The Atlanta Braves saw their worst nightmare unfold Wednesday August 28th as they lost 4-3 in 13 innings to the Philadelphia Phillies,opening the door for the hard charging St. Louis Cardinals, who destroyed the Houston Astros 8-0, to capture the National League Wild Card. Incredibly, the Braves entered the month of September with an 8.5 game lead over St. Louis but they lost 18 of their final 26 games including the last 5. Only an almost identical collapse on the same night by the Boston Red Sox was worse on a historic scale. Think about how well the Cardinals played: they made up 8.5 games with 23 game remaining!!! Just an awful, awful night for Braves fans.
Anyone who consistently reads my blog knows I have been concerned about the injuries to star RHSPs Jair Jurrhens(Knee) and Tommy Hanson(Shoulder) and the toll that took on the entire pitching staff. When you have injuries to key rotation members you usually replace them with either kids or spot starters. These type of starts do not produce quality or quantity and tax the bullpen. Rookie Closer Craig Kimbrel, who had a ZERO ERA in both August and July after a 1.93 June as well as 1 blown save in 27 chances, was 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA and 5 saves in 8 chances including his blown save in Wednesday’s contest. Kimbrel’s Robin to his Batman, LH Jonny Venters, also flamed out late in the season. After posting sub 1.00 ERAs in 4 of 5 months, he was hit hard in September going 0-1 with a 5.11 ERA. Braves skipper Fred Gonzalez talked about his use of his two stud relievers September 29th, saying “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of stuff that you sit back and evaluate yourself on,” Gonzalez said ”And you go, “You know what? Maybe I could have done this a little different, done that different. If we don’t use those guys I don’t know if (we get) 89 wins, if we get to the situation we were in (Wednesday night). ” Gonzalez said.
I can see Fredi’s point and think this team overachieved to an extent. The Braves were an average offensive team and dealt with injuries to key players like RF Jason Heyward, 3B Chipper Jones and C Brian McCann throughout the season. 2B Dan Uggla was awful over the first half and we have touched on the two key rotation members. This team seemed to run out of gas and you have to give the Cardinals a ton of credit. That group went 23-9 while the Braves fell to 11-20 since August 25th . That is almost .750 ball. As bad as Atlanta played, St. Louis played that well. They deserved this. Saying that is going to hard for Braves fans but it is the truth.
The Atlanta Braves have finally given up the lead in the National League wild card race, as they were defeated by the NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies 7-1 at home while the St Louis Cardinals rallied to punish the Houston Astros 13-6 in Texas September 27th . The Braves look like a tired and worn out club and have played like it in September, losing 4 straight, 8 of 11 and 17 of 25. 3B Chipper Jones(knee) and C Brian McCann(Oblique) are noticeably hurting while RF Jason Heyward has played the entire 2011 campaign with 1 arm. The pitching has been taxed at both the front end with injuries to RHSPs Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens forcing the team to start youngsters in vital games. Meanwhile, ineffective outings from the starters has forced Atlanta Manager Fredi Gonzalez to throw his top 3 relievers in 77 or more games. How bad is this? Three members of the Braves bullpen are among the top 6 in the National League in games pitched! Meanwhile, starting SS Alex Gonzalez reinjured his right calf in the loss after returning to the lineup Monday after missing about a week. Barring a major miracle, do not expect him in the lineup Wednesday. Veteran Jack Wilson will more than likely get the start at short.
WEDNESDAY: Real simple for the Braves, who are currently tied with the Cardinals. They play vs Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies. Tim Hudson is starting that game for Atlanta. If they win, they worst they can do is play a single elimination game vs the Cardinals in St. Louis Thursday September 29th. Meanwhile, St. Louis is playing Houston an hour after the Braves game starts. Veteran RHSP Chris Carpenter(10-9,3.59) is on the mound for the Cardinals while RHSP Brett Myers(7-13,4.31) takes the ball for Houston. Do not be thrown of by Myers poor overall record and ERA, he is 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA in 4 September starts! Should be a very interesting night of baseball for fans in both Atlanta and St. Louis!
The Braves can rest easy- for one more night! The Houston Astros just scored on a leadoff double, bunt-error and another bunt single to win 5-4 vs the St. Louis Cardinals. Real simple, Atlanta leads the NL Wild Card by 1 game with two to go. They control their own destiny but face a tough Philadelphia Phillies club with their rotation all set while the Cardinals are playing an awful Astros team that has nothing to play for but pride. Next update within 24 hours!
With the season in its final days, the 2011 Atlanta Braves are in fight to the death with the surging St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Wild card spot. Entering play with a 1 game led on September 26th with 3 games remaining, Atlanta was defeated by the Philadelphia Phillies and ace lefty Cliff Lee at Turner Field. Meanwhile, the Cardinals and Houston Astros are tied 4-4 in the 9th in Texas. A win by St. Louis would tie the teams with two games to go. Future hall of fame 3B Chipper Jones, struggling with a bad right knee, homered in the first but that was not enough for Atlanta. Meanwhile, All Star C Brian McCann appears to be playing hurt and is hitting .174 since missing three weeks late in July thru August with strained left oblique muscle. During that span, no other qualified major leaguer has posted a number that low. Atlanta has now lost 16 of 24. With the Braves playoff berth and season in the balance, I will post nightly updates.
JURRJENS, HANSON NEWS: RHSP Jair Jurrjens(Right knee) will throw 4,5 innings in an instructional league game on Thursday September 29th and the team is hopeful after he threw three pain-free innings September 24th. If he is good to go, the Braves plan to pitch him in Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs. IF THEY MAKE IT!!!! Meanwhile fellow RHSP Tommy Hanson(Right shoulder) experienced soreness before a scheduled bullpen session September 24th and the team does not think he would be able to go in round 1 of the playoffs. Hanson is also battling the flu. Here are two very good reason why Atlanta is in the fight of their lives for a postseason berth.
The Atlanta Braves are quickly resembling the American League Boston franchise as a team that has had major injuries in their pitching staff and now sees a once assumed postseason berth in peril as the 2011 season enters its final days. With a demoralizing walk off 5-4 loss to the Marlins Monday September 19th, the wildcard lead is now at 2.5 games while the Braves have lost 3 of 4 games. Here is an amazing comparison between the Red Sox and Braves past 14 days.
Records on 9/5: Boston(84-56) Atlanta(82-58)
Lead on 9/5: 7 games 8.5 games
Record on 9/19: 88-66 87-67
Lead on 9/19: 2 games 2.5 games
The Braves team strength all year has been the pitching staff, led by a deep and talented bullpen powered by closer RHP Craig Kimbrel(45 saves) and set up men LHPs Jonny Venters(33 holds,1.69 ERA) and Eric O’Flaherty(30,1.02). However, injuries to key right handed rotation members Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, has forced manager Fredi Gonzalez to go to the pen more than he wanted. Atlanta has also had to fill the rotation with several rookies from the farm and while they are immensely talented, most of them are on pitch counts and frankly not ready to pitch in the major leagues in September. Throwing them into a pennant chase is a recipe for disaster. The next 10 days or so should be very interesting in Atlanta.
UPDATES ON JURRJENS, HANSON: First the good news. Hanson threw two pain-free innings at the Braves spring training complex in Florida September 19th. His right shoulder was fine and he plans to throw a bullpen Wednesday September 21. If that goes well, Hanson will complete 3 or 4 innings in an instructional league game Friday September 23rd. If he comes out of these two outings with no further setbacks he could start the regular season finale September 28th and be in the line to pitch game 3 of the NL Division series. Hanson has not pitched in a ML game since August 6th. Jurrjens has been ruled out of the Division series and is questionable for the NLCS with a troublesome right knee that has bothered him for 2 months. He did throw of the mound for the first time since his last start(August 30th) with a brace on September 19th and felt good. “It just let me know that I need to keep working and gaining strength,” Jurrjens said. ” I fell fine. I think that was the hardest I’ve throw since Spring Training.”
The 2011 Atlanta Braves have rolled thru the season and their record(84-64 as of September 12th) reflects it but their play has dropped off as of late. Losers of 4 straight and nine of 12 they lead the St. Louis Cardinals by 4.5 games in the wild-card race with 14 games left in the season. The club limped thru a 2-6 road trip and has had to revamp their starting rotation over the last 5-6 weeks with injuries to star RHSPs Tommy Hanson(DL-ed August 7th with a sore right shoulder, 11-7,3.60 ERA) and Jair Jurrjens(Bone bruise in right knee, has not pitched since August 30th,13-6,2.96). Veterans Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe remain but youngsters Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Brandon Beachy have been thrust into vital roles. Meanwhile, the organization’s top pitching prospect Julio Teheran has made three starts. Hanson appears closer than Jurrjens, who had offseason surgery on the knee last October, after experiencing “normal” soreness after throwing a bullpen Monday September 13th. The team has him set to throw another bullpen session Wednesday. Jurrjens does not sound confident he will be back in 2011, “I’m trying to stay positive, but sometimes you have to check on reality,too,” he said. “Until somebody tells me no, we are hoping,” said Manager Fredi Gonzalez.
BRAVES NOTES: SS Alex Gonzalez was back in the starting lineup after missing three games with a stiff lower back. Bad injury timing for both Gonzo and the Braves, as he was hitting .323 in September…. 2 Braves led the team in the 5 major offensive categories. Rookie 1B Freddie Freeman tops the club in batting average(.295), OBP(.355) and hits(154). Meanwhile, resurgent 2B Dan Uggla leads in home runs(33) and RBI(73).
2011 Atlanta Braves continue to play solid ball heading into the final month of September with 82-57 mark heading into action August 5th. As it has all season, the pitching leads the way and the stats do not lie. The team ranks among 30 major league teams: ERA(3rd), Quality starts(7th), WHIP(4th) and Batting average against(3rd). When you consider the health issues starters like RHs Tommy Hanson(Shoulder) and Jair Jurrjens(Knee) have belted in the 2nd half, those numbers become more impressive. Offensively, the team is middle of the road but the amazing 2nd half numbers put up by 2B Dan Uggla(.337, 17 homers, 36 rbi after .185,15,34 in the 1st half) has really made a noticeable difference. Adding CF Michael Bourn gives them a speed option atop the order and INF-OF Martin Prado’s(staph infection) return also stabilizes the lineup.
RECORD SETTING ROOKIE,DAY: Braves rookie closer Craig Kimbrel set the ML saves record for first year players with #41 August 31st. In the same game, future hall of fame INF Chipper Jones hit his 450th homer while 14 year major leaguer RHSP Derek Lowe hit his 1st.
CALL UPS: The team recently called up Double A OF Antoan Richardson and highly regarded prospects RHSPs Randall Delgado(0-1,3.60 in two starts) and Julio Teheran for the final month. Delgado started September 4th vs the Los Angeles Dodgers,allowing 4 hits and 3 runs in 45 innings while walking 3 and K-ing 4. He gave up a homer to Dodgers superstar CF Matt Kemp as well. Richardson is more of pinch runner, bench type player who will receive sporadic playing time. Teheran will take the mound September 8th in one of the games of a double header vs the Mets at Citi Field.
BRAVES NOTES: Jurrjens(Right knee) visited knee specialist Dr. Richard Steadman in Colorado this weekend and was replaced in the rotation by Delgado. The team is hoping skipping the start will help. Jurrjens was 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in 16 pre all star break starts while post injury and all star break he is 1-3 with a 5.88 in 7 starts…. The Braves strong pen received reinforcements when RHRP Pete Moylan(May back surgery) was activated September 4th. He joins the devastating trio of LHs Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Kimbrel to form a group built to succeed in the postseason.
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