Posts Tagged ‘Turner Field

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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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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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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05
Apr
10

Jason Heyward: Welcome to the Big Show!

The wait is finally over.

After capping his meteoric rise through the Braves farm system with a monumental spring training performance, 20-year-old rookie sensation Jason Heyward will make his Major League debut in right field for the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day today against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field.

Atlanta’s latest homegrown talent will open the book on what promises to be a long and illustrious career in front of his family, friends, and giddy new fanbase.

“J-Hey Fever” has reached epic proportions around the Atlanta area as of late, and today fans will finally get to usher in the Braves’ new phenom to the Big Show.

Bobby Cox put to end any potential speculation or suspense when he announced Heyward’s addition to Atlanta’s Opening Day roster early on March 26.

While, the announcement was one of baseball’s worst kept secrets, typically Cox tends to wait until the completion of spring training before making his final roster moves.

The decision to inform Heyward in advance that he made the team just goes to show how strong an impression the youngster had made on Cox and the deep level of respect the skipper already has for his new right fielder.

Heyward took the news in stride— not hooting and hollering like most 20-year-olds would after receiving the news that they’ve been pegged the new starting right fielder for one of the winningest and most successful franchises in baseball history.

That’s just not his way.

His reaction—calm and poised— is much like the way he goes about his business on and off the field.

J-Hey is a gentle giant of sorts. His monstrous 6’5, 245-pound stature and deep voice seem to contrast with his cool demeanor, eloquence, and class.

Heyward will wear No. 22 in honor of his former high school teammate, who was killed in a car accident.

He is just the kind of kid you root for.  He is worthy of being the hero-type figure young fans hope to emulate.

The five-tool talent is every bit the legend on the diamond that he’s been made out to be.

Heyward was named Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 by both Baseball America and USA Today and was dubbed the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball by numerous experts and media outlets.

The towering home runs he smashed this spring, with one traveling 50 feet out of the park and literally into the sunroof of Assistant GM Bruce Manno’s car, only added to his storybook tale.

While Heyward’s power, strength, and size have garnered him the most attention with Chipper Jones comparing his body mass to that of Jevon Kearse he’s proven to be agile enough to cover tremendous ground in the outfield, while possessing a cannon for an arm, making him all the more impressive.

But, what I believe makes J-Hey stand out from the hundreds of other highly touted prospects most notably, Braves former right field “phenom” Jeff Francoeur, who also made an early and much hyped ascent to the Majors is his unparalleled patience at the plate.

Unlike Francoeur, Heyward does not swing for the fences and will gladly take the walk.  His balanced swing is one that many young hitters aren’t yet equipped with, and his approach at the plate is wise beyond his years.

This kid is the total package, which makes it not surprising that he’s already been compared to the likes of Willie McCovey and even Albert Pujols.

While, there is no doubt a great level of pressure and hype surrounding Heyward, his off the charts makeup ease any concerns the Braves might have had regarding their young star’s much-anticipated debut.

I caution Braves fans to not panic when J-Hey looks human or even overmatched at times, because the kid is learning on the fly, and their will be ups and downs over the course of a long and arduous 162-game season.

But, it is Heyward’s maturity and confidence that will help him endure those normal struggles associated with making adjustments at the Major League level and will also prevent him from crashing and burning at the first sign of adversity.

Many anticipate Heyward will succeed Chipper Jones as the anchor of the Braves offense for the next decade while becoming the new face of the franchise when Jones retires.

There is no one more excited about this prospect than Chipper himself.  Jones will mentor Heyward this season and believes J-Hey is the best 20-year-old he has ever seen.

In his opinion, the power-hitting lefty is already leaps and bounds ahead of a young Andruw Jones, who made his debut amidst similar pandemonium at age 19.

Chipper also believes makeup wise, Heyward is better suited to handle the spotlight than even he was when he came on the scene in 1995.

While Jones admits to being “brash and cocky” as a rookie, he sees no signs of that in Heyward.

In fact, his laid-back demeanor and borderline-introverted personality could help serve him quite well in an attempt to ignore the growing circus that surrounds him.

Heyward finished spring training with a .305 batting average, 10 walks, and a 4.23 on base percentage.

The question was never will Jason Heyward be in right field for the Atlanta Braves?  The question was always when?

His time is now.

The Jason Heyward Era is officially upon us…just beware of where you park your car.

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02
Feb
10

Can Braves rotation withstand the loss of Vazquez?

It’s day two of the Braves’ voluntary two-week, pre-spring training pitching camp at Turner Field, a program created and designed by former pitching coach Leo Mazzone to help the team’s pitchers get back on the mound early to alleviate the off-season rust.

The program, which was formerly known as “Camp Leo”, is now run by Roger McDowell but still preaches the same formula for success that has helped the Atlanta Braves build a pitching dynasty over the years.

This year’s camp opened yesterday with the club’s starting staff already facing a bounty of questions about how they plan to duplicate last season’s numbers.

Braves starters led the majors with a 3.52 ERA while compiling the second most innings (986), proving to be a steady and durable force in 2009.

Entering Spring Training this year, Atlanta is trying to maintain that level of excellence minus one very critical piece — their workhorse ace Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA) was traded to the Yankees in December after the Braves found themselves with one starter too many.

Many baseball pundits question whether this year’s staff can withstand the loss of Vazquez?

If the Braves rotation hopes to replicate last season’s success, the majority of the load that was carried by Vazquez now shifts to 34-year-old Tim Hudson.

The Braves opted to re-sign Hudson to a three-year, $28-million dollar extension in November after the former 20-game winner made a successful return from Tommy John surgery late last year.

In seven starts after re-joining the Braves rotation, Hudson went 2-1 with a solid 3.61 ERA.

Hudson joins a staff comprised of Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami.

Jurrjens and Hanson are the team’s rising young stars and should serve as the backbone of this rotation for the foreseeable future.

Atlanta should also benefit from getting a full season out of Tommy Hanson, who finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting this winter.

The Braves called up their rookie sensation in June and watched Hanson soar to an 11-4 record with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts.

Atlanta is hoping Lowe bounces back and enjoys a resurgent season after the veteran righty struggled in his first year with the Braves.

While still netting 15 wins for the club, Lowe also posted a 4.67 ERA, second-highest of his career.

Kawakami is expected to improve in his second season in the U.S.

The Japanese standout was a 33-year-old rookie last season and ended the year with an impressive 3.86 ERA despite a 7-12 record.

Despite losing Vazquez, Atlanta’s rotation is still stacked with a plethora of talent and a good mix of youth and experience.

Whether the talent on paper translates to wins on the field rests largely on not just the starters but the entire staff’s ability to stay healthy.

Atlanta’s additions of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito at the back end of their bullpen should benefit the rotation by giving the team security late in games.

But, with Wagner’s history of injuries and the age of these hurlers, it is critical that both relievers don’t get overworked in an effort to preserve them for the duration of the season.

The good news is the always pitching rich Braves have the pieces in place yet again to put up impressive numbers while contending for a playoff spot.

It is not often a team could lose a Cy Young candidate, like the Braves did in Vazquez, and still have a chance to have arguably one of the deepest rotations in baseball.

All these years later, the importance of a pre-spring training pitching camp is not lost on the Braves or the pitchers who jump at the opportunity to participate in it.

17
Jul
09

A tribute to an icon… Greg Maddux to be inducted into Braves Hall of Fame.

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux

Many people have asked me what was the inspiration or driving force behind my choice to pursue a degree and profession in sports journalism?

It began with my love of writing. Journalism was my craft.

My career path’s journey veered toward sports with my passion for Braves baseball, which was due largely to one man… one man so superhuman, so awe-inspiring, so talented and gifted, that I knew his kind did not come around often.

That man was Greg Maddux. Pitching was his craft.

And tonight, before the Braves take on the division rival New York Mets at Turner Field, Maddux is being so rightfully and deservingly inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame. The team will also retire his jersey number 31.

I’m only 25 years old but today I feel my age.

This is because I remember so vividly the day, December 9, 1992, the Braves shocked the baseball world and announced that they had won the heated pursuit of the free agent reigning National League Cy Young Award Winner.

For the Braves, and former General Manager John Schuerholz, to give a free agent a five-year contract, the significance and magnitude of this signing would resonate for years to come.

Greg Maddux went on to win three more consecutive National League Cy Young Awards with the Braves, becoming the first of only two pitchers, Randy Johnson being the second, in history to ever win the coveted award four years in a row.

I knew I was witnessing history every time Mad Dog stepped on the mound.

One year in the particular is really engrained in my memory.

I was in Philadelphia during the 1995 season, watching Maddux’s pre-game bullpen session, as I always had every time I had seen him pitch live before.

But this time was different.

Maddux had an ungodly ERA and was trying to become one of the select pitchers in history to accomplish the feat of finishing a season with an ERA under the 2.00 mark. (He did, of course, finishing the ’05 season with a 1.63 ERA.)

This moment was significant to me because it was then that it officially clicked in my mind… I was in the presence of greatness.

A greatness that sports fans can only read about in the history books and wish they could have been able to personally witness.

Not only did I get to live in an era that produced arguably the greatest pitcher of our generation in Greg Maddux, but I was afforded the great honor and privilege to see him pitch first-hand every five days for the 11 years he donned an Atlanta Braves uniform.

That’s quite an embarrassment of riches. And, I knew it.

But, I never once took it for granted, which is not something I can say is true of my time as a Braves fan.

During the Braves unprecedented run of fourteen consecutive division titles, I honestly believed it would never end. As sure as the sun would be shining every morning, I was convinced there wouldn’t be an October that didn’t include the Atlanta Braves.

Call it wishful thinking; call it a confident swagger, but playoff baseball and the Braves, to me, were one in the same. Obviously, my thought process was absurd. Everything comes to an end in sports, even the most remarkable of streaks.

But the one thing I knew for certainty that would end was the Greg Maddux Era. That is why I tried to make it a point to never miss one start, one interview, or one chance to see him live and in person.

And, I didn’t.

It is because of Greg Maddux that I will always prefer a good pitcher’s duel to a slugfest.

It is because of Greg Maddux that I will forever respect finesse pitchers and have a deep appreciation for the art of control. He wasn’t flashy. His stuff wasn’t overpowering. But, he was as accurate as any pitcher to ever play the game.

It is because of Greg Maddux that I’ve become thirsty for an even greater knowledge of the game. They called him “The Professor” at times. Not just because of the glasses he would sport off the field but for the great intellect and insight he would provide on the game of baseball. He was more then a teacher and mentor, he was a true strategist, just a fountain of knowledge that one could only hope to begin to tap. Some called him the smartest pitcher they’ve ever seen. I’d have to agree.

It is because of Greg Maddux that my faith in iconic baseball figures is not completely shattered. Growing up in the “Steroid Era” and watching so many big names fall victim to the juice, I take even greater pride knowing that Maddux played the game the right way—cleanly, and with integrity and class. His numbers always spoke for themselves but with the likes of Roger Clemens, whose records are now tarnished with the all too familiar asterisk next to them, it elevates Maddux to an even greater level.

His legacy is now cemented in the history books.

While it was sad for me personally to watch Maddux leave the Braves and go on to win his 300th game in a Chicago Cubs uniform, before then finishing his career out west, I do feel his benchmark years were those spent in Atlanta.

Today’s induction in the Braves Hall of Fame is only the beginning.

The greatest culmination of his career comes later… when he is inducted into Cooperstown.

Greg Maddux, the 4-time Cy Young winner.

Greg Maddux, the 8-time All-Star.

Greg Maddux, the record 18-time Gold Glover.

Greg Maddux, the 300-game winner.

All of those accomplishments are remarkable but can’t compare to the ultimate: Greg Maddux, the World Champion.

That last feat, which came when he was a member of the Braves in 1995, is why I know Greg Maddux will go into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame as an Atlanta Brave.

That would be the final and only fitting ending to an illustrious career.

Greg Maddux was a master of his craft and if I can be half the journalist that he was pitcher, then my career path was indeed the chosen one.

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.




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