Posted on: September 5, 2011 8:59 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 11:05 pm
PHILADELPHIA -- When the Braves came here last September, they trailed the Phillies by three games. When they showed up this week, they were 7 1/2 games back.
That's fine, but when the Braves came here last September, they looked like no match for the Phillies, either in the division race or in a potential playoff series. They came here this week looking -- and feeling -- like a team with a chance, if the teams end up meeting in the National League Championship Series.
"I think we match up with these guys better than we ever have," pitcher Tim Hudson said Monday, and you can be sure that even a 9-0 loss to Cliff Lee didn't change his mind.
The Braves acknowledge that the Phillies are the National League's best team. They acknowledge that they'd need to be at their best to win, even in a short series.
"You've got to play a perfect game against the Phillies," Chipper Jones said. "But we know we have a chance."
They also know that it's no guarantee they'll ever see the Phillies in October. Both teams would need to advance through the first round, and as of now the Braves are looking at a tricky first-round series against the Brewers.
But the point isn't that the Braves should be considered the favorite in the NL playoffs. The point is that unlike last year, when the Braves stumbled into the playoffs undermanned, this year a Braves-Phillies NLCS would seem to be worth watching.
The Braves know that they're the only team in baseball that owns wins this year over each of the Phillies' Big 3 starting pitchers -- Roy Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels.
Against the Braves, the Phillies are just 5-5 with Halladay, Lee or Hamels on the mound (including Monday's win). Against everyone else in baseball, they were 52-21 with one of those three starting.
"Look, those three are as good as it gets," Jones said. "We know it. Everyone else knows it. But when you see them as much as we have, we've made some adjustments."
Adjustments or not, the Braves are a different team than the one the Phillies completely outclassed last September. That's true even with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens on the disabled list, although obviously the Braves' chances improve if either or both returns in time for the playoffs.
Without Hanson and Jurrjens, the Braves would have a postseason rotation of two veterans -- Hudson and Derek Lowe -- and two rookies -- Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor.
"We feel like we'd be in pretty good shape," Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
A year ago, they weren't. Jones was hurt and missed the playoffs. Martin Prado was also hurt, which is why Brooks Conrad had to play (and committed the key errors that helped knock the Braves out of the playoffs against the Giants). Jurrjens was hurt. Billy Wagner was hurt.
"We were a shell of the team we had been in August," Wren said.
They looked like no match at all for the Phillies, no matter what the standings said in mid-September.
They look like an underdog this year, but one with a shot.
"We feel like we're very competitive," Wren said. "I think [the Phillies] are the best team in the NL, but we feel like every time we play them, we can win.
"I don't think there's much separation between the two teams."
I'm not sure I'd go that far. The Phillies clearly look like the best team in the league, and maybe in all of baseball, just as they did entering the playoffs last year.
But last year, I'd have given the Braves no chance. This year, I'd say, they've got a shot.
Posted on: May 5, 2011 1:19 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 1:22 pm
Andre Ethier is a long way from tying Joe DiMaggio. He's not far from tying Willie Davis.
If not for Jonathan Sanchez, he already would have.
Sanchez was the Giants' starting pitcher on April 1, the only time this year that Ethier was held without a hit. He had a hit the day before, and he's hit in all 29 games he's played since.
Sanchez is why 29 isn't already 31, which would tie Davis's Dodgers franchise record.
"He just doesn't see me that well," Sanchez said. "Lefty on lefty. I get him out. I'm not sure why."
Ethier has just four hits -- and 11 strikeouts -- in 30 career at-bats against the Giants' left-hander. He's 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against Sanchez this year, going 0-for-3 on April 1 and also on April 13 in San Francisco.
In the April 1 game, Ethier went 0-for-3 against Sanchez, then grounded out in his final at-bat against reliever Dan Runzler. On April 13, after his 0-for-3 against Sanchez, Ethier singled against Javier Lopez to extend his streak to 10 games.
Sanchez isn't the only opposing starter to hold Ethier hitless this year, but he is the only one to do it twice.
Ethier also went 0-for-3 against Chris Carpenter (in Game 14 of the streak) and Tim Hudson (in Game 15), and went 0-for-2 against Barry Zito (in Game 2) and Ryan Dempster (in Game 20). Ethier also went 0-for-1 against Clayton Richard, who left after one inning because of a long rain delay.
The Dodgers face the Giants April 18-19 in Los Angeles. Good news for Ethier: Assuming the Giants stay with their current rotation, Sanchez (who is pitching against the Mets Thursday afternoon) would not pitch in that two-game series.
Posted on: September 26, 2010 9:35 pm
As Bruce Bochy walked out to the field for batting practice Sunday, he turned back with a message.
"Kansas City, 1," the Giants manager said. "See, I'm watching the scoreboard."
For four more days, Bochy will keep watching, and not to see if the Royals score another run. For four more days, the Giants and Padres and Braves will eye each other from a distance, knowing that all three teams remain very much alive and that only two playoff spots can be divided among them.
It's really that simple now in the National League. The Phillies are in, and the Reds are basically in, too. The Rockies, it now seems certain, are out.
So among the Giants, Padres and Braves, the teams that end up with the two best records will make it. The team that ends up worst among those three won't.
As the week begins, Bochy's Giants have the advantage, holding a half-game lead over the Padres (and thus holding first place in the NL West) and holding a one-game lead over the Braves (who trail the Padres by half a game in the wild-card race).
The Braves have other advantages, mostly because the Padres and Giants meet at the end of the week (meaning that for the last three days of the season, one or the other them has to lose), but also because their final three games are against the Phillies, who by then will no doubt have officially clinched the NL East crown and will be more focused on preparing for the playoffs than on beating the Braves.
But the Braves have other issues, mainly that they're not playing nearly as well as the Giants or Padres are right now.
In any case, it should be a fun week for everyone, at least until one of the three teams gets knocked out.
"Intense," Giants outfielder Cody Ross said. "This is as much fun as I've ever had playing baseball."
On to 3 to watch:
1. The Braves have their final six games at home, where their 52-23 record is the best in the majors. That much we know. Now, if we only knew who was going to pitch. The Braves told reporters Sunday in Washington that Jair Jurrjens may get a shot in his sore knee Monday, in hopes that the pain will let up enough that he can start a game for the first time since Sept. 14. There's been some thought that Jurrjens could return for Marlins at Braves, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Turner Field , but the Braves also said that they've considered bringing Tim Hudson back on three days' rest to make that start. If Jurrjens can't go, and if manager Bobby Cox doesn't want to use both Hudson and Derek Lowe on short rest, the other option would be to use rookie Mike Minor, who seems to have hit a wall and is 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in four starts this month.
2. The Padres have rotation questions of their own, and the biggest one is how Mat Latos will do. Latos has been San Diego's top starter all year, but in his last three starts he's 0-3 with a 13.94 ERA, and has lasted a total of just 10 1/3 innings. Latos faces Ryan Dempster in Cubs at Padres, Tuesday night (10:05 ET) at Petco Park . The way the Padres' rotation sets up, Latos would also start the final game of the season, Sunday in San Francisco.
3. So how about the Giants? They have Monday off, and that leaves them with the question of whether to pitch Tim Lincecum on his normal day, in Diamondbacks at Giants, Thursday afternoon (3:45 ET) at AT&T Park . The other option would be to pitch Barry Zito Thursday on normal rest, and save Lincecum for the first head-to-head game with the Giants on Friday night. Bochy said Sunday that such a plan hasn't yet been discussed, but he added that they will "talk about the club and any changes" on Monday. As of now, the pitching matchups for the series with the Padres would be Zito vs. Clayton Richard on Friday, Matt Cain vs. Tim Stauffer on Saturday and Jonathan Sanchez vs. Latos on Sunday.
Posted on: September 17, 2010 11:05 am
Edited on: September 17, 2010 11:06 am
Chris Young returns to the Padres rotation Saturday. Andy Pettitte returns to the Yankees rotation Sunday.
The Padres fell out of first place Thursday. The Yankees fell out of first place Wednesday.
Yes, there's a difference. Of course there is.
The Yankees, according to the computers at coolstandings.com, are a 97.3 percent lock to make the playoffs. The Padres, the computers say, are basically 50-50.
But the computer here at 3 to watch says Pettitte's return could have just as big an impact on this coming postseason -- probably more -- than Young's.
Young might help the Padres get into the playoffs. Pettitte could well be the difference in whether the Yankees win once they're there.
The Padres rotation, 7-14 with a 5.33 ERA over the club's last 25 games, could use a boost. But unless Young drives in some runs (he's a .139 career hitter, with 10 RBI in 190 at-bats), it may not be enough to matter.
The Yankees are in a bit of a slump at the plate, too, scoring just 34 runs in their last 10 games (eight of them losses). But the real issue that threatens their run at a second straight title is a rotation that features one great pitcher -- CC Sabathia -- and a ton of question marks.
Since Pettitte's last start, on July 18 against the Rays, the Yankee starters other than Sabathia have combined to go 22-20 with a 5.68 ERA.
Pettitte was having one of his best seasons when he went down with a groin injury. Besides that, he's the winningest postseason pitcher ever, with an 18-9 record and 3.90 ERA in 40 career starts. He won four of his five starts last postseason, and left the other one when it was tied 3-3 in the seventh inning.
There's no doubt the Yankees need him to be healthy, and need him to be strong. There's at least some doubt about how ready he is, which manager Joe Girardi acknowledged when he said that recently demoted Javier Vazquez would be ready to start Sunday if Pettitte can't.
On to 3 to watch:
1. Yes, the Braves still have six games remaining with the Phillies, who they now trail by three games in the National League East. That's good, if you think the Braves can catch the Phillies. It's bad, if you think they can't, because it means their schedule is tougher than those of the other wild-card contenders. And that makes it doubly important for the Braves to beat up on teams like the Mets, particularly with Tim Hudson on the mound against Dillon Gee, in Braves at Mets, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Citi Field .
2. Young hasn't started a big-league game since the second game of the season, and he spent the rest of the year dealing with a right shoulder that took forever to recover from the surgery he underwent in August 2009. He has worked two simulated games and three minor-league rehabilitation games over the last month, and now the Padres believe he's ready. They hope he's ready, because he'll be starting in Padres at Cardinals, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Busch Stadium , for a team that is out of playoff position for the first time since the middle of April.
3. Getting Pettitte back is crucial to the Yankees, whether they win the division or finish second and take the wild card. But the Yankees keep saying that winning the division matters, and in that case Pettitte's start in Yankees at Orioles, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Camden Yards takes on even more significance. The Yankees' four remaining head-to-head games with the Rays will be played next week at Yankee Stadium, but the rest of the teams' remaining schedules favor Tampa Bay. Besides that, the Yankees don't want to give the Red Sox (six games behind) any hope that they can make their six remaining head-to-head games with the Yankees more significant.
Posted on: July 12, 2010 7:18 pm
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Roy Halladay has never been on the losing team in the All-Star Game.
Neither has Tim Hudson.
Five games, no losses. Not bad, especially since Halladay and Hudson are both National League All-Stars, and the NL hasn't won an All-Star Game since 1996.
The catch, of course, is that Halladay and Hudson were All-Star winners as American Leaguers. American Leaguers, now trying to break the NL's losing streak.
"Maybe that's what we need," Hudson said with a smile.
Hudson's lone All-Star appearance before this was in 2000, when he was still with the A's. He worked a scoreless eighth inning in the AL's 6-3 win. Halladay was the AL starter last year, his fourth All-Star Game.
For all the focus on the NL's young pitchers, perhaps it's Halladay and Hudson who will make the difference.
"This has definitely been the year of the pitcher," Hudson said. "There are some great young arms in the NL -- and some great old arms."
Hudson, who turns 35 on Thursday, has been in the National League since 2005, when the A's traded him to the Braves. Halladay, of course, is in his first year in the NL.
"There was a lot of pride [in the AL] in how many games we had won in a row," Halladay said. "And over here, there would be a lot of pride in being the team that ends the streak."
Posted on: June 13, 2010 7:33 pm
Given that most American League teams play only five National League teams in any given year, there should only be about a 31 percent chance of a "World Series rematch" in any given regular season. And yet, this is the fifth time in six seasons that the two World Series teams have played an interleague series the following year.
I'd like to say there's some great meaning in that. The fact is that it means basically nothing.
But with the Phillies due back at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, for the first time since Game 6 last November, this is one of the few times it has felt like not only are we seeing the two best teams from last year, but we also may be seeing the two best teams the two leagues have to offer this year.
Granted, the Phillies have played so poorly of late that they've managed to fall behind the Braves and the Mets in the NL East. Granted, the Yankees have spent most of the season behind the Rays in the AL East, finally catching them on Sunday.
There's obviously no guarantee that these two teams see each other in October, but it's still easy to think that we could have the first true World Series rematch (in October, that is) since 1977-78.
And if we're not seeing a World Series preview this week in the Bronx, maybe we're seeing one in Atlanta, or in Minnesota.
We'll touch on all three, in this week's 3 to watch:
1. The Yankees (and 12 other teams) were happy to see Roy Halladay depart the American League last December. They won't be nearly as happy if they see him in Game 1 of the World Series this October. There's a long way before then, but a Halladay vs. CC Sabathia matchup will give Phillies at Yankees, Tuesday night (7:05 EDT) at Yankee Stadium even more of an October feel. Halladay is 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 37 career games against the Yankees.
2. The Phillies are behind the Braves. The Yankees have spent most of the season behind the Rays. So naturally, while the Phillies play the Yankees this week, the Braves will play the Rays. And if you don't believe Halladay vs. Sabathia is a look-ahead to what we'll see in Game 1 this fall, how about James Shields vs. Tim Hudson, in Rays at Braves, Thursday night (7:10 EDT) at Turner Field ?
3. Don't like Halladay vs. Sabathia or Shields vs. Hudson as a possible Game 1 World Series matchup? OK, then how about Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Francisco Liriano, who will meet up in Rockies at Twins, Thursday afternoon (1:10 EDT) at Target Field . The Rockies are four games out of first place in the NL West, which sounds pretty good when you remember that a year ago at this time, they were 10 1/2 games out.
Posted on: May 30, 2010 5:48 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2010 8:57 am
After 52 games a year ago, the Blue Jays were 29-23, and just 1 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East. Their early schedule had been favorable, the upcoming schedule looked tougher, and by year's end the Jays had a 75-87 record that helped get general manager J.P. Ricciardi fired and helped get Roy Halladay traded to Philadelphia.
So if you want to get excited about the Jays' current 30-22 record, go right ahead. We'll look at a favorable early schedule, and an upcoming schedule that looks much tougher, and we'll say that until proven otherwise, the Jays of 2010 aren't noticeably better than the Jays of 2009.
The Jays are 2-7 against the Big 3 in the American League East, and that's bad news in two ways. One, it says they're probably not nearly as good as their overall record. Two, it means that 45 of their remaining 110 games (41 percent) are against the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox.
In fact, of Toronto's remaining 37 games before the All-Star break, only four will be against a team currently under .500. They start that stretch this week, with three against the Rays, then their first three of the season with the Yankees.
And that's why the Blue Jays have a spot in this week's 3 to watch:
1. The Braves were basically in first place for 15 straight years, from 1991-2005 (yes, we know they were in second when the strike hit in 1994). The Braves basically haven't been in first place since 2005 (yes, we know that they were in first as late as May 15 in 2007). The Braves were in last place, 6 1/2 games out of first, just two weeks ago. Now they could take over first, in a series that includes Phillies at Braves, Tuesday night (7:10 EDT) at Turner Field . The Braves (15-4 since May 10) could actually take over first place on Monday, but Tuesday's pitching matchup is Tim Hudson (4-0, 1.59 this month) against Cole Hamels (3-1, 2.45 this month).
2. The Blue Jays have scored more runs than any American League team but the Yankees. That didn't help them the first time they faced David Price; he threw a four-hitter for his first career shutout. The Jays get another chance at Price, in Rays at Blue Jays, Wednesday night (7:07 EDT) at Rogers Centre . Price's opponent: Shaun Marcum, who hasn't faced the Rays since 2008 but is 2-0 against them in his career, with an 0.75 ERA.
3. Could the Braves pass the Phillies? Could the Blue Jays threaten the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox? Here's one more: Are the Reds a serious threat to the Cardinals in the National League Central. Cincinnati leads the division by one game heading into this week's series, which concludes with Reds at Cardinals, Wednesday night (8:15 EDT) at Busch Stadium . The Cardinals have three rookies in their rotation, but Chris Carpenter is their Wednesday starter. The Reds have two rookies in their rotation, and one of them is Wednesday starter Sam LeCure, who took Homer Bailey's spot when Bailey went on the disabled list.
And one more to watch: No, we didn't overlook Monday's Rockies-Giants game, which features a matchup of the guy who won the last two National League Cy Young Awards (Tim Lincecum) and the guy who has made himself a front-runner for the 2010 Cy Young (Ubaldo Jimenez). We left it out, only because first pitch is 4:05 EDT on Memorial Day Monday, and we worried that by the time you read this, you may already have missed it.
Posted on: July 28, 2008 9:48 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2008 11:54 pm
Arizona remains a real possibility, and the Diamondbacks are believed to have offered a package led by Chad Tracy. Atlanta has asked for the Diamondbacks to include either Max Scherzer or Jarrod Parker -- Arizona's top two pitching prospects -- but that's unlikely.
Meanwhile, the Braves say they have other teams interested, with GM Frank Wren telling Dave O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he has deals (plural) on the table for Teixeira, and that he's holding off because he still wants to see if he can do better. The Braves are expecting to narrow the field on Tuesday, although it's possible that it could take until right up to the Thursday 4 p.m. deadline before a trade is completed.
Other teams that have been interested in Teixeira are the Red Sox, and also the two Los Angeles teams. It's not known if there are more teams involved now, but the Rays and the Yankees have also been mentioned in the past.
Teixeira is a big-time hitter, and he's done his part this season with a .283 average, 20 home runs and 78 RBIs in 103 games. But the Braves are now 7 1/2 games out of first place (and 10 1/2 games back in the wild card). They've now put Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson on the DL, joining John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, and it appears that Hudson is going to join Smoltz in the done-for-the-season category.
Not only that, but the Braves have known for a long time that they weren't going to be able to sign Teixeira, a free-agent-to-be, at the end of the season. It's pretty obvious now that the offers they have (not to mention the improved ones they might receive by Thursday) will be more valuable than the two draft picks they'd get by simply keeping Teixeira and letting him walk.
As one Braves person said last week: "The only thing more iffy than a prospect is a draft pick."
So Teixeira is gone, or at least he will be by Thursday. The question still to be answered is where he's going.