September 27, 2011 · 13:33
B.J Upton and Evan Longoria greet Johnny Damon after a home run against the Blue Jays
What seemed like an impossible season finale less than a month ago is now reality. Four teams, two playoff spots and two games left. The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox have spent the month of September in a free fall. Boston is 5 and 17 this month and the Braves are 9-16 their worst September since 1989. This helped breathe life into the Wild Card races. As the Braves and Red Sox collapsed the insurgent St. Louis Cardinals having been written off by everyone have pulled within a game of the Braves and would be in a tie if not for an extra inning loss to the woebegone Houston Astros last night. While the Braves collapse is bad the Red Sox collapse is bordering on epic. The Tampa Bay Rays who were 9 games out at the beginning of the month moved even with the Sox last night when they defeated the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles continued their September dominance of a team that has over the past decade made their life a living hell.
Justin Pedroia after Monday’s loss in Baltimore
The Red Sox look like a defeated team; their words and body language only reinforce the image of defeat. The Rays on the other hand appear confident and ready to win under the relaxed leadership of Manager Joe Maddon. Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria reflected that confidence after the Rays defeated the Yankees Monday night saying “We’re in the driver’s seat in our opinion. It’s our job just to go out there and win.” To get in the playoffs Boston must win both of its final two games and pray that their arch rivals, the New York Yankees beat the Rays. Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said “We’ve backed ourselves about as far as we can go,” after last night’s loss to the Orioles. That loss was devastating as their best pitcher Josh Beckett lost and now the Red Sox must depend on the struggling Erik Bedard 5-9 3.50 ERA who lost his last outing against the Orioles tonight and possibly John Lester pitching on three days rest Wednesday. Lester 15-9 3.49 ERA has embodied the collapse of the Sox going just 1-5 with a 5.71 ERA in September.
Chris Carpenter and Darth Vader: Will the Cardinal Empire Strike Back?
The Braves are up by one game but still face a daunting task. They must win against the Philadelphia Phillies and hope that the Astros can defeat the Cardinals at least once in the next two games. The Braves task is made harder because they face Phillies starter Roy Oswalt who is 1-0 in four starts with a 1.71 ERA against the Braves this season. Meanwhile the decimated starting rotation of the Braves must pitch the slumping Derek Lowe who has a 4.59 ERA and has lost 6 of his last 8 starts against the Phillies. Lowe has had a miserable September has lost his last four starts and has an 8.24 ERA. The Braves hitting has also failed them of late and to beat the Phillies their pitching staff and hitters must perform better than they have in September. Braves legend Chipper Jones simply said “We have nobody to blame but ourselves for being in this present situation.”
Chipper Jones at the end of the 6th inning against the Phillies Monday Night
This certainly will be interesting to watch. As someone that follows the game and looks at statistics, records and history the month of September appears to be an epic month with not just one but possibly two teams losing what appeared to be insurmountable leads. As a baseball fan I like to see the improbable happen. As an Orioles fan just hope that the Birds continue to beat the Sox.
Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles
Tagged as atlanta braves, baltimore Orioles, boston red sox, chipper jones, derek lowe, erik bedard, evan longoria, houston astros, joe maddon, john lester, josh beckett, mlb, mlb wild card, new york yankees, philadelphia phillies, roy oswalt, st louis cardinals, tampa bay rays, terry francona
October 12, 2010 · 01:38
The Giants celebrate their first playoff series win since 2002 at Turner Field (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Once again there was a pitcher’s duel between the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants. Once again the Giants were the team to come from behind in the late innings to win the game in Atlanta. The Braves who have the most come from behind wins in the Majors this year could not come back from a late 3-2 deficit despite getting two walks with one out in the bottom of the 9th inning. Closer Brian Wilson got his command back and got Omar Infante to strike out for the second out and Melky Cabrera to ground out to 3rd base to end the game and the managerial career of the legendary Bobby Cox. In a touching moment Cox came out for a curtain call tip of the hat to the fans receiving a standing ovation not just from the Braves faithful but from the victorious San Francisco Giants.
End of an era: Bobby Cox tips his hat after the game (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Giants started rookie Madison Bumgarner in game for against Derek Lowe pitching on short rest. Bumgarner struggled in the first three innings loading the bases in the 2nd and allowing a run on three singles and a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Lowe was very effective actually going into the 6th inning with a no hitter which was broken up by a solo shot by Giants outfielder Cody Ross to tie the game.
Cody Ross celebrates after his 6th inning home run (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
After the first three innings the young left-handed Bumgarner was very effective until the bottom of the 6th when he gave up a solo home run with 1 out to Braves catcher Brian McCann which gave the Braves a 2-1 lead and had the Braves faithful in full tomahawk chop frenzy mode. With the crowd in his face Bumgarner bore down and despite giving up a single the Jayson Heyward struck out Alex Gonzales and Rick Ankiel to end the inning.
Fear the beard: Giants’ Closer Brian Wilson gets his second save in two games in Atlanta (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
In the top of the 7th the Giants came back. Freddy Sanchez grounded out to lead off the inning but the tiring Lowe walked Aubrey Huff and then gave up a single to Buster Posey which sent Huff to 2nd base. Bobby Cox came to the mound to pull Lowe from the game with Pete Moylan ready in the bullpen. A defiant Lowe told Cox that he could get the next batter Pat Burrell out and Cox gave way allowing the World Series veteran to stay in the game. Instead of getting Burrell out Lowe walked him to load the bases which brought out Cox for the second time to bring in Moylan. The first batter that Moylan faced was Juan Uribe who hit a sharp ground ball to shortstop Alex Gonzales who threw just high enough to bring second baseman Omar Infante off the bag allowing Huff to score and the bases to remain loaded. Jonny Venters relieved Moylan and struck out pinch hitter Aaron Rowland for the second out. Venters then faced Cody Ross who singled to left to score Posey for the go-ahead run but left fielder Matt Diaz threw out Burrell at the plate aided by a great block of the plate by Brian McCann.
Brian McCann and Diory Hernandez look on as the Giants celebrate (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Giants sent Santiago Casilla to relieve Bumgarner in the bottom of the 7th and Casilla sent the Braves down in order. He would get Derek Lee to strike out swinging before giving up a one out single to Brian McCann. Casilla then got Alex Gonzales to hit a soft sinking line drive to shortstop Edgar Renteria who misplayed it but was able to recover and throw out Gonzalez who paused before running to first base thinking that Renteria had the catch. Pinch runner Nate McLouth went to second on the play and Giants manager Bruce Bochy to bring in Javier Lopez and Lopez struck out Jayson Heyward to end the inning.
The Giants managed nothing in the 9th despite an Aubrey Huff single. In the bottom of the 9th the Giants brought in closer Brian Wilson. Wilson got pinch hitter Brooks Conrad, the error prone goat of Sunday night to fly out but then walked Rick Ankiel and Erik Hinske. Wilson then struck out Omar Infante who was one of the most effective Braves hitters in the series before retiring Melky Cabrera on a ground ball to third to end the game.
Saluting the longtime foe: The Giants pause their celebration to tip their hats and honor Bobby Cox (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
This was a true championship caliber series and certainly more competitive and well played than any of the other divisional series game. Like all the games of this series the game could have gone either way. These teams were so evenly matched and played so well that it was a shame that one had to lose. Both secured playoff berths on the last day of the season and both are class organizations and have great fans. The difference was pitching the Giants starters had an ERA of 0.89 in the four games but not the starters alone as the Giants’ pitching staff allowed just 5 earned runs in 37 innings work for a 1.21 ERA. Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner got the win while Derek Lowe picked up his second loss of the series.
The hero for the Giants was Cody Ross who had the game winning hit in game one and 2 RBIs in the finale to give the Giants just enough juice to end the Braves season and Bobby Cox’s managerial career. As Bobby Cox tipped his hat at the end of the game I thought back to all of the times that this legendary manager has taken the Braves to the playoffs, especially their amazing run in 2005 with the “Baby Braves” rookies. Cox was an old time manager who knew how to get the most out of his people and even continued to wear steel cleats to his final game. The colorful Cox will be missed and whoever the Braves get to fill his shoes will have to work many years in the shadow of a legend.
The Giants now move on the face the Phillies in the NLCS which begins on Friday in Philadelphia. I will analyze that series and the ALCS matchup after the Rays and Rangers series ends tomorrow evening.
Filed under Baseball
Tagged as aaron rowland, alex gonzales, atlanta braves, aubrey huff, baby braves of 2005, bobby cox, brian mccann, brian wilson, brooks conrad, bruce bochy, buster posey, cody ross, derek lee, derek lowe, diory hernandez, edgar renteria, eric hinske, freddy sanchez, javier lopez, jayson heyward, jonny venters, juan uribe, madison bumgarner, matt diaz, melky cabrera, nate mclouth, nlds, omar infante, pat burrell, peter moylan, philadelphia phillies, rick ankiel, san fransisco giants, santiago casilla
October 10, 2010 · 22:34
Brooks Conrad looks down after his 3rd error of the game (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Once again the Braves and Giants had a pitcher’s duel going as their starters maintained a firm grip on the game as Jonathan Sanchez set the pace for the Giants holding the Braves to two hits and a run in 7.1 innings work and Tim Hudson holding the Giants to an unearned run in 7 innings work.
Jonathan Sanchez dominated the Braves for 7 innings (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
The Giants led by a score of 1-0 until the bottom of the 8th inning scoring their run in the second inning when Mike Fotenot tripled and then scored on Brooks Conrad’s fielding error on a Cody Ross ground ball. The lead held up until with one out in the 7th Sanchez gave up a single to Alex Gonzalez. This brought in Sergio Romo to face pinch hitter Eric Hinske. With a 0-2 count Hinske drilled a shot just over the right field wall next to the foul pole to give the Braves a 2-1 lead. This sent the fans at Turner Field into a tomahawk chop frenzy, the Braves dugout was celebrating and the Giants appeared to be thunderstruck. Sanchez appeared to be in shock and others were shaking their heads.
Aubrey Huff drives in the tying run off of Mike Dunn with 2 outs in the top of the 9th (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
The Giants came up in the bottom top of the 9th inning to face Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel got leadoff batter Cody Ross to pop out to second for the first out. Travis Ishikawa pinch hit for Romo and drew a walk. Kimbrel then struck out Andres Torres for the second out. With the crowd roaring Kimbrel had Freddy Sanchez down to his last strike when Sanchez singled up the middle to keep the Giants in the game. That was all for Kimbrel who turned the ball over to left hander Mike Dunn to face Aubrey Huff who hits left handed pitchers like piñatas. Huff was behind in the count but ripped a slider on the outside corner into right field where it dropped in from of right fielder Jason Heyward to score Ishikawa. Dunn was done in by the hit and Bobby Cox brought in Peter Moylan to get Buster Posey. Moylan did his part; Posey hit a sharp ground ball to Conrad which went between his legs into right field allowing Sanchez to score giving the Giants a 3-2 going into the bottom of the 9th. With the exception of scattered boos for Conrad the crowd sat in stunned silence and all the energy disappeared from the Braves dugout.
Freddy Sanchez celebrates with Nate Schierholtz after scoring the go ahead run (AP Photo/John Amis)
The Giants brought in Brian Wilson to close the game and Wilson back in form shut down the Braves to get the save and give the Giants a 2-1 series lead. The teams will meet Monday with the Giants’ rookie Madison Bumgarner (7-6 3.00 ERA) going against Derek Lowe (16-12 4.00 ERA) in what could be the final game of Bobby Cox’s long career. One wonders if the Braves can rise to the occasion.
Filed under Baseball
Tagged as andres torres, atlanta braves, aubrey huff, bobby cox, brian wilson, brooks conrad, buster posey, cody ross, craig kimbrel, derek lowe, eric hinske, freddy sanchez, jason heyward, jonathan sanchez, madison bumgarner, mike dunn, mike fotenot, nate schierholtz, peter moylan, san fransisco giants, sergio romo, tim hudson, tomahawk chop, travis ishikawa, turner field
October 8, 2010 · 01:52
The Freak: Tim Lincecum fans 14 Braves in 2 hit shutout (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Tim Lincecum recovered from the worst month of his career in August but was lights out in September something that he continued on Thursday night in game one of the Giants-Braves NLDS series. The two-time Cy Young winner made his playoff debut at AT&T Park and shut down Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves in a big way. Braves batters were doing the Tomahawk Chop all night into empty air against Lincecum who threw at pitch after pitch resulting in strikeout after strikeout, 14 K’s to be exact. This was the most thrown by a pitcher in his playoff debut and third in playoff history, only Bob Gibson with 17 and Roger Clemons with 15 have more.
Lincecum was dominating; he allowed a gap double to Omar Infante to lead off the first inning and a gap double to Brian McCann in the 7th. He gave up just one walk as he sent down batter after batter. The Giants scored one run and it proved to be enough. The run came after Giants catcher Buster Posey singled and stole 2nd. That call however was blown, replay showed Posey to be out but the umpire did not have the best angle to make the call and Brooks Conrad’s tag was up around Posey’s chest making it probably more difficult for the umpire than the camera. The Braves did not argue the call so the questions about it did not come until the break between innings. Manager Bobby Cox did not have a good view and after the game said that since he saw no reaction from his infielder assumed that Posey was safe.
Buster Posey scores the winning run in the Giants 1-0 victory over the Braves (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Even so the base would have been meaningless had Infante not missed a ground ball that most Third Baseman would have handled. That grounder became a RBI single for Cody Ross. It was not called an error but was a play that could have been made, instead it was the game.
Atlanta Starter Derek Lowe performed well but came up short getting the loss pitching 5.1 innings allowing 4 hits, striking out 6 and walking 4 in the outing.
On the positive side for the Brave Bobby Cox did not add to his MLB record of games that he has been tossed from. Had gone and gotten himself thrown out we would have seen three managers tossed in the playoffs.
The game was quintessential Giants’ baseball as once again a starting pitcher shut down an opposing team while the offense provided just enough juice to get the win. Tomorrow Matt Cain goes up against Tommy Hansen in game two. Somehow I think that the Giants win Friday to take a 2-0 series lead into Atlanta.
The first two days of the NLCS and ALCS have seen more games in which a team was held to two hits or less, Lincecum allowed two, Halladay had his no-hitter and Cliff Lee had a one-hitter. Bottom line: 27 innings, 3 pitchers, 3 hits and no runs. That sports fans is impressive. This really is the year of the pitcher.
Filed under Baseball
Tagged as at&t park, atlanta braves, bob gibson, bobby cox, brian mccann, brooks conrad, buster posey, cliff lee, cody ross, cy young award winners, derek lowe, matt cain, mlb playoff strikeout records, nlds, omar infante, roger clemons, roy halladay, san fransisco giants, the year of the pitcher, tim lincecum, tommy hansen