Archive Page 2

01
Jun
10

Braves surge past Phillies to overtake National League East

Oh, how the tables have turned.

The Braves extended their season-high winning streak to six games and moved into first place in the National League East with a 9-3 spanking of division rival Philadelphia at Turner Field on Memorial Day.

Chipper Jones homered for the first time this season from the left side and snapped his six-week long homerless drought with a two-run blast in the first inning, staking the Braves to an early lead that they would not relinquish.

An even more encouraging sign that Jones is finding his stroke is the single he hit in the bottom of the seventh while batting right, showing an increased comfort from both sides of the plate.

Troy Glaus capped the Atlanta onslaught with a three-run homer off Philadelphia reliever Chad Durbin to put the final nail in the Phillies coffin.

With his latest blast, Glaus tacked three more RBIs on his astounding and unexpected total of 28 for the month of May, which led the National League.

Atlanta’s good fortune comes just one month after a nine-game losing streak had them dwelling in the cellar of the NL East, staring up at these same Phillies.

Just as the Braves began to hit their stride, the Phillies fell into a slump of their own.

Since the last time these two teams played, the Braves have gone 16-4 and erased a six-game deficit in the NL East standings to overtake the sputtering Phillies, who have gone 9-10 during that stretch and have dropped out of first place for the first time since May 1st.

Ironically, the offensive woes that hampered the Braves in their last meeting with the Phillies, have seemingly been solved and now take up residence in Philadelphia.

The Phils have dropped seven of their past nine games, having been shut out five times during that span.

As a whole, they’ve hit a dismal .187 with a .264 on base percentage, a .257 slugging percentage and just one home run.

This is a serious concern for a club that supposedly boasts one of the most feared offensive units in the game. The Phillies ongoing struggles with the bat have been a far cry from the explosive power the team had come to enjoy.

For Atlanta, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

The nine runs the Braves scored on Monday were two more than they’d scored in each of their first two series losses to the Phillies.

While Atlanta’s offense was befuddling to watch in the early going this season, the turnaround of Troy Glaus is a big reason why the Braves have been able to right the ship.

No one had been more critical of and frustrated by Glaus than me, but I will give credit where credit is due.

Glaus’ red-hot May where he has hit. 330 with three doubles, six home runs, and 28 RBI in 28 games is one of the greatest single months ever enjoyed by a player.

Since May 14 when Bobby Cox permanently moved Martin Prado to the leadoff spot and Jason Heyward into the No. 2 hole ahead of Jones, Glaus has been a run-producing machine.

As a result, he has driven in 14 runs in 17 games with four home runs.

Also interestingly to note, as I suggested in my last blog, having continuity in a lineup that had so many struggling hitters, could prove to breed successful results.

That has been the case for Atlanta. As the roles in the Braves lineup have become solidified, the proof is in the numbers.

The rest of Atlanta’s hitters have found a newfound comfort and confidence that has now transcended onto the field and in the standings.

But, there is no time for complacency.

The next two games against the Phillies loom as large as ever as the Braves look to not only stay in first place but to build upon their lead.

With a good chunk of the season left, it is awfully early to gauge how the season may end. But, the Braves may have history on their side.

The last time Atlanta was in first place on June 1 was in 2005, which just so happens to be the last year they made the playoffs.

Also, 66% of the teams that are atop their division on the first of June, have made it into postseason play.

Will the same ring true for the 2010 Atlanta Braves?

Only time will tell.

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10
May
10

Observations of the Braves from a weekend at Citizens Bank Park

My cousin Jaime (left) and I enjoy a game at Citizens Bank Park.

Being born and raised just outside the Philadelphia area, I make it a tradition to see at least one Braves-Phillies series a season.

This year, I made my first trip to see the 2010 Braves in a weekend set against the Phillies on May 7-9.

The results weren’t pretty.

On Friday night, Derek Lowe was on the mound for the Bravos. He was opposed by the 86-year old Jamie Moyer.

I kid, but from a pitcher’s standpoint, the dude is old.

However, he carved up the Braves lineup like he was Tim Lincecum, enroute to a 7-0 victory in the series opener.

At age 47, he is the oldest player in Major League history to toss a shutout.

While, Moyer steamrolled through the Braves lineup, it didn’t come as a surprise to me.

I knew the Braves were in trouble from the moment I took my seat, in the first row nonetheless, and heard the starting lineup announced.

This is how it read:

Omar Infante

Martin Prado

Chipper Jones

Troy Glaus

Matt Diaz

David Ross

Melky Cabrera

Nate McLouth

Derek Lowe

Yikes.

The first thought that ran through my head after hearing our starting nine was—”Who are these Braves?”

I didn’t mean it in a literal sense.

Of course I know who these guys are and what their different roles are with the club.

I meant it more figuratively—and, symbolically.

The Braves are unrecognizable these days.

Sure, missing on this night due to various injuries or ailments were the team’s regular cleanup hitter Brian McCann, along with their dynamic shortstop Yunel Escobar, and the phenom himself, rookie sensation Jason Heyward.

But still, these are not the Braves that fans, management and the league had all grown accustomed to over the years.

While the names on the back of their jerseys had to change and players moved on or retired, the aura of excellence and swagger that this team use to possess is gone.

The Braves, who use to be one of the elite teams in baseball, are now spitting mediocrity like any average major league club.

Although, on paper, it looks even worse.

Atlanta has performed below average as of late becoming victims of their sputtering offense and numerous injuries, which has them dwelling in the cellar of the National League East.

When I left the ballpark Friday night, I took comfort in knowing that the Braves are not this bad.

They have serious issues that go far beyond their injuries, but they are not the hopeless cause they appear to be on the field.

However, it doesn’t make them any easier to watch right now.

When it was reported that the Braves clubhouse resembled a morgue after Friday’s embarrassing defeat, I was not surprised.

The Braves are their own harshest critics.

They know how bad they are right now.

But, they also know they can and will get better.

A small beacon of hope emerged on Saturday afternoon when the Braves snatched a victory out of the jaws of defeat.

Atlanta was getting no-hit, yet again, through four innings against Phillies hurler Joe Blanton and trailed 1-0 after five.

In the sixth, the Braves bats woke up and Atlanta rallied for three runs against Blanton, and added an insurance in the ninth after Troy Glaus’ RBI single.

There were many positives to take from this game besides the “W”.

The Braves pitching was excellent, top to bottom.

Kris Medlen, who was called upon from the bullpen to make the start for the injured Jair Jurrjens, gutted through 4 1/3 innings, allowing only a single run.

Medlen pitched out of numerous big jams, one of which came in the bottom of the third, when he struck out Ryan Howard and got Jayson Werth to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Following Medlen were six relievers who combined to shutout the Phillies the rest of the way, allowing Atlanta’s offense the time to rally to secure the 4-1 victory.

The Braves bullpen has been the unsung hero for the team so far this season.

They have been nothing short of brilliant.

What is unfortunate is due to the Braves prolonged woes with the bats, Atlanta hasn’t been afforded the luxury of having a deep bullpen.

It doesn’t do a team any good to have a lights-out setup man and closer when they can’t get the ball to them with a lead.

But, what is reassuring is that when the Braves right the ship from an offensive standpoint, they have a strong bullpen to fall back on and depend on.

A reliable bullpen is an asset that many contending teams lack so Atlanta should feel so fortunate.

The Braves tapped Kenshin Kawakami to start the rubber game of the series against Phillies starter Cole Hamels.

It was an ugly beginning for the winless Kawakami.

He staked the Phillies to an early 4-0 lead before finding his groove in the later innings.

With the Braves rallying to within one, Kawakami didn’t allow another run until Shane Victorino’s solo home run in the bottom of the 7th inning sealed his and Atlanta’s fate.

For the day, Kawakami allowed five runs and seven hits in 6-2/3 innings pitched.

While it was the first time he pitched into the six inning all season long, he still suffered his sixth loss of the season.

For the Braves, they have now lost five of six road series, and dropped two of three from Washington and Philadelphia on this current nine-game road stretch that concludes with a trip to Milwaukee that begins Monday night.

Offensively, they have only mustered a .211 average over their past 17 road games.

After witnessing their performance in person, I offer you my observations of their offensive woes and some suggestions on how to fix them:

1) No game plan: It seems many of these hitters come to bat with no approach.

I am watching too many guys swinging at first pitches and I’ve come away with a general sense of a far too aggressive, almost reckless approach at the plate.

I am not seeing enough plate discipline, which is resulting in too many frequent short at-bats and quick innings for opposing pitchers.

The Braves hitters aren’t working counts and they aren’t executing the fundamentals in run producing situations.

They are also not advancing guys when their are runners on first and second with less than two outs, which is a crippling rally killer.

I’m also not seeing enough sacrifice bunts, hit-and-runs, sacrifice flies, and contact hitting with runners on base.

This team strikes out too much and runners are stranded left and right.

As a result, the team squanders far too many scoring chances and wastes the opportunities they do generate.

2) Listless at Leadoff: The Braves have no answer at the leadoff spot, that much is crystal clear.

Cox has toyed with too many different guys in the leadoff spot, and now I feel that’s creating more harm than good.

In the Phillies series alone, both Omar Infante and Nate McLouth served as the leadoff hitter. Yunel Escobar has also seen time at that spot throughout the early portion of the season before going down with an injury.

Consistency can serve a team well.

And, it might also spark one of these guys to get going.

It is hard to produce when a player isn’t comfortable at the plate and comfortable in their role.

It is important that Cox make a decision about the leadoff spot and stick with it, at least for the immediate future, or until a replacement is brought in.

This patch quilt attempt to find his answer at the top of the order hasn’t been working.

It’s time to commit to a change.

3) Lineup Roulette: To go along with my observation and suggestion for the leadoff spot, I offer a similar approach be taken with the overall lineup construction.

While a certain good can come from juggling a lineup to find a formula that works, too much maneuvering can become chaotic.

Too many of the Braves hitters are struggling to find their stroke right now that moving them up and down in the order isn’t serving much of a purpose at this time.

Case in point—If you take a look at Sunday’s starting lineup excluding the pitcher, the Braves had three players in Matt Diaz, Brooks Conrad, and Nate McLouth who were hitting below .200.

Cox might find that settling with one lineup combination over the next couple of weeks could prevent the guys from pressing any further and allow them to relax into their defined spots.

While this is a unique circumstance because the Braves are subbing many players into the starting lineup due to injuries, the message I feel remains the same.

When this team gets healthy, they still need consistency in the lineup, beginning at the leadoff spot.

From there, the Braves can see what they have to work with and what moves they need to make from the outside to fix this mess.

The end of the downward spiral begins with a baby step.

It is time for Cox and these Braves to take the first one.

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30
Apr
10

Bobby Cox’s Swan Song Not Going As Planned

This is not the storybook ending to the Bobby Cox Era that the Atlanta Braves had envisioned.

In fact, it is a nightmarish beginning to the end of the illustrious Braves manager’s 29 year career.

Cox, in his 25th season with the Braves and in the final year of his brilliant managerial career, just watched his club endure an 0-7 road trip, their worst since 1949.

His team has lost nine straight games to drop them to an embarrassing 8-14 on the season.

To add injury to insult, Braves starter Jair Jurrjens and shortstop Yunel Escobar were hurt in Atlanta’s latest 10-4 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday.

Jurrjens exited after the first inning due to a strained left hamstring and Escobar departed in the seventh with what was described as a strained left abductor.

The Braves righty hopes to make his next start and Escobar is currently listed as day-to-day.

These latest blows to strike the Braves made Atlanta’s winless seven-game road stretch and nine-game losing streak even more intolerable and unbearable to watch.

While tempers are running high throughout the entire team, the person’s frustration who is at the most heightened state right now is Bobby Cox.

It has been 30 years since Cox has suffered a comparable losing streak.

In 1980, he was at the helm when the Braves went 0-6 to start the season. However, that team did not have the preseason expectations that this year’s club had.

The usual affable manager appears baffled by his team’s struggles and is desperately searching for the right lineup combinations or roster adjustments to spark his sputtering squad.

Cox and the Braves haven’t talked much about his swan song to this point. They were hoping to translate wins on the field—with the hope that success would instead speak volumes.

There is still five months of the season left which is enough time for the Braves to right this sinking ship and send Cox out on a winning note.

But, to this point, the Braves have let their skipper down.

For a man that ranks fourth on Baseball’s All-time Managerial Wins List and is a shoo-in future Hall of Famer, he deserved more in his final season.

Much, much more.

The listless, apathetic, uninspired play from his troops over the past nine games is shameful.

It is time for Chipper Jones and the veteran leaders of the Braves to grab hold of this despondent group and arrange for a players only team meeting to turn this season around.

A manager’s moves can ultimately only go so far, it is now up to the players to get out on the field and execute.

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29
Apr
10

A call for action to Frank Wren…is he the problem?

Frank Wren is preaching patience…but is anyone listening?

The Atlanta Braves have missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons.

In his reign at the helm of the Braves, Wren is 0-3 for his efforts.

So, in effect, he’s batting .000 as general manager.

That number looks comparable to the number of wins the Braves have mustered in the past eight days…a bunch of zeroes.

Maybe that’s why Wren has some sympathy for his punchless offense and underachieving team that now has the second-worst record in baseball—a far cry from the preseason playoff predictions many had for this club.

Wren offers this analogy to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Braves have only completed one-eighth of the season. He contends that if this were football, the Braves losing streak would be equivalent to the Falcons dropping two in a row.

Wren argues the Braves have the luxury of time.

Truth is, however, they don’t.

While every team suffers through slumps and hitting droughts over the course of the year, the difference here is this Braves team as constructed has crippling issues that need to be addressed now by their general manager.

This is a call of action to Frank Wren.

But, instead, Wren has turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the Braves’ woes.

As Schultz pointed out in his article, unlike Wren, his predecessor John Schuerholz earned his team, city and entire fan base’s unwavering confidence and support.

Schuerholz never panicked, but he also knew when his team needed fixing.

Oh, and he also built winners.

While Wren has yet to lead Atlanta to the promise land, Schuerholz was the brilliant constructor of fourteen consecutive division championship squads.

Those are the kind of results that illicit patience.

In contrast, Wren continues to ignore the glaring hole in the leadoff spot and the lack of production from first base and the outfield.

These are the same issues he chose to ignore in the offseason.

With that being said, what warrants giving Wren the benefit of the doubt?

In the last eight games, the Braves have scored 13 runs and have been shut out three times.

Wren contests he has the payroll flexibility to make a move but isn’t looking to do so now.

He claims general managers start assessing the construction of their team around the “quarter poll.”

He targets Mid-May as the time that GM’s begin to get a sense of where there club is and June 1 as the time when decisions start getting made.

The Braves are 8-13 and mired in an eight-game losing streak that stands as the team’s longest since 2006.

If that doesn’t signal the need for immediate action, I don’t know what does.

For Wren’s sake, come June 1, let’s hope his patience was truly a virtue.

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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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21
Apr
10

Braves stun Phils with improbable comeback win

Just call him Nate McClutch.

The Braves center fielder, who was hitting a mere .138 with just one RBI all season, sure picked a good time to break out of his slump.

McLouth hit a leadoff 10th-inning solo blast against Jose Contreras to cap Atlanta’s stunning comeback 4-3 win over division rival Philadelphia.

The Braves have now won five of their last six games and find themselves in a first-place tie with the Phillies atop the National League East standings.

For McLouth, his heroics couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

This is the first walk-off home run he’s recorded at any level of ball he’s played in, from Little League up to the Majors.

McLouth got a chance to be a hero in the 10th thanks to back-to-back two out homers from Troy Glaus and Jason Heyward in the bottom of the ninth.

The Braves may have enjoyed other improbable comeback wins in the past, but this stunning turnaround is one of the most unpredictable and character building victories in team history.

For 8 2/3 innings, Atlanta only managed four hits and was an out away from being shutout.

Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick, who was sporting an ugly 17.47 ERA this season, put the Braves offense on the defensive.

This isn’t the first time struggling pitchers have faced the Braves lineup and left the game looking like Cy Young.

The difference now is that this team didn’t fold.

Kendrick handed the ball to Ryan Madson in the ninth, who is filling in for the injured Brad Lidge at closer, and suddenly the Braves found new life.

Madson walked Chipper Jones with one out and then retired Brian McCann, which brought Troy Glaus to the plate.

The Braves fans’ new whipping boy, who again was the target of the hometown faithful’s wrath after committing a costly error earlier in the game, couldn’t possibly come through with two outs—could he?

He did.

Glaus smashed a two-run blast, sending a jolt through Turner Field and giving the Braves a sliver of hope.

While still down a run, the Braves turned to their No. 6 hitter in the lineup to keep the game alive.

On a normal night, that would be Yunel Escobar.

But, not on this night.

No, on this night, Bobby Cox adhered to the ongoing chatter of moving rookie stud Jason Heyward up from the seventh spot in the lineup.

So, there he was, “Joltin’ Jason” as some are now calling him—with a chance to tie the game, again.

If you remember, Heyward was the hero in Sunday’s come-from-behind win over the Rockies with a two-out, bases loaded single in the ninth.

No way he does it again, does he?

He does.

Heyward’s shot heard ’round the world tied the game and made Cox look like a managerial genius again.

From there, pandemonium ensued.

Jason Heyward found himself in the middle of two unlikely heroes.

Who would have thought Troy Glaus and Nate McLouth would deliver late-inning home runs, when they’ve been the subject of boos and ridicule all season long?

And, with each passing day, the legend that is the “J-Hey Kid” grows even larger.

For two straight games, the 20-year-old sensation has helped usher the Braves to back-to-back comeback victories.

He leads all major league rookies in home runs (four) and RBIs (16) by a large margin.

But, Heyward’s impact on the Braves is not just all in the numbers.

The electricity that he’s brought to the table has lit a fire under the entire team and has them playing their most inspired and exciting baseball since, well, 1991.

Yes, the year the Braves went from worst-to-first in their division and came within one win of being crowned World Champions.

That year began the rich, glory days of excellence that Atlanta had then enjoyed for 14 consecutive seasons.

But, that competitiveness and winning attitude that has been missing since 2006, appears to finally be resurfacing.

As I said yesterday, the Phillies know all too well what a young, rising superstar can bring to the clubhouse.

What Howard did for the Phillies when he came on the scene in 2005 is what Heyward is doing for the Braves in 2010.

Howard began a new era of winning baseball in Philadelphia.

And, now it seems Heyward is bringing that mantra back to Atlanta.

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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
Apr
10

Paging the Braves offense: We still have a problem

It would be easy to look at Monday’s ugly 17-2 loss to the Padres and panic.

But, I won’t.

Every team over the course of a long 162-game season endures an embarrassing and lopsided loss.

It just happens.

There is often no rhyme or reason as to why, but on any given night a pitcher’s poor misfortune is an offense’s playground. For Jair Jurrjens and the Atlanta Braves, that night was Monday. They were such victims of the Padres shelling at Petco Park for San Diego’s home opener.

Personally, I am just happy the Braves got their whooping out of the way in April.

Amen.

But, what’s more alarming to me is Atlanta’s proclaimed “improved” offense’s collective showing since their 16-run outburst on Opening Day against the Cubs.

I realize we are only seven games into the season, and it’s a tad early to raise the red flag, but warning signs are definitely already apparent in the Braves lineup.

Let’s take a closer look:

Lackluster at lead off : Melky Cabrera, Atlanta’s off-season “answer” for atop the batting order, is hitting a dismal .103.

If the Braves’ table setter isn’t getting on-base and creating scoring opportunities and subsequent mayhem on the base paths, the entire order is going to suffer considerably.

And so far, it has.

Middle-of-the-order misery : Free agent signee Troy Glaus, who has hit fifth in Atlanta’s order thus far, has yet to record an extra-base hit, while only batting .231.

If you factor in Glaus’s seven strikeouts and inability to produce with runners in scoring position, the magnitude of his struggles intensify.

Still in Spring Training mode : Nate McLouth had a very poor and public Spring Training.

His .118 average in Grapefruit League games warranted extra at-bats at the Minor League level while still in camp.

The season is now underway and McLouth is hitting .118 so far in games that matter.

It seems his Spring Training hiccups have transitioned into April.

So, while Atlanta exploded for 16 runs on Opening Day, they’ve managed just 19 runs in six games since.

Ouch.

In spite of those troublesome numbers, there have been a few positives for the Braves batting corps this season.

Martin Prado, I repeat, Martin Prado leads the National League in hitting.

Yes, that is correct. No typo here.

Brian McCann is quietly going about his usual business boasting a .300 average.

And, Chipper Jones has produced when he’s been in the lineup.

The key word in that sentence is: when.

Jones has already battled a strained oblique and back in the early going this season, and his health and ability to stay in the lineup will figure prominently in the success of the Braves this season.

Following Tuesday’s off-day, the Braves are hitting just .230 as a team.

With the exception of Monday’s blowout loss, Atlanta has again enjoyed strong pitching from its starters.

It is easy to see many similarities and make comparisons between this year’s squad and last year’s group.

What the Braves have to do to prevent their lineup’s woes from snowballing over the course of the season is to make adjustments now and to regain the improved plate discipline that made headlines during Spring Training.

If the offense continues to sputter, Cox could look to juggle the batting order.

Glaus could be moved down and Escobar and Heyward could be moved up.

And, while I might disagree, I can’t imagine Cox putting his 20-year-old rookie into high pressured RBI situations so early into the season and his Major League career.

Only time will tell if the Braves are just getting off to their very typical April slow start, or if this lineup is in serious need of restructuring.

But, if the first week is any indication, it looks like Atlanta’s offense still has a problem.

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08
Apr
10

Chipper’s late heroics bail out Glaus, Braves

Mr. Clutch has returned.

Never one to shy away from a big game situation, Chipper Jones delivered again proving why he’s still one of baseball’s most feared hitters.

With the Braves trailing the Cubs 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, Jones smashed a 3-1 fastball from John Grabow over the left-center wall, propelling Atlanta to a come-from-behind 3-2 win.

In his season debut, Braves starter Jair Jurrjens allowed two runs, both unearned, on three hits with three walks in five innings.

Jurrjens, who was oft a victim of poor run support in 2009, suffered again with such luck last night.

But this time, thanks to Jones and the Braves’ late rally, Jurrjens was spared from recording a hard-luck loss.

The veteran Jones, who is entering his 16th season with the Braves, is no stranger to heroics.

His latest display of late-inning magic helped deflect attention away from an abysmal performance by Atlanta’s new offseason acquisition Troy Glaus.

Glaus, a former third baseman, received the strongest reaction from the hometown crowd last night with a loud chorus of boos.

Now serving as Atlanta’s new first baseman, Glaus made a costly error in the fifth inning that opened the door to two unearned runs after botching a bases-loaded grounder that bounced off his glove.

Glaus didn’t fare any better at the plate, striking out four times, including once with the bases loaded.

In the first two games of the season, the Braves’ new “big bopper” already has six punch-outs, looking overmatched and just plain ugly at the plate.

While Glaus’ struggles persist, Braves rookie phenom Jason Heyward continues to sparkle.

J-Hey stroked an RBI double to give Atlanta a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but the offense was stymied from that point on until Jones stepped to the plate in the eighth and saved the day for the Braves.

Heyward is currently batting seventh in the Braves’ lineup, but his bat has begun to make the argument that he deserves to be moved up higher in the order.

Clean-up hitter Brian McCann was intentionally walked to load the bases in the third after consecutive singles by Melky Cabrera and Martin Prado, only to see the threat come to a crashing halt when both Glaus and Yunel Escobar struck out to end the inning.

The question left in the minds of many after that failed run-scoring opportunity was would Cubs starter Ryan Dempster have still walked McCann if, say, Heyward was on deck and not Glaus?

One has to wonder.

I know it’s early, and Bobby Cox’s managerial history points to being patient, almost stubbornly so, with his perceived best-laid plans.

But, if Heyward continues to soar and Glaus keeps giving at-bats away, it may serve the Braves skipper well to make an adjustment to his lineup sooner rather than later.

Unlike Glaus, another of Atlanta’s new offseason additions has gotten off to a strong start.

Billy Wagner notched the 386th save of his careerand first as a Braverecording three strikeouts in the ninth.

Atlanta has won the first two games against Chicago in the season-opening series and goes for the sweep tonight at Turner Field.

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06
Apr
10

Heyward steals show on Opening Day

He’s arrived.

The bigger the stage, the higher the expectations, the larger the results.

After smashing a tie-breaking, three-run home run in his first major league at-bat off Chicago Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano, the legend that is Jason Heyward just grew a little bit larger.

In front of a record crowd of 53,081, the fourth-largest crowd in Turner Field history and biggest day crowd in Atlanta Braves history, chanting, “Let’s go Hey-ward!  Let’s go Hey-ward!” the young phenom delivered a bomb, sending an already raucous crowd into an even bigger frenzy.

It was the first swing of Heyward’s major league career and it landed in the Braves bullpen beyond right field at a jaw-dropping distance of 446 feet.

Zeus, is that you sporting No. 22?

The gifted and talented 20-year-old began writing the first page of his legacy yesterday all the while, stealing the show on Opening Day.

Heyward ended the afternoon with two hits and four RBI, aiding in Atlanta’s 16-5 pounding of the Chicago Cubs.

Yunel Escobar powered in 5 runs for the Braves and Nate McLouth made a couple of flashy defensive plays in Atlanta’s victory.

However, much like its been all spring, the day and the spotlight belonged to Heyward.

J-Hey got a huge ovation from the Atlanta faithful as he was circling the bases following his dinger, and another when he trotted to his right field position the next inning.

Turner Field hasn’t been this electric in years, if ever.

While, the outpouring of crowd support is welcoming to a club hoping to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2005, the players only hope the fans will sustain it.

As Heyward’s legend continues to grow larger with each passing day, Atlanta’s rejuvenated fanbase looks to follow suit.

But the fans aren’t the only ones enthralled with the power-hitting rookie.

His teammates and even home run king Hank Aaron’s eyes are on the sensational marvel that is Jason Heyward.

Baseball’s home run king threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Heyward, in what many surmised as the passing of the torch.

It took less time for Heyward’s first blast to travel over the bullpen wall than for the comparisons between the two to pick up steam and hold more merit.

It was a symbolic start to what promises to be a career for the ages for Atlanta’s new superhero.

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