(Updated to correct my poor editing at 2 a.m. this morning. I really can spell when I’m awake…most of the time anyway)
Thursday’s game was about what expected when I wrote the preview. The Braves’ lineup remains mostly stupefied by soft tossing worn out lefties and Tommy Hanson still has no idea how bad he’s become. Barry Zito shut the Braves out until the ninth inning using his mixture of a soft breaking ball and an 88 mph fastball to confuse the hitters. In actuality just being a left hander confuses them enough this year. When the Braves did chase Zito with a couple of hits in the 9th the next two hitters went quietly in ground balls; another trademark of this year’s lineup.
I’m Pitching Well. . .?
Meanwhile Tommy Hanson went 4 1/3 innings,threw 97 pitches and had a little bit better command than usual but not much. All year various coaches and experts have been trying to figure out what’s wrong with Hanson. Everyone knows he isn’t pitching well. . .Okay maybe not everyone It seems Hanson thinks he’s doing better. He told the AJC after the game :
“It was just one of those innings. Frustrating. I felt pretty good up until that point. . .I felt like I was doing a decent job of commanding my pitches. I think they could have been down in the zone a little bit more when I needed them to. But quite a few times I wanted to come up in the zone and that worked out. . . .”
Quick update for the young pitcher, 97 pitches in 4+ innings is not good and does not show command.
Some might think he’s putting on a positive public face while privately being as frustrated as we are. Having heard say the same thing time after time I think he actually believes that garbage. The first thing Tommy needs if for someone to sit down with him and tell him the truth. His command is bad, his velocity is down, he holds runners like a sieve holds water and he has no out pitch. Tommy’s petulance when sent to the minors for rehab indicates he probably won’t hear that either. Sending him to the bullpen is probably the answer. I wonder if he’ll be in a bad mood when told that too?
Friday started off on a high note, at least I think it did for Fredi Gonzalez because he had to be high when he decided to start Eric Hinske in left field and Martin Prado at shortstop. Prado is at best an emergency shortstop. That showed in the second inning when his range didn’t allow him to get a ball that Paul Janish would certainly have picked cleanly and the runner was on. Ben Sheets pitched out of that jamb but during the rally took a shot off his foot. He held on to the two run lead – Homers by Jason Heyward in the first and Freddie Freeman in the second – in that inning but then the Hinske follies began.
Eric Hinske isn’t a good outfielder. He’s also having a horrible year at the plate .203/.280/.297 for the year mostly as a pinch hitter. Starting him in left field of an away ballpark, a ballpark with one of the biggest outfields around, was at best a bad idea that most thought was a joke. It worked out exactly as most folks would have predicted, funny if you weren’t a Braves fan but maddening for those of us who follow them daily. Hinske misplayed two deep fly balls that should have been – would have been by a real outfielder – caught. As a result the Giants rallied, Ben Sheets had to throw an extra inning’s worth of pitches, tired early, gave up a couple more big hits and was gone after 4 1/3 innings. The good news was that Hinske was removed along with him in a double switch. The bad news was that the game was as good as over by then. Freddie Freeman hit his second home run late but the solo shot wasn’t enough and the Braves went quietly after that. They remain 6.5 games behind the Nationals and just 1.5 games up on the Cardinals in the Wildcard. Remember the Cardinals? Think September 2011. . .now you remember don’t you?
The best wildcard spot matters because it determines where the play-in game will be played. The whole wildcard situation changed Friday because the other news of the day was the – by all reports – all but complete blockbuster trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers. That’s important for Braves fans because the Dodgers beat the Marlins putting them a 1.5 games behind the Cardinals and just 3 behind the Braves. The Pirates who were in second for so long have started to wilt. They are 6 –14 in August and losers of their last 4 games and have virtually dropped out of the race. The Pirates numbers sound bad until you realize the Braves are just 8-14. Okay they still sound bad and ours don’t sound better. The added punch that Dodgers trade provides increases the overall threat to a punchless Braves team seemingly incapable of beating a good team more than once in a series.
That’s A Wrap
When I predicted that the Braves would beat Zito I read and heard that he was pitching so badly even we could beat him. Tonight’s game was supposed to be the return of the bats against a struggling right hander and indeed it started out that way. Ryan Vogelsong had been awful but like so many slumping pitchers this year, facing the Braves turned him around. That was primarily due to Fredi Gonzalez stroke of genius lineup.
I understand starting Dan Uggla; no really I do. We traded for him to play in these games and he’s really got to hit if we are to have any chance at all this year. Starting Uggla is grumble making but explainable. Starting Eric Hinske in left field was inexcusable. If he had at least been able to get a couple of hits it might have been at least partially justifiable but, Hinske was 0-2. In the end there is only one man responsible for this loss, the skipper , Fredi Gonzalez.
Saturday we face Madison Bumgarner, one of the best left handed starters in the league pitching for a team that smells at least a series victory and probably is thinking sweep about now. A series sweep and a couple of Cardinal and Dodger wins – Cards have it rougher against the Reds while the Dodgers play the fish – and all of a sudden the wildcard gets really wild. Friday’s strategic catastrophe stinks of desperation. Desperate teams do not win. . . .anything