April 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Series Preview, Series Thoughts, St. Louis Cardinals
You have to feel good about winning a series in Cincinnati this early in the season, but you really can’t be too excited about how you played. I’m still getting the feeling that this team is not ready to play competitive baseball in a tight division race. But 2/3 is 2/3 and it puts us back at .500 and really salvages the road trip after dropping 4 of the first 6 and looking utterly pathetic against division cellar-dwellers for all but 1 of the games.
In the first game we really showed we weren’t ready to compete against a top-flight starter. We were getting no-hit through 3 yet we’d gotten 3 runners on. 2 via base on balls and 1, Escobar, was hit by a pitch. This was actually pretty hilarious because he didn’t appreciate it very much and proceeded to walk towards him looking like a Colombian gangster screaming Spanish obscenities at him while their catcher, the umpires, and pretty much everyone else on both teams (both benches and bullpens had cleared onto the field) tried to hold him back. In the 4th inning we all but gave up swinging the bats and it worked to our advantage. 2 bases-loaded walks would provide our first two runs of the day and Volquez would retire Escobar to end the 4th down 2-1 with a no-hit bid still intact. He gave up a home run to Francoeur the next inning, though, and with his no-hitter gone, Dusty Baker gave him the hook down 3-2 after the 5th. We got a crucial insurance run in the 7th to make it 4-2 which set up our late-innings group who preformed well. Moylan worked a scoreless 7th, Soriano ran into trouble in the 8th allowing a lead-off double followed by a walk and a sacrifice to put runners at 2nd and 3rd with 1 out, but he escaped the inning with the hold allowing only 1 run to score on a sacrifice fly and the lead still intact 4-3. Gonzalez retired all 3 batters he faced in the 9th including 2 K’s and a groundout in his finest outing of the year to nail down the save. Vazquez had a nice outing allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on 7 hits and 1 walk while striking out 9 in 6 innings. The only defensive error was made by Moylan in his scoreless 7th.
In the 2nd game Escobar’s bat exploded after being hit with a pitch AGAIN. Escobar went 3/4 with 3 runs scored and 4 RBI’s and finished a triple shy of the cycle. He hit the home run after being hit by the pitch. Arroyo was horrible and we were on base all night, scoring 10 runs and leaving 13 on base. Lowe was strong going 7 allowing 2 earned. He had a particularly memorable inning when he should have had a runner at 2nd 1 out but instead had runners at 2nd and 3rd nobody out on a botched call during a run-down by the 3B umpire. Lowe proceeded to strike-out the side. He later said he was thinking: “only give up 1 run”. He gave up 0. Overall just a blowout. If we could play like that against a decent starter we’d be a good team.
In the 3rd game Kawakami was pretty strong through 3 innings then gave up 2 runs in the 4th and 6 in the 5th, exiting down 8-0 with 2 outs in the 5th. Carlyle didn’t allow any of Kawakami’s runners to score so his ERA now sits at a cool 7.06. Jay Bruce managed to homer twice off Kawakami within the span of 4 outs. Down 8-0, we started to mount a comeback in the 7th, with David Ross hitting a 1-out solo shot and Kelly Johnson singling. Yunel Escobar followed Kelly and singled to right with 1 out, but was caught trying to stretch the single into a double with 2 outs to end the inning. OK. You’re down 8-1. All you want to do is get on base. Getting into scoring position now isn’t important and it’s not worth the risk of losing the out. What makes this incredibly stupid is there were 2 outs and Chipper was coming up to bat next. You stay at 1st and let Chipper extend the rally. You don’t represent a meaningful run, so don’t waste an out. I don’t know if we have Brian Snitker, Glenn Hubbard, or Yunel Escobar to blame for that, but it was one of the most bone-headed plays I’ve ever seen. And I apologize for the 2nd person rant. Brandon Jones, who celebrated his first start of 2009 by going 2/3 with a walk and an RBI, drove in the final run of the game and we ended up losing 8-2 as Carlyle and Parr combined to shut the Reds out over the final 3 and 1/3 innings.
Kawakami’s bad day was really just a bad day and there’s nothing to be concerned about. He’s having trouble getting deep into games. When you’re used to using an undersized ball in a 6-man rotation you’ll probably need some time to adjust to the heavier workload of MLB pitching. Pitching in Cincinnati only exacerbates the problem. He’d been a very acceptable starter up until this point and I don’t foresee him having troubles like this frequently in the future. Everyone has bad outings and how you recover is key. He’s a veteran and there’s no reason to hit the “Panic/Send Kawakami to AAA in favor of <insert name here>” button.
The only run the bullpen allowed all series in 8 and 1/3 innings was Soriano’s, the guy who hadn’t allowed a run yet. Go figure. Much reason to be encouraged by the bullpen. And much reason to be encouraged by the rotation apart from Kawakami.
The bottom line is we didn’t look dominant in the series, but we didn’t look pathetic. I like the trend, may it continue.
This whole skipping the 5th starter and carrying a useless pitching staff member every other turn through the rotation hopefully will end for good after this series. Jurrjens, Reyes, and Vazquez will get the ball for the home-stand opening series against the St. Louis Cardinals. After the Cardinals, we play the Astros for 3 and the Mets for 2. Not exactly the easiest homestand, especially with the Cardinals on absolute fire right now.
The Cardinals come into this series co-owning the NL’s best record at 13-6. They’ll send Joel Pineiro, Kyle Lohse, and former Brave Adam Wainwright to the hill. Winning that first game, Jurrjens vs. Pineiro, would be huge as we’ll run into really tough right-handers in Wainwright and Lohse for the final 2 games. You still feel like you have a chance to win, especially the game Reyes ISN’T pitching, but dropping the first game of a series when you’ve got 2 really tough pitchers coming up would be pretty crappy.
The key to this series is going to be keeping runners off base in front of Albert Pujols. Making sure we go after their 9-1-2 hitters and don’t issue them any free passes in front of Pujols will be huge. You’ve also got dangerous hitters behing Pujols so walking him isn’t an option either. If Albert Pujols hits 5 home runs this series I don’t care as long as they’re solo shots. Providing him with unfavorable circumstances to produce runs is going to be key in this series. Otherwise, the offense needs to WAKE UP and play consistently. McCann out will hurt, but we’ve still got enough to win games provided our pitching continues to impress. I’ll be happy if we take 2/3 in this series. I’ll actually be surprised. If we get swept I’ll also be very angry. And it wouldn’t surprise me really. But I’m predicting we’ll take 1 out of 3.
April 24, 2009 at 4:14 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Series Preview, Series Thoughts, Washington Nationals
Overall a very uninspiring performance from all of the position players. The offense was simply not there in this series as the Braves scored in exactly 3 of 27 innings they played. They averaged 2 runs/game this series and if their pitching hadn’t been brilliant they would’ve been embarrassingly swept by the team with last year’s worst record. In addition to the offense not being there, the defense was again embarrassingly unprofessional. Missing fly balls, infield errors, throwing the ball away, etc. Another weak, weak performance from our defense, who hasn’t really preformed well since that Philadelphia series, well the first two games thereof. To illustrate this point, I’ll tell you that we’re currently LAST in the National League in defensive efficiency and 29th out of 30th in MLB. Thank god the Orioles suck worse than us in the field.
The first two games of the series the Braves nabbed early leads and gave them back pretty promptly and played down 1 run for the rest of the game. The most pathetic showing was the middle game in which we had runners at 2nd and 3rd and nobody out down by 1 in the top of the 9th and failed to get a single run home. In that same game we doubled twice in the same inning and didn’t score. I’ll let you try to figure out how we pulled that off, but the real answer is because we suck.
Once again, there is much reason to be encouraged by the performances of the starting rotation. Lowe gave up 3 earned in 6 innings, Kawakami gave up 2 earned (4 total, terrible defensive day) in 5 innings, and Jurrjens pitched 7 and 2/3 scoreless innings in the series finale. Incredible how a 24 year old Sophomore is picking the team up and carrying it on his back.
A point, though; the Nationals have a good offense. Adam Dunn, Christian Guzman, Nick Johnson, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, and Ryan Zimmerman make a great front 6 of a line-up. I know they don’t have that prototypical lead-off guy, but it doesn’t matter, their first 6 are pretty well above average. Plus you’ve got Willingham on your bench (which he should be as Dunn and Kearns are better and organizational players, well not Dunn, but he’s their new free agent toy, he’s their favorite to play with), which means when a corner OF/1B type needs a break you’ve got a top back-up and a RH bench bat. Overall, they figure to score more runs than most people think. I guess I’m just trying to say that our starters did really well. And don’t say “it’s just the Nats”, because their offense doesn’t suck. Their pitching does, so that probably means our offense sucks.
At least it did last series. We did get to see something special, though: Jordan Zimmermann’s MLB debut. He’s going to be good for awhile and it was nice to see his debut. Think of it as a “Tommy Hanson Debut” type event, except for Nationals fans. Ya, they actually exist. That was actually probably the highlight of the series. Though Jurrjens pitched brilliantly.
Speaking of brilliant pitching, Soriano is back to his 2007 form. His fastball’s being clocked at 93-94 MPH and over the series he pitched 2 scoreless innings walking 1, allowing 1 hit, and striking out 5. Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan, and Mike Gonzalez all pitched scoreless innings and Gonzalez added a big out in game 3 for a hold. With 2 outs in the 8th Gonzalez relieved Jurrjens and struck out Adam Dunn to end the inning. The next half inning we’d score via a walked in run and Soriano would nail down the save for a 1-0 win. I digress. Jeff Bennett relieved Kawakami in game 2 after giving up an error-by-Diaz-turned-triple with nobody out and a runner on 3rd. Bennett got 2 big outs without allowing the runner on 3rd to score but just when I exhaled he turned around and gave up back to back singles before I could finish exhaling. He limited the damage there striking out Nick Johnson to end the inning. It wasn’t a terrible Jeff Bennett outing, Bobby had pretty much conceded that run. No matter who you brought in, you figure with nobody out and a runner at 3rd, he’s going to score. Yet he was so close to getting out of it. That’s what is frustrating about being a Braves fan. We always put almost enough effort in. And almost enough is still not enough. I feel like this team has enough starting pitching to stay in every game and not enough offense to win any of the games we stay in.
I’m looking forward to our upcoming series in Cincinnati. Maybe the high-octane offensive environment will get us going. Maybe not, I like watching Cincinnati play anyway. I like their young offense with Bruce and Votto and I love their pitching. Depending on what teams show up which night this could turn out to be an offensive juggernaut of a series or a series full of pitchers’ duels. We’ll see. We’re starting Vazquez, Lowe, and Kawakami and they’ll be opposed by Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, and Micah “I’m not necessarily an easy out even if I’m a pitcher” Owings. All three of them have had pretty crappy beginnings, with Bronson Arroyo posting the least crappy string of starts which isn’t really crappy at all but crappy by association with his rotation mates, Owings 2nd, and Volquez the crappiest. Volquez has a 6.46 ERA through 15 and 1/3 innings pitched. Every year people get off to bad starts and every year one or 10 of them never get on track ala Barry Zito. I doubt Volquez fits into this category and I believe he will get on track. But I hope he has 1 more crappy start.
Owings will be fun to watch. He can hit the ball. Very well. He’s frequently called on as a pinch-hitter on his off-days. He came to Cincinnati in the Adam Dunn trade. He also played 2 years at Georgia Tech.
I don’t care for Bronson Arroyo. His pitching mechanics are kind of annoying and he looks like a complete idiot with that hairstyle.
Anyway, just a crappy preformance by our offense. We should have a healthier Chipper, a healthier Escobar, an adjusted McCann, and hopefully no Garret Anderson next series so we’ll be in a better position to score more runs. Especially in that bandbox. We will be facing 3 righties, so it would be nice to have that LH bench bat. Hopefully that comes in the form of a DL-ed Garret Anderson and a called-up Brandon Jones.