August 1998

8/29/98: The Braves have taken two of the first three from the Cardinals. Today’s game was very strange, Mark McGwire being ejected in the first inning, and Ryan Klesko dropping a ball in left only to start a double play.

Tom Glavine went seven innings and gave up three runs today. Greg Maddux did the same thing yesterday. But the impression seems to be that Glavine was great and Maddux stunk. The standards for Greg are pretty high. Of course, the bullpen held the lead today so Glavine got a win. Kerry Ligtenberg is on the shelf briefly to rest after blowing the save yesterday.

8/27/98: The Braves split a two-game series with the Astros; it’s important to stay ahead of them, whatever happens, because you don’t want to fall into third place overall and not have home-field in any series. Chipper Jones hurt his side and will miss a few games; Andres Galarraga’s suspension for charging the mound came down, but he will of course appeal. Sometimes that even does some good.

Andruw Jones became the youngest 20-20 man in Major League history last night. After the terrible start and all the criticism, he’s basically on track to have about the season the statistical-predictors came up with, hitting in the .260s with about 25 HR. There are some negatives (a larger than expected drop in his walk rate) and positives (he’s become a great percentage basestealer, and has more doubles, and especially triples, than predicted). His defense is extraordinary; if the ball is hit to center I basically think “Andruw will get it,” and if it doesn’t go out he usually does. There is no reason to think he won’t be a star. IJ Rosenberg of the Atlanta Constitution said a couple of weeks ago that Andruw might be baseball’s Dennis Rodman (IJ was upset because Andruw drove past him with his stereo turned up loud, plus Andruw had dyed his hair at the time, and if that’s the worst they can come up with he is practically a saint by the standards of his age group). All I have to say is that if Andruw is as good of a baseball player as Rodman is a basketball player, it might not be the absolute best he could be but he’ll still go to the Hall of Fame.

8/24/98: The Braves swept the Dodgers despite Greg Maddux giving up an unheard-of seven earned runs yesterday. Javy Lopez, who has been slumping, hit his 100th career home run today and it was a huge one off of Jeff Shaw in the eighth to tie a 3-0 game, followed by one by Andruw Jones to win it. I love sweeping the Dodgers.

The big story of the weekend was the brawl Saturday triggered by Darren Dreifort hitting Andres Galarraga, which led Galarraga to charge the mound. This doesn’t accomplish anything, of course, and Galarraga will likely be suspended for several games and Dreifort lost a good piece of skin off his arm and should also be suspended (I have little doubt he was throwing at Andres.) The whole thing is depressing.

8/22/98: Mark Wohlers was called up to the majors, but then put on the DL with “inability to pitch”. Gosh, if that’s an injury there are dozens of guys in the majors who should be on the DL but aren’t. Russ Springer, one of that number, was called up to the majors taking Adam Butler’s place, instead of Norm Charlton’s place, which means that the Braves’ pen is marginally less competent than it was two days ago.

The Braves split with the Padres to stay two games up in the race for the best record in the NL and to win the season series. The Braves look good to have home field advantage through the NLCS.

8/21/98: Hi, I’ve been away for a while — actually, my computer was away, I was here the whole time. While I was gone…

Mark Wohlers served his sentence in AAA. The Braves want him to stay down there, but he wants to come back up. There’s not really a place for him (well, there’s Norm Charlton’s place, but the Braves seem to want him around, more on that later) and he didn’t really pitch well in AAA, though his fastball is apparently back. I assume they’ll work something out. He should be on the DL.

Greg Maddux picked up his 200th win in his second try, beating the Giants. He wasn’t absolutely on, but he was still very good. Tom Glavine wasn’t on the next day, and he gave up five runs in five innings. Nothing against Tom (really, you don’t have to write me nasty mail about me not giving him enough respect) but that’s the difference between being one of the all-time greats and just another hall-of-fame caliber pitcher — when Greg’s not on he’ll still give you a quality start most of the time.

The Braves had a roster spot to give to someone because of Wohlers going down. Who did they choose, an outstanding pitching prospect like Bruce Chen or Odaliz Perez, being given a taste of the big leagues? A solid swingman like Paul Byrd? Even a lefty bat for the bench, something they don’t currently have, like Curtis Pride or Randall Simon? NOOOOOOOOO. They brought up Norm Charlton, he of two consecutive years of ERAs in the 7.00 range and dead (but lefty) arm. Worse, they had to make room on the 40-man roster for Charlton, so they waived Byrd, who’s roughly 100 times more useful. Infinitely more useful, really, because Charlton has negative utility — he makes your team worse. Byrd was immediately snapped up by the Phillies, where in his first appearance he threw a complete-game shutout of the Astros, the best-hitting team in the NL, in his first start, beating Randy Johnson. In his appearances in Atlanta, Charlton has pretty much stunk up the place.

Denny Neagle’s horrible luck continues. When they score runs for him, he gives up runs. When he pitches well, they don’t. Everything went right for him last year; he hasn’t been much worse, but everything seems to go wrong for him this year, and furthermore he’s likely to wind up in the pen in postseason, since Smoltz has been doing so well. Heck, right now Millwood’s a better bet, at least for five innings. I think Millwood is hitting the wall, though.

8/10/98: And Wohlers’ demotion to AAA finally went through. It’s said that it’s only for ten days but unless he really turns it around it’s obviously unlikely he’ll be recalled. I would guess that if he can’t pitch for the big leagues he’ll just go home for the rest of the year, or home for ten days or so until roster expansion.

The Braves swept the Giants in San Francisco, dominating the first game by pitching (5-0 behind Glavine) and the second by hitting (14 runs, tying a season high), and squeaking out a win in the third game. Ligtenberg and Seanez continued to impress, and Dennis Martinez picked up his 244th career win in relief yesterday, breaking Juan Marichal’s Latin mark. All in all, a pretty good trip.

8/7/98: Mark Wohlers finally accepted demotion to AAA, meaning that the Braves finally will have a full roster of players they can use in a close game. Well, maybe. Russ Springer, who has not pitched well at all lately, went on the DL with a bone spur in his pitching elbow, the same thing John Smoltz had in the offseason, I believe. Don’t expect him back anytime soon. Adam Butler, who started the year with the team and pitched pretty well, and has been pitching well in Richmond, was called up to fill one spot, but the other spot hasn’t been filled yet from what I can tell. Speculation is that it will be Mike Cather, but Cather hasn’t pitched well in Richmond and also has a strained tendon. David Cortes was the top righthander in the Richmond pen after Rudy Seanez was called up, but he’s gone to Colorado in the Colbrunn trade. The logical candidate might be Paul Byrd, who’s pitched pretty well as a starter for the R-Braves and has major league experience.

I’ve added a new page on the players who have joined the Braves (and the ones that have joined and left) since the start of the season.

8/6/98: One to go… Maddux won with a complete-game, three-hit, no-walk, shutout against the Reds, backed by Andruw Jones’ two homers. Maddux threw 92 pitches. It makes up somewhat for the disaster last night (Bengals 13, Falcons 9), where Denny Neagle stank and the middle relief fell apart. Ligtenberg has been great, and of late so has Rudy Seanez, but the
other relievers… ugh. The Braves are holding tryouts in Richmond for a shot at being a postseason reliever. The Braves have signed Norm Charlton and Paul Wagner (both of whom have been terrible this year and last) to AAA contracts, and called up prospects Odaliz Perez and Bruce Chen. Perez and Chen, like Charlton, are lefties.

Perez has terrific stuff; I had the privilege of watching one of his starts from right behind home plate, and the ball was moving all over the place. He’s a small guy and when I saw him his style reminded me a lot of Alan Embree. He was absolutely dominant for four innings, giving up only a pair of infield singles, but then ran out of gas. The Braves apparently think of him as a reliever (he worked out of the pen in spring, and has moved between the rotation and the pen this year), and I see why; a small lefthander is probably best off as a reliever, and if he has endurance problems he’d have to be in the pen anyway. The only thing I saw that really worried me is that after he made a pitch to get out of trouble in the sixth but an infielder made an error behind him, it looked like he got flustered, and you don’t want that in a closer. Chen’s a terrific prospect, who if he doesn’t hurt his arm (when he was younger, he had some injury problems) will be a good pitcher at minimum and has a chance to be Tom Glavine plus a couple of MPH on the fastball.

The Braves apparently had a deal worked out with the Jays for Randy Myers, but the Padres blocked it and he wound up going there.

8/5/98: The Braves won last night’s game against the Reds behind the pitching of John Smoltz (seven innings, two runs allowed) and the hitting of, well, John Smoltz, who was 3-for-3. He’s been great since returning from the DL. As I understand it, John’s elbow problem which he had surgery on this offseason and probably returned from too quickly, is the sort of thing that will reoccur, but when he’s healthy he can still be great. If the playoffs started today, Denny Neagle would be in the bullpen.

ESPN is obsessed with the Braves’ bullpen. Yesterday, they ran a segment on Wohlers’ battle with Blass’ Disease on “Baseball Tonight”, and then did a “Breakdown” on the Braves’ bullpen on “Sportscenter”. On the latter, they claimed that all the World Series winners of the nineties had an established veteran closer, convieniently forgetting that the 1995 champs had a 25-year old who came into the season with seven career saves and a 3.92 career ERA closing games for them… a pitcher named Mark Wohlers. In the 1993 series, Duane Ward was in his first year as a full-time closer. The 1990 Reds had a platoon closer situation, Randy Myers and Rob Dibble. (Myers, again, is more effective when he has a righthanded partner.)

Furthermore, I’m a little tired of some of the attacks on the Braves’ pen through the last few years. What people forget is that the 1991 bullpen was the strength of the team down the stretch. Alejandro Pena, a joke to the criticizers (“Hey, in 1991 the Braves’ closer was Alejandro Pena! BWAHHAHAHAHAHA!”) was probably the MVP of the stretch run. The lefties, Stanton and Mercker, were terrific, and they got good pitching from Wohlers and (when they were able to pitch) Juan Berenguer and Marvin Freeman. Yes, they turned to Charlie Leibrandt in Game Six of the series, but Leibrandt had been the team’s second-best pitcher most of the year, and it was a tie game — not a save situation, not a situation where the closer would normally be pitching — with the Braves not knowing how long they would need him to go. Putting in Leibrandt was the right decision, it just backfired. If the Braves had scored any runs, it wouldn’t have come up.

Greg McMichael is a pretty good pitcher. Wohlers was superb in 1995-96 and pretty good in 1997. The Braves’ problem in postseason has been close games, but that’s more due to offenses totally shutting down than to anything else. The bullpen, overall, has usually pitched pretty well.

OK, I’ll give them Jeff Reardon.

8/3/98: Mark Who? The Braves totally shut down Mark McGwire, holding him hitless (no fair balls even hit out of the infield) with one walk and seven strikeouts over 11 AB this weekend. Good thing, too, because if he had hit the Braves probably would have been swept instead of taking 2 of 3. The setup/closer combination of Seanez & Lightenberg continues to be impressive, finishing both wins.

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