This will be a short post. Not as short as the bottom of the ninth when one pitch to Drew Stubbs ended the game, but short for me.
The Braves clawed their way back into the game after Brandon Beachy allowed to homers early on. We tied the game in the top of the 7th then Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters came on to sent the other team back to the dugout shaking their heads. When Alex Gonzalez singled and stole second on an Eric Hinske strikeout it looked like we might pull this one off. But Drew Stubbs held on to Nate McLouth’s long fly in spite of a collision with Chris Heisey and Brooks Conrad struck out looking to end the top of the ninth.
Like all managers on the road Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t use his closer in a tie game. Knowing Scott Proctor was shot from the night before and ineffective before that and that long man Cristhian Martinez is not geared for such high pressure situations, he chose Scott Linebrink over George Sherrill; A Hobson’s choice to be sure.
Linebrink had not given up a run in his last seven appearances and on paper was the right choice. Personally I might have gone to Sherrill because he’s been hot lately, had once been a closer and the Reds had Joey Votto and Jay Bruce lurking. But Gonzalez chose Linebrink who’s fastball these days is flat and the first one he threw sat on the outside corner just below the belt waiting for Stubbs to hit it about 15 feet beyond the right field wall.
The homer was followed by predictable screams to use somebody else. As I wrote last night, while Fredi Gonzalez is not my favorite manager, he can only use the tools available. His toolbox is badly equipped with only worn out arms available when the game is tied or goes beyond nine innings. It has been that way all year.
Linebrink and Proctor do their best but it is simply not good enough for a championship caliber team in a pennant race. Fan’s cringe when they enter a game and they’ve cost us too many games they can’t be recovered. They should not be allowed to hurt us any farther and must be replaced now.
After tonight we are six games back with 60 to play. The Phillies have 62 to play. If the Phillies continue at their current pace they will finish with 102 wins. If they slip to .500 ball, they will win 95 games. To match that the Braves have to win 35 of the remain 60 or 58%; to win 102 that rises to 72%. As we are currently staffed such a run would be extremely difficult. The lineup scores too few runs early in the game and leaves too many men on base. Three of the four bullpen members not named O’Flaherty, Venters or Kimbrel are no longer dependable in pressure situations. The other is problematic
Catching the Phillies will be a test of character and talent. Things have to go absolutely right in order for us to achieve it. The character of the this team is not in doubt, never has been. The talent level however, certainly requires improvement. Failing to move to rebuild the bullpen, strengthen the lineup and improve the bench concedes the division. It also reduces our chances in the close, tension filled games that happen in the post season. The wild card isn’t guaranteed it must be won. It’s time for ownership and management to step up and do what’s necessary to win.
The next seven days will determine if they are committed to winning or if they simply want to take our best shot and hope we win. The fans are waiting.