View Mobile Site


TOP RECENT CONTENT

Braves sinking under wave of 1-run losses

POSTED: July 15, 2008 5:01 a.m.
The Associated Press/

Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones, left, walks away from the plate after striking out to end the game against the Houston Astros on Saturday in Atlanta.

View Larger

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves will have a losing record at the All-Star break for the second time in three seasons.

Chipper Jones isn’t happy, but he says he isn’t surprised.

Jones said when the season began that the Braves too closely resembled the team that finished third in the NL East last year for the second straight season.

His concerns have been realized as the Braves have dropped to fourth in the division.

“I guess people might say that I’m a prophet,” Jones said. “There’s a reason why we’ve been at or near .500 for two and a half years now.”

The Braves are under .500 since winning their 14th straight division title in 2005.

Jones says the Braves don’t play like winners, including in their offensive approach.
The Braves have the potential to win big when their big hitters are hot, but they’ve been astonishingly bad in close games.

Manager Bobby Cox has never been known for small ball. During the run of division titles the team kept winning with its combination of dominant starting pitching and home runs.

Despite losing John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Mike Hampton, Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan to injuries, the Braves’ pitching has been strong this season. But the Braves, ninth in the NL in runs, keep losing close games.

They are only 4-22 in one-run games. They are 0-17 in one-run games on the road this season, including a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday night, and have lost 24 straight one-run games on the road since Aug. 10, 2007. It’s the longest stretch of one-run road losses in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Jones says the Braves would win more one-run games if they produced more one-run innings.

“You know, to win one-run games, pitchers have to get bunts down,” Jones said. “You’ve got to hit behind runners. You’ve got to put the ball in play with a guy on third and less than two outs. You have to do the little things to win those one-run games, because a run here and a run there is the difference.
“We don’t do it consistently.”

It’s not a new problem.

The Braves were 12-21 in one-run games when they were 40-49 at the break in 2006, when they finished 79-83. They finished only 18-25 in one-run games last season, when they were again third in the NL East at 84-78.

If Atlanta had won half its 26 one-run games this season, it would be 52-40 and in first place in the NL East, 21/2 games ahead of Philadelphia.

Dodgers starter Derek Lowe, the former Red Sox pitcher who beat Atlanta on Wednesday night while retiring the first 17 batters, says the Braves take an American League approach at the plate.

“This is the type of team where you have to be able to throw your breaking ball for strikes, especially when you’re behind the count,” Lowe said. “They’re more of a what I would call an American League

team, where they just really look for fastballs on pretty much every single count, so you have to be able to throw breaking balls.”

Jones, the NL’s All-Star starter at third base, has hit .400 most of the first half. He can’t do much more. But he says too many of the team’s young players are just waiting on the Braves’ sluggers — Jones, All-Star catcher Brian McCann and first baseman Mark Teixeira — to hit home runs.

“I see a lot of the young guys, they have developed a mentality that they sit back and they wait for me or Tex or Mac to deliver the big blow,” Jones said. “And we’re not going to do it all the time.”

Jeff Francoeur was expected to be another big bat behind Teixeira and McCann. Instead, he slumped so badly that he was sent to Double-A Mississippi for a brief three-game confidence boost this week.

Some of the team’s problems can be blamed on injuries to Mark Kotsay, Yunel Escobar and Matt Diaz, who have had stints on the disabled list. Kotsay missed 33 games with a lower back strain. Diaz has been out since May 28.

Jones has avoided the disabled list, but he missed eight straight starts with a strained right quadriceps before returning on July 1.

But this is about more than injuries. With Jones, Kotsay and Escobar back in the lineup and Francoeur back from the minors, the losses have continued. The Braves had lost eight of 11 through Wednesday, scoring no more than one run five times in the stretch.

Tim Hudson, the tough-luck loser Wednesday night, is only 9-7 despite a 3.16 ERA. The Braves have seven one-run losses in his starts.

“You just feel bad for Huddy,” Francoeur said. “He’s pitched so many games like this and we haven’t done anything for him. What is he, 9-7 now? He could be 12-4 easy.”

Hudson is the only healthy veteran starter, but general manager Frank Wren says the patchwork pitching staff has pitched as well as was expected of the veterans.

“I think if everything had gone as planned with the pitching, we’d be happy with where we are pitching-wise,” Wren said. “That just tells you how good a job these guys have done.”

The Braves’ 3.74 ERA is second in the National League, trailing only the Dodgers.

Jones says the Braves need a complete effort if they are to contend in the second half.

“Some starters are going to have to start going seven, eight innings,” Jones said. “The back end of the bullpen is going to have to be strong. The first two guys in the lineup are going to have to get on consistently.

“And if all that happens we’ll win a lot of games. But if we keep playing one good game every five, it’s gonna be a long summer.”



Comments

Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.

LOCAL

SPORTS

LIFE & GET OUT

LOCAL VIDEO


Contents of this site are © Copyright 2010 The Times, Gainesville, GA. All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...