~JB- Atlanta, GA
Come see my new blog The Launching Pad
My friend Steve over at House of Braves Talk likes to cite the Kelly Johnson dropped pop up in the Phillies series of where it all began to fall apart.
Just to bring you back for a moment. It was 2-1 in the ninth. We
were about to move to with 2 1/2 games out of first. Then the ball
fell. And just as Roy Hobbs’ hot shotted triple was finally gathered up
in a stringy mess, the Braves season too was unraveling.
Another favorite would be the blowing of a 6 run lead after the All
Star Break. This one was also against the Phillies in Citizen Bank
Park. I remember that game well. Right after Tex hit a 2 run homer off
Cole Hamels to give us 9 runs in the inning, I believed we had reached
our turning point and the season could be salvaged. We had won the
night before and were sniffing around first place looking to make a
move. What followed was nothing short of an utter disaster. That then
lead to another blown lead the next day and in many minds, officially
took the Braves out of contention for 2008.
But as we search for one defining moment that turned 2008 sour, it’s
best to look at the whole scope of what made this season what it is
It’s hard to spot one instance or even to predict what could’ve been
done to make the year go right but let’s look at what did happen and
why the Braves could never get their act together as they falter to an
inconceivable 14 games out after another loss to the Mets.
Aging Starting Staff
It’s hard not to point directly at this aspect of the Braves game
from the beginning. I don’t want to belabor the point too much because
we’ve been around this merry go round a few times. But this was the
staff the Braves office put together to get us there and it had too
many veterans (even if every one of them could be considered a former
ace) and not enough young blood.
You’ve got Jair at 22 who’s proven this year he belongs and has been
a fantastic rookie pitcher let alone the only Opening Day staffer to
have seen this season all the way through without time on the DL.
Beyond that you’ve got the second youngest pitcher in Tim Hudson at 33.
Now one quick note on Hudson. He pitched very well this year. He
didn’t get much run support and had some bad starts from time to time.
But when he was on he was on. Yet at 33 and the second youngest member
of the staff, injuries are a risk any veteran pitcher will face. But
building the staff around Smoltz, Glavine, Hampton and Hudson is not
necessarily a bad decision, after all they each have the
potential of winning 10-15 games for you. It’s just a risky one. To go
with almost all seasoned veterans rather than young studs in their
prime is asking for trouble. But who would’ve guessed Jorge Campilo
would be a good choice?
What was wrong with Frenchy all year long? Yes Mr. Francoeur has
been a topic in 2008 because of his season long slump that has mired
the Braves. It’s not all on Jeff’s shoulders but the guy who was
providing us with a good number of RBI’s one year turned into a guy who
couldn’t bring guys home with fancy calligraphic invitations. Why? Did
he just stop trying? Does he just stink as bad as Mac Thomason believes?
My own theory hinges primarily on one thing. Scouting in the big
leagues is good and Frenchy hasn’t learned to adjust yet. Every hitter
has weakness and strengths and major league pitchers this year learned
very well how to exploit Francoeur’s weaknesses. Thus the many GIDP’s
c/o Frenchy and the struggles he’s faced all year long. I do not
believe this means Jeff is destined to never regain his swing. He’s a
hard worker and his heart is in his game. If he can take the time
(hopefully this offseason) to learn from ’08 and make some adjustments,
we could see a comeback. But the role Jeff plays on this team just
makes his tough year a major factor though not the one to blame.
Moylan, Soriano, Diaz, Gonzalez, Hampton, Hudson, Smoltz, Glavine, Chipper, Infante, Prado, Kotsay, McCann, Acosta.
Did I leave anyone out?
Looks like a war memorial doesn’t it?
Winning the “Must Wins”
We all know about the Braves record in one run games, road games,
and one run games on the road. But as I mentioned earlier, there were
plenty of games that were lead in (Monday night for example) and were
dropped like an oiled swine. You see, it’s not just a record that could
be organized into split categories like how did they play in the day
time on grass vs indoors on the road. This year’s Braves couldn’t get
wins that just really mattered. Which translates into, they couldn’t
get runs when they really mattered. When the hurt was pouring on and
the Braves were winning by large margins, every body hit. But it was
feast or famine for the lineup and lack of moral victories, even for
professionals, leaves your team a slight bit gutless. And when you
can’t gut out wins with clutch performances you won’t get far. How many
walk off wins do you remember the Braves racking up this year? How many
inspiring come from behind victories did we grab?
If you’re like me… you’re about to go Google it.
But I think I’ve made my point. No need.
We could go over many items that lead to this very forgettable year
for the Braves. Yes there were some milestones along the way. Smoltz
getting 3,000 K’s. A four game sweep of the Mets at home. Chipper’s
.400 start carrying into a league leading BA in late August. McCann’s
breakthrough All Star season (and his third selection in three years).
The pleasant surprises of Jurrjens and Campillo. Hampton’s hard work
that finally paid off and even though I’ve had some fun over his
struggles, he came back and pitched for a team that had already
forfeited it’s play off hopes.
And if we talked long enough on this topic we could spot plenty of
stats and situational numbers that would pinpoint where it did all go
wrong. However, if you’ve spent any amount of time around The Launching
Pad, you’ll know I’m not one to throw around too many numbers and I
always believe in the power of the intangible. Which could, I suppose,
allow many to theorize about the Cow cursing us since we in baseball
like to have “curses” to blame our poor performances on.
Of course I like the theory Bud Ellis at Braves.Today.com
hinted at in one of his comments recently. Things go in cycles. Some
cycles last longer than others but it goes around and comes around.
It’s the same in economics, life, and especially baseball. Look at the
Orioles, Royals, Athletics, and even the Braves. All had “dynasties” in
their own rite from time to time. But now look at the Rays of this year
side by side with the Yankees.
We’ll be back. Question is: How long will it take?
Where do you think it all went wrong? Leave your theories in the comments and as always…
Visit me at The Launching Pad
~JB, just drank a lot of coffee today… a lot.
All in one game, Charlie Morton pitches 7 scoreless innings, gets his first big league hit/double, gets picked off shortly after that, and even gets caught stealing (cue the Jane’s Addiction music). So maybe Morton has promise after all. But he’s still only 3-7 and may need a little more time in Triple A before he’s a true big leaguer. Nonetheless, that’s two impressive starts in a row for Charlie. Two more like it and I may even suggest he be on the Opening Day rotation. Of course that may jinx his whole career…
But after Morton is done being great, Boyer comes into the game and does what our bullpen does best. That is, giving up runs in late innings. Gonzo comes into the ninth and does what he does best. Gets a save (number 5) and since he has only allowed 3 ER’s in 11 appearances is by far our best bullpenner. I think Mike will be sticking around for a while.
With that said, the Braves are trying to continue to play spoiler to the D-Backs who maintain a pencil thin lead over the revamped Dodgers (who keep winning while #99 Manny keeps hitting homers).
Speaking of the Dodgers, if anyone wants to feel nostalgic about AJ, take a look at his stats for 2008. He’s no longer a starter and even though he belted a pinch hit homer in the ninth, he’s looking to be an odd man out pretty soon and get the Javy Lopez in Baltimore treatment. Could Andruw be unemployed in 2009? Of course he’s making $18 million for the next two years so I guess you can’t feel too bad.
But now that I’m done digressing…
The Braves need to do a few things to finish up the season in a befitting way. It’s a throwaway and so by-golly, let’s have some fun!
Making the Best of the Remaining 2008 Season
1) Wanna do throwbacks? It seems so popular to go retro on the field these days, so why not dress the Braves up in the old 1980’s red, white and blue duds since they’re playing just like those terrible teams from 1983-1986. With the exception of 1982 we had some real stinkers out on the field representing “America’s Team” on TBS.
2) Get Ted Turner to race ostriches and push eggs with his nose across the field again to invoke waning fan interest. Be a whole lot more fun to watch than a tankless water heater try to beat out a grounder in HD.
3) Bring back Chief Noc-a-homa and the Teepee and to heck with political correctness.
4) Call the Rangers and literally beg and plead with them to give us back pitching prospect Neftali Feliz, who could’ve been our hope of a better pitching staff someday.
5) Dismantle the HD screen in centerfield, sell it to Japan for $10 million, and use the money to assist us with some offseason free agent acquisitions (CC?). In it’s place put a more simpler, manually operated scoreboard that is characteristically surrounded by ads of course, but no longer displays “The Tool Race” “The Flander’s, what are they thinking?” or “The Napa Cap Shuffle”. I know some of you people who don’t like to watch baseball enjoy these little diversions but after enjoying a day game a piece at both Fenway and Wrigley, I much prefer the quiet in between inning moments of watching players warm up to the loud in your face trivia games or the Auto Trader match up’s crap. Call me a traditionalist or better yet, a purist.
6) Fire the tomahawk girls. Baseball doesn’t need cheerleaders. But keep the drum line. They rock.
7) Trade for Pedro Cerrano and sacrifice a chicken before each game to make Joe-Boo happy.
8.) Hand out scorecards before each game and require each fan to spend the day learning how to keep score. Maybe then they’ll be too busy trying to figure out why the shortstop is “number 6″ to get up in the middle of the game six or seven times to do God-knows-what that’s so important it can’t wait until the half inning.
9) Make sure Jeff Porter has some good orthopedic shoes just to make it through the next two months without going on the DL himself. Or better yet, get him one of those “Rascals” for frequent on field visits. Maybe Bobby can get one too and they can race out to this week’s injured player.
10) Bring back the “Hey batter batter batter” chant for the guys in the infield. Sure it’s not professional but we’re not going to win any way. Why not make some noise?
11) I’m not going to lie. I like the Chick-Fil-A cow. But why not put a smaller version of the Pink Pig and the Big Chicken (two other existing notable Atlanta icons) on either side so we can have a little barnyard up there. Of course I hope they don’t go all Animal Farm on us.
12) Finally, sign Phil Neikro to a contract that lasts until the end of the season and let him start a few games. How many other good knucklers’ are there in baseball other than Wakefield? It’s a lost art and I’m sure it doesn’t take much physical effort to hurl butterflies at batters. Sure would be entertaining to me.
So there you have it. My short list of ways to make the final two months of
Braves baseball a little bit better.
You know, this is a pretty good list of suggestions. I’m going to make sure this gets into the hands of some upper management. Wish me luck. And as always…
Braves lost again. On the road in a one run game and thus, lost another series.
Surprisingly, Chuck James only gave up three runs. Of course he gave up his mandatory homer to Aaron Rowand but the Braves couldn’t come up with a series win even against the second to last place Giants.
Such is life.
The real story in this game to me is Tim Linececum. 8 innings pitched, 8 K’s and only 2 ER’s against the Braves. In three career starts against the Braves he’s 3-0 w/ a 3.32 ERA and 17 Ks. We could use pitching like that.
So with 4 of the 5 pitchers we counted on at Opening Day having spent significant time on the DL, here’s a list of a pitchers I’d like us to grab for 2009. Of course I would love to grab Tim Lincecum but we’d have to trade a lot to get him and while in only his second big league year, he’s a key component to the Giants’ rebuilding and they would never part with him.
For 2009, I’m going to assume we keep both Jair Jurrjens and Jorge Campillo in the rotation and drop Mike Hampton, Tom Glavine, and even John Smoltz. It appears Tim Hudson won’t return until sometime in late 2009 so I’m going to fill 3 rotation spots.
In his sixth full season, and despite missing some time in both 2006-07, he’s notched 100+ innings in 3 of those seasons and should, if he can pitch 23 more, surpass 100+ again this year. Also with the exception of his rookie year and ’06-’07, he’s recorded over 120 K’s, and 40 or less walks in all but one year. The righty has a mid 90’s fastball and a good slider and changeup to go with it. But as I mentioned, some significant time on the DL between ’06-’07 is a concern especially with the injury riddled year we’ve had. Of course if he can finish 2008 the way he’s been going so far, it may make him a sought after free agent in the offseason and I’d love to see a healthy Rich Harden possibly fill John Smoltz’s role since he’s the same type of pitcher.
He’s under contract until the end of 2009 and has a 2010 option. Should the D-Backs not make the playoffs or decide to trade him away in this offseason rather than try to re-option him after 2009, the Braves could get Webb for a full year before his contract expires. Of course this would definitely involve trading away some good prospects (Schaefer, Brandon Jones, Gorkys Hernandez or Brent Lillibridge for example) and/or some young pitching (JoJo, James). The 2006 Cy Young winner has at least 14 wins in his last four seasons, is a strikeout machine getting at least 170 every year he’s started and is en route to get another 170+ this year. This may not be a smart move if the Braves cannot do something similar to what they did with Hudson; trade for him and sign him to a multi year contract right away.
No points for creativity for me on this one. A lot of talk amongst Braves fans has already circulated about CC. He’s a hard throwing lefty who will get big bucks somewhere this offseason. My main reason for selecting him is that we need a lefty like CC to start. My selections so far leave him as the only lefty starter but I realistically don’t expect the staff to consist entirely of my selections anyway so… let me have fun!
CC will probably cost upwards of $15mill+ a year after coming off an $11 mill year for 2008. But if we could lock him into a long term contract it would be worth it. The 2007 Cy Young winner gets wins (at least 11 a year) and has been lowering his walk ratio while consistently recording 160+ K’s a year with 209 in 2007. He’s 11-8 now with 166 K’s so it’s not his best year in terms of wins but considering that he was with the Indians for the first half and is now 5-0 with the Beermen…
So who are your dream starting pitchers for 2009. Be as crazy as you’d like and come up with as many trade possibilities as you can to tell me which pitchers you’d love to see in Braves uniforms for 2009.
JB @ The Launching Pad
Just before I start.
Chip, I don’t hate Mike Hampton. I don’t think he’s a bum. I don’t
blog just so I can rip him apart every time I’m alerted to yet another
one of his startling and bewildering injuries. Now I’ve had some fun at
Mike Hampton’s expense but that’s just because his injuries are so comical.
Mike Hampton is just a complete anomaly. His many
explanation-defying injuries are just fodder for bloggers (like me)
because it gives us something to talk about. And as much as it
disappoints me that his comeback is happening in July rather than in
April against the Pirates, I’ve gotten to the point where all I can do
is laugh-and I do- at how strange it all is. I mean something like this
is too good of a story to just ignore because it defies logic, all
expectations, and is just plain bizarre. It’s more bizarre than
Frenchy’s inexplicable trip to Mississippi and back that didn’t even
last the fortnight it was supposed to. It’s more bizarre than our road
record and one run loss mishaps at the beginning of the year. But
that’s just been our season. Bizarre. A tale of two teams, a swath of
moves that I just don’t get, and now Mike Hampton… in all his ironic
beauty, is going to pitch in a crucial series coming off a night that
the Braves actually looked very good.
So speaking of two Braves teams, which team showed up last night in Philadelphia?
Was it the team that had been swept twice at home by the Phillies?
The team that had just headed to Miami after dropping a weekend series loss at home to the Natspos?
No, it was the team that some how manages to win ballgames by very
large margins and have explosive run production rather than the team
that has almost been no-hit twice and shut more times that I want to go
find the stat for.
Last night was a great win for many reasons. McCann homered twice
and one of those shots was a nail in the coffin, sayonara,
man-its-good-to-have-McCann-type, grand slam as part of a 7 run ninth
inning in which every Brave hit.
And Jurrjens… He was just on last night. The 2008 NL ROY got his
10th win but check out his line in Philly: 8 IP, 6 K’s, 0ER, 3 H’s. I
love you, Jair.
The Mets won again last night keeping us at 6.5 by today’s 3:55pm start. Boo hoo.
And yes as we mentioned earlier Mike Hampton is slotted to start
today’s game. And if the Braves are going to have any serious thoughts
about baseball beyond September, this series (and thus this game and/or
tomorrow’s) is a must win.
But the Braves don’t have to just play great baseball from here on
out. They need two things. To play exceptional baseball and Mets
Collapse (Version 2.8). But they also need the Phils to keep playing
the way they have lately and they need the Marlins to just finally bite
it. (So four things).
Folks, the Wild Card ain’t coming out of the NL East so just get
that naughty little thought out of your head (for those of you who like
to say “Well there’s always the Wild Card”- bull hockey!). The Wild
Card will be a Central team for sure and so in the East it’s do or die.
If we can manage even getting back within 3.5 games back by our next
Mets series (Auguest 19-21) we can control our own destiny. IF.
I said after the All Star Break that the Braves magic number is 44.
They need at least 44 wins until the end of the season (and also the
aforementioned choking of three other teams) to even have a prayer. So
far the Braves are 4-3 since the start of the second half. It’s less
likely that the Mets will fall apart two seasons in a row even if the
Braves do get hot. But let’s put it this way. They’d have to get very
hot and against some pretty good teams over the next month.
The Brewers, Two Cardinals’ series, and the Cubs, are in our near
future. Even the .500 NL West leading Diamondbacks are not going to be
easy. The only “push over” we have are the Giants but like the Nats I’m
afraid they wouldn’t mind playing spoiler. And depending on which
Braves team shows up in San Francisco… they could.
Here’s irony for you as we close. What if Mike Hampton gets a win
today? If there ever was going to be a turning point and it’s July
26th, how suiting would it be if Mike was part of the Miracle? Because
nothing short of a Miracle will keep us in this.
On the surface a 9-4 road win, and thusly the series win, would seem like a moment of bliss for us Braves denizens.
And yes there are some things to be excited about after last night’s
win. For instance Hudson’s 6 scoreless innings and the nine runs that
the feast or famine lineup put together. But this rosy-goggled blogger
who’s always looking for silver linings can’t get too carried away with
optimism just yet.
Chipper leaves the game. Hudson leaves the game. And Buddy gives up
a fourspot in 1/3 of an inning… the ninth inning. Seems like unless
your name is Mike Gonzalez you can’t get a scoreless ninth in a Braves
uniform. And even Mike has hit a few bumps along the way.
No I’m not looking for reasons to complain but this Jalopy of a
season keeps picking up flats. I haven’t heard word as of yet about how
long Chipper and Tim will be pine riding but news like this after what
was turning out to be a 9-0 win sucks the wind out of our already the
Allegedly Mike Hampton is to pitch on Saturday. But if he doesn’t
make it to the start for some reason Mike Hampton’s backup said he’s
ready to go if needed…
So until baseball is on at the weird West Coast time of 4:05pm we
flip channels. My wife pauses on some reality show long enough for us
to mindlessly try to pick up on the “story”.
Two and a half hours to first pitch and the last game and series
before the Break. For the second time this week we get a rubber game
and I’m hoping this one goes our way.
As this series closes out, I wonder what will come of the Braves by
the trade deadline. We’re 6.5 games out at game start and best case
scenario we could be 5.5 or with a loss 7.5. It’s not insurmountable
but it’s such a grey area in terms of what kind of direction to take
The thing is, the Braves haven’t had a throwaway season in a very
long time. I don’t even know what a “rebuilding” year would look like.
And to be honest, I don’t think we’ll make anything but attempts at
improvement at the deadline.
Call me optimistic or maybe I just think I know Braves management
enough to see them as competitors and not rebuilders when we have the
kind of talent (though underachieving or injured) that we do. And 5.5
at best or 7.5 at worst doesn’t take us completely out of contention.
The question is, is this the kind of team that can pull it off? So far,
that team hasn’t shown up.
Morton gave up only one earned run and got a win.
Frenchy got 3 hits one of them with the bases loaded if you can believe that.
Lillibridge hit his first homer and Chipper had one of the lovely 3 hit nights. I guess the slump is over.
Campillo (3-4) takes the mound tonight and though he’s gotten knocked around lately, he hasn’t been all that bad.
Whaddya say we end this half with a series win? Perhaps even an inspired, encouraging win that gets us 5.5 back and closing in.
I’m going to wait a little while longer before I abandon postseason
hopes. Maybe I’m delaying for myself acceptance of the inevitable, but
I’m gonna tough it out a little longer.
What moves are you expecting to see made? Do you think Ohman and Teixeira are on their way before the season closes in?
Are you ready to admit defeat and go into rebuilding mode? If so, who are you hoping to pick up as we get ready for next year?