Saturday, May 14, 2005

Why The Braves Have A Hard Time Winning Championships

Tonight was the night where I realized how the Braves have gone wrong in the long stretch between 1991 and now. You can see it many times in regular season games, and the reason why I've gotten online tonight is to discuss my theory, because in the 2nd game in a row, the bullpen has blown a lead that the Braves had just procured.

Pelvic thrusting during Adam LeRoche's no-doubter grand slam in the top of the 8th that gave the Braves the lead, 4-2, I realized that the game now relied on the bullpen, which has been such a weakness that I've been tempted to turn off the television as soon as they are called upon. On the last post concerning Dan Kolb, I mentioned how Chris Reitsma has been the only dependable reliever. Tonight, he fell victim to a philosophy that I completely disagree with but is ingrained into the Braves' pitching mentality--pitching coach Leo Mazzone's insistence on trying to hit corners.

Now, this works a lot. This is also the reason why the Braves winmany games. But when it's on the line, there's a problem. Reitsma gets a couple of flair hits (which is a by-product of corner nibbling if the pitch is high) and then a beat-out grounder by JD Drew with one out. The bases are loaded. Reitsma bites on the corners to Jeff Kent, and gets into trouble, but gets Kent to fly out to shallow left. Same situation, two out, and hot hitter Milton Bradley comes up. Nearly the same thing, only gets to 3-1. Now, here's where the philosophy breaks down. You have put yourself into a situation where now you supposedly need a strike--walking Bradley means a run comes in. But I am of the opinion that you risk that. Don't allow Milton Bradley to beat you. DO NOT ALLOW MILTON BRADLEY TO BEAT YOU. But Reitsma throws a pitch just underneath the letters, down the middle. Let me say this--as soon as I saw the trajectory of that pitch, I knew it would be hit a long way. Milton Bradley returns the favor, hits the grand slam, does the me-me-me dance, pulling on his jersey, just asking to get one in the ear the next game, and it's 6-4 Dodgers.

Add this to the errors and mental errors (LeRoche should have gotten Drew out, but hesitated slightly and didn't throw to the pitcher covering 1st base), then you have a good formula for losing.

My heart cannot stand to see this kind of play anymore. Something needs to be done about this. If you have a philosophy of nibbling corners, then continue to do so. Don't throw a pitch hoping it won't be a home run. Throw a pitch you know won't be. Walk him if you have to. There's no one on deck that's scary. Milton Bradley is scary, don't pitch to him there, even if it means walking in the run. You have a 4-3 lead still, and you don't have Bradley tugging on his jersey like he built Los Angeles by himself (by the way, great for my fantasy team, but fuck that guy. Emotion is one thing. Grandstanding is another, and I expect tomorrow there might be a pitch towards his head and a brawl).

This has been the theme all year long in games I've watched, harking back to the Derrick Lee situation against the Reds I also wrote about. When I think of Braves postseason losses, I can see all sorts of patterns that can be linked to that pitching philosophy. Tom Glavine used to get rocked using the away-away-away-oops-it's-3-0-now-I-have-to-throw-a-strike situation. Jim Leyritz' famous HR in the 1996 World Series off Mark Wohlers--another example. It's excruciating.

Am I worried? Actually, I've seen far more devastating losses. The 8-1 lead with the Mets in 2000 at Shea Stadium where the Mets scored 10 runs, all with 2 out, in the 8th. This was a game lost in much the same way. These weren't terrible pitches, but putting the pressure on the pitchers to nibble cost them a few dunk hits and then they started getting hit hard. The next day, they won and continued to win. Bad losses have never hurt this team that much, but it does in the playoffs...which somewhat reminds me of the time John Rocker was on the mound and all the Braves had to do was beat the Rockies and get home field advantage in the playoffs in 2001. Rocker got an 0-2 count on Todd Helton in a game the Braves were leading, until he hit a 3-run HR off a straight fastball that is still traveling to this day. The playoff series with the Cardinals was not worth watching after that.

My point is, if you've got the idea of not giving in to hitters, then continue doing so in all situations. If you get behind 3-0, don't throw a pitch that is easily hittable. Make the hitter's knowledge work against them. Throw a pitch that makes it look like you're giving in, go for the sinker. Anything but a fastball down the middle. That's worse than the walk. Given the opportunity, do I pick a pitch out of the strike zone (the batter could swing and miss, or hit into an out, or he could walk, but he certainly doesn't hit the ball 500 feet) or a fastball down the middle that might be an out if the batter hits it? I pick the ball out of the strike zone. The only time I go against that philosophy is if the game is in the bottom of the 9th and a walk loses the game.

I'm just damn frustrated.


At 5/14/2005 01:06:00 AM, Blogger Mike said...

This live-blogging backs you up on that.

At 5/14/2005 01:06:00 AM, Blogger Mike said...

And, oh yes, the pelvic thrusting gave me a very bad image. Ha.

At 12/08/2005 12:34:00 PM, Anonymous Kim Barringer said...

Stop blogging right now!


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