• Chipper Jones

    Braves retire no. 10, kick off series against Arizona

    On any other night, the fact that Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were facing off would be the headline. On any other night, it would have been big news that former Braves Delgado, Martin Prado and Eric Hinske were returning to Atlanta to face their old team. On any other night, it would have been a storyline that the Braves were five games up in the National League East and sailing, despite being viewed as the second-best team in the division all postseason, into the season and still even now by some. But last night was not any other night. Last night was Chipper’s night.

    Yesterday the Atlanta Braves inducted Chipper Jones into the franchise hall of fame. In a ceremony that included franchise greats like Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones was rewarded for his two decades of dedication to the Atlanta Braves and to baseball. Like ceremonies before it, Chipper was spoken of as one of the greats in baseball. Much was made of him having more hits than Lou Gehrig, a higher career average than Pete Rose and more RBIs than any third baseman in the history of the game. The accolades were many.

    The hall of fame induction luncheon and the number retirement ceremony before last night’s game are something Atlanta’s fans have become accustomed to in recent years. Since 2009, the Braves have retired the numbers of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, John Smoltz and now Chipper Jones. The regularity of the hall of fame induction and number retirement ceremonies in recent years reflect how dominate the Braves were in the 90s. And it is likely that Braves Country will be treated to another regular occurrence in the near future–the induction of Atlanta’s 90s dynasty into Cooperstown.

    If you ask any Braves fan, there is nothing surprising about the way crowds react to Chipper Jones. On the night he was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame and had his number retired, the crowd was electric. Now, if you ask that same Braves fan about the second loudest ovation of the night, that, too, wasn’t a surprise. With a shout out from Chipper Jones as he spoke as his number ten was retired and displayed on the facade (next to the likes of Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Bobby Cox and Greg Maddux), the one and only Martin Prado received the second-loudest ovation of the night.

    Martin Prado, sent to the Diamondbacks in the trade for Justin Upton, was a fan favorite. His versatility was highly valued by both the club and its fans. But what you hear most about Prado is what a great guy he is, what a great teammate he is and how great he is in the clubhouse. Braves fans were understandably shocked, some livid, when Frank Wren sent Prado to Arizona. Martin, too, was stunned. However, as is often said, baseball is a business and you often lose someone great to gain someone great. In the Upton trade, the Braves picked up the consistent hitter Chris Johnson as a bonus. That turned out to be an important throw-in and allowed the Braves to trade the strikeout-prone Juan Francisco to Milwaukee. Prado is widely respected in Atlanta and that was on full display last night. When Chipper Jones circled the field in a white convertible, the only time the car stopped was so Martin Prado, who was warming up on the field, could approach the car and give Chipper a hug. Prado stepped to the plate for the first time, receiving a prolonged standing ovation as well as a hug from catcher Brian McCann. You don’t see an opposing catcher hugging the batter coming to the plate very often, if at all. Prado tipped his cap to the crowd and the game went on. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Prado in a Braves uniform someday down the road, similar to how the Braves have brought back other veteran players (Glavine, Diaz, Franco).

    In Chipper’s speech, he mentioned he wished the Diamondbacks luck “four games from now” with that trademark smirk. He, like everyone else, was anxious to see the pitching matchup of Teheran and Delgado. The Upton trade could have gone another way–sending Teheran to Arizona rather than Delgado. Teheran’s evolution as a young man coming into his own has been what the Braves had hoped for both he and Delgado. Unfortunately, Delgado’s improvement has been slow going. He had spent the majority of the season in Triple-A for the Diamondbacks. Neither pitcher disappointed in what was a duel for much of the game. Teheran pitched another scoreless gem in his 6 innings of work. And the only criticism of Delgado’s game is that he isn’t as polished under pressure as Teheran has become. That’s truly the difference between Teheran this season and last. He has been able to work out of a pinch and limit damage.

    Unfortunately, the third former Brave that everyone was looking forward to seeing was Eric Hinske. Hinske had been suspended for the fracas between the D-backs and the Dodgers, but returned from serving his suspension just in time to be designated for assignment by Arizona. That announcement was made just before the game and it is unclear if Chipper even knew of it before he gave “Ski” a shout out in his speech.

    While it seemed a bit odd that the guy representing Chipper’s former teammates was Dan Uggla, Uggla does have an interesting perspective on Chipper as a guy who grew up in the south watching the Braves on television then becoming their opponent and eventually a Brave himself. Uggla spoke about Chipper during the on-field ceremony, received the first pitch from Chipper and then had himself a game. Uggla had 2 hits and scored a run. His performance upstaged only by young Andrelton Simmons who hit his 6th homer of the season off Delgado.

    It seemed rather fitting that in the final inning on the night the Braves honored Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel came in and was guided by Brian McCann behind the dish for the save. Chipper had the privilege of watching Kimbrel’s Rookie of the Year campaign as well as Brian McCann’s early years in the big leagues. While the Braves’ roster is getting younger, there were few men on the field last night that hadn’t been teammates with Chipper or in some way influenced by his career. In fact, there were few people in the stands, watching on television or listening on the radio who weren’t touched by Chipper’s career in some way. There will never be another Chipper Jones.

    The series against the Diamondbacks resumes today with veterans Kennedy (3-4, 5.21) vs. Hudson (4-7, 4.10). The season finale features Cahill (3-9, 4.29) vs. Maholm (8-6, 3.75). The Braves will then welcome the Marlins for a 3-game set at the Ted before beginning a road trip in Philly.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.

    Braves’ remaining trade and free agent options

    With the loss of Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves were left with a major vacancy in their lineup—one they may not fully compensate for this winter alone. Replacing a future Hall-of-Famer, after all, is a difficult task. Gone too, presumably, is fleet-footed leadoff man Michael Bourn.

    Newly acquired slugger BJ Upton figures to take Chipper’s place somewhere in the middle of the Braves’ lineup. In inking Upton to a 5-year contract, Braves’ General Manager Frank Wren closed the deal with their top free agent target fairly quickly, filling the right-handed power hitter role. The hole atop the batting order, however, remains.

    If the Braves are able to score a capable leadoff hitter, it will make life easier on Braves’ Manager Fredi Gonzalez, but that quest is proving difficult. Wren and Co. do, however, have a plethora of ways to sort out their lineup for the 2012 campaign.

    Given Martin Prado’s ability to play a multitude of positions, we may see him slide over to third base and take Chipper’s spot on the field. This would give the Braves the opportunity to go after someone to play in left: a position that is much easier to fill than 3B.

    The Braves could patch up the empty LF position from within, which would be the simplest and most cost-efficient way to go about this. If Wren chooses to go with players already in the system, we’ll probably see some sort of a platoon like we did when Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske manned LF during the 2011 season. Not the most inspiring option, but an option it is.

    In a platoon, we could see Jose Constanza and Reed Johnson splitting time, as each bat from a different side of the plate. Prospect Evan Gattis is another possibility, and could see time in the big leagues this year regardless of what the starting lineup shapes up to be. Now 26 years old and no longer a kid by baseball standards, Gattis and his powerful swing could be ready to make the jump to Turner Field, and perhaps become a valuable player for the Braves off the bench. He currently has 13 home runs in the Winter League and is turning some heads.

    Of course, all this left field talk could be moot if Juan Francisco steps up and shows enough improvement to take over at 3B (which would keep Prado in left).  Francisco hit for a .234 average last season in 192 at-bats. At times, however, he did display the big-time power that attracted the Braves to him in the first place. Though Fransisco, like Gattis, is tearing up the Winter League, I wouldn’t bet rent money on his earning a starting role.

    Ideally, given the choices from within, the Braves will bring in a new starter from the outside. With the winter meetings done with, Frank Wren may have missed his best opportunity to land a new LF; however, that doesn’t mean his search is done.

    There are plenty of feasible options to choose from—both via free agency and the trade market.

    One player who could be had via trade is Emilio Bonifacio. While he was part of the blockbuster deal that sent most of Miami’s foundation to Toronto, the Blue Jays may be looking to free up some space in their budget after acquiring R.A. Dickey.

    Bonifacio hit just .258 but had a .330 on-base percentage in an injury-plagued 2012 season in which he played in just 64. In 2011, when he was healthy, he batted .296 and finished with a .360 OBP in 152 games. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, Bonifacio would be a significant upgrade in the lineup over the likes of Francisco and Johnson.

    Cody Ross, who batted .267 last year and hit 22 home runs, was on Atlanta’s radar. However, he has reportedly agreed to a deal with the DBacks.

    Someone else the Braves could go after, even if it may be a long shot, is Josh Willingham. The 33-year-old veteran is currently signed by the Twins, but the Braves might have the assets necessary to make a trade happen (if Minnesota is willing, of course).

    Willingham hit 35 home runs last season with a .260 average. Throw him into Atlanta’s lineup along with Heyward, Upton, McCann, Uggla and Freeman, and we’re looking at perhaps one of the best power-hitting teams in baseball.

    Other than the aforementioned players, there are other alternatives out there…

    Arizona’s Jason Kubel is a nice power bat, but he hits left handed, and if the Braves opt for adding more power (rather than a leadoff man), they would like to add it from the right side of the plate.

    Colorado’s Dexter Fowler is available for the right price, but the “right price”, as defined by the Rockies’ brass, borders on the absurd.

    Nick Swisher is still on the market, but has likely priced himself out of Atlanta’s plans.

    And there are likely other names about which the Braves have inquired, who we haven’t even thought about.

    If a deal can’t be struck before Spring Training, there’s always the trade deadline next summer. The Braves can get by with the playing they have now for the first two-thirds of the season; the playoffs, on the other hand, might be a different story.

     

    There will never be another Chipper Jones

    When Chipper Jones came on the scene in 1993, the Atlanta Braves were beginning one of the best runs in the history of Major League Baseball. The Braves had won the past 2 division titles, the first 2 of a storied run of 14-straight division titles. Chipper Jones was part of 12 of them. With the likes of Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux, McGriff, and Justice, Chipper joined a roster of some of the greatest Atlanta Braves as a baby-faced Septmeber call-up in 1993. As the first pick of the 1990 amateur draft, the expectations for Chipper were high. And in his 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves, he exceeded expectations and became not only the face of the franchise, but one of the most beloved players to ever wear an Atlanta uniform.

    It’s hard to imagine a time when Chipper Jones wasn’t the player to watch, mostly because all eyes always seemed to be on him. Whether it was as a rookie recovering from a devastating knee injury after his lost 1994 season, as a guy in his prime contending for and winning the 1999 MVP, or in his final year as he was greeted in cities all across this country by fans who have appreciated his baseball career, Chipper was never under the radar. Like Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones was not only the face of his team, he became an ambassador for the game of baseball.

    As Braves fans, we have had the pleasure of watching Chipper take the field each season. There were some who said he should have retired several years ago. There were some who tired of his many injuries. There were some who said his value as trade bait was far greater than his value on the actual roster. But then there were the rest of us. We waited out his injuries. We cheered for his batting title in 2008 and didn’t give up on him the following year when he hit .264. We cringed in 2010 when Chipper came down on his leg after a spectacular defensive play and tore his ACL. As he was helped off the field, we worried that we would be left with that final image of Chipper Jones and would not see him on a big league field again. In the last several years as his power numbers and home runs dropped off, we delighted in his clutch hits and his many walks. And finally, as “Crazy Train” played on PA speakers in stadiums around the country during the 2012 season and Chipper stepped to the plate, we all took that moment to marvel at the third baseman’s career and accept that those plate appearances were quickly running out.

    Though Chipper’s career came to an end on a strange night at Turner Field, a night that saw controversy and unprecedented fan reaction to a bad call, the beauty of a storied career is that even a bad night is just a blip on the timeline of greatness. Sure, Atlanta fans will be sore for some time over the infield fly call that ended a rally in a bizarre Wild Card playoff (or play-in) game, but their anger will soon fade and all they will remember is that was the night they saw the face of the franchise take the field one final time. Hopefully the fans that were at Turner Field participating in the melee will one day regret that they didn’t give Chipper Jones the send off following the game that they gave long-time manager Bobby Cox after his final game.

    With Chipper Jones’ retirement comes something else that he and Braves fans can be proud of: He never cheated the game or himself. Chipper Jones will enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot as an Atlanta Brave (perhaps one of the last single-team stars) and as a man who played in an era tainted by substances that he chose not to put in his body despite the possibility of them advancing his career. With time and as new generations of fans discover the game, the taint of the steroid era will no longer hang like a cloud over players of  Chipper’s generation and new generations of fans will appreciate the integrity of men like Chipper Jones.

    When Hall of Fame voters look at Chipper’s numbers, they will note that Jones is in elite company. Only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray have more switch-hit home runs in baseball history than Chipper. He trails only Murray in RBIs by a switch-hitter. And when career batting average, home runs, doubles, walks and on-base percentage and slugging percentage are compared to other players throughout baseball history, Chipper finds himself in the company of Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. Elite company is an understatement.

    Where do the Braves go in a post-Chipper era? There will be much discussion about who fills the hole at third base and who can hit in the third spot in the lineup, a spot Chipper has more or less occupied his entire big league career. There will be much discussion about veteran leadership in the clubhouse and who the new face of the franchise is. Can Martin Prado play everyday at third base? Of course. There are few things Prado can’t do and maybe all the position shuffling has simply been a tryout for him to take the position in Chipper’s absence. Can Brian McCann step up in the clubhouse and lead the young club, including the pitching staff, to the kind of greatness Chipper saw with the teams of the 90s? He can once he returns from shoulder surgery and as long as he stays in Atlanta after becoming a free agent.

    In all the post-Chipper discussion, what will become immediately apparent is there will never be another Chipper Jones for the Atlanta Braves. The shoes he has left to fill are simply never going to be filled by one man.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#%21/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    2012 Atlanta Braves — the season that was

    It was apparent at the start that Jair Jurrjens wasn’t the same pitcher. Just one of many challenges the Braves were forced to overcome.

    When the first pitch of the 2012 season was thrown, the Braves seemed most likely to battle the Philadelphia Phillies for the National League East crown. Despite big trades by the rebranded Miami Marlins and the Washington Nationals, the Braves and Phillies began the season with the best starting pitching in the division, if not the entire league. With a starting rotation of Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and either Mike Minor, Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran, Braves pitching looked solid coming out of spring training. Combined with the stacked bullpen of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel, the Braves appeared a likely contender with their pitching alone.

    As the season got underway, it was quickly clear that the many arms battling for the starting rotation spots would all be needed.

    The Braves didn’t have Tim Hudson to begin the season as he recovered from offseason back surgery. The young guns, Minor, Delgado and Teheran, turned out to not be as developed as the Braves had hoped. Mike Minor developed as part of the rotation and turned into one of the go-to arms, but Delgado and Teheran returned to Triple-A. Jair Jurrjens fell apart in the first weeks of the season, returned to the minors, found himself, returned to the big leagues giving the Braves a boost for a few games and then fell apart again due to injury. Jurrjens never returned to his former self while in the minors in the latter part of the season and will likely be with a different team outside the Braves organization next season. Tommy Hanson is a shell of his former self. Though it seemed injury was the likely culprit at the end of last season and again midway through the 2012 season, those who follow the Braves are fearful that Hanson’s drop in velocity and dominance is a sign that the Tommy of old will not be returning. The biggest blow to the Braves came in June when Brandon Beachy, then the NL ERA leader, blew out his arm and required Tommy John surgery. By the all-star break, the Braves rotation looked nothing like it was expected to on opening day.

    Kris Medlen was the NL Pitcher of the Month in August and Septmber

    There were, of course, some real Cinderella stories in the Braves rotation this season. Two guys who both underwent Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2010 gave the Braves a needed boost. Ben Sheets was signed to a minor league, no-risk deal in July. He began his Braves career with 2+ scoreless starts. His dominant return to the big leagues after a 2 year absence was unfortunately short lived, but his contribution to the Braves rotation at a time when starting pitching depth was shallow was greatly needed. The second of the two Tommy John success stories was Kris Medlen who had the best season of his young career and the most spectacular run of any pitcher in all of baseball this season. Medlen’s complete dominance once installed in the Braves rotation earned him back-to-back NL Pitcher of the Month awards for August and September. As a starter, Medlen achieved a 9-0 record with an 0.91 ERA in 12 starts. All 12 of those starts were wins for the Braves. Medlen would set a Major League Baseball record this season with 23 consecutive starts in which his team went on to win the game. What Medlen was able to accomplish this season is unheard of. While putting on a pitching clinic in each of his starts, Medlen secured himself a spot in the 2013 rotation.

    Often overlooked in the more dramatic pitching stories was the consistency of ace Tim Hudson. Hudson missed the first month of the season recovering from back surgery and still managed a 16-7 record and a 3.62 ERA. In Huddy’s appearances, the Braves were 20-8.

    Craig Kimbrel followed up his Rookie of the Year season with another standout season solidifying his place in the league as the top tier closer. Kimbrel finished the season tied with Jason Motte of the St. Louis Cardinals in saves at 42. Kimbrel ended 2012 with a 1.01 ERA and a ridiculous 16.7 strikeouts per 9 innings.

    A rundown of where Braves pitching ranked in the National League:

    W L ERA G GS SV SVO IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG WHIP
    Atlanta Braves 94 68 3.42 162 162 47 60 1445.1 1310 600 549 145 464 1232 .243 1.23

    The Braves finished 4th in the National League in ERA, tied with the Reds for 2nd in WHIP at 1.23, 3rd fewest hits allowed to their opponent, 3rd in opponent’s batting average, and 4th in runs and earned runs allowed.

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    Key to the story on both sides of the ball this season were injuries. Consider this timetable of when and how frequently the Braves dealt with big injuries:

    2012 Atlanta Braves Injuries
    Arodys Vizcaino (RP) Underwent Tommy John surgery (3/20/12)
    Robert Fish (RP) Rule 5 draft pick went on DL 3/25/12 with left elbow tendinitis
    Chipper Jones (3B) Torn meniscus (3/26/12)
    Tim Hudson (SP) Recovery from offseason back surgery (4/3/12)
    Chipper Jones (3B) Left calf contusion that required surgical draining (5/24/12)
    Brian McCann (C) Bruised left knee (6/2/12)
    Tim Hudson (SP) Bone spurs in left ankle (6/9/12)
    Eric O’Flaherty (RP) Left elbow soreness (6/12/12)
    Freddie Freeman (1B) Jammed left thumb (6/13/12)
    Brandon Beachy (SP) Out for season with Tommy John surgery (6/17/12)
    Jonny Venters (RP) Left elbow impingement (7/5/12)
    Andrelton Simmons (SS) Broken right pinky (7/8/12)
    Jack Wilson (SS) Dislocated right pinky (7/14/12)
    Matt Diaz (RF) Out for season with right thumb surgery (7/20/12)
    Tommy Hanson (SP) Lower back strain (7/31/12)
    Jair Jurrjens (SP) Right groin strain (8/1/12)
    Ben Sheets (SP) Right shoulder inflammation (8/25/12)
    Brian McCann (C) Right hamstring tendinitis (9/15/12)
    Paul Janish (SS) Dislocated left shoulder (9/18/12)
    Michael Bourn (CF) Jammed left thumb (9/23/12)

    None of this takes into account the struggles of Freddie Freeman with his vision, the ongoing shoulder trouble of Brian McCann that kept him out of several games down the stretch including the Wild Card game (Brian McCann was diagnosed with a frayed labrum and cyst in his right shoulder and may need offseason surgery), the days veteran Chipper Jones simply couldn’t play because of 40-year-old knees, and the injuries to backup catcher David Ross that he battled throughout the season. The shortstop position seemed to be cursed from day one this year when Jack Wilson was injured while working out with rookie Tyler Pastornicky before the season even began. Paul Janish was a godsend for the Braves with the injury to Andrelton Simmons. Janish produced in the clutch and was better than advertised on defense. Unfortunately, the shortstop curse caught up to Janish as well. Injuries did not make Fredi Gonzalez’ job an easy one.

    As pitching struggled to live up to their billing, the offense was at times a perfect melding of talent and at others a complete mess. The 2012 Braves were streaky and that streakiness came from the inconsistency of the offense. When the Braves swept teams, they did it with pitching and offense. When the Braves were swept, they lost due to the offense.

    Perhaps the best offensive news this season for the Braves was the rebound of Jason Heyward. Heyward joined the 20/20 club, finished with a .269 average and had 158 hits. What Heyward contributed on defense cannot be overlooked. Heyward’s name will certainly be in the conversation when an NL Gold Glove is awarded to a right fielder.

    If fans were to vote on the team MVP, there is no question who would win their support. Martin Prado finished his season having played left field, first base, second base, third base, and shortstop. Yes, Martin Prado filled in at first base. If there is anything Martin Prado can’t do, he has not let anyone in on the secret. Martin’s average on the season leading the Braves at .301. His on-base percentage of .359 and his 186 hits also led the team.

    Other notable contributions on offense came from Freddie Freeman who led the team with 94 RBIs and Michael Bourn who led the team with 42 stolen bases and 96 runs scored. Though Dan Uggla had a horrendous year offensively, his 94 bases on balls tied him for first in the league with Cincinnati’s Joey Votto.

    Here’s where the Braves offense ended up on the season at the dish:

    G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
    Atlanta Braves 162 5425 700 1341 263 30 149 660 567 1289 101 32 .247 .320 .389 .709

    Atlanta was 11th in hits in the National League, 4th in strikeouts, 7th in runs scored, 13th in doubles, and 9th in homers. The highlight seems to be their finishing 1st in walks with nearly 30 walks above their nearest opponent.

    The most successful aspect of the Braves’ season is how well they did on defense. The team finished 1st in fielding percentage among the 16 National League teams and with the least number of errors committed. The Braves finished ahead of the Los Angeles Angels as the best fielding team in Major League Baseball. Atlanta also finished with the best defensive efficiency rating (DER) in the league.

    Any wrap-up of the 2012 season requires mention of the final season of Chipper Jones’ 19-year career. There are, as Jayson Stark noted, many accomplishments in Chipper’s career that standout. Kent Covington wrote for BravesWire about Chipper’s standing amongst third basemen and switch hitters. But the true x-factor is what Chipper has meant to the Braves organization over the past 19 years and what he will continue to mean to it for decades to come. While Braves fans weren’t able to watch Chipper go out with the bang they would have liked, they were privileged to watch him visit each city and see opposing fans honor and respect Chipper the way Braves’ fans have over the years. Watching Chipper tip his cap to fans in cities all over this country was as much a part of the 2012 season as all of the stats.

    2013 will hold new challenges as each new season always does. While the Braves will no longer have to hear about the great collapse of 2011 at every turn, they will now have the shadow of the infield fly game over them. And like 2011 when the Braves faced the greatest challenge of all, playing baseball without Bobby Cox in the dugout, they will face a season without the veteran leadership of Chipper Jones. As challenges go, the Braves will have their work cut out for them.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#%21/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    The call, the Braves loss, Johnny Cash and a raging hangover

    The feeling I have today could be aptly characterized as a hangover. Not the kind of hangover you get the morning after enjoying a few too many adult beverages. No, this is more like the hangover you might experience if you were to wake up face down in a pool of your own bodily fluids, after being drugged, beaten, robbed and dumped half-naked in a dark alley the night before.

    A hangover, like the popular movie of the same name, best describes the bewilderment I experienced this morning as I tried to piece together what in the name of all that is holy just happened last night.

    What’s that you ask? Why yes, I did attend the first ever circus stunt MLB Wild Card game at Turner Field! Good guess!

    Deciding a 162-game season with a 1-game “play in” makes even more sense to me now than it did on Opening Day! Hooray, MLB execs!

    Before anyone hurls a sour grapes accusation in my direction, you should know that I’ve been quite consistent on this matter.

    A while back, the fine folks at the National Basketball Association determined (rightly) that a 5-game series was too short to decide an 82-game season, so they expanded the first round of the NBA Playoffs to 7 games. I’ve been critical of Major League Baseball for years for not following suit. But not only did MLB decline to expand the Divisional Series to 7 games,  it apparently decided a 5-game series wasn’t short enough to adjudicate a 162-game season.

    I’ve hated the idea of a single-elimination Wild Card game from the word “go”.

    Nevertheless, the very first Wild Card contest happened to feature my team and it happened to take place right here in Atlanta, so I showed up to cheer on the Braves and see Chipper Jones play the hot corner once more.

    I  was prepared for the possibility that the Braves’ season could end Friday as it, of course, did. I knew I would be deeply disappointed if the Braves were eliminated, partly because of my disdain for the 1-game play-in and partly because it’s always difficult to see your team’s season end too early, regardless of the circumstances. Still, I was–at least to a certain degree–ready to accept  the outcome of Friday evening’s contest. Or at least, I thought I was.

    Losing an elimination game hurts. Losing it the way the Braves lost it is something else all together.

    As the Braves took the field in the top of the 4th inning, all was right with the world. Atlanta had jumped out to an early 2-0 lead two innings earlier on a David Ross homerun…

    And Braves starter Kris Medlen appeared to be in command, even after Carlos Beltran turned in the first Cardinals hit of the evening, a single to center field. A tailor-made double play ball off the bat of Matt Holliday was scooped up by third baseman Chipper Jones, and in that moment it seemed inevitable that the Cardinals’ only hit of the game to that point was about to be erased.

    But then… it happened. Chipper’s throw sailed beyond the reach of second baseman Dan Uggla and skipped into right-center field. The ballgame turned on that play.

    Now instead of a two outs–bases empty scenario, the Cardinals had something cooking with runners on the corners and nobody out. And it’s possible that the young Braves starting pitcher, making his first ever postseason appearance, might have been rattled just a bit. Atlanta’s lead was promptly wiped out on an Allen Craig double, and then St. Louis claimed a 3-2 lead on a sac fly by David Freese.

    From there, things only got worse. A series of Braves errors handed the Cardinals three more runs.

    Such gifts should have been accompanied by Hallmark cards. You know… the kind that play music when you open them. For the tune, I think I would have gone with Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt. “I Hurt myself today… to see if I still feel.”

    The Braves reclaimed one of those runs to make it 6-3 in the 7th inning, after a Jose Constanza triple and a Michael Bourn RBI ground out.

    But then things went from ugly … to interesting … to uglier than ever.

    In the bottom of the 8th inning, a Freddie Freeman walk and a David Ross single brought the potential tying run to the plate in the person of Andrelton Simmons. After working the count full, Simmons skied a pop-fly into straight away left field. The ball ultimately landed 225 feet from home plate between Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday. Braves fans (and every player on the field) logically assumed that the Braves had loaded the bases with one out, bringing the go-ahead run to the dish. Not so.

    Despite Simmons’ pop-fly literally traveling more than 2/3 of the way to the left field wall, the shortstop gave chase and, well… this happened:

    Did the call adhere to the rulebook definition? I think not, but we’ll let you decide. Text of infield fly rule

    MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds argued after the game that this kind of call and application of the rule is not uncommon. There may be some truth to that, but then again, rarely–if ever–is the infield fly rule invoke that far into the outfield.

    FROM ESPN.COM: “To put Friday’s controversial play into context, in the past three seasons, there were six infield flies that were not caught in the majors, according to Baseball Info Solutions, the longest measured at 178 feet.”

    So Friday night’s infield fly ruling was nearly twice as far into the outfield grass as the farthest such play recorded within the past three years. Is there a way to argue “ordinary effort” with an infielder back-peddling 225 feet from home plate?

    The fact of the matter is that it was an inexcusably horrible application of the rule. Even if you believe LF umpire Sam Holbrook and the rest of the crew can be excused, the league cannot.

    The picture below was taken from the spot where the ball landed on the controversial play. Does it not seem as though the application of the INFIELD fly rule needs to be addressed?

    Picture courtesy of @ZackKleinWSB.

    The same reciting of the rule’s text that has been used to defend Friday night’s calamitous call could be used to explain such a ruling anywhere on the field. If an infielder chased a ball all the way to the warning track, the same justification could used to invoke the infield fly rule.

    This, I think, is where common sense should come into play.

    As MLB Braves beat writer Mark Bowman put it: If you argue it was correct by “the letter of the law” you ignore that the call defied the purpose of the rule. The infield fly rule is in place to protect against deceiving base runners. Any ump can memorize the rule. A good one knows when to apply it.

    Catcher David Ross was almost the hero. He hit the 2-run shot the put the Braves up 2-0 early.

    Mr. Bowman is exactly right. The rule was created to protect the offense from a defensive player intentionally allowing the ball to drop in order to turn an easy double or triple play. In this case, the rule was applied when no (force) double-play was remotely possible, and this ruling clearly penalized the offensive team, rather than protecting it.

    It cannot be said that the infield-fly call cost the Braves the victory. Even if the call had gone their way, Atlanta may very well have lost the game anyway. But a golden opportunity to tie the game or reclaim the lead was taken way from the Braves on that play. We’ll never know what might have happened.

    The Cardinals built their lead by capitalizing on the Braves’ mistakes. When Atlanta finally had a chance to cash in on a Cardinals miscue and jump right back into the game, that opportunity was largely snuffed out by the infield fly ruling. The Braves can blame only themselves for the deficit they faced in the 8th inning. But a BIG chance to come from behind was wiped way with one shake of Sam Holbrook’s fist.

    See also the MLB.com video breakdown of Holbrook’s call below. 

    For the Cardinals I will say that they played better baseball Friday evening than did the Braves, and they deserved their victory.

    For the Braves, I contend that the team deserved every opportunity to see their 8th inning rally effort through. And ultimately, baseball’s 4th best team deserved more than a mere 9 innings to determine its own fate.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Braves sweep Fish, Chipper’s last hurrah against Mets

    Chipper Jones debuted with the Braves in 1993. This weekend, he plays the final reg season home games of his career.

    Not only did the Braves clinch a Wild Card spot in their first game of the homestand, a Cardinals loss the following night means the Braves have clinched home field advantage for the October 5th Wild Card game.

    There were many great performances during the series against the Fish. Freddie Freeman’s walkoff 2-run blast to clinch the National League Wild Card was one of many, but clearly stunning and important. Kris Medlen had another solid start, Dan Uggla stepped up, and Craig Kimbrel continued making history while veteran Chipper Jones continued making memories.

    Kris Medlen entered the homestand with a 3-0 record and 0.90 ERA in September. During those 4 starts, Medlen had 34 Ks and just 4 walks allowed while holding his opponents to a .168 average. Medlen, though not the shutout ace we’ve seen in his other starts since joining the rotation, had another stunning night. In 7 innings pitched, he allowed 3 runs on 5 hits. He didn’t allow a walk and he struck out 8. Since joining the rotation, Kris Medlen has an 8-0 record with a 1.04 ERA. He has held his opponents to a .196 batting average in that span. As a starter this season, Medlen has 80 strikeouts (nearly 9 per 9 IP) and a mere 9 walks. The Atlanta Braves have won each of Medlen’s last 22 starts dating back to 2010, tying him with Whitey Ford and Carl Hubbell. It’s no wonder Medlen is in line to pitch the Wild Card game on October 5th. Medlen is, as Tyler Kepner wrote, the hottest pitcher in baseball.

    Pitching, in general, has been exceptional in the last two weeks for the Braves. In their past 12 games, the Braves have allowed 1 run or fewer 5 of those games. After Medlen’s solid outing, Maholm returned to the shutout form we saw from him when he first joined the club at the trade deadline, and Tommy Hanson looked like the BMFT of old.

    Craig Kimbrel notched his 40th save in game 2 of the series. Kimbrel’s back-to-back 40+ save seasons mark only the second time a Braves closer has accomplished this feat, the only other being John Smoltz. Another strange record came in game 2 when Craig Kimbrel became the 8th pitcher across baseball to strike out 4 batters in one inning this season. Those 8 pitchers combine for the most to do this in one season in baseball history.

    Also in game 2, Eric O’Flaherty made his 27th consecutive scoreless appearance dating back to July 15th. O’Flaherty and Kimbrel are a big part of why the Braves are 75-2 this season when leading after the 7th inning. Though he struggled early in the season, O’Flaherty has successfully turned his season around and reminded us of the 2011 EOF.

    Dan Uggla clearly thrives when it comes to hitting against his former team. In his 17 games against the Marlins in 2012, he has 7 extra base hits and 18 RBIs to his credit. Additionally, in game 2 of the series, Uggla stole home. The last time an Atlanta player stole home was in July of 2010 when, in his rookie season, Jason Heyward did so against the Nationals.

    Dan Uggla wasn’t the only Brave with a noteworthy steal in the series. Jason Heyward’s 20th steal of the season came in game 2. That steal makes 2012 J-Hey’s first career 20/20 season, and first by any Atlanta player since Andruw Jones accomplished it in 2000. If J-Hey wants to go one step further, the last Brave to go 25/25 in a season was none other than Chipper Jones in his MVP season (1999). With 2 series left this regular season, Heyward will need 5 more stolen bases. He currently has 27 homers.

    Atlanta is 74-15 when scoring 4 or more runs, they are 60-3 when scoring 5 or more runs, and the Braves are 75-2 when leading after 7 innings. This held true Thursday night in the final game of the series with Tommy Hanson on the mound.

    Sitting 4 games behind the Nationals with 6 games to play doesn’t bode well for Atlanta, but stranger things have happened. While the Braves face the Mets and Pirates in their final 6, the Nationals don’t fair as well with the Cardinals and Phillies. The Braves hold a 7 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card race, while the St. Louis Cardinals have a 3 game lead on the Dodgers for the second WC spot.

    Linescores from the Marlins series:

    Game 1:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Marlins 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 3 6 0
    Braves 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 4 6 0

    W: Kimbrel (3-1) L: Dunn (0-3)

    Game 2:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Marlins 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 1
    Braves 0 0 0 4 0 1 0 0 x 3 4 0

    W: Maholm (13-10) L: Johnson (8-14) SV: Kimbrel (40)

    Game 3:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Marlins 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 7 1
    Braves 0 0 0 4 0 0 2 0 x 6 8 2

    W: Hanson (13-9) L: Turner (2-5)

    CHIPPER TAKES ON THE METS FOR ONE LAST TIME…

    Friday: Niese (12-9, 3.49) vs. Hudson (16-6, 3.61)

    Saturday: Young (4-8, 4.21) vs. Minor (10-10, 4.27)

    Sunday: Mejia (1-1, 4.91) vs. Medlen (9-1, 1.64)

    The Braves will send their big 3 to the mound this weekend against the Mets.

    Michael Bourn had a precautionary MRI Thursday on his left thumb, the thumb he sprained on Saturday. Fredi hopes to have Bourn back in the lineup for the first game of the series against New York.

    The big story of the final home series is, of course, that it is Chipper’s last. It seems particularly fitting that the final team he will face in front of his home fans will be the team he has brutalized over his storied career.

    Chipper’s stats against the Mets are ridiculous. He has a career .311/.408/.548 average against New York. He has racked up 264 hits and 159 RBIs against them. The last time the Mets were in town, Chipper hit .308 with a .357 on-base percentage.

    Chipper’s final season has been nothing short of spectacular. There is no question that he can still produce. Before Chipper’s leadoff walk in game 3 of the series against the Fish, he ranked 5th in Major League Baseball with a .444 on-base percentage when leading an inning off. He is averaging .292/.381/.466 in 2012. As Jayson Stark noted in his recent profile of the retiring Jones (highly recommended reading), the last player to finish with the kind of lineup presence that Chipper brings was the great Ted Williams. Now that’s some company.

    The Braves will be honoring Chipper tonight prior to the game. A special pregame ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. (EST) and will feature the likes of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Bobby Cox.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves beat Phillies, open final homestand

    If at the start of the season, a prognosticator had said that the Braves would take their final series against Philly and head home to Turner Field with an 88-65 record while the Phillies barely managed to push their record to .500 and they would both be looking up at the Washington Nationals, chances are everyone in baseball would have laughed. And yet, that’s how the final series between Philadelphia and Atlanta resulted.

    This season the Atlanta Braves really turned the tables on the rival Phillies. Against Philly ace Roy Halladay, the Braves managed to keep a big zero in the wins column for Doc Halladay against them. In 4 starts against Atlanta in 2012, Halladay had an 11.72 ERA. Halladay has a 7.44 ERA in 6 starts against the Braves since 2011 and has not won a single game.

    On top of their success against Halladay, the Braves had a winning series record against the Phillies in 2012. Citizens Bank Park this season, the Braves went 6-2 and overall against the Phillies in 2012 they were 11-6.

    Linescores from the 3-game series in Philadelphia:

    Game 1:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 6 0
    Phillies 1 0 1 2 0 1 0 1 x 6 6 0

    W: Kendrick (10-11) L: Hanson (12-9)

    Game 2:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 3 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 8 9 0
    Phillies 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 3 1

    W: Minor (10-10) L: Halladay (10-8)

    Game 3:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 9 1
    Phillies 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 2 2

    W: Hudson (16-6) L: Lee (6-8) SV: Kimbrel (39)

    TAKING IT TO THE TED FOR FINAL HOMESTAND…

    Tuesday: Eovaldi (4-12, 4.36) vs. Medlen (9-1, 1.51)

    Wednesday: Johnson (8-13, 3.84) vs. Maholm (12-10, 3.85)

    Thursday: Turner (2-4, 5.23) vs. Hanson (12-9, 4.46)

    The Braves will cap the season with 2 back-to-back 3-game sets at Turner Field, first they’ll face the Marlins and then, the most fitting opponent for Chipper’s final 3 regular season games in an Atlanta Braves uniform, the New York Mets. Chipper has stated on Twitter that he will be playing every game of the homestand, whether the veteran’s knees get the memo is another story. Regardless, there will be very few dry eyes at the Ted in the days to come.

    Kris Medlen takes the mound tonight for what could be the National League Wild Card clinching game for the Braves. Their magic number is 1. Medlen is 8-0 with an 0.76 ERA in his 10 starts this season. The only other Braves pitcher with at least 8 wins and an accompanying sub-1.00 ERA in any 10 start span is the great hall of famer Warren Spahn. In Medlen’s last start, he struck out 13  batters on an incredible 96 pitches. Medlen is in line to pitch the 1-game playoff between NL Wild Card winners.

    The Braves welcome the Marlins tonight at 7:10 (EST).

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves wrap amazing series against Friars, open series with L.A.

    Chipper Jones hit homeruns number 11 and 12 Thursday night as Braves won 6-0.

    Capping a winning series against the San Diego Padres, Chipper Jones and Kris Medlen put on a show for fans at Turner Field Thursday night. Chipper blasted two home runs, his second marking his 2700th career hit, and garnered two curtain calls from thrilled Braves fans. Kris Medlen, content in his place in the rotation, pitched a 5-hit complete game shut out while flashing the leather to maintain that shutout. It was a special night for Atlanta and pulled them within 4 games of the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

    Game 1 of the series was the first loss for the Braves since initiating “high sock Monday.” It was another tough loss for rookie Mike Minor who was yet again the victim of poor run support. The Padres only put 3 runs on the board against the rookie, but those runs and a run tacked on against the bullpen was enough to get the win on a night when the Braves put 1 run on the board off of 5 hits. The majority of Atlanta’s offense came by way of Michael Bourn and Martin Prado, a common combo this season.

    The most consistent pitcher for the Braves this season has been veteran Tim Hudson. When the Braves need a win, he has come through. Tuesday night, fresh off their Monday night loss, Huddy pitched a gem. Seemingly annoyed when Fredi Gonzalez pulled him after back-to-back singles in the 7th inning. Hudson pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing only 2 hits and blanking the Padres. The bullpen was able to finish off Hudson’s gem. Martin Prado continued coming up with the big hits, going 2-for-4 on the night with 3 RBIs. Both he and Uggla hit home runs, Uggla a solo homer and Prado a 3-run blast accounting for his RBIs on the night. The Braves have seen signs of life from Uggla recently. Since August 6th, Uggla has gone 10-for-37 with a .323 batting average, 3 home runs, 3 doubles, 6 walks and 9 RBIs. With the ailing shoulder of Brian McCann, the Braves could really use offense out of Uggla down the stretch.

    If the big signing at the trade deadline was supposed to be Ryan Dempster, the Braves got far more out of him snubbing them than they could ever imagine in Paul Maholm. In Maholm’s 3 starts for the Braves, he has pitched 23 innings, given up 14 hits, only allowed 4 runs and struck out 20. In his 3 games, he has held opponents to a .177 batting average. He has a 1.57 ERA with a 2-1 record since being traded to the club. Wednesday night’s performance was yet another brilliant outing. He allowed only 1 run in his 7 innings of dominance against the Padres. Maholm’s outing was backed by the powerful bats of Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla. The Braves had 9 hits, but went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

    Perhaps the biggest story of the week came from Fredi Gonzalez who announced that the Braves will be going to a 6-man rotation for the next 2 weeks with the return of Tommy Hanson from the DL Friday. After 2 weeks, the Braves will decide which of the 6 (Hudson, Sheets, Maholm, Hanson, Minor and Medlen) pitched the most effectively and are the most healthy and presumably the odd man out will be sent to the bullpen. Medlen’s Thursday night complete game shutout will go a long way to solidifying his place in the 5-man rotation.

    One last note: Cory Gearrin has been lights out since returning from Gwinnett. In August, Gearrin’s ERA has been quickly dropping. Gearrin has not allowed an earned run out of the bullpen since returning to the team July 31st. His ERA dropped from 2.45 to 0.79 in that period. He has been a godsend to the bullpen in the wake of Venters’ elbow injury (now healed) and Medlen’s move to the rotation. With a healthy Venters, continued dominance by closer Craig Kimbrel, a steady Gearrin and potentially the return of Peter Moylan, the Braves’ bullpen could lead the team into the postseason.

    The line scores from each of the 4 games against the Padres:

    Game 1:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Padres 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 4 12 2
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 5 0

    W: Stults (3-2) L: Minor (6-9) SV: Thayer (6)

    Game 2:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Padres 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0
    Braves 1 0 0 0 1 1 3 0 x 6 10 0

    W: Hudson (12-4) L: Richard (9-12)

    Game 3:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Padres 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 0
    Braves 0 0 3 3 0 0 0 0 x 6 9 0

    W: Maholm (11-7) L: Volquez (7-9)

    Game 4:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Padres 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 1
    Braves 2 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 x 6 10 0

    W: Medlen (3-1) L: Marquis (8-10)

    DODGERS ROLL INTO TURNER FIELD…

    Friday: Capuano (11-8, 3.11) vs. Hanson (12-5, 4.29)

    Saturday: Harang (8-7, 3.76) vs. Sheets (4-2, 2.13)

    Sunday: Billingsley (9-9, 3.62) vs. Minor (6-9, 4.93)

    The Dodgers arrive at Turner Field for the Civil Rights Game weekend. The CRG will be played Sunday and the game will be showcased on TBS.

    Tommy Hanson returns from the disabled list tonight to square off against one of the more unlikely heroes of the Dodgers–Chris Capuano. Tommy has been on the DL since July 30th with a strained lower back. Hanson’s spot in the rotation may very well be up for grabs and he needs to come out strong if he hopes to retain it.

    Los Angeles has one of the hottest road records in baseball. The Dodgers have won 5 of their last 7 games, all road games, and they hold a 12-4 road record since the all-star break.

    For the Braves to keep up with the Nationals, they will need to a majority of the games from Los Angeles before they begin a series in D.C. against the rival Nats on Monday.

    The Braves and Dodgers get underway at 7:35 (EST) tonight.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves salvage one vs Giants, head to D.C.

    Hoping to continue their 7-game winning streak, the Braves were derailed by the San Francisco Giants Tuesday night. They then lost the second game of the series after midnight in the 11th inning. The Braves were able to salvage the third game of the series, avoiding the sweep, behind an awesome outing by veteran Tim Hudson.

    It was an interesting series for veteran Chipper Jones. In game 2, Chipper Jones hit a solo homer, tying him with George Brett for the most RBIs by a third baseman. He called out his former teammate, Melky Cabrera, for antics that angered players and Atlanta fans alike. And, on defense, he made a spectacular play that may have jarred his finicky knees causing two throwing errors and a few days on the bench to rest. Fredi Gonzalez has said he would like to see Chipper play in 3 of 4 games against the Nats.

    The line score for each of the three games against the Giants:

    Game 1

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Runs Hits Errors
    Giants 1 0 1 6 1 0 0 0 0 9 13 0
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0

    W: Zito (8-6, 3.75) ; L: Jurrjens (3-3, 6.20)

    Game 2

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Runs Hits Errors
    Giants 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 6 9 9 2
    Braves 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 4 8 2

    W: Casilla (3-4, 3.34) ; L: Varvaro (1-1, 5.28)

    Game 3

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Runs Hits Errors
    Giants 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 9 1
    Braves 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 X 3 3 0

    W: Hudson, T (8-4, 3.70) ; L: Bumgarner (11-6, 3.12) ; SV: Kimbrel (28)

    The Braves finished their six game homestand with a 4-2 record.

    4-GAME SERIES IN NATION’S CAPITAL…

    Friday: Hanson (10-5, 4.02) vs. Strasburg (10-4, 2.66)

    Saturday Doubleheader (Game 1): Sheets (1-0, 0.00) vs. Jackson (5-5, 3.89)

    Saturday Doubleheader (Game 2): Delgado (4-9, 4.52) vs. Lannan (0-0, –)

    Sunday: Jurrjens (3-3, 6.20) vs. TBD

    Going into the 4-game series against the Nationals, the Braves are 3 1/2 games behind Washington in the National League East. The Braves are 26-17 on the road while the Nationals have that same record at home.

    Randall Delgado will return from Gwinnett to start in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. He will be facing John Lannan who is making his 2012 big league debut after pitching all season for Triple-A Syracuse where he has gone 6-8 with a 4.60 ERA. Delgado will likely return to Gwinnett after this spot start. This is, of course, dependent on the Braves not making a trade for a starting pitcher like Dempster between now and Saturday afternoon.

    The Nationals welcome the Braves for the 4-game set beginning tonight at 7:05 (EST).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves end brutal series in Cincy, head home for Nats

    The Atlanta Braves literally limped into Cincinnati for a 4-game series with the Reds and left the Queen City having been swept. The offense that began slumping in the second interleague game in Tampa Bay fell off entirely in Cincy. The Braves head home to Turner Field one game behind their weekend opponent Nationals in the East and the Reds moved into first place in the National League Central.

    The Braves were without Chipper Jones for the entire series, Brian McCann for three games, Matt Diaz for the second-half of the series and Freddie Freeman missed time. Jones has been nursing a bruised and swollen ankle and calf following a line drive he took off of it Friday in Tampa Bay. Brian McCann and Matt Diaz have both been battling the flu. And Freddie Freeman has had continuous vision problems due a corneal abrasion first diagnosed last Tuesday. In addition to the bats, Jonny Venters has struggled in his recent outings. Venters’ struggles may or may not be attributable to shoulder soreness and the line drive he took off his left calf Wednesday night.

    Chipper Jones’ health remains a balancing act for Fredi Gonzalez as he puts together the daily lineup. The Braves are 19-5 with Chipper in the lineup and a stark 7-15 without him. Wednesday night, Chipper pinch hit and was immediately lifted for pinch runner Tim Hudson after drawing a walk. It is the only appearance Chipper made in his final series at Great American Ballpark. Because Chipper made that appearance Wednesday night, placing Jones on the DL will likely not help the Braves. They will continue to wait as his bruised leg heals.

    The story of the series in Cincinnati was the long ball. Beachy game up 3 HRs; Minor 4 HRs; and Delgado didn’t give up a home run, but loaded the bases and set up a grand slam off reliever Kris Medlen. The only starter to not give up a home run in the band box that is Great American was Tommy Hanson. On the flip side for the Braves, Michael Bourn hit 3 HRs while in Cincinnatti, Juan Francisco hit 2 HRs against his former club, and Dan Uggla had 1 jack.

    Braves’ hitters were a horrendous 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position (RISP) during the series.

    HOME FOR THE NATS…

    Friday: Detwiler (3-3, 3.65) vs. Hudson (3-1, 3.03)

    Saturday: Strasburg (4-1, 2.21) vs. Minor (2-4, 6.96)

    Sunday: Gonzalez (6-1, 1.98) vs. Beachy (5-2, 1.77)

    The Nationals have the lowest team ERA in the National League at 2.90 and have limited their opponents’ batting average to .219. The only two categories Braves’ pitching leads the Nats in are innings pitched and saves. With the exception of perhaps the struggling Mike Minor, this series proves to be a showcase of superb NL pitching.

    Though the Braves have been practicing patience with Mike Minor, they are quickly approaching a crossroads with the young lefty. Minor’s ERA actually dropped following his last outing, an outing that was marred by poor command and his giving up 4 home runs to the Reds. Minor’s outing against the Reds was his longest since the 30th of April. How Minor fares against Stephen Strasburg may determine whether Minor keeps his spot in the rotation or if the Braves consider other options like Julio Teheran who is 4-2 with a 2.98 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett (allowing 4 hits, 1 earned run in 7 innings in his last outing).

    Where the Nationals struggle is with offense. The Nats are 13th in batting out of the 16 National League teams. Despite their recent woes, the Braves remain 2nd in the NL in team batting.

    The Nationals have had their share of injuries. They currently have ten players on the DL, with Jayson Werth not expected to be returning until August after breaking his wrist and Wilson Ramos is not expected to return at all this season after tearing his ACL. When Michael Morse returns, that may help with the Nats’ offensive woes, but his return is still a couple of weeks away. For the Braves to be successful this weekend they will have to take advantage of the holes in the Nats’ lineup and get to the strong Nats’ pitching early.

    Game one between the Braves & Nationals gets under way at Turner Field tonight at 7:35 (EST).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.