– MLB – Recap – Tigers at Braves – 06/19/2002

The Braves broke their little losing streak, largely due to Kevin Millwood, who was sensational for 7 2/3 before giving up a solo homer and giving way to Mike Remlinger. Kevin gave up only five hits, didn’t walk anyone, and struck out nine. He threw 108 pitches — a high number but not unreasonably so — and 80 were strikes. What I’m saying is he was on.

The Braves were only able to get two runs on five hits off of Detroit’s Mike Maroth, getting RBI doubles from Andruw in the fourth and Chipper in the sixth; they got some insurance on solo homers from Julio Franco (playing against the lefty starter; we seem to have an all-Franco platoon going) and Sheffield in the eighth. The offense does seem to have hit a rough spot.

George Lombard’s time in Atlanta is over, or will be tonight; he was traded before the game to the Tigers, of all teams. He pinch-hit last night for Detroit and flew out. I’m fairly upset by this. Lombard isn’t that much of a player, but he can help a team. Meanwhile, for essentially sentimental reasons, the Braves are holding on to guys who can’t help the team as much. Julio Franco, despite his homer last night, has been pathetic in June, hitting .220 with a .304 OBP; Wes Helms has been pathetic since day one and has hit .200, with no walks or extra base hits, in June. And then there’s Albie Lopez, getting $4 million to mostly sit around and whine about not pitching. The Braves couldn’t have done without these guys?

The Braves’ bench has been an outstanding weakness for years, and has continued to come back to bite the Braves in postseason. The biggest reason for this has been that Bobby Cox, for all his strengths, won’t cut loose veteran players who aren’t contributing, and John Schuerholz won’t force him to. Keith Lockhart (who wasn’t in danger because the Braves are short of middle infielders right now) is the latest example, but there are many others. Before Lockhart, there was Guillen; before Guillen, there was Belliard. In the mid-nineties, the Braves every year would have one veteran outfielder who hit like a backup catcher. (Look up the Braves batting records of Dave Gallagher and Dwight Smith.)

The Braves’ marquee players (currently the Joneses, Sheffield, Maddux, Glavine, maybe Furcal) and pitching depth have always been enough to overcome a weak bench in regular season play. But in postseason play, every at-bat, every pinch-runner, is magnified. Lombard isn’t great, but he’s faster than any player on the Braves’ bench by a long way. He’s a better hitter than anyone on the bench save maybe Darren Bragg (considering Matt Franco a platoon regular). Are they seriously saying that they can’t find a use for that?

The player the Braves got was a right-handed reliever, Kris Keller. Keller has one game of major league experience, then got hurt and is on the DL. (Since when can you trade players on the DL?) He’s going to Richmond when he gets healthy. Keller has a good arm but is incredibly wild, plus the development record of minor league relievers is poor. The odds of him becoming anything of note are remote; it is impressive that the Braves got that much for Lombard considering they were over a barrel.