Braves–Phillies Series Preview and and a Few Questions

The Braves start their final three game set in Philadelphia tonight with the Phillies trying desperately to get into the Wildcard race or at least close enough to give their fans hope for next year. Meanwhile the Braves have a comfortable lead in the Wildcard and await the survivor of the the central division rival Brewers – Cardinals race. The Dodgers  – in spite of their infusion of expensive divas – remain a disjointed and uninspiring team who really have little hope of getting in short of a St. Louis implosion. But, back to tonight and this weekend’s games.


Just a quick look at the pitching probables before moving on to other things.

Friday: Tonight the  Braves send out the enigmatic Tommy Hanson (12-8, 4.33 ERA) to face vs.Kyle Kendrick (9-11, 3.95) and the Phillies.  In Hanson’s last four starts he’s 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.333 WHIP. He still averages a little over nine strikeouts per nine innings pitched but he’s only pitched more than five innings once in eight starts since the All Star break  (August 17 vs the Dodgers). His numbers in those eight starts reflect what he’s become. a mediocre fifth starter.

The departure of Joe Blanton to the Dodgers gave Kyle Kendrick a chance to start regularly and he’s done well enough to expect to continue in that role next year.  Kendrick’s last month was more successful than Hanson’s. He’s gone 3-2 in his five starts with a 3.06 ERA and 0.990 WHIP.  He’s always had a hex on the Braves as well. He’s a career 6-1 in 18 games (12 starts) with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.289 WHIP but started twice this year against the Braves and hasn’t fared as well. In 10 2/3 innings he’s compiled a 5.06 ERA and a 1.594 WHIP.

Saturday: On Saturday the Braves send Mike Minor (9-10, 4.31) out to face Roy Halladay (10-7, 4.03). Minor seems to draw the short straw when it comes to being matched up against the other team’s ace this year. The good news is he’s pitched as well as most of them. In the last month Minor’s made five starts going 3-0 in 30 1/3 innings with a 2.37 ERA and a 0.923 WHIP. Righties are hitting just .234 against him this year while lefties are surprisingly hitting a little better (.253) though in a much smaller sample,

Roy Halladay’s had a horrible year by his standards reaching only a 10-7 record with a 4.03 ERA (his highest since 2004)  and a 1.1.63 WHIP his worst since 2000. Even more surprising is that the man who led the league in complete games the last six years hasn’t managed a complete game this year. In his last five starts however he’s 3-0 with a 4.51 ERA 1.458 WHIP. He’s 0-1 in three starts against Atlanta this year allowing 15 runs in 16 innings (all earned) including five home runs for an 8.44 ERA and a 1.845 WHIP.

Sunday: The series and season finale on Sunday sees Tim Hudson (15-6, 3.77) up against Cliff Lee (6-7, 3.27). Huddy has struggled quite a bit lately with control and with getting his sinker to stay down.  He’s 3-2 on his last five starts with a 4.11 ERA and a 1.435 WHIP. He’ll need to keep that sinker down in the launching pad in Philly or he could have a very short outing.

Cliff Lee’s record this year is his worst since 2007. He enters Sunday 6-7 but his ERA is still just 3.27 and his WHIP a skinny 1.132. Lee  Those numbers will tell you that Lee was pitching well enough but an injured and elderly Phillies lineup failed to score runs for him.  That’s all changed in the last month however. In his last five starts Lee is 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA and a WHIP of 0.962. He struck out 33 men in 35 1/3 innings and walked three.

Looking at the matchups and ahead to the post season, several; questions arise.

Things that make me go Hmmmm. . .

Tommy Hanson; why is he starting?

In case you’ve forgotten Hanson’s slipped from being a can’t miss prospect to be being a back of the rotation guy who lives in another universe where his bad outings were actually good and his pitches weren’t that bad. At least that’s what he told reporters after each game. Those of us who watched know that while he had a few good innings his last good start was months ago. Since no one with half a brain would let Hanson anywhere near a post season starting role, why haven’t we looked at our other options?

At the end of the minor league season the Braves called up Julio Teheran who had an awful year and Randall Delgado, who was superb at Gwinnett in the second half. Since their arrival they haven’t even been seen warming up that I can recall; I know they haven’t been in a game even though there were multiple opportunities to get them some work and rest the bullpen regulars. At the very least Teheran’s heater and Delgado’s changeup would have been a lot more effective than anything Miguel Batista threw and could have given Cristhian Martinez a break along the way.  The only time the young guns were mentioned was in a note that said they had thrown a simulated game. What is our record in simulated games and how does it affect our Wildcard standings?

Last Saturday Ben Sheets was activated off the DL and declared ready to pitch.  His dead arm issues behind him there’s little reason to suspect that Sheets could do worse than Hanson against the Phillies and it might be a good time to gauge his abilities in pressure situations. Sadly he, like Teheran and Delgado, has yet to warm up during a game but I hear he had a killer simulated win. Speaking of things that haven’t helped us, why is Miguel Batista even on the roster?

Miguel Batista; why is he here?

On July 27th the Braves signed Batista to  a minor league contract. At that time Fredi Gonzalez told the Associated Press that, Batista has been signed “to add some depth for us, just in case.” He’s never said just in case of what and most of us thought it was to fill the hole left when we traded Todd Redmond away. Then suddenly in Scott Protctoresque fashion, there he was in our bullpen losing games for us like he did for the Mets during the first half of the season.

Nothing, I’ll repeat that N O T H I N G   Batista did during the first half of this year or at any time in recent history  indicates he’s good for anything above minor league ball. The washed up 41 year old dead weight graced the Mets with a stat line of a 4.82 ERA and 34 strike outs while walking 31 batters, hitting one batter, giving up 53 hits and throwing a wild pitch in his 46 2/3 innings. Just exactly what the GM saw in that résumé that warranted signing him no one knows. Particularly when we had Delgado, Teheran, Sean Gilmartin, Cory Gearrin and others – none of who could possibly be worse than Batista – waiting for their chance to sit in a major league bullpen. Earlier this year the Braves called up Luis Avilan expecting to have him simply sit there in case of emergency. The young lefty from whom the Braves expected nothing became one of our most dependable relievers.  It’s not improbable that had we simply let Batista ride off into the sunset, another of our young arms could have stepped forward. Batista brings with him the taint of being a perpetual loser and is simply breathing air a good pitcher could be breathing. Yet Fredi’s given him more innings (five) than Teheran or Delgado since their call up. That just doesn’t make sense to me.  If we must have him on the roster as our albatross of failure for the year, he should be designated closer for all those simulated games we seem to need to win.

Why is our bench so short?

September call ups allow us to populate our bench with as many back up players as we want and use them as we please. Why then aren’t there more people on it? Currently we have J.C. BoscanLyle Overbay, Jose Constanza and Tyler Pastornicky on the bench in addition to our season regulars of Juan Francisco, Reed Johnson, David Ross, Paul Janish and Eric Hinske.  Of these players, Janish has just dislocated his shoulder (but should be back in eight days or so. . .eight days why heck a lot of season left after that. . .), David Ross has an oblique strain, and Eric Hinske . .  well let’s say Diesel is overloaded, sputters when asked to climb a hill and could use an overhaul.  On top of that Brian McCann is carrying a hamstring strain along with a gimpy shoulder. Now he not only can’t throw very well, he moves slowly when trying to block pitches in the dirt and he’s running slower than usual. . . yes that is possible, saw it myself Wednesday night.

While Boscan can catch and knows these pitchers, hitting is just something he sees others do; witness his .189/.264/.284 line in AAA this year. Jose Yepez was also at Gwinnett, is a solid catcher who caught the same amount of games as Boscan but had a line of .264/.354/.370. While that doesn’t make him a slugger he is more likely to put the bat on the ball.  Why then is Boscan here while Yepez works out at the local gym?

With Martin Prado filling in at short while Andrelton Simmons nurses a sore shoulder, we’ve been using Constanza and Johnson in left field. That means our emergency outfielder is Hinske.  At Gwinnett we have Felix Pie a former Cubs top 100 prospect who has major league experience playing center field, is – as I recall – pretty fast and has a .285/.338/.459 line in 96 games since joining Gwinnett. Compared to Hinske’s .197/.275/.307 this year that’s not bad for a significant increase in defensive ability. Since Francisco has become our lefty power option off the bench anyway, adding Pie or Luis Durango or Jordan Paraz come to that, makes a lot of sense. Our bench lacks a a right handed power bat so adding Evan Gattis who – even in an injury shortened year in Mississippi – finished with a line of .258/.343/.522 , nine homers, four triples and 13 doubles while driving in 37 runs in only 207 at bats. His home run power from the right side might come in handy with Ross’ oblique restricting his swing and no other right handed power on the bench. With all of these options available and not otherwise engaged, why then aren’t they in Atlanta? Skeptics might say that having them there would just confuse Fredi who’s already forgotten Teheran and Delgado. I think it all boils down to an ill conceived way to save money.

While most of us don’t pay attention to such things, calling up players adds to the teams payroll and expenses – a prorated portion of a major league minimum salary for that month  as well as increasing meal and travel expenses – as well as making the traveling secretary’s life more complicated when booking rooms. So yes, it does add up. It doesn’t however add up to as much as we wasted on Livan Hernandez this year. this looks to me like a bad decision forced upon the team because of ill advised expenditures early in the year and is simply false economy.

That’s A Wrap

The Braves magic number for the Wildcard is four. They could clinch that by Sunday with a couple of wins and matching strategic losses elsewhere. The Braves need to try to do that in order to go into the post season with our key players as rested as possible.  I hope Hanson gets through his standard five innings tonight but, if he stumbles the skipper should have one of the forgotten men preheated early in the game and have a quick hook for Tommy. The same goes for Hudson – who’s been giving up early runs – on Sunday as well. We can’t let the Phillies get on top of us early in any game because once they get in front they hang on to it like an old dog with a bone. We’ll know by game time when Janish will return and if Simmons is available. The unnecessarily short bench is more an annoyance than a worry. Prado’s been playing better shortstop than anyone expected and I don’t think we’ll actually run out of players and end up with a pitcher playing the field like the Phillies did when the Astros took them to extra innings last year. Still why should we take the chance or be afraid to pinch hit or run for someone when there are players who might be useful sitting around doing nothing? I still have my concerns about the lineup and it’s habit of shutting down for no particular reason but, with Medlen and Minor pitching well and our bullpen, a long postseason isn’t as improbable as it once seemed to be.

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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