Hammers Clinch Pennant–and Crush the Fish, 11-1

Imagine that it’s the middle of February 2020.  You are happily reading news of spring training, and you are optimistic about the Braves’ upcoming season.  You’ve seen some news accounts about a new virus in Asia, but you see no reason to worry about that here in the USA.  Your focus in on baseball and the promise of a new season.

All of a sudden a figure appears in your living room.  He claims to be a time traveler who has just come from the future, specifically from September 22, 2020.  He tells you that the Braves just clinched their third consecutive Division crown with a victory on that night. 

That makes sense to you—maybe this guy is an actual time traveler, because winning the division is what you expect.  As you look forward to the 2020 season, our Braves are set up to be competitive in the division for a third straight year.  It’s likely the  offense may not be as strong in 2020, given the loss of Josh Donaldson.  But Anthopolous has spent a lot of money on the bullpen, and the Braves have a surplus of starting pitching.  With Soroka and Fried having established themselves in 2019 as stars, with Folty coming on strong in the last couple of months of 2019, with Sean Newcomb set to return to the rotation after a strong year in the bullpen, with the signing of Cole Hamels and King Felix to provide veteran presents, with Touki and Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson perhaps ready to take it to the next level (and maybe even Anderson, Muller, and Davidson, although they are more likely 2021 contributors), there is an embarrassment of riches to choose from.  Even with possible injuries, there ought to be a strong starter most every night.

Your visitor tells you that the starter on September 22, the night the Braves clinched, is Bryse Wilson.  That surprises you a little, since he is pretty far down the depth chart in the spring.  But it must mean that he has indeed stepped it up a couple of notches and has become a productive member of the rotation.  Then your visitor says, No, Wilson has not been effective.  His ERA in only four appearances is over 7, and he has as many walks as strikeouts.  “Why the heck is he starting a crucial game in the middle of a pennant race?” you ask.  “He’s the best they can do,” is the reply.  Fried, Anderson, and Wright are in the rotation, but there is no one else they can turn to start such a pivotal game. No other starter on the staff has won more than one game. But young Wilson comes through on this night, tossing five scoreless innings, with 7 strikeouts and only 3 hits and 1 walk and the Braves went on to win the game and the pennant.

Then he tells you that the team in second place, the only team who had a chance to catch the Braves for the pennant, is the Marlins.  The Nationals, Phillies, and Mets have already been eliminated.

Now you know that the whole thing is a hoax; what your visitor is telling you is too fantastic to possibly be the truth.  So you ask him to leave and tell you no more ridiculous things about this supposed future.  That’s a good thing–if you let him tell you all the other stuff that happens between February and September 2020, you’d probably not be able to face another day.

  *    *    *    *

This game can be summarized pretty simply.  Wilson was excellent.  I gave you his line above.  He threw 77 pitches, 50 of them strikes.  He pounded the inside corner with his fastball.  As he was blanking the Fish through 5, the Braves scored on solo homers by Ozuna and Albies in the first and second and a two run double by the Mime in the 4th.  Tomlin went 2 innings, giving up a solo homer to Marte in the 6th.  The Hammers broke it open in the bottom of the 7th: the inning started with Swanson solo homer, RAJ double, Freeman 2-run homer, and all of a sudden it’s 7-1. They batted around in the inning and scored 5 runs, making it a 9-1 ballgame.  If they were going to have champagne, it would be time to get it ready. But since it’s 2020, no bubbly in the clubhouse. 

Minter held them scoreless in the 8th (even after loading the bases with no outs).  Our guys tacked on 2 more in the 8th on yet another Ozuna moon shot, Webb pitched a scoreless 9th and the Braves won 11-1.  Three consecutive division titles.

Freddie snapped out of his mini-slump with a single, double, and a homer.  Not to be outdone, Ozuna had 4 hits and 2 massive homers.  Ozzie had 3 hits and a homer; he’s hitting over .400 and slugging a lot more than that since his return from the IL.  Dansby appears to be coming out of his 2 week slump with 2 hits and a homer. A lineup that was awfully stout even without Ozhaino is now just about the best I’ve ever seen in all my years of following the Braves. 

  *    *    *    *

I know that with our unproven rotation the odds of going all the way and winning the World Series aren’t great.  But if we’ve learned anything this year, Yogi was right—predictions are tough, especially about the future.  This team is special and I like our chances!

Author: tfloyd

Tfloyd was born on the site of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Before the stadium was built, that is; it was then the site of Piedmont Hospital. It took the Braves another 11 years to arrive on what is now Hank Aaron Drive, but I‘ve always liked to arrive at the ballpark early.

46 thoughts on “Hammers Clinch Pennant–and Crush the Fish, 11-1”

  1. Here’s an even more fanciful story.
    You’ve been a longsuffering Braves fan since ’66. In the spring of 1991 your time traveler tells you the Braves would have a winning record in 24 of the next 30 seasons, win 18 division titles, make every playoffs but 9, be in contention for the postseason the final week and finish with a winning record in 3 of those 9, only excepting the 6 losing seasons, you’d think he was indeed from a different universe altogether.

  2. Serious question for the old-timers: are Donaldson and Ozuna the two best hitters the Braves have ever signed as free agents?

  3. Good morning! Braves clinch. What a fun team to watch offensively. Sure, starting pitching is suspect and it will be quite the ride in the post season but this team can beat any opposing pitcher. Go Braves!

  4. Sheffield was traded for (Padres). We signed Fred McGriff as a FA after we traded for him first. Maybe that doesn’t count…..

    Gallaraga was indeed a pure FA signing. So was Terry Pendleton who won a MVP. Those two stand out.

    Of course, there’s always Lonnie Smith….. or Gary Matthews.

    Brian Jordan signed as a FA and we turned him into Gary Sheffield later. Does that count by association???

  5. @11 Lonnie Smith definitely counts, he put up almost 9 WAR in 1989 and was overlooked because the team was so bad. Dynasty era though, you have Pendleton, Big Cat, “possibly one of the greatest Braves of all time” Nick Markakis, then the Donaldson/Ozuna contracts.

    After that, I think the biggest impact FA bats signed would be Deion Sanders? David Ross? Definitely a precipitous dropoff

  6. Hmmm, Pendleton was big, but as far a best hitter I think Galarraga, his impact was huge as a FA signing. Very similar to what JD and Ozuna are doing, but it is so close. Pendleton brought maturity to the team, stability, these guys bring ammunition.

  7. Free Agent Seasons in reverse order of OPS+
    Lonnie Smith: 168 OPS+ in 1989 (not first year)
    Marcell Ozuna: 158 OPS+ in 2020 (to date)
    Andres Gallaraga: 157 OPS+ in 1998, 123 OPS+ in 2000 (not first year)
    Terry Pendleton: 139 OPS+ in 1991, 124 OPS+ in 1992 (not first year)
    Matt Franco: 136 OPS+ in 2002
    Claudell Washington: 130 OPS+ in 1984 (not first year)
    Kurt Suzuki: 128 OPS+ in 2017
    Gary Matthews: 128 OPS+ in 1979 (not first year)
    Josh Donaldson: 127 OPS+ in 2019
    Matt Joyce: 120 OPS+ in 2019

  8. Galarraga had a brilliant first season, then tragically missed his next year to cancer, then had a lovely comeback at age 40. So while he was very good, his Braves career was also not what either the player or the team might have wished.

    Gosh, I sure had forgot how good Skates was that year.

    JonathanF, can you do that same ranking but by wRC+, which would weight for playing time?

  9. We now have TOO MUCH starting pitching. As of last night it became clear to those of us who eschew lists, numbers, mumbo jumbo and the like, that we have, after a long struggle, reached those happy heights where the intellect can be applied as to how each should be used and apportioned. You can look up whatever you like but we will not, we scorn the numbers and formulae that, without realizing it, control you very thoughts and prejudices. We are eyes and ears only, the freedom is intoxicating, the intellect fired up.

    And so it transpires, what would seem to you laughable – on many days we cannot remember all the names of those starting pitchers – serves to guarantee our independence, WE NEVER LOOK ANYTHING UP. The eyes and ears have it, we bow to no self important source.

    So who’s starting tonight? And why?

  10. Really great to see how Wilson put it together last night. I was always high on him as a prospect and it really seemed he never got much of a chance to get comfortable in the majors before getting moved to the pen or back to AAA.

    Can’t use one start to say he’s turned the corner, but probably shouldn’t be writing off 22 year olds with 34 innings of sporadic use and a track record of minor league success either.

    Do we think he’s done enough to be the 4th starter?

  11. These young pitchers are feeding off of one another’s success, just like the rotation did in the early ’90s. They’re pushing one another along.

  12. Has he done enough to be the 4th starter? Yes, but that says more about our 4th starter prospects than it does the work he’s done.

    I’m done making sense of how the organization has yo-yo’ed these guys. For discussion purposes, let’s assume that Anderson, Wright, and Wilson have all “turned the corner”. That if we just keep running them out there, they’ll keep producing better and better results. And we finally have a home-grown rotation of studs. HOW DO WE KNOW THAT AS AN ORGANIZATION?! How are we so freaking clueless at scouting and developing starting pitching that we have perfectly good SP right frickin’ there in AAA, and then we go and hand 13 starts in a 60-game season to Erlin, Milone, and Tomlin. It. Just. Doesn’t. Make. Sense.

    I’m at an age where I’m just not going to turn on the television and spend precious time watching Tommy Milone or Robbie Erlin. That’s my line in the sand. I’ve watched LOTS of bad baseball over the last 5 years, and I’m not doing it anymore. I watched a couple innings of yesterday’s game expecting the wheels to come off the bus with Wilson. After all, Wilson is like 11th in the pecking order of people they’ve handed starts to. So I’m SURE that Atlanta knows this guy is cheeks. So why would I watch? And then he throws a good outing. Of course. But don’t sit here and tell me that the organization has any clue what they’re doing with these pitching prospects.

  13. #19
    Some Things You Remember Dept.: In 1989, Smoltz & Sid Fernandez (a pillowy Mets LHP from Hawaii with one of those confounding “rising fastballs”) got into a classic pitcher’s duel.

    After the early innings, Fernandez was unhittable, racking up 16 Ks & he blazed into the bottom of the 9th with a 2-2 score. After getting whiffed 3 times by Fernandez, Lonnie Smith lead off with a walk-off HR to win it.

    It was a mid-summer game between a very bad team & a pretty good team. The Mets would go 10-2 vs. ATL that year & win 24 more games. But that was the kind of year Lonnie had in 1989 – a thrilling Braves victory was infrequent, but he could be entirely responsible for it.

  14. We now have TOO MUCH starting pitching.

    Reminds me of Dead Meat in Hot Shots:

    “I’m in a jet! What could go wrong?”

  15. Any thought that we’ve magically figured it out as far as the young starters go seems wildly optimistic at this point. It’s definitely good that we’ve gotten several good starts from them in a short period of time, and I might be more optimistic if it were early June and we weren’t going straight into the playoffs needing starts from a lot of these guys, but we are. And if you’re confident in Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson or Huascar Ynoa in a playoff game…well, you’re way more bullish on these guys than I am. We don’t even really know how Ian Anderson is going to respond to that situation, honestly.

  16. To be fair to Blazon I don’t think he was actually saying that he uncritically believes that all our young pitchers are great — I think he was saying that he’s just enjoying the moment. And that’s completely right.

    It still makes me think of that scene from Hot Shots, though.

  17. @19: No, because Stathead doesn’t do wRC+. It does, however do WAR runs batting:

    Skates 1989: 44.1
    Big Cat, 1998: 43.8
    TP, 1991: 27.5
    RainBringer, 2019: 26.5
    Skates, 1990: 20.0
    Big Cat, 2000: 19.3
    TP: 1992: 19.2
    CW, 1984: 18.5
    Ozuna, 15.7

  18. JonathanF, I just went through and made a list of the above you mentioned, but looking at their RAA (“Runs Above Average”) and RAA/PA. (RAA controls for league context, so what Lonnie did in the new deadball era is even more impressive, and what Galarraga did with the 2000 rabbit-ball is less so.)

    With a little weighting, the top four are Skates, Donaldson, TP, and Ozuna.

    Player Year: RAA, RAA/PA
    Skates 1989: 63, 0.109
    RainBringer 2019: 42, 0.064
    TP 1991: 38, 0.059
    Ozuna 2020: 14, 0.058
    Big Cat 1998: 33, 0.051
    Skates 1990: 27, 0.050
    TP 1992: 26, 0.038
    CW 1984: 9, 0.019
    Big Cat 2000: -3, -0.005

  19. I really am going to get to work on the Hammers logo, but it’ll cost me. What I’d like to know is how many would be interested in having one. If I got 20-25 people to commit, I could sell them for $20-$23. The reason why is simple: bulk costs less and 0 overhead costs a WHOLE lot more.

  20. Pendleton did win MVP his first year here. I do realize that a) that’s not an especially stats-based metric to use; and b) most everybody has retroactively awarded that MVP to Barry Bonds; but I do think that at least does enough to tip him over the edge atop this list. I’d certainly take him over Lonnie Smith, as his 1989 season pretty much mattered for squat, regardless how good it was.

  21. Lonnie in his second year with the team may have had the best hitting season of any player the Braves originally signed as a free agent (though I could see docking him for only playing 134 games that year), but I think Pendleton was the most valuable free agent position player we signed, if that makes sense. His hitting may not have been quite as good on a per-game basis, but he played 19 more games and played better defense at a more important position. Also, his impact was more valuable, because without Pendleton, we don’t win the division in 1991. That was when winning the division meant more than it does now, because divisions were larger, there was no wild card (so winning the division got you 1/4 of the way to winning the WS instead of 1/8 like it does in normal years now and 1/16 this year), and the team had been wretchedly bad for several years.

    I assume that no matter how you define valuable, though, Maddux was the most valuable free agent the Atlanta-era Braves have signed.

  22. @34 and @36, no question. I think TP is the best free agent position player. Exclusively looking at hitting performance, he still might be the answer. And signing Lonnie off the scrap heap is clearly 1 or 1A. JD and Ozuna clearly come right after.

  23. @39 – Tex came via a rather infamous trade.

    And I agree, TP for top FA position player. His influence on the others meant just as much as his raw numbers.

  24. Alright, I just signed up for Stathead and I still can’t find the person you are all referring to, the mysterious mediocre Atlanta journeyman who pitched the second-most Madduxes behind Greg Maddux himself. Spoil it for me, please?

  25. Zane Smith.

    He was LHP who pitched pretty well for the terrible Braves, then ended up on the talent-rich Pirates during their early ’90s NL East run.

  26. No kidding! I certainly remember him as a Pirate — he and Drabek anchored that staff, along with a baby Tim Wakefield.

  27. I am thrilled with the pennant winning Braves but in Bobby Cox reign nobody thought
    of the Braves offense. That stadium was clearly built to advance the pitchers but it
    proved a disaster for our playoff runs. Bobby’s 14 straight titles team was known for
    pitching as even today’s rosters are built to mirror Maddox, Glavine, Smoltz, even
    Steve Avery from 1991 and 1992. Today the Braves are known for flat out raking. Most
    of you may remember my name from ESPN’s comments. By the way, Markakus was not
    a great signing. He was always more beloved in Batlimore but the Uptons were better than
    him.

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