Posts Tagged ‘Chipper Jones’

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.

Mock and Clippard Subdue Braves

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Garrett Mock outdueled Braves’ rookie Tommy Hanson on Thursday, delivering a six inning, 2-1 performance that marked the Nats’ fourth victory in a row. Reliever Tyler Clippard registered the win, with 2.2 innings of one hit pitching — a stellar, but by now standard, performance. Once again, the Nats won on a late inning hit: this time delivered by former Tomahawk Pete Orr, who singled in the top of the ninth to drive in Ryan Zimmerman with the winning run. This was Mock’s best performance of the year: “With the way my arm feels, my body feels, I felt I made some steps in the right direction,” Mock said after the game. “I wish I had a couple of more starts.” The Braves appeared sluggish, the likely result of being eliminated in the N.L. Wild Card race earlier in the day, when the Colorado Rockies defeated the Brewers 9-2 in Milwaukee.

After a terrible 2008 (72-90) the Braves were philosophical about their failure to make the post-season: “To make that dramatic of a jump gives us a lot of confidence, and it should give Braves fans a lot of confidence that next year we can contend,” Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said before the Nats-Braves tilt. “I don’t think there’s any doubt in anybody’s mind in here that we can be a playoff team next year.” As it was, the Braves had a late-season rush that compares favorably with the streaky Rockies, winning fifteen of their last seventeen games. Just two weeks ago, the Braves trailed the Rockies by 8.5 games in the Wild Card standings. Braves pitching carried the team to the near-Wild Card triumph — with one of the best starting rotations in baseball. The N.L division and Wild Card champions are now decided (the Dodgers, Cardinals, Rockies and Phillies), but the Minnesota Twins remain alive for the A.L. Central Division crown — and take on the Royals today in Kansas City. The Twinkies will need help from the White Sox (who play the Tigers in Detroit) to have any chance of catching the Kalines.

Vazquez Dominates Nats

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Faced with a must-win situation, the Atlanta Braves stayed in the race for a wild card birth in the N.L. playoffs with a three-hit shutout pitched by Chops’ ace Javier Vazquez. Vazquez was brilliant in his nine inning, 4-1 complete game outing, though John Lannan was nearly as good: the Nats’ hard luck lefthander pitched seven innings of six hit ball, giving up runs to errors and a hit lost in the lights. The Nats had one chance to give Vazquez something to think about — in the fourth inning, but Ryan Zimmerman was stranded at second as Josh Willingham and Pete Orr flied out. The only Nats’ run came on a solo shot by Josh Bard.  The Nats were once again victimized by poor play: an error by Pete Orr, a ball lost in the lights, a fly ball that should have been caught but wasn’t. This was the Nats 101st loss of the season, but the win leaves the Braves just three games behind the Colorado Rockies, who have lost two.

Down On Half Street: Nats 320 has a transcript of Josh Willingham’s fan appearance at ESPN Zone (a public service, that). Willingham’s comments on the differences between playing at Sh-ti Field as compared to Shea Stadium are interesting. He can’t quite admit that he thinks the new home of the Mets is a terrible park, but he comes close. “I didn’t get to play in New Yankee Stadium because I was home. But as far as Shea Stadium and Citi Field, there is absolutely no comparison. Citi Field is so big. The wall is so tall. And like I was saying, when you are running for a ball in the gap in left centerfield—it never ends” . . .

It’s old news, but Nats Farm Authority has Nationals roster for the Instructional League. All eyes are already on Stephen Strasburg — and Drew Storen. But, there are others to watch, including forgotten fireballer Josh Smoker. Once upon a time, in a draft far far away, Smoker was a left handed fireballing supplemental first round prodigy: and all things to all men. Then he went 0-4 at Hagerstown, before ending up in the Gulf League. He reported a little tightness in his shoulder and ended up under the knife with a couple of bloody bone spurs rolling around on the shiny steel table beside him. It’ll be interesting to see how he does. The Nats insist that he’ll be ready for spring training. With all the attention on Strasburg, it’s easy to forget Smoker, who’s only 20 . . .  


Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Tomahawks are on a run — they have won three in a row and 13 of their last 16. Vazquez has carried the team on his arm — in his last four outings he’s 4-0 with a 0.72 ERA. Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens have provided the Braves with an almost unbeatable one-two punch over the last two weeks, just in time to challenge the Rockies. With all the buzz about the L.A. and San Francisco pitching staffs, the troubles with Phuzzy closer and emergent head case Brad Lidge, the oohing and ahhing over Carpenter and Wainwright and the very predictable Gammonization of Dice-K (isn’t he wonderful, isn’t he fantastic, isn’t he just something), Jurrjens has been lost in the chaff. He’s had one bad outing in the last ten games and has the sixth best ERA in baseball. The heat of the September wild card race has made him pitch better: like Vazquez, he’s won three in a row. If you squeeze your eyelids together real tight and furrow your brow and think real hard you can imagine what he might become: he’s 23.

If you’re from my generation (those of us born before the Reformation), it’s hard to think of the Braves as a pitching dependent team. The franchise has a history of breeding legendary sluggers : from Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews to Bob Horner and Chipper Jones. Even when the Braves were bad they could count on the bat of at least one slugger to make headlines — with a Rico Carty or Dale Murphy or Chris Chambliss (or Sarge, for that matter) providing the lumber. Even in the 1990s, when the Braves were on their historic run, the triumverate of Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux were complimented by a trio of titans, all “hitterish” — Chipper and Justice (that bane, that bum) and (of course) Fred McGriff.

But not this year.

The Chops’ top ’09 on base guy is Adam LaRoche (a mid-season acquisition), their dominant long-ball artist is catcher Brian McCann (with a measly 20) and their spark plug is slash-and-burn singles hitter and glove man Martin Prado. Ryan Church, brought aboard to provide some spark (as well as a warm body stand-in for dearly departed Jeff Francoeur — whom the Braves couldn’t wait to dump) is slumping – with just four dingers. Worse yet, the normally dependable Chipper Jones has 17 home runs, well below his average, and is struggling at the plate. Finally, Nate McLouth, the former Ahoy and mid-season “steal,” not only looks average, he is: he’s hitting .264. That leaves the hopes of a post-season pinned firmly on Vazquez, Jurrjens and all-around clutch pitcher and tantrum thrower Derek Lowe. Add rookie phenom Tommy Hanson and a solid bullpen (saves leader Rafael Soriano — and set-up artist Mike Gonzalez) and you can see why Braves’ fans are excited. With a handful-plus games to go the Braves’ll need some help from the suddenly wobbly Rockies, but don’t count ’em out.

Nats Struggle In St. Louis

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Matt Holliday loves St. Louis. Since coming to the Cardinals, the former Colorado Rockies-Oakland Athletics outfielder is hitting .376 with a .438 OBP for the Redbirds. On Saturday, his three run homer all but decided the 9-4 contest, giving the loss to Nats’ starter Craig Stammen. And so after taking two of three from the struggling Cubs in Chicago, the Nats have now dropped two in St. Louis, but with hopes that the team can recover on Sunday in the final game of a three game set. On Sunday night, the Nats will travel to San Diego to take on the resurgent Friars, who are riding a  miraculous three game winning streak against the sinking Florida Marlins. Holliday’s homer came in the first, and while it did not seal the game for the Redbirds, it cast a bright light on the Cardinals’ strength since the trading deadline, when Holliday arrived: a team that could break out the big bats and score a slew of runs in backing what is one of the N.L. strongest starting staffs.

A disappointed Elijah Dukes struck out with the bases loaded in the 7th (AP/To Gannam

A disappointed Elijah Dukes struck out with the bases loaded in the 7th (AP/To Gannam)

“That’s what makes their lineup good,” Stammen said. “They’ve got multiple guys that can hurt you, back-to-back-to-back,” Craig Stammen admitted after the game. “When I went out there, I was like, ‘You know what? Have fun. Have fun trying to get the best hitters in the game out.’ And for the most part, it was kind of fun, except when they got me.” Stammen was not only victimized by Holliday. A key error by Cristian Guzman in the fifth inning helped the Cards score four unearned runs after two outs. Stammen defended his shortstop. Guzman has made enough plays for me this year that I’m not really worried about the one mistake that he makes,” said starter Craig Stammen. Adam Dunn provided Washington’s power, hitting his 35th home run in the 6th.

Down On Half Street: It seems the only time anyone in the N.L. Least can win a game is when they play each other. At least that’s the way it’s been lately. The Mets, reeling from a raft of injuries and the effects of age, were pummeled by the Cubs on national television on Saturday, 11-4, with Cubs supersub Jake Fox hitting a grand slam off of Mets youngster Bobby Parnell. Parnell is the hope of the future, but he’s had a rocky August. Nevertheless, the team pledges that “The Bobby Parnell Project” as they call it, will continue. Parnell is fairly philosophical about it all, admitting that his last outings have been “up and down.” Mostly down, actually . . .

It’s not possible for things to be worse in Florida, but they (nearly) are. You get the feeling that this is a ballclub that is on the verge of taking itself apart. On Friday, versus the little brown priests, Chris Volstad barely made it to the top of the dugout steps before he was shipped out to New Orleans.  Volstad, all 6-8 of him, lasted 1.2 innings (but just barely) and gave up six earned runs. He had a 5.08 ERA in the show. (We’ll take him.) On Saturday, the Marlins (hoping to catch the Phillies) sent out their ace, Ricky Nalasco. But they forgot to bring their bats. In six innings they mustered four hits against no-name Friars’ hurler Wade LeBlanc. Don’t underestimate Wade — he has an ERA of 9.58. Either Wade looked like Roger McDowell, or the Phish looked like the Bad News Bears. One guess . . .

Up in Philadelphia, things are proceeding apace for the Phuzzies, who are breezing their way to a division crown. Out in South Philly, the guys who stand around on the corner and talk tough are even trying to figure out the dimensions of the statue to Cliff Lee that will grace the front of the Philadelphia Art Museum — where they never go. Right next to the one of that other great Philly cultural icon, Rocky Balboa. But the Cliff Lee Express was derailed on Saturday, when the Chops decapitated Lee in front of a sold out crowd at Citizens Bank Park. The Chops barrage of homers (Diaz, Escobar, Anderson, Jones) reached such a din that it was like listening to the 1812 Overture. “It’s hard to get good results when you’re throwing pitches belt high and down the middle of the plate,” Lee said after the game. “That’s basically what happened. I feel good about throwing strikes, working ahead and not walking people, but I put myself in positions to put them away and I missed up and down the middle. If you consistently do that, that’s what’s going to happen.” The final butcher’s bill? 9-1 Atlanta.