Atlanta 4, St. Louis 3 – MLB – Recap – Cardinals at Braves – 04/24/2003

The Braves finished off the sweep with a remarkable game played through steady rain. Mike Hampton took a no-hitter to the sixth, but walked the pitcher leading off the inning, who scored on a triple. The Cards added another run, but the Braves rallied back to tie it in the bottom of the inning. St. Louis got a run in the seventh against Gryboski.

The Braves had runners on all night long. They had fifteen hits, at least one in every inning, but thirteen were singles, and actually left runners in scoring position in every inning but the seventh. They just couldn’t get runs home. But in the ninth, Furcal singled. Marcus Giles bunted for the third time, marking one of the very rare occasions that a man hitting .358 with a .597 slugging percentage will do that. Steve Kline semi-intentionally walked Sheffield to pitch to Chipper, but Chipper walked as well to load the bases. Tony Larussa, certified managerial genius, then brought in Cal Eldred (ERA: 7.04) to pitch to Andruw, who singled home two runs to end the game. (Actually, the hit would have been a double under any other circumstances.)

Ray King got the win for an inning of scoreless relief; Darren Holmes also had a good inning. Hampton’s outing was especially promising, though. He did walk four with only one strikeout, but he was effective and more than gave the Braves a good start.

Furcal had four hits and is now hitting .323. He’s still miscast as a leadoff hitter, but he’s producing. The Braves got two hits apiece from each Franco (Julio replaced Matt in the middle innings), from Castilla and from Estrada. It’s very hard to figure out how the 6-8 hitters can go 8-11 with a walk (by Vinny; actually, the only time he made an out I thought should have been a walk as well) and you still only score four runs.

The Braves now host Milwaukee for three. Don Sutton and Joe Simpson tried last night to pretend that the Brewers were playing well; in fact, they are 7-14, have lost their last three, and have been outscored by 38 runs this year. Actually, for the Brewers, that’s normal. At least Dud won’t seek another term as commissioner.

12 thoughts on “Atlanta 4, St. Louis 3”

  1. I’m surprised to hear that you believe Furcal is micast as a leadoff hitter. Certainly his numbers from last year, paticularly his OBP, weren’t up to snuff for the slot, but right now he is looking a lot more like the Furcal of 200O. He looks more confident and selective at the plate and on the basepaths. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit .300/.350/.400 with 30 steals.
    Not Rickey Henderson numbers, but who puts those up anymore? The only leadoff batter in the NL with an OBP over .360 was Luis Castillo. (More in the AL with Ichiro, Stewart, and Eckstein)

    If you did have Rickey in your lineup, where would you stick Furcal? I would guess #2 or #8, but I’d be interested to know what you think.

  2. Just an excuse to keep rambling;
    If Furcal had repeated his 2000 season last year, it would have made him the best leadoff hitter in MLB, IMO. I’m not saying he can repeat those numbers, but he has the potential to compete with the best leadoff hitters in the game right now.

  3. Are you suggesting that Furcal is miscast as the Braves leadoff hitter, or just as a leadoff hitter in general? In general, he probably doesn’t walk enough or work counts deep enough to be a great leadoff hitter, but I think he’s definitely the right choice for the Braves. I wouldn’t put Giles there, now. He’s our slugger now.

  4. I’d rather have Giles leading off than bunting three times in one game.

    Yes, I’m saying Furcal is miscast as a leadoff hitter generally, while still arguably the Braves’ best choice for the role. (I’d still try switching him and Giles, though.) His OBP is actually decent enough, but it’s almost all hits. Given that, I’d rather have him hitting with runners on base. The only difference between a single and a walk is advancement value, and those singles are basically the same as a walk if he’s coming to the plate with the bases empty.

    If the Braves get the power expected from the 3 and 6 spots in the order, I’d make the switch. You don’t even lose much in terms of speed, since Giles is a good baserunner. But if you have the guy with the .430 OBP hit in front of the guy with the .330 BA, I’d think you’d be better off.

    On the other hand, with Chipper’s power AWOL and the Flying Franco Brothers playing first base and hitting like Mark Grace or Wally Joyner (lots of singles and doubles but no homers) I think you probably have to leave Giles where he is.

  5. It’s very hard to figure out how the 6-8 hitters can go 8-11 with a walk … and you still only score four runs

    Strange game indeed – Sheff and Chipper come up their first three times with a runner on second, and both go down all three times.

    I posted this in the Braves newsgroup also: we should not be displeased with the three Marcus sacs. Sure, they’re frustrating within one game; but they probbly gave Marcus more protection against being benched when a slump comes than would any three home runs. Cox loves a guy who can lay down a bunt…


  6. The thing that’s so frustrating about Furcal is that he’s shown discipline in the past. He doesn’t even need to get back to the 2000 level to be worthwhile. Simply splitting the difference between his walk rate in ’00 and his walk rate in ’01-02, he’d draw 65 or 70 over the course of a season, which would turn his .275 average into an OBP of about .345 or .350. And if, by some miracle, he could actually sustain a .323 average, his OBP would push .400. But let’s not be greedy.

  7. Normally, I’d be blowing a gasket over three straight bunt attempts as well, but considering it was raining all night, one-run strategies were probably the way to go. I’m convinced that if the Braves had ever taken the lead in the middle innings, the umps would probably have called the game then and there.

    Also, it wasn’t worth attempting a steal with Furcal on a wet track and a good throwing catcher behind the plate. However, the third bunt by Giles did lead to an unintentional intentional walk of Sheffield. With Chipper slumping, that was a double play waiting to happen. Fortunately, he drew a walk, too.

    One thing I didn’t understand, though, is why not bring Smoltz into a tie game in the seventh? I know he had pitched two days in a row, but I’m positive he would have been in there for the ninth had Atlanta taken the lead in the eighth. Again, if Smoltz shuts the Cards down in the top of the seventh and the Braves score in the bottom of the inning, odds are the game is called right there.

    But it’s nice to be able to nit-pick when the team has won nine of 10 … against some pretty good teams, no less.

    P.S., the word seems to be getting out on Giles’ improved defense (i.e., it’s made its way into the announcers booth). I wouldn’t look for DeRo anytime soon…

    One last thing … when are we as Braves’ followers going to realize that Furcal’s 2000 season was a fluke? His minor league record is inconclusive (since he barely played above A ball before coming up) and he hasn’t shown that kind of ability since.

    We’re starting to sound like those people who keep saying, “If Brady Anderson would just hit like he did in ’97…” It’s possible Furcal could “re-learn” plate discipline, but I wouldn’t bet on it. As long as he hits .300, Furcal’s acceptable as a leadoff man.

    Of course, if the second slot in the order becomes “Buntus Automaticus,” I’d much rather see Furcal there than Giles. It would cost the Braves fewer extra base hits for sure.

  8. I am surprised no one has brought up the fact that our bullpen has been really bad lately, except for Smoltz. If Andruw hadn’t won the game, and we lost, then everyone would be screaming for Gryboski’s head and be complaining that the bullpen sucks. Last night, Gryboski let them take the lead, and two nights ago, Holmes couldn’t be trusted to hold a four run lead and we had to use Smoltz in back-to-back days.

  9. One last thing … when are we as Braves’ followers going to realize that Furcal’s 2000 season was a fluke? His minor league record is inconclusive (since he barely played above A ball before coming up) and he hasn’t shown that kind of ability since.

    We hold out hope because walks have been demonstrated to be the least flukey. I don’t think a .13 walk rate was his true ability, but it’s hard to believe that he was Juan Gonzalez in Jeff Bagwell’s clothing for a whole season. Mark Kotsay in Bagwell’s clothing seems more realistic, and that gives me hope that something of a bounce back is possible. Perhaps this is wishful thinking.

    As long as he hits .300, Furcal’s acceptable as a leadoff man.

    In other words, he’s not acceptable as a leadoff man.

  10. I’ll take two seasons of .320 on-base plus a muting of our expectations caused by a three-year jump in age over one year of .394 on-base.

    I’d be interested to see what opposing scouting reports say about Furcal. Since he jumped more or less straight from A ball (he did spend two weeks at AA), opposing teams probably didn’t have enough data on Furcal as a hitter to know how to pitch him in 2000 (i.e. — what pitches he would swing at, etc.).

    We should also remember that Furcal had the positive influence of fellow Latino middle infielder and on-base machine Quilvio Veras for that one great season. Since then, he’s had nothing more than Merv Rettenmund and now Terry Pendleton telling him that he needs to be more aggressive.

  11. As much as I agree that 2000 could have very well been a fluke, there is as much of a possibility that 2002 was a fluke. My point being, how can two polar opposite seasons be truly indictive of a player’s trends/tendencies? 2001, being injury shortned, must be discounted. I see the point about his hits being more productive with men on base, but I think his speed and ability to distact pitchers is a plus for the leadoff spot. And yet, I suppose that would be useful anywhere in the lineup, so I retract that last statement as I am too lazy to delete it.

  12. The roblem with suggesting that 2002 was the fluke is that it’s not isolated. His walk rate over close to 700 PA in 2002 was very similar to that he posted in 359 PA in 2001 before his injury (too many PA to just be discounted), and so far his 2003 walk rate, in 104 PA, is about the same also. That’s 1156 PA of crappy walk rate over the last three years, vs. 542 PA of good walk rate in 2000.


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