Results tagged ‘ Brooks Conrad ’

NLDS Game 3: Conrad’s errors give Giants edge

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The Recap…
 
Atlanta was one strike away from victory before the San Fransisco Giants stunned the Braves with a ninth inning rally in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday.        

The defensive woes of second baseman Brooks Conrad fueled the Giants comeback. Conrad committed three errors on the night, including a costly miscue on a ground ball that allowed the eventual winning run to score in the top of the ninth as the Giants took a 3-2 victory.

Momentum has been swinging back and forth between the two clubs, in both single contests and the series itself.

Great pitching performances by both Tim Hudson and Jonathan Sanchez had the two teams locked squarely in another one-run battle into the late frames.

Hudson went seven innings and allowed just one unearned run on four hits and four walks while striking out five. The lone run against him came across during the second inning, when Conrad dropped a flyball in shallow right field to allow Mike Fontenot to cross the plate and break the scoreless tie.

Sanchez continued the Giants starters’ penchant for big strike-out performances, fanning 11 men and allowing just two hits and a walk over 7 1/3 innings of work.

Atlanta moved quickly against Sanchez in the eighth as Alex Gonzalez stroked a single to give the Braves just their second hit of the night. Conrad’s nightmare continued, this time with the bat, as he popped up a bunt attempt for the first out of the inning.

From there, the managerial wheels began to turn. Braves manager Bobby Cox sent right-handed hitting Troy Glaus to the plate to pinch-hit for the lefty swinging Rick Ankiel. That move prompted Giants skipper Bruce Bochy to lift the lefty Sanchez in favor of righty reliever Sergio Romo (1-0).

Cox countered by replacing Glaus with lefty bat Eric Hinske, who made the move look like a stroke of genius when he wrapped a line-drive two-run homer around the right field foul pole to put the Braves ahead by a run.

But just when the dramatic pinch-hit homer by Hinske gave the Braves a 2-1 lead, disaster struck an inning later in the form of Conrad’s third error of the night.

Hard-throwing rookie Craig Kimbrel started the ninth, but his one-out walk to Travis Ishikawa breathed life into a stunned Giants club. After a strikeout of Andres Torres pressed the Giants down to their final out, Freddy Sanchez rolled Kimbrel’s two-strike slider back up the middle to put the potential go-ahead run aboard as well.

With two Giants runners on base, Cox again played the matchup game and brought in southpaw Mike Dunn to face lefty-hitting slugger Aubrey Huff. That move backfired when Huff lined a single to right that plated Ishikawa and tied the game 2-2.

Conrad’s third and final gaffe of the evening would follow, and it proved to be the Braves undoing. Buster Posey slapped a sharp grounder that skipped between the second baseman’s legs, allowing Sanchez to come across with the eventual winning run.

The Breakdown…

 
Atlanta proved to be one of the most resilient teams in all of baseball throughout the season, and they will need to continue those kinds of exploits if they hope to continue playing beyond Monday.

That said, the Giants gave the Braves a taste of their own medicine with the late-inning come-from-behind victory. Atlanta had 25 victories in their last at-bat during the regular season, and one already in the NLDS, but the Hinske homer would not stand up in the face of a ninth inning collapse.

Brooks Conrad’s night became the stuff on infamy. In the aftermath, columns that threw Conrad in with the names of “the Ralph Brancas, the Bill Buckners, the Leon Durhams” popped up almost instantaneously.

While most of them were able to keep in mind that the Braves roster has been –  and continues to be – drastically altered by injuries suffered to key players, it’s still hard to fathom how one player could have a defensive game of such epically poor proportions. It was so much so that “Brooks Conrad” was the number two trending topic on Twitterin the entire world in the hours following the game.

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Conrad has served much of his 10-year professional career trying to find his way into the big leagues after showing a decent bat and little else in the minors for three organizations. Some forget, or simply fail to realize that the only reason that he is in the starting lineup for a playoff team is the number of key injuries to the Atlanta infield.

His story should have been marked among the highlights of what was an incredible 2010 season for a Braves club that had missed the playoffs every season since 2006. Conrad became the master of clutch hits, and clutch grand slams for that matter. His game-winning hits represent yet another piece of the puzzle that has the Braves battling for postseason glory in the NLDS.

Sadly, one cannot overlook the fact that Conrad’s glove has long been a big part of the reason that he has never had the opportunity to hold down and everyday job in the majors. He committed seven errors in 37 games at third base this year, and his throwing issues there in the final week of the season forced Cox to move him back over to second base to keep the best-hitting infield option the Braves had remaining in the line-up.

It’s a fact of the game that when you’re playing badly on defense, the ball will find you. I think we’ve all seen that now.

There’s no way to bring back Chipper Jones or Martin Prado. Their seasons are over. Troy Glaus lacks mobility and has played two innings at third base in the majors this season. Add to that that Glaus missed most of 2009 due to injury and then moved across the diamond to first base in Atlanta. That may not stop him from finding his way back in the lineup at the hot corner based on his key double play from Game 2.

Diory Hernandez, a career .138 major league hitter in parts of two seasons, is primarily a shortstop. He has only played eight games at second base over the past two seasons (majors and minors), but perhaps he should have checked in defensively given the struggles Conrad has suffered with the glove. There’s no going back now.

There simply weren’t better options to be had at the time, but Conrad’s defensive lapses may force Cox to explore one of those options tonight. My guess would be Glaus over Hernandez, as the offense can’t afford to lose the power threat.

While much of the blame will sit squarely on the shoulders of Conrad’s defensive shortcomings, the loss of closer Billy Wagner was evident in the ninth inning struggles.

Cox chose to go with hard-throwing rookie Craig Kimbrel to start the ninth, but the righty put the tying and go-ahead runs aboard be
fore being lifted with two outs in the frame.

A questionable pitch selection by Kimbrel in giving Sanchez a slider after repeated late swings on high-octane fastballs may have been the final straw in the rookie’s outing. There’s no questioning Kimbrel’s stuff, but after issuing a walk and yielding a base hit on a secondary pitch that puts both the potential tying and wining runs aboard, it’s hard to blame Cox for making a move.

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Some would decry the decision to use the situational lefty Dunn, citing that Huff hits LHP’s better than RHP’s, but that is a fallacy. Sure, Huff had a hit against Jonny Venters prior, but over the course of his career, Huff has been more productive against RHP. Huff had strong stats against lefties in 2010, but his slash lines were roughly the same. Again, choice is often dictated by track record and calculated risk.

Postseason games are not a good place for a young closer’s growing pains. If Cox leaves Kimbrel in the game with Dunn warm in the pen and Huff does his damage against Kimbrel, then critics will ask how could Cox not go to the lefty and play the matchup. It’s a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

As it happens, you have to make a choice. All numbers aside, there’s a 50/50 chance that the batter is either going to make an out or get on base. That is the only percentage that matters. Beyond that, it’s hunches and educated guesses.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Second-guessing is easy. It’s the first-guessing that’s hard.

Regardless of having the luxury of hindsight being what it is, there is no guarantee that Kimbrel retires Huff. One can’t simply assume, because there’s absolutely no way of knowing. Given the eventual outcome of the game, of course the masses are going to side with any other option that was available at that time over the stark reality of a frustrating loss.

That’s baseball. That’s sports. That’s life.

One of the best pieces that I have ever read on second-guessing was written by former player turned ESPN analyst Doug Glanville. He is a very talented wordsmith who has been inside the world where most of us can only imagine the inner workings. I’ll leave you with that as we get ready to discover what changes may be in store for the Braves line-up…

Doug Glanville – As an authority, expect second-guessing

Melky in the middle for Game 2?

Now, I know that the very fact the Atlanta Braves are batting Melky Cabrera in the fifth spot in the order is far from ideal and somewhat confusing to some, but I’m going to try and construct a theory as to why he may – surprisingly – be a classic case of making the best of what’s around.

Here is the Game 2 lineup, before we get started:

Infante, 3B
Heyward, RF
Lee, 1B
McCann, C
Cabrera, LF
Conrad, 2B
Gonzalez, SS
Ankiel, CF
Hanson, SP

Injuries have claimed the Braves starting third baseman twice this season. The absence of Chipper Jones and his hot corner fill-in Martin Prado have been felt in the field and in the lineup. Both men were manning the #3 spot in the order at the time of their respective injuries.

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When a team loses their number three hitter, not once but twice, and still makes it into the postseason, then they have already had to “make the best of what’s around” in every meaning of the phrase.

The Braves have the best manager in baseball at maximizing the impact of all 25 men on the roster. Often second guessed but seldom, if ever out-managed, Bobby Cox no doubt spent a fair amount of time pouring over his decision before eventually settling on Cabrera and not Matt Diaz, Nate McLouth or Eric Hinske in the Atlanta outfield for Game 2 of the NLDS.

One of the things that his players will always say is that Bobby has a way of making each man feel like he can be the difference maker on any given night. That could play a role here as well. 

I can’t explain why Cabrera is hitting fifth in this line-up. In a perfect world, he wouldn’t be.  What I can
tell you that the men batting behind him or those on the bench don’t really offer much in the form of alternatives.
 
Melky Cabrera: Batted 266-3-33 with a .365/.317 (SLG/OBP) vs. RHP this season (RHP Matt Cain starts Game 2). With runners on base, his average was a healthy .274 with 38 RBI in 215 AB’s. 

Brooks Conrad – For all his heroics, and they were many, Conrad only had 156 regular season at-bats, but you could certainly bat him ahead of Cabrera if you like. His situational stats with runners on base are strong (.274-5-30 in 69 AB’s), and include an excellent .378 AVG with 26 RBI’s in 45 AB’s with RISP.

Alex Gonzalez – Finished the season 2-for-his-last-35 and promptly went 0-for-3 vs. Lincecum in Game 1. He’s been ice cold, and that’s not exactly the kind of thing you can afford to just trot out there in fifth spot and hope it improves.

Rick Ankiel – Batted just .210-2-9 in and struck out 42 times in 119 AB’s with Atlanta. He has provided some pop in the past, but his stint with the Braves (47 games) has not been very productive.

Nate McLouth – He will be watching from the bench, but McLouth hit just .190-6-24 in a disastrous season and has seen his range in center field diminish. All six homers were hit against righties, but his .205/.368/.317 (AVG/SLG/OBP) vs. RHP this season does not scream middle of the order bat either.

Eric Hinske – In addition to losing a power threat pinch-hitter by starting him in left field, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien was nice enough to point out (via Twitter) that – “In his past 48 games, Hinske has hit .190 (16-for-84) w/ 3 homers, 12 RBI, 23 Ks, a .299 OBP and .333 SLG” 

A cursory look at the numbers Cabrera posted this season would tell you that he has not been especially impactful to this point, and has looked like little more than a fourth outfielder who was pressed into regular play with the rash of injuries and ineffectiveness that ravaged the Braves outfield.

One thing that Cabrera has that others (save Hinske) do not possess is that all-too-valuable postseason experience, so maybe that played some role in Bobby’s final decision.

Like I said before this whole entry really got going, having to bat Cabrera fifth in a playoff game was never part of the Braves master plan, but they’re way beyond that now. The Braves need a productive showing collectively from the offense in order to even the NLDS at a game apiece and make a run deep into October.

NLDS Game 1: Lincecum gives Giants 1-0 win

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The Recap:
 
Atlanta’s return to the postseason following a four-year absence hit a speed bump in the person of Giants ace Tim Lincecum.

San Francisco’s diminutive flame-thrower sliced and diced the Braves lineup to the tune of 14 strikeouts while tossing a two-hit complete game shut-out in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday.

Pitching dominated the night. Lincecum’s mastery was met blow-for-blow by Braves starter Derek Lowe in the early going, before a blown call and a misplayed ball gave the Giants the only run they would need to grab the series opening victory.

Scoreless in the bottom of the fourth, Cody Ross gave the Giants a 1-0 lead with a single that plated catcher Buster Posey. A controversial stolen base call on the back end of what appeared to be a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play allowed the Giants to continue their quest to supply some run support for Lincecum (1-0).

Posey had opened the inning with a single and was in motion when a strikeout was recorded at the expense of Pat Burrell. Second base umpire Paul Emmel called Posey safe, though replays showed Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad tagged Posey prior to his foot reaching the bag.

Following a strikeout of Juan Uribe, Atlanta opted to walk Pablo Sandoval intentionally and go after the right-hand hitting Ross. That move backfired when Ross lined a run-scoring single under the outstretched glove of third baseman Omar Infante.

Lowe (0-1) lasted 5 1/3 innings before being lifted in favor of lefty Jonny Venters in the sixth. The veteran right-hander surrendered a run on four hits, walked four and struck out six in taking the loss.

Though Infante struck for a game-opening double, it would not prove to be a harbinger of things to come. Instead, Lincecum harnessed the adrenaline and struck out Brian McCann and Derrek Lee to close the inning and begin his night of dominance.

Only a fourth inning walk to Jayson Heyward allowed the Braves to put a runner aboard between the first and seventh innings, when Brian McCann laced a one-out double in the seventh inning.

Those 14 strikeouts for Lincecum established a new single-game postseason record for a Giants pitcher, with 12 of them of the swinging variety. Infante was the only Braves hitter who was not punched out at least once by the Giants starter, who was making his postseason debut.

Lincecum’s performance was the story of the night, but five Atlanta pitchers combined to limit the San Fransisco offense to just five hits. Four Braves relievers held the Giants to just one hit over the final 2 2/3 innings.

The Breakdown:
 
The replays and the photos are worth a thousand words, but the Braves have no choice but to put a frustrating series opening loss behind them and focus on winning Game 2. In order to do that, Atlanta will look for a strong start from right-hander Tommy Hanson (10-11, 3.33) as he locks horns with Giants righty Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14).

Lincecum’s bigtime start helps to somewhat mask the fact that the Giants offense had its share of struggles in Game 1 as well. The Braves seemingly could not find the answers to Lincecum, who routinely got hitters to chase two-strike pitches well out of the zone. Atlanta was aggressive offensively, which they will need to continue on Friday against Cain. The difference and/or adjustments will likely come in the form of being more selective at the plate when behind in the count.

The blown call on Posey’s fourth inning steal of second base only furthers the public outcry for some kind of replay to be instituted. Of course, that won’t help the Braves or any of the other teams that may have felt slighted by a call on Thursday. It is a somewhat unfortunate trend to see popping up with regularity, especially given the fact that postseason games are under a higher degree of scrutiny. The human error defense ain’t what it used to be.

Hanson will make the first postseason start of his career, and he will be hoping to get more run support than he received throughout the year. Atlanta averaged just 3.0 RPG in Hanson’s final 18 starts of the regular season, and he won just three times after July 1.

Cain found himself in a similar situation in the first half. Despite a solid 3.34 ERA over his first 18 starts, Cain’s record sat at 6-8 and it appeared he may be in for another season in which his record was not indicative of the way he was pitching. Cain turned it on with a 2.91 ERA and a 7-3 record over his final 15 starts, walking just just 19 men in 102 innings over that stretch.

San Diego homered three times and battered Cain for six earned runs in his last start of the regular season. If Hanson can shed any ill-effects caused from fouling a ball off his eye in batting practice on Thursday and continue his excellent work from the final three starting assignments of the year (1 ER in 18.2 IP) then the Braves could have a good chance of heading back to Atlanta with the series tied at a game apiece.

The Atlanta offense will have to find a way to break out and provide those runs. That was something was increasingly hard to do in September/October as the team averaged just 3.5 RPG in over 30 games to close the season.

Prediction:
Braves over Giants, 4-2