published Thursday, September 29th, 2011

5 at 10: Fab 4, Meltdowns and the end of the road for the Atlanta Braves

From the "Drunken Moose Studios," here we go...


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    Atlanta Braves left fielder Martin Prado sits on the bench after the Braves lost 4-3 in 13 innings in a baseball game to the Philadelphia Phillies in Atlanta on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Wow, that was a crap-tastic way to end the Braves season huh? The final line will be Phillies 4, Braves 3 (13 innings), but it was so much more than that. Wednesday was the final bullet, sure, but September was torture as the Braves limped to the finish and the Cardinals were soaring.

This side of Wohlers' hanging slider in 1996 or Kirby Puckett's homer in 1991, this is arguably the Braves' most painful loss. It was an exclamation point to a lost month that doomed a fun season. Atlanta became the first team in baseball history to squander a September lead of eight or more game for a playoff spot. (The Red Sox joined that less-than-prestigious club less than two hours later.) The Braves led by 8.5 on the morning on Sept. 6; this morning they are reporting to Turner Field to turn in their gear.

The Braves led 3-2 in the ninth but closer Craig Kimbrel couldn't throw strikes and didn't hold the lead. The bullpen had been a strength all season, but like everything else in a Braves uniform, it collapsed in September, when the Braves went 9-18 and lost their last five games of the season.

Moreover, with a roster littered with youngsters and, other than Chipper, players relatively foreign to postseason success, this type of pressure-situation collapse could leave a lasting mark on several players, especially Kimbrel, who will have the entire offseason to think about Wednesday's ninth inning.

There's more to say, of course, and we have received more than one mailbag question in the last eight hours, so we'll be back on this topic on Wednesday, but right now it's just kind of stunning.

Side notes: From the ESPN folks, they had a breakdown how the final two playoff spots from a six-month-long baseball season were finalized in less than 100 minutes:

10:26 p.m. ET -- Cardinals win 8-0

11:40 p.m. ET -- Braves lose 4-3 in 13th, are eliminated

12:02 a.m. ET -- Red Sox lose 4-3 on walk-off single in 9th

12:05 a.m. ET -- Rays win 8-7 on walk-off home run in 12th, eliminating Red Sox

What next?

OK, now that the Braves are cooked, football will still occupy our weekends this month. You know this.

But during the week, during the four-and-a-half hour postseason baseball games that you know you're going to watch, we have to have a rooting interested, right? We have to have a team to support since the Braves (and Red Sox for a few of the folks around here) have decided to put a patent on late-inning errors on ground balls and blown saves in must-win games in the "er" months.

Let's examine the field:

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    Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria, center, celebrates with teammates Sean Rodriguez, left, and Elliot Johnson after his home run that defeated the New York Yankees 8-7 and clinched the AL wild card for the Rays, after a baseball game early Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

In the AL:

Yankees — Nope. Chuck Testa. (and if you have not seen the Chuck Testa clip, ((CLICK HERE)) and thank us later). That said, even though a good chunk of the 5-at-10's family is pulling for the Yankees, jumping on board with N.Y. is like pulling for the Death Star to blow up another planet.

Detroit — Nope. Chuck Testa. Who wants to see clip after clip of Jim Leyland sneaking into the shadows to get another drag off his Winston. That said, we are giddy about watching Justin Verlander pitching in postseason games.

Texas — Nope. Chuck Testa. Josh Hamilton is a good story, but if your ace is C.J. Wilson, well, good luck and enjoy your AL West championship rings.

Tampa — You betcha. We know our resident Red Sox fans may be bitter, but the small-market nature and run-and-gun approach of this club make it likeable. Plus, Joe Maddon's glasses are straight from the 23-year-old girl that behind the counter at the hip coffeehouse in town.

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    Milwaukee Brewers' Prince Fielder reacts with teammates in the dugout after his two-run home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011, in Milwaukee. It was Fielder's third home run of the game. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

In the NL:

Philadelphia — Nope, Chuck Testa. While they likely will sweep every series and may not lose another game until 2015, we're joining forces with EC and rooting against the Phils. Hard.

St. Louis — Nope. Chuck Testa. Tony LaRussa is a tuckus. That is all.

Arizona — Nope. Chuck Testa. Other than Ian Kennedy, one of the Uptons and Stephen Drew, can you name a Diamondback? (Although, as a Dodgers fan, we're stoked about seeing the 1988 World Series highlights of Arizona manager Kirk Gibson's homer.)

Milwaukee — Right on. Another small-market club. Plus, it looks like Prince Fielder is going to leave after the season, so this may be the Brewers last chance for a while.

That said, Fox TV officials would be more than a little disappointed with a Tampa-Milwaukee series. Although, here's saying that we could be convinced to root for a Yankees-Phillies series just for the drama-sake of the two best teams playing for it all.

Side note: Here's the postseason schedule.

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    LSU's Morris Claiborne (17) returns a punt for a touchdown against West Virginia during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Fab 4 (plus 1)

Izod, the guy that picks games of SportTalk, has been on fire all season. He picks one game each week and he has not missed all season. He's a good dude and has been on a torrid streak for the last season and a half.

In discussing Izod's success, friend of the show Dr. B (he's a doctor after all) made an astute point that betting one game and one game only and then moving on has served Izod well. It has, but maybe the 5-at-10 is just not that astute.

We decided to do our Fab 4 picks and that number grew by one. So it goes. Here's what we got (and yes, we're laying a lot of points this week, and we'll keep riding LSU, which is a perfect 4-0 against the spread, until the Tigers crash):

— LSU minus 30 against Kentucky

— Boise State minus 27 against Nevada

— Stanford minus 20.5 against UCLA

— Georgia minus 6.5 against Mississippi State

— This week's plus one game is Texas A&M minus 3 against Arkansas

And remember folks, this is for entertainment purposes only.

Last week: 4-1 (Stupid Notre Dame)

Season to date: 14-3-1 (Our three misses this year were: Notre Dame minus-5 against Pittsburgh last week, TCU minus 4.5 over Baylor in week 1, and Oklahoma-FSU going over 55)

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    Detroit Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (93) is seen during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

This and that

— We normally don't dabble in NFL picks, but there are a couple of attractive games on the board this week: Detroit plus 3 at Dallas, Philadelphia minus-4 against San Fran, and Atlanta minus-4 at Seattle. We'll see how these turn out.

— Here's our baseball award winners:

Cy Young: Justin Verlander (AL), Clayton Kershaw (NL)

MVP: Curtis Granderson (AL), Ryan Braun (NL)

Rookie of the Year: Eric Hosmer (AL), Craig Kimbrel (NL) — yes we saw what happened Wednesday, but Kimbrel was out-flippin'-standing all year. According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, Kimbrel had 38 consecutive scoreless apprearances — a major-league record — and finished with 126 strikeouts — a total that was more than eight opening-day starters.

Managers of the year: Joe Maddon and his awesome glasses (AL), Kirk Gibson (NL).

— In case you hadn't noticed, the NHL season is about to start and the start to the NBA season is in jeopardy. Yeah, we didn't think you would care, but we wanted to pass it along.

Today's question

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    In this Nov. 26, 2010, file photo, Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley (90) celebrates after sacking Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy (12) during an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Fairley was selected by the Detroit Lions with the 13th pick in the first round of the NFL football draft on Thursday, April 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

There are several levels of collapse. You know this. There's the individual meltdown — think Greg Norman. There is the individual meltdown in a team sport — think John Starks, Bill Buckner, Ray Finkle and Scott Norword. There is the one-game team meltdown — think the Oilers' second half against the Bills.

But a regular-season implosion is something different. It's like death by 1,000 paper cuts or a three-day long root canal or a week-long seminar that takes 45-minute breaks, which is just long enough to think about something else, but you know that stupid seminar is still out there.

So where do the Braves rank on collapse scale? Was Wednesday it the worst regular-season loss ever? And, whom do you blame?

Discuss, and we'll have our answers at 2 p.m., right before we go on 1370 AM for our weekly appearance on "The Show" with Chris Goforth.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
BIspy4 said...

Oh the culprits are many at Turner Field. I'm looking at you, Derek Lowe. And at Dan Struggla, whose hot streak got him to .235, where he stayed, meaning he hit ... .235 for the rest of the season. And at you Martin Prado, who went from .300 to .260 like a braking Italian sports car.How can a 6-5, 240-pound outfielder pull a disappearing act? Jason Heyward did. Brian McCann, bless his heart, didn't do a whole lot after coming off the DL. And Fredi Gonzalez burned out that bullpen, which I was screaming about back in May.

As for the Sox... hot water burn baby, and I'm staying away from ledges and sharp objects. Lackey stunk, Crawford under performed, JD Drew was thinking about hunting season, Youkilis was a shell of himself, the middle relief was a relief only to opposing batters and I've never seen a team run the bases any worse. They looked like Engelbert on the comebacker to the pitcher from the Yankees who held the ball and stared down his dad (the late great Vic Morrow).

How can you have two MVP caliber players (Ellsbury and AGon, who did not do a whole lot in the first of the "er" months, eith"er") and not do any better than that? 2-10 start. 8-20 finish. In between, simply sublime. But this time, the Oreo filling was surrounded by cole slaw (which I hate and I know the 5 also has no love for).

September 29, 2011 at 11:28 a.m.
jgreeson said...

From friend of the show Celtic Vol

Geez Jay the Braves loss last night was just awful. I have to say yeah, that is the Braves worst regular season loss ever. Just painful to watch. The bad thing is you knew it was coming. I have to place the blame on the Braves bats. I’m not going to blame the pitching (well a little blame has to go toward D. Lowe) because the pitching wasn’t all that bad. The Braves just couldn’t get a hit in key moments. I may be wrong but I think it all started going downhill when Jose Constanza turned his ankle trying to beat out a throw at first at the end of August. He was such a spark plug when he came up and just never really got a chance to contribute after his injury.

September 29, 2011 at 11:40 a.m.
jgreeson said...

From friend of the show McPell

It's not the worst, that would be Wohlers...This still hurts mainly because you could see it coming since Labor Day, like those slo-mo train wrecks, or when the hot chick walks into the dark house in Halloween. Gonzales hurt, McCann just plain wore out from carrying the team, Chipper aging 30 years in one season, Ugl(y)a starting at double naught, no real lead off hitter until mid-season, young bullpen over-used, 2 starting pitchers hurt, Lowe, etc. So put your Braves manager's hat on - what do you do? Trade Lowe to the Yankees? Find a new batting coach? Send Heyward to Smoltz's psychatrist? Get Uggla a new jersey? Find Chipper a bionic leg? Get Ted Simmons and his bomber's hat out of retirement? WDE, mcpell

September 29, 2011 at 1:11 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Spy —

Spot on, on both counts. And if the Braves front office is thankful for anything this mornign it's that Boston imploded just as badly and did it in a brighter spotlight.

C-Vol —

Good point on George Constanza. Dude was a ball of energy, and after he rolled his ankle that meant Heyward was forced to take his 0-for-3 with at least one K with runners on base back into right field.

McPell —

Lots of blame to go around for sure.

Here's how we rank it:

Larry Parrish, hitting coach — not only was the offense bad overall it rarely executed. The month of September was awful. There was little manufacturing runs — even with Michael Bourn getting on base and stealing bags. There were too few productive outs — how many times did guys fail to move runners up or strike out with guys on third and less than two outs. How many 1-2-3 innings did this group have, which strains your pitching staff mentally as well as physically.

Braves hitters in general — Coaching only can take so much of the blame. The offense was never as good as it should have been, and in September it was putrid.

Fredi G — Seems like a good dude, and overall he was not the biggest problem, but the way he strained the bullpen's studs turned the team's overall strength into the down fall.

Derek Lowe — From the early-season trouble with the law to the late-season trouble with the whole pitching thing, 2011 was a lost year for Mr. Lowe.

— 5-at-10

September 29, 2011 at 1:33 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

More spectacular collapses ... Braves, Red Sox, Lehman Brothers or the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (YouTube or Google it. You'll know what I'm talking about when you see it)?

September 29, 2011 at 4:03 p.m.
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