Braves Can't Solve Lee - Chipper Injured

I’d seen the movie before, many times for many sports. Throughout the season the veteran leader of the team is injured but the team scrapes by to put itself in line for an unlikely championship. When it looks darkest the game worn veteran drags his body to the heights one more time and lifts the whole team in his wake (okay mixed metaphor, stay with me) to eventual victory. You’ve seen that right? When Chipper Jones took Cliff Lee’s letter high heater out to dead center field last night and Dan Uggla followed with a double that bounced into the stands near the same spot, part of me thought I might be seeing it again. Then reality set in.

The Braves had only 3 more hits on the night, back-to-back doubles by the unlikely duo of Matt Diaz and Alex Gonzalez that scored our second and last run in the second inning, and another double from Chipper. However Jones tweaked his right knee – the one he had scoped at the All Star break for a torn meniscus – and was in obvious pain after running to third following the double. He finished the game but the knee limited his mobility in the field (range=0) and affected his swing at the plate.

After the game Jones told Ken Rosenthal of Fox sports:

“The last time I had this burning, it was both times I blew out my knee (the left knee that had surgery in 94 and last year.) They took an X-ray — I don’t have any loose bodies,” Jones said. “But I have fluid in my knee for some reason. And I don’t know why. The pain is in the same spot as it was pre-surgery (in July).”

Chipper went on to say that he would play the last two games even if the doctors told him not to do so.

“I probably should have come out tonight (Monday). But I can’t not play. I’ve been preaching to the boys: ‘I don’t want to hear you’re tired. I don’t want to hear how you’re hurting. All men on deck.’

“How is it going to look if I take myself out of games?”

We all know Chipper is going to leave it all on the field but playing him at third on one leg invites the Phillies to bunt and makes what Tony Gwynn used to call the 5.5 hole big enough to drive a truck through. Hitting left handed he won’t have a strong right leg to hit against and right handed he won’t have a strong back leg to brace him. In short, he’s 50% of what he might be and that isn’t enough.  Fredi Gonzalez should sit him no matter how much Chipper protests. Bobby would, Fredi should but, he won’t unless Chipper comes in on crutches.

The other story of the evening was young Randall Delgado. I emphasize young because on the mound facing off against Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and crew  he looked like the high school kid that mows my lawn. That is until he painted the corners with a high 90s heater and after loading the bases with no one out, calmly pitched out of the jam like an old pro. This kid is good, very good, scary good in fact; but Fredi pulled him the inning after after Jimmy Rollins homered to tie the game. He had thrown 82 pitches. I knew the Skipper was going to do it and that it was a mistake. I was right on both counts.

When Delgado was in trouble Fredi had Scott Linebrink up in the bullpen. That’s just inexplicable. Linebrink has been bad all year, worse in critical situations, and while he managed to work out of trouble against the Nationals, this is the Phillies. I’d tell him not to head to the bullpen until the 10th inning because he won’t be considered before then. Thankfully he wasn’t used. Unfortunately Cristhian Martinez was.

Martinez has been stellar out of the pen this year but he worked 2 1/3 innings Sunday and 1/3 of an inning Saturday.  Roger McDowell should have told Fredi that Martinez ERA with no rest is double digits and his WHIP over 1.6 ; that he had a well rested Arodys Vizcaino available as well as Anthony Varvaro. Perhaps he did and Gonzalez didn’t listen. Martinez faced one hitter, gave up a triple to Shane  Victorino and was promptly replaced by Eric O’Flaherty.

O’Flaherty is superb starting an inning but not as good entering with men on base. Despite an 0.99 ERA, he’s allowed 31% of inherited base runners to score ( 9 of 29). If Gonzalez was willing to use him an inning early (the sixth) he should have had him start the inning. What’s more Gonzalez should know that without the reminder I hope –probably falsely- he got from McDowell. George Sherrill was signed for exactly that spot; to get out a single lefty (Raul Ibanez in this case). Since the All Star game Sherrill has been good at that. No one ask the Skipper why he didn’t use Sherrill but someone should have. Victorino scored on an Ibanez single and once Cliff Lee got his nose in front the game was over.

Speaking to Jon Cooper of Fox Sports South about how he saw the game Chipper confirmed what many of us have thought and said lately, that everyone wasn’t leaving it all on the field every night:

(tonight)…We competed 27 outs, all nine innings, and guys gave it everything they had. If we get beat on a nightly basis playing like that, I could live with it. Some previous games, not so much.”

He also said that once we went up 2-0 he was 99% sure we would win the game but wasn’t shocked at the Philly comeback.

“. . .that’s what good ball clubs do. They just kind of chipped their way back into it. They got the clutch hit. That lineup is chock-full, not just of power hitters, but hitters that grind out at-bats and can hit for average.”

He is of course exactly right. Good ball clubs fight and scratch and claw to get men on base, move them into scoring position and get them home by any means possible. They work hard on every at bat instead of first pitch swinging and they take what they are given even if they are 50 home run hitters. Remember Ryan Howard’s single against the shift in the first inning?

Looking at the Cardinals and Brewers we see lineups that have all year, like the Phillies, fit Chipper’s definition of a good – winning – ball club. I’ll let you decide if the Braves belong in that group.

Thanks to Wandy Rodriguez’ great start and the Cardinals inability to get a run home in the top of the 10th, our magic number went down to 2 and we kept our one game lead. So the agony begins again tonight at 7:10 eastern when Derek Lowe goes out to face the Phillies and Roy Oswalt.

As an Astro Oswalt hated Turner field, going 0-1 in five starts and one relief appearance with a  7.89 ERA and 1.708 WHIP in 21 2/3 innings. Moving to Philly changed his luck however. He won his only start there this year going 6 innings and posting a 1.50 ERA and 1.167 WHIP.  He was on the DL for a while with back issues so unlike the other Phillies starters who are close to or over 200 innings, he’s logged only 133 innings so far. He’s rested and strong. In the last two weeks he’s thrown 14 1/3 innings with an ERA of 3.68 and a WHIP of 0.955.

Derek Lowe is 8-7 against the Phillies in his career with a 3.39 ERA and 1.198 Whip. Since becoming a Brave he’s 20-13 at Turner Field with a 4.34 ERA and a 1.449 WHIP.  In the last month he’s 1-5 with a 5.79 ERA and a 1.652 WHIP.

I started to make some comments about Lowe here but (surprise) it turned into another post. I’ll post that one later. Suffice to say whining about Lowe is, while understandable, not quiet as justifiable as you might think.

We need a performance from tonight’s lineup similar to yesterday’s but better. We have to take pitches, make them throw strikes then take what they are willing to give us and turn it into runs if we are to win this thing. A friend keeps reminding me that I say players can’t just flip a switch and change things like these. It’s true of course, they can’t. However this team has done it this year for short periods. We only need it for a month so perhaps they will find it in their lockers tonight – along with Chipper’s good knee. Forget about Lowe bashing or wishing we had another starter to use. Instead let’s concentrate on positive thoughts and support for the Braves and Derek Lowe. From where I sit they both need it.

Tags: Chipper Jones Injured Cliff Lee Cristhian Martinez Fredi Gonzalez Michael Bourn Post Season

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