Archive for May 1st, 2008

Ready, set, Brave

The Atlanta Braves start May at 12-15. Colin from Braves Blast took the time to answer some questions about what’s going on with the Braves these days.

What do you see as the most significant developments for the Braves since the start of the season?

There are several significant developments since the start of the season. First, Bobby Cox and Frank Wren look like magicians trading Edgar Renteria away. Both Jair Jurrjens, whom the Braves got in return for Renteria, and Yunel Escobar, who replaced Renteria at short, are playing like regulars. Jurrjens may be the most stable arm on the pitching staff right now, and Escobar is batting .297 with 11 RBIs and is showing great plate discipline for a youngster with 14 walks. Second, we’ve seen our starting rotation show its age a LOT faster than we thought it would. Smoltz is on the DL for the second time, Glavine just got activated from the DL, and Hampton is being… well… Hampton. This has proven Jair Jurrjens to be even more valuable. If you haven’t seen him pitch yet, you don’t want to face him – his two or four seam fastball gets up to 96, his slider is good, and his changeup as absolutely devastating.

Even with all the injuries, the Braves are among the top teams in the NL in runs scored. They have also been among the best teams in the NL overall at preventing runs. Still, their record is probably not the start the many fans were expecting or hoping for. Any thoughts on why a team that seems to be able to both score and prevent runs so effectively is having trouble getting wins?

Our offense is very, very potent. There’s no doubt about that. And we can prevent runs too (sometimes, if the bullpen is on) – but the killer is our offense is either very hot or very cold. As a result, we’ve lost a LOT of one-run games. We’re 0-9 this season in one-run games. It’s quite frustrating that we haven’t been able to pull one of those out yet. Even if just under half of those go our way, we’d be tied for first in the division. The top of the order really is a catalyst for the offense, and Kelly Johnson at leadoff is a very streaky hitter. Mark Teixeira is just warming up for the season with his right-handed swing still not being as hot as his left-handed swing. Once he gets going, the offense will be even better.

Are the Braves going to be able to overcome the loss of Peter Moylan in the bullpen? How will they adjust to his absence?

The loss of Moylan is a blow – we labeled him as one of the main five keys to the Braves bullpen being strong this season. That said, it’s not something we can’t recover from. Jorge Campillo has been strong in middle relief for the Braves since we brought him up from AAA Richmond. Manny Acosta is also working out well and picking up some innings. The bigger key is getting back Rafael Soriano from the DL – he’s had elbow tendinitis issues, and we need a strong, healthy closer. If Smoltz can’t return to the starting rotation, he’s said he’d go close for us – and we all know he’s not someone anyone wants to face in the ninth.

Is Mark Kotsay going to play well enough to keep his job in center field for the whole season? Are there any position players in danger of losing regular playing time?

Kotsay is not in any danger of losing his starting job – though he did have some back issues (uh oh) that kept him out of the lineup last week a couple times. Not good to see. That said, Matt Diaz was benched a few games in a row last week and Gregor Blanco got the start in left field. He’s since rebounded and is batting .295. I don’t think anyone else is in danger of losing their starting spot.

With Glavine and Hampton returning from injuries it looks like the rotation for the time being is Smoltz/Hudson/Glavine/Jurrjens/Hampton with Chuck James as the sixth guy who will come up from the minors if one of them goes down. Is that how you see the rotation? Is there anyone else in the mix?

The lineup no longer has Smoltz at the front, at least not for 15 days. He has tendinitis in his biceps and an inflamed rotator cuff. So now it’s Hudson/Glavine/Jurrjens/James/Jeff Bennett. If (big if – nobody counts on him anymore) Hampton comes back from his rehab starts in one piece, he’ll bump Bennett back to the ‘pen. The other arms we have that can start include Buddy Carlyle and Jo-Jo Reyes. Jo-Jo has great stuff in the minors but he can’t make the transition from pitching down there to pitching in Atlanta. We’ve got to get Smoltzie healthy and keep Glavine healthy. Hudson hasn’t been lights out recently either, which isn’t good. I know I’ve said it before, but watch this Jurrjens kid. He’s only 22, but he pitches like he’s been in the big leagues for much longer. Nobody has anything but good stuff to stay about him.

Thanks a lot to Colin. If you don’t read it regularly, be sure to check out Braves Blast, where today they are discussing the possibility that Smoltz returns to the team as a reliever.

Colin also wrote this morning to point out that since he wrote his answers yesterday Hampton has re-strained his pectoral muscle in a rehab start. Always something.

I also answered some questions from Colin about the Phils here.

Young and the feckless

The Phils couldn’t figure out Chris Young last year and they couldn’t figure him out last night, either. It’s probably just for the best that he pitches in a whole different division.

After holding the Phillies to two hits in seven shutout innings as he beat Cole Hamels 1-0 last year, Young was too much for the Phils to handle again last night. Chase Utley connected for a two-run home run in the first, but it would prove to be the team’s only extra-base hit in the contest.

The Phillies got more nice work from their bullpen, who contributed another 3 2/3 scoreless innings after Moyer left after allowing four runs through 5 1/3 innings. The Phils didn’t score another run after Utley’s early blast.

The Phillies lost to the San Diego Padres last night, falling 4-2 to drop to 15-13 on the season. Despite all of the excitement about how well the Phils are playing without Rollins, on the first day of May they are on pace to go 87-75 for the season. That’s not going to be good enough.

Moyer got the start for the Phillies and went 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on nine hits and a walk. Four of the hits went for extra-bases, two doubles and two home runs. He struck out one. Moyer has now made six starts on the season and, using game score as the measure, has been worse than his opponent in each of the six starts.

Moyer got Brian Giles on a ground ball to second to start the first inning. Tad Iguchi was next and he hit a ground ball up the middle. Bruntlett fielded, but his throw was in the dirt and Iguchi had an infield single. Adrian Gonzalez got ahead 2-0 and hit one out to right to put the Padres up 2-0. Kevin Kouzmanoff followed with a ground ball to short. Again Bruntlett’s throw to first was in the dirt. Howard couldn’t scoop it and Bruntlett was given the error. Howard should have made the play. Khalil Greene was next and he hit a soft line drive into center. Werth got to the ball, but it went off his glove for another error. Kouzmanoff went to second, but Moyer got the next two to leave both runners stranded.

Three bad defensive plays in the field for the Phils in the inning. Two bad throws by Bruntlett, but a better defensive first baseman would have helped. Werth just missed the ball.

Moyer started the second with the game tied at 2-2. Giles and Iguchi singled back-to-back with two outs, putting men on first and third for Gonzalez. Gonzalez grounded to third to end the frame.

Kouzmanoff started the third with a home run to left that put San Diego up 3-2. Greene followed with a single, but Moyer got the next three.

Giles hit a fan interference ground-rule double with one out in the fourth, but Moyer got the next two.

Kouzmanoff singled to start the fifth, but Moyer got the next three to leave him stranded.

Josh Bard started the sixth with a double and the pitcher Chris Young bunted him to third. Moyer walked the lefty Giles to put men on first and third with one out for the righty Iguchi. After 98 pitches for Moyer, Manuel called on Durbin to pitch to Iguchi. Iguchi singled back up the middle. Bard scored to extend the San Diego lead to 4-2 and Giles went to second. Durbin got Gonzalez to pop to third for the second out before Kouzmanoff grounded to second to set San Diego down.

Durbin returned for the seventh. With one out Scott Hairston reached on an infield single to short. Bruntlett played it deep and Hairston just beat it out. Durbin got Edmonds on a ground ball to first for the second out, Hairston moved to second. Bard walked and Tony Clark hit for the pitcher. Durbin got Clark on a ground ball to second to end the frame.

Romero started the eighth. Iguchi singled with one out before Gonzalez flew to center for the second out. Romero hit Kouzmanoff with a 1-1 pitch and then walked Greene on five pitches to load the bases with two outs for Hairston. Romero got the righty Hairston looking at a 1-2 pitch to end the frame. I was a little surprised Manuel thought Romero was his best option trying to get Hairston after Romero loaded the bases, but it worked out for the Phils.

Seanez threw a 1-2-3 ninth.

Another 3 2/3 scoreless innings for the pen. Durbin, Romero and Seanez combined to allow three hits and two walks. Second appearance in two days for Romero, so he may be unavailable tonight after throwing 23 pitches (although he threw just six on Thursday). Durbin threw 36, so he probably can’t pitch tonight. I would guess Seanez is available after throwing just eight.

The Phillies’ lineup against righty Chris Young went (1) Werth (2) Bruntlett (3) Utley (4) Howard (5) Burrell (6) Jenkins (7) Feliz (8) Coste. Werth in center with Victorino on the bench again. Jenkins in right against the righty. Coste gets a start behind the plate. Bruntlett is a really bad two-hitter.

That said, the suddenly hottish Bruntlett singled with one out in the first and Utley followed with his eleventh home run of the year, tying the game at 2-2. Howard walked, but Burrell hit into a double-play to end the inning.

Jenkins singled to start the second. Feliz followed and hit into a double-play. Coste fouled out to the catcher for the third out.

Moyer singled to start the third, but Young struck out Werth, Bruntlett and Utley behind him.

With one out in the fourth, Burrell walked and Jenkins moved him to second. Feliz hit into another double-play.

With two outs in the fifth, Werth walked and stole second. Bruntlett struck out to end the inning.

The Phils went 1-2-3 in the sixth.

Coste singled with two outs in the seventh and Victorino hit for Durbin. He hit an 0-1 pitch out but a few feet foul before popping out to first to end the inning.

Bruntlett walked with one out in the eighth, but Utley and Howard went down behind him.

Trevor Hoffman came on to protect the 4-2 Padres’ lead in the ninth. Jenkins singled with one out. Feliz was due up next and Dobbs hit for him as the tying run with the righty Hoffman on the mound. Hoffman struck Dobbs out for the second out. Coste fouled out to the catcher to end the game.

Werth was 0-for-3 with a walk and an error. With the lefty on the mound tonight I assume it’s Werth in right and Victorino in center.

Bruntlett was 1-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.

Utley was 1-for-4 with his eleventh homer, which was the only extra-base hit for the Phils in the game.

Howard was 0-for-3 with a walk but hit the ball well.

Burrell 0-for-3 with a walk. He’s 2-for-his-last-13.

Jenkins 3-for-4.

Feliz 0-for-3 and hit into two double-plays. I have to wonder if he would have gotten the call at third against the tough righty Young if it hadn’t been ground baller Moyer on the mound for the Phils.

Coste 1-for-4.

Adam Eaton (0-0, 5.08) faces lefty Randy Wolf (2-1, 3.68) tonight. It’s safe to say Randy Wolf is not a favorite of Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick after Wolf decided to sign with San Diego this off-season. Wolf had a 1.42 ERA after his first three starts of the season. In his last two outings he’s allowed nine earned runs in 10 1/3 innings (7.84 ERA). Overall on the season opponents are hitting just .221 against him with a 1.06 ratio and he’s struck out 28 in 29 1/3 innings. He has never faced the Phillies. Eaton didn’t make it out of the fourth inning his last time out, on Friday against the Pirates. He has been much better at preventing home runs this year — he’s allowed just two on the season in 28 1/3 innings after giving up 30 in 161 2/3 innings in 2007. Lefties are hitting .306 against him, righties just .233. He made one start against the Padres last year, on July 20.

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