for the people who are not as well paid as we are -- people who have done such a good job all these years.


One last quote before we violate fair use -- this from Jeff Genthner, VP and GM of FSN South:

There were many considerations -- the view of the fan was obviously a major consideration, but also the contractual relationships that various announcers have with various companies, the brand of Braves telecasts on TBS and the brand of Braves telecasts on Turner South and Fox...


Ah, branding. I used to work for a company that licensed images to ad agencies and marketing departments, and "branding" is right up there with "touchpoints" in the pantheon of BS marketing non-words that "mean" whatever you want them to "mean". But what the hell, everyone says "branding" now -- that particular linguistic battle is over.

But if you're going to use it, at least use it in a context that bolsters your point. Please allow me to illustrate, in the form of a trivia question:

How long has Bob Rathbun been calling Braves games for FSN South?

a) Two years
b) Three years
c) Five years
d) Seven years


And the answer is....



e) Ten years!!

Did you know that? Did anyone out there have any idea that Bob Rathbun has been a Braves announcer for a decade?? I have nothing against the guy, but any assertion that he represents the face of FSN South is a serious misapprehension on two levels: one, his approach is too bland and "professional" for the viewer to develop an attachment to him; and two, FSN South is, purposely, faceless. As for Torborg (who is okay, and a vast improvement over Paciorek), he's been here all of a month. His "brand" is "itinerant one-year hire between his managing gigs".

Here's a sampling of reactions from around the blogosphere (AKA the prestigious Brave-O-Matic link list):

From the consistently great Rowland's Office:

From a business standpoint, it makes sense (haven’t we heard that already this week?); from a lifelong fan’s standpoint, it’s a gut-punch...At a minimum, attendance should increase because watching the game on television will be too painful.


A call to action in the comments at Braves Journal from "Patrick":

I'm sure everyone has heard about the horrible move that Fox has made taking Skip, Pete and the rest of the team off of their broadcasts. If anyone else is as pissed as I am about this and want to get them back, e-mail the president of Fox South and speak your mind. Here's his e-mail:
jgenthner@foxsports.net


And lastly, over at Tomahawk, a brilliantly concise summary that, had I emulated it, I would have already gotten my backyard mowed today:

Awful.

Friday, April 28, 2006

FOX Sends Skip and Pete Packing

That's right, Braves fans. The faceless overlords of conglomerate media have pissed on you once again:

From AJC:

Fox Cable Networks announced it will replace the familiar Turner South broadcast team of Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton, Joe Simpson and Chip Caray. Beginning next week, the Braves games on Turner South will be called by FSN South’s broadcast team of Bob Rathbun and Jeff Torborg.


We figured this would happen next year, but if there's one lesson we should have learned by now in this age of consolidation, it's that it's never too soon for the bean counters, wherever they are, to trample local tradition. Our voices of summer -- Skip, Pete, Don, and Joe (okay, Chip too) -- are now relegated to the 70 games TBS is airing, a number that will drop to 45 next year.

This isn't the first time that Skip and Pete have had their schedules curtailed against their will -- remember Time Warner's absurd attempt to "nationalize" their MLB coverage on TBS a couple of years ago? We made our voices heard then, and forced TW to listen to its market instead of its marketers. Keep an eye on this space for a renewed call to action, and you can start by sending your opinion to FOX here.

Is Being 8 Games Back on May 1 a Big Deal?

I am the pessimist here at Brave-O-Matic (and the wordy one). Those who read this blog have surely deduced that by now. So, it is with this overbearing pessimism that I ask the question - if we are swept by the Mighty Mets this weekend and fall eight games behind, is that a big deal?

The most we have been behind on May 1 since 2002 was 4 1/2 games in that same year. But we went 18-10 during May and were up by 1 1/2 games on June 1st. Then we really hit our stride, going 21-5 in June to take a commanding 9 1/2 game lead on July 1st. From there, the Braves just kept pouring it on, going 18-8 in July (take note of this month - there is a theme!) and ended up winning by 19 games. So, in May of 2002, we made up six games - going from 4 1/2 back to 1 1/2 games up. The following month, we accrued eight games.

In 2003, we were in first place on May first and never relinquished the lead, but never really sprinted away until July, when we went 21-7 to increase the July 1 lead of 4 1/2 games to 10 1/2 games by August 1. We ended up winning the NL East by 10 games this year.

In 2004, we were 2 1/2 games back on May 1, 3 1/2 games back on June 1 and, again, 3 1/2 games back on July 1. But after a 20-6 July we were in first place by 5 1/2 games on August 1. We ended up winning the NL East by 10 games this year.

Finally, last year, we were actually a 1/2 game up on May 1, but then, as you remember, things went awry - Kolb happened, Chipper got hurt, Hudson got hurt, Thomson got hurt, Hampton got hurt, the Jordesi experiment imploded - and by July 1st we were down 4 1/2 games. Stop me if you have heard this before, but after a 19-10 July and some serious weak-kneed play by our division rivals, the Braves were up 4 1/2 games by August 1. We never ran away with the division last year, but were comfortable enough during the last two weeks that the two-game final margin never gave us pause.

So, after all this, we still don't have an answer because we have never fallen behind by eight games. But what is clear is that July is the month of the Braves, so what we do in April and May seldom matter. The big question is whether the Mets or the Phillies will be able to withstand the inevitable Big Run the Braves will put together. No team has yet.

We face the exact three pitchers we faced last week against the Mets, which unfortunately includes Pedro, but we will have all our big guns in the lineup this time. Will we make the statement now, or will we put it off until July? Regardless, it's coming.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Swept by the Brewers - MIL 5 ATL 4

We all know that our offense is Casey-esque in its futility of late, but today's woes are the defense's doing. And a sweep is the result.

We actually had two important things go our way today - Sheets didn't absolutely dominate us, and Sosa didn't absolutely suck. In fact, Sosa pitched pretty well, but some shoddy defense in the third - with the Braves up 1-0 - allowed three unearned runs to score. Another unearned run crossed in the sixth to make the score 4-2, thanks to another error by future first-baseman Chipper Jones.

After Cormier walked the bases loaded, Fielder Jr. hit an RBI single in the eighth to make it 5-2. The Braves got some good licks on Turnbow in the ninth, but came up short after rallying for two runs on a Jeff Francoeur RBI triple followed by a sacrifice fly by Brian McCann. That left the bases empty with two out and one run down, and Betemit struck out for the final out.

Sosa's final line is not bad at all - 5.1 IP, 4 Runs (0 ER), 5 hits, 1 BB, 4 K. He did allow another home run to Corey Koskie for the love of god, so any proclamations of relative success must be tempered by that fact.

Sheets pitched well again, but not with his usual double-digit strikeout totals and aura of utter hopelessness. He did strike out nine, but he allowed two runs and seven baserunners in six innings, which can be considered a bad outing against us.

Let's just put this in the "we-didn't-know-what-hit-us" category, get the hell out of there, and beat up on the Mets again, this time at home.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No "O" -- Brewers 4 Braves 2

Recent trends continue -- good starting pitching, no offense. Chipper hit a 2-run HR in his return from the DL (bye, Prado -- we'll see you again), but the Braves got no other offense, as Tomo Ohka scattered 7 hits, followed by scoreless innings by Capellan and Turnbow.

Francoeur got a cheap hit, but he's lost again. Cox might try batting him eighth -- he might see a few fat pitches if he's batting in front of the pitcher. It was an exercise in hopelessness seeing LaRoche and Frenchy coming up w/ two outs in the ninth vs. Turnbow. What are the chances they'd start a two-out rally? I'm thinking 2%.

Game 3 tomorrow at 1:05. Sheets vs. Sosa, and if that ain't bad news, I don't know what is.

The Other Race

The Braves-Brewers series is important for the Braves. With another weekend against the Mets looming, it would be a huge help for us to get a game (or 2) closer in the standings before Friday. Then the series winner would be division leader. But don't forget about the other big race to keep your eye on tonight and Wednesday- The Sausage Race!

Coming into last night's game, the Bratwurst is leading with 5 victories in the young season, followed by the Italian Sausage with 2 wins. The Polish Sausage and the Hot Dog are off to a disappointing start with only one win apiece.

I'm putting big money on the Hot Dog to turn his season around tonight. But regardless of who wins, everyone who races is a wiener.

UPDATE: The Italian Sausage passed the field in the home stretch en route to his 3rd victory Tuesday night.

Pesky Ole Brewers - Milwaukee 3 Braves 2

Tough game last night. The Braves rarely muster much offense off the Brewers, especially with the weak-hitting lineup we employed last night. Davies pitched well except for one bad pitch to Corey Koskie. When you consider that it was Koskie's first HR and first two RBI in 51 ABs this season, you then can see what a bad pitch it must have been.

The problem was that Capuano pitched better. We scratched out only three hits against the guy, with the fourth coming hit coming off Matt Wise in an eighth inning where the Brewers really wanted us to win, Matt Diaz hit into a double play with the bases loaded and one out, scoring one run but wasting a golden opportunity with Andruw on deck.

The Brewers have been a somewhat pesky bunch for us. We split six games with them last year, and whenever we face Ben Sheets, we just wilt like little girls. And we will be facing Ben Sheets tomorrow. Last year, Sheets went 2-0 in two starts, striking out 12 in 14.2 innings, allowing only three earned runs. In 2004, Sheets went 1-1 in two starts, allowing five earned runs but striking out 31 in 17 innings. (One of those games was when he pitched a complete game while striking out 18. The next day, or very soon afterwards, Randy Johnson pitched a perfect game with 13 strikeouts. This was one of the few lowlights of that season, playoffs notwithstanding).

The good news is that we have all our guys back now, assuming Renteria plays tonight, and our starting pitching has been wonderful. We need to win tonight because tomorrow's matchup- Sheets vs. Sosa - is less than inspiring.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Things Are Finally Looking Up

What a change a few days can make in the long, long trek through a major-league season. Last week things looked bleak for the Braves. We had a decimated infield, our starters looked like a junior varsity squad and we were facing a Mets team that couldn't be beat. But today, all that seems long ago. We took 2 of 3 to deflate the fearsome Metropolitans. Our bullpen has received a much-needed rest, thanks to complete games from Smoltz and Hudson. And our other starters suddenly turned out Mazzone-approved performances.

Last night, our Plug-And-Play roster came through for yet another big win. John Thomson, the replacement for Horacio, gave up one run over 6 innings. Yet as we entered the 8th, he faced the possibility of an undeserved loss. Prado, in his major-league debut, plugged into Giles' spot, led off with the toughest hit in baseball. A triple. Pete Orr, playing in Chipper's spot got a one-out walk. Then Betemit, replacing Renteria, went deep to straight away center for the 3-1 lead. Reitsma was so well-rested that Cox decided to let him pitch both the 8th and 9th. But Reitsma, so used to a one-inning routine, ran out of gas in the 9th and Mike Remlinger had to seal the deal.

So we enter this week with a well rested bullpen, starters who are on top of their game, young hitters who are getting clutch hits, facing three games with the Brewers. The week will finish out, following an off-day Thursday, with a weekend series against the Mets at the Ted. This time, it appears that the Mets will see Chipper, Renteria and Giles in our line-up. What a difference a week makes.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Future Is Now

OK, this is actually bad news. But, here at Brave-O-Matic, we can't help but beam with pride that our official mascot has been brought up to sub for Marcus Giles, who is out with a ligament tear in his finger. Or rather, in the modern parlance, he's "out with a finger".

In the meantime, we've got Pena-to-Prado, a true DP combination!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

We are Still the Braves - Braves 2 Mets 1

That's more like it. Braves win a wonderfully pitched game 2-1 behind Andruw Jones, who has once again put the team on his back, and a flinching of the Mets. Let's get to work on re-writing all those New York tabloid headlines that greatly exaggerated the death of our Braves.

Hudson did indeed pitch like the guy we traded for, taking a one-hitter into the ninth, but then allowing two hits and a run in the final frame to make it interesting. Tommy G. also pitched masterfully, throwing one bad pitch to a guy who feasts on bad pitches right now. And when it came down to it, it was the Braves who played like champs, while the Mets played like chumps, allowing an unearned run in the eighth thanks to two throwing errors by wonderboy David Wright. As it turns out, the Braves need that run - it was more than enough.

And, once again, my lea leaf-reading prowess proves to be severely lacking, as I predicted the Braves would feel "the pain." In fact, it was we who brought the pain, and there's plenty more where that came from, namely 146 games worth of pain. Only the good kind of pain, not the 1980s-kind of pain.

Announcers Talk Good

The 'Matic has always taken great joy in pointing out that the vast majority of sports broadcasters do not understand the differnce between the literary concepts of coincidence and irony. In that spirit, I offer this gem from Chip Caray this afternoon. This came in the 7th inning while it was still a 0-0 tie. (Just before Andruw went yard.)

The way these guys are pitching, one run is going to be tough to come by. And it looks like one run will be more than enough.

More than enough? Really? So someone can win with less than a run? I think one run might be enough, but it could never be more than enough to win.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

One For The Good Guys, 7-1

With Kyle Davies' struggles late last season and early this season, and the uncertainty regarding the Braves' rotation as a whole, it's been easy to forget that Davies is one of the better pitching prospects in the game. He reminded us tonight, pitching his first career CG and 3-hitting the Mets at Shea Stadium. Even though they were missing Beltran and Floyd, the Mets' lineup still included tablesetters Reyes and LoDuca, and mashers Delgado and Wright. Those four combined to go 1-14, and Delgado struck out thrice.

Davies had masterful control of his fastball and curve, and continued a recent resurgence among the rotation. Even including Sosa's last start (which, in the faint praise department, was also his best), the last four starters have combined for a 1.61 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in 28 innings, with a 17/4 K/BB ratio. The starters combined ERA, a catastrophic 7.99 just four days ago, is now a not-quite-historic 5.83. Good times, good times.

Color Andruw and LaRoche unimpressed with the Mets moundsmen today. With apologies to Craig Kilborn, Andruw was twice amused by the simplicity of this game, and LaRoche chimed in with a call for the finest meats and cheeses. The regrettable Victor Zambrano forlornly obliged, before exiting to murderous catcalls.

Hudson vs. Glavine tomorrow at 1:10. Everyone's going to be there. You should come, too.

Round 1: Mets 4 Braves 3

Round 1 of a 19-round marathon bout goes to the Mets, who beat the Braves 4-3 last night behind Xavier Nady and Carlos Delgado home runs off the ineffective Sosa. The good news for Sosa is that he actually lowered his ERA to 10.45, allowing only four runs in four innings of work. Let's face it - that is good for him.

Pedro pitched a good game, but with any starting pitching at all, the Braves would have won this game. The top of our order, which I maligned just yesterday, had five hits and caused Pedro grief much of the night. Andruw hit a massive homer in the sixth, then missed another one by a foot in the eighth.

One bright spot was our bullpen. Chuck James and Lance Cormier (where did he come from?) pitched four shutout innings, allowing only two baserunners.

Tonight we will send out Kyle Davies to face Victor Zambrano. Zambrano is one of those million-dollar-arm-five-cent-head types. He has nasty stuff, but rarely throws it where it needs to go. Our hitters will need to be patient tonight as Victor will put us on base.

As for Davies, well, he just needs not to suck, which will be a novelty for Braves pitchers not named Smoltz.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Here Comes The Pain

While the collective we at Brave-O-Matic always remain positive regarding the Braves' chances - especially since we haven't done anything but win for the past 14 seasons - occasionally the tea leaves portend bad tidings, at least in the short-run. For example, take our upcoming three-game series with the Mets. Bad, bad stuff.

At 9-2, the Mets have the best record in baseball, and through the first 11 games (yes, there are still 151 games yet to be played), are clearly baseball's best team. They are second in the NL in team batting average (.298), behind the ridiculous Rockies. (The Braves are 5th with a .277 average). These aren't just singles they are hitting either. They rank third in slugging percentage (.503), right ahead of the Braves (.491). Their first four hitters (Reyes, Beltran, Wright and Delgado) are hitting .341 with a .635 slugging percentage and are on-base ALL the time - only Reyes has an on-base percentage lower than .400.

In contrast, now that the Braves are down both Renteria and Chipper, our first four hitters (Giles, Orr, Langerhans and Andruw) are a collective .268 with a decent .509 slugging, but only Langerhans is on-base more than 40 percent of the time. But it's not the hitting matchups that should bring pause, except the absence of Renteria, who was absolutely raking before going down.

The Mets rank first in team ERA (3.24); Atlanta ranks next to last (5.72). The Mets' starters are even better, ranking first with a 2.91 ERA. Atlanta's starters are even worse, ranking next-to-last with a 6.30 ERA. NL hitters are batting only .229 off of Mets' pitchers, but .283 off of Braves' pitchers. Also, the Mets' pitchers don't allow opponents too many chances to score, as they allow only 1.26 batters per inning to reach base, good for second in the NL. Atlanta allows 1.53 batters per inning to reach base, good for 13th in the league. Finally, when the Mets' pitchers need that big strikeout, they are very good at getting it - they rank third in the NL with 7.74 strikeouts per game; Atlanta ranks next-to-last with 5.48 strikeouts per game.

Oh, and while they are trotting out Pedro (2-0, 3.46 ERA), the bad Zambrano, Victor, and a rejuvenated Glavine (2-0, 1.5 ERA and 21 Ks in 18 IP!), we bring out Sosa (11.37 ERA while allowing 2.7 batters per inning to reach base!), Davies (8.38 ERA while allowing 1.7 batters to reach base each inning) and Hudson (9.20 ERA while allowing 2.1 batters to reach base each inning).

Nine out of our next 21 games will be played against the Mets, and they are the best team in baseball right now, while the Braves are struggling with pitching and are missing two key members of the offense - Chipper and Renteria. The tea leaves are in a bad, bad mood, but they are quick to remind us that the season is long, and we are the Braves.

Pitchers at the Bat

Throughout the Braves long run of championships there has been an ongoing semi-public competition among the starting pitchers for slugging supremacy. With the hyper-competitive Maddox gone, and the valid home-run threat of Mike Hampton sitting at home, who is this year's Hitter among the non-hitters?

It's quickly becoming apparent that John Thomson is the man to beat this year. The 32 year-old Thomson is batting a hefty .500 in 6 at bats, including 2 doubles. In fact, he has an rbi to show for every one of his 3 hits thus far, giving him more rbi's than earned runs allowed. He's slugging at a Ruthian .833 pace.

Jorge Sosa gets some early notice too. He's also batting .500, though with only 2 ab's. Yet his one hit was a solo HR, giving him a team-high 2.000 slugging percentage and the only pitcher with a dinger. Horacio Ramirez, who's injury ushered in Thomson, sits with a 1.000 batting average, having 2 singles in 2 ab's.

Slow-starting starters include Hudson (1 for 6, 1 run scored, no extra base hits), John Smoltz (.000 average with 1 walk and 5 k's) and Kyle Davies (.000 average, 2 k's. Has not reached 1st)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The New Smoltz

John Smoltz seems like the kind of person who bores easily. He's always been a tinkerer -- he experiments with different arm angles within a single at bat, and seems to come up with a new pet pitch every spring (remember the knuckler several years ago?). He's still experimenting, but now it's a concession to age rather than boredom relief.

He's ditched the splitter that, once he gained control of it ten years ago, elevated him from a fireballer to an elite pitcher. He knows the strain it puts on his arm, and that his next major injury is likely to spell the end of his career. So now his repertoire consists of fastball-slider-changeup, with the occasional curve mixed in. This means the days of 13-K games are likely gone for good, and we will surely miss them, as there's nobody else on the staff capable of blowing away hitters the way Peavy did to Langerhans last night.

But the good part is we may be able to keep Smoltzie around longer, and if the defense backs him up the way they did last night (last night being an Andruw Special), we'll get used to the New Smoltz.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mazzone Panic Begins

Yesterday I asked, as a commentary aside, the semi-rhetorical question, "How long till the cries over losing Mazzone begin?" Today, Terrence Moore obliges my query with a great gnashing of teeth over the low place to which our pitching has fallen. According to Moore's latest waste of space in the AJC, this is because we've let Leo Mazzone escape to Baltimore. It was Mazzone who made Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux into Cy Young caliber hurlers. Without Leo, the pitching staff is without hope.

First off, I'll concede that our pitching, particularly the starting brand, is woeful at the moment. The team era is an NL-worst 6.77. We have exactly 0 starters with a win. And the team has allowed more than 1.7 baserunners per inning. (15.7 per 9 innings)

But here's the problem- We're 10 games into the season! 10 games. Last I checked, we have 152 more tries to overcome our slow start. So any conclusions about anything are premature by a factor of 50 at this point. Also, has no one told Mr. Moore that Maddux was winning Cy Young's in Chicago for several seasons before he met Leo? And are we to presume that Smoltz is 0-2 this season because he has just forgotten everything he learned in a decade under Leo?

Ridiculous. Leo was a great pitching coach. No doubt about it. But the Braves pitching will be fine without him. Pitchers at the major-league level need some observational assistance from time-to-time. A little adjustment. But they are at the ML level for a reason. They know how to pitch. The Orioles are giving up more than 5 runs per game and have surrendered more walks than any team in baseball thus far. Does Mazzone not get blame, only credit? This team will get its stuff together and we'll be chasing our 15th straight title later this summer. We are in second place, despite our "great void" in the dugout. So please, no more crying about Mazzone. Although, perhaps he can take credit for Glavine's Cy Young, since Tom was never talented enough to do that on his own. (I kid. Really)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Couple of Thoughts

CB Bucknor is terrible -- wildly inconsistent strike zone and wants to argue about it. The announcers of a Bucknor-umped game, whoever they are on any given night, never fail to take note of his erratic calls and pugnacious manner. Contrast this with Wally Bell, who umped second base tonight -- when Charlie Manuel argued a tag play, Bell never lost his composure, and nobody got agitated. Tact and self-possession, not defensiveness, are signs of a good umpire.

kc at Braves Journal notes that Chuck James is reminscent of Jimmy Key, an apt comparison. If James could learn a slider to bridge his fastball-changeup repertoire, he'll have an even brighter future.

Wilson Betemit can hit.

Spotlight: Our Newest Braves - Pena and Moylan

The Braves made two roster moves yesterday, calling up SS Tony Pena, Jr. and pitcher Peter Moylan. It was speculated that the Braves might call up Jurries after his rocking spring, but they realized the need for a middle infielder, so Pena got the call. Moylan will take Devine's spot in the bullpen.

In six minor league seasons, all in the Braves' organization, Pena has amassed 2,304 ABs with a .247 AVG. He doesn't hit for power - 25 HRs total with a .327 slugging percentage, and he doesn't walk, with a .279 OBP. One can only assume he is still in the MLB system because of his glove. He has been up with the big club in each of the last three seasons, collecting 21 ABs and three hits, all of them singles.

Moylan is another one of those interesting stories, like Ken Ray, the subject of yesterday's Spotlight. Moylan was born in Australia in 1978 and was last seen in the MLB system in 1997 with the Minnesota Twins in the Gulf Coast Rookie League. He had above-average talent, but couldn't get his fastball faster than high-80s, and he was something of a sot, so he didn't put in the work to become better. After two seasons of unimpressive and uninspiring work - 68IP with a 4.06 ERA and 1.44 WHIP - he moved back to Australia.

Once he returned to his native land, he became something of a roustabout - working several menial jobs before meeting the love of his life and finding steady work as a pharmaceutical salesman. Baseball became an avocation for Moylan, playing only a couple times a week after work on a club team named the Blackburn Orioles. He was actually among the league leaders in hitting, as he was their 1B. One day, when goofing off - a specialty of Moylan's - he started throwing sidearm- and started throwing BBs. He quickly started saving games for the Blackburn Orioles, leading that league in saves as well.

He gained notoriety pitching in something called the Claxton Shield, a big-time baseball event in Australia. After impressing scouts with his 95 MPH fastball, he joined the Australian team that played in the WBC. In the WBC he faired OK, but what really impressed folks was his striking out the likes of Bobby Abreau and Magglio Ordonez. Scouts were literally lined up to sign this guy, but he settled on the Braves, and after an impressive spring, he was one of the first pitchers to be called back up to the big league squad.

We here at the Brave-O-Matic wish both these guys well. We need all the help we can get.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Braves 5 Phillies 3 (Thomson For Mayor)

Now that's a Braves game. Skip and Joe on the mike, a strong starting performance, and a couple of timely HRs and everyone goes home happy from the home opener at Turner Field. Thomson went five innings, allowing one unearned run, and drove in two with a double (one of his two hits which, strangely, Skip prophesized).

HRs were from Giles and Andruw, and everyone in the lineup got at least one hit, except (go on, try to guess) Francouer. According to Joe, hitting coach Terry Pendleton was asked about Francouer's approach, specifically about pulling off the ball too early, which he's obviously doing. TP's response was that he's not going to change anything, because this was the style that brought him success in the minors. Aside from congratulating TP on his brilliant rationalization to do nothing (well played, sir), I have two points to make:

1. It's possible that major league pitchers are better at exploiting a hitter's weakness than are minor league pitchers.

2. Nobody can hit who can't see the ball.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oy Oy Oy!

In other news, Joey Devine has been sent back to Richmond after his latest scary Rick Ankiel-looking performance, and his replacement is Peter Moylan, an Australian reliever who pitched in the WBC. He throws hard, and more or less plateward.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Spotlight: Ken Ray - Our Best Reliever

The great thing about the first week of the baseball season is I get to say stuff like "Ken Ray - Our Best Reliever," and it actually be true.

Ken Ray came out of nowhere in spring training and was actually one of the final roster cuts, but he didn't stay south for long, getting called up after the injury to Horacio Ramirez. In his major league debut, he struck out Barry Bonds. In all this year, he has pitched three shutout innings with three strikeouts and only one baserunner allowed, walking the very same Barry Bonds and his gigantic head. (His head is so big from the 'roids, one almost has to talk about them as separate entities).

Ken Ray is actually a pretty nice story. He has toiled in the minor and independent leagues since 1993, when he was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 18th round. In all those minor league seasons, Ken Ray, who was a starter until 1998, compiled a record of 59-59 in 1,020 innings, posting a 4.45 ERA with a 1.50 WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) and 803 Ks. Prior to this season, the last time he appeared in a major league game was 1999 with the Royals, when he posted an 8.74 ERA in 11.1 innings.

Shortly after he was traded to the Giants for Jerry Spradlin, he developed arm troubles and was out of baseball entirely in 2001, pitched only 16 innings in 2002 with a couple of independent league teams, before signing with the Brewers as a free agent in 2003. Though never on a fast-track to the show, it was at AA Huntsville in the Brewers' organization that Ray got his career back in a groove. He posted a 2.93 ERA in 61 innings that season, and then followed that with two solid, but unspectacular seasons in 2004 (with the White Sox organization) and 2005 with the Braves. In the latter, Ray pitched 67 innings with a 3.90 ERA, which is OK, but again, not spectacular.

Ray was clocked at 93 MPH this spring and was striking out more than a batter inning (in only five innings, mind you). Cox was duly impressed, as he and Devine were the first to be called up. And thus far, one of those guys has pitched well. If the season were to end today, Ken Ray would not only be the best story, but also our best reliever. Somebody ought to make a movie.

Wow. Ugly. Giants 6 Braves 5

So it begins. We really haven't had much reason to complain about our bullpen (Devine aside) or our closer. Sunday's debacle has restored order in the universe. Plus Chipper is hurt as well, so we can discuss his fragility as well. Hooray!

Reitsma blew the save yesterday, allowing a Lance Niekro HR to tie it up, then a bunch of little things that always seem to happen to Reitsma, culminating in a Randy Winn (he of the 2-16 start) bloop single.

Chipper Jones was lucky to escape with his leg still attached after a clumsily slipping on the turf and hurting his ankle AND knee. He said he heard a "pop" - probably just the sound of another diminished season- but the Braves' officials remain optimistic. Regardless, we won't see Chipper back on the field for at least a month.

Jeff Francoeur continues to struggle mightily, but read Sam's post of Saturday for a good explanation of those struggles.

Everyone has said that Smoltz "rebounded" after his last start. I guess he pitched OK, but that is relative in the sense that our starters usually give up at least six runs, so only giving up four is good.

The plusses include Renteria's and Andruw's continued mashing, and the continued stellar work of Ken Ray. He and Villarreal will now probably assume the main setup duties in the wake of Devine's historic suckiness. And we will get to see Betemit every day, which is a good thing, but he won't even come close to a healthy Chipper Jones, whoever that person may be.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Francouer's Troubles

Watching Francouer swing right now is a painful experience. Here's what to look for in the next few games: We know that both Andruw and Francouer will be fed a steady diet of sliders off the plate, as they both seem to find them irresistible. But watch their swings on these pitches -- Andruw might miss it by trying to pull the ball, but his head will stay relatively level, and he stands a good chance of fouling off a very tough pitch. But Francouer's head is everywhere when he swings. There's no way he can keep his eye on the ball, which makes me wonder how likely it is that he'll break out of this slump in any significant way. It looks to me that he'll have to change his approach before he'll experience any consistent success.

I think he should take a look at Langerhans who, while possessing nowhere near the raw talent of Francouer, has hammered out a consistent, repeatable swing that he can rely on when things aren't going so well.

Catching Up

Despite having given up 6 runs in each of the last two games against the Giants, and many more against the Dodgers, there is some heartening news concerning our pitching staff -- the bullpen has been very impressive. Overall 'pen ERA so far is 3.80, which includes Boyer's appearances. The 'Zona boys have combined for 7 scoreless appearances (although 1 K in 8 2/3 combined innings does not necessarily portend great things), James has been impressive twice, and Reitsma looked like the real deal last time out. And who knows what to expect from Ken Ray, but so far so good. (On the other hand, Devine continues to tend to his gopher farm -- Alou hit a 2-run HR off him last night)

The offense continues plugging along, with Langerhans petitioning for Francouer's spot in the batting order. If current trends continue, look for Langy to occupy the #6 slot next week. Giles now sports a robust .458 OBP in the leadoff spot, and were getting solid contributions throughout the batting order, with the exception of Francouer (.048 BA, and swinging from his heels on EVERYTHING).

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bullpen: Devine Intervention & Ray of Hope

Let's hear it for deft wordplay!

The bullpen shuffle begins already, as HoRam is DL'ed with his injured hammy and Boyer is sent to Richmond to continue his rehab in a less stressful environment. In their places arrive Joey Devine (so much for my "six weeks" prediction) and Ken Ray, who was ignored by Brave-O-Matic during spring training. If only we had some sort of series designed to illuminate fringe players. Hmmmm.....

Braves 9 Dodgers 8

Saw just the beginning and end of this one, which means I missed most of the good stuff. Random thoughts while the Braves get the heck out of LA with two unlikely wins:

-- So I go and insult Garciaparra for not playing in the opener, and it's taken all of three games for Chipper to miss a game with a strained abdominal muscle. Here we go again -- fortunately, Betemit stepped up just like last year with a 2-run HR.

-- Pete made much of HoRam ditching his cutter, but no matter. He still stinks, and John Thomson may be the beneficiary of the injury Horacio received while running the bases. One can only hope.

-- Feast or famine again with Renteria, who got on base three times and drove in two, but committed the error that allowed the Dodgers to tie the game in the seventh. Thank goodness we don't have to juxtapose Furcal's D with Renteria's again for a while.

-- Balanced offense for the third straight game, with contributions from everyone except LaRoche, who got the start against LHP Odalis Perez. Speaking of Odalis, you have to wonder whether he's ever going to realize his potential -- from the sounds of it, he doesn't take instruction very well, and certainly hasn't progressed much as a pitcher. Glad he's not our problem anymore.

-- Reitsma impersonated a reliable closer, getting 5 easy outs on 13 pitches. Quite a relief indeed after another shaky bullpen cattle call.

Jorge Sosa makes his mound debut tomorrow (he scored a run as a pinch runner tonight) against the Giants and Noah Lowry. Unfortunately for the already-taxed bullpen, it's a day game after a night game and overnight flight. What kind of crappy scheduling is that?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Same as Last Year - Dodgers 5 Braves 4

Smoltz started this season similarly to last - by getting shelled in the first inning. He gave up four runs in the first, half of the damage coming off of JD Drew's 2-run jack. Smoltz was throwing up some pretty fat pitches in that first inning. No reason to worry though; he is, after all, John Smoltz.

The following sums up my take thus far through the first two games:

Impressed with:
- Edgar Renteria's offense - He has hit the ball hard every time
- Chipper Jones' offense - see above
- Andruw Jones - There is a different aura with him- he is just THE MAN right now.

Depressed by:
- Jeff Francoeur - He looks lost at the plate
- Edgar Renteria's arm - I think every throw he has made has bounced to LaRoche
- Chipper Jones' defense - Instead of getting in front of the ball, he is "ole"-ing everything .

Tonight's game features two lefties starting - Horacio Ramirez for the Braves versus Odalis Perez for the Dodgers. Perez has a lifetime ERA of 3.94 against the Braves, going 1-3 in five starts. Perez was hurt for a good bit of last season after accomplishing something truly freakish the season before. In 2004, despite starting 31 times and posting a 3.25 ERA, Perez finished 7-6, meaning that he was not the pitcher of record in 18 starts. That was the year, however, that the Dodgers' offense was truly laughable.

Ramirez perhaps pitched his best game of the season last year in his hometown against the Dodgers, going seven innings and allowing two runs. One thing to watch for with Ramirez is the long ball. He allowed 31 HRs last year, tied for fifth most in the national league.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Braves 11 Dodgers 10

Well, that got interesting in a hurry. Hudson was staked to an 8-1 lead, thanks primarily to 3-run-HRs from LaRoche and Andruw, but couldn't escape the fifth after having thrown a lot of pitches (83 in 4+ innings) and running the bases in the fourth.

After that, we got an almost complete look at our new bullpen, and may wish that we hadn't. All six relievers gave up hard-hit balls, and Reitsma reprised his tightrope routine from last season, eventually recording a very shaky save. New guys Cormier and Villarreal didn't particularly impress, and Blaine Boyer does not appear to be fully recovered from injury -- he had nothing. Joey Devine viewed the proceedings with great interest, we assume.

There was, however, much good news to report offensively. In addition to the above-mentioned, Langerhans went deep, Chipper looked healthy and relaxed and put some good swings on the ball, and Marcus warmed quickly to his new role as leadoff hitter, reaching base three times.

Finally, it was Edgar Renteria's Brave debut, and he impressed at the plate, getting two hits (and getting robbed of a third). In the field -- well, it's going to take some getting used to. If Furcal (who reached base five times, though I tried not to notice) is a waterbug, Renteria is a praying mantis -- tall and lanky, all elbows and knees, and rather stiff (though the FOX folks referred to him as smooth, which I'm not sure I see). He made one very weak throw that LaRoche had to scoop, but at the end of the day all the plays got made.

One more thing -- do you think baseball players get excited about Opening Day? They say they do, and I think most of them are telling the truth. They've waited months to get back onto the field and play a game that counts, and finally they get to do so. Now imagine if you've changed teams in the offseason, and you get to play in front of your new home fans for the first time -- many of those fans are probably waiting to give you a warm welcome, and just how cool would that be? I think most of us would say that nothing would keep us off the field, at least for that one day.

Anyway, Nomar Garciaparra missed the game with a strained rib muscle. That sounds like it hurts, I suppose.

Let's Get It Started In Here

Or, rather, out there. The Braves open the season with a tough road trip out west against the Dodgers and Giants. Last year, the Braves held their own in these teams' parks, winning two of three against each on the road.

Today, the Braves will send Hudson against Derek Lowe of the Dodgers for a rare day game for the Braves. The Braves didn't fare so well in day games last year, going only 25-23. Hudson, though went 6-2 with an ERA of .298. Of the regulars with more than 50 ABs during day games last year, only Andruw and Francouer batted higher than .270.

Expect a mighty pitcher's duel today as Dodger's stadium is pitcher's park and, if he is on, Derek Lowe is one of the premier ground-ball pitchers in all of baseball.