Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

Scarred, but smarter.

18 Aug

Braves 10, Rockies 4

I have a confession to make. My emotional state is entirely too dependent about how and what the Braves are doing. On days after they win, I generally get a head start on a pretty good mood, while losses give me just a little bit of a hole to climb out of. There are literally hundreds of things that are more important in my life and in the world, and I’m not at all proud of the fact that how and what the Braves are doing has an impact on my emotional state. In fact, I used to feel pretty guilty about it. But I’m 62 years old now, and I’ve been a Braves fan since 1965. I’ve finally realized it’s not going to change.

So here’s the good news for today. The Braves won Thursday’s game in Denver, giving them a split of the four game series with the playoff-bound Rockies, and a respectable 3-4 record on a difficult road trip against two teams that have been playing well. Ender was the offensive star, with two dingers, two walks, and two stolen bases. (According to people who research such things, he’s only the second major league player to do that in a game. Howard Johnson was the other; it seems strange to me that no one else has ever done it. The young Barry Bonds? Dale Murphy? Willie Mays? Mickey Mantle?) Freddie also hit a monster shot, and Flowers hit his tenth homer, giving the Braves’ catching duo 22 on the season with a combined OPS well over .800. (How many of you predicted that before this season?). After those four solo home runs, the Braves scored 6 in the 7th, effectively putting the game out of reach. Lucas Sims pitched well enough to get a win in dreaded Coors Field, going five innings and somehow only giving up 2 runs, in spite of 5 hits and 3 walks. (To be fair to Sims, Danny Santana was playing left field, and he let a couple of fly balls fall that I am convinced either of our two Matts would have caught. Why is Santana playing?)

On the other hand, no reason to get excited. Overall the Braves are on a pace to win 73-74 games. That is pretty much where most objective observers predicted where they would be before this season started. It was just about four weeks ago that the Braves had beaten the Dodgers a couple of times, after recently sweeping the Diamondbacks, bringing their record to within one game of .500. Folks were seriously discussing whether the Braves should make a trade or two to make a run at the wild card berth. You remember what happened, though—the Braves played six games against the juggernaut that is the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies.

As much as I like the Braves to win, I’m actually relieved that the focus is back on the future. For better or worse, the Braves have staked everything on a farm system that is supposed to produce results in the next 2 or 3 years. I for one am glad to see Albies and Swanson playing every day, and Sims and Newcomb in the rotation. For this game at least, the kids are alright: Ozzie and Dansby each hit triples, and Swanson drove in two and walked twice.

Now, there are many here among us who feel the rebuild is but a joke. But you and I have been though that, and this is not our fate. I try not to get unduly enthusiastic about these Braves prospects, but I can’t help it–on paper it is an impressive group. You may have seen that Fangraphs has 10 Braves prospects among their just released top 100.

Of course, none of us along the line know what any of these are worth. Of those ten, four are teenage pitchers (Allard, Soroka, Anderson, and Wentz), another is just 20 (Gohara), and the highest rated pitcher (Wright) has pitched 11 innings as a professional. I love them all. And don’t forget Bryse Wilson, who’s been great this year, and Max Fried, who may yet become what he could be, and Touki, with his phenomenal stuff—I could go on. But let us not talk falsely now; we all know that most of them won’t make it. Still, there is a chance we could end up in two or three years with a handful of top shelf ML starting pitchers. That’s enough to put a spring in my step!

But what is most responsible for the happy tune that I’m whistling this morning? Ronald Acuna! Another homer last night. His OPS at Gwinnett is over 1.000—it’s increased at every level this year, from A, to AA, and to AAA. If he continues to improve at that rate, he will be Mike Trout next year. I know, I know—that’s not likely to happen either, but for now I’m going to enjoy the possibility.

The Braves return home for a weekend series with Cincinnati. The Reds are having a woeful season—not much better than the Phillies. Uh oh–Better watch out!

17 Aug

Rockies Eleventy Billion, Barves 2

What’s there to say? Threat Level: Barves.

Mike Foltynewicz didn’t have it. At one point, 16 of 22 hitters were started off with a first pitch strike. He got several 0-2 counts. He just couldn’t finish them off. The Rockies have some good hitters. They continued to prove that against Luke Jackson, and while Max Fried had a couple good innings, he gave up a home run of his own to Trevor Story.

Inexplicably, however, Rex Brothers was able to strike out the side in his only inning of work, probably because the Rockies hitters had mercy on us. But good to see him get some good work in in garbage duty.

Not that it would have mattered, but the hitters turned in a bad night too. They scratched out a couple runs started by Offensive Spark Plug Max Fried‘s walk. But it’s pretty easy to see why the offense struggles, even in Coors Field, when the lineup’s OPSes flow thusly: .736, .751, 1.046, .757, .835, .611, .550, .598. We’re missing Matt Kemp, sure, and the bottom two are Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, who are being allowed to cut their teeth at the big league level, but it’s hard to have high expectations for this offense.

It’s getting to be a long, hot summer.

16 Aug

Braves 4, Rockies 3

The Braves gave up the same number of runs on Tuesday as they did on Monday, but this time the offense was able to squeak out a few of their own and emerge on top. Newcomb limited the Rockies to three runs over six innings at Coors Field, an accomplishment a pitcher would take any day. Each run was scored on a solo home run, though, so it could have gotten ugly quickly had the Rockies managed to get anyone on base before one of those long balls. Fortunately for the Braves, they didn’t, and the bullpen held them scoreless and gave the offense the opportunity to snatch the victory at the end.

Dansby had himself a game, and it was fun to see. He picked up a two-run double in the 2nd to give the Braves their first lead of the game, and added another base hit later on. His defense was solid too, and he looked like he was having fun. Good for him. May he keep it up for a long time.

Markakis homered in the 6th to tie the game at 3-all, where it remained until the Braves had two outs in the 8th inning when Tyler Flowers hit a grounder to third to end the inning. Only the sure-handed Nolan Arenado delivered a low throw that short hopped his first baseman, and the ball bounced away far enough to allow Brandon Phillips to cross the plate with the winning run. It was a gift that turned into a win. A win’s a win no matter how deserved. We’ll take it. Vizzy came on and nailed the save, striking out two along the way. It is nice to have a closer again.

I don’t have anything against the Rockies and know they are in the race for the wild card. I wouldn’t mind seeing them make the playoffs. But the Braves have lost so stinking much over the past month that I hope the Rockies put aside their playoff hunt for two more games. They can go on a 20-3 tear if they want after the Braves leave town, but I can’t help but hope they pick up a couple more losses before then.

Nationals delenda est.

15 Aug

Corregidor: Braves 0, Rockies 3

Corregidor. This is a rock mountain in the channel leading from the South China Sea into Manila Bay. After the Magellan exploration, the Spanish returned to colonize the Philippines. They built the first fortresses on the rocky island. Even by 16th century cannon, that made it hard for a wooden ship to enter Manila Bay.

The first big trade thing that happened in Manila was that it was the “silver concentration point” for purchasing Eastern spices and such. The silver mined in Mexico (centered around Taxco) was shipped overland to a nice port on the Pacific (Acapulco) and then to Manila.

Our World War II reference is to the fall of the Philippines. The U. S. had succeeded Spain in control of the Philippines after the Spanish American War. An independence schedule had been adopted. And then, the Japanese struck.

The grand plan had been that, in case of war, the American forces would withdraw to the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor (just south of the peninsula). Then, led by the “irresistible force” of U. S. battleships, a relief column would come. Well, the Pearl Harbor attack kind of proved that wouldn’t work. So, despite gun emplacements, barracks, hospitals, fuel, food and ammunition all below ground in protected tunnels, after a long hold out, the defense of Corregidor was surrendered.

What has that got to do with Monday’s baseball game? Well, the Braves have been reeling from hit after hit. And, they were able to defend effectively for a fairly long time. But then, what seemed to be inevitable (the collapse) came.

Julio Teheran was almost brilliant. This in the worst park for pitchers in MLB. To slow down homers, the fences are deep. Then, that means the outfielders have to cover the whole Pacific (which first the U. S. and then Japan found is quite difficult). Julio went 7 innings, got 8 K’s, gave up 4 hits and 3 walks, and gave up NO runs. But for the Braves of late 2017, all good things must come to an end.

As the first batter of the game, Ender Inciarte hit a ball into left field that was misplayed. So, he began his circuit of the bases. Ron Washington waved Ender on to the plate. But, the relay caught Ender as his 15.1 second sprint wasn’t fast enough. I remember a game a old Mile High where both Deion Sanders and Fred McGriff hit inside the park home runs. My memory (remember, this is 25 years ago) is that Deion’s time around the bases was 13.9 and Fred’s was 16 something. Ron, with no outs you hold the runner at third.

Chad Bettis was making his first Major League start after diagnosis and treatment for testicular cancer (I remind you of this so you can have some added cringe to your day because by now, the plight of the Braves has gone on too long for an emotional reaction to a setback). Despite pedestrian minor league rehab numbers, he pretty well kept the Braves in check. 7 innings with no walks and 6 hits and 2 strikeouts, no runs. With Matt Kemp coming off the DL Friday (I guess if he doesn’t hurt himself getting in the whirlpool), we will find out if the saber crowd is wrong and one above average bat can “protect” and “inspire” an offense from 2 runs a game to 5 runs a game. And then, if that works, somebody will take Kemp off our hands and Braves can make a long term solution.

Our old friend Mike Dunn came on in relief and got the win. That came because Rex Brothers (whom I have to admit I thought would help us), gave up 2 hits and a walk without getting any outs. Then Jason Motte (who I ALSO thought could help us), allowed 2 of those to score to get 3 total home in one inning.

The moral of our story: When it is raining bombs and artillery shells, you can only hide in a Rockie cave for so long before you have to put up the white flag. Or, as some say in baseball, tip your cap.

13 Aug

Braves 6, Cardinals 3

R.A. Dickey gave the Braves a much needed boost, allowing only 1 run in 7 innings, and Brandon Phillips had 2 hits, including a 2 run homer in the 5th to provide a 4 – 0 lead, helping the Braves to salvage 1 of 3 games from the Cardinals and break a 5 game losing streak. The Cardinals cut the lead to 5 – 3 in the 8th and loaded the bases with one out, mainly as Jim Johnson allowed 3 hits, including a solo home run by Paul DeJong. Jose Ramirez did the hard work; Arodys Vizcaino got the save.

Jace Peterson hit a pinch hit triple in the 9th and scored on a wild pitch to conclude the scoring. Ender Inciarte went 3 for 5, and Danny Santana, Sixth Hitter Extraordinaire, added an RBI.

The Braves are now 14 – 22 since Freddie Freeman‘s return from the disabled list, and remain in 4th place, a game behind the Mets and 17 behind the Nationals.  On to Colorado Monday.

The 2nd funniest thing I ever heard about St. Louis:

13 Aug

The Same River, Twice, Again……………Braves 5 Cardinals 6

La Vie en Rose. Life through rose colored glasses. That’s what we need. How we need it.


You could pretty much predict it. The details might vary to some extent but not much, really.

We score a couple in the first but give them back right away. They added 3 in the 4th, one more in the 7th, that was all they needed. The essential difference with their at bats and ours was simple – they hit the ball harder up and down the line. Just like the previous night and just like they will on Sunday afternoon. It is a cacophony of sound at two different levels that sends its own message.To be fair we had one guy who did that and did it all evening and had just one single to show for it. Dansby had no luck at all, straight at an infielder, but there has to be a glimmer here you think as all his contact was pure, The right foot went backwards about 18 inches on every full swing. What that means heaven knows but it’s there, just watch. But he hit it hard, every time.

Lucas Sims went to 0 and 3 but did persevere into the sixth and a pitch count at close to 100. That helped the bullpen somewhat and hopefully gave him something  positive to take back to the dugout. Assessing his performance, his pitches, you end up with the impression that the curve and change, both around 83/85, are worthy of further refinement and look decent. His fastball in the low nineties does not impress. It has to be precisely located to work and tonight’s numbers show otherwise. 5 IP, 5 runs, 3K, only 1 BB but 2 HBP. But he hung around and did not appear to lose his composure

Max Fried pitched a meaningless 8th inning in relief and took 18 pitches to do so. This, again for him, proves nothing at all. Have him relieve RA mid game tomorrow and leave him out there. Maybe then we, and he, will learn something. 4 innings would be ideal.

Our hitters look tired, the prolonged absence of Kemp is permeating the order. The shining exceptions were the aforementioned Dansby and also Brandon who’s surprising us all at third and tonight cracked a solid homer. Matt Adams is miserably bad and here follows a hypothesis as to what may have happened and is continuing to happen.

At the time Freddie emerged from the DL and took a few hundred ground balls and then played a couple of perfectly competent games at third there were two posts made on this board that day. Both said the same thing. The pressure on Adams to perform at the plate had doubled, just like that. We had all been absorbed with how Freddie would do at third. Once it had been quickly established he was fine there the unspoken focus was all on Adams. All he had to do was to hit as he had been hitting since he came.

And he couldn’t, and still can’t. He’s a mess. But it still made no sense how quickly the Braves announced the ‘experiment’ over with Freddie back at first. It was indecently and apparently unfairly fast to Adams after all the assurances that had been given and Freddie’s glowing opinion of his bat. There is one logical explanation of why this seemed so premature – Adams asked for it to be ended, he was not able to handle the responsibility, wanted back to the relative obscurity of the bench and some LF. The Braves agreed, how could they not. And now, of course, he finds he still can’t regain the swing.

Afternoon game tomorrow. Who is going to hit the ball hard? We know what we will get from RA for, sadly, maybe his last innings for us before the greedy Yankees suck him up. If he goes say thank you.

Hate those Cardinals . Hate most of all the bloated red Cardinelles, the geriatric grannies, still searching for that second husband at the ball park. They have their first safely buried now,  the insurance collected, so they can afford the best seats in their search for number two who will, himself, be nicely loaded. Ugh.



12 Aug

St. Louis 8, Atlanta 5


Mike Foltynewicz could only go 2 2/3 innings against a streaking Cardinals team, giving up 6 runs on 4 walks and 7 hits. Meanwhile the Braves couldn’t take advantage of Adam Wainwright turning into a pumpkin, only managing to score 1 run off him in 5 innings despite the fact that he was throwing about as hard as some of the top pitchers at Williamsport will next week. Usually it’s the No Name Lefties that stymie the Bravos with the soft stuff, but Wainwright induced double plays in each of the first three innings, including a baases loaded no out DP by Freddie Freeman in the 3rd, to limit the damage to one run.

The Braves threatened to make a game of it in the 6th, with Matt Adams singling in Freddie, followed by Ozzie Albies‘ second career homer to draw to within one. But Rex Brothers gave up two runs in the bottom of the 8th, and the St. Louis pen would give up nothing more.

49 games left, and the Braves are 51-62. They are who we thought they would be. A sub-.500 team with a lot of youth and potential, but not much in the way of results so far.

11 Aug

First Impressions of SunTrust Park (by Sam Hutcheson)

Since it’s timely, I visited the park for the first time last night. Richard B, of the old Baseball Primer hordes, was in town for work and we decided to catch a game (he wanted to check off a new park on his travels, etc.) We met for drinks in my neighby around 4:00pm to get him some non-Delta provided “lunch”. I may or may not have pounded back three somewhat high gravity brews in the process, which means I absolutely did that. Crawford at 5SW makes exceptionally good beers. Regardless, that’s what Uber’s for.

Uber gets you to and from the stadium area efficiently enough, at least coming out of the city proper. We were on the Westside, and at 5:30/6:00 PM the driver smartly used surface streets (Marietta St >> Atlanta Highway) to come up on the west side of 285. Perhaps coming from the other cardinal directions, or coming in exclusively on the interstates would have been worse, but for us, on a sparsely attended Wednesday night game, traffic really wasn’t bad at all.

We grabbed another beer at “The Battery ATL,” which is the outdoor mall that they’re trying to sell as a “neighborhood” around the stadium itself. Options and prices weren’t terribly bad there. Only slightly exorbitant. They jumped again once you got through the gates, but were not notably marked up in the lead-in bars. We wandered around a little in “the Battery.” Found the Hank statue (not the same). RB bought some socks at “Baseballism.” Slipped into the park proper a good 30-45 minutes before game time and walked the perimeter of it on the first covered deck.

To the designers’ credit, SunTrust has amazingly clear sightlines, and the field itself is much more intimate to the fans than Turner. Even on the third level, our seats behind home plate felt close to the action. Much closer than the 300’s (much less the 400’s) of the Ted. Only obstruction of view was the cap of metal railing on the glass safety barrier that SunTrust has instead of Turner’s low concrete walls.

That said… the entire experience felt empty and soulless. Some of that may have been the level of the two teams at play. But “the Battery” feels to me like a suburbanite’s idea of what they think an “good urban neighborhood” might be. It was way more “Atlantic Station with a ball park next to it” than Wrigleyville or the Fens. Now, maybe if it’s still there in a hundred years it will have developed a soul as an urban space by then, but for now, it feels plastic and devoid of anything resembling the human. Which, well, ya know… Marietta.

I suppose if the team gets good again, I’d make trips up to see them there. It’s not a *bad* experience, by any means. Aside from the lack of anything resembling the human spirit that hadn’t been stamped out in corporate-branded, target-market-approved plastic, of course. But when compared to the vibe and feel of West Downtown in 2014 when the Hawks rolled out their “True to ATL” season, or the absolute madness of GA Tech on an ATL UTD match day this year, there was definitely a lack to “Braves Baseball” last night. Again, some of that probably has to do with the nature of the crappy product on the field. But even before UTD was a playoff contender, there was a scene of human madness around it. The Braves currently lack anything close to as much, and outside of rent revenue from the mallpark restaurants and hotels, I don’t see what this new park is going to add to that lacking.

10 Aug

A Phils/Barves Game As You Might Expect

11-2. That’s not the record the Dodgers have against the Phillies. That’s the record the Phillies have against us. They’re 31-67 against everyone else, but they’ve beat us like a drum all season. They’ve walked off on us three times, and they’ve beaten us by one run six times. But interestingly, one of our two wins was a 14-1 drubbing. Baseball’s a weird game.

For those that weren’t able to see the game, this guy’s opinion was that Sean Newcomb looked much better. After riding the struggle bus to a 7 walk performance in 4 2/3 innings last time out, he had one walk over 6 innings. His strike-to-ball ratio was one of his best since his first start. He was also hurt by two bad plays that led to 2 of his 3 runs allowed. Nick Markakis lost a ball in the lights that led to an extra base hit, and Ozzie Albies made a poor throw on a relay that led to a run. All in all, this was a step forward for him, and a great bounce-back start after what was probably a defeating start last time out.

But this team is mired in several slumps. Albies, Swanson, Adams, Inciarte, and Markakis are all in slumps, and on top of that, Adams can’t play left field at all (enjoy the video of him dropping a very catchable fly ball if you can find it). Kemp’s absence throws off the feng shui of this lineup as well. Instead of being able to go L-R-L-R all the way through the lineup, Markakis is inexplicably lodged between Freddie Freeman and Tyler Flowers, thus creating a L-L 3-hole and clean-up that the Phillies were able to exploit late in the game here. Matt Kemp, when healthy, is the only thing close to a clean-up hitter we have, and his right-handedness also allows Markakis to hit 5th, Flowers to hit 6th, and Adams to be one of the best 7-hole hitters in the game.

The bullpen once again pitched really well in relief, and Jim Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino have both taken very well to their new roles. At this point, it’s now the offense that hasn’t given the Braves a chance to win. Round and round we go.

09 Aug

Phillies 5, Braves 2

There are few things in life more depressing than having to recap yet another loss against the imposing Phillies, especially when it makes the 5th straight defeat against them. In a year that has seen the Braves make quite a few strides forward, their play against the Phillies has been nothing short of humiliatingly abysmal. To put it into perspective:

  • The Braves are now 2-10 against the Phillies.
  • The Braves have more wins against the Dodgers this season than against the Phillies.
  • A full 25% of the Phillies TOTAL wins on the season have come courtesy of the Braves (10 of 41).
  • If the Braves had reversed that record and gone 10-2 against the Phillies, the Phillies would have a 33-77 record right now (a .300 winning percentage), and the Braves would be sitting comfortably in second place in the division at 59-52, seven games behind Washington.
  • The only other team that Philadelphia has a winning record against this season is the Giants, against whom they are 2-1 (and the Giants have MLB’s second worst record, ahead of only Philly).

I could keep going, but I have to stop before I make myself cry. It’s as though the Phillies singlehandedly have crushed any of the dignity the Braves managed to conjure up this season.

There was little in this game you could point to as encouraging. Freddie hit a solo home run, but that was about it for the highlights. Teheran proved once again that SunTrust holds kryptonite somewhere within its mighty beams, as he managed to give up 7 hits and 5 runs to the Phillies in 5 innings. Max Fried made his major league debut and pitched two innings, giving up two hits and two walks and striking out one. It wasn’t a stunning performance, especially considering it was against the worst team in the majors (and, quite frankly, would probably be one of the worst in AAA, too), but considering what the rest of the Braves staff has done this season against them, Fried’s outing looked downright exciting.

Natspos delenda est. And Phillies delenda est, too, as slowly and painfully as possible.

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