NOUN: Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.
Leave it to the Germans to come up with such a useful concept. Anyway, in case you missed it, the Braves clobbered the Astros this weekend, finishing the season series 5-1 against the team that knocked the Braves out of the playoffs last year. Houston's struggles can't be surprising; they are fitting into a long line of teams that have eliminated the Braves from the playoffs and then gone in the tank the following year. Maybe that's why I've had an easier time dealing with the Braves' post-season struggles over the past few years; I know that we'll be back the following year like cockroaches after a nuclear war, while the team that beat us will not be able to duplicate their success. (Then again, maybe consistent losing in the playoffs has desensitized me and I no longer work up a serious dislike for the team that does it.) Want specifics?
2004 - Chicago - 89-73, 3rd in their division
2003 - San Francisco - 100-61, lost in first round
2002 - Arizona - 98-64, lost in first round
2001 - St. Louis - 93-69 - lost in first round
OK, so these teams did a little better than I thought they did, but the point remains that they never duplicate their post-season success the following year. At least the Braves are consistent in their post-season performances.
In terms of the Braves' performance this weekend, it was terrific, although we shouldn't get carried away from beating a team that was 1-10 on the road coming in. (Moving up to 6th in the NL in runs scored was nice.) What was encouraging was that they added Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettite to the list of quality pitchers they've beaten over the past couple weeks. In particular, tagging Oswalt with seven earned runs in five innings bodes well for the rest of the season. I'm far more impressed by that than I am by putting up 16 runs against a rookie starter and a Phillie cast-off.
The performance of a couple young players was encouraging this weekend, as well. Ryan Langerhans made his season stats look respectable in one fell swoop with his two homer, 6 RBI day yesterday. Now he needs to build on that performance so the Braves can implement a rotation at the corner outfield spots. Brian Jordan has been playing better than expected, but the Braves don't want him to break down. Raul Mondesi has been playing worse than expected, so the Braves need to de-emphasize him so they don't depend on him down the stretch. Horacio Ramirez also had a fine start on Saturday night, especially because he was able to go seven innings. He kept his pitch count low, which was critical in allowing him to get past his usual fine-inning marker. Maybe he needs 12 days rest more often.
Other thoughts from Saturday night:
1. Dan Doodie's entrance to "Enter Sandman" is beyond comical, akin to Pedrag Drobjnak entering a Hawks game to "Hey Ya." "Send in the Clowns" would be more appropriate. Pardon me for saying this, but shouldn't he have to earn the Metallica entrance? And coming after three years of watching Smoltz enter to "Thunderstruck," watching Kolb try to do the same thing is borderline painful. Senor Doodie entered with a 4-1 lead on Saturday night and proceeded to walk the leadoff man. How the fuck do you walk Morgan Ensberg with a three-run lead? Kolb ended up getting out of the inning, but not before loading the bases against the bottom of Houston's order. Kolb now has 12 walks in 13 innings. I thought we were getting an Antonio Alfonseca-type when we traded for Kolb; I had no idea that we were getting Russ Ortiz instead. I know he has nine saves and all, but he's going to kill me in October if he pitches like this. Unfortunately, the rest of baseball is also looking for closing help, so the market is going to be distorted and help will not be coming from outside.
2. The fans around us were ordering food in the late innings like citizens of Leningrad hoarding food before the Germans completed their encirclement. If you've resisted the urge for nachos for seven innings, then why give in in the eighth? And why do you need that meonade cup in the 9th inning? Do you really think there's a shortage of lemonade cups in the rest of the city? I view ballpark concessions as a necessary evil, but apparently, the rest of the world views them as a bargain to be treasured.
2a. All that said, the beer boycott ended Saturday night. That was quick.
3. Willy Tavares doesn't seem to have very good instincts in centerfield, but I can't remember seeing a faster player. He should be doing push-ups every time he hits the ball in the air. Wow.
4. My beef with the Braves on Saturday night was that they were unable to work the count all game. They let Andy Pettite sail through the game (82 pitches in seven innings,) which would have mattered more if Ramirez wasn't throwing a shutout.
5. There's nothing better than a Saturday night home game when the team is playing well, with the possible exception of a Friday night home game.
6. Raul Mondesi's Saturday night was a microcosm of his season. He got on base thanks to an error by Ensberg and then proceeded to get picked off on the very next pitch. (He was a teammate of Andy Pettite before he alienated everyone in New York; how could he not know that Pettite has a great move to first?) Raul also popped up with a runner on third and one out, but was bailed out by Adam Everett misplaying the pop-up into a "single." I'd give Raul another month, but if he hasn't turned his season around by then and if Kelly Johnson is still hitting in Richmond, then I'd cut bait.
7. The Braves played GREAT infield defense on Saturday night. Furcal and Chipper each had a gem in the field and Giles made several nice plays. It's a pleasure to watch a pitcher throw strikes and the defense convert them into outs. After growing up on Andres Thomas and Rafael Ramirez, this is a welcome treat.
8. If you want to catch a foul ball, I highly recommend sitting on the first base side when two lefties are starting. That said, I'm still 0 for my career.
Overall, a great weekend for the Braves, but in the word of the Wolf, let not start [euphemism for mutual oral sex] just yet.