(Updated to correct my one in the morning spelling and syntax missteps as well as injuries and an addition call up.)
Sunday night Chipper Jones did what he says he gets paid a lot of money to do; with one swing of the bat he won the game and prevented a Phillies sweep in Atlanta. The evening started out much differently however.
It was an awful night for Paul Maholm who lasted just 2+ innings while surrendering 7 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks. It took the newest Braves hurler 42 pitched to get out of the first inning. It was obvious he had left his control in his other pants and was fooling no one . To top it off he forgot to cover first in the second inning and the Braves missed out of a double play they would have easily turned. He managed to wiggle out of that inning but when the third began with a walk to Ty Wigginton and a double by John Mayberry, Maholm went to ponder his day replaced by the Braves long man and general go to guy, Cristhian Martinez.
Martinez dealt with Erik Kratz who’d been a thorn in their side for the whole series,striking him out on 3 pitches. Then came one of the evening’s oddest decisions as Skipper Fredi Gonzalez told Martinez to walk Phillies 8 hole hitter Michael Martinez who entered the game 9 for 71 with 17 strikeouts and only 4 walks -a line of .127/.173/.211 – in order to pitch to Coke Hamels. Hamels hits well, homered in his last start against Houston and was 13 for 56 with a double to go with that homer- a line of .232/.271/.304, With Mike Martinez now resting on first, Hamels promptly hit a two run double that bounced over the wall in dead center field to put the Phillies up 7-1.
The Braves bullpen of Martinez , Miguel Batista (who in spite of tonight’s performance should be selling used cars somewhere and not pitching for a major league team), Jonny Venters, Luis Avilan and Peter Moylan slammed to door on the Phillies keeping the Braves in the game.
While the game’s obvious hero was Chipper Jones, his at bat wouldn’t have happened and the three runs the Braves had on the board would not have scored without the excellent performance of Reed Johnson.
In the second inning Jason Heyward doubled and Johnson followed that with a double of his own scoring Heyward. that in front of him. In the 7th inning Freddie Freeman singled and Heyward doubled him to third. Both scored on Johnson’s single. It was Johnson whose one out single in the bottom of the ninth started the game winning rally. He finished the night 3-4 with one run and three RBI.
Johnson’s single was followed by a walk to Paul Janish and with one out Dan Uggla was announced pinch hitting for Avilan. Charlie Manuel immediately went to his closer Jonathan Papelbon. With the Phillies high dollar closer in the mix Gonzalez countered with Lyle Overbay signed just four days ago and brought up with the September call-ups. The left handed hitting Overbay had a line of .357/.400/.357 (5-14 and a walk) against Papelbon so for the first time I can remember he got what he wanted. That went by the wayside when Overbay was called out on strikes on a ball clearly six inches or more off the plate in the right hand better’s box.
At that point things weren’t looking too good but Papelbon walked Michael Bourn to load the bases and that was followed by a hard hit ball over the third base bag that Kevin Frandsen should have snagged but didn’t. Two runs scored and two runners were left on base for Chipper. As he has many times in the past the future first ballot Hall of Fame player ended it with a mammoth (or he would say Mammo) blast into the centerfield stands off of Papelbon’s third consecutive fastball.
I labeled this Philly Phoolishness because there is no way in the world Chipper should have ever had the opportunity for the walk-off winner. Paul Janish entered the game in an awful slump, hitting .128/.171/.205 over the last two weeks and not a home run threat in any sense of the word yet Jeremy Horst pitched to him like he was Babe Ruth, nibbling until he walked him. Papelbon was worse. After striking out Overbay he went after Bourn with his94mph fastaball an dBourn never looked like getting around on it. Instead of challenging Bourn he too nibbled at the edges of the plate until he walked him. Martin Prado was a different story, he threw two fastballs then resorted to breaking pitches. A slider drifted over the inner half of the plate and Prado doubled. I’d like to say all’s well that ends well but that wouldn’t be true. Lots of things went on before the game as well as during it that beg for a look
Everything Isn’t Alright
The Fredi Gonzalez that spoke to the press following Saturday’s loss to Cliff Lee was a decidedly different man than the one we’ve seen since he took over last year. The change was evident in quotes he gave the AJC. This one particularly caught my attention. Ask about the need to be patient our famous “tip your hat” manager said this.
“No we’re just not scoring runs. We go to San Diego and score four runs in three games. And yesterday we scored five and just one today. It’s easy to say . . . the other pitchers are better than us so tip your hats. But enough of that. we need to take care of our end of the bargain and get better at-bats, get some hits with runners in scoring position, that type of stuff.. . . But we’ve got to get something going offensively to be able to compete. Right now our pitchers are going out there, if they give up two runs, three runs, they’ve got a good chance to lose the ballgame. So that’s not fair.”” (my emphasis)
That’s the exact opposite of his tune during the September Surrender of 2011 when he told us nightly until the season ended and about time he admitted it. He went on to say some things that weren’t exactly true or at best were spinning the truth.
“I feel like we’re healthy where we weren’t last year. . . .going into this series after the All-Star break we might have been No. 1 in pitching, somewhere around there. But I worry about our offense. It seems like our offense, when it goes bad, it goes bad. And we’re not keeping the line moving offensively and we’ve got to fix that, or rectify that somehow.”
That ladies and gents sound to me like a very worried and nervous manager. It also didn’t exactly jibe with my memory of the first half or our injury status.
Healthiness is a relative thing I guess. Last year Brian McCann pulled that oblique just as we entered a crucial part of the season and Heyward was hurt all year long. To say we’re healthy now is patently wrong. No matter how well Janish fills in defensively the team is seriously depleted without Andrelton Simmons. Simba will we hope be back before the Rockies series ends. BMac has a cyst in his shoulder and a “frayed” rotator cuff. I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV however I do have a frayed rotator cuff. They told me (. . . the tendonitis has progressed to the point that the tendon is frayed or torn.) Mine is an 80% tear we don’t know what the damage on BMac’s is but judging by his swing it isn’t a minor thing. After Sunday’s game we know why BMac’s been playing and not David Ross. Ross is carrying an injury as well that looked on TV to be a lower back muscle strain or an oblique. Whatever the cause he isn’t swinging it any better than BMac right now. UPDATED: I’m seeing reports that McCann had another cortisone injection and needs to rest the shoulder for at least a day – I hope longer but doubt Fredi’s resolve. I’ve advocated that for a while. It’s also been confirmed that Ross has a strained oblique. So BMac is down, Ross is injured and we still rely only on Boscan?
Fact checking Gonzalez memory on our pitching we find the Skipper’s timeline is slightly skewed. In the first half of the season the Braves were not number one in any pitching category. We were mostly middle of t e pack to top half in most. August however saw us leap to the top in four key areas; ERA, WHIP, runs and earned runs.
The reason for that is fairly obvious, that’s when Ben Sheets, Paul Maholm and most importantly Kris Medlen joined the rotation and Tommy Hanson was for most of the month on the DL. He is correct however that pitchers felt that they had to be perfect when they went to the hill because the offense might not show up.
Decisions At Last
Sunday for really the first time Gonzalez over player objections from Uggla for certain and perhaps McCann, he shook the lineup up and leaving aside Maholm’s horrible outing, the lineup looked considerably better. Prado looked at home back at second base making plays Uggla would not have made. Reed Johnson – Uggla’s replacement in the lineup - though not tested with anything extremely difficult played left field well enough and as I noted earlier was integral to the victory on the night. With Chipper back in the three hole and Heyward dropped to six the lineup was longer, forcing the pitcher to work all the way through it. Benching a $13 million player is a hard choice but it had to be done so kudos for that. In the ninth inning Gonzalez used Uggla to force Charlie Manuel’s hand by sending him to pinch hit. When Manuel went to Papelbon Gonzalez sent Overbay up shifting the odds back in our favor a little. That it didn’t work was as much the umpire’s fault as Overbay’s; again kudos to Gonzalez. I was puzzled by his substitution of Peter Moylan for Avilan with two out and no one on in the top of the ninth and said so on Twitter. Upon reflection it was probably more about getting Moylan into another game than any kind of matchup issue, so I withdraw my initial criticism of that move. I am concerned about a couple of other decisions that were made however; .the September call ups are woefully inadequate for our needs.
The Usual Suspects
After Saturday’s loss I had the pleasure of watching for the hundredth time I guess, Casablanca. At the end of the file the inspector watches the Nazi killed by Bogey and when his men arrive he tells them to round up the usual suspects. As Lee told you yesterday the Braves went to the minors and called up Overbay, Jose Constanza, Jeff Baker (by trade) and J.C. Boscan. Though Overbay and Baker are new, Constanza and Boscan are the usual suspects. Since we can have all the players we want why stop with these four?
Boscan is a 32 year old career minor league catcher. He’s a fixture at Gwinnett and when he got his first call up it was one of those great stories that happen from time to time. As a defensive catcher Boscan is pretty good but he’s a career minor leaguer for a reason; he can’t hit a lick. In 70 games and 250 PA this year his line is .189/.264/.284 with 3 homers and 23 RBI. He splits time at Gwinnett with Jose Yepez.
I was not correct when I said he had major league experience I’ll blame that on encroaching old age if I may. The 31 year old Yepez is another career minor leaguer, defensively on a par with Boscan but when standing at the plate instead of behind it he’s certainly a bigger threat. In his 75 games this year his .264/.354/.370 with 16 doubles, a triple and 3 homers 30 RBI is markedly better than Boscan’s. I know defense is a premium and Boscan’s caught these pitchers more often but Yepez is sound with glove and arm , caught most of the staff multiple times this spring and in the two games I watched him play he looked a solid backstop. We know what Boscan can do, why not let Yepez have a shot?
Jose Constanza was leading the league in hitting at Gwinnett but the has about as much pop as a week old balloon. Stefan Gartrell has a lower average but has hit 25 homers and 28 doubles last year with 91 RBI and followed that this year with 20 homers, 22 doubles and 55 RBI. As a right handed hitting outfielder what would it hurt to give the 28 year old a month on our bench? Speaking of guys with pop, what about Evan Gattis?
Gattis is nominally a catcher but his defense is less than sterling. He is by all account a man who hits at every level and hits well. He lost part of the season to injury but returned to hit 7 home runs in 47 games and end with a line of .264/.354/.370 at Mississippi. In 88 games with Rome in 2011 he hit 22 homers and drove in 71 with a final line of .322/.386/.601. While all the other catchers are better defensively Gattis player 40 games in left field this year and though still a work in progress his ability to hit with power at every level should be worthy of a little bench time in Atlanta.
Randall Delgado deserves the Tuesday’s start not Tommy Hanson. Delgado or Julio Teheran at least give us starting options and should be with the team now since we can ill afford another bad start. Anthony Varvaro and Cory Gearrin are reportedly candidates to join the team Tuesday. It’s my sincere hope that they relegate Batista to a mop up role and that he never get a chance to fill that role. UPDATED: Delgado has been recalled and will . . .pitch from the bullpen. Okay good first step now find a Hanson injury please and let Delgado start.
Only Kris Medlen and Mike Minor have been steady and Minor had a rough outing his last time out. After a couple of good starts Maholm is now pitching like a number four or five starter. We have no idea what we will get when Ben Sheets returns from the DL. Tim Hudson’s first inning issues are multiplied when our offense is absent. Hudson however admits it when he has a bad game.In the already linked AJC post he said:
“Well, honestly I wasn’t very good today either. It’s probably the worst stuff I’ve had all year, in my opinion.. . .”
Then there’s Tommy Hanson who still doesn’t get it and thinks he’s doing better. His control hasn’t been great all year but he admirably fought his way through the first half. Now fighting isn’t enough. He three starts in August, lost two and would have lost the other one except the Braves came back and won it late. yet his name is down to start Tuesday against the Rockies. He’s only faced a few of their hitters but the numbers aren’t promising.
I know the sample is small but it is still worrying. The Rockies may be out of the race and have some. . . innovative ideas about pitching; mostly because they don’t have much of it. They don’t travel well either. They are however playing pretty good ball lately and 9-4 in the last two weeks so don’t expect them to fold.
That’s A Wrap
Every win is a good win and hearing Chipper say before the game that some folks needed to quit thinking so much and just hit the ball was important. That he came to the plate with the game on the line as he always wants to and delivered the shot that beat the Phillies may be the spark that ignites the rest. In contrast Dan Uggla’s grumbling about being benched shows a little too much self before team for my liking. Uggla’s never been that kind of guy so I’ll put that down to stress and hope he decides to take Chipper’s advice and just try to put the bat on the ball instead of swinging for a 7 run home run every at bat. Along with injuries to McCann and Ross and the persistent worry that Chipper at 40 may get hurt again, our starting pitching seems to be stumbling at the wrong time.
The Braves need to get their act together on offense and get the pitchers some early runs if they want to keep their nose in from all the way to the wildcard death match at the end.