Saturday, July 16, 2005

Closing in on first

The Braves are 1.5 games behind the swiftly returning to reality Washington Nationals this morning, thanks to a typical effort from John Smoltz (7 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks) and an atypical outing from the bullpen (2 IP, 0 ER). Bobby has clearly decided that Dan Kolb can be trusted again. He was going to close on Thursday night if the bullpen wouldn't have imploded in the 8th and he came on as the set-up man in a tight game in the 9th last night. He even pitched competently against the top of the Mets order, although he was a little lucky to get a double play and then a liner to short. Chris Reitsma pitched a good 9th, although David Wright came awfully close to tying the game. Wright has become the anti-Glavine: he kills the Braves and is only decent against the rest of baseball. (Six of his 14 homers this year have come against the Braves.)

The Braves didn't hit Glavine very well last night, probably because he started throwing his curveball and pitching inside regularly. The Braves couldn't sit on his off-speed stuff on the outside corner, which must have baffled them. Glavine's actually in a pretty good stretch right now, which must make the Mets happy since they're on the hook for another year with Tom at $10M next year. When they signed him to a deal back in 2003, the concern was that he would get hurt as he aged, but he's been very durable and reasonably competent as a pitcher when not facing the Braves. Unfortunately, the Mets play the Braves for almost 1/8th of their schedule, the Braves usually treat him like a comfort girl, and as a result, the Mets have been paying through the nose for a mediocre pitcher, not that they aren't used to that.

Other thoughts:

1. I know it's a ridiculously small sample size (17 at-bats) and he's only hitting lefties right now, but Jeff Francoeur is hitting better now than he was in Double-A. Something tells me Brian Jordan has taken his last swings in a Braves uniform. Francoeur is one homer behind Jordan in a mere 192 fewer at-bats.

2. My concern about this road trip is that I have a slight sense of deja vu. The Braves' previous high point of the season was May 8, when they finished off a sweep of the Astros and moved their record to 20-11. They then went 4-8 on a 12-game road trip that took them west. I'm not comforted by the fact that the Braves aren't playing any good teams on this trip, since they managed to drop two of three to the worst team in the NL on that previous 12-game roadie. Now, this Braves team is significantly better than the Braves of May, since they have upgraded the outfield and Furcal is starting to hit, but my point is simply that this team has seen a reversal of fortune before after a strong stretch of play. They haven't been hitting much so far in New York, which is a concern, especially with Zambrano and Pedro due to pitch the next two games for the Mets.

3. I'll be interested to see what Bobby does with Wilson Betemit once Chipper returns from the DL. Betemit has been one of the Braves' best hitters for the past month and he needs to keep getting playing time. No one in the line-up is playing badly enough to justify getting their at-bats reduced, so does Wilson just linger as a pinch-hitter? And what happens to Pete Orr? Does he become a pinch-runner and nothing more? Depth creates welcome dilemmas and Bobby faces one now.

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