Atlanta 5, Chicago 3

ESPN.com – MLB – Recap – Cubs at Braves – 10/01/2003

DeRo! Grybo! Vinny! Some of the most bashed members of the Braves — around here, anyway — came through in a big way tonight, and the Braves live. It could easily have gone the other way… but it just as easily could have been a blowout for the Braves, who several times were one gapper away from breaking the game open. Of course, you could have said the same about the Cubs last night.

Mike Hampton looked headed for disaster in the first. He walked the first two men, and there lurked Sosa, who doubled one in. The second scored on a fielder’s choice when Vinny couldn’t get him at the plate on Alou’s groundout. Aramis Ramirez singled, but Sosa couldn’t score from second. Two in, three on, none out, the season hanging by a thread… and Mike Hampton struck out the next six batters. In the third, Sosa and Alou reached, and Hampton got another strikeout and a double play. Hampton wound up with nine strikeouts in six innings.

The Braves got one of the runs back in the first; they had first and third with nobody out, but got only one run on Chipper’s groundout. Andruw singled in a run in the fourth to tie it, but the Braves stranded two. They stranded two more in the fifth. It could have happened in the sixth, but Marcus — who couldn’t run, so was restricted to pinch-hitting — singled home Javy. Furcal loaded the bases on an infield hit, but they couldn’t get the insurance.

Kevin Gryboski to the rescue with a clutch seventh. Ray King, showing that he shouldn’t pitch without runners on base either, walked Lofton. Gryboski got that GIDP, then walked Sosa (that’s just fine!) and struck out Alou.

Now the weird part… Bobby brought in Smoltz for the potential two-inning save. And I disagreed. I’m normally all for using Smoltz for longer outings, but not this time, for four reasons.

1. His health is still a concern.
2. Gryboski looked great.
3. The Cubs had the bottom of their order up, and that’s a very weak group.
4. The Braves had the bottom of their order up, too, and Smoltz would have to hit.

Sure enough, John got in trouble, putting runners on first and third, one out. And the Cubs got the sac fly RBI, but Smoltz made a big play as the cutoff man to nail Randall Simon trying to advance from first.

In the eighth, Vinny — who isn’t hitting all the long drives he did earlier against the Cubs, but has made up for it by suddenly becoming a selective hitter — drew a one out walk. Garcia ran for him, and Smoltz bunted him over. Dave Veres intentionally walked Furcal, which was a mistake, because DeRosa, starting for Giles, doubled home both runners. Smoltz mowed them down in the ninth, and the series is even.

Bobby flipped Javy and Andruw in the order tonight. Javy, who started the year hitting eighth, now hits fifth. Andruw’s hit fourth or fifth all year, much better in the cleanup spot; it’s worth a shot.

Game three Friday night at Wrigley on ESPN. My understanding is that the Cubs don’t normally play home games at night on Fridays. At least they didn’t a few years ago, and when I’ve checked this year they didn’t. Could be rowdy.

30 thoughts on “Atlanta 5, Chicago 3”

  1. Man, Vinny was awesome. He almost drew a walk in his previous at-bat, not even taking the bat off his shoulder, but hastening Zambrano’s exit nonetheless. And he ends up starting the go-ahead rally. Mac, I see what you’re saying, but I was psyched that Smoltz came in. And I don’t mind the result. All told, they brought him in because it was the eighth inning and they wanted to secure a win. They got the win, and Smoltz closed it out. I can’t complain. We’ve discussed how the save rule is kinda dumb in the first place, right? One could logically call Smoltz’s performance a “save.”

    This Friday should be an amazing game. Prior has probably been the best starter in the NL this year. But would you bet against Greg Maddux in Wrigley Field? …Er, don’t answer that!

  2. Exciting game. I’d say we won’t see Smoltz for 2 innings again (though Cox didn’t rule it out). he looked stiff and uncomfortable. I’m guessing his arm was really hurting out there, which makes his performance admirable. But, I’d prefer not to have to see it again.

    I think it also rules out any question of him ever starting again. i thought all year that they should have moved him back to the rotation, but if light use (meaning only one inning or less appearances every few days) throughout the season leaves him with a sore arm, I’d think he couldn’t possibly start.

    Ah well. There is hope.

  3. Anyone see any comments on where Alou was playing for DeRosa’s double? The ball barely reached the warning track. With any normal alignment, isn’t that just a routine fly ball? Why play out of position to cut down a run at the plate wich Alou doesn’t have the arm to get anyway? I’ll take it.

  4. What a game! Having to follow the game over the computer (the game was not televised in Singapore)Smoltz’s entry in the 8th puzzles me. Can someone please tell me why Cox does not seem to like using Mercker (especially given the fact that the Braves gave up Belisle for him). Why not use Mercker in the 8th and save Smoltz for the 9th?

  5. I don’t live in Singapore but had to watch (er, read) the game online last night as well. How did Smoltz look in the 9th? Did he look sharp? Do you think Cox will use him again in the series or was this it last night?

    Ed

  6. Under most circumstances, Mercker probably would have been in the 8th. But the announcers said he hurt his back Tuesday and wouldn’t be available for game 2.

    I don’t think we’ll see Smoltz in game 3, and probably won’t see him unless the Braves absolutely need him, like game 5 (should it go that far). With any luck the Braves can win the next two games handily and not have to rely on the bullpen too much.

  7. DeRo’s double fell almost exactly between the LF Alou and the CF Lofton/Glanville. It was perfectly placed. Alou was shaded toward the line and a bit shallow — he has always had an above-average arm, though.

  8. I’d say we won’t see Smoltz for 2 innings again (though Cox didn’t rule it out). he looked stiff and uncomfortable

    I’m not so sure, though. He looked stiff and uncomfortabel int he 8th, but looked a little better into the 9th (after going 3-0 to the first hitter).

    I wonder if it isn’t taking him some full-speed pitches to really get warmed up. In which case, he might never be at his most effective in a first inning, but will be better in a second.

    In which case, you might as well use him for two.

    Regardless, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be available for Friday. He’s got a day off today, after all. And he’s talking about this himself as a must-win postseason for Atlanta, to which end i think he’s more willing to throw caution to the wind about his arm than anyone.

  9. Smoltz made Aramis look silly on three pitches. Then he made Karros look silly for the first two strikes, but then he tried a slider and it was awful, and Karros just zoned in on his fastball, flicking one after the other back into the stands until he finally got his hit. That a schlump like Eric Karros was able to do that against Smoltzie really made me nervous.

    I agreed with Mac’s analysis in this case. I was hoping to see Cunnane come in and face the soft part of the lineup. And, except for Sosa, the whole Cubs lineup is what I consider soft. What an awful lineup.

  10. To answer your question Stephan, I thought Smoltz looked very uncomfortable out there last night. He seemed physically unable to throw anything but a fastball – his few attempts at a slider or splitter were unsuccessful and apparently painful. But he toughed it out so you’ve got to respect that. I heard an audio clip on the radio before yesterday’s game where Smoltz basically said the team is treating this post season as if it will be thier last. He certainly showed that mindset last night since he was clearly pitching with a bad arm.

    On another topic, how about that major league umpiring last night? Hunter Wendelstedt, a night after giving the Braves a run with a blown call at first, blows the the call at home in the first to give the Cubs a run. His hot and cold strike zone was a thing to behond as well. My favorite call was the shoetop high strike three call on Ramon Martinez.

    However Wendelstedt looked brilliant by comparison to Randy Marsh’s call of the Sox-A’s game last night. I have no interest in who wins this series but those of you who didn’t stay up to watch the game missed one of the truly horrible strike zones in playoff history. It wasn’t an Eric Gregg, but he was getting in that neighborhood. Marsh seemed truly mystified by BK Kim’s pitches and called everything a ball no matter where it went. This of course significantly aided the ninth inning rally that led to extra innings. In extra innings Marsh appeared to feel so bad about the way he butchered Kim’s strike zone he called three innings of the most one-sided strikezone I’ve ever seen. Keith Foulke had a strike zone about the size of a softball when he was on the mound. Only his brilliance kept the Sox off the board. When the A’s batted the zone extended to the on deck circles. Tejeda took a fastball a foot outside for strike two and a curve ball that nearly hit him for strike three. I admired him for not clubbing Marsh over the head. Randy Marsh should never be allowed near another playoff game.

    Sorry for the rant.

  11. Do you think the bullpen has already been overtaxed? I don’t think so…all I know is that if the games need to be played this gingerly by Cox, that the Braves don’t deserve to go any further. I don’t think you can nurse yourself to a world championship…I think dominance with a title.

  12. Do you think the bullpen has already been overtaxed? I don’t think so…

    Me neither. They have a day off tomorrow, and I think they’ll be fine Friday – inasmuch as they are fine to begin with.

    all I know is that if the games need to be played this gingerly by Cox, that the Braves don’t deserve to go any further. I don’t think you can nurse yourself to a world championship…I think dominance with a title.

    Not following what you mean here by ‘gingerly’ – because I think Cox has managed these games very aggressively, especially game two. Hampton had given 5 strong innings following the first and Cox was willing to pull him for the PH to get the lead, and didn’t follow LH/RH matchups, instead using his best hitter – Giles – despite the matchup. He was willing to run for Vinny, despite the potential defensive implications later. He has been pulling King quickly, and he used his gimpy closer in an atypical way.

    In short, cox is managing for the game at hand, and he’ll deal with the rest when they come. Frankly, I like that, a lot. I was a little unsettled to see Smoltz, but let’s not forget that Gryboski is also recently off the DL, and who else would we prefer to see – Hernandez? Bring him in and you have two walks and you’re bringing in Smoltz with runners on. Screw that.

    If you mean gingerly with respect to holding out the injury guys – Giles and Mercker – then that’s largely an unknown. But I’ll say this – as much of a gamer as Giles has made it clear he is, if he is not willing to play because he’s hurting, then he must be hurting a lot. And he’ll be in Friday, I bet.

  13. I wasn’t implying that he [Cox] was managing gingerly (it was poorly written on my part). Unfortunately, there are many, many things he can’t control (like the health of the club) and that ultimately those things will determine how far the team goes into the playoffs. Thus far, I think Cox has been aggressive…I just hope Smoltz and Co. stay healthy enough to get us to the next round.

    Ed

  14. Yeah, i agree with you guys that Smoltz was not in top-draw form last night. But I think that game was managed the way we needed it to be. I definitely hope Smoltz is available for game 3. I think everyone on the bench is willing to be used in some way. Marcus could not run, but he pinch hit, got us the lead, and Bragg took his spot at first. Perfect. He will be up and ready to take his revenge (from the plate i mean) on Prior Friday.

    If Maddux gets through the eighth inning tomorrow and it’s a 2-1 Braves lead, does anyone here really think that we wouldn’t see Smoltz? Come on; he is here because he wants to play in pain. And an injured JS (especially against a chump lineup) is more than preferable to Hernandez.

    My biggest question is, WHERE IS SHEFFIELD?! His swings are looking terrible. How is it that he continues to provide little-to-no offense in the postseason?

  15. Rhett,
    You made my point better than I did. Smoltz couldn’t throw his slider. He has a great fastball, but even so, a good MLB team should light up a guy who can’t throw anything but his fastball. So, the Cubbies managed to actually score.

    It is an interesting POV that they are playing like it is their last postseason. Especially when you consider that DeRosa and Giles are the hitting stars thus far.

  16. Sooner or later the Braves are going to jump out to an early (and hopefully sizable) lead. Wouldn’t it be FANTASTIC if the Braves could give Maddux a 2 or 3 run lead before he throws his first pitch tomorrow night?

    Ed

  17. I was totally thinking that, Ed. It would change the whole complexion of the series if, for instance, Furcal and Giles could get on and Sheff break out of his slump, just right off the bat tomorrow. Maddux is at his best when he has a specific job to do (ie, prevent the scoring of more than 2 runs)

  18. Hey Mac, what do you take in Smoltz’s comments about great (negative) changes for next season. The way it looks to me, I think we’ll be better than this year. (Especially with a full year of a good Hampton) Also, even though Prior is twice as good as Maddux, I would rather have Greg against the cubs lineup rather than Prior against the Braves lineup.

  19. Great game last night. Hopefully they can keep it up going into Chicago. Anyone think they can handle Prior well? Or will he be all but unhittable on Friday?

  20. Aaron, it depends upon what happens in the offseason, of course. Sheffield, Maddux, Vinny, and Javy are all free agents. I’m not sure about Fick’s situation but he’ll likely be non-tendered if he isn’t up for free agency. I think that Vinny will be let go unless he takes a huge paycut and a one-year deal. Javy probably will get a big contract from someone else (the Dodgers, allowing LoDuca to move to first?) I just don’t see how the Braves can work things out with Maddux, though I think they’d like to have him back. They’ll do everything they can to bring back Sheffield.

    Right now, I have the lineup for next year as:

    SS Furcal
    2B Marcus
    RF Sheffield
    LF Chipper
    CF Andruw
    1B LaRoche
    C Estrada
    3B DeRosa

    Three rotation spots are set, with the fourth probably either Maddux, if possible, or someone from outside. If they bring back Sheffield they’ll probably be okay. If not, transition year, hoping to rebound in 2005 when Marte and Wainwright join the club.

  21. “They just need a split in Chicago.”

    This is what I keep muttering to myself, fearing that Prior will be untouchable tomorrow night. This is what else I think…

    We didn’t see Wood ALL season until the 1st game of the series (hopefully the team can make some adjustments if/when we face him again).

    The final game in ANY series is always unpredictable…anything can happen when teams are in those “all-or-nothing” situations.

    Sooner or later (based on the law of averages) the 3-4-5 hitters are going to click with the 1 & 2 hitters resulting in ONE BIG INNING.

    Ed

  22. The final game in ANY series is always unpredictable…anything can happen when teams are in those “all-or-nothing” situations.

    I love those games :-) Just recalling past series where Avery or Maddux or Smoltz (as a starter) would come out of the bullpen. Anything can indeed happen. Heck, cox played all his cards in game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, to the point where if Bream doesn’t beat the tag, we’d have been looking at Gant playing second base for his first time in years!

  23. I hope we can sweep in Chicago. I don’t want to take the chance with a do-or-die Game Five. Although those are fun, we all remember last year…

    But I think the Braves are playing with desperation already, especially after reading the Jayson Stark ESPN article. If it comes down to Game Five, maybe they’ll find a way to get those elusive postseason runs that they couldn’t get last year, or in ’96, or in ’98.

  24. Gary Sheffield….must resign Gary Sheffield.

    Seriously, have the post-1990 Braves had a more professional, authoritative hitter in their lineup? Chipper has put up HOF numbers, but I see Gary as an elite hitter who can hang in there for the batting title year in, year out. With him in the meat of the lineup, there’s instant credibility.

  25. At the beginning of the season, there was talk of re-signing Millwood this summer. He’s a free agent and didn’t want to talk to the Phillies during the season. It would be great to get his arm back in the rotation, especially when Maddux goes.

    As for this series, I like the Braves’ chances. You guys are right on the money saying the Braves’ lineup is coming around. And I love Smoltz’s attitude–the guy would be throwing until his arm fell off.

  26. Justin – I’m guessing you did not see Millwood’s start against the Braves on the last day of the season. He is now a power pitcher with a “fastball” topping out at about 88. This is a guy who was consistently in the low-to-mid-90s during his good Braves years. He looks like damaged goods to me – I wouldn’t go anywhere near him.

    Mac, I believe it was Castilla who cut the throw and nailed Simon. Smoltz was backing up home plate.

    It’s like everybody in the lineup has exchanged hitting personalities with Vinny. While everyone else is hacking at first pitches and jumping out of their shoes at the first thing anywhere near the zone, Vinny is working counts and walking. Weird.

  27. Gary Sheffield….must resign Gary Sheffield.
    Seriously, have the post-1990 Braves had a more professional, authoritative hitter in their lineup?

    Really depends. If his crappy postseason hitting for the Braves is just small sample bad luck, then he’ shard to top. But if he’s playing tight because of pressure on the offense or whatever, then that’s a strike against.

    Chipper has put up HOF numbers, but I see Gary as an elite hitter who can hang in there for the batting title year in, year out. With him in the meat of the lineup, there’s instant credibility

    Interesting you should mention Chipper – on baseballreference.com, Sheffield is hte second most comparable hitter to Chipper thru age 30, and was Chipper’s most comparable at ages 26-28.

    Overall, Chipper and Sheff entered the season with OPS+ of 144 and 145, respectively (I believe that stat at BR is adjusted for home parks). Overall, Chipper has a career line of 309/404/541, vs. 299/401/527 for Sheff.

    Their careers have been tremendously close overall, though Sheff has obviously come on strong in his 30s. That said, I take Chipper as the Braves’ best, most professional hitter of their run. And moreover, I think he may be underrated overall as a hitter by most observers outside Atlanta.

  28. Well friends…This is IT. By the time I post again this weekend, I’ll either be ecstatic or nursing my wounds. This is great site…very pleased I found it (tired of depending on ajc.com). The guests are insightful and the dialogue is robust. Keep the faith as we had for the stretch run!

    Ed

  29. Braves win, 7-3.

    (this prediction has no bearing whatsoever on reality, or really, what I expect to happen).

  30. Anyone heard about the horrible wheather report from Chicago? Last I checked on ESPN, during the Giants/Marlins telecast, it’s gonna be windy, cold, and rainy tonight. I guess that’s what happens when you have a night game in Chicago at Wrigley Field.

    So, how do you guys think the wheather will affect both pitchers? Will it hurt Maddux more, as I believe the guys on “Mayhem in the AM” radio show/ Comcast Sports Southeast simulcast said?

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