Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

I don’t want them forget Ruth; I just want them to remember me. -Hank Aaron

31 Jul

July, 1998

7/30/98: The Braves have acquired Greg Colbrunn, who was with them down the stretch last year, from the Rockies for two minor leaguers. Colbrunn was hitting .311 with 2 homers in 122 AB, which isn’t all that great considering it was Colorado, but let’s not start that again.

The two pitchers were David Cortes and Mike Porzio. Cortes was pitching in Richmond, and well (3-3, 4 Sv, 2.82 ERA, 46 K 44.2 IP). If the Braves had had a bullpen massacre like last year, he likely would have been called up, and his story is pretty similar to Kerry Lightenberg’s and Mike Cather’s. Born in Mexico and undrafted out of college, he was signed (according to the Richmond Braves’ web site) out of an amateur league in California and shot through the Braves’ system last year. Porzio was playing for Danville (the Carolina League high-A team, not the Rookie League team) and also playing well, 3-2, 2.51 ERA, 2 Sv. He’s 25, a lefty from Connecticut by way of Villanova. He’s 6-3 and I just exhausted my knowledge of him, the stats from Baseball Weekly and the rest from the Danville Braves’ web site. His age, at that level, means he’s no prospect or almost no prospect. At 25, he should dominate A-Ball.

Anyway, forget about them, they’ve gone to Colorado and will never amount to anything for that reason alone.

7/27/98: Why do the Braves need a closer anyway? Kerry Lightenberg’s gotten the save in his last eight chances, and is something like 14 of 16 overall. They could use some bullpen help, but the top of the pen looks strong. Lightenberg, by the way, is second among the relievers, after Wohlers, in tenure with the team.

Andruw Jones is being ripped in the Compuserve Baseball Forum for lackadaisical play. I don’t see it personally, do you? He had the one play last week, but most of his on-field work has been very good. His problems for the most part seem to be in the clubhouse.

7/25/98: Sometimes you just can’t win. Denny Neagle, coming off of his worst career start, pitched well enough to win (7 IP, 2 R, actually it should have been 3 but the umpires ruled that an obvious home run didn’t go out) but got no run support and wound up a loser, 4-1. The stats say that Denny’s getting 4.97 runs a game to play with (until tonight) but that’s kind of an illusion. A lot of his games have been like what I described last time I wrote — he gets to the sixth in a close game and then gives up a bunch of runs — and then the team comes back and scores a few, eventually losing 8-5 when the bullpen can’t control the damage. If he were “really” getting 5 runs a game, he’d be better than 10-9. I would suggest that his problems of late are largely due to him pressing in these tight games.

Bobby left Klesko in to hit against lefty reliever Jason Christiansen in the eighth with two out and two on, trailing by three. Ryan struck out. It was an odd thing to do, with Gerald Williams still on the bench (he later hit for Tucker and struck out) but I guess Bobby thought Klesko (who had homered earlier for the Braves’ only run) had the best chance of tying it with one swing. But he’s hitting lefties worse than ever this year. While he’s hitting .288 and slugging .532 against righthanders, he’s .188/.250 the other way, with all of his homers against RHP. Williams is the exact opposite — actually he’s even more extreme — hitting .415 against lefties and slugging .600, but only .190/.288 against righties. Two of his homers have been against righties, though. But I secondguess. No, I first-guessed, I thought it was weird at the time.

7/22/98: Two problems arising from the recently concluded sweep by the Cubs:

1) Denny Neagle, who has been treading on thin ice a lot this year, was absolutely shelled in the first game. His typical start of late has been to get to about the sixth in a 0-0 or 1-1 game and then give up four or five runs. This time he was just awful. The rotation behind Maddux and Glavine is a little shaky if Smoltz can’t hold up.

2) In the second game Andruw Jones ran through a stop sign with one out in the third to be tagged out at the plate, then in the eighth nonchalanted a fly ball allowing it to drop in front of him for a single, and was immediately pulled for Gerald Williams. Bobby is evidently fed up with Andruw’s attitude. If the Braves had a credible alternative (and I don’t consider Gerald Williams everyday credible) Andruw would likely be demoted to the minors, and might anyway. The Dodgers did a similar thing with Raul Mondesi a few years ago, I recall. I don’t think a trip to the minors is usually a cure for poor play, but for a poor attitude it might work.

7/19/98: Nice to have the Brewers in the NL this year; the Braves have pretty much dominated them, including 3 wins in a four-game series just concluded. The bullpen labored a little, and Mark Wohlers has serious problems. He can’t throw strikes much at all with his fastball. The Braves will probably make a move before the trading deadline July 31.

The Bullpenometer was just too depressing: I’ve decided to count down Greg Maddux’s march to his 200th career win. He’s at 197… Greg’s career ERA (2.73) is now the lowest of any starting pitcher (minimum 1500 IP) since 1920.

7/15/98: I’ve renamed the page, simply because I think this little project has taken on something of a diary form… The Braves battered the now no-longer second place Mets (pending tonight’s action they are a half game behind the Phillies, 13 1/2 behind the Braves) 12-1 today to go to 5-0 this year against New York’s other team. I wonder how they’re going to blame this loss on the umpires. I’m sure they’ll find a way.

Amazingly, the Braves are going to bring up Mark Wohlers tomorrow. Wohlers has simply been horrible in the minor leagues, and can’t get anyone out. This must be one of those psychological ploys, because otherwise it makes no sense at all. ESPN Sportszone’s “Rumor Mill” column mentions that the Braves might trade for Detroit’s Todd Jones to shore up the bullpen. Jones has been better than Wohlers, but not all that much, and has lost his job. Most of the people the Braves are supposed to be going after (really, everyone except Randy Myers) would likely lose the closer job to Lightenberg eventually if they were given it, so why trade a prospect for them?

7/13/98: Well, that was a disaster, losing three in a row against the Marlins. The Marlins are not a bad ballclub. Their starting pitching is weak, but their bullpen has become a source of strength and they’re going to score runs. They got off to an awful start, but they have a lot of good young players and if they were getting any starting pitching at all might be ten or fifteen games higher in the standings.

7/9/98: Back from the All-Star Break in Miami against the “World Champions”. The Braves won 6-4, with the bullpen shaky again. There are lots of rumors of the Braves getting relief help, but the price of getting a closer is so high (after the Reds got two top prospects with major league experience for Jeff Shaw) that it’s unlikely to happen unless the bullpen really stinks. They probably will make a move at least for a left handed specialist (names mentioned prominently are Jesse Orosco and Jason Christiansen) and maybe for another RH reliever as well. Mark Leiter has been mentioned a lot; he hasn’t pitched well, but he’s been OK. I doubt he’d be any better in the closer spot than Kerry Lightenberg. If Wohlers comes back, the Braves will be in good shape.

7/5/98:
NA NA NA NA…

NA NA NA NA NA…

HEY HEY…

GOODBYE.

Let’s all say goodbye to the Mets, they made it interesting there for about three days after the Piazza trade, but the Braves should probably begin printing playoff tickets, as they more or less wrapped up the division today with a 3-2 extra inning win, completing a three-game sweep. Teams don’t come back from 12 1/2 back at the break often, and the Mets frankly don’t look like they’re going forward anyway. The entire series was marked by Met arguments with umpires, down to the last play of today’s game, and most of them (not the last) over pretty petty things. The Braves appear to have New York flustered.

I have to give the bullpen credit, four relievers combined for five innings of scoreless pitching for the Braves today, with Rudy Seanez getting the win.

7/4/98: Happy Fourth… The Braves are now 11 1/2 up behind Kevin Millwood’s tenth win of the season. Millwood went eight and threw 123 pitches, which is an awful lot for a young pitcher. Personally, I was shocked when Millwood came out to pitch the eighth; he had thrown over 100 pitches by that point and had been hit hard in the seventh though he got out of it without any runs given up because of fine plays by Lockhart and Weiss. It just shows how little confidence Cox has left in the bullpen that he would continue to use a young pitcher in that situation.

7/3/98: Thanks largely to a perfect throw from Andruw Jones in centerfield, cutting down the potential tying run, the Braves won tonight’s game, the beginning of a big three-game series at home against the second-place Mets. Not as big as it could have been, since the Mets have been scuffling (10 1/2 out after tonight) and apparently were looking ahead to this series, losing two of three to the Blue Jays early in the week. The Mets are also without their ace Al Leiter, who is on the DL with a torn knee ligament. Speaking of aces, a lot of managers would have pushed Greg Maddux’s start one day to get him in against the Mets, but not Bobby Cox. That’s great, and very much his style. It’s too early to mess around with that sort of thing.

Just looking at the Mets lineup makes me overconfident; Mike Piazza is the only Met position player who could start for the Braves, and he’d have to learn the outfield because Javy’s a better defensive player and now probably a better hitter. Edgardo Alfonzo, who’s not in the lineup tonight, could probably start too if he can still play second base, and John Olerud’s a good player. Without Leiter, their pitching doesn’t look all that great, though Rick Reed could probably be the Braves’ fourth starter, and I’d love to have John Franco or even Mel Rojas in the bullpen. But Benny Agbayani? Luis Lopez? For that matter, Carlos Baerga and Rey Ordonez?

7/2/98: Greg Maddux continues to amaze, winning his tenth straight game and twelfth overall with his second consecutive complete-game shutout. The Devil Rays are only an expansion team, but the Braves accomplished a lot over the last three days. They exorcised the demon of Tony Saunders, who was a Braves-killer last year, John Smoltz overcame a rough start of a game to pitch very well though he didn’t get a win, and Kerry Lightenberg got a save. It seems like months since a Braves reliever got one.

Six Braves made the All-Star team, and all were good selections as far as I’m concerned. Oddly, the pick of Chipper Jones to start at third base is controversial. I say “oddly” because not only is Chipper a bigger name than Vinny Castilla, his overall numbers are better, even if you don’t adjust Castilla’s stats for Coors Field. Their batting averages are basically the same, and Castilla has four more homers (25 vs. 21, since each homered today) but Chipper walks more than twice as often and his on-base percentage is about fifty points higher. Can four more Castilla RBI make up for ten fewer Castilla runs scored? I don’t see how.

Anyway, sometimes you see people wanting to take the fans’ vote away and give it to the managers or the players. Well, the fans did a lot better job than either this year. The players’ vote in Baseball Weekly contained many of the same errors (under the conventional “who’s having the best year” standard, which I don’t subscribe to, but when in Rome…) as the fans did — Cal Ripken instead of Robin Ventura or Scott Brosius as AL 3B, Mike Piazza instead of Javy Lopez as NL catcher — and added the mistakes of Mo Vaughn instead of fans’ pick Jim Thome as AL 1B (they have the same BA and HR, but Thome leads Vaughn in basically everything else) and Castilla over Jones. They did have Sammy Sosa over Larry Walker in the third NL OF spot, I’ll give them that, and Bernie Williams was better than Kenny Lofton as AL OF, but maybe not the best pick they could have made.

And Jim Leyland made some of the worst picks for backup spots I’ve ever seen, highlighted by the selection of Dante Bichette. Bichette was never a great player, and now he’s a really bad one, basically a singles hitter who can’t run or draw walks or play defense. Yuck. Anyway, Bichette over Brian Jordan who does all those things plus has more power and is leading the league in hitting plus doesn’t play his home games on the moon, was left off, as was Scott Rolen, who would also have been a better pick than Vinny Castilla. The game is being held in Colorado, of course… Leyland also saw fit to pick five players formerly of last year’s Marlins, though none of them was really a bad pick except Devon White, and he got in as token Arizona Diamondback.

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