The Smallest Violin Plays for the Atlanta Braves

As the Atlanta Braves often do following losses to the Phillies, they whined after tonight’s 5-3 loss to Jamie Moyer and the Phillies. The Braves love to whine about the Phillies, usually for their own imagined reasons.

July 2005: John Smoltz says of Citizens Bank Park, “I’ve played a long time, and some of the balls that are leaving there–it’s not right. It’s a joke.” [Link]

At the time Smoltz said that, Citizens Bank Park was only one and a half seasons old. The CBP homerun tally between the two teams in 2004 and 2005: Braves, 26; Phillies, 16. And the Braves enjoyed an 11-8 record against the Phillies in Philadelphia.

Flash forward to the bottom of the fifth inning in tonight’s nationally broadcast game (meaning the game comes with complimentary terrible commentary by Jon Miller and Joe Morgan) when Atlanta starter Buddy Carlyle starts off the inning with a walk to Jimmy Rollins. Carlyle got the next hitter, Tadahito Iguchi, to hit a ground ball to second baseman Martin Prado, who quickly flipped the ball to shortstop Yunel Escobar for the force at second base. Escobar got off a nice throw to first that was a hair too slow to get Iguchi at first base.

As soon as Escobar released the ball to first base, he caught the umpire’s “safe” motion and threw his arms up in the air as if he was accused of first-degree murder. To add insult to injury, Iguchi was called safe at first, so that was a huge double-whammy for Escobar. And replays showed that Escobar didn’t even come close to touching second base. He was trying to get the throw off as fast as possible with Jimmy Rollins heading full-throttle in his direction.

Bobby Cox came out to argue to no avail, and no, he wasn’t ejected. As a Phillies fan, I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, considering he’s on the precipice of managerial history in terms of ejections.

Pat Burrell popped out on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, and made way for Ryan Howard, who had a walk and a strikeout to his name at that point.

In his first at-bat, Carlyle stayed away from him low and away, and walked Howard on five pitches. Howard wasn’t so fortunate in the third inning, when Carlyle grooved a fastball high and outside for a called strike three.

Carlyle wasn’t so fortunate on Howard’s third try. He tried getting him high and outside again, but Howard was a step ahead of him and drove the pitch 391 feet to left-center for a three-run homerun, staking the Phillies to a 4-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Keep the homerun distance in mind, as it is an important fact that the Braves will conveniently ignore in their post-game whining.

Hit that fast-forward button again to the bottom of the ninth inning. Phillies closer Brett Myers easily retired Andruw Jones and Brian McCann, leaving the Braves’ hopes with pinch-hitter Willie Harris.

Myers threw Harris five straight fastballs, all at least 94 MPH, and all but one were low and outside. The last pitch, a 96-MPH called strike three on the outside corner, elicited some barking and gesturing from Myers at Harris and the Braves’ dugout, who didn’t take very kindly to his actions.

As Michael Radano notes on his blog,

If you saw the final strike of the night, you may have seen a little extra showmanship from Brett Myers.

Understand that Myers knows Braves hitter Willie Harris. The two were in the minors together and while they like to compete against one another, they have a good talking relationship.

Anyway, back in A-ball, Harris abused Myers. Always a leadoff hitter, Myers tried to overpower Harris with his fastball with little luck as Harris would slash away. Finally, Myers decided to “**** with him” and threw him a curve to start a game that Harris more than struggled with.

According to Myers, he faced him once this year and threw the curves, prompting Harris to challenge Myers manhood in a face-to-face.

Myers being Myers, he saw the final at bat of the ninth as a challenge. Fastball No.1 drew a smirk from Harris. Fastballs two, three and four allowed Myers to look in and at one point, show Harris four fingers. On the fifth fastball, Harris froze and began his walk back to the dugout.

“I wanted to show him I have *****,” Myers said with a grin.

That’s not it, though. The Braves were not exactly gracious losers. Some quotes, courtesy ComcastSportsNet.com.

Bobby Cox on Howard’s three-run homerun (remember the distance — 391 feet), said, “It was a little fly ball. It was out here and Cincinnati, and maybe Houston.”

391 feet is only out of Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Houston’s ballparks? It would’ve been out of yours too, Bobby. From the Braves website, the left-field power alley is 380 feet. Howard’s homerun would have been at least 3 or 4 rows back at Turner Field.

Jeff Francoeur was a bit more subtle. “We lost on a ball that just happened to go out of the ballpark. That’s all I can say. It’s tough to lose that way.”

Just happened to go out? Was Jeff watching the same homerun the rest of the country was watching?

And just for convenience sake, a recap of tonight’s whining from the Atlanta Braves:

– Yunel Escobar’s “throw your hands up in the air if you care” routine when he clearly didn’t touch any part of the second base bag, and Bobby Cox’s subsequent argument with the umpires (both at second base and at first, as he felt Iguchi was also out at first).

– Willie Harris and the Braves’ dugout yapping following Myers’ called strike three to end the game.

– Bobby Cox and Jeff Francoeur pouting about Ryan Howard’s game-winning, 391-foot, three-run homerun that would have left any ballpark.

Can someone get these guys on The Montel Williams Show? It is so unfortunate that they have to play in such a bandbox, where the other team gets more offensive innings than they do! (For those without sarcasm detectors, the Phillies had 8 offensive innings; the Braves had 9, so they had more chances to hit “little fly balls” for homeruns.)

Kyle Kendrick, Unsung Hero

Kyle Kendrick will become a two-month old Major Leaguer on August 13. If you hadn’t just read that, you never would’ve guessed he’s just a rookie.

The kid — 23 years old on August 24 — doesn’t have dominating stuff, and he isn’t a menace on the mound like Roger Clemens or Carlos Zambrano are. He throws a high-80’s, low-90’s fastball with heavy sinking action, a change-up, and a slider. Pitching at home in the bandbox known as Citizens Bank Park, a sinkerball is an extremely effective pitch for any pitcher, but especially one who doesn’t strike anyone out. His ground ball rate is extremely high.

Kyle Kendrick

In Kendrick’s 11 big-league starts, 8 of them have been quality starts and his quality start percentage ranks 18th in the Majors. Add to that his 119 ERA+ (for comparison, Cole Hamels’ is 122), and you have yourself a quality Major League arm.
Remember, this kid is not even 23 and has a Major League tenure just nearing two months. He was in AA Reading at the time the Phillies called on him, and not much was expected of him. The Phillies had already suffered blows to the starting rotation with the season-ending injury to Jon Lieber, and the potentially season-ending injury to Freddy Garcia.

Everyone in Philadelphia would have been pleased with Kendrick as long as he didn’t turn in Adam Eaton-esque performances. Instead, he’s pitched his way into the team’s 2008 starting rotation most likely (you never know with the Phillies, as Chris Coste earned a spot on the opening day roster for this season, but he started in AAA Ottawa and didn’t get called up until May 14, then was sent back down on May 24).

Looking ahead, here’s what the Phillies’ 2008 rotation could look like:

Cole Hamels

Adam Eaton

Jamie Moyer

Kyle Kendrick

Free agent/Trade/Brett Myers/J.D. Durbin/J.A. Happ

That’s not that bad, is it?

Thank you, Kyle Kendrick, for not only stabilizing the Phillies’ starting rotation for 2007, but also for 2008.

Iguchi Earning His Phillies Pinstripes

Tadahito IguchiTadahito Iguchi, the first Asian to ever don the Phillies’ red pinstripes (Bruce Chen was Panamanian, mind you), has hit safely in 10 of his first 11 games while temping for the injured Chase Utley.

He has 19 hits in 49 at-bats. In 58 plate appearances, he’s been on base at a .481 clip, which would be second in the National League if he had enough at-bats to qualify. No one expected any power from him, but he has even surprised in that regard with a .530 slugging percentage.His defense has been flawless as well, as evidenced by his 1.000 fielding percentage. His .842 RZR would rank fourth among National League second basemen if he had logged enough defensive innings to qualify.

They say that even a broken clock is right twice a day, and Pat Gillick — wrong on so many occaisions, from Alex Gonzalez (not the one in Cincinnati), to Ryan Franklin (whose doppelganger is producing a Rolaids-worthy season in St. Louis), to Wes Helms — finally made a great trade in acquiring Iguchi from the Chicago White Sox for next to nothing: Michael Dubee (ironically, the son of Phillies’ pitching coach Rich Dubee). Why the White Sox were willing to give up on Iguchi boggles the mind, but it all works out for the Phillies.

When Utley recovers from his broken hand some time in September, Iguchi’s presence creates a logjam in the infield. Utley, obviously, will reclaim his spot at second base. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard aren’t going anywhere. The only viable option, then, is third base for Iguchi. But Pat Gillick quickly put the kibosh on that, saying, “I would say it’s a very remote, remote possibility. It’s a different position third base in that you have longer to read the ball at shortstop and second base as opposed to third base which is a reaction position. A lot of times people that can play the middle of the diamond have a tough time moving to the corners.”

Great.

Third base is currently being manned by the trifecta of Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms, and Abraham Nunez. Helms has been underwhelming in his four months in Philadelphia; Nunez has a roster spot only for his defense; and Dobbs can play positions other than third base. Why not give Iguchi a shot at the hot corner?

Offensively (as of Aug. 9 prior to the Marlins game):

Dobbs: 109 OPS+

Helms: 76 OPS+

Nunez: 66 OPS+

Iguchi: 148 OPS+ as a Phillie (96 overall).

Defensively:

Dobbs: .706 RZR

Helms: .700 RZR

Nunez: .748 RZR

Iguchi: .842 RZR as a Phillie.

The Phillies had a similar situation with Placido Polanco. Chase Utley had earned the starting job at second base as a rookie (I believe he still qualified as one) in 2004. They had Rollins at shortstop and Jim Thome at first base, who obviously were not going anywhere, so the only logical place to put Polanco was at third base. But they liked the “veteranosity” of David Bell, who had produced only two seasons with an OPS+ over 100 in his 9-year career at that point. Polanco, prior to 2004, also hadn’t put up many high OPS+ seasons, but his were closer to league-average than Bell’s, and put up a 112 OPS+ in the season prior. Also factor in his superior defense and his less-expensive salary, and it’s a no-brainer what then-GM Ed Wade should have done.

Hindsight is 20/20, but it is noteworthy that, since leaving Philadelphia, Polanco has put up an OPS of .850 in 86 games in Detroit in 2005; .693 in an injury-shortened 2006; and .859 in 2007, earning his first All-Star nomination — as a starter, no less.

Gillick, apparently, is no fan of history, as he appears doomed to repeat it. Iguchi is a free agent at the end of the 2007 season, and with a weak free agent market, Iguchi will be heavily sought and will probably land a decent contract. The Phillies would be wise to jump the gun and offer him a multi-year deal to play third base for the next three years.

The infield would be set, and with Aaron Rowand likely moving on to greener pastures, Gillick can focus on getting another outfielder (Mike Cameron, perhaps) and shoring up the bullpen.