Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia

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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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.

03
Aug
09

The state of the Braves… post trade deadline.

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone leaving many in Braves Nation wondering, does this team have the horses to be legitimate contenders for a playoff spot heading down the stretch?

Before Monday night’s game against the San Diego Padres, the Braves find themselves in third place in the National League East, seven games behind first place Philadelphia. While the division remains a lofty goal for Atlanta, it is certainly not out of reach.

The Braves have dominated the defending champions this season winning seven of nine games against them. The Bravos overwhelming success against the Fightin’ Phils coupled with the fact that the two rivals are still scheduled to meet nine more times before the season concludes, offers a definite sense of hope.

Still, Philadelphia has been riding a hot streak since the All-Star Break and with the addition of a bona fide ace to their rotation in Cliff Lee, the division does appear to be a long shot.

That means Atlanta’s best chance of playing October baseball will likely be if the team nabs the National League Wild Card.

The Braves are only five games out of the Wild Card spot but are chasing four teams, including the Florida Marlins, another divisional foe.

So, are the Braves contenders or pretenders?

With a starting rotation that ranked third in the National League heading into Sunday night’s game against the Dodgers, and a revamped line-up which has improved on the dearth of power that has plagued the team all season long, the Braves seem poised to make a run.

In July, the Braves manufactured an NL-best .828 OPS and ranked third in both runs (139) and home runs (32). That production is a stark contrast from an inconsistent and often shoddy offensive showing from the team in the season’s first three months.

The Braves also feel their mid-season acquisitions of Nate McLouth and Adam LaRoche give the club a more potent offensive punch going forward.

McLouth has been a stabilizing force in the lead-off spot, allowing the rest of the line-up to gel and settle into their roles.

LaRoche, who played for Atlanta through the 2006 season, knows the organization well and has statistically performed big in the second half of the season.

While LaRoche’s career .252 batting average leaves something to be desired, his .295 average after the All-Star break combined with his impending free agency, are reasons why the Braves decided to re-acquire their former slick fielding first baseman.

The improved offense stands to benefit what has been a solid, but often under-appreciated Braves pitching staff.

A rotation comprised of Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, and rookie sensation Tommy Hanson could go up against any rotation in baseball.

And, in the coming weeks, the Braves staff looks to get that much stronger and deeper with the return of Tim Hudson from Tommy John surgery.

The Braves bullpen boasts three relievers in the top six in appearances in Peter Moylan (58), Mike Gonzalez (53) and Eric O’Flaherty (43).

While the back of the bullpen has held up thus far, the team wouldn’t mind adding another arm to the mix for the stretch run.

Any reliever acquired would have to pass through waivers, sometimes making it harder for a team to complete a deal, although the Braves are still exploring any and all options.

If the Braves could indeed bolster their bullpen, that fresh arm could provide added security to what could otherwise become an overexposed relief corps.

So, again, the question looms… contenders or pretenders?

The Braves have given every indication, on the field and off, that they are poised, confident and ready to compete for a playoff spot.

It was the team’s consistently strong starting pitching that has kept them afloat early in the season and it will be the team’s starting pitching that will give them their best shot at October.

One can never have enough pitching. Good pitching beats good hitting. These age old adages have been proven true time and time again and are the main reason why the Braves were able to win fourteen consecutive division titles.

With that being said… do the Braves still have holes?

Absolutely.

But, so does every team.

And, this team’s holes have become increasingly less glaring.

So, buckle up Braves fans. It’s going to be a wild ride to the finish.

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.

07
May
09

In the eye of the beholder….

3-time All-Star Brian McCann

3-time All-Star Brian McCann

What in the world is wrong with Brian McCann?

If that’s the burning question on the minds of all of you in BravesNation … you’re not alone.

Brian himself remains in the dark concerning his condition and the level of its seriousness.

McCann has been battling blurred vision and dryness in his left eye for the majority of the season and has been on the DL since April 25th in an effort to solve the mystery of his on-going eye ailment.

The Braves All-Star catcher underwent Lasik eye surgery before the 2008 season, but found out from an eye specialist that his eyesight had worsened since the surgery, leaving him more near-sighted in his left eye.

Initially, when this problem crept up early in the season, it seemed like a minor issue that could be rectified with something simple like a few ointments and new contact lenses.

Wrong.

Three eye specialists, three different contacts and numerous ointments and drops later … the saga continued.

McCann attempted to avoid a DL stint, but reported discomfort with the contacts and saw no decrease in the blurred vision that plagued him, which left the team no choice but to disable him.

Now, the experiment continues… this time with sport glasses, which Brian will try out in a minor league rehabilitation start for Triple A Gwinnett on Thursday. This comes a day later than expected, after the new eyeglasses arrived on Wednesday missing the right lens.

The Braves catcher plans to wear a hockey style facemask to protect his glasses, which will also allow him the ability to make the necessary plays in the field.

McCann and the Braves are hoping these new glasses will solve the problem, allowing B-Mac to be activated from the DL when he’s eligible on Friday before the Braves open a three-game series in Philadelphia.

The prescription glasses are McCann’s last ditch effort to avoid yet another Lasik surgery to repair the condition and to get the slugger through the season.

With the way the Braves offense has struggled with McCann out of the line-up, you can be sure that the team’s brass, his teammates and fans will all be waiting with bated breath on Thursday, hoping to get the good news that their catcher is set to return.




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