As with most seasons when the Braves have a significant lead in September and college football occupies all of my sports attention, I haven't been paying a whole lot of attention to the Braves over the past few weeks, other than just looking at their box scores and concluding that they have about a 35% chance of winning a series against the Astros because of the dearth of quality bullpen options other than the closer. (Speaking of which, at the end of the year when we look back and analyze why the Braves were able to win the division again [assuming that they don't have a monumental collapse,] Schuerholtz's acquisition of Kyle Farnsworth will be a major factor. Without him, the bullpen would have been a complete waste of space and the team might have tailed into second place. On the other hand, Chris Reitsma has quietly allowed one run in his last ten appearances, so maybe we do have an 8th inning guy after all.) Anyway, I went to the game last night and have a few late-season observations:
1. The offense last night came from two sources that have been completely absent over the second half of the season: Johnny "I'll see you at Beef's" Estrada and Adam LaRoche. If they start to hit, then this team has a puncher's chance of making a playoff run. Then again, this season has provided confirmation of the truism that you can never tell too much about one game. Remember the questions about Smoltz as a starter that arose after he was shelled in the opener?
2. As a result of several Miller Lites and our seats in left field, by the end of the game, I didn't know who was pitching for either team. The Braves have a $12M high-definition scoreboard that is one of the three manmade objects that can be seen from outer space (OK, I made that part up,) but there apparently isn't enough room on it to note who is pitching. Fortunately, I was sober and well-prepared enough at the start of the game to know that Horacio was starting and that I could expect a barrage of balls into our area. In the end, the total was only one (to David Bell of all people, a fact that I hollered to the embarrassment of several of my co-workers as part of my march to partnership,) but he did manage to surrender four earned runs and eleven baserunners in six innings. His peripherals (strikeouts, walks, and home runs) are lousy and I'm hoping that there's enough competition next year in spring training that he isn't awarded a spot in the rotation by default. One good bit of news about Horatio last night: he inexplicably struck Chase Utley out three times.
3. Speaking of next year, I heard some vague statements on the radio today that insurance is going to cover a significant portion of Mike Hampton's contract next year. If true, then that frees up a good amount of salary (possibly to re-sign Raffy?) and it means that his postponement of surgery this year, which initially annoyed me as unrealistic thinking, might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The AJC, naturally, has nothing on this issue, although my tuning out of the Braves might have blurred my usual keen analysis of their Braves nuggets.
4. One reason to root for the Red Sox: if they can come back and win the division, which is looking unlikely because of their wretched bullpen, and the Braves hold onto their lead in the East, then the Braves will have the longest streak of divisional titles in baseball at 14 and the Cardinals and Angels will be tied for second at two. That will keep me warm in October when watching another NLDS flame-out.