Posts Tagged ‘atlanta braves’

Nats Bats (And Lannan) Scuttle Pirates

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

The hitting of Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and the stellas pitching of John Lannan paced the Washington Nationals to a 9-2 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday. Rodriguez led the Nats’ fifteen hit attack, with an opposite field home run, while John Lannan pitched seven complete — giving up only five hits. It was his best outing of the year and solidified his place in the rotation for 2011. “Pudge and I did a great job just mixing it up on both sides of the plate,” Lannan said after the game. “I threw some [four-seam fastballs] inside to righties and some [two-seam fastballs] into lefties. I had my changeup working again, and that’s been the pitch I’ve gone to if I was getting behind hitters. It kept them off-balance a little bit. You get a little more comfortable out there when your team puts up that many runs.”

Desmond Makes His Case: Washington Nationals’ rookie shortstop Ian Desmond is making a strong case for being considered as the N.L.’s premier rookie. But two obstacles stand in his way — he makes too many errors (31! — including two last night), and the competition is stiff. The early betting was that Atlanta’s Jason Heyward would win the award, and for a time it looked like he would. Heyward set the baseball world chattering through April and May, but his production fell off through the summer. Still: .282 with 16 home runs (and he’s only 20) could find him shoehorned into the top spot. The betting now seems to be that Buster Posey will get the nod — despite the fact that he started the season late. Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors posted a list in April that included all of the good guesses, which included Heyward and Desmond, as well as Florida’s Gaby Sanchez, San Francisco’s Buster Posey, Chicago’s Starlin Castro, Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez, Washington’s Drew Storen (and Stephen Strasburg), and Cincinnati’s Mike Leake. That leaves out Cubbie Tyler Colvin, who’s having a tremendous year — he’s stroked 19 home runs.

You can make a strong case for Desmond, who has raised his batting average over the last month from the so-so mid-.260s to .287 — an unforeseen spike that, if it continues, could see the 24-year-old ending the season near .300. And Desmond has unpredicted power, line-driving nine home runs. That number could easily increase in 2011. Desmond’s long-ball potential is a plus for the Nats, who would gladly take a .280 batting average with a handful of home runs each year — but 20? 25? Desmond says that he patterns his play on the model provided by Empire glove man Derek Jeter and his numbers show it. While Jeter seems to be struggling for homers as he ages, the pinstriper once hit 24, a number well within reach of his younger apprentice. But Jeter’s value is his day-in-and-day-out crusade in the middle of the Yankees infield, his ability to play virtually injury free and his steady glove-work. Ah, and he has a .314 lifetime BA — which Desmond might find difficult to equal. Desmond is right to emulate his hero, but he has a long way to go to reach his level (cutting down on the errors would be the way to start). It’s the fielding stats that will likely doom Desmond in any final voting for the Jackie Robinson Award, which means that Giants workhorse Buster Posey will get the nod. It’s hard to argue with that choice — with a .328 batting average, he deserves it.

Nats Defeat Lowe (Again)

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Atlanta Braves hurler Derek Lowe is puzzled: while the Braves sometime ace remains an effective starter against much of the National League (even while sporting a so-so 11-11 record), he can’t seem to beat the Nats. The last time Lowe beat the Anacostia Nine was last August, but he’s been winless against the Nats Nine since, a record of futility that the imposing righthander (6-5, 230) has trouble squaring with Washington’s losing record. “I can’t remember the last time that I beat the Nationals,” Lowe said in the wake of the Tomahawks’ 6-2 loss to the Nationals on Thursday. “They’ve given me a rough time.” But it was not so much Lowe’s pitching (seven innings with 6 hits), as it was a combination of the pitching from Washington starter John Lannan (who went a strong 5.1) and a no-hits bullpen that caused the Braves fits. When coupled with big hits from Michael Morse and Willie Harris, the Nats looked unstoppable, picking up a much-needed win (that’s number 52 on the season). The Nats now head into Philadelphia, where they’ll face the red-hot Ashburns.

The Quicker Picker Upper: The inevitable has happened in Chicago, with Cubs’ General Manager Jim Hendry cleaning out the stables of the sinking-like-a-stone North Side Drama Queens. The trade of the ever-popular Ryan Theriot and Ted Lilly (their most effective starter) to Los Angeles at the trade deadline was followed by the careless unloading of steady but unimpressive Mike Fontenot to the McCoveys. Now, in what can only be considered an official waving of the white flag, the Cubs have unloaded their most productive, good-glove-and-bat first baseman Derrek Lee, who went to the Braves for three maybes. The successive trades mark a generational shift in the future of the Cubs, as the front office has apparently decided that Theriot-Lilly-Fontenot-Lee powerhouse of just a few years ago has gotten too old and too mediocre to bring a pennant (or World Series championship) to the Windy City. The issue is not whether the trades should have been made, but why they weren’t made earlier. “None of us thought this was going to happen this year. We really didn’t,” Hendry said in annoucing the trade of Lee. ”It will be good for (Lee) and from that regard, I’m happy for him. But the overall situation we’re in kind of makes us all stumble between miserable and sad every day.”

Miserable? Sad? The Cubs just dropped four straight to the Padres and are a worse team than the Nats — much worse. So while Cubs fans might have been expected to be marching on Wrigley in protest at Lee’s departure, the Cubs blogosphere has viewed the trade as inevitable — and necessary. Al Yellon over at Bleed Cubbie Blue probably said it best, mixing respect for Lee with a sighing confirmation that the Cubs’ future did not include the impressive first baseman. “I salute D-Lee for his classy demeanor on and off the field,” Yellon wrote. “Some here complain that he wasn’t demonstrative enough on the field and though he was seen as a team leader, many wanted him to ‘show it’ more, though I’m not quite sure how you do that.” While Cubs fans remain oddly contemplative (there’s usually lynching parties at this point) the scapegoating of Hendry (well, perhaps for good reason) and the coaching staff has begun.

That’s probably unnecessary. The imminent departure of Lou Piniella is bound to be followed by the displacement of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, as the Ricketts’ family retools to a younger staff that reflects a younger team. Is there reason for hope? Yes. And no. The Cubs are able to field one of the game’s best young outfielders in Tyler Colvin and one of its best young shortstops in Starlin Castro. But the team’s starting pitching is a catastrophe — with few young phenoms coming up in the minors. Which is why Hendry is trading his front line for a few maybes, all of them arms. Which means that the Cubs new rotation and bullpen (with some exceptions) is now filled with a gaggle of no-names, like Thomas Diamond, Justin Berg, Mitch Atkins, Marcos Mateo and James Russell — each of these guys with (as they say) “a tremendous upside.” Roughly translation: we might, or might not, ever hear of them again.

Atlanta Burns Nats

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

There were two pieces of bad news on Tuesday: the first was the Nats lefty Scott Olsen couldn’t make it out of the 6th inning against the Braves in Atlanta, the second was that Josh Willingham may be out for the season. While the second piece of news was assuredly worse than the first (Willingham will almost certainly undergo surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee), Olsen’s failure to tame the Braves (the Nats lost ugly — 10-2) emphasized again the pitching woes that have faced the Anacostia Nine throughout the 2010 campaign. Little relief seems in sight: Jordan Zimmermann may not start for Washington until September, Jason Marquis continues to struggle and the combo of Livan and “the kid” has yet to result in serial wins.

But the most recent reward for frustration goes to Olsen, who was angered by Jim Riggleman’s decision to send him to the bench. While Riggleman retained his reputation for wielding an early hook, Olsen glared at him, stalked off the mound, yelled into his glove on the way to the dugout and then threw his leather angrily when he arrived. Olsen had no comment on Riggleman’s liberal hook, but the Nats skipper didn’t hesitate to defend his decision: “It was 2-0 and now it’s a homer, triple, walk with nobody out,” Riggleman said after the game. “Ole had done a great job. But as great as he was, he lost it that quickly. When you get a couple of runs, you have to minimize the damage. I just felt that our bullpen has a done great job. With the right-hander facing the right-handed hitters, maybe we could get a zero from that point on or maybe just one run. It just appeared to me that [Olsen] wasn’t pitching the same he was in the first few innings.”

The Nats will face the Braves again tonight, with innings eater and starting ace Livan Hernandez scheduled to face off against the normally lights-out Tim Hudson.

Facing The “Amazins”

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

The Nats continued to struggle on the road, suffering a 4-1 road loss in Atlanta on Wednesday. The defeat was yet further evidence that the Nationals downward spiral is for real — that the early season hope that the Rizzo and Riggleman’s Nine could contend in the NL East, or at least play .500 ball, has now faded. The deep funk seems puzzling to Nats players, who regularly cite the team’s talent as an indication that things will improve. “We need something,” first baseman Adam Dunn said in the wake of yesterday’s loss at Turner Field. “We’re not playing up to our capabilities, and I don’t know why that is. It’s not for a lack of effort, a lack of talent, any of that. I don’t know.”

For the most part, as Dunn seems to imply, the Nats have been victimized by themselves — with a lack of steady pitching (excepting for those who pitch into those who pitch into the 7th, as Craig Stammen did on Tuesday), good hitting (the entire team, with the exception of Dunn, is slumping), poor fielding (the Nats are last in defense), and indifferent and confounding base running — as evidenced by Nyjer Morgan’s continuing inability to read the pick off moves of opposing pitchers. What to do? What to do? What to do? It’s hard to imagine the Mike Rizzo would thoughtlessly scramble to stop the bleeding, but the escalation in trade talk is a signal, and a fairly significant one, that the front office is beginning to search for a solution outside of Syracuse or Harrisburg.

The House That Jose Built: The Mets have provided New York with a history of spotty but triumphant success that has, admittedly, provided some memorable moments — the 1969 “Miracle Mets” and the 1986 “we beat Boston” Mets.  Even so, the Mets are New York’s second team, bearing no resemblance to the New York Siths, who regularly lug home the World Series trophy. This anguish was on full display in ’08 and ’09, as the Mets collapsed and then underperformed. It was no wonder that baseball’s gurus had doubts that the 2010 version of the Mets would follow suit: the front office seemed in chaos, with GM Omar Minaya pleading the case that signing Jason Bay (and only Jason Bay) was the right decision. Now, as it turns out, Minaya knew something we didn’t — that the Mets had enough pieces in place to contend in the NL East, and perhaps well into the post season.

Here are the pieces: a revived Mike Pelfrey (10-1, 2.93 ERA), slap-and-power first baseman Ike Davis (.261, 9 HR), a surprisingly uninjured Angel Pagan (steady defense, good speed, .304 BA) some guy named R.A. Dickey (6-1, 1.29 WHIP), a solid enough bullpen and (if that is still not enough) a good-enuf Jason Bay and a reanimated hit-homers-the-other- way, David Wright. All of this makes up for the team’s other struggles: fans are worried that Johan Santana will remain inconsistent and that the Mets will not be able to fight their way through holes on the left side, behind the plate and on the mound in the middle innings. But the real key to the Amazin’s amazing early season of success is Jose Reyes. The evidence that Reyes is the key to the team is non-statistical and purely intuitive: without him the Lords of Flatbush look like the peasants of Queens.

For more than a year, Reyes has battled an assortment of injuries, the most recently a high profile thyroid problem that apparently barred him from so much as working out. Before that it was a “cranky hamstring” that simply wouldn’t heel, leading to worries that the fleet-footed shortstop might be permanently slowed. But Reyes has come back this year with his patented passion for the game and eternally smiling countenance. He seems to have returned to the form that once made him the most talked about man in baseball, and a leading candidate for best shortstop in New York. He threatens to do what no other Mets player can do: turn Mets haters into proto fans, those who watch the Metropolitans just to see him play. In spite of his very good (but not great) stats, Reyes — not Bay, not Dickey, not Santana — is the symbol of these Mets. He went 0-7 during the mid-April marathon against the Cardinals: he notched the game winning RBI and scored a run and was ecstatic after the game. “I’m ready for tomorrow,” he said. The Nationals will take on the Metropolitans starting tonight at Nationals Park.

Stammen Buries The Hatchets

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Craig Stammen, just recalled from the Nats Syracuse Triple-A farm club, threw seven innings of brilliant baseball and super sub Alberto Gonzalez went 4-4 as the skidding Nats ended their five game losing streak with a 7-2 win in Atlanta. Stammen finally mastered what had been bothering him in successive starts prior to his demotion — he kept the ball down in the zone and threw strikes, keeping the Bravos hitters off balance. Stammen threw 99 pitches, 57 of them for strikes, before giving way to Sean Burnett in the 8th inning. “Craig was just outstanding,” skipper Jim Riggleman said after the win. And the skipper praised Alberto Gonzalez, who looked rusty at the plate on Monday. “He’s a great fielder,” Riggleman said, “and he can hit a little too.” This marked the second successive start for Gonzalez, who has done some spot pinch hitting. But Riggleman was uncertain whether the Gonzalez start was the beginning of a new trend. “He’s kind of the fourth guy among four guys, so it’s tough for him to get playing time,” Riggleman said.

In breaking loose for seven runs, the Nats end a despairing streak of one, two and three run games that saw them sink further into last place in the NL East. Relief seems to be in sight: Nyjer Morgan’s bat is finally heating up (he was 2-5 on Tuesday), Josh Willingham put one into the seats at Turner Field (his 14th), Ryan Zimmerman plated two RBIs — and then there was Alberto Gonzalez, whose 4-4 stint brought his BA to .292: oh, and he can field a little bit too. To cap it all off, Roger Bernadina is starting to look like a keeper (slapping balls to left field) and Tyler Clippard pitched a nifty clean 9th. The news gets even better from there. The Nats went errorless in nine innings, which must be some kind of record.

Today I Settle All Family Business, So Don’t Tell Me You’re Innocent: If you google “The Kid,” you get sites for a Charlie Chaplan movie, news that Angelina Jolie’s little girl wants to be a boy (“she likes to wear boy’s everything,” Angelina poofed), and a reach on Ted Williams who, it seems, was called “the kid” until someone thought of something better — like “The Splendid Splinter.” (Which reminds me: wasn’t Gaylord Perry once referred to as “The Splendid Spitter?” No? Okay, maybe not). But nowhere on the internet does anyone talk about our Anacostia Nine who, it is reported, are calling Stephen Strasburg “the kid” in the privacy of the Nats’ clubhouse. We’re betting the name will stick, confirming Angelina’s little pout about “Shiloh,” who “thinks she’s one of the brothers.”

Stephen’s nickname confirms that he too (and for sure) is now one of the Nats brothers (that’s what being given a nickname means) — albeit without the apparent transgender issues of Shiloh Vomit Pitt. And it’s a good thing. Strasburg took the heat after his Monday outing, as Braves fans everywhere (there aren’t as many as there once were for “America’s Team“) laid into “the kid” for giving up five runs (er, three earned) in the 7th inning of Monday night. Even some Nats fans were disappointed. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God — what happened? So here’s the deal: we here at CFG have taken a poll of our staff (final vote? 3-0) and determined that we would take, any day, an outing from any pitcher on our staff who could throw 6.1 (!), give up three earned runs (!), and strike out seven. You never know, if we have outings like that every game, we could actually win the division. Yeah, there’s no question about it, Monday’s performance shows that we need to send “the kid” to the minors to “straighten out his stuff” and “build his self confidence.”

Say It Ain’t So Mike: The Nats are apparently “entertaining offers” . . . no, that’s not the right phrase. Damn. Let’s start over. The Nats are “actively considering” … no, that’s not right either. Okay. Here it is. The Nats are talking to at least two teams about a trade that would involve Nats first sacker and potential All Star Adam Dunn, the heart and soul of your Washington Nationals (if you don’t count Ryan Zimmerman, Pudge Rodriguez, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Josh Willingham, Livan Hernandez . . .). The report must be true: MLB Trade Rumors has it by way of Ken Rosenthal, who has it from the Chicago Sun Times, who has it from the White Sox.

The Angels are already interested, Rosenthal says, and Joe Cowley of the Greatest Newspaper in the Greatest City in America (it’s ahead of the Trib, dontchaknow), says that the Nats and Pale Hose are exchanging names, though the Sox don’t have much to give in the way of pitching prospects — they were all traded to the Little Monks from San Diego for Jumpin’ Jake Peavy. No one likes this kind of talk, least of all Adam Dunn, who doesn’t want to be a DH and likes it just fine here in D.C.  We like him here too, Mike — as he is headed for another season of 40 home runs (oops, he had only 39 last year) and is one of the surprises, perhaps the surprise on the team: unlike the other nine we slap together to play the Baltimore Pathetics, he’s fielding his position like a pro. And who would have guessed that? Then too, don’t we have enough pitching prospects? I know, let’s try Danny Cabrera. In fact, the only positive thing we could really gain from such a trade is an end to that obnoxious public address announcer and his “now batting for your Washington Nationals …. Adaaaam Dunnnnnn.” Hey, on second thought . . .

Nats Take Series From Braves

Friday, May 7th, 2010

The Nationals, inexperienced enough to have trouble winning one-run and extra-inning games, triumphed in a bottom-of-the-ninth, walk-off win on Thursday, downing the Atlanta Braves 3-2. Willie Harris knocked in the winning run with the bases loaded, putting a Peter Moylan offering past Braves’ second baseman Martin Prado. Harris felt vindicated after the win, getting back at a team that had non-tendered him in 2007. But the story of the night was the near no-hitter from Nats starter Scott Olsen, whose electric stuff baffled Tomahawk hitters until the top of the eighth. “I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t thinking about it,” Olsen said of his chance for a no-no. “I was thinking about it early. I thought about it in the fourth and fifth innings. It’s one of those things where it’s real hard to do. I wasn’t positive I was going to do it, but I was thinking about it.”

The Nats victory gave the Anacostia Nine the series win against the Braves — with the team now standing at 15-13 for the season. That’s good enough for second place in the NL East, just two games back of the Phillies. The Braves head to Philadephia, where the Phillies’ powerhouse is well aware of Atlanta’s troubles on the road. The Braves are having trouble scoring, with nearly everyone in the line-up in an early season slump, with second sacker Martin Prado the exception. Outside of Wednesday’s 7-6 win at Nats Park, the Braves had trouble with Nats’ pitching, scoring just four runs in the other two outings. The Nats will face their NL East nemesis, the Florida Marlins, starting tonight at Nationals Park. Craig Stammen is set to pitch for the Nats; he will be facing Marlins’ hurler Chris Volstad, who shut down the Nationals in Florida just last week.

Remembering Robin Roberts: Philadelphia Phillies’ ace and Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts died yesterday in Florida at the age of 83. Roberts put together a string of six 20-win seasons in his career, and pitched for the Phillies’ ‘Whiz Kids” pennant winning team of 1950. He was the NL’s premier pitcher in the first half of the 1950s. He compiled a 286-245 record with 2,357 strikeouts, a 3.41 ERA and 45 shutouts. He pitched an amazing 305 complete games.The Phillies will be wearing a #36 patch on their uniforms for the rest of the season commemorating Roberts’ career.

Braves Nip Nats In Extras

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Remember when Tommy Hanson was the next big thing in Atlanta? The 6-6, 220 pound righty is still the ace-to-be in the Braves rotation, but his rise to stardom has been eclipsed by all the attention given to new Atlanta right fielder Jason Heyward. Or maybe it’s that Hanson, while still sporting a nifty 2.83 ERA, can only help the Braves win every fifth day — that is, not often enough to keep Atlanta from drifting ever lower in the standings. Hanson’s cannon-shot arm was what the Braves needed last night to keep the Tomahawks from losing their tongue-swallowing ninth-in-a-row on the road, but the 23-year-old phenom was shaky in six innings, giving up nine hits and four runs while striking out five. Instead, it was the normally somnolent Braves bats that came through, as Atlanta squeaked out a much-need (at least from their point of view) 7-6 extra innings tilt vs. the Nationals at Nats Park.

Braves manager Bobby Cox, who has been slowly steaming through the Braves’ early season woes, was not impressed with Hanson. “Tommy probably had the worst game that he has had all season,” Cox said after last night’s contest. “He just wasn’t on tonight. He made mistakes with the breaking ball and some fastballs.” Not everything came up roses for the Chops last night, despite the win: Heyward left the game with a groin pull in the second inning, the Braves line-up continues to struggle at the plate, and Cox is attempting to juggle a starting rotation that has been just so-so. In fact, for Cox, working through this year’s starting rotation issues might be more of a challenge than what he faced in 2009 — it’s now clear that Kenshin Kawakami will not be the answer on the mound that the Braves front office once supposed, Tim Hudson isn’t getting any younger (and has a history of arm problems), Derek Lowe is proving particularly susceptible to giving up big innings and the Braves’ middle-of-the-rotation starter, Javier Vazquez is somewhere in New York (nursing arm pain and getting hit around). That leaves Bobby Cox with a lot of questions, and very few answers.

It’s not as if the Nationals don’t have issues of their own. You have to wonder how long Livan Hernandez can pitch like Whitey Ford, whether Jason Marquis will return healthy (or at all), whether John Lannan’s sore elbow will recover enough for him to become the John Lannan of 2009, whether Scott Olsen (who faces the Tomahawks tonight) can keep up his I’m-finally-back-where-I-was performances and whether Craig Stammen can prove consistent enough to get out of his every-other-game funk. The sobering truth is that while the Braves rotation is skaky, the Nats’ is even shakier, despite the Nats solid early season run. While Nats fans wait on the promotion of Strasburg, Storen and the healing of Jordan Zimmermann, their arrival is no guarantee that Washington fans will be watching one of baseball’s best rotations come July. As far as pitching is concerned, not only can anything happen, it usually does. So don’t be surprised if, in a few weeks — and the inevitable blow-outs that greet young arms — Mike Rizzo is shopping around for someone to complement a staff that is (after all) a patchwork of older arms and untested shoulders.

Nats Bats Tame Braves

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

The Washington Nationals’ bats are coming alive — with Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn and Ian Desmond all homering for the Anacostia Nine — as the Nats humbled the Braves in a 6-3 win at Nats Park on Tuesday night. Livan Hernandez registered the win, but this was not the same lights-out performance of his previous starts. Hernandez speculated that he had gotten too much rest — seven days off, in all — between throws.”When you pitch on seven days, it was a little different. Sometimes, six days is a lot,” Hernandez said after the game. “Seven days is too much, I think. I felt like I was all over the place. I didn’t miss by much. I had 41 pitches in the first inning and only one run. I will take it any day. I tried to keep the ballgame close and not make too many mistakes.”

Hernandez survived a rocky first inning to pitch 5.1 in all, scraping out a win against a tough Braves offense. Future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones was impressed:”I’ll say this about Livan: The repertoire might not blow your mind, but that guy knows how to pitch,” Jones said. “He changes speeds with every pitch that he has — whether it’s the fastball, curveball, changeup, slider or cutter. He throws nothing over the middle of the plate. Everything is two inches off either corner. That’s what has made him so successful. He has great mechanics out there on the mound. He uses a minimal amount of effort and, more times than not, gets the job done.”

Speaking of Chipper Jones: This is the third baseman’s seventeenth season in the majors, and perhaps his last. His numbers will undoubtedly put him in the Hall of Fame — a .307 batting average, with 428 homers. It’s time to start thinking about Chipper’s career, and where he stands in comparison with other third sackers. Bill James points out that the Braves have a history of good third basemen: Jimmy Collins, Bob Elliott (who was NL MVP in 1947), Terry Pendleton and Darrell Evans (who might have been just above average — but probably not much more) and, of course, the incomparable Eddie Mathews.

If I had to pick who was better, I would pick Mathews, simply on the basis of his power: Mathews launched 512 dingers, Jones will be lucky if he hits 450. The air is thin at the top of baseball’s list of greats and a 60 homer difference might not seem like a lot, but it is. It’s two seasons worth of round trippers, or three. Mathews was a better long ball hitter, with more power — despite Chipper’s obviously prodigious shots. Mathews stole only 68 bases in 17 years (compared to Chipper’s 144), but Mathews knew how to leg-out triples (he hit 72 in all, compared to Chipper’s 37). The statistic, basic as it seems, is illuminating: Chipper has a higher OBP and a lot more doubles, but Mathews was the smarter base runner who knew how to read outfield arms. The number of triples is important. Mathews played in Milwaukee County Stadium in the 1950s, hardly a big ballpark.

In almost everything else outside of power, Jones and Mathews seem almost perfectly matched. But then there’s the intangible. Mathews was a giant among Braves, even on a team of pennant and World Series’ behemoths — like Aaron and Crandel and Adcock. But Mathews was a leader of the Milwaukee version of the Braves in a way that Chipper was not a leader of the later Atlanta version. And considering Henry Aaron’s quiet but efficient career, and forcefull personality, that’s saying a lot. Or perhaps, I simply saw Mathews play more than Chipper and at a more impressionable age. But Mathews was a colossus, a man who defined the Braves in his era. Chipper was also a leader, though more by example; he did not bestride the Braves of Atlanta like Mathews did in beer town. The Braves of the ’90s were the Braves of Smoltz and Maddux and Glavine. The Milwaukee Braves were Eddie Mathews’ team.

Bill James might disagree on this last point, but in weighing the statistical comparison he would admit that picking one over the other might be a matter of personal preference. “Chipper isn’t a great defensive player — but neither was Mathews. Both of them were competent, coping-skills fielders who played a relatively difficult position, the hot corner, but not terribly well. They’re comparable hitters; they’re comparable fielders. They have had a comparable number of outstanding seasons. If I had to choose? If I had to choose an all-time, all-city Braves team or else go bungee jumping, I would choose Chipper. They’re both great players.” When Chipper retires, he’ll not only be in a virtual tie with Mathews for all-time greatest Braves third basemen, he’ll be right behind him (in my estimation) for honors as one of the very best of all time in all of baseball — with Chipper ranked third in the top ten: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson, Frank Baker, Jimmy Collins, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Stan Hack and Pie Traynor. Any way you look at it, however, Jones has had a hell of a career.

The Last of the “Lame Ducks”

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Remember Bobby Bragan? The bent-backed big-bellied curse of Brooklyn and Birmingham and the fair-haired best buddy of Branch Rickey before that kid infielder Jackie Robinson came along, Bragan was his generation’s Bobby Cox. He could bait an umpire by just being there, but was at his best while shuffling to the mound, muttering under his breath. And the umps would yell at him: “What did you say Bragan? What was that?” It seems a required part of Braves’ baseball even now, a “given” on the single-sheet job description: “Must know the game. Must hate umpires.”

Bragan was that, and classically Birmingham fat, aging gracelessly as the players got younger around him. So Bragan would come out of the dugout, muttering about the unfairness of it all (carrying his Denny Lemaster hook — “oh thank God, he’s pulling Lemaster”) and you would swear he was going to lose his balance, tipping forward as he walked. I never thought he was that heavy, but back in 1965 Milwaukee Braves fan would razz him, ceaselessly, relentlessly, cruelly: “Go on a diet Bobby,” and “you’re a pig, Bragan.” He was of a “type” — a southern boy who was okay behind the plate, a player forever of the verge of being something more than just average. Neither a peripheral great nor even mediocre, Bragan was one of those guys you put in the line-up until someone better comes along. There is a whole community of guys like Bragan wandering through the underworld: Dennis Menke and . . .  well, Dennis Menke.

Bragan would have been a forgettable character, were it not for his memorable 1947 decision to circulate a petition from white players saying they wouldn’t play with Robinson, whom Rickey had brought in the break baseball’s color barrier (and transform the Trolleys from a very good to a great team). Bragan even asked Rickey to trade him: he would not play with a black man. You have to wonder what Bragan was thinking. Did he really believe Rickey would send Jackie packing because his second string catcher was a racist? Bragan quickly changed his mind. “After just one road trip, I saw the quality of Jackie the man and the player,” Bragan later remembered. “I told Mr. Rickey I had changed my mind and I was honored to be a teammate of Jackie Robinson.” Trumpets. Organ music. Fade.

Bragan never lived down that moment, but he tried. He pushed Maury Wills to the majors when he was a minor league manager in Spokane, praised Rickey as the person who had “made me a better man,” and became one of baseball’s smartest and most well-respected administrators — as head of the Texas League and then head of the governing body of minor league baseball. In the 1980 he started the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which raises money for scholarships to keep kids in school and was elected into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. But back in 1965, Bragan was viewed by the people of Milwaukee as anything but a hero. Bragan was the manager of the lame duck Milwaukee Braves, who had announced the previous year that they would be moving to Atlanta. Milwaukee partisans were shocked — and angered. 

When a group of local businessmen sued, the Braves were forced to stay an extra year in Milwaukee. Bragan, the on-field symbol of the Braves’ ownership bore the brunt of Milwaukee’s anger, but he was never known for being a stoic (or knowing what the word meant). You could see him seeth, and the more he seethed the more fans let him have it. As I remember it (and I was there — blessedly), the anger towards the Braves and Bragan culminated on a hot August day at Milwaukee County Stadium when Bragan walked to the mound to remove a pitcher (probably Lemaster, but I can’t remember for sure) and on the way back to the dugout he motioned in Rico Carty from left field. Carty had just misplayed a fly ball and Bragan was punishing him — in public, humiliating him front of the fans. On purpose. And the Braves fans just let him have it. And I mean they let him have it. I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought the fans in front of me, along the third base line, were going to come out of their seats. And Bragan looked up into the stands and just smiled and nodded his head: yes, yes, I took him out. So go do yourself. You know, whatever else you might think about Bragan, he knew when not to give a damn.

Bobby Bragan died last week in Fort Worth, Texas.  Major League Baseball paid homage to Bragan in a public notice that quoted Bud Selig. “He was a dear friend of mine for nearly 50 years,” Selig said. “He had a long and wonderful baseball career as a player, coach, manager and executive.” What the announcement failed to mention is that the group of Milwaukee businessmen who forced the Braves to spend ’65 in Milwaukee was organized and led by prominent local car dealer — named (oh yeah) Bud Selig. Selig was convinced that the Braves, and Bragan, owed their home town fans something more than a single press release and an empty stadium. 

Bobby Bragan was 92. Actually I kinda liked him.

Playing Hunches — and Playing Favorites

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Tom Boswell and Dave Sheinin’s sobering dual articles (“everything-has-changed-now-that-we’re-in-the-playoffs”) in yesterday’s Washington Post hasn’t kept anyone from playing hunches — or favorites. We should scatter all pretensions of predicting the future by studying statistics (or counting on hot streaks) by scattering sabermetrics to the wind. And play our hunches. Or favorites. Or both. So it is that, at least before Wednesday’s trifecta, my hunch was that Redbird Chris Carpenter would prove to be unstoppable, that the Rockies would be too hot even for Cliff Lee and that the Twinkies — riding Tuesday’s Tectonic win over the sinking Kalines — would upset the empire, even in the heart of the death star.

But, since hunches are hopes, I have been humbled by October’s cheerless realities: Chris Carpenter never looked worse, Cliff Lee never looked better and the Twinkies looked like . . .  well, they looked the Twins. But while hope might be humbled, it also springs eternal, so I’ll stick by my original predictions (which I should have made yesterday, just to make them more official): the Purples are the team to beat in the N.L., the Cardinals have the best one-two pitching punch in the playoffs (Adam Wainwright — below — will win tonight), the Twins can be the surprise team of the junior circuit and (yet to be decided) “the nation” doesn’t have a prayer against the Belinskis.  

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Good news for Nats fans! The Phish have re-upped with manager Fredi Gonzalez. Actually, what’s shocking is that Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria was considering dumping Gonzalez for not making the playoffs, even though Gonzalez was managing a franchise with the lowest payroll in baseball . . . Even better news (and this time, seriously) – is that Mets G.M. Omar Minaya still has his job! though a source on the team says that were it not for his three year extension (signed in October 2008) he wouldn’t. Minaya is on a short string (or noose, as it were) and that, if he falls on his face, he’ll be gone. Clearly, patience is running out in New York, and most particularly among its most avid fans. Our buddy-buds at NL East Chatter are running a whole chatter on “What Happens to Omar Now?” The answer is: nothing. At least not yet . . . 73 percent of those responding to an NL East Chatter poll answer the question as follows: “we are having the same damn discussion next year” . . .

Connor Tapp (the voice at Braves Baseball Blog) has some interesting things to say about what the Tomahawks should do in the off-season. He doesn’t mince words, saying that if Frank Wren resigns Garret Anderson “I might become a Mets fan.” That seems awfully dramatic, but I know what he means: if Mike Rizzo resigns Austin Kearns I might become a Braves fan. We here at CFG note that there is a hole in Tapp’s entries between August 25 and October 6: corresponding (very roughly) to those dates during which which our beloved Nats swept the Braves in three. It is onto such thin reeds that drowning men (and fans of last place baseball teams) grasp . . . Meanwhile, our friends at Phillies Phandom are having a field day (so to speak). The Phuzzies should be confident: they haven’t lost a home playoff game in two seasons.