Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

Thanks to Mac's family, bravesjournal.com is back.

23 Apr

Marlins 1, Braves Teheraned Jose’d

This is Jose Fernandez.

Seriously. He has every right to be smiling like that.

This is what you should do if you happen to see him today.

Seriously. I know it’s a bit of an annoying joke with Fredi and all that, but sometimes you run into a guy who is going to buzz saw you. That happened last night. Instead of worrying too much about it and blaming it all on horrible hitting (of which there was plenty, mind you) try to be gracious and think of it the way you did the Julio Teheran outing in Philly last week. Only instead of the Braves coming out on top and Cliff Lee’s* stupendous performance going for naught, this time the Fish came out on top and it was Alex Wood’s brilliant work that got overshadowed by a guy who was just a little bit better.

Jose Fernandez is really good. He was at the top of his game last night. This team is constructed in such a way that a top tier strikeout pitcher, on the top of his game, will occasionally do that to us. And then it can just as easily come back and jack four dingers off of Nathan Eovaldi the next day. It’s a long season. Don’t let yourself get beat down over it. Take off the fan glasses and acknowledge a great player having a great game, while another up and coming player who may be great had a similarly great game, but gave up a double and a single in the same inning and thus “lost” 1-0.

*Holy crap. Cliff Lee’s middle name is “Phifer.” How on earth did I not know that already?! PHIFER!!

21 Apr

Braves 4, Marlins 2 (by spike)

N.B. – I watched the first five innings in a bar and listened to the rest on the radio while blind drunk.

A thoroughly uninteresting affair to 99% of the baseball fans in the world and thoroughly annoying to the rest. Nominal ex-Braves Reed Johnson, Mike Dunn, Jeff Baker (Gar-field high represent!) made appearances. Baker has somehow cobbled together a fairly lengthy major league career — go figure.

A remarkably Bravesian affair, played under perfect spring skies. Outstanding pitching in which Teheran found a Sunday hop on his curveball in the mid-second, and both he and Walden turned a Tommy Lee Jones stare at some questionable defense. Simmons brought his hitting shoes (despite a most un-Andrelton-like error), with a homer and scoring a tie-breaking run after a broken bat Heyward single in the 7th, and things looked agreeable for a minute.

But Kimbrel was undone by a tight strike zone and a catcher’s interference and on we went. Fredi played for one and got none after Heyward bunted out in the ninth and Varvarro escaped the tenth. Gattis stroked a two run shot in the bottom half, so we win.

Hooray, but this is not a particularly inspiring offense at the moment. Division foe beaten, all is well, but it’s hard to believe this is a winning recipe long term. Still, another day off the calendar. Another data point in the transfer rule needs to be tweaked case from Uggla, but a good play would have made it moot. Braves survive, and get another intra-division win.

21 Apr

WHY I HATE THE NATS (third in a continuing series, by Bledsoe) Game Thread

When we last left our hero (ahem), he was explaining how the Baghdad Bobs that are the Nats announcers had helped convert his mildly positive view of the Nats to a fairly negative one. The story continues:

  1. The owners are easy to hate.

  2. a. F.P. Santangelo is the biggest homer of all time.
  3. b. According to F.P. Santangelo, the Nats can only lose if the umpires cheat.

This particular criticism applies equally to Bob Carpenter, the play by play guy. Even the Nats radio guys get in on this particular act. It is simply this, Santangelo’s First Law of Baseball: ANY NATS LOSS OCCURS ONLY AS A DIRECT RESULT OF A BLOWN OR IMPROPER CALL BY THE UMPIRES IN THE GAME.

I have never seen or heard such whining by announcers in my entire sports life. Heck, I’ve never heard such whining by ADULTS in my entire life. And the availability of replays or Pitchtrack does nothing to quell the accusations of bad umping. After F.P. rails about a strike call against a Nats batter, and PitchTrack shows that it got all plate, F.P. will say, and this is a direct quote: “I don’t care what PitchTrack says, that’s not a strike!”

Or his partner Carpenter will shout in disbelief “Where was that?!” if a Nats pitcher didn’t get a strike call on a 3-2 pitch, and then PitchTrack will show that the pitch was 4-6 inches off the plate. Care to reconsider, Bob? Crickets. The battle against the video, the One-Eye that Don’t Lie, never ceases. If a ball/strike call goes against the Nats, and the PitchTrack confirms the call was correct, no matter: F.P., or Bob, or both, will say, “That’s been a strike all night” (when Nats are pitching) or “That’s been a ball all night” (when Nats are batting). Even if the disputed call had nothing to do with the eventual play, F.P. will still tell you that the game hinged on that one (correct, but disputed by F.P.) call.

Example: Nats are in the field, and the second pitch of an at-bat is borderline and called a ball. Five pitches later, the pitcher serves up a gopher ball. F.P. or Bob will then point to the borderline second pitch and laboriously explain that since they didn’t get that call five pitches ago, the pitcher’s only option was to throw the slow fastball waist-high down the middle that the batter crushed.

Similarly, the Nats’ opponents do not succeed in their efforts through talent or craft. It is only due to the umpires’ bias against the Nationals or in favor of the opponent. Thus, according to these clowns, Aaron Harang is the most successful pitcher in the league, not in throwing low strikes on the outside corner, but “in getting the call on the low outside corner.” Another verbatim quote. It’s not that he’s throws strikes, it’s merely that the umpires CALL them strikes, see? Harang’s not actually getting the Nats out — it’s those cheating umps, who are either being fooled, or are biased in his favor.

The accusations that the umpires are stupid, blind, or dishonest occur every game, and usually every inning. I honestly do not understand why MLB doesn’t tell these guys to cut it out or face discipline. They’re team employees, openly and repeatedly accusing the umpires of incompetence or cheating. Every. Single. Game. I would think MLB would be less than happy about that.

It is childish, not to mention bad sportsmanship, to blame your opponent’s success on the officiating. And with F.P., there is no other possible explanation. Indeed, the First Corollary to Santangelo’s First Law of Baseball is: WITH COMPETENT AND FAIR UMPIRING, THE NATS WOULD NEVER LOSE.

    c. The clichés.

Oh Lord. He can’t hold a candle to McCarver, but who could?

“There goes the no-hitter.” (When batter gets a hit, usually in the first inning – he says it every game.)

“Are you kidding me?”

“He offered.” (swung)

“How cool is that?”

“Keep the line moving.”

“That’s playing the game the right way.”

Of all of these, the last is my favorite, because it’s usually (always?) accompanied by some reminiscing about how they did it back in F.P.’s playing days. And because, in truth, F.P. has no idea about “playing the game the right way.” He’s a known juicer/HGH abuser, as the Mitchell Report will attest. (As a .245 lifetime hitter, who slugged .351 – maybe you shoulda talked to Radomski about upping the dosage, F.P.). So, unless you’re maybe giving advice about the best injection sites, just put a sock in it, Francis.

Next and last: The Nationals players.

20 Apr

Mets 4 “Barves” 3

For those of you who don’t believe in the Easter Bunny,  it is pretty obvious he came and visited the Barves last night with all the eggs that were laid today.

The Barves “defense” committed three errors and the “hitters” left nine men on base. Not a great recipe for victory. In most games this might have been a blow out, except we were playing the Mets. So it took them 14 innings to send the Barves to their charter back to Atlanta.

David Hale had a very good outing going six and striking out five. Really, all six pitcher the Braves trotted out were solid. Gus ‘Pickles’ Schlosser went 3 2/3 and was obviously taking one for the team. He gave up the winning run in the 14th after a walk and some stellar “defense” in front of him. He did collect his first big league hit though.

In a tie game in the seventh the Braves had runners at the corners with no one out. BJ Upton popped up to short. Then Freddie Freeman (who is in negotiations with Chipper Jones about buying his minority ownership role in the Mets) ended the Barves chance at the sweep. Chipper may hold on to his ownership role a few more weeks.

Great road trip though. The Marlins are coming to town and are terrible. I imagine they will give us fits.

(For a good laugh, click on the Easter Bunny link above)

 

20 Apr

Braves 7, Mets 5

ESPN Box Score

Shouldn’t have been that close, but both of our teams have tire-fire bullpens right now. Ervin Santana was again superb; somehow, allowing one run in 7 innings actually raised his ERA to 0.86. “Harang and Santana and pray for Dantanna’s”? “Ervin and Aaron are both mighty scarin’”? Help me out here, guys.

Bartolo Colon was typically maddening and the Braves’ first two runs were a gift in multiple ways: they came via an infield single-ball thrown away sequence where the infield single was almost certainly hit off Freeman’s foot. We added another on a Heyward single-Bupton single-Freeman double sequence that would be nice to see a lot more of.

(Bartolo Colon also had one of the most entertaining at-bats I’ve ever seen. Mesmerizing.)

I won’t try to analyze Ervin Santana like I analyzed Aaron Harang yesterday — he’s been plenty good before, as I’ve written — but he’s throwing a lot more changeups this year than ever before. As I said, pitch mix is a place where you’re likely to see the influence of a pitching coach, and thus far, his changeup has been a real weapon for him.

So it was 3-1 Braves through 7 innings. And then, just like the previous game, the Braves scored a bunch off the Mets’ bullpen in the 8th and 9th. Jupton scored an old-school National League run in the 8th when he hit a single, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout, and scored on a Daisuke Matsuzaka wild pitch. Then in the 9th he hit a three-run bomb off Jose Valverde. (Those runs were unearned because Valverde Bucknered a Jordan Schafer bunt to open the inning, then recorded two quick outs before intentionally walking Freddie to get to Justin. Oops.)

David Carpenter and Craig Kimbrel gave up two runs each. Their velocity was fine, but the control is a problem, to say the very least. But Carpenter is making about $40 million less than Kimbrel, so I’ll focus on the Kraken.

Craig Kimbrel came in after a week off while he recovered from shoulder soreness, and he nearly yakked it all up. The velocity was basically fine — he just couldn’t control where the ball was going, and both the fastball and slider kept tailing back up over the heart of the plate. After giving up a hit by pitch, a single, an RBI double, an RBI single, and a walk, Fredi yanked him and put in Walden to try to get the game’s final out with the bases loaded. Kimbrel wasn’t happy, but it was the right move, and Jordan got the job done. Kimbrel said all the right things in the clubhouse after the game, apologizing to Fredi for swearing at him when he took the ball from him, and I’m glad to see the velocity was there. Hopefully, next time he’ll have his command.

Fredi made an early decision that was moot in retrospect but really stupid at the time, and I’ll just mention it here. In the first inning, Ervin Santana gave up a leadoff walk to Eric Young, who promptly stole second and took third on a flyout to deep center. And then, with David Wright at the plate in the first inning, Fredi brought the infield in.

Wright is the Mets’ best hitter and there are 8 innings left to play. You don’t bring the infield in there. Bringing the infield in is a last-ditch, play for a single run type of move like calling for a position player to make a sacrifice bunt in the 8th inning. As it was, Wright hit a ball in a spot where Andrelton Simmons could easily have fielded it at his normal depth, and traded a run for an out. Instead, it went for an RBI single. There was no further harm done in the inning, but giving away extra outs is never a smart move.

19 Apr

Braves 6, Mets 0

ESPN Box Score

Alright, this Aaron Harang thing beats the hell out of me. First, let’s talk about the game, and then let’s talk about him, because he’s basically the single biggest reason that this injury-ravaged team is in first place.

I know the score says 6-0, but it was a nailbiter for the first two hours until the offense woke up against the LOLMets bullpen. Jon Niese was on the bump, and he’s one of those semi-anonymous Mets pitchers who have a knack for keeping us off-balance. He’s got a career 3.48 ERA against us and Dillon Gee has a career 2.95 ERA against us. I hate those guys. Anyway, he killed us last night; 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K. The Braves got two of those hits in the second inning, when a Jupton single and Gattis walk set up an RBI double by Chris Johnson. And then the offense took a power nap.

But in the end, Aaron Harang didn’t need the help. He currently leads the major leagues in ERA at 0.70 and is tied for the lead in wins with 3. His one loss of the year came on April 8, when he gave up two hits and one run in six innings to the Mets while the Mets shut out the Braves behind Bartolo Colon. Harang hasn’t pitched anything close to a bad start all year; he’s given up just nine hits in 25 2/3 innings, seven of singles and two doubles. Basically, he’s got a big box of smoke, mirrors, and 89-mile an hour fastballs, and he hasn’t given up much of anything even resembling hard contact all year. For example, last night was the second time in four starts, along with his first start on April 2, that he took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning.

That said, it probably shouldn’t have been a no-hit bid. In the second-inning, with two outs already on the board, Travis d’Arnaud was called out at first on a bang-bang play; the replays showed that he looked safe, but Lucas Duda foolishly tried to make it to third on the play and was tagged out on the attempt. Terry Collins decided not to challenge the call at first because the inning would have ended anyway, but as JJSchiller pointed out last night, that could have altered a lot of Fredi’s subsequent strategy with Harang.

In particular, the sixth inning. He needed just 72 pitches to get through the first five innings, with three strikeouts and two walks. Then, in the sixth inning, he threw 26 pitches and walked two men before striking out Curtis Granderson to preserve the one-run lead. He was at 98 pitches. The Braves had an extremely slim one-run lead and an apparently tiring starter who had just walked two men in the inning and four overall in the game. But he was credited with having allowed zero hits.

So in the very next half-inning, when the dreaded Niese was finally lifted for Carlos Torres, Chris Johnson immediately hit a double, Ryan Doumit productive-outed him to third, and the pitcher’s spot was up with a man on third and one out. And Fredi left Harang in to bat for himself. Harang feebly struck out, and Simmons grounded out, and the inning was over. Had D’Arnaud been credited with a single in the second, there’s almost no way that Harang bats for himself in the seventh, and the Braves likely would have ended the inning with a 2-0 lead instead of a 1-0 lead.

The bottom of the seventh was even more nervewracking, after Harang got two quick outs on his first three pitches. Then he walked D’Arnaud, and after that he managed to walk Ruben Tejada, a hitter so bad that the Mets spent most of the offseason trying to figure out who could play shortstop for the team other than him, and I had dread visions of Alex Wood walking Ryan Howard. Thankfully IWOTM, and Harang managed to strike out the next batter, and he departed with a corpulent line of 7 innings, no hits, 5 K, 6 BB, 121 pitches, only 70 of them for strikes.

Then the Braves scored five runs off the Mets pen in the 8th and 9th and Avilan and Walden struck out three guys in the next two innings and came within an 8th-inning David Wright single of a combined no-hitter and everything was pretty much moot.

Okay, so what the hell is going on here? He’s basically a three-pitch pitcher, throwing a ton of four-seamers and two-seamers and a lot of sliders, with the occasional show-me curveball or changeup. As Ryan noted, Harang has cut back on the curveballs and changes in favor of more fastballs — and pitch mix is one place where a pitching coach can have a definite effect on a pitcher. The stats suggest it was a good idea to junk the change, because the win value has been hugely negative. And it’s also very possible that he’ll do a better job of repeating his mechanics by focusing on three pitches than he did in previous years when he threw four or five pitches frequently.

The two fastballs have virtually the same velocity and release point, but a different break. He also pitches inside, but then again, he did that last year too.

I think that a lot of his success boils down to this: 1) he repeats his mechanics very well, as shown by the consistency in release point; 2) his mix of four-seamers and two- seamers, with similar velocity but different movement, keeps hitters off balance; and 3) he does a good job of hiding the ball until delivery, making it harder for the hitters to pick up his pitches. He also is playing in front of a better team than he has in a while.

That said, he also has a .143 BABIP and a 0.0 HR/FB% and a 90.5% strand rate, and those things typically won’t last. (Especially the home run rate: Harang has a 25.4% groundball rate this year, and a 37.9% groundball rate for his career. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, second in baseball so far this year. Fly ball pitchers give up the occasional tater.) Obviously, screaming “Regression” is neither all that fun nor all that interesting — nor, as we learned with Chris Johnson last year, necessarily all that accurate. Still, it is unlikely that Aaron Harang will end the season with Mariano Rivera’s career postseason ERA.

THAT SAID, Harang was signed to give us a bridge to the three rostered starters who weren’t ready for Opening Day, Ervin Santana, Mike Minor, and Gavin Floyd, and all he’s done is be the best pitcher in baseball. Aaron Harang’s 2014 season is the whole damn reason to be a baseball fan. Absolutely unbelievable.

18 Apr

WHY I HATE THE NATS (second in a continuing series, by Bledsoe) Game Thread

One of Our Beloved Founder’s first ventures onto the national stage was early in Braves Journal when he invented the Bad Announcer Tournament, or as he dubbed it, the “Road from Bristol.” It started with Mac’s annoyance with the ESPN zoomates in general but Stu Whatzhisname in particular. So he decided he would make a 64 man tournament bracket to select, by popular vote, head to head, the worst announcer on ESPN. It got picked up by someone on ESPN radio, who clearly did have a sense of humor, and Mac was interviewed on their show. Anyhoo, Stuart Scott won in a walk.

It was so successful and so popular that he started another one for non-ESPN announcers. The final came down to Tim McCarver vs. Hawk Harrelson. In an upset that caused accusations of cheating, bribery, and stupidity, Hawk Harrelson was declared the worst sports announcer in the world. (Ten years later, I am still upset about this: Ken Harrelson couldn’t carry Tim McCarver’s cliché bag. Seriously, it was fixed. Seriously.)

I wish Mac were still around and could run another one, because I’ve got the leadpipe cinch winner: F.P. Santangelo, the Nats’ color guy. And he is Reason Number Two why I learned to hate the Nats.

Where do I possibly begin to tell the story of How Bad? Shall I compare thee to a winter’s night?

  1. The owners are easy to hate.
  2. F.P. Santangelo is the biggest homer of all time.

Johnny Most called from the afterlife, F.P., and he said you might want to take it down a couple of notches.

The Nats are blessed with an abundance of homers. Not only F.P., but his play by play partner, Bob Carpenter, blow so much smoke up the Nats’ derrieres that the Surgeon General ought to warn somebody. Tom Boswell, the highly regarded Washington Post baseball writer, is one of the worst offenders. I like Boz, but his decades spent writing about baseball, in a town without baseball, only to one day have a real team to write about has, I fear, caused him to lose his mind.

For years, in spring training, as the Nats would run out the usual suspects, another sad group of Double-A players and cast-off dregs they had recruited from their recliners, Boswell would write the following column: “This year will be different. No longer do we have to rely on the shaky rotation with [dead-armed pitcher] and [minor league player washout]; now the skipper can call on [obese guy cut by Royals] and [different and older dead-armed pitcher].”

The next year, he’d write the exact same column, only explaining how the Nats had cagily replaced the guys he’d raved about just last year with new, equally pathetic horseflesh no-names that no other team wanted. His predictions of imminent glory became so routine and over the top that even the other Post sportswriters started poking fun at him.

But no one can touch F.P in the bootlicking department. To him, every Nats scrub is just this far away from becoming an All-Star, if he can just fix this one little issue. Every game F.P. sees a Nat make a play (usually, a routine play that every big leaguer should make, like making a throw from the hole or running down a liner in the gap) and declares it the most amazing play he’s ever seen. EVERY GAME. Heck, sometimes he sees the most amazing play he’s ever seen SEVERAL TIMES IN THE SAME GAME. It must be nice to be so full of childlike wonder at the world.

The tonguebath never ceases. All last year he described the Nats infield of Zimmerman, Desmond, Rendon/Espinosa and LaRoche as “the Gold Glove infield.” Must have said it 200 times — no exaggerating. All the while, the Nats were literally leading the National League in infield errors. Don’t try pointing this out to F.P. Like Bluto Blutarsky, he’s on a roll.

Any misplay that occurs in the game, any error, or any baserunner against the Nats is due to a single cause: the umpires are cheating. Which deserves its own night, and I will explore at length in the next chapter.

The promotion of routine plays, even routine outs, to epic levels of hysteria is a favorite of Bob Carpenter, the play by play guy, as well. A medium deep fly ball, 25 feet shy of the warning track, becomes, inevitably, “He JUST missed hitting that ball out of here.” Or “a home run in any other park.” I am waiting for one of them to blame global warming or the Coriolis effect for holding up a flyball that Harper hits.

The adrenaline rush that these guys pump out on a routine can of corn to left sounds like they are auditioning for a Mountain Dew commercial voiceover. The major flaw in this approach is that this ain’t radio: the viewers of course see the play being described, and notice that the “near home run” required Justin Upton to walk in six steps for the catch. But that’s doesn’t stop these toadies. It’s like they did their training at Pravda.

It ain’t over yet. More vitriol to come.

17 Apr

Phillies 1 Braves 0 ‘he’s going to go right at you’ – leaves one up.

No Gattis – shame…in this Park on this day the exception should not prove the rule.  Good to see Jason gets a reprieve.

Andrelton, slow across, surely not?   Freddie the leaping salmon.  Alex, 2 hits but saucy…hope he’s around for ever, attitude.

You get the impression with Simmonds the batter that he operates in the fourth dimension, one of his own creation – the regular playing surface disdained he tries to land the ball somewhere across another one, twenty five feet up in the air.

Alex strikes out the side – on the mound before the first pitch,he was cap off, head bowed…in these instances you can’t help wondering who/Who is being addressed  and whether the propitiatory stance stems from a position of strength or weakness...Lord, thank you for my unhittable fastball or Please, where has my control gone?

Freddie leaves a couple, we have been spoiled.   Scoreless after three.

Uggla strikes out – he’s a dead ringer for the spooky Billy Bob in Tuesday’s sensational premier on FX of Fargo, Coen brothers and all…what boggles the mind was the formal assurance up front that the events that followed actually happened and they name a time and a place…we are truly a strange lot and maybe our baseball fetishes are not that idiotic after all…

3 double plays in the bank…don’t know how to look it up but would hazard a guess that  fewer ground balls are being hit Andrelton’s way this season..SSS or something slightly sinister?  (Alliteration in the sixth degree – (seventh) (eighth ) )

Scoreless through six.. Wood 5 hits, c.72 pitches… we execute a pick off play perfectly… surely Burnett needs a sleep?   our BABIP today .000, seemingly…  Breaking News – our short stop strikes out…

CJ…another fine play and throw for third out…we talk more nonsense about this player than any other on the roster…he’s regressing a good deal more slowly than those who would delight in the correctness of their woeful projections…use your eyes…

Bastardo for Burnett…( in the fifties my parents bought a 1932 Rolls Royce whose original owner was formally named in the papers that went with it as ‘James Bastard Smith’ – apparently back in those days if you were one you had to be named one, charming)… Laird stranded after one out double.

With one out in the bottom of the seventh Philly bunts  Brown to second, their first batter of the day to reach scoring position…he better not score(he does)…pick off play at second, CLOSE!!  can you appeal a play like that, why not?  Howard walks, 2 out, 2 on, pinch runner…Alex leaves one up, Brown scores..Alex at 100 pitches… inning over, pity about that one bad pitch to Revere…

Top of the ninth…Pimplebum (plagiarist!) …don’t care who’s up, want to see Gattis…Freddie, no depth…Justin K’s from 3-0 count…CJ K’s to end the game, he’s clearly regressing…  where was Gattis??

We won the squeaker last night and the melodrama two nights before…so grant them this…                    do we have to?

 

‘But O how bitter thing it is

To look into happiness through another man’s eyes.’         W.S.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16 Apr

Gattis 1, Phillies Teheraned

ESPN Box Score

In a classic pitchers’ duel on a cold, windy night in Philadelphia, Julio Teheran had himself a ballgame. He threw a 3-hit shutout, did not walk anyone, and pitched like he was trying to make you forget the Braves don’t have an “Ace”. For some strange reason, the native Colombian excels in cold weather.

For the first seven innings Teheran was in complete command, giving up only an infield hit in the 5th to, of all people, the speedster Ryan Howard. He was not quite as dominant in the 8th and 9th, allowing a hit in each frame, but he managed to outduel Cliff Lee, who in very Cliff Lee-like form also went the distance. Anyone who can do that is very impressive. The ninth got downright tense, when it looked like Chase Utley might draw a walk with Jimmy Rollins already on base and Ryan Howard on deck, but Teheran wiggled out of it, retiring Utley on a groundout to preserve the win. What may be even more impressive is that Teheran shutout the Phillies despite a tight strike zone that seemed to get even tighter in the last innings.

Unfortunately for Evan Gattis, he chose to have his best game of the season on a night that his pitcher overshadowed him. He went 4-for-4, including a 4th inning homer he muscled out of the park over a strong wind that had been killing fly balls all night. He accounted for the only run of the evening. I think El Oso really likes hitting in Philly.

Although Lee went the distance, he was not very dominant. The Braves managed 11 hits against him, but could not do anything with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base for the evening. I know they were facing Cliff Lee tonight, but they really need to get better at cashing in on some of these scoring opportunities. They struck out 13 times tonight, but that is what they do against Lee.

Regression was back from his mysterious benching, demoted to seventh in the lineup. He went 3-for-4 with a couple of quintessential Regression-like hits to right field. Dan Uggla picked up another hit tonight and a couple of his outs were hit hard, and BJ Upton hit a single and miraculously drew a walk off of Lee, a rare feat indeed for a Brave. Positive signs continue for both of our resident Mendoza Line dodgers.

The Phillies conducted a Nationals-esque play in the third inning, when BJ attempted to swipe second. Lee had him picked off, but inexplicably no one covered second base. Howard threw to Jimmy Rollins, who was standing six feet away from the bag, while BJ slid in safely. The play had no bearing on the final score, but it was still odd to see a NL East rival botch yet another fundamental play.

The series wraps up tomorrow afternoon when Alex Wood takes on A. J. Burnett in a 1:05 pm start.

In honor of the previous post by Bledsoe, which was both brilliant and convincing, I may take a page out of Cato the Elder’s book and end all of my recaps this year with this, regardless of our opponent:

Natspo(s) delenda est.

16 Apr

WHY I HATE THE NATS (first in a continuing series, by Bledsoe) Game Thread

Ed. note: This was originally scheduled for tomorrow’s off day. But with last night’s rainout, I wanted to put up a new thread as quickly as possible, so I moved up the publication schedule. Even though we’re still facing the Phillies, I completely agree with Bledsoe’s take on the absolute best team to dislike right now.

Sure, it was fun to hate the Mets. Who doesn’t hate New York and all its inmates? What team would admit to living, appropriately enough, in “Flushing”? What else needs flushing? Indeed, my first tears as a Braves fan were shed in 1969, when the Miracle Mets swept us in the first ever National League Championship series, 3 games to none. (Yes, kiddies. One best of five series, then the World Series. A simpler time.) But now, they’re just sad. They kept both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, for rillies.

Still, we Israelites who lived through the Forty Years in the Wilderness remember that the Braves’ mortal enemies cannot be some team invented in 1962 as a sop to those fans of the two teams who abandoned Sewertown for California at the first opportunity. We’re the oldest sports franchise in America, for the love of Mike! No, the Hector to our Achilles, the Red Skull to our Captain America, the Boyd Crowder to our Raylan, all wore Dodger blue.

See, chilluns, when the divisions were created, we was assigned by Bowie Kuhn to the National League WEST. Not St. Louis (longitude 90 11” 52” W); not Chicago(longitude 87° 39′ 0” W): no, they got to stay in the NL East, to continue their storied rivalry with the Montreal Alouettes or something. No, it was us (84 22’ 23” W), along with Cincinnati, Houston, SF, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Houston and San Diego were chronic doormats. Cincy featured the Big Red Machine teams, then fell off until the late 80s.

But the team we couldn’t beat, year in, year out, was the bleeping Dodgers. They just had our number, winning the division in ‘81, ‘83, ‘85, ‘88. The inability to beat the Dodgers led pretty much directly to Joe Torre getting fired even after the 1982 division crown. In ‘83 we finished second in the division, three games out, at 88-74: we went 7-11 against the Dodgers. In ’84 we again finished second in the division at (gulp) 80-82; we went 6-12 against the Dodgers. Many of those games were lost in bizarre, Buckneresque and/or soul-killing ways. Still hate ‘em, but it’s hard to maintain this ancient feud when they’re in a different division and we play them but six games a year. No, we seem to have a new nemesis arising – The Washington Nationals.

I live in the DC area, and I can’t tell you how excited I was when the Natspos moved here. The Nation’s Capital, 30 years without a team! I had been snorting the methadone of the American League with an hour long drive to Baltimore, trading my birthright for a mess of pottage, selling my virtue, meekly and cheaply, to the abomination of the DH and AL coach-pitch baseball.

I immediately bought a partial season plan and vowed that I would always root for the Nationals except when they played against America’s Team. I was there on opening night at RFK and every opening day thereafter for years. Now, almost a decade later, I openly and unabashedly root against them, day in and day out.

How did this happen? How did this lovable bunch of French-Canadian AAA players vault into the white-hot furnace of my contempt? Why, ‘tis charity to show.

I intend to conduct this essay along three major headings, to wit:

  1. The owners are easy to hate.
  2. The announcers are simply abominable.
  3. The players are surprisingly hate-friendly.

Today, let us address the Lerners.

Washington already has the most despicable living sports owner in the person of Daniel Snyder. The Lerners seem to realize this, and have exploited the fact that Danny Boy’s numerous and varied offenses give them plenty of cover to be miserly, fan-abusive, and in general poor citizens, with little chance of anyone really paying attention: everyone is too busy watching Danny make an ass of himself.

The Lerners are local boys made good, who made a fortune in developing real estate in the Washington area. They are perhaps most known for development of Tysons Corner in the 1970s, a huge mall/office/retail complex in Fairfax County and the template for almost all malls since. They are reputed to be the richest owners in baseball: truly a rags to riches sort of story.

They were awarded the franchise by MLB over several other groups. (The price, low by any real reasonable standard, was fixed by MLB.) They were also awarded a state of the art facility, paid for entirely by the District of Columbia ( for which they pay rent to the District).

What did they do immediately upon getting this unbelievably sweetheart deal? Why, they refused to pay the stadium rent, of course. They claimed that the stadium wasn’t “finished,” citing such things as unpainted restrooms and 47,000 other punchlist items (the 47,000 number is real, according to the Lerners themselves). They threatened to sue the city for $100,000 a day for liquidated damages because of these issues.

Clearly, the stadium must have looked like the Roman Colosseum, or Chernobyl, right? Rubble and exposed asbestos, right? The stadium couldn’t possibly be opened up for fans, or used for baseball, right? Just kidding – you know the answer. At the exact same time, the Nationals had already played 50-60 games in the $611 million, taxpayer funded, gorgeous, state of the art stadium. Did the Lerners offer to refund a portion of the money to me, who had paid $55 a ticket and $9 for a beer, and had to live through the horror that is an unpainted bathroom? You know the answer. They pocketed every red cent. Me? I still wake up at night in a PTSD nightmare sweat, trying desperately to forget the trauma of the bare, gray concrete wall above the urinal.

Surely, given a new stadium for which they weren’t paying rent and a sweetheart price tag on the franchise, the Lerners must have opened their wallets wide to put a good product on the field? Hee-hee. You’re catching on. After getting the team in mid-2006, they slashed payroll – I mean slashed – from $63 million in 2006 to $37 million in 2007. That’s right – they authorized half of what MLB was paying in salary. Their rosters were replete with AA players, has-beens and never-wases, your Nook Logans, Delmon Youngs, and Odalis Perezes.

They are cheap, and they are cutthroat. They couldn’t sign their 2008 No. 1 pick, Aaron Crow, who went back in the draft rather than continue to negotiate with them. (The Crow family complained that the Lerners refused to negotiate with their agent, instead trying to bypass him and negotiate with Crow’s inexperienced dad.) After they fired Manny Acta as manager, they hired Jim Riggleman, paying him less than any manager in baseball and less than the minimum player salary. He quit in mid-season in disgust when they wouldn’t negotiate with him at all about an extension and raise. His replacement was Davey Johnson, and he was already under contract as a front-office consultant to the Nationals, i.e., free.

After hiring Stan Kasten away from the Braves in an effort to appear professional and committed to success, they so hamstrung and hampered his every effort to improve the team that he bolted the minute his contract was up to find better and less penurious owners (he’s now president and part owner of the Dodgers).

After several years of this nonsense, paying $50 a ticket to the Slumlords for the privilege of watching a barely AAA-level ballclub, I had had enough. I gave up my season plans, and now only go when the Braves come to town. Sure, now they’ve opened up their dusty and cobwebbed wallet to sign Werth, Strasburg, and Harper, and resign Zimmerman (2014 payroll is $114 million, tenth in MLB). In fact, they’ve significantly overpaid for these players: they had to, because nobody wanted to come here, their reputation as stewards of the franchise and the stench it put on the team was so bad.

In my view, the Lerners signed these contracts only at gunpoint, when they had already driven off Kasten, the one guy in their organization who had the respect of the league, and the franchise was on the verge of establishing a permanent reputation as one of the armpits of baseball, the Place You Pray You Don’t Get Traded To.

They’ll never really eclipse Angelos as the worst current owner in baseball; Steinbrenner and Marge Schott are dead. But their contempt for their paying customers and their employee-eating habits have made it awfully fun to root against them and their team, and cheer when Boras swindles them again and again. The fact that I am pulling for Scott Boras, Lucifer himself, in any situation should give you an idea of what I think of them.

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