Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ummm Hello, There's Only 15 Games Left!?!

The Braves’ awful September continues. After treading water with their series split against the Cardinals, Atlanta dropped two of three to the NL East-worst Nationals..AT TURNER FIELD. The series started off well-enough with Derek Lowe pitching a masterpiece on Monday in a 4-0 Braves win. But both the pitching and hitting completely failed in the final two games as the team seems to have fallen on hard luck (at best) or is quickly spiraling down the drain and away from the playoffs (at worst). The Braves are just 6-9 this month while the Phillies are 11-3 (and they’re leading the Marlins tonight as I type). This team is playing its worst baseball of the season when it needs to be playing its best.

Without addressing possible issues with desire, drive, heart, etc., this team’s problem is quite simple: the once-strong starting pitching is struggling mightily and the average-at-best offense just does not have the ability to consistently bail the staff out. The offense might be performing a bit worse than they have earlier in the season, but I really think the poor pitching is simply exposing this season-long weakness. For the past few months there have been a number of bloggers and reporters talking about the team’s strong run differential and solid runs per game average. However, those stats just do not represent the real picture. There is NO offensive consistency. We’ve obviously seen a number of games where the Braves have scored 10, 11 or 12 runs. But much too often we see a line similar to today’s game: 2 runs, 10 hits, 1-11 with RISP and 7 LOB. It’s simple to average 5 runs per game when you score 12, then 1, then 2..but you’re really only in one of those games. There just haven’t been enough games this season where the hitters have plated 5-8 runs. Not only has the overall offense been horribly inconsistent, but individual hitters have been, too. Heyward, Prado, McCann, Gonzalez, etc. have all had too many big slumps to break up their hot streaks. Too many peaks and valleys and not enough high plateaus.

The 15 games this month have effectively solidified a number of necessary changes for Frank Wren to make going into the 2011 season. I will go into more detail after the season’s over (hopefully that’s later rather than sooner), but just to mention a few of the obvious ones: the team needs for at least one true power hitter. The Braves current home run leaders are Gonzalez with 22 (5 with ATL), McCann with 20 and Heyward with 17. Jose Bautista himself nearly has as many as those three players combined (of course I’m exaggerating..kind of). And for me, right now, the only current starters that should be guaranteed a spot next year are Heyward, McCann, Prado and Infante..and maybe Gonzalez. Past that, there are a lot of holes that need to be filled. Ok, enough with 2011..back to 2010.

As I mentioned, Atlanta has 15 games left. They’re 3 games behind the Phillies in the NL East. They’re 1 game ahead of the Giants (pending tonight’s game) and 2.5 games up on the Rockies in the Wild Card. The Braves are 4-6 in their past 10, while: PHI = 7-3, SF = 7-3, COL = 8-2. (Can’t the regular season just end NOW???) The team starts a NINE game road trip against the Mets on Friday after an off day tomorrow and then finish up the season with a six game home stand against the Marlins and Phillies. 6 of those 15 games are against the Phillies. Wins in those PHI contests mean the Braves can make-up ground in the division race and the Wild Card race at the same time. However, losses would obviously hurt both chances the team has of making the playoffs. For example, say the Braves can essentially ‘hold serve’ in their current Wild Card and division standings (plus or minus a game or two), winning the majority of the 6 games against PHI gives them a decent chance at the division title (making the Wild Card moot). But losing the majority of the games vs. PHI obviously ends their NL East chances AND likely drops them out of the Wild Card race..pending a collapse by BOTH the Rockies and the Giants that’s worse than what the Braves are going through now. These next two and a half weeks are going to be STRESSFUL.

The Braves will be at Citi Field for a three-game series on Friday to begin their nine game road trip. The Mets are extremely tough at home (42-27) while Atlanta continues to have difficulties on the road (31-41). The Metropolitans would obviously like nothing less than to help knock their hated rivals out of the playoffs. Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe will face Jon Niese, TBD and R.A Dickey, respectively. I've been saying this for the past couple weeks, but Atlanta HAS to win at least two of three. Pending unforeseen circumstances, I’ll be at Saturday’s game. It will be the third time in six Braves games this season that I’ve seen Hudson start. PLEASE let me watch a win, Huddy.

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