Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

Scarred, but smarter.

23 Sep

Atlanta 7, Philadelphia 2

Didn’t I just recap this exact same game last week? Sean Newcomb goes 5 1/3 alternately great and frustrating innings? Check. Dan Winkler comes in with men on in the 6th to bail out Newk? The pen shuts down the opponent? Sam Freeman wiggles out of trouble in the 8th? Check, check, and check.

OK, so the offense jumped all over the Phillies starter, Ben Lively. Double by Ender Inciarte. Singled home by Ozzie Albies. Freddie Freeman double. 2 run single by Nick Markakis. 2 run yickety from Kurt Suzuki. Just like that, 5-0 after 15 pitches. Johan Carmago added a single after Suzuki’s shot, but was erased on a niftily turned DP.

Atlanta added a run in the second, when Newcomb worked a walk, and was eventually driven in by Markakis. Always fun to see your clean-up hitter, in the second inning, have a 2-2 line with 3 RBI.

Philly managed to get one run back in the 4th. Cesar Hernandez led off with a double, and was eventually driven in by a Nick Williams sac fly. In the 6th, Williams singled in another run, and Newcomb left with men on first and second. Winkler came in, and got Rhys Hoskins to fly out and struck out Aaron Altherr to end the threat.

Suzuki finished up the scoring with his second dimger of the night, his 18th of the season. Show of hands, who had the Braves catchers with 29 HR and 94 RBI? Anyone? Bueller?

Anyhow, the Braves surpassed last year’s win total, and, for one night at least, slew the Philadelphia dragon. Now, let’s keep it going.

22 Sep

Braves 3, Natspos 2

R.A. Dickey turned in a masterful performance, probably his best of the year. He went 8 innings and surrendered only 4 hits and no bases on balls. Vizcaino struck out the side in the ninth, which was a perfect contrast to his horrific performance the night before, when he walked 3 consecutive batters with the bases loaded. I guess Wednesday was just Bizarro Arodys. The Braves put together just enough offense to win 3-2. Ozzie Albies was the offensive star, with 3 hits, an RBI, and a run scored.

Dickey hinted after the game that he may retire after the season. I’ve got to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed his tenure with the Braves. That’s because I’ve always loved the knuckleball and knuckleball pitchers. I was a kid when the Braves came to Atlanta, and for the first 18 of those years, the original Knucksie was the only consistently good pitcher. Phil Niekro was then and always will be my favorite pitcher.In the two pre-1991 pennant winning seasons, 1969 and 1982, Niekro won 23 games in the first and went 17-4 in the second. Last night’s game was especially fun for me because Knucksie joined Chip and Joe in the booth for an inning or so.

I used to argue with my friends in high school who insisted that Niekro wasn’t a real pitcher, that his success was just trickery. Of course that’s nonsense. Throwing a consistent knuckleball must be one of the hardest tasks in baseball, or else more pitchers would rely on it. In my lifetime, there has generally been only one or two good knuckleballers active at any one time: Hoyt Wilhelm, the Niekros, Wilbur Wood, Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, Tim Wakefield, and Dickey. As Knucksie told Chip and Joe, the key is practicing constantly and always trusting the knuckler.

No Braves starter in 2017 will accumulate even 2.0 WAR. Phil Niekro had over 2.0 WAR in 17 seasons. He had over 6.0 in 7 seasons, including 10.0 in one and 8.9 in another.

One more home series this year, against the juggernaut that is the Philadelphia Phillies (at least against your Atlanta Braves).

And, of course, Natspos Delenda Est.

21 Sep

Hated Team From Washington 7, Braves 3

Florida and Tennessee played football last Saturday. I can’t remember a time where I’d been so angry but then so excited in such a short period of time. In the final drive, Florida inexplicably let 27 seconds drain off the clock down to 9 seconds during a tie game. They had 2 time outs, were about 30 yards away from our All-SEC kicker’s range, and our defense was getting gassed, meaning that if it went to overtime, we were toasted. I was so mad, yelling at my TV. My wife asked me why I was so mad (I’m not usually mad about Braves baseball). I told her that college football games are really important (she already knew that, but I was re-iterating that individual plays can mean everything). Then, quarterback Franks to receiver Cleveland for 63-yards in the air as time expired for the win, and we were both jumping up and down and excited about the final play, even though I was still really angry about the poor clock management on the previous play. We got lucky.

So, last night. It felt like it was going to be a win, but then the 8th inning happened. Jose Ramirez had gotten a strike out, looked good, and then gave up a little nubber to Wilmer Difo that if Ramirez’s mechanics didn’t push him to the first base side, he’d have easily gloved and threw him out. Runner on, no big deal. But then Trea Turner doubles down the line (of course), and then he walks Werth on four straight. Arodys Vizcaino comes in, and another walk on four straight. Then another walk. Then another walk. And since Winkler pitched last night, and Minter and Freeman had already pitched, Brian Snitker went to… Rex Brothers. And it went about how you’d think: single, single, and the game is out of hand. But the whole time I didn’t get mad. That’s what the Braves have done to me, and probably many others. I’m just numb to it.

Perhaps the lack of anger was caused by some silver lining: the pitching otherwise was quite good. We seem to be controlling innings by only having our young starters pitch about 5 innings, even if their pitch count is low. So last night, Lucas Sims pitched well for 5 innings, throwing 74 pitches. Walked two, allowed three hits, and struck out 6. AJ Minter had his 11th straight appearance without allowing a walk, and he now has a 17/0 K/BB ratio in 11 IP. He could either be Shea Simmons or Craig Kimbrel, and if someone can predict that, they should be in a front office somewhere. Sam Freeman, who has also been very impressive, gave another scoreless inning. So it’s hard to get too worked up considering our bullpen is about 6-7 quality pitchers deep, but if you keep having your starting pitching go 5 innings, then you’re going to have games where the 3rd or 4th reliever of the game has a meltdown. Play the odds, friend.

Otherwise, what else is there to get worked up about? You’ve got Nick Markakis as your cleanup hitter, Adonis Garcia playing left field, and Matt Kemp and Matt Adams are on the bench. We need an offseason. Go back to your corner, regroup, and start again.

20 Sep

Nationals 4, Braves 2

The last game the Braves played while I was in my 20s was pretty indicative of how the Braves played throughout that entire decade of my life. They played okay, showed flashes of promise for the future, but were not inspiring, ultimately unable to do anything with the promise they showed and meekly going down against the opponent, with the Nationals emerging victorious in the end.

Luiz Gohara looked pretty good again as he pitched, showing he may end up being an important piece of the Braves future. With a little more seasoning and learning on his part, he could pan out. Kurt Suzuki continued to rake against Washington, and he had the at-bat of the night against Scherzer, fouling off multiple full-count pitches until he finally stroked a slider out of the strike zone into left field to drive the Braves first run of the game in. Dansby picked up an RBI on the evening, too. I can’t help but root for him. Hopefully he learned from his first season in the big leagues and will get another shot next year to build off of that.

Perhaps the Braves will be able to start off my 30s tonight in better fashion than they bid farewell to my 20s. There really is never a bad time to delenda those Gnats.

Nationals delenda est.

17 Sep

Mets 5, Braves 1

No one is interrupting any regularly scheduled broadcasting to bring us this developing story, but the Braves are now eliminated from the wild-card chase.

The Mets first 2 batters scored off Julio Teheran, effectively ending the game, as the Braves would manage only 4 hits. The lone Braves run was gifted in the 7th by Amed Rosario, whose consecutive errors led to a Jace Peterson ground out RBI.  Jose Ramirez uncharacteristically allowed 3 runs in the 8th, presumably to keep the final score from being misleadingly close.

Johan Camargo had 2 of the Braves hits, and A.J. Minter looked dominant in 1 1/3 innings of relief, striking out 3. Rex Brothers struck out his batter; Brothers now has 29 K’s in 19 1/3 innings, and an ERA of 7.91. Go figure. Asdrubal Cabrera had the big blow in the 8th, with a 2 run pinch hit homer, and Robert Gsellman allowed 3 hits and the unearned run in his 7 innings.

Teheran settled down after the shaky 1st, allowing only 2 hits and a walk in his final 5 innings.

The Braves drop the series 2 games to 1, and remain a game and a half behind the Marlins in the battle for 2nd place in the East. The Nationals (delenda est) come to town on Tuesday.

The 2nd funniest thing I ever heard about New York: Watch Danny Heep

16 Sep

Braves 3 Mets 7.. It’s De-lightful, it’s De-licious, it’s De Grom.

When was the last time you saw a baseball game which contained three back-to-back-to-back doubles? This was the highlight of our game tonight  which says two things. That it was the Mets who hit them, in the third, is a good indication our man RA did not have it today . And as these were followed in the bottom of the inning by a 25 second 1, 2, 3 outs by the Braves hitters this was not exactly  a game in which the result was in any doubt .

The Mets must have enjoyed blowing up their 8 game losing streak against us . Jacob de Grom, the last man standing in a ravaged rotation, reminded us what a class starter looks like. He went seven, Freddie hit him hard twice, nobody else squared him up. Our kid phenoms looked particularly lost all night, it wasn’t pretty. 101 pitches of this quality were a lesson for all of us.

Which leads us back to RA. After the three doubles in the third we were down four. Then 5 in the fourth.He was done but in no sense had he given up at any time ,  gutting it out as he always does. What he also seemed to do at an early stage was to abandon the primacy of his knuckler. There seemed to be as many fastballs in his mix which suited the Mets hitters just fine.

With Dickey out the bullpen blues hit again with Sims pitching 2 ineffective innings and getting hit hard in the process. You wonder what he made of de Grom, looking at him all night. Good old Lane Adams cheered us all up driving in two runs in the bottom of the ninth off a very wobbly Ramos. Which made the final score look better than it deserved to be. This was Jacob De Grom’s night, he dominated and controlled the game. Which is ok in the circumstances, not the end of the world, just a salutary reminder there are pitchers of whom we have not the like. But he helped set our sights, who from our motley  young arms will one day pitch like that? At least one, surely!

16 Sep

Friday Night Championship Wrestling – Atlanta 3, New York 2

The Sean Newcomb Tag Team Experience was on full display last night, and the results were mostly pleasantly surprising. The Mets stepped into the STP Squared Circle for a mano-y-mano Death Match with Atlanta. Newcomb only went 5 1/3 innings, but he allowed just seven base runners on 6 hits and one walk (which we will get to shortly) and struck out 8 to pitch just well enough to get the pin.

The Good Newcomb opened the game with a couple of strike outs in the first two innings, and looked sharp. The only damage was an Asdrubal Cabrera single to left. But Newcomb was pitching efficiently, not getting into deep counts and not nibbling at the corners. That is the type of starter that can, if not make us forget Andrelton Simmons, can at least every fifth day, take the sting out of the trade.

The Braves opened the scoring in the bottom of the second when Dansby Swanson scored on perhaps the strangest play of the season. With one out, Swanson was on third after a Rio Ruiz single, and David Freitas grounded out to third on a slow roller that scored Lt. Dans. But, Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki interfered with Freitas’ swing when his glove hit the bat. I was sure the incompetent ref was going to look the other way and miss the blatant cheating, but surprisingly, the home plate umpire immediately signalled the interference. He sent Swanson back to third, Ruiz to second, and Freitas to first. But Snit came out, and after a short discussion, he opted to take the result of the play, exchanging the second out of the inning for the run.

However the Bad Newcomb tagged in after the run, and gave it back in the top of the third, when he allowed a lead-off double to Gavin Cecchini, who was sacrificed to third, and driven in on an infield dribbler by Jose Reyes. In the fourth, Cabrera collected another lead-off double, and was driven in two batters later by Dominic Smith. It was at this point, with Good Newk straining in the corner, that Bad Newk managed to score the tag, and Good Newk came in and proceeded to clear the ring striking out the next five Mets hitters in a row.

In the bottom of the 5th Nature Boy Freitas collected a lead-off double of his own. Ender Inciarte singled him home. Ozzie Albies worked the crowd into a frenzy and Mets pitcher Rafael Montero for a walk. Montero wild pitched them to second and third, intentionally walked Freddie Freeman, and gave up the go-ahead sac fly to Lane Adams.

However with one out in the sixth, Cabrera snuck up and hit Good Newk over the head with the steel chair, collecting his third hit of the night, an infield dribbler that Swanson couldn’t do anything with. Plawecki then used a suspicious foreign substance on his bat to collect a screaming single to left. While he was celebrating Bad Newk got the tag, and after a brief rally, getting to an 0-2 count on Smith, he was distracted the Mets’ ring manager, and nibbled his way to a walk. The bases were loaded, with only one out…and Oh..My..God..

Is that Dan Winkler’s music??? YES! It is! Winkler comes in and boom – a tailor made DP – Ozzie to Dansby to Freddie. OK, so it’s not as poetic as Tinker to Evers to Chance, but it sure was sweet at that point.

After that, the Braves’ pen put the Mets into a Figure Four, locking up their offense for the remainder of the game. Jose Ramirez with a perfect inning and a third. Sam Freeman ALMOST letting the Mets reach the bottom rope to break the hold, but managed to pull them back with two on and two out in the 8th to escape damage, and Arodys Vizcaino closing it out in the 9th.

All in all, it was refreshing to see Good triumph over Evil. But tonight, the Mets send in the Belt Holder – Jacob deGrom to pitch. But, To Be The Man, you gotta Beat The Man, so let’s hope R.A. Dickey is up to his old self and bamboozles the Mets.

14 Sep

Order Restored to the Universe—Natspos 5, Braves 2

Leading into Thursdays game with the Nationals, our Braves had, remarkably, trounced the Natspos in consecutive games. Tuesday our erstwhile ace Julio shut out the powerful Natspos lineup, while the Braves scored 5 off Gio Gonzales, who has an ERA of around two and a half. Wednesday, even more incredibly, the Braves scored 7 off Max “Cy” Scherzer, whose ERA is even lower than Gio’s. And to top it off, Luiz Gohara, in only his second big league start, pitched six strong innings, only allowing one earned run. (His ERA after his first start was over 13.)
I was starting to wonder if I had somehow fallen down a rabbit hole or through a looking glass to a different world. Perhaps the reality I have always known and relied upon is only an illusion.

For Thursday, Dusty Baker penciled in a lineup that reminded me of one of those Bobby Cox Sunday getaway lineups. The Nationals have four hitters with OPS of over .900: Zimmerman, Rendon, Murphy, and Harper. None of the four were in the lineup. Harper is still on the DL, trying to get back in time for October; the other three were just getting some rest as the Nationals get ready for October. The number 3 hitter in the lineup was Wilmer Difo, he of the career OPS of .714. On the mound was Tanner Roark, whose ERA is about four and a half.

So of course the Natspos beat the Braves. Not much to report here. The Braves could do next to nothing with Roark. The big exception was a two run homer by Albies. The kid is for real. Roark went six, and the Nationals now excellent bullpen (remember how awful they were the first half of the season?) shut the Braves out for the final three.

Foltynewicz started and only went four, giving up three runs on four hits. He apparently sustained a cut on one of his right fingers, causing him to leave the game. It’s a shame, because we really need to see if Folty and the other young pitchers can start to go deeper in games. It’s also a shame because Snit next turned to Matt Wisler, who did what he does in every outing—give up a couple of runs.

Still, the Braves just took 2 of 3 from the Nats and finished the season in Nationals Park with a record of 6-4. If only everyone else played the Gnats the way the Braves do in D.C., the Natspos really would delenda est. The Braves return home Friday for the last homestand of the season.

14 Sep

Braves 8, Gnats 2

This is a game you really want to see from a rebuilding team. 21-year old Luiz Gohara gives a strong 6 IP with only 71 pitches, and 23-year old Lucas Sims, 23-year old Daniel Winkler, and 24-year old AJ Minter. The offense was highlighted by 20-year old Ozzie Albies, 27-year old Lane Adams, and players who could play a role in our future like 31-year old Tyler Flowers and 32-year old Matt Kemp.

Gohara pitched well in his second career start, limiting the Nationals to only 2 runs, 1 earned. But most importantly, the previous mentioned pitch count and 6 K/0 BB ratio meant his start was very efficient. He’s currently one of the hardest throwing LH SPs in the game, and if he can pound the strike zone, then he’ll be really good. I do wonder if this workload he’s under (123.2 IP across all levels, up from 69.2 IP last year) catches up to him next year. But the bullpen put in 3 scoreless innings with 6 K’s and no walks. The Nationals may be gearing up for the playoffs, but they were still throwing their ace and they had their full lineup in.

Lane Adams has been a revelation lately. 27 years old, has never been given a shot, but now has a .912 OPS in 77 PAs. This month, in small sample, he’s hitting .375/.524/688.

It’s good to win one or two.

13 Sep

Braves 8, Nationals Present

For Julio Teheran, Nationals Park is the antithesis of SunTrust Park. It is too bad for him, then, that he pitches for the Braves, but it’s nice for Braves fans to have him go into Washington and shut the Nationals out time after time. Another shutout performance from him over seven innings earned him his 11th win, and brought his record to .500 for the season. Would that he could learn to successfully pitch at home!

Julio’s mound opponent was none other than Gio Gonzalez, he of the 2.68 ERA this season. With the Nationals in the fine-tuning for the postseason portion of the year (a postseason that will, hopefully, be over in three games), the Braves offense went out and torched Gonzalez for five runs over five innings, and then tacked on three more against the Washington bullpen, just because they could. Three of the Braves runs came on a Freddie Freeman home run, as Freddie proved once again that he loves hitting on his birthday. He ended the evening 3-for-5 with two runs scored, and looked like he was having fun at the end of a lost season. He’s so easy to root for. And he’s in his 7th season in the major leagues and only 28. I feel old.

Because the Nationals clinched on Sunday, this was the first game of the season the Braves have played that literally meant nothing. Stomping the Nationals and Gio Gonzalez is always nice, though, even when it is completely meaningless.

Nationals delenda est.

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