I watched most of the game last night in Washington, when the Braves twice failed to advance the runner with a sacrifice bunt. Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Atlanta fans. It seems to me that the Braves decided at some point in the past five years that fundamental baseball isn’t that important after all. Things like moving the runner over, working the count, practicing your bunting…none of these things are crucial.
(And for the record, I am referencing things I noticed last night because, as an out of town fan, it was one of the rare occasions when I could actually watch the team play.)
Leading off the top of third inning, Braves’ catcher David Ross singled. Derek Lowe followed that up with a horrendous pop up bunt that Nick Johnson let drop, so he can nail the lead runner and put the pitcher on base. Fundamentals, people! Get the bunt down. However, Lowe didn’t do this once. He actually repeated this feat later, in the fifth inning. This time, David Ross drew a walk to lead off the inning, and Lowe managed to replicate, EXACTLY, his previous at-bat; a pop-up bunt. Now, when I say exactly, I mean exactly. I looked away for a second and when I looked back, I honestly thought they were showing a replay of his previous at bat. This time, however, the Nationals threw Lowe out at first. The relay throw to second bounced off David Ross’ helmet. Ross, ever the acrobat, cart-wheeled, then somersaulted, into a triple-back-flip with a Randolph and round off, before crashing to the outfield grass. He then gracelessly stumbled back to second base, where he was easily tagged out.
In the top of the fourth inning, Chipper Jones lead off with a triple. So, your scenario is this: lead-off runner on third, no one out. “Clean-up” hitter Casey Kotchman, or Krotchcan as he will heretofore be known, proceeded to pop one way up in the air over the infield. He throws his bat. I wish I could throw his bat too…at him. Following this epic failure, “Golden Boy” Frenchy McGee stepped in. He took an ugly “2008-style” cut at an outside pitch. He then fouled off an outside pitch. Then, he held back on a high outside pitch. (I’m detecting a pattern. I wonder if he is…) Finally, Jeff hit a weak grounder to second, which did not allow Chipper to head home. The inning comes down to free-swinging Matt Diaz. Let’s take a look inside the mind of an average Braves fan:
“If the Braves are to avoid another embarrassing waste of an opportunity, Diaz must fight the temptation to swing at everything and…oh, he swung at the first pitch. Well, that’s ok. He just needs to…what’s that? Strike two. Crap. This is sad. Why can’t we just move the guys over? Lousy Braves with there…Oh, there it is! BP fastball taken deep! All is forgiven! All praise be unto the long-ball, our holy Savior!”
Now, I realize the Braves are without their clean-up hitter, Brian McCann, who is having issues with his eyes right now, and Garret Anderson, who signed a contract with us and immediately aged forty years. (Don’t be surprised to see a DL stint at some point this year for osteoporosis). But this is an issue that has been hanging over the team for years. We all know Bobby Cox’s style is to wait on the three-run homer. Maybe he was spoiled by that 2003 team. I don’t know. What I do know is I can’t remember the last time I saw a beautiful bunt put down by a man with a tomahawk on his chest.
What we are treated to is a line-up of hackers. We have exactly three professional hitters on this team. One of them, McCann, can’t see straight. The other two, Chip and Garret, are aged and fragile. The rest of the lineup is filled with the Frenchys and the Matty D’s; guys who swing a lot, from the heels, and put up all-or-nothing at-bats. Maybe I’m just frustrated, but I just expect more out of this organization. Until they get their philosophy at the plate straightened out, I’m not sure exactly how much confidence you can have that this lineup will put together anything close to the support the starting rotation deserves.