Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

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29 Apr

Chicago 6, Atlanta 1

On a day that, if you merely glanced at the headlines, just another in a long line of merciless
beatdowns by an Atlanta opponent, perhaps we got our first taste of the fruits of the rebuild as Aaron
Blair made his second start, this one a very good effort, at the NL Central leading Chicago Cubs, and
Freddie Freeman homered for the second straight game.

Blair went 6 very strong innings, giving up only a 1-2-3 (1 run, 2 hits, 3 walks) to the Cubbies.
Unfortunately, Fredi G. of Da Fredi G. Show pulled Blair after 85 pitches for a pinch hitter in the 7th,
as the Braves loaded the bases with no outs. But, this being Atlanta, the Braves immediately struck
out twice and Nick Markakis couldn’t get the big two out hit off Jon Lester. Alexi Ogando tiptoed
through the 7th, getting old friend David Ross to ground into a bases loaded one out double play, but
Jim Johnson, the Ghost of Eric O’Flaherty, and Chris Withrow combined to let the Cubs scratch across
five runs in the 8th. Scratch, as in an Anthony Rizzo single to center for one, and a Matt Szczur grand
slam immediately after. In related news, until Mike Foltynezwicz gets the call from Gwinnett, Szczur
becomes the Scrabble leader in the majors.

But I digress.

I feel the last word should be given to our old friend, Andy DuFresne:

29 Apr

Braves 5, Newer Boston Team 3

A blind squirrel just found a nut. Our two best players are Jhoulys Chacin and Nick Markakis, our shortstop is “one of the worst players in the majors” per Ken Rosenthal, our catcher can catch neither pitches nor popups, our team batting average is .224, and our team ERA is 5.07. But we won one!

The defense was awful again, but Jhoulys Chacin was dealing again. He gave up a run in the first after an error by Freddie, pitched around a passed ball by A.J. Pierzynski in the second, and pitched around a dropped foul pop-up by Pierzysnki in the 4th. He took 91 pitches to get through five plus innings — pretty effective innings, giving up two runs on six hits and two walks, with four strikeouts — so this was another Johnny Wholestaff night from the pen. Fredi used five relievers to get through the game, and they only allowed one more run, shutting the door admirably.

It was only the ninth game out of 22 played in which we held the opposition to fewer than four runs. And through those 22 games, we already have four relievers with double-digit appearances; three more have pitched in nine games. Basically, just about every reliever on the team is on a nearly every-other-day cadence.

There were also good things from the offense. Nick Markakis went 4-5 with a double and three RBI. Leadoff has been kind of a cursed spot for us for many years. Markakis may be the best we’ve had in a long, long time. Freddie Freeman went 3-4 and raised his average 28 points, to .247; Mallex Smith went 3-4 with two doubles and raised his average 52 points, to .188.

Bring on the Cubbies!

28 Apr

Red Sox 9 – Barves 4

The Good
Freddie Freeman hit a home run, snapping a seemingly endless drought of home runs by the Braves.
John Gant ate some innings, and kept the game from getting embarrassing.
AJ Pierzynski got his 2,000th hit.
Hunter Cervenka pitched a scoreless inning.
-We may have seen the last of Bud Norris.

That’s about it.

The Bad
-The Braves accomplished only six hits.
John Gant may have good enough stuff to eat innings, but not good enough to be effective out of relief or be in the rotation.
Jason Grilli gave up another run, and sits with a 6.75 ERA.

The Ugly

Bud Norris is absolutely awful. He got hit all over the field, giving up 7 hits and 6 runs in 1 1/3 innings. He’s only 31, and he was a good pitcher in the AL East as recently as two years ago, but he just doesn’t have it. I’€™m not sure if the Braves will release him or merely demote him to the bullpen, but a 8.74 ERA this far into the season is just not going cut it.
-We’€™re 4-17.

26 Apr

Red Sox 11, IWOTB 4

In times past, that golden era of yesteryear, the word “streak” uttered in the same breath as the word “Braves” conjured up visions of division titles and new pennants gracing the outfield at Turner Field. Now, in this Brave(s) New World our fandom must embrace, “streak” deals not with what the team does, but with who the team is. This team is a streak—9 losses, 4 wins, 7 losses. A month into this season, the Braves’ true colors are obvious, and they are obviously ugly.

The nice thing about the current streak, unlike the first losing streak of the year, has been the old cliched “they’re in every game” line. If you’re going to lose 120 games (which the Braves may indeed do), it is a lot more entertaining to watch them lose a 1-0 pitchers’ duel or get the tying run on base in the 9th inning of a 2-3 game than have the score say the game is over by the 3rd inning. Braves baseball over the past week has, for the most part, been salvageable.

That was not the case tonight. Tonight was ugly from the opening gate until the painful finish. Matt Wisler gave up 4 runs in the top of the 1st to take all mystery out of the game, but managed to complete four more innings and only surrender one more run. The Braves chipped away with single runs in the 1st and 4th frames, but this offense was not built to get pitchers off the hook for losses.

Ryan Weber got the old take-one-for-the-team treatment when he was called on to finish out the last two innings of the game, a task he had to complete even though he surrendered 5 runs in the top of the 9th.

The Braves offense was nothing to write home about, but they did manage to put up 4 runs on the board, and Freddie‘s batting average is now above the Mendoza line. Neither of those things are great accomplishments, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and those are about the most positive things that can be pulled from this debacle.

Well, those, and the few seconds of defensive greatness Daniel Castro treated fans to in the 4th inning, when he channeled his inner Simmons and made Braves fans forget, for the briefest of moments, that the best defensive player in all of baseball no longer dons a jersey with a tomahawk across the chest. Andrelton Castro ran backwards, slid and caught the ball in his glove, immediately threw the ball out of his glove into the air, and recovered enough to catch it with his bare hand and secure the out. A throw back to 1st completed the double play and ended the inning. It was a catch of beauty, and, in the same way finding a $100 bill while you mucked out a stable would make the job almost worthwhile, Castro’s Simmons-esque moment made this game almost redeemable. Almost.

26 Apr

Red Dusk: Red Sox 1, Braves 0

[I altered the title. Obviously, the Braves were not as triumphant as the Wolverines, so the setting sun subs in for the rising sun in our movie adaptation.]

In the predawn hours of April 25, 2016, the Red (Sox) Menace dropped into the ATL by air. The “adult resistance” (seasoned, proven, actually good, players) was unavailable or unable or unwilling to resist. So, the teenagers, and a few worn out old folks, led by a 20 something, began the resistance.

20 something Julio Teheran appeared in the role of Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze, get it). He led the resistance in his occasionally appropriate superhero name of “Good Julio.” It had been a long time since we had seen Good Julio and his appearance was a cinematic miracle. Good Julio struck out 8, walked 2, and allowed only 1 run over 7 innings. Major League stats say you ought to win with that kind of start about 80% of the time. BUT, they don’t know this rag tag bunch of Wolverines.

Meanwhile Colonel Ernesto Bella (Rick Porcello) effectively suppressed the uprising. But when hunting rifles and improvised bombs are going against tanks and attack helicopters, the odds are a little daunting. So an effective sniper shot here (single) and an infiltration there (walk) and that was about all that the home side could muster. Never could they put a series of coordinated attacks together to get one of those strange things recently discovered by seat painter, the “run.”

So, in inning 7, Jackie Bradley, Jr. launches one. And that ONE was the only ONE and the only ONE the Red Menace needed. Good Julio was allowed to fight on by Fredi (how do you “pull” Patrick Swayze?) and despite loading the bases, he got out of the inning. The bullpen held on.

Fredi Freeman had 2 hits and a walk, so MAYBE he MIGHT come out of it. He also should have been safe at 2nd in the 7th (2 outs, 1st and 3rd instead of 1 out bases loaded). He also was hit by a pitch in the 9th, but the “no call” was not overturned. Are the replay guys in New York blind? What good is replay if the official can’t actually see. Or, maybe that was part of the conspiracy behind the Red Menace.

24 Apr

Mets 3, Braves 2 (by coop)

Aaron Blair’s debut was not spectacular, but it was okay. The bullpen did its job. The Braves outhit the Mets 12 to 7; but on the scoreboard, Braves lose 3-2. Again. But I am satisfied. Here’s why.

Aaron Blair is a stud. His first five innings in the bigs, he matched Jacob deGrom pitch for pitch. That’s studly.

Then came the sixth. Things unraveled. That’s happened this year; but Aaron looks ready. The kid can pitch. I foresee excellence with occasional bouts of “oh my gosh, I’m pitching in the big leagues.” He’ll be better his next turn. Count it.

23 Apr

Batman 6, Suicide Squad 3

Matt ‘The Dark Knight’ Harvey swooped into Atlanta last night, and routed the various henchmen, flunkies, and lackeys that Fredi ‘Joker’ Gonzalez ran out to attempt to bait him into the latest death trap. Some timely assistance from Curtis ‘Robin’ Granderson, however, in the form of a second inning grand slam off Bud ‘Poison Ivy’ Norris, and another 4th inning solo shot was enough to send the whole motley lot off to Arkham Asylum, where no doubt, the incompetent guards will cruelly let us escape tonight to try to win again.

A depressing fact gleaned from the broadcast last night – the Mets have 44 extra-base hits in their last five games, while the local nine only has 27 all season. And when you consider that Granderson, by himself, almost outhomered the Braves on the season last night, you can see why IWOTB are on pace for a crisp 40-122 record.

I’m beginning to think we might be a bad baseball team.

22 Apr

Mets Preview by Brew and Orange blog (4/22 Game Thread)

A few days ago I was contacted by a Mets blog, Brew and Orange, to answer some questions about the Braves and Atlanta’s beer scene. Those are the kind of questions I was born to answer, so I leapt at the chance. They were kind enough to do the same for me. Here follows a series preview of the Mets series, with questions current as of Monday, April 18.

Q: David Wright is still getting on base at a good rate, but his power outage is still continuing. How worried are you about him?

A: He’s been making some solid contact, so I’m not too concerned about the power quite yet. In fact he just hit one right off the top of the huge left field mini-Green-Monster in Cleveland on Saturday, and hit two cheapies in Citizens Bank on Monday. Certainly if my options are getting on base and staying healthy or power and continued trouble with spinal stenosis, I’ll take the former. As long as he bats second in a lineup that follows with Conforto, Cespedes, and Duda, there will be plenty of others who can get him in via home run.

Q: A year after silencing doubters with a terrific 2015 campaign, Curtis Granderson raising all of the old worries from 2014. He’s 35. Is this just a slump?

A: A lot of folks are comparing his 2016 start to his 2015 start, which was an equally horrific 1-27, using the old “and look how that turned out!” line. I think it’s going to be hard for him to replicate his 2015 success, and will more likely be pretty streaky this year. That being said, recent returns have been markedly better, slashing .286/.348/.619 in his last 6 games.

I think a lot of it can be explained by the old adage of how hard it is to his a spherical ball with a cylindrical bat. In 2014, Granderson had a BABIP of .265, well below his .300 career average, which is right on line with where you would expect it to be. 2015 saw his BABIP return to .305, and he had probably the third best season of his career. So as long as his luck is in line with where you’d expect it to be, he probably won’t regress too far off last year’s results.

Q: You’re the defending league champions, but you’re already four games behind the Nats. Obviously it’s way too early to panic, and you still have incredible pitching, but with only 37 runs scored through 11 games, is the offense this team’s weak point?

A: I do think that would be the area of concern, yes. It reminds me of June 2015 (which featured a Braves 4 game sweep in Atlanta), where a 2 run deficit felt pretty much insurmountable. Then again, there were a lot of at-bats going to the likes of John Mayberry Jr., Eric Campbell, and Michael Cuddyer at that point, so I think we’re better positioned this year. I suspect our one-run record is going to loom larger than it might for other teams.

Q: How good can Matz and Conforto be this year?

A: Matz is probably the best 4th starter in the Major Leagues. It’s been fun to watch Mets fan play the game of ranking our starters, because it’s such an embarrassment of riches. When he locates his fastball, his secondary pitches become very difficult to hit. I think he’s primed for a solid year.

Conforto, though, is a legit star in the making. It took Terry Collins all of 10 games to move him up to the 3 hole, and he should be there all year. He’s an incredibly natural hitter, and has surprised scouts with his average to above average defensive skills. It’s too bad he’s not eligible for Rookie of the Year (missed by 40 at bats) because he’d be a shoo-in for this year’s award.

Q: Who is the prospect you’re most looking forward to seeing later this year?

A: Interestingly, the cupboard’s a little bare on prospects with the graduations of deGrom, Matz, Syndergaard, Conforto, etc. Along with that, (happily) there’s not much of a specific glaring hole on the 25-man roster for a prospect to knock the door down. Of those waiting in the wings, I’m most excited to see what Dilson Herrera can do at second base in a full time role, but if that happens before Neil Walker’s departure for free agency this coming Winter, I’d have to assume something went very wrong. He’s shown decent range and some pop at the bat in limited cups of coffee, and it’s pretty clear he’ll be expected to take the reigns for Opening Day 2017.

21 Apr

Dodgers 2, Braves 1

I called an old friend of mine just the other day
No congratulations, no respect paid
All she did was wonder if the rumors were true
I said, “No, I ain’t dead yet but, uh, what about you?”
I can count my friends with a peace sign, one, two
It was Sunday night, instead of doing what I usually do, I

I scan my computer looking for a site
Somebody to talk to, funny and bright
I scan my computer looking for a site
Make believe it’s a better world, a better life
(A better life)

The Braves may never score again.

20 Apr

Dodgers 5, Braves 3

It’€™s pretty brutal out there. In the month of April, the Braves drew the short straw on scheduling. The Braves play 28 of their first 31 games against likely playoff teams. Games where you have your best vs. not-their-best still result in a frustrating loss.

Tonight had Julio Teheran against Ross Stripling, so you like your chances. However, Teheran was battling the flu and only lasted 5 1/3 innings. It was a good enough 5 1/3 innings to leave with the lead, only to have Eric O’€™Flaherty give up a first pitch 2-run homer to Adrian Gonzalez. I love me some O’€™Flaherty, but he just doesn’€™t have it. We then brought out the A-squad, getting appearances from Chris Withrow, Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino, and Jason Grilli. When you throw that starter and those relievers, you really have to hope you can pull out a W. Sigh.

The Braves offense is woefully anemic. As of tonight’€™s conclusion, they are on pace to hit 34 home runs. Even in a rebuilding year, that just won’t do. We were out-hit, of course, but we still had 7 hits on the night. With the decent contact and walk rates for the team, you would hope we could push more runs across. But at one point of the night, 5 of the 8 position players had batting averages below .200. Blech.

I’€™m watching every game because I want to see each player experience A Moment, a play or event that can galvanize a young player towards turning the corner. And, boy, were we close with Mallex Smith tonight. I was listening on the radio at this point, and I can’t find a highlight, but this is what it sounded like: Justin Turner hit a ball into the left-center gap. Mallex was shaded towards right-center and nearly made a run-saving catch in the gap. Instead the snow-cone grab popped out as he hit the ground, and a run scored. I want those moments for our young players as they drudge through a miserable season. We all remember the beautiful catch Heyward made in the left-center gap at Citi Field to win it three years ago. Players need those.

At any rate, we’€™ll be treated to more young Braves as either Mike Foltyniewicz or Aaron Blair may make a start on Sunday. Williams Perez likely has ended his bid to be a rotation fixture, and the future is getting closer and closer.

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