Last Night The Braves Forget How To Hit

On the night after Chipper Jones stood up for this lineup in an interview with the AJC he returned to deliver the Braves only run on a homer to right. Then he answered Bob’s question  about how long before he would be out again by leaving the game with a strained right quad. To say the team didn’t hit isn’t exactly right.  There were plenty of hits but when the chips were down they didn’t produce runs and the biggest culprit was as usual, Alex Gonzalez.

With men on first and third and two out in the second Gonzalez struck out.  After Nate McLouth popped up to the catcher with the bases loaded in the sixth, you guessed didn’t you- Gonzalez struck out. He is now hitting 0.97 with two out and RISP and .029 with 2 out and a man on third.  He’s 11th in the league in strikeouts. That’s not so bad if you’ve hit 20 homers and driven in 50; but he hasn’t done either.  No amount of nice plays at short can make up for that. Sadly our replacement shortstop is Julio Lugo who hits so poorly he couldn’t get a job after being released by Baltimore in 2010. For reasons known only inside the Braves offices, GM Frank Wren signed Lugo to replace Diory Hernandez a few weeks back. Hernandez was hitting better than Lugo and had some power; Lugo does not.

Speaking of Nate McLouth, Hudson wouldn’t have been behind at all except Nate threw to the wrong base allowing the trail runner to get to second and so Chipper couldn’t turn a double play and a run scored. The second runner scored on a hit right after the double play should have been turned.

To manager Fredi Gonzalez’ credit he did speak to Nate about it in the dugout later. That apparently embarrassed the suddenly sensitive McLouth, because later in the game after misplaying a ground ball in center allowing a runner to advance he stood outside the dugout obviously upset at being asked what happened. He threw his hands up got red in the faces and snapped back that the ball was snaking in the grass and hard to play. Two points on that response, First of all, a major league, gold glove center fielder makes sure the ball doesn’t get by him before  worrying about whether the runner advances to second. Secondly, adults don’t whine like a baby in front of the fans and TV cameras. Grow up for cripes sake, be a man and accept that you screwed up then make sure it doesn’t happen again.

McLouth who had two hits on the night, failed badly with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, popping up to the catcher on a ball out of the strike zone.

Freddie Freeman had a mixed night striking out with men on second and third and two out in the bottom of the third, singling in the unproductive rally in the sixth and walking in the ninth. He made a couple of superb plays at first to keep things from getting out of hand as well.

Hudson pitched well enough to win again tonight. The game is completely different if the lineup simply converts RISP into runs half the time. Hudson hits 45 points higher than Gonzalez (.143) with two out and RISP. Derek Lowe is hitting .333 in that situation this year.

I hate to disagree with a Hall of Fame player and the face of the Braves but neither this lineup nor this bullpen is good enough to take us deep into the post season. The Pirate first baseman Lyle Overbay didn’t have one put out tonight. Every ground ball was a hit or an error. Braves wither struck out(14 times, lined out, popped up or flied out. That’s just absurd. When we made the infield play the ball they committed  errors. They were young and nervous early on but we couldn’t put the ball in play. There’s a message there somewhere. One the Braves missed I guess.

At their current rate of use Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty will all be close to 90 appearances by the end of the season, maybe more. That’s dangerous for them and for us.  To protect them so they can save our tails in October we need to score more runs and replace the valiant but ineffective Scot Proctor and the very hittable Scot Linebrink.

The players added don’t  have to be big names, they just have to have the right skills and want to win. Not the sexy players that keep Buster “Let me make up a trade” at work, just good players. Hopefully the GM isn’t really looking at renting Beltran. We need people who want to leave it all on the field every night, can play defense and don’t fold like a napkin at the plate with men on base. At least one should be a right handed bat that can balance our heavily left handed lineup and end our helplessness against left handed pitchers Specifically:

We need a leadoff man that gets on base against right and left handed pitchers and is fast enough to make them pay attention. That isn’t Martin Prado, Jordan Schafer or Nate McLouth.

We need a shortstop that isn’t an instant out with men in scoring position. That isn’t Alex Gonzalez or <sigh> Julio Lugo.Rafael Furcal comes to mind. He’s hitting 180 since injury but its .333 with RISP and he can still play short. I know that won’t happen after he embarrassed the GM in his first signing but a solid David Eckstein type of shortstop that hits is better than a the best glove man that can’t. Gonzalez can be our late inning defensive replacement like Rafael Belliard was in the 90s.

I’ve offered names of good players who could be part of the answer before so I won’t run through them again. One thing is certain, this squad isn’t a championship team.  The status quo has to change. It can be done without breaking the budget but please no more Rick Ankiel deals. Like many other fans my heart aches when I see us lose like we did tonight – or last night now. It’s past time for our fearless GM to do something to energize a flat team and a tiring fan base.

(Updated7-26-11 @ 7:40 to correct the spelling errors I couldn’t  see at 1:30 in the morning. :-) )

Tags: Alex Gonzalez Fredi Gonzalez Nate Mclouth Tim Hudson

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