Results tagged ‘ Tim Hudson ’

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

Let the Hot Stove season begin…

With the New York Yankees crowned as baseball’s champion for the 27th
time, it marks the end of the 2009 campaign. Some clubs saw their
postseason aspirations dashed long ago and their attention turned to
the building process by midsummer, but now all 30 clubs will be on the
market to add to the mix for next year and beyond.

The activity
will have its usual highs and lows, but as always there will be plenty
to talk about. Special focus here will be given to the National League
of course, where the Atlanta Braves will look to build on a solid ’09
season by finding the missing pieces to the puzzle.

There is
little doubt in my mind that this past winter and regular season will
be one that represents a turning point for the franchise. John Smoltz,Tom Glavine and Jeff Francoeur were among the departed, while Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Tommy Hanson helped bolster the club’s playoff chances in their first season in Atlanta.

General Manager Frank Wren
has a working list of Atlanta’s needs, one that he will compare when
working the phones and meeting with other team executives as well as
when scouring the free agent market.

First moves of the winter…

As
free agents officially file and the offseason begins, the Braves have
already taken a couple of steps toward the upcoming season. And it all
starts where else, but in the pitching department.

tim_hudson.jpgThe Braves are expected to announce a three-year contract extension with veteran right-hander Tim Hudson at some point in the near future.

Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported that Hudson has passed his physical in his most recent blog entry (which you can read here),
paving the way for deal to be made official. Contract terms are
expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-years and $27
million.

Hudson, 34, bounced back from Tommy John surgery to make seven starts
for the Braves in September and October, going 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in
42 1/3 innings of work. Following the return of Hudson, righty Kenshin Kawakami was bumped from the rotation to the bullpen.

Extending
Hudson adds to the team’s core strength, which is once again starting
pitching. It also adds the flexibility of dangling a top-end starter on
the trade market, where the Braves could find a possible match that
would bring the team a much needed corner outfield power bat.

Atlanta also signed recently released righty reliever Scott Proctor,
formerly of the Florida Marlins, to a minor league deal with an
invitation to spring training that will allow him to compete for a
bullpen job. Proctor, 32, was placed on the disabled list in spring
training and was sidelined with Tommy John surgery in May.

Originally
a 5th round selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1998 amatuer
draft, Proctor was dealt to the New York Yankees along with Bubba Crosby in exchange for Robin Ventura
on July 31, 2003. He found his way back to the Dodgers exactly four
years to the day later, heading to L.A. as former Brave Wilson Betemit was shipped to the Bronx in 2007.

The
righty proved to be very durable in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, hurling
83 games in each campaign with ERA’s of 3.52 and 3.65 respectively. Arm
troubles began while with the Dodgers in 2008 and culminated with arm
surgery last season.

Hot Stove Coverage
 
Developing
stories and analysis will continue all winter, with the Braves
offseason shopping list coming soon. In the meantime, be sure to check
out MLBTradeRumors.com for all the latest news and rumors from all over baseball.

Till next time,

G-Mc
 

Goodbye 2008, you will not be missed…

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Based
on the kind of fun and excitement generated by press conferences like
the one above, there was no way that I could (in good conscience) call
yet another to wish this calender year a fond farewell. But, believe
me, I wanted to. This visual aptly sums up the theme of this season in
Atlanta Braves history – perhaps more swiftly and soundly than the glut
of words to follow. A simple theory (if you will note the pictures) would be to blame all of this on those dreaded new blue alternate road jerseys. Suffice it to say, good riddance 2008!

Glavine_April_injury.jpgThere was a palpable excitement when the Braves reported to Spring Training this season. The return of Tom Glavine gave Atlanta a rotation that boasted four former 20-game winners. Unfortunately, Glavine, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton were unable to complete one full turn through the rotation at any point during the season.

Glavine
and Smoltz could not provide the vintage Cy Young magic of their pasts,
both falling to injury in April and combining for just 18 starts
between them. When Hampton tore a pectoral muscle just prior to his
first start of the season, Atlanta found themselves operating without
three of their five regular starters. Hudson was not far behind. Those
losses would prove to be crippling to Atlanta’s play-off hopes.

The
rotation could have been viewed as a complete blackhole by the end of
July, were it not for the sparkling work of rookie right-hander Jair Jurrjens.
Acquired in a trade from the Detroit Tigers, Jurrjens finished his
first full season in the majors 13-10 with 3.68 ERA in 31 starts. Not
bad for a guy who was battling for the fifth spot in the rotation in
Grapefruit League play.

Hampton would eventually make it back,
returning in late July – just as Hudson’s season was being cut short by
Tommy John surgery. Settling in after a few rocky outings, Hampton
contributed solid work and quality innings over the season’s final
months. It was the first work for the left-hander since August of 2005.

None of the replacement hurlers were able to match the production of those they were replacing. Jo-Jo Reyes and Charle Morton both showed flashes of brilliance and increased lapses in command. Chuck James
suffered a shoulder injury and was shelled in seven starts before a
demotion to Richmond. Atlanta did see some quality work from Jorge Campillo, who gave the club 25 much needed starts and proved to be the only capable fill-in.

The Braves bullpen performed admirably in the face of overuse and injuries. Projected closer Rafael Soriano was a non-factor for much of the season with a mysterious elbow ailment. A success story in 2007, Peter Moylan was out by mid-April with Tommy John surgery of his own. Mike Gonzalez returned midway through the season to assume the closer’s role and re-established himself as a late inning force. Will Ohman, Jeff Bennett and Blaine Boyer provided the majority of the middle relief work, all making more than 70 appearances.

When it came to the offensive side, it would have been a good pre-season indicator to know that Chipper Jones
was going to win the NL batting title. As Chipper goes, so goes the
Braves line-up. However, poor indicators would have been to reveal that
Jeff Francoeur would regress to the point of being banished to the minor leagues and Mark Teixeira would be traded away prior to the July deadline.

Francoeur_struggles.jpgFrancoeur’s
struggles were just a microcosm of the Braves season. His average
dropped 54 points to .239, home runs fell from 19 down to 11 and RBI
plummeted from 105 to 71 as compared to 2007’s numbers. The quick
decline have put contract extension talks on hold and put Francoeur’s
young star status in question.

Lost at the plate, Francoeur was
sent to Double A Mississippi in hopes it would jump start his bat.
Problems arose from the demotion, as Francoeur voiced his disapproval
to several media outlets in the days that followed. It made little
matter, because the trip down only lasted for three games. Francoeur
was back to his regularly scheduled struggles.

With Teixeira
traded to the Angels and Francoeur trying to find himself, the Braves
lineup hinged on the health of Jones and the production of catcher Brian McCann, who earned his third consecutive All-Star appearance.

McCann
batted .301 with 42 doubles and a club-leading 23 homers and 87 RBI.
His strong work may have been one of the only factors that kept the
Braves line-up from coming apart at the seams. I would rattle off a few
more statistical accomplishments of other members of the supporting
cast, but Jones and McCann fill the star character roles nicely for this end-of-year
exercise.

Pressing through a variety of injuries for the fifth season in a row,
Jones average climbed for the fifth campaign as well. Jones grabbed the
batting crown he had just missed in 2007, hitting .364 and belted his
400th homer to boot. That wasn’t the only time the number 400 and Jones
would be mentioned in the same sentence last season. Flirting with a
.400 average through most of June was hardly what most teams expect
from their 36-year old third baseman, but it seems Jones is simply
getting better with age.

Though the season was a 72-90
disaster, a record which was a reversal of what many predicted the
Braves to finish with at worst, there was hope that resonated through
the off-season. General manager Frank Wren came into the winter
with more than $40 million to work with in re-tuning the
rotation and adding a power-hitting left fielder.

Trade talks for Jake Peavy fizzled, as did subsequent attempts to sign free-agent starter A.J. Burnett. Despite this, Wren was able to strike a deal with the White Sox to bring middle of the rotation stalwart, Javier Vazquez, into the fray. His track record of durability was something Atlanta was without in 2008.

Many
have deemed the off-season a complete disappointment, with no bigger
exclamation point than that of the negotiations that turned into a big
game of Deal or No Deal with Rafael Furcal. What ever
happened, intent to sign or not, the Braves came up short in yet
another off-season pursuit. The pains of those dealings may carry on
for years to come, as the Braves have vowed to never do business with
the Wasserman Media Group again.

Now
that 2008 has mercifully come to a close, there is reason to hope that
the next two months will see Wren make improvements to the club for
2009. It may not be a year of contention and World Series hopes, but
with top prospects remaining in the system rather than heading to San
Diego, the Braves could return to their play-off ways by resuming the
tradition of cranking out young talent and promptly supplementing them
with the right veterans.

Here’s to 2009!

Till then,

G-Mc

And now for the best Braves deals…

When last we left off, we were looking at some of my least favorite trades from the past 20 years or so. There’s going to be one deal that goes a year outside my little bubble, but it’s not my fault that I keep getting older but this trade looks better seemingly every season. Heck, it might be one of the best trades in baseball history.

We’ve seen the dealing of Jermaine Dye, Adam Wainwright and a boatload of young talents for Mark Teixeira, but now let’s take a good look at some of the deftest maneuvers the Braves have pulled in the trading game. Here are my top 5 favorite Braves trades of the last 20 years:

5. Tony Castillo & Joe Roa to the New York Mets for Alejandro Pena

Pena_Final.jpgThis is the kind of trade that every team looking for bullpen help in late August wishes they could pull off. Pena’s veteran presence was inserted into a bullpen that was in dire need of a stopper, and boy did it work. Pena responded by stabilizing the late innings in September and continuing to slam the door in October. Going 2-0 with 11 saves in 15 games, Pena’s presence helped the Braves stave off the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the first 14-consecutive Division titles. He made a good enough impression to be brough back to share in the joy of the Braves World Series victory in 1995.

4. Jimmy Kremers & Keith Morrison to the Montreal Expos for Otis Nixon & Boi Rodriguez

Nixon_Final.jpgI still miss the days of Otis Nixon and Deion Sanders seemingly running amok at the top of the Braves line-up. The Nixon trade was a superb deal in the spring of ’91 for Atlanta, giving them to have a true lead-off hitter and allowing Bobby Cox to move Ron Gant and his 30 homers into the middle of the order. Kremers never played in the majors again after his 29 game stint with Atlanta in 1990, but Nixon set a franchise single season steals record and was an important part of the Braves success in the early 90s. Then there was the matter of a certain catch during the pennant drive in 1992. Ask Andy Van Slyke if he remembers hat one.

Watch the catch for yourself by Clicking Here

3. Dan Meyer, Charles Thomas & Juan Cruz to the Oakland Athletics for Tim Hudson

Hudson_Final.jpgI remember seeing this trade scroll across the bottom line during Sportscenter and wondering just how John Schuerholz pulled it off. The Braves acquire one of Oakland’s famed Big Three aces, and gave away a flash in the pan outfielder, a middle reliever and a solid pitching prospect. None of the three were serious pieces of Atlanta’s future and it still boggles the mind to think that Oakland would trade a pitcher the ilk of Hudson for that package. Consequently, none of the three figured in Oakland’s plans either. Meyer was waived this winter after struggling to make good on his promise. The A’s dealt Cruz away, but poor Chuck Thomas turned back into a pumpkin and has not appeared in the Bigs since batting .109 in 30 games in 2005.

2. Melvin Nieves, Vince Moore & Donnie Elliot to the San Diego Padres for Fred McGriff

McGriff_Final.jpgWant to know how the Braves held off the San Francisco in an exciting down the wire pennant race in 1993? Well you can thank the San Diego Padres donation of Fred McGriff as the chief reason Atlanta caught fire and grabbed their third straight NL West crown. McGriff served as a part of the 1995 World Series winners and always provided the clean-up bat for four seasons in a Braves uniform. This trade was a big part of the Padres fire sale, that still to this day comes up whenever a team puts two or more stars the trading block. Too bad the trade of Mark Teixeira did not bring the same kind of return for Atlanta, because the price was much more than San Diego acquired for McGriff.

1. Doyle Alexander to the Detroit Tigers for John Smoltz

Doyle_Alexander.jpgThe trade that perhaps started it all. Well this trade and some excellent scouting and drafting I’d say. I pull this trade into the 20 year mark despite its 1987 deal date because Bobby Cox was the general manager who pulled it off. In other words, it’s a trade that helped build the core of the team. It netted a future Hall of Famer and gave the Detroit Tigers a boost since Alexander kicked into full gear after his trade (9-0, 1.53 ERA in 11 starts). Too bad the boost ended with Alexander getting shelled in his two post-season assignments (0-2, 10.00 ERA). Smoltz has become more than the Braves could have ever expected, and the foundation of the team for the better part of two decades.

Well those are my favorite deals, at least the last 20 years… or so.

Till next time,

G-Mc