Stumbling To October - Braves Disappoint Again

As Yogi Berra may or may not have said, today was DeJa Vu all over again. Today the Braves played like they did yesterday,for much of the year workman like and professional but listless and without fire. Possibly Actually it was a bit worse.

I said yesterday and again this morning that the Braves had to decide not to be beaten, to act like they wanted it more than anything else and leave everything on the field. They did not. I said Fredi Gonzales had to act like he cared and let the fans know he cared. He didn’t. I said the hitters should try to remember that hitting behind the runner, walks and sacrifice flies were as good as hits. They didn’t. That failing in particular, beat them today. The Braves and their manager didn’t seem to take the Nationals seriously acting like they always had time to come back. They didn’t. The Nationals thought differently and played like they wanted it. They won and deserved it. That’s much more than I can say for the Braves.

To be fair, Jack Wilson sparkled at shortstop and had two of the Braves four hits, Freddie Freeman was still solid at first and got a nice single and David Ross got himself into scoring position twice with a bunt single and walk. He also tried to bunt a 100mph Henry Rodriguez heater with two strikes and struck out. It was a bad idea, badly executed but he had tried twice to actually hit the same pitch and wasn’t   anywhere near. This result wasn’t any worse than swinging and missing it by a foot like he did the first two times.  Mike Minor pitched superbly through 4 2/3 innings on 86 pitches and pitched his way out of a couple of bad situations very well. Then with two men on and two out he was inexplicably pulled as he was about to face a man he had retired easily twice before.He allowed a line drive home run that put the Nationals up 1-0 but it was a good breaking ball down and in and virtually golfed just into the flowerbeds atop the left field wall. There was no real reason to take him out but I suppose Skipper Gonzalez suddenly realized they had two men on and didn’t want the game getting away from them. Sadly that horse had already left the barn.

The “big guns” – and I use the term VERY loosely – in the lineup had already failed twice to get a run across, once with the bases loaded and no one out and again two innings later with men on second and third with one out. Why did they fail, was it superb pitching or outstanding glove work? No. They forgot all about situational hitting.

Situational hitting is baseball 101. Hitters change their strategy because of the game situation such as the inning, number of outs, number of men on base, who’s pitching or the score. Instead of simply trying to get on base (swinging for himself) or even trying to get a base hit, the batter instead attempts to do something that will help the team score a run; a sacrifice fly , bunt, hitting behind a runner or perhaps making the pitcher throw a lot of pitches if he has for example been wild as a March hare.

I understand that in an ordinary regular season game it’s common not to do that until late in the game unless circumstances – like the team having trouble scoring runs or desperately needs to get an early run.  We all know the Braves have struggled to score runs and that winning today’s game would have made the next  three days easier but the manager and the players apparently did not.

The Braves loaded the bases through a Ross hit and walks to Jack Wilson and Mike Minor. Before his hit Ross saw six pitches, Wilson saw eight and Minor saw four. Minor was actually trying to bunt but the pitcher was having serious control problems and walked him on four straight balls. The first pitches to Michael Bourn were balls making seven balls in a row and confirming the pitcher’s control issue. The fourth pitch was a strike but the fifth was high and headed out of the zone for ball four – definitely NOT in Bourn’s wheelhouse – when Bourn popped up harmlessly to left field out on five pitches.

Martin Prado stepped in, took ball one then swung at a ball that may or may not have been a strike but again wasn’t in his sweet spot. He flied out to very short right field on two pitches. Next came Chipper Jones.

As the best clutch hitter the Braves have this year and the most experienced RBI man in the lineup, I expected him to make and look for pitches in his hot zone. He didn’t do either, grounding into a force play on the first pitch thrown, not a pitch in his wheelhouse but a breaking ball down and in off the plate that he beat into the ground harmlessly. The top three players in the lineup, the ones depended on to get on base and drive in runs were out in eight pitches– the same number Jack Wilson saw in his at bat. There really is no excuse for at bats like that from these players. They all failed and failed badly, let a rookie pitcher off the hook when they could easily have driven him from the game. Yes, the Washington bullpen had a man ready to come in but, he was never needed.

Two innings later we saw a similar situation. Ross bunted for a hit, Wilson walked, Minor sacrificed, then Bourn and Prado left them right where they were. Bourn saw two pitches the first was a ball.The second he hit hard but right at the second baseman so as a wheelhouse pitch that swing was okay. Prado saw two pitches as well, the first he fouled off and the second he hit for a soft fly to right field.

By the seventh inning the Nationals were 0-for-10 with RISP yet led the Braves – who were 0-for-5 with RISP at that time and finished the game that way -  1-0. Michael Morse hit a two run bomb off Cristhian Martinez in the bottom of the seventh and the game was essentially over. I say at that point but in reality it felt over when Bourn, Prado and Jones failed to bring even one run in the third. The only remaining question was when, how and how many the Nationals would score.

Following the Morse homer in the seventh the camera showed Skipper Fredi Gonzalez standing on the dugout step expressionless, chewing his gum. I wasn’t looking for a hat throwing water cooler destroying display, just acknowledgement that something had to be done to change the game. Nothing changed and of course nothing happened.

Today’s Cardinal win moves them to within one game of the Braves. We play our final three games against the 99-60 Phillies who are trying to get back into 100+ game win form before the playoffs. To guarantee a spot we have to sweep using a rookie (Randall Delgado), a worn out vet (Derek Lowe probably quickly followed by Julio Teheran and the rest of the bullpen) and our ace (Tim Hudson) on short rest. The Phillies will start Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and either Cole Hamels or Vance Worley.

The Cardinals play the 55-104 Astros who the Rockies beat up with 19 runs today. The Astros just want the season to be over and have little or nothing to play for. The Cardinals are riding high and have everything to play for. It’s possible Wandy Rodriguez could beat the Cardinals. But If the Redbirds win one more game than the Braves they could force a playoff. If they win two games, the Braves have to sweep. There were times this year I thought the Braves could sweep the Phillies, this isn’t one of those times. Barring a miracle, the Braves might as well book their October cruise,  they won’t be busy doing anything else.

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Tags: Post Season

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