The Braves blew it. Plain and simple; nothing can clean it up, this was a horrible, soul crushing and potentially disastrous defeat. The Cardinals won the game not because they out played us through nine, they didn’t. They won because once again the Braves failed to take advantage of their early chances. Like in the fourth inning when they had the bases loaded and one out, neither Jack Wilson nor Randall Delgado could get a run in. You certainly can’t blame Delgado who pitched 5 strong innings allowing only one run.
Nor can we point a finger at Peter Moylan who had a clean sixth. Arodys Vizcaino who did the same in the seventh or a shaky Jonny Venters who in the eighth managed to hold on to the slim one run lead. Michael Bourn’s triple even drove an insurance run home in the top of the ninth for Craig Kimbrel who was coming in to face the bottom third of the Cardinals order.
The bottom half started with a Skip Schumaker’s single that seemed innocuous followed by Nick Punto grounding into a force out. Then Gerald Laird struck out. But with two out Rafael Furcal – hitting .233 and long past putting a good swing on Kimbrel’s fast ball – walked on four pitches. Ryan Theriot hitting .271 but again not a threat to turn on Kimbrel’s best pitch walked as well this time on five pitches bringing up Albert Pujols. Through it all Kimbrel seemed to believe it was all going to work out, that he’d get the next guy. That’s a great state of mind for a closer except when the next guy is Pujols.
Pujols looked bad on the first pitch swinging and not coming close. The next pitched jammed him but he muscled it down the right field line ruining Kimbrel’s scoreless streak but more importantly evening the score. The game would have ended there except that Jack Wilson’s relay from Jason Heyward in right was on target and Theriot was out by 10 feet. A blown save isn’t the end of the world, even one like this. I do not blame Kimbrel, he’s been and will be terrific. The Braves have more extra inning games than anyone this year and have won more than they’ve lost. The game was still there to be taken then Fredi Gonzalez decided that even though he had at least one other pitcher in the bullpen, he would give the ball to Scott Linebrink.
Since the All Star Break he pitched the equivalent of batting practice, allowing 17 hits including two home runs, six runs, six walks and he hit two batters in 12 1/3 innings giving him a WHIP of 2.032 before tonight. In short he no longer fools anyone, his fastball is flat and lacks movement. If a hitter made an out facing Linebrink it was because they hit it right at someone or just simply got themselves out. To be fair this is not Linebrink’s fault.
It is not his fault that his body is no longer capable of doing what the mind knows how to do. It is not his fault he’s still with the Braves, he’s certainly not going to quit. He’s been going downhill since last year with the White Sox and the GM still traded for him. All he’s doing is coming to work and doing what he is capable of doing as long as they ask him to do it. Unfortunately what he is capable of doing no longer includes getting our major league hitters. While one could argue that a professional would get out of the way when he obviously can no longer do the job, that’s not the way life works. It’s up to management to weed out under performers and provide the people necessary to win. Unfortunately Braves management hasn’t shown the will to remove such players from the roster until damage has been done.
For his part Linebrink seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that he can no longer pitch successfully for a major league team that hopes to win a championship or hopes to win at all. After the game he told David OBrien of the AJC
“I made some pretty good pitches, but those are some good hitters. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat to them. I hate to do it in a situation like that, but they got the first two hits and they put us in a situation where I couldn’t really mess with any off-speed pitches. I just had to come right at them.”
“Those guys – you can make good pitches in this game and still not get results. You can sit there and complain about it, or you can get back out there and get the job done. But we’re not worried about making pitches at this point, we’re worried about results. That didn’t happen tonight”
I was going to comment on those quotes but I think they speak for themselves. He’s in denial or simply oblivious to the facts. It’s time to retire Mr. Linebrink for the good of the Braves and your self respect. The sooner the better, as in today.
In the tenth inning someone tweeted “Who will close the game now that Kimbrel is done.” I replied that the point was moot as Linebrink was now pitching. My thoughts echoed many others. Tonight everyone (including the players though they will never say it publically) knew when Linebrink was put in they were more likely to lose than win. Fredi Gonzalez had to know it as well but chose to use him anyway. The rest is history. The question every Braves asked after the game was, “Why is he still on the team?”
We could have picked up a better reliever at or before the deadline. Many were available that a team committed to winning might well have traded for, but we did nothing.
The Braves have other options at Gwinette who could be called up to strengthen the pen and do as well as he has. The rosters are expanded so we could have added – still can add - Jairo Asencio who closed games for the G-Braves, J.J. Hoover, Cory Gearrin and others.
The Braves lineup should have scored more runs it’s true.
It is also true that Fredi Gonzalez can only use the tools available to him. The real questions are:
- Why you would use Linebrink in any situation except one where he is the last arm in the bullpen and it’s the 19th inning?
- Why hasn’t he been sent home?
I’d love to hear those answers. I don’t expect to of course but at some point someone has to explain why we allowed such a gaping hole to exist in such a critical position. I don;t expect them to tell us but all, Braves fans would really like to know.