Hey, remember when I recapped the Astros series and I said this was a frustrating team to follow? Well, I didn’t know the half of it. Let’s set the stage first. The Braves are struggling. They have a pretty decent rotation, but they can’t seem to score runs. Their extreme desperation is the reason the Nate McLouth trade took place weeks before the trade deadline.
Speaking of Nate, he wasted no time getting a shot in against Pirate management where it counts. He went 3 for 7 with a home run in game one. Funniest scene of the year was Zach Duke’s reaction to the homer. It just smacked of ‘how the heck could you do that to me, man?’. The game turned out to be a marathon. We had a ton of chances in late innings to score a run or two and end the thing, but failed to come up with clutch hitting each time. There were for times in the 8th inning and beyond (when one run would have pretty much won it) where we had a man in scoring position and failed to get him home. We came back from a 5-1 deficit to tie it. We had the momentum and a desperate team on the ropes. We had our bullpen throwing the best I’ve ever seen them throw, and we blew it. Again. The most odd ball thing about this game, though, was the decision to put Jeff Karstens on the mound in the 15th inning. We had used up every one of our relievers by that time except for Matt Capps. Now, I know using your closer for a late game relief appearance is not desirable, but why not put him out there for an inning or two before throwing a starter out there? Karstens of course throws up on himself and walks the first batter. A sac bunt and two hits later and the game is over. I’m not a baseball genius, but maybe Jeff didn’t pitch so well because, I don’t know, he hasn’t had to quickly warm up and throw in relief since he was a Yankee? I honestly have no idea what John Russell was thinking. To make things worse, the Braves were in worse shape pitching wise. Kris Medlen was pitching for Atlanta in the 15th. He also threw the 14th and was the last relief pitcher Atlanta had. Plus, they didn’t have a AAA pitcher in need of a quick call-up like Charlie Morton to make up for using a starter. If the Pirates don’t give up a run in the 15th, the Braves have to either screw up their rotation or use a position player. Neither is desirable. It was an awful game to watch because we had the game won, and lost it with bad strategy and hitting. The one bright spot, however, was the continued hot streak of Andrew McCutchen with 2 triples. This soon changed, however, as you’ll read later.
Game two was equally frustrating. We built up an early 3-1 lead after 4, and just let the Braves slowly eat into it. Ross Ohlendorf took the hill for the Pirates and gave them 6 innings. He gets charged with 3 earned runs, but I only credit him with 2. He gave up a single to the first batter in the 7th before getting the hook, and Sean Burnett let him in. Having a man on first with no outs is not a hard jam to get out of. The bullpen definitely let the team down in this one, but I can’t believe how the bats disappeared in the second half of the game. We were lucky to get one man on per inning after the 4th. It was pathetic. We’re a small ball team. We’ve got some speed, and we’ve got some players who can slap a ball the opposite way for a hit. We don’t have any home run hitters (especially with Doumit on the bench). That’s fine. You can win with small ball (look at Tampa), but you need consistency if you’re going to do that, and we have none.
Game three was a close game we finally won. Once again, we jump out to a quick 2 run lead, but this time we’re able to tack on another run in the 7th to seal it. That extra insurance makes all the difference, and it especially did in this game because Matt Capps came up with a 2 run lead in the 9th and gives up a solo shot. Still not a great day for the Pirate bats. We got absolutely no production from the bottom half of the order. The 5-9 spots were a combined 1 for 15. That’s right. 1 for 15. How terrible can you get? We also didn’t get a great outing from McCutchen who went 0 for 5. So, basically, Sanchez and Morgan won us this game. Thanks guys! The big news from the game, however, was Charlie Morton’s debut. He went all of 1 inning before being yanked with a sore hamstring. McLouth dings us for a homer. The guy we get in return gives us one solid inning of work. <smacks head against desk> Crap.
Game four was the afternoon closer. This was a pitchers duel from the start. Paul Maholm and Javier Vazquez both pitched outstanding. Vazquez struck out 12 in 8 innings. Maholm struck out 8 in 7. The Braves struck first in the 4th inning, capitalizing on a rare fielding error by Jack Wilson (he didn’t have his best game overall). We got it right back in the 5th off a solo shot by Delwyn Young. That’s his first as a Succo, I mean Bucco. Andrew McCutchen continued his mini slump, going 1-4. But that one hit was a key one that started off a game-winning 2-run 9th inning. I’m starting to wonder if maybe pitchers are starting to figure him out? I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that one.
So a most frustrating series against Atlanta, but at least we get the sweep. I feel like we definitely could have taken 3. This is the not the Braves team that won all those division titles. This is a team even the Pirates have a shot at. Detroit is coming to town starting tomorrow evening. That should be an interesting fan atmosphere on Saturday no matter what happens in game 7 tomorrow. Lets go Bucs!