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The Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Atlanta Braves, 4-3 in 13 innings. The Atlanta Braves will not go to the playoffs. Unbelievable. It wouldn't have been right to complete a monumental collapse with a garden-variety loss. There had to be some hope after the hope faded -- a dead-cat bounce of hope. Sure, the Braves had give away a huge Wild-Card lead in the last month of the season, but they were about to win to force a 163rd game. They had one of the best closers in the game on the mound. Everything wasn't so bad.
And then ...
The Phillies were trying. They felt an obligation. They had all of their regulars in, and they continued to play through extra innings. Chase Utley had concussion issues. Jimmy Rollins had hamstring problems. They played the entire game.
But the starting pitching? That was where Charlie Manuel felt he needed to be selfish. He was going to start Joe Blanton for a couple of innings, before Cole Hamels and Vance Worley got a little work in before the playoffs. The Braves had a little advantage by being the only team needing the win.
There's something to be said for playing for pride, though.
After the Phillies got on the board first, the Braves manufactured a run in the bottom-half of the inning, Michael Bourn-style, as he singled, stole a base, moved over on a grounder, and scored on a sacrifice fly. A Dan Uggla two-run homer gave the Braves a 3-1 lead in the third inning with Tim Hudson on the mound, and that vaunted Braves bullpen coming up.
Oh, that vaunted, hard-worked bullpen.
A Jack Wilson error set up the Phillies second run, but the Braves still entered the top of the ninth with a 3-2 lead. But Craig Kimbrel was too wild, giving up a single and walking three hitters in the inning. An Utley sac fly tied the game.
A few innings later, it was a walk to Brian Schneider that was the decisive run. Scott Linebrink gave it up in the 13th, and after an Utley single, Hunter Pence hit a knuckleball to Uggla's left. He couldn't do anything with it, and David Herndon got the save.
Did Craig Kimbrel cost himself the Rookie of the Year with the blown save? That'd be a ticky-tack way to lose it, but it's possible. The problem with that thinking is that the likely runner-up, Freddie Freeman, hit into the double play to end the Braves' season.
The Braves could have made the playoffs if they had won just one game out of their last five. They did not. The Cardinals came back from the afterworld, and they're going to be in the playoffs. The Braves -- no strangers to September and October heartbreak -- are not.
Here's the thing about waiting until the last day of the year to seal up a playoff appearance: You're hoping the weird breaks of baseball all go your way. The Braves were three outs away from a one-game playoff. But after a Hunter Pence squib, the Phillies have a 4-3 lead going into the bottom of the 13th inning.
Braves reliever Scott Linebrink walked Brian Schneider with one out, and Chase Utley singled through the right side with two down. Pence then nubbed a ball to Dan Uggla's left, and the second baseman never had a chance.
After holding a huge September lead and looking like they were locks for the playoffs, the Braves have just about coughed up the Wild Card after coughing up a game they had in their grasp.
The Braves will have Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, and Freddie Freeman up in the bottom of the 13th to save their season.
With a runner on first and no one out in the bottom-half of an extra-inning game, what do you do? Fredi Gonzalez bunts. You might do things differently, but Fredi bunts. Jack Wilson got the bunt down, and there was a runner in scoring position with one out.
Brooks Conrad, who has been useful for the Braves in the regular season, but also had a rough postseason with them last year, struck out. With two down, pitcher Justin De Fratus -- called it! -- intentionally walked Michael Bourn to get to Martin Prado, who grounded out to end the inning.
Did the Gonzalez move cost the Braves? In retrospect, it obviously gave away an out they'd like to have back. But isn't that just hindsight?
Probably not. Here's the run matrix. Don't focus on the average-runs-per-inning one. Instead, look at the chance of a team scoring at all with a runner on first with no outs vs. a runner on second and one out.
Runner on first, no outs: 44% chance of scoring
Runner on second, one out: 42% chance of scoring
Seems simple, if close. But don't forget that Jack Wilson was up. Maybe Josh Wilson. One of them. The difference between J. Wilson and Conrad or Prado might make up that difference. It's a close call, but probably not as egregious as you might think. He does sillier things to be angry about.
The Atlanta Braves are trying to play extra games this season, so why not extra innings? Like, a lot of them? With the Cardinals having already won against the Astros earlier in the night, the Braves' season is on the line. They had it wrapped up, but then they fell apart late. I'm not sure if I'm writing about this game or the season. Both, I suppose.
The aforementioned Schwimer pitched two scoreless innings against the Braves, and Anthony Varvaro pitched a scoreless eleventh against the Phillies. Cristhian Martinez allowed a single to John Mayberry to open the 12th inning, but got Raul Ibanez to ground into a double play and Wilson Valdez to ground out to end the inning.
Onward, to the bottom of the twelfth! Looking at the active roster for the Phillies ... I'm going to guess that Justin De Fratus -- literally "of the Fratus" -- pitches the bottom of the 12th, but only because I've never heard of him.
Hey, remember that thing I wrote in the last update about Michael Stutes? About how he wouldn't pitch in the ninth of a tie game if this game meant something to the Phillies? Well, then came Michael Schwimer in the eleventh.
|2011 - Michael Schwimer||1-1||11||0||0||0||0||2||12.1||14||8||8||2||7||14||5.84||1.70|
There was a buy-one-random-Michael-get-the-other-one-free promotion at the Winter Meetings in the offseason, and the Phillies aren't made of stone.
With Michael Bourn on first (again) and two outs, Chipper "Michael" Jones pounded a Schwimer pitch to center. It was a few feet from being a home run, and just a couple of inches from being a game-winning double, but Michael Martinez ran down the ball and made a spectacular catch. If the Phillies win this game somehow, the Braves will look back to that catch and wonder what might have been.
If this game meant something to the Phillies -- even if it were for something as frivolous as a 100th win, you probably wouldn't see Michael Stutes in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road. He's had a decent season, but he isn't exactly a shutdown reliever yet. It didn't matter, though, as he picked up a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the night.
Well, that doesn't tell the entire story. He did make some pitches that the Braves put some good swings on. The first at-bat was to Brian McCann ...
... who popped it up into shallow center and threw his bat down in disgust. It was a good location, but McCann was on it. Next came Jason Heyward ...
... who took a mean on #2 there, loudly fouling it off. He then struck out on that back-foot curve. And Jack Wilson, whose booted double-play might be the reason the Braves are still playing, got one that he fouled back to the screen ...
... before striking out. Stutes did his job, but all three hitters have pangs of regret.
Not all one-run saves are created equal. Craig Kimbrel got to face the Phillies 7-8-9 hitters. Hey, that's not fair! But it was in a one-run game, with the entire freaking season on the line. No pressure, rookie! Don't think about how you were getting ready for homecoming five years ago. You're a closer now.
Just to make things interesting, Placido Polanco led off the ninth with a single to right field. Carlos Ruiz got Kimbrel to a 3-2 count before striking out on a ridiculous, high, and ridiculous fastball at 96-mph. The strikeout was Kimbrel's 5,000th of his career. Congratulations, Craig Kimbrel!
But Ben Francisco worked out an impressive walk.
So, so close, those pitches, but Francisco either a) used a good eye to lay off, or b) said, "Screw this. I can't hit these." We're not here to judge.
Then Jimmy Rollins worked out a walk to load the bases for Chase Utley. Credit Charlie Manuel for keeping Utley in until the end of the game, and Utley tied the game with a sacrifice fly on a 100-mph fastball.
The Braves were three outs away from playing past their 162nd game. Now things are a little fuzzy.
Jonny Venters might have the nastiest pitch in baseball. It's a 95-mph sinker from the left side, and it's completely silly. But Venters has also appeared in 163 games this season, give or take a couple, and he could be tiring.
To be fair to Fredi Gonzalez, Venters didn't pitch quite as much in the second half (45 games out of the Braves' first 81, 40 in their last 81), but that's still a pretty heavy workload. And in the eighth inning, the lefty set-up man came in to preserve a 3-2 lead against the Phillies to keep the Braves alive for what will likely be a one-game playoff against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.
Venters walked Chase Utley. He hit Ryan Howard. Then he walked John Mayberry. The bases were loaded, and even a bloop or infield squibber could have erased the Braves' slim advantage. But Venters struck out Raul Ibanez on three funky, funky pitches, and he escape the top half of the eighth with the 3-2 lead.
In the fifth inning, David Freese led off the inning with a double. He moved over to third on a ground out. Guess there was another ground out after that. Looks like that scored a run.
Ooh. It's getting interesting again.
Hudson sailed into the seventh, but he allowed a Raul Ibanez double and an infield hit to Placido Polanco with one out. Hudson does throw a pretty nasty sinker, though, and he got Carlos Ruiz to hit a double play ball ... that shortstop Jack Wilson booted. What would have been a sure double play ended up as a run for the Phillies to cut their deficit to 3-2.
Wilson was acquired from the Seattle Mariners last month, so he'd be quite the convenient scapegoat. Remember, earlier he struck out with a runner at third and one out. He was on the train to goatsville if the Phillies took the lead because of his error. Goatsville does stop in Seattle for an afternoon, where passengers can get out and enjoy some shopping before going back to goatsville. That train line is how Wilson got to Atlanta.
But Eric O'Flaherty came in to relieve Hudson, and when Hudson left the mound, he stared at Wilson and offered a fist-pump of encouragement. O'Flaherty got Shane Victorino to ground into a double play to end the top of the seventh and preserve the lead.
Jason Isbell is one of the great musicians you've probably never heard of.
He's also a huge fan of the Atlanta Braves.
Isbell routinely mentions the Braves in tweets, and references going a game in Atlanta in this song.
Maybe he'll write something about the tiebreaker his team's likely to play tomorrow.
Saaaaay. Doing anything tomorrow? Because it's looking like 162 games weren't quite enough. Oh, it's early to proclaim that with any certainty, but take a look at the awesome FanGraphs win-expectancy charts:
What those two graphs mean is that both teams are hovering around an 80% to 90% chance of winning their respective games. Why, it would be as unlikely for both the Braves and Cardinals to lose their games as it would be for two teams with a nine-game Wild Card lead in early September to blow it by the end of the month. Not bloody likely.
The Cardinals increased their lead against the Astros to 6-0 with a two-out Chris Carpenter single to score David Freese, which is probably a sign that the cosmos is pulling for the Cards, at least in this game. The Braves almost increased their lead with a Jack Wilson single, but Dan Uggla was thrown out at home by Hunter Pence, which is probably a sign that Hunter Pence has a good arm.
Hunter Pence looks like the kid who moved to a new town and latched on to Chase Utley. It appeared harmless at first, but when Principal Stanson saw the lock of hair poking out of Pence's locker, he decided to open it. He wasn't ready for what he found ...
Other than that, Tim Hudson is settling in nicely after allowing a first-inning run. With the Cardinals cardinaling the ball against an Astros team that's content to astro, his margin for error shrunk dramatically. Through six innings, he's pitched extremely well. Since the first inning, he's allowed two hits and a walk, and one of those hits was wiped out on a double play in the sixth inning.
While Charlie Manuel would love to knock out the Braves, he'd also probably like to get some of the dinged up guys like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins some rest. You might start seeing the reserves come in soon. The bad news for Braves fans: the Phillies' reserves are probably as talented as the Astros' starters.
The Cardinals started their game with the news that Atlanta had jumped ahead of Philadelphia, 3-1. No pressure, St. Louis!
But if the Cards were feeling pressure, they didn't show it right away. Jon Jay and Allen Craig hit singles to lead off the top of the first, and then Albert Pujols doubled down off the left-field wall. Remember the ball that Pujols hit against Brad Lidge in 2006? It was like that, just much lower, and he wasn't on some sort of equine creature this time. This Pujols guy might develop into quite the hitter someday.
With a 1-0 lead already, Lance Berkman roped a single to right field to score a run, and then David Freese doubled to deep, deep left field -- just to the right of the Crawford Boxes -- to score another run, making it 3-0. Then Skip Schumaker hit a single off Brett Myers's glove for the fourth run of the inning. Nick Punto hit a single to left to make it 5-0. At this point, I'm guessing Myers's inner monologue went something like this.
Huntin'. Fishin'. Golf. Huntin'. Fishin'. Golf. Huntin'. Fishin'. General jackassery. Golf. Huntin'. Fishin'. Golf...
Michael Bourn is doing lead-off things, which is a good start. Hahahahaha. Ahem. Bourn led off the first inning with a single and a stolen base, and he did the same in the third inning. But when he tried to steal third base with no one out, he was thrown out by Carlos Ruiz. Well, he was called out on the throw, even though he was safe, but he was also out when he came off the bag. The umpire was right, just for the wrong reasons.
An inning that started with first and second and no outs looked like it was fizzling out after Bourn was called out and Chipper Jones went down on strikes. But Dan Uggla -- he of hitting-streak fame -- hit a two-run home run, his 36th of the year, into the left-center field bleachers off Cole Hamels, who was in for Joe Blanton as scheduled. Told you they should have stuck with Blanton. Dude's awesome.
So is Uggla, which isn't something you would have thought you'd read back in May.
Chip Carey mentioned that Atlanta was starting a right-handed heavy lineup -- including Matt Diaz over Jason Heyward -- because Blanton stunk against right-handed hitters, which is the explanation that Fredi Gonzalez gave.That sounded like small-sample shenanigans, but, look at that, it's been true for four straight years. He really has been much better against left-handed hitters. Although, it's probably more accurate to say he has a problem with hitters, and right-handed hitters more so.
You couldn't tell about the reverse-platoon splits when Freddie Freeman was up, though. The rookie first baseman took two swings and murdered the ball twice -- one for a foul down the right-field line, and one for a lead-off double in the second inning. He looked completely comfortable. Maybe it's like a Wiley E. Coyote thing, where if he doesn't look down at the platoon splits/cliff, he doesn't fall. Or maybe, hey, Joe Blanton.
The center-field camera has its proponents and detractors, but it's sure an interesting angle to watch pitchers with a lot of movement. Tim Hudson is one of those pitchers, and the CF camera shows the sink and break of his pitches better than the traditional angle. I like it.
Jimmy Rollins -- who could be playing in his last regular-season game for the Phillies -- opened the game by seeing 10 pitches before grounding out to second. Chase Utley popped out to second on five pitches, and it looked like Hudson had a chance to get out of the inning with around twenty pitches or so and no runs allowed.
The Braves came back in the bottom-half of the inning, though. Joe Blanton's quest for a perfect game ended quickly. Michael Bourn singled, stole second, moved to third on a grounder, and scored on a Chipper Jones sac fly. And somewhere, a pundit who hasn't really read Moneyball just started a scathing article about why that philosophy doesn't work.
For the Cardinals:
Jon Jay - CF
Allen Craig - LF
Albert Pujols - 1B
Lance Berkman - RF
David Freese - 3B
Yadier Molina - C
Skip Schumaker - 2B
Nick Punto - SS
Chris Carpenter - P
A lot of players have contributed to the comeback for the Cardinals, but Chris Carpenter has been one of the most important:
Same pitcher as far as the peripherals go, but the Cardinals scored more for him in the second half, and he cut down his ERA.
J.B. Shuck - CF
Jose Altuve - 2B
Brian Bogusevic - RF
Carlos Lee - 1B
Matt Downs - LF
Jimmy Paredes - 3B
Clint Barmes - SS
Humberto Quintero - C
Brett Myers - P
Just disgraceful that Brad Mills isn't using his A-lineup against a team still in a race. It just goes against the integ ...
Oh. That is the Astros' A-lineup. I see.
But if the Braves can be happy about one thing, it's that Brett Myers is the starter rather than some rookie out of AA. It's not like Myers has had a good season, but he has his moments. of competency.
Michael Bourn - CF
Martin Prado - LF
Chipper Jones - 3B
Dan Uggla - 2B
Freddie Freeman - 1B
Brian McCann - C
Matt Diaz - RF
Jack Wilson - SS
Tim Hudson - P
Fredi G has Diaz in lineup over Heyward because of Blanton's numbers vs. LHBs, and he'll have Diaz in already when Hamels enters.
And the Phillies:
Jimmy Rollins - SS
Chase Utley - 2B
Hunter Pence - RF
Ryan Howard - 1B
John Mayberry - CF
Raul Ibanez - LF
Placido Polanco - 3B
Carlos Ruiz - C
Joe Blanton - P
Charlie Manuel isn't putting out the John Bowker Express lineup -- this is probably what the Diamondbacks, Brewers, or Cardinals will see in Game One of the NLDS. Blanton is expected to give way to Cole Hamels for a couple of innings, much to the chagrin of Joe Blanton, who has Joe Blanton on his fantasy team.
In other news, Joe Blanton is in last place in his fantasy league.
St. Louis has already made an improbable comeback to tie Atlanta in the NL Wild Card race. Can the Cardinals push past the regular season?
The Atlanta Braves are 6-11 against the Phillies in 2011. But their postseason hopes depend on the teams' final match-up of the regular season on Wednesday.
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