Sunday, September 19, 2010

Braves Sweep! (With In-Person Review)

A Derrek Lee grand slam on Sunday capped off a series sweep of the Mets at Citi Field. The Braves received strong pitching (3.00 ERA), tremendous defense (0 errors and some dazzling plays) and enough timely offense (5.3 r/g) to shut down their division rivals. While the Mets aren’t exactly a great team this year, they’re a .500 club and have played very well at Citi Field this year, so the sweep is certainly impressive.

Derrek Lee’s blast placed on exclamation point on the recent improvements he’s made at the plate. After a painfully slow start, Lee’s numbers are finally starting to come around. Following Sunday's 2-5 performance, he’s now hitting .267 with 2 HR and 16 RBI as a Brave. While his power numbers aren’t where most Braves fans were hoping they’d be, his run production has been solid and he’s hitting nearly 20 points higher than he was with the Cubs this year. His average and RBI total are nearing the totals I wrote that the Braves needed to see when Frank Wren made the trade for the slugger. The Braves will need his RH middle of the order production to continue through the next 2 weeks.

Lee’s improvement has been complimented by a resurgent Nate McLouth and streaking Alex Gonzalez (both offensively and defensively). Those 5-6-7 hitters have made up for a cooling Martin Prado and Brian McCann. Prado has 4 hits in his last 24 AB (with 1 RBI) while McCann is hitting .228 in September. Infante and Heyward have still been getting on base enough, so it’d be nice to see Prado and McCann start driving them in again. As I wrote last week, there have been too many peaks and valleys for this offense and individual players specifically. It would be great to have 1-9 hitters firing on all cylinders over for the final 12 games of the regular season.

I was fortunate enough to make the 2.5 hour drive down from Upstate, NY to catch Saturday’s Hudson vs. Gee match-up. This was my second time to Citi Field this season. While the stadium is 100x better than Shea (obviously), it’s nowhere near as enjoyable as PNC Park. Being such a ‘tall’ stadium, it almost has an enclosed park feel. The Braves players were extremely friendly and accessible during BP, topped off by a great interaction between reliever Scott Proctor and a young fan. This was my 6th (and likely final) game of the season. My ‘in-person’ record ended up being 4-2 (only two loses were against PIT, go figure) with Tim Hudson going 2-1 in his 3 starts.

The Braves head to Philadelphia tomorrow to begin their HIGHLY anticipated three-game series against the NL East-leading Phillies. After a (frustrating) comeback against the Nationals earlier today, the Phillies still have a 3 game division lead over Atlanta. The series will be important for a number of reasons. First, if the Braves plan on making a run for the division, these are obviously the games to do it through. Second, a strong showing this week should give the Braves the confidence they need if the regular season-ending ATL/PHI series at Turner Field will be deciding the division champion. Finally, this series is doubly important, because as I mentioned last week, losses will hurt the team’s division chances AND could have a negative impact on their Wild Card push. The Phillies are 50-28 at the little-league sized stadium they call Citizens Bank Park and have shifted their rotation to get Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt out there. Atlanta will counter with Jurrjens, Minor and Hanson. Go Bravos!

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