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8/31/2007 11:14:00 AM

NL East: Moan of the Braves

By Ben Reiter

“This record keeps playing,” lamented John Smoltz on Tuesday night after the Braves dropped a 4-3 decision to the Marlins in 11 innings. “It seems like we can’t find a way to win a baseball game.”

I still believe that G.M. John Schuerholz did all the right things at the July 31 trade deadline in acquiring Octavio Dotel, Ron Mahay. Royce Ring and, of course, Mark Teixeira. Teixeira has been even better than advertised, with 10 home runs and 32 RBI (with an outstanding 1.080 OPS, second best in the NL this month) since his arrival – and he’s helped the Braves rank second in the league with 159 runs scored (5.89 per game) in August. While Dotel’s on the DL and Ring’s in Triple-A Richmond, Mahay leads the team with 15 August appearances and his 1.72 ERA has contributed mightily to the ‘pen’s 3.16 ERA in the month, third best in the NL.

However, what’s doomed the Braves since the deadline – and they’re 13-14 in August and now stand five games behind the Mets in the NL East and five out of the Wild Card – has been the one area which Schuerholz could not address at the deadline: the starting staff. It appears as if Schuerholz looked at the pitiable group of starters available and decided that none would be of help to him – and he was probably right, as none of the starters who ended up being dealt has done much: Kyle Lohse has one win in five starts for the Phillies; Matt Morris has a 4.65 ERA and a 1.516 WHIP for the Pirates. And the starter whom Schuerholz traded for Dotel, Kyle Davies, has been even worse (1-3, 7.48 ERA, 1.892 WHIP).

Schuerholz hoped that his suddenly stacked relief corps would take the burden off the starters – but the starters, apart from Smoltz and Tim Hudson, have been too dreadful for the bullpen’s stellar work to have any effect. The rotation has a 5.33 ERA this month – 13th in the NL and 25th overall – and has featured Lance Cormier (5.18 ERA in August), Buddy Carlyle (6.75), Jo-Jo Reyes (8.49) and the now-injured Chuck James (8.59).

Schuerholz should not be blamed for the Braves’ dog days struggles; he did the best he could to try to get this team to win, and win now. However, if the Braves fail to make the playoffs – a scenario that becomes more likely with each passing day, as the record spins ‘round and ‘round – the onus will fall squarely on the back end of their rotation.

  • Umpire C.B. Bucknor helped the Phillies win their third straight against the Mets last night. The Mets’ faithful will unpleasantly recall this MLB Players Poll from last June.

  • Nationals fans are after team president Stan Kasten again. I guess that’s what happens when you drop seven of eight. Still, the Nats are only five wins away from assuring themselves of a sub-100 loss season, which has to count for something.

  • The Mets clearly got jealous of all the Joba/Hughes/Kennedy talk in the Bronx: now they’ve got their own young guns on the way – plus one significant old-timer.

  • Talking Chop looks at the various reasons behind Bob Wickman’s ouster from the Braves. I’d like to see Peter Moylan – the 28-year-old Australian rookie who’s quietly putting together a phenomenal season (1.93 ERA, 1.06 WHIP in 62 appearances) – get some closing opportunities.

  • While it might be hyperbolic to say that Dan Uggla has now entered the “annals of baseball lore,” as Mike Phillips of the Miami Herald writes here, it is certainly notable that Uggla’s now the second two-bagger ever to hit 25 bombs in each of his first two big league seasons. If only he didn’t field like a designated hitter.

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    posted by SI.com | View comments |  
  • Comments:

    I thought Lohse and Davies would be better....seems like we can't catch a break.
    Posted: September 3, 2007 11:35 AM   by Anonymous
    None of the starters have done much?! For those of us who realize where St. Louis is on the map have seen Walt Jocketty and Dave Duncan do it again with Joel Piniero who is probably next only to Texiera for midseason deals this year! Your supposed to write about the MLB, pay attention to the MLB!
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