Oct 3, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kris Medlen (54) reacts reacts in the dugout after he was taken out of the game in the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game one of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Braves/Dodgers. Holes: Exposed

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The playoffs tend to bring out the best of some major league baseball players – names from the past such as Mark Lemke and more recent names like Delmon Young come to mind.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, because good teams tend to exploit weaknesses.  Experienced players are ready for such tests; inexperienced players often are unable to meet the challenges.

It was the latter of these situations that was manifested last night.

 

Left Field

I won’t bash Evan Gattis for folding under pressure.  On the contrary, his play last night was one of the better performances in Game 1:  1 for 2 (nobody had more than 1 hit), but with 2 walks he was also the only Braves’ player on base 3 times… and he did the ‘Puig-esque’ 1st-to-third advance twice.

Unfortunately, Gattis is in this list because the Dodgers were able to take advantage of his presence in Left Field to extend a second inning outburst that plated the second run.  He was unable to close on or to catch (on a dive) a liner by A.J. Ellis that could have ended that inning with only 1 run of damage.

But of course, that second run was in scoring position because of…

Center Field

Jason Heyward‘s amped-up desire to do the impossible – nail Yasiel Puig at home on a sacrifice fly.  Each Brave was no doubt keenly aware that every run would be precious last night.  I admire Heyward’s effort in attempting to make a play at home where, frankly, none existed; but there were additional implications to his failed effort:  it allowed Juan Uribe to move into scoring position – setting up Ellis (above) for his RBI double.  It was too much risk to attempt a play like that when it had maybe a 5% chance of success.

Protests notwithstanding*, Jason Heyward is not a Center Fielder.  He can do it, but he’s best in Right Field.  But of course he’s in Center because none of the players Atlanta acquired for that position – B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer – can provide any kind of consistent offense either.  This is also why we have a Catcher roaming about in Left Field.  So yes – my argument here is that B.J. Upton actually cost the team two runs last night… while sitting on the bench.

* – Specifically: Fredi Gonzalez claiming that Jason could be a Gold Glove winner in Center if that were his full time position.

Second Base

Elliot Johnson isn’t out there for offense.  Frankly, the hole here is that the Braves simply don’t have anyone who is capable of providing any offense at this position right now.  But in the third inning, Carl Crawford reached on a grounder – generously called a single – that Johnson was unable to corral.  It looked like that was going to be worked around until Adrian Gonzalez… who otherwise never would have been at bat in the inning… stepped up and homered to dead Center Field.  So there’s at least one more run that should not have scored… possibly two… because of a hole.

PitchingMIssedSpot1

I love Kris Medlen, but this is now two years in a row in which he’s gone out there in a key playoff (or playoff-like) game and failed to hold the opposition down.  Everything described above suggests that he should have had a better fate – true – but throwing hittable pitches also contributes to the trouble.MissedSpot2  In particular, check these two screen captures from Gonzalez’ homer.  Medlen was supposed to throw the ball off the plate (note McCann’s setup).  But Kris missed that spot…. by close to a foot.  AGonz didn’t miss his opportunity.

The hole here?  Name one – Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy… the Kyle Lohse waiver claim that failed (we really appreciate that, Milwaukee).  True:  Medlen was pitching better than anybody on the staff going into that game.  But he’s also the kind of guy you’d want to roll out in game 3 or 4, and be thrilled that you have that kind of depth to use him in that position.  But seemingly like everyone else last night, Medlen was tight – and after that adreneline-powered first inning, he made mistakes.  Those mistakes were cashed in.

 

The Sum of All Fears

(In memory of  the passing of Tom Clancy, I stole one of his titles).  The hope was that the Braves could overlook some of these holes with solid performances elsewhere.  Indeed, there were breaks that could have changed the outcome of this game:

  • McCann missing a 3-run opposite field jack by about 5 feet.
  • Simmons missing a double down the third base line by… well, frankly, I think umpire Bill Miller missed it… he was too far away from third base to have been able to see whether the ball crossed its corner.
  • Hunter Wendlestedt’s tendency to call all check swings himself… and then Bill Miller ringing up Elliot Johnson to end the game with Kenley Jansen in the process of a meltdown.

The opportunities were there – but the inexperience allowed the Dodgers to exploit the holes present in the Braves’ lineup en route to an easier-than-it-should-have-been victory last night.  Now there’s no margin for error… and I personally think Zack Greinke is going to be tougher on this lineup than Kershaw was.

It could also be Brian McCann‘s last home game in an Atlanta uniform tonight.

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