LONG BEACH— I’ve watched the entire opening series for the 2009 Atlanta Braves. What I saw was a disaster of a finale.
In the beginning the Braves looked to be a power house again. A force to be reckoned with. In the first two games of the series their starting pitchers were great, throwing 13 ⅔ innings of shut out ball. Even Javier Vazquez, the major league leader in home runs surrendered over the last ten years, was capable of going 6 innings only allowing 3 runs of which two scored on, of course, a home run.
The Phillies were looking bad. After two straight losses to begin the series, by the seventh inning of the final game they were down 10-3. That’s when the Braves bullpen took pity on the team and decided it best to give the entire game away. And give they did.
This wasn’t a work of masterful hitting beating masterful pitching. No, these Braves bullpen pitchers thought it’d be great to head into the game, certain victory at hand, a season opening sweep of the defending world champs, and just give the game away.
By the time the Phillies left the 7th inning, an inning they entered trailing by seven runs, they had a one run lead off of 5 walks and a hit by pitch. You simply do not get outs if you do not throw strikes. And the Braves pen didn’t throw many strikes.
This outing has deflated any early hopes of the miseries of last season being contained to only last season. Peter Moylan, the great side-armer from down under who used to throw in the mid-90’s with a great sinker, struggled to find the strike zone while he also struggled to reach 90 mph on the gun. If all that meat he was serving up had actually been on the plate it would have been devoured. Instead the Phillies just watched as Mr. Moylan allowed everyone in the Braves Nation to think: “Perhaps he needed more time to recover from having a ligament removed from his leg and sewn into his arm.” He now has an infinite ERA. That’s hard to do, and even harder to correct.
Blaine Boyer didn’t do much better. O’Flarety was also disappointing in his second appearance of the season. The entire bullpen resembled a fridged crew of hacks incapable of throwing two pitches in a row for strikes. Frank Wren was right to aim for “innings eaters” this past off-season. He should have aimed for guys such as Roy Halliday. Guys like that don’t just eat innings. They eat entire games. Something will be needed to compensate for this pen. It obviously isn’t capable of closing out the final three innings of a game in back to back evenings.
On the positive side of the game, the Braves were able to score 11 total runs without the help of Chipper Jones or Garret Anderson. Both of these veterans went down with injuries for the final game; the third game of the regular season.
I’m still holding out hope that this team can claw its way into a wild card post season berth. This weekend series against the Washington Nationals will be telling. If they manage to lose games against this team it will be a stark reminder of how terrible that pen is and how wonderful it was back in the day when the Braves had three “aces” on the mound capable of tossing complete games more often than not.