Posts Tagged ‘NL East

01
Mar
11

Can the 2011 Braves surprise in the National League East?

Can David defeat Goliath in the battle for NL East supremacy?

The 2011 Atlanta Braves will seemingly be overlooked by most experts and pundits to best the Philadelphia Phillies for division bragging rights. How could last season’s NL Wild Card winners possibly hold their own against the Phillies’ vaunted starting rotation — who many have already deemed one of the best ever assembled?

Sure, they haven’t thrown one pitch in a meaningful game as a collective unit, but on paper, how could anyone argue that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels will not equate to a historic starting staff?

Perhaps it’s because a lot can happen over a taxing season. Players must still suit up and play the schedule — a full 162-game marathon. The injury bug so often rears its ugly head, throwing a wrench into any team’s — even the most talented’s — presumed destiny.

Big time egos don’t always mesh together — credit the manager who is able to cohesively mold a “team” together above all individual’s own personal goals and accolades. A club that puts the “I” before the “WE” can and WILL self-destruct. It’s happened before and will happen again.

It’s not to say that these Phillies — the projected favorites not only in the East but in the National League — won’t live up to expectations. It’s not to say that their “sexy” starting rotation won’t go down in history as the best ever. They very well could. But, the beauty of America’s favorite pastime is that baseball wins and division championships aren’t decided on paper or based on sheer talent, projection or expectation.

Any team can still beat you on any given day and the unlikely squad you didn’t see emerging out of camp — hello, 2010 San Francisco Giants — can still defeat the odds and be crowned champions of baseball. The 2010 Giants were the epitome of the “little team that could” — and they gave hope to many lower budget, up and coming clubs that they, too, could eclipse baseball’s perceived powerhouses.

One of those teams believing in such hope is the Atlanta Braves. With an acclaimed starting squad of their own — which they are returning in 2011 — the Braves’ rotation figures to once again be among the game’s elite. Anchored by Derek Lowe, who was dynamite down the stretch last season, and complimented by a resurgent Tim Hudson, emergent Tommy Hanson and a healthy Jair Jurrjens — Braves’ starters stand to give their share of fits to hitters in their quest for a second straight postseason appearance.

And while their rotation is strong in its own right, it’s Atlanta’s bullpen that could emerge as their ace in the hole. Equipped with two young fireballers who could both excel in the closer’s role — Craig Kimbrel and Jonny “Everyday” Venters — Atlanta’s relievers possess the skills to round out a dominant relief corps.

If you’ve come to expect one thing from the Braves over the years, it is a team that can and will consistently pitch well. The question marks have usually risen with the club’s offense and lack of power at its heart. But, this year’s lineup is deeper than ever — with the offseason addition of Dan Uggla as the right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat that the Braves had so desperately coveted. Uggla’s presence alongside fellow All-Stars Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Martin Prado and, if all goes according to plan, a healthy Chipper Jones — could pack a potent offensive punch.

Few would argue against this team’s legitimacy as a contender. But, to win the division and dethrone the big, bad Phillies — well, that just sounds asinine, right?

Wrong.

Despite the Phillies’ nasty rotation, the club has many other questions that make them appear to be vulnerable. ESPN‘s Buster Olney suggests the Phils never addressed their biggest offseason need — a right-handed power bat to replace slugger Jayson Werth — who departed for the Washington Nationals via free agency.

Philadelphia lacks balance and experience in their lineup, placing a heavy offensive burden on talented but unproven youngsters Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown. The defending NL East Champs are also an aging bunch who saw a significant portion of their squad — they had 170 games lost to injuries in just the infield alone in 2010 — on the disabled list last season.

Jimmy Rollins’ OPS has dropped for three consecutive seasons now, and the franchise’s golden boy Chase Utley’s own OPS has sputtered the last two. Ryan Howard’s postseason struggles were well-documented last season and could be attributed to an increase in off-speed pitches away he saw from opposing pitchers that he never was quite able to adjust to.

Even Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who was at Phillies’ camp as an instructor, called out Rollins, Shane Victorino and other offensive stars for their lackluster production last season. The Phillies are not without flaws — which the Braves or any team in the league can hope to exploit — they just expect their superior starters to carry the load and mask the holes in their bullpen and lineup.

Can they? Sure. Will they? That’s why they play the games.

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28
Apr
10

Atlanta Braves in midst of downward spiral as losing streak reaches seven

Watching the Atlanta Braves these days is like pulling teeth…no pun intended.

As I recover from mouth surgery this week and try to figure out just what has happened to the Braves, I can’t help but remain flabbergasted by their sudden and shocking downward spiral.

After experiencing one of the most exhilarating wins in franchise history over the Phillies on April 20, the Braves now find themselves in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, in which their offense has plummeted to new, disturbing lows.

I wrote a blog a couple weeks back about seeing signs of concern, or cracks in the armor, in Atlanta’s batting corps.

While, I also discussed the importance of not panicking too soon in the early going, my fears have proven to be right, and this team is getting dangerously close to digging itself a hole that may be too deep to overcome later.

I’m less bothered by the consecutive losses (the Braves aren’t THIS bad folks), and they will find a way to stop the bleeding.

But, in what appears to be a competitive and improved division from top to bottom, the Braves don’t have much longer to fix what ails them.

So, just what and where has it all gone wrong for Atlanta?

I’m about to throw out some stats, but I caution, these numbers are not for the faint of heart.

* The Braves’ current seven-game skid is their longest since 2006.

* Their leadoff woes have reached record heights, or should I say, record lows: As recently as April 26, the Braves were hitting a Major League-worst .091 at the top of the order.

The major league average is .252.

YIKES.

Detroit, in the meantime, who beat out Atlanta for Johnny Damon’s services, was hitting .323 with Damon atop its order.

(Insert salt in wound.)

The Braves will wrestle with issues at the top of their order all season long unless they can trade for a prototypical leadoff hitter.

Where they will find him, I don’t know just yet, but hoping that Nate McLouth or Yunel Escobar (who Bobby Cox has recently experimented with atop the order) will be the answer is naive and without merit.

Neither is the answer, and sadly, neither is anyone else currently in a Braves uniform.

That’s the cold, hard truth, boys. It’s time to fix this longstanding issue now, out of house.

* Troy Glaus isn’t just bad—he’s detrimental to the team and to my health.

Speaking of sickly, that would be a fair assessment of Glaus’ numbers so far this season.

He is batting a miserable .200 on the season and an even worse .133 (4-for-30) with two RBI, four walks, and 12 strikeouts in nine home games at Turner Field.

Magnifying the problem is that, statistically, Glaus has his best months in April and May.

So, this may be as good as it gets for the Braves’ veteran first baseman.

(Insert sarcasm.)

* Rookie phenom Jason Heyward is battling his first slump of the season.

Granted, I’ve cautioned Braves fans over and over not to expect Heyward to be Superman all season long, and Atlanta’s ultimate saving grace.

He is no doubt a special kid and will figure prominently in the team’s success this season and beyond, but he is, after all, 20 years old.

And, there are going to be rough spots along the way and adjustments that he will need to make.

The scrutiny he is facing is unquestionably intensified because of the team’s overall struggles with the bat right now.

Still, Heyward has hit that first rough patch of his young career.

Since hitting .429 with two homers and seven RBI in a six-game stretch through April 16, Heyward was since batting just .103 with four RBI and 12 strikeouts before last night’s contest.

The cause?

Cox feels his young rookie is taking way too many pitches.

While Heyward has often been praised for displaying great plate discipline, it seems he may have taken it to an extreme.

The result?

He’s taking too many pitches for strikes and has since only seen one pitch an at-bat to swing at.

Not to worry, J-Hey will adhere to his manager’s advice and he will be just fine.

* To reiterate, just how bad is this offense as a whole?

Before dropping another game to the Cardinals last night, Atlanta entered Tuesday’s game with a lowly .229 average with nine runs and NO home runs during its six-game skid.

That skid has now been extended to seven, and it is unacceptable.

The Braves have also blown two early, multi-run leads in their past two games against St. Louis.

The lone positive in their otherwise disturbing tailspin is the fact that the club is still getting quality starts from its rotation on a nightly basis.

That fact is encouraging and makes you believe the Braves may not be a lost cause after all.

The bottom line, though, is that the offense’s inability to provide sufficient run support has ruined some beautifully pitched ball games and has zapped any confidence the team has exuded as a result of their starting staff.

While my issues with many holes in the Braves lineup remain, it is still safe to say that some of these players, like Yunel Escobar, for example, have yet to hit their stride.

With time, that will come.

My main concern is that this slump will become mental.

Atlanta looks as if they are battling through a case of the “yips” right now, and it is only a matter of time before that psychological issue can snowball on a team’s season.

If the Braves start expecting the worst, they will in turn play not to lose instead of playing to win.

The worst thing the Braves can do right now is to play conservatively. They must take an aggressive approach and literally hit, or hopefully smash, their way out of this rut.

But I digress.

It is now time for you to weigh in.

Can the Braves be saved—and, how would you fix them?

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20
Apr
10

It’s early but it’s big… Braves and Phils set to collide

For 14 years, opponents knew they had to go through Atlanta to get to the playoffs—and, to the World Series.

For the past three years, they go through Philly.

It may only be April 20 and the first of many meetings between these two divisional foes, but for the Braves it is never too early to make a good impression.

After all, first place is up for grabs.

The Phillies hold a one-game lead over the third-place Braves in the NL East standings coming into tonight’s series opener at Turner Field.

Atlanta spent over a decade at the top of the National League East, but in recent years they have taken their lumps in an effort to regain the level of excellence they had come to expect.

The Braves haven’t tasted October since 2005, but last season after a strong, albeit late push for the NL Wild Card, they got one step closer to returning to the playoffs.

This year, they are billed as the Phillies chief competition in the NL East.

While an April series isn’t make-or-break for either club, the buzz surrounding this series is unmistakable.

Last year, the Braves knew they waited too long before making their playoff run and just ran out of games.

It is these pesky games early in the season that often count just as large as the ones in September, but are long forgotten when a team comes up a game or two short of the postseason.

Still, don’t expect these Braves to put too much stock in this series outcome.

Atlanta won’t wave the red flag if they lose the series and they surely won’t become complacent if they win it.

But, what a series win would do for the Braves is send a message to the Phillies that the preseason hype surrounding this club was legit.

And, let’s not forget that last season, Atlanta handled Philly with relative ease in the early going.

The Braves were winners of seven of the first nine meetings between the teams, including a series sweep just before the fourth of July.

Then, Ryan Howard happened.

Howard torched the Braves over the final nine games between the clubs, of which his team won six, blasting eight home runs.

However, Atlanta still won the season series 10-8, but still fell short of the playoffs.

The Braves know at the very least, a series win is expected again this year if they hope to reach the postseason.

And, if they hope to make a legitimate run at the World Series, they figure they will see these Phillies again in the NLCS.

The hope and buzz surrounding this year’s squad lends credence to the belief that the Braves can compete with any team in the league even the big, bad Phillies.

With Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe lined up to pitch in this series, the Braves expect their starters to go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia’s.

No surprise there.

The Braves have always won with pitching, and their staff has rivaled if not exceeded the Phillies starters over recent years.

But what the Bravos have this year, that they haven’t had in the past, is their very own one-man wreaking crew.

His name is Jason Heyward.

While the comparisons between Heyward and Howard have begun, it is far too early in the youngster’s career to pit him against Philly’s RBI machine.

But for those of you looking to add to the fodder, in the season’s first two weeks, Heyward does have one more RBI.

The Phillies are about to get their first glimpse at the beast that is the “J-Hey Kid,” and pardon me if they don’t feel a little deja vu.

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14
Aug
09

A “Philly” big series…

Five games back of the division lead.

Three games against the first place Phils.

Atlanta’s aspirations for an NL East crown are at stake and anything short of a series win against Philadelphia will all but end those hopes.

So, to say this is a big series, is an understatement.

The Braves, while publicly claiming they weren’t overlooking their two-game set against the Washington Nationals, have understandably had their sights on this upcoming series against the Phillies all week long.

But, to their credit, the Bravos have set themselves up quite nicely for Philadelphia, sweeping the pesky Nats.

However, to Philly’s credit, they are coming into tonight’s series against Atlanta riding high after sweeping the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

A series that was looming large figures to live up to the billing.

The Braves are hot, having won five games in a row, heading into Friday night’s opener.

The Phils seem to have caught fire again thanks to their sweep of the Cubs, after previously dropping eight of eleven before heading to Chicago.

If there is one thing that can be said about the Phillies, it is that they are one streaky club.

They have gone on runs where they are absolutely unbeatable and then without any warning, will go cold at the drop of a hat.

The Braves are hoping the Phillies are due for another cold spurt.

Atlanta is slated to send Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami, and Javier Vazquez to the hill in this series.

Philadelphia will counter with Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, and J.A. Happ.

The Braves have to be pleased that they will not be facing Cliff Lee this weekend. Lee hasn’t lost since joining the Phillies in a trade from the Cleveland Indians in late July.

Another thing that weighs heavily in the Braves’ favor is their head-to-head success against the Phillies this season.

Atlanta has won seven of nine from Philadelphia and has shown they can outpitch their division rival.

If the Braves are going to take this series from the Phils, they again will need big performances out of their starting staff.

The Bravos know the tall task before them. They need to win two of three, and stay four games back to remain in the hunt for the East.

If not, Atlanta will have to focus its attention on the NL Wild, if they hope to play October baseball.

Still, for a Braves club that lost 90 games last season, to be factoring so heavily into the division race is quite remarkable.

The Phillies, like most other teams in the league, underestimated the Braves.

The Mets figured to be chasing down the Phils, again, not the Braves.

But, for a team that has thrived all season long by flying under the radar, they are about to get a dose of big time publicity if they can take this series from Philly.

My prediction?

I think the Braves are up to the challenge.

Why?

It is because, for once, they are playing the role of the underdog.

During their run of divisional dominance that saw them assume the title of, “Beasts of the NL East,” the Braves were labeled the favorites, year in and year out.

With the fourteen consecutive division titles came the constant question of, “When would the run end?”

That pressure and the resulting media scrutiny that followed, became larger than life and often crippling.

The Braves aren’t use to being in this situation.

All eyes are on the Phillies… not them.

They have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And, it’s for that reason, that I think the Braves will take care of business this weekend.

Forging ahead… IF this Braves team does infact make the playoffs, I think they are a force to be reckoned with.

I believe the main reason why the Braves struggled to find postseason success stems from the fact that they were rarely challenged by their division rivals during the season.

If you look at Atlanta’s past four playoff losses from 2002-2005, where they were eliminated in the first round, you’ll notice their opponents –the Giants, Cubs, Astros and Astros again, were all Wild Card winners.

The Braves, by contrast, were runaway division champs, often 100-plus game winners.

While there opponents were scratching and clawing their way into the playoffs, the Braves were resting their regulars a month before the playoffs were set to begin, not participating in a meaningful game.

As a result, the Braves found it difficult to just flip the switch and recapture the intensity that had alluded them for the past month.

I’ve always said since then that a good, heated division or wild card race would be good for the Braves.

Series’ like this upcoming one against the Phillies builds character.

It is a precursor to the types of series’ and the level of intensity that would await them in October.

If this Braves team gets into the playoffs, their fate could be much different than those teams of the past.

The Braves, and their fans, just hope they get that chance.

11
Aug
09

Watch out NL East… these Braves are for real!

Watch out NL East … the Atlanta Braves aren’t going anywhere.

What a difference a week makes.

The Braves knew they had to make a statement and perform big against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past weekend, who came into their four-game set against Atlanta with baseball’s best record, to keep their playoff hopes alive.

And, they did.

If it wasn’t for the walk-off home run ball Rafael Soriano served up to Andre Either and the consequential blown save in Thursday night’s opener, Atlanta would have swept the mighty Dodgers.

Still, winning three out of four against the best in the business is not too shabby

The Braves series win against Los Angeles coupled with the Florida Marlins sweep of Philadelphia has lifted the Braves to within only 4 1/2 games of the division lead.

After Monday’s off day, Atlanta also finds themselves just four games behind the NL Wild Card-leading Colorado Rockies.

More impressively to note, the Braves won the last three against LA without Chipper Jones in the line-up.

Jones is nursing a strained left oblique, but is likely to return to the line-up tonight when the Braves open a two-game series against the Washington Nationals.

While the Braves are riding high — they have the league’s best record (24-14) since June 28th — surprisingly, the Nationals are the NL’s hottest team.

After dropping 15 of 18 through July 20, Washington has since gone on a tear, winning 14 of 20 games.

The Nationals have owned the Braves this season, winning five of nine head-to-head against them this season.

It is critical for the Braves to continue to build off the momentum from their successful trip to Southern California.

They cannot afford to overlook the Nats this week, as the National League East-leading Phillies are next up for Atlanta this weekend.

In contrast to their struggles against Washington, Atlanta has won seven of nine against Philadelphia this season. They have to hope that trend continues if they want to make a legitimate run for the division crown.

The Braves’ pitching has been solid all season long, keeping them in the hunt when a mediocre or lesser staff would have had them dead and buried by now.

Atlanta’s starters, who often fell victim to an inconsistent and anemic offense, are finally being rewarded for their efforts, thanks to the offensive turnaround the team has enjoyed as of late.

The prognosis for the Braves looks good, as the past few weeks have gradually shown that Atlanta’s offensive turnaround is not an aberration.

Even Kelly Johnson, who has struggled mightily all season long and was even demoted to the minor leagues, has contributed as of late.

Johnson came up with timely heroics against the Dodgers in not one but two of the crucial games in the series.

In Friday’s game, Johnson helped aid a three-run Braves deficit, smashing a two-run home run to assist in the comeback.

Then, fast forward to Saturday night’s contest, where Johnson came into a scoreless game in the 8th inning and ended up being the difference maker, hitting a two-run, 10th inning blast, leading Atlanta to a 2-1 victory.

Johnson’s always been known to be a streaky hitter, often frustrating the Braves brass and fans, who have seen glimpses of the great potential their young second baseman possesses.

When K.J. is swinging the bat well, he’s often unstoppable. Johnson went on a tear in the last 24 games of the 2008 season, hitting a whopping .404.

But, when he’s cold, he can’t buy himself a hit, as witnessed when he hit an abysmal .191 before his demotion early this season.

As evidenced, if Johnson’s back, the Braves offense is in for quite the boost.

But, as last week proved, it can take only a few games for a team to rise or fall.

And, with the dog days of summer rapidly approaching, the Braves realize that this week could indeed make or break their season.

Although, the same thing applied last weekend against the Dodgers and the Braves silenced their critics and embraced the challenge.

This next test proves to be harder, and only the strong survive.

Next week at this time, we should all have a clearer picture about the character and make-up of this Braves team and if they indeed have what it takes to play in October.

But, from the looks of it, these Braves are for real.

02
Jun
09

Observations of the Braves from my trip to Chase Field…

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

I had my first opportunity to check out the 2009 Atlanta Braves live and in person when they traveled to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks May 28-31st. I have lived in AZ for the past 5 years so Chase Field has become my go-to ballpark to see the Bravos. This season I was fortunate enough to have the Braves in town for a four-game series. Hotlanta split the series 2-2 with the Snakes and I ended up coming away with some positive, negative and suggestions for improvement for the team going forward. Here’s a breakdown of the good, the bad, and the ugly from the desert:

The good: Atlanta’s starting staff continues to impress and keep the team in close games. Derek Lowe gave up 5 runs in the series opening loss, although only 3 of those runs were earned, after Kelly Johnson botched a grounder that allowed for a big inning that ended up deciding the ballgame. Despite the fact that Lowe wasn’t as sharp as he’s been for the majority of the season, he was still able to bear down, gut it out and minimize any further damage after the Johnson error sparked a four-run 4th, which kept the Braves within striking distance.

In Game Two, Jair Jurrjens was the recipient of a rare offensive explosion from the Braves and picked up the “W” in the Braves 10-6 victory. While Jurrjens was handed a 10-1 lead after 3 1/2 innings, he did appear uncomfortable pitching with such a large lead. This happens to many of the game’s best pitchers who often thrive off of pitching in tight situations. But for Jurrjens, who has been coined the Braves hard luck loser this season after putting up some mighty impressive numbers, this win helps balance things out a bit.

In Game Three, Javier Vazquez looked strong putting up zeros for six innings against the D-Backs, keeping a 2-0 lead intact after escaping a sixth inning jam unscathed. However, he finally ran out of gas in the seventh when Chris Young tied the game with a pinch-hit single. While the Braves ended up losing in heartbreaking fashion 3-2 in the 11th, the club couldn’t have asked for anything more from Vazquez. His gutsy outing deserved to be capped with a win.

In the finale of the series, Braves rookie Kris Medlen looked solid, picking up his first major league win, allowing one run on four hits with nine struck outs in six innings of work. Medlen was making his third big league start in the fifth spot of the Braves rotation after Jo-Jo Reyes went down with an injury. Reyes was filling in for a rehabbing Tom Glavine, who after a recent strong five-inning effort for Triple A Gwinnett appears to be close to returning to the Braves rotation. The return of the veteran Glav is sure to make an already deep Braves rotation that much deeper.

The bad: The Braves offense remains inconsistent and spotty. After looking stagnant in the series opener, they exploded for 10 runs in game two to illicit hope amongst the frustrated Braves faithful. However, true to form they followed up that offensive outburst with only two early runs in their eventual 3-2 extra inning loss. To make things even more disconcerning, they scored the 10 runs in game two in the first four innings before being blanked the rest of the game. Then, despite jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in game three, the bats were then silenced again for the remainder of the game, wasting Javier Vazquez’s strong effort. The nine runs the Braves accumulated in the series finale against Arizona had fans and management scratching their heads as to why this team can’t consistently put up runs to support their underappreciated starting staff.

The ugly: The Braves lack power, especially in the outfield, which is a large reason why the offense has stumbled.

The culprits: Rookie center fielder Jordan Schafer and right fielder Jeff Francoeur. On Monday, before the Braves opened a homestand at Turner Field against the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta sent Schafer down to Triple A Gwinnett. Schafer is hitting only .206 on the season, but what is more alarming is his 63 strikeouts, which rank as the fourth highest in Major League Baseball. The Braves recalled Gregor Blanco from the minors to take Schafer’s place for the time being and hope he will be able to provide a lift to Atlanta’s sagging offense. As for Francoeur, he has been hovering around .250 for the past month and still appears lost and often overmatched at the plate. Frenchy has only gone deep four times this season, which has contributed largely to the Braves power drought. Braves GM Frank Wren must be listening to trade offers for Francoeur but whether the team deals him or not depends largely on what they could garner in return. Francoeur is still young and talented and for a team that is struggling to find offensive production, it wouldn’t be wise to subtract a bat without replacing it with an upgraded one.

Suggestions for improvement: I think the Braves absolutely, positively HAVE to add a power bat to the outfield before the July 31st trade deadline. There are rumors circulating that the team is looking at bringing Mark DeRosa back to Atlanta. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right move, but it is encouraging to know that the team is looking for ways to bolster their offense. Pitching keeps teams in the race and the Braves have the arms to continue to do so. But, if Atlanta hopes to make a legitimate run at what appears to be a wide open NL East, they need to greatly improve their offense.

For those frustrated fans who have already thrown in the towel, I offer these words of hope. Before June 2nd’s game against Chicago, the Braves find themselves in third place only 4 1/2 games behind first place Philadelphia. We aren’t even at the All-Star Break folks. There is A LOT of baseball to be played. The Braves benefited greatly over their run of fourteen consecutive division titles from a strong starting rotation and a deep pitching staff. In the playoffs, pitching is often what carries a team far and if a staff gets hot at the right time, anything is possible. If the Braves can find enough offense to at least supplement their staff, they have just as good a chance as any team of playing October baseball.

12
May
09

D-Lowe defeats Santana, division rival Mets…

Derek Lowe

Derek Lowe

The New York Mets were riding a 7-game winning streak with ace Johan Santana on the hill against their NL East rival Braves at brand spanking new Citi Field.

On the surface, they had to like their chances.

Problem is the Braves themselves are just hitting their stride, enjoying a 5-1 road trip thus far against divisional opponents, moving Atlanta to within 1 1/2 games of first place in the East.

And, despite being arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Santana seems to play the role of hard luck loser against the Braves. Atlanta is the only one of the 28 teams he’s faced that he has not yet gotten a victory.

That trend continued Monday night.

Derek Lowe set the tone for the Braves, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits in 6 2/3 solid innings of baseball, enroute to his team’s 8-3 trouncing of the Mets.

Lowe was credited with his fourth consecutive win, improving to 5-1 on the year, while Santana dropped to 0-4 in six career starts against Atlanta.

Santana again found himself a victim of bad luck.

Despite suffering the loss, he still saw his National League best ERA drop to 0.78, allowing only two unearned runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings before watching his bullpen self-destruct.

Matt Diaz led the charge for the Braves offense, going 3-for-4 with two RBI and two hits against Santana, raising his batting average to .556 against the Mets lefty.

Yunel Escobar also had three hits on the night and Casey Kotchman hit two consecutive singles, helping the Bravos blow the game wide open.

With a win tonight, Atlanta can guarantee themselves another series win.




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