Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Braves @ Phillies: Game 2/162

Braves 3 - Phillies 2

Lots to say about one of the better played baseball games I've seen in a while, so no time wasting filler, just the finest in random bulleted observations:

  • Ryan Howard and Chase Utley both hit balls in the first inning that would have been long gone on a warmer day. It was a cold day, so they were just long, loud outs.
  • Wes Helms is a bit of a butcher at third, no? The lack of range was definitely expected, but I was disappointed by his noodle arm whipping balls in slow motion across the diamond. I'll keep in mind it was just one game, but I'll admit that I'm going to be nervous on every ball his way until he gives me a reason to trust his defense.
  • Tim Hudson's stuff looked better than I've seen it since he has arrived in Atlanta - he looked like the Oakland version of Hudson, a great sign for Braves fans going forward. The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers has Hudson's repertoire classified as 1) low-90s sinker, 2) splitter, 3) change, 4) slider, and 5) curve. That low-90s sinker was absolutely working for Hudson against the Phillies, he was sitting on 93 MPH consistently on the Philly Comcast SportsNet gun. Baseball Prospectus foretold his demise a few years ago (abnormally high percent of stranded runners in '05, pitcher friendly home ballparks in Oakland and Atlanta, and lefties beginning to hit him extremely hard), but I'm not so sure he can't have a heck of a rebound year in 2007. I have to believe that rib cage injury hurt him more than he let on last year and if he is 100% healthy, watch out.
  • The Phillies broadcasters (specifically Wheels) continuously mentioned Charlie Manuel telling them that he was very comfortable with Carlos Ruiz catching Cole Hamels on a regular basis. Ruiz's two hits (his monster home run to left and then a pretty opposite field single to right) certainly were a welcomed sight as there is no doubt in my mind that he should see the bulk of the time behind the plate this season.
  • Maybe I'm crazy, but Harry Kalas sounds really happy this year. Maybe it's early season excitement, maybe it's the new three man booth dynamic...I don't know. Whatever it is, I like it. I know Phillies fans are beginning to make some noise about HK retiring based on his many jump the gun home run calls, but if you are watching the game then why should these calls bother you? I'm quite happy judging for myself if a ball has home run distance off the bat while I sit back and simply enjoy Harry's excitement.
  • Another minority opinion of mine: I enjoy the middle innings with Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews working together. They both drive me nuts at times, but I think they actually complement each other well.
  • Matthews is still extremely rough around the edges (he mumbles, he rarely speaks in complete sentences, he is constantly either stating the obvious, mispronouncing names, or reading off of the screen), but his lack of polish appeals to me - you honestly never know what the guy is going to say next. Last night he told viewers "you gotta have some bucks if you want to go to Pepperdine." For better or worse, I promise you that you won't hear many other color guys making such weird, random statements as that. Sarge also made a pretty decent point when talking about the progression of Hamels and how you can already see how he is beginning to get all kinds of strike calls on balls hitting the corners - when you are around the plate as consistently as he is, you begin to get the benefit of the doubt.
  • Bad call on the third inning pickoff play where Jimmy Rollins was called out. I'm not hear to whine about bad calls because things balance each other out in the long run (more or less anyway), but it's frustrating when you don't need a replay to see the umpire blew a call. If I can see it in real time, the umpire should be able to get it right as well.
  • Gotta love Jeff Francoeur - the guy went from wildly overrated after his hot callup two years ago to wildly underrated now that he is coming off a lackluster 2006 (29 homers and 100+ RBIs are nice, but that OPS+ of 89 and -1 VORP are hard to swallow). Francoeur just turned 23 in January...the kid has plenty of room to grow as a player. Sure, he'll never have Bobby Abreu's plate discipline, but his raw power is still pretty special. For what it's worth, PECOTA has him pegged for a 2007 line of .284/.327/.498...and his list of comps include Andre Dawson and Albert Belle.
  • Now that I've built Francoeur up, allow me to knock him back down a few pegs (it's the American way). Francoeur got himself out on two fastballs at his eyes against the Phillies last night. He swung and missed on an 86 MPH Cole Hamels' fastball in the seventh and then popped up weakly to Abe Nunez on an 87 MPH Ryan Madson heater. Chasing nearly unhittable balls at eye level would probably qualify as one of the downsides of the swing at everything approach, right?
  • Brian McCann is really, really good. Unfortunately, I've already said as many positive things as I am permitted to say about the Braves in any one given night. So sorry, Brian, but we are going to focus on an at bat where Cole Hamels got the best of you. Fourth inning, one out, man on first - the pitch sequence in this scenario was insane. 81 MPH change for a called strike on the outside corner, 90 MPH fastball in on McCann's hands, another 81 MPH change away, and finally an 82 MPH change in on his hands that was hit softly into an inning ending double play. Cole Hamels is fun to watch.
  • Speaking of Hamels...I loved the exchange between the young lefty and Craig Wilson. Hamels fell behind the Blonde Bomber, a notorious lefty killer, 2-0 before freezing him with back-to-back-to-back changeups (all in the 76-78 MPH range). It was a thing of beauty.
  • Speaking of Hamels (version 2.0)...his dominating performance was made all the more amazing due to the fact that he was really only getting by with two pitches (88-92 MPH fastball, 76-82 MPH changeup). He bounced enough nasty curves (73-76 MPH) in the dirt to keep the Braves honest, but for the most part he just threw perfectly located fastballs and changeups over and over again.
  • I heard Shane Victorino looked on opening day, at least until he redeemed himself with a double late in the game. Funny story. I saw Shane Victorino looking bad last night, at least until his eighth inning RBI double against tough lefty Mike Gonzalez. The doubles are nice, of course, but the guy still looks badly out of sorts at the plate. We're only two games in, so it's not a real concern...just making conversation (although really I'm just rambling semi-coherently to myself).
  • Back to Hamels...the kid did an amazing job of staying on his feet on Craig Wilson's dribbler back to the mound in the seventh. I thought for sure he was either going to fall without making a play OR, even worse, fall while making the throw and send the ball flying down the right field line.
  • If Michael Bourn's role on this team is to run for Pat Burrell in the seventh inning of one-run ballgames, then he needs to pack his bags for Ottawa as soon as possible. It's obviously not Bourn's fault, but as long as he is around Charlie will be tempted to use him to run. Bourn wound up getting two at bats hitting in Burrell's fifth spot in the lineup after coming into the game...that shouldn't happen.
  • Comcast has a weird new in-game interview feature that kind of blew my mind tonight. HK, Wheels, and Sarge were talking to Hamels just minutes after he came out of the game. The idea is pretty cool in theory (I love that the walls are coming down between athlete and fan...especially in the electronic print media), but it was a bit intrusive to have an interview going on in the middle of a tight game. For what it's worth, the only interesting thing I got out of the interview is that Hamels has been working hard on his hitting with Jimy Williams. Who will have the higher OPS by the end of the year - Hamels or Abe Nunez? I think you could guess which player I'd bet on.
  • Watching Nunez ground out weakly in his first at bat made me feel all warm and fuzzy. In these crazy mixed up times, it's good to know that some things never change.
  • Jimmy Rollins (or J.R. as Matthews hilariously calls him) had some of his finest at bats in a Phillies uniform tonight. I know that sounds crazy hyperbolic, but I believe it - his approach at the plate thus far has been mighty encouraging. His at bat against Mike Gonzalez in the eighth stands out as an especially good one in my mind.
  • Ryan Howard started and ended a very pretty 3-6-3 double play in the ninth inning. Nice to see the big man redeem himself in the field after failing to scoop a low Wes Helms throw in the early going (Helms got the error on the play and rightfully so, though it's a ball most 1B should be able to make a play on).
  • Tonight was a huge outing for Ryan Madson on a personal level - how damaging would it be to be to a still young pitcher's psyche to be the man on the mound who blew the first two games of the season in extra innings to a division rival? Well...hopefully not all that damaging. Subpar performance aside, Madson's stuff looked pretty good: low 90s fastball that hit 93, 78-82 MPH changeup, slightly improved looking 83 MPH curve. Madson's problem tonight (and on opening day based on the highlights) was command - he is getting ahead of hitters, but then clearly missing his spots. Two strike, two out pitches should not be 82 MPH changeups that hang right out over the plate.

  • I can't be the only one terrified of the possibility of Flash Gordon 2007 = Joe Table 2003. I don't think Gordon's skills have fallen off a cliff quite like Jose Mesa's, but I am still going to be extremely anxious every time Gordon is out on the mound until proven otherwise. Where's Billy Wagner when you need him?

If you've made it this far, good for you - I only barely made it myself. Hopefully somebody did stick around because we've yet to touch on what will surely be the big story to come out of last night's game - the crazy bottom of the eighth inning. I can't say I really understand Shane Victorino attempting to steal third with one out, Ryan Howard at the plate, and only a two run lead. The explanation behind that (who decided Shane should run? Manuel? Lopes? Did Victorino himself decide to take off [my personal guess]?) will have to wait until the morning papers come rolling in.

The other big play in the eighth came after Chase Utley hit a gapper into right-center field. Ryan Howard, the baserunner on first at the time of the Utley's double, was waved around third and came barreling home only to be tagged out by Brian McCann on a close play at the plate. Victorino trying to steal third is hard to defend, but I'm actually quite alright with Howard being sent home on this play. It took a nearly flawless relay to get the big man at the plate (Francoeur to Kelly Johnson to Brian McCann - all three Braves made great plays to get Howard), so there isn't much you can do but shake your head and hope your "All-Star" closer can protect your 2-run lead. It didn't quite work out that happens.

What I'm less alright with is the fact that part of the reason I don't mind the Phillies taking a chance was because they put themselves in a position where it behooved them to take the risk - with Burrell coming up with 2 on, 2 out then maybe I hold Howard up and take my chances with my five-hole hitter. With Michael Bourn coming up, trying to score Howard makes a lot more sense. Fact is they should have never been in that position in the first place. Tactical mistakes like this need to be minimized if this team is to go anywhere this season...they simply aren't talented enough and are in too tough a division to just skate on by.


Teams lose two games in a row all the time, it just looks and feels worse when they are at the start of a season. But it's a long season and things will get better. They have to...right?


Anonymous malphie said...

"But it's a long season and things will get better. They have to...right?"

Nope. Sorry. Oh-and-162. It is destiny.

All of the Braves runs this series so far have come on the longball. Wonder what that means (probably nothing).

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Beards said...

I have to admit that I enjoyed seeing the Phil's try and steal third. From my angle it looked like a close play (granted i was in the usual right field bleachers, so i dont know how close it really was). Also, I am pretty excited about J-Roll's ability to get some walks. I think we all hope that continues.
P.S. The Dollar Dogs were delicious as always

1:50 PM  
Blogger XXX said...

J-Roll has looked fantastic thus far in the early going, good call Beards.

Truthfully, I didn't hate the steal attempt either; I liked the general thought process behind it. I realize Victorino has a spotty track record swiping bags (72% success rate in the minors), but he is too fast and too smart a baserunner to put too many restrictions him on the base paths. That said, the situation is king - Victorino was already in scoring position with just one out and the test best hitters (Howard and Utley) coming to the plate. Sort of a high risk/low reward kind of gamble, in my opinion.

Hopefully this doesn't discourage Shane-O and the gang from running in the future though, I agree with you that it's nice to see them being aggressive on the bases.

Oh and how's a kid going to even bring up Dollar Dogs and not tell me how many he ate? I'm going to put the over/under at a conservative 4.5...

10:33 PM  
Anonymous ob said...

first of all, beards is a lightweight, i'll put him at a measly 3 hot dogs and a somewhat respectable 4 beers (not including before or after the game of course(although he is pretty cheep so he might have avoided the beers and just went with the before/after)). as for vic's steal attempt i really agree with both of you guys, like the idea of the phils being aggressive and understand that he wants to get into tag position so all howard has to do is pop one up to the outfield but gotta say i'll take my chances that one of my 2 best hitters get a hit. even if they don't, still unlikely that howard pops out to the outfield. as you said oz, high risk, low reward. much rather screw up going for it then not. (hope andy has learned his lesson); remember though, 159-3 is still possible so keep the heads up, seen lots of good things from this team so far.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous ob said...

oh yeah and oz, good stuff here, enjoyed reading it as always, keep up the good work, now im getting a little carried away with the comma's, ok, so, maybe, now, i am, alright im done


11:25 PM  
Blogger XXX said...

You are one weird dude, OB.

I do appreciate the comments, as always.

12:49 AM  

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