Stats & Info: Chipper Jones

Joneses change up outcome with homers

August, 17, 2012
8/17/12
2:41
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Chipper Jones
Jones
At 40 years old, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones should be slowing down, right?

Thursday, Jones matched his age with his 40th career multi-home run game. His second homer of the night traveled 437 feet, his longest since Aug. 31, 2011, off John Lannan (also 437 feet).

Elias tells us Jones is just the fifth player in Braves history, dating back to 1876, to have a multihomer game at age 40 or older. The others? Babe Ruth (1935, 3 HRs), Hank Aaron (1974), Darrell Evans (twice in 1989) and Julio Franco (at age 46 in 2005).

Plus, among players 40 or older whose primary position was third base, Jones' .315 batting average would be the highest in the live ball era. He's currently ahead of two Hall of Famers in Luke Appling and Wade Boggs.

It’s been quite a season for Jones, whose two blasts put him ahead of Dave Winfield for 32nd place on the all-time list.

They also gave him 2,700 career hits, good enough for fifth-most among active players.

Another Jones who made noise on Thursday was the Pittsburgh Pirates' Garrett Jones, who hit a pair of three-run homers against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Elias says the Pirates didn’t have a home run with two or three runners on base in their first 46 games this season but have had 21 three-run or grand slam home runs in their past 72 games, five more than any other major league team since May 27.

Thursday marked Garrett Jones’ fifth multihomer game of his career. His first-inning home run came off a changeup from Joe Blanton, a pitch he has had success against this season.

Garrett Jones is hitting .340 in at-bats ending with changeups, including six home runs, tied for second-most in the majors.

It’s been a season of change for the Pirates given they are 12 games above .500 and holding on the second NL wild-card spot. After all, the Pirates haven’t had a winning season or made the playoffs since 1992.

The Pirates also haven’t had a 15-game winner since Todd Ritchie in 1999. The 12-year drought tied the longest in major league history with the Rays from 1998-2009.

That all changed Thursday thanks to A.J. Burnett, who recorded his second 15-win season of his career and first since 2008, when he won 18 games.

The Pirates are now 18-4 in Burnett's 22 starts this season, giving them a win percentage of just under 82 percent.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that would tie the highest single-season mark by any starter in Pirates franchise history.

Sheets ahead of the curve in his return

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
10:17
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Ben Sheets has used his curveball in his successful return to the big leagues this season.
The Atlanta Braves finish up a three-game series in Queens against the New York Mets on "Sunday Night Baseball" (ESPN, 8 ET), with Atlanta's Ben Sheets and New York's Jonathon Niese squaring off.

Sheets has been quite a story in his return to the majors this season. After not pitching since July 2010, and undergoing surgery to repair his whole elbow, he returned on July 15, when he held these Mets to two hits, striking out five and walking just one in six shutout innings.


Sheets has kept his curveball out of the middle of the strike zone this season.

The Braves are 4-1 in his five starts this season, all quality starts. He’s done it with his familiar curveball.

Opponents are hitting just .159 against his hook this season, with 14 of 44 at-bats ending in a strikeout. Ten of the strikeouts have come on pitches outside the strike zone.

As you can see in the heat map on the right, he’s keeping it out of the middle of the strike zone. Opposing hitters chase more than 40 percent of his curveballs out of the zone (MLB average is 28 percent) and miss almost a third of their swings against the pitch (MLB average is 30 percent).

When Sheets gets ahead of hitters 0-2, more often than not he’s going with the curveball. He throws it almost 70 percent of the time and hitters are just 1-for-11 against it in 0-2 counts (hitters are 1-for-3 against his fastball in the same situation).

Overall, he’s allowed just two extra-base hits, struck out 14 and walked none with the curveball this season.

Before signing with the Braves, Sheets last pitched in the big leagues in 2010 with the Oakland Athletics. That year he relied mainly on his fastball, but this year he’s using his cutter more. That’s helped with his control; he’s cut his walk rate nearly in half.

STATS TO WATCH
• Chipper Jones has hit 49 career home runs against the Mets, tied with Mike Schmidt for the second-most against them. Willie Stargell hit 60 against New York in his career.

• The Braves have won seven straight games over the Mets, their longest win streak against New York since winning eight straight during the 2009 season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMelky Cabrera homers in the fourth inning of the 83rd All-Star Game in Kansas City to help the NL win its third straight over the AL.
Tuesday's Midsummer Classic was a big All-Star showcase for the city of Kansas City but the spotlight was stolen in a Giant way.

In the biggest shutout win for the National League ever, Melky Cabrera became the first Giants player to be named All-Star Game MVP since Bobby Bonds in 1973. Bonds also did so in a game played in Kansas City. Teammate Pablo Sandoval delivered the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star Game history to blow the game open in the first inning and Matt Cain was the first Giants pitcher to win an All-Star Game since Vida Blue in 1981.

But Cabrera stole the show in what was the second biggest shutout in All-Star history (the AL won 12-0 in 1946). He is the sixth player with 2+ hits and 2+ RBI in an All-Star game, all as a CF.

The others are are notable bunch: Stan Musial (1949), Joe DiMaggio (1949), Mickey Mantle (1955), Ken Griffey Jr (1992) and Ichiro Suzuki (2007).

Cabrera also became the 10th Latin-born All-Star Game MVP and the first since Miguel Tejada in 2005. The first Latin-born All-Star Game MVP was also a Giant, Juan Marichal.

OTHER SHINING STARS

Ryan Braun became the fifth player with a double and triple in the same All-Star Game joining are Hall-of-Famers Earl Averill (1934), Willie Mays (1960), Mike Schmidt (1979) and George Brett (1983). It was a nice rebound for the reigning NL MVP who was 0-4 vs Justin Verlander in regular-season play and had struck out against Verlander in the fifth inning of the 2010 All-Star Game.

The Elias Sports Bureau confirmed that this was the third time that reigning MVPs went head to head in a batter-pitcher matchup in an All-Star Game and Braun's double was the first hit in such a matchup.

Chipper Jones
In his final All-Star appearance, Jones became the first 40-year-old to get a hit in an All-Star Game since Cal Ripken Jr. in 2001.

The two older NL players with a hit in an All-Star Game were Stan Musial (1962 at 41 years and 231 days old) and Pete Rose (1981 at 40 and 117).

Derek Jeter
Now has 11 career hits in the All-Star Game, the most of any Yankee. Mickey Mantle had 10.

Rafael Furcal
The only other St. Louis Cardinals player to triple in an All-Star Game was Hall-of-Famer Enos Slaughter.

Bryce Harper
By pinch-hitting in the fifth inning, the 19-year old became the second youngest to play in an All-Star game (Dwight Gooden was the only one younger).

Mike Trout
The Angel delivered a single in the sixth inning, becoming the third-youngest player with an All-Star hit at 20 years and 339 days. Those younger: Al Kaline (20-205 in 1955) and Claudell Washington (20-318, 1975). He also swiped a bag against R.A. Dickey, who hadn't allowed an stolen base all season.

NL Pitchers
Eleven National League pitchers led by Matt Cain combined to allow six hits with seven strikeouts. Thirty NL pitchers have combined to allow just two runs over their last three All-Star Games.

Finally, the Elias Sports Bureau tells us Ron Washington has the dubious distinction of joining Bobby Cox as the only managers to lose the World Series, then lose next season's All-Star Game, then lose that season's World Series, then next season's All-Star Game, all in that order. Cox lost the 1991 and 1992 World Series and the 1992 and 1993 All-Star Games.
Roy Oswalt spent the first few months at home before signing with the Texas Rangers at the end of May. He won his first two starts, but Tuesday night was a different story.

The Chicago White Sox greeted Oswalt with three home runs in the first inning and never looked back, winning the game 19-2. Oswalt allowed 11 runs, nine of them earned -- both career highs -- and tied his career high allowing 13 hits. By all accounts, it was his worst start in his major league career.

The Rangers allowed at least 19 runs for the second time this season. The two-time defending AL champs don’t have history on their side -- the last team to allow 19 runs at least twice in the same season and win the World Series was the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics.

Chris Sale
Sale
White Sox starter Chris Sale, one of the front-runners to start the All-Star game, was staked to a 7-0 lead after two innings. From the third inning on, he threw more than two-thirds of his pitches in the strike zone. In the first two innings, fewer than half of his pitches were in the zone.

Rangers hitters went 2-for-15 in at-bats ending with his fastball. Ten of the 15 balls in play (67 percent) against Sale's fastballs were grounders, well above his season average (below 50 percent).

Elsewhere around the majors:
• Chipper Jones went 5-for-5 with four RBIs in the Atlanta Braves win over the Chicago Cubs, his third career five-hit game and first in almost 10 years. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s just the fifth player in the past 25 years with a five-hit game in his forties.

Jones had a five-hit day despite taking only six swings. He's the 11th player this season with a five-hit game but the second to do it on only six swings (no one has done it with five). Jones hit three balls classified as line drives, a season high for him.

• The Philadelphia Phillies lost their sixth straight game -- their second six-game losing streak this season -- to fall to 10 games below .500 for the first time since July 22, 2002.

• On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Pirates got a walk-off home run from Drew Sutton to improve to 44-36. It’s the first time they’ve been eight games over .500 since the last day of the 1992 season. That’s the last time the Pirates made the playoffs and the last season in a Pirates uniform for Barry Bonds.

• Aramis Ramirez hit his sixth career walk-off home run to give the Milwaukee Brewers their sixth walk-off win of the season, tied for the most in the major leagues (with the Pirates, among others). It’s the third straight walk-off home run for Ramirez that has come in extra innings.

• Finally, there were 183 runs scored across MLB on Tuesday, the highest-scoring day in the majors this season.

Bourn's defense, WAR make his case

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
11:45
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A statistical look at the Final Vote candidates in the National League:

Michael Bourn
Michael Bourn
Bourn

Bourn’s .350 on-base percentage ranks third among NL center fielders, he’s saved 12 runs defensively (leads NL OF) and his 22 stolen bases are tied for second in the majors. He ranks fourth among NL position players with 3.7 Wins Above Replacement this season.

David Freese
Among qualified NL third basemen this season, Freese ranks second in OPS (.808), HR (13) and RBI (48). In that third baseman group, only David Wright (an All-Star reserve) has a higher batting average and slugging percentage than Freese.

Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper
Harper

Harper is on pace for 500+ plate appearances as a 19-year-old this season. He currently has a .819 OPS. Only nine teenagers in modern major league history have even had 500+ plate appearances in a single season. Only one of those players finished with an OPS higher than Harper’s (Hall of Famer Mel Ott, .921 OPS in 1928).

Aaron Hill
Among MLB second basemen this season, Hill ranks in the top three in average (.300), on-base percentage (.360), and slugging (.512). Hill has been an All-Star before, but this season he's at career high levels in slugging and OPS (.872).

Chipper Jones
Chipper Jones
Jones

When healthy, Jones has been one the league’s most productive third basemen this season. His .375 on-base percentage ranks third among all 3B (min 150 PA) this season. Only three third basemen, age 40 or older, in modern MLB history finished with a higher OBP than Jones (Wade Boggs .377 in 1999, Davey Lopes .381 in 1986, Luke Appling .423 in 1948).

Scott Rovak/US PresswireCarlos Beltran is one of the reasons the Cardinals lead the National League Central this season.
(The Los Angeles Dodgers host the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday at 8 ET on ESPN)

The post-Albert Pujols era is in its first season in St. Louis, and right now the Cardinals do not appear to miss the second-most prolific home run hitter in franchise history.

In fact, the Cardinals are in first place in the National League Central thanks in part to some savvy offseason moves.

Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal have been two of the three most effective free agent signings. Beltran’s 1.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is tied with Kelly Johnson for the highest this season among 2012 free agent signings. Furcal is third with a 1.8 WAR.

In fact, Beltran and Furcal are part of an interesting 2012 trend: rejuvenation of older players once thought to be done.

• Carlos Beltran (35) Leads NL in home runs (hasn’t hit 30 HR since 2007)
• Rafael Furcal (34) .351 BA ranks 4th in NL (.231 BA in 2011; didn’t play 100 games in either of last 2 seasons)
Derek Jeter (37) .355 BA ranks 3rd in AL (hit .282 in previous 2 seasons)
David Ortiz (35) 3rd in AL in OPS and 4th in BA (hit .257 from 2008-10)
Paul Konerko (36) .367 BA is 2nd in AL (hit .240 in 2008)

Beltran has 13 home runs through 40 games, the most he’s ever hit in his team’s first 40 games. (Before 2012, the most HR Beltran hit in his team’s first 40 games was 11 in 2004.) In addition to leading the National League in home runs, Beltran ranks fifth in OPS (1.036).

He’s also two stolen bases from becoming the eighth player in major-league history with 300 HR and 300 stolen bases. With a .861 career OPS, he’d join Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds as the only 300-300 players with an .850 OPS.

As good as Beltran has been, Furcal has been just as impressive. He’s hitting .400 this month, which is the fourth-highest NL average in May behind David Wright (.436), Andrew McCutchen (.420) and Carlos Ruiz (.411) Furcal also is one of the best NL hitters with two strikes. His .293 average with two strikes is third in the National League.

One part of Furcal’s success is that he isn’t so pull happy. Last season, Furcal pulled 42 percent of all balls that he put in play. In 2012, that percentage is down to 34 percent.

Furcal and Beltran are also two of the most prolific active switch hitters. Beltran ranks third among active players with 1,956 hits and Furcal is sixth with 1,739.

Jones, Giambi still Chipper after turning 40

May, 3, 2012
5/03/12
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Roy Halladay allowed eight earned runs and 12 hits in six or fewer innings for just the fourth time in 358 career starts, but the history books were rewritten hours after he left the game.

Since the Philadelphia Phillies rallied to force extra innings, Halladay remained 69-0 in his career when staked to a six-run lead. Wednesday was only the second time that he blew a six-run lead. On April 25, 2002, he blew a 6-0 lead for the Toronto Blue Jays before earning a no-decision in a loss to the Texas Rangers.

The game ended in the bottom of the 11th when Chipper Jones hit a two-run walk-off home run to give the Atlanta Braves a 15-13 victory. It was the eighth walk-off homer of his career and first since 2006.

Jones joined Jason Giambi, who hit a walk-off home run earlier in the afternoon for the Colorado Rockies. With that combination, Elias cracked open the record books to discover a pair of firsts and close-but-not-quite scoring fact.

It was the first time in major-league history that two players who had already hit 400 home runs hit walk-off home runs on the same day.

With Chipper turning 40 last week, today was also the first time that a pair of 40-year-olds hit walk-off homers on the same day. The last time that two 40-year-old players hit walk-off home runs in the same season was 1986, when Hal McRae and Davey Lopes pulled it off.

With the teams combining for 28 runs, it tied the second-highest scoring game to end with a walk-off home run in major-league history. In 1925, Ty Cobb did the honors as the Detroit Tigers beat the Chicago White Sox 16-15.

It was the first time that both teams in a Phillies-Braves game scored at least 13 runs since the Braves moved to Atlanta … or even Milwaukee. On July 6, 1934, the Boston Braves beat the Phillies 16-13.

Around the Diamond
• Carlos Ruiz entered the game with 10 RBI on the season, before driving in a career-high seven runs in the losing effort for the Phillies.

• Ruiz wasn’t the only player to drive in a career-high seven runs on Wednesday. Carlos Beltran hit two home runs and drove in seven runs – in the first three innings – as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates.

• In that game, A.J. Burnett became the first starting pitcher in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to allow 12 or more earned runs while recording less than nine outs. Before Vin Mazzaro did so out of the bullpen for the Oakland Athletics last year, no pitcher had fared so badly since 1948.

Price changes speed to down Angels

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
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Kim Klement/US PresswireDavid Price tossed his second career shutout against the Angels on Tuesday.
David Price tossed his second career shutout as the Tampa Bay Rays downed the Los Angeles Angels 5-0 on Tuesday. It was his first complete game since July 2, 2010, a stretch of 52 starts without completing a game.

Facing an Angels’ lineup that did not feature a left-handed hitter, Price relied on his changeup. He recorded a career-high 10 outs on at-bats ending with the pitch. After throwing only 39 changeups among 296 pitches in his first three starts, 29 of his 119 pitches on Tuesday were changeups.

Success with the changeup also helped Price with his fastball. Angels’ hitters were 1-for-15 in at-bats ending with a fastball. In his first three starts this season, batters hit .225 with one home run against Price’s heat.

In his previous starts this season, Price had trouble retiring hitters after getting to two strike counts. Entering Tuesday’s game, opponents were 9-for-36 with two strikes against Price. On Tuesday, the Angels were 0-for-13 with two strikes.

Around the Diamond – Home Run Edition
• Chipper Jones turned 40 today, and hit a home run on his birthday for the fifth time in his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that ties Alex Rodriguez and Todd Helton for the most homers on a player’s birthday among active players.

• Two of the three shortest home runs of the season were hit Tuesday night. B.J. Upton hit the left-field foul pole for a round-tripper that traveled 323 feet. That’s the shortest ball to clear the fence so far this season. Matt Wieters hit a home run that shouldn’t even have cleared the fence – it flew 345 feet before bouncing off Eric Thames' glove and into the stands.

• One player who hasn’t been hitting home runs this season is Albert Pujols. Pujols went 0-for-4 for the Angels in their loss at the Rays. Dating back to last season, he has gone 23 games without a homer. That’s the second longest drought of his career, behind only a 26-game streak last season.

He has gone 69 at-bats this season without going deep, the fifth-longest run of at-bats without a home run in a single season in his career. Among players who changed teams after hitting 400 or more home runs with one team, only Willie McCovey went longer before hitting a homer for his new team.

Dan Braunstein contributed to this post.

Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCarlos Beltran is headed to St. Louis after reportedly agreeing to a two-year deal with the Cardinals.
After spending the past seven seasons on the East and West Coast, Carlos Beltran is headed back to the Midwest. Beltran agreed to a two-year deal with the world champion St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, according to sources. The six-time All-Star batted .300 and hit 22 home runs with 84 RBI last season with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.

This will be Beltran's second stint with a team in the state of Missouri. He spent seven seasons with the Kansas City Royals winning Rookie of the Year in 1999.

While he’s no longer a borderline MVP-candidate, Beltran’s track record of productivity can be matched by few in the National League since 2005. Beltran ranks sixth in the NL among position players in Wins Above Replacement over that span.

Besides his offensive and defensive skills, Beltran has a history of excelling in the postseason. No player in MLB history with a minimum 75 plate appearances has a higher OPS in the postseason than Beltran's 1.302.

With Beltran joining the Cardinals, St. Louis now has the two best offensive switch-hitters in the majors from last year. Lance Berkman's OPS was .959 last season while Beltran's was .910.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Athletics traded All-Star pitcher Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals for four prospects according to sources. The Nationals receive pitchers Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Tom Milone and catcher Derek Norris. Gonzalez had a career best in wins (16), ERA (3.12) and strikeouts (197) last season, but also led the league in walks (91).

Few pitchers have provided a greater value for the dollar than Gonzalez. Over the last two seasons, 13 pitchers have won at least 30 games. Of those, Gonzalez has been the most cost-effective option, earning $26,613 for every win since 2010.

Gonzalez is under team control through 2015, but he's about to get more expensive. MLBtraderumors.com projects a $4.2 million salary in 2012, the first of Gonzalez's four arbitration-eligible years.

With the acquisition of Gonzalez, the Nationals now have three pitchers (Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann) who will all be age 26 or younger in 2012. They join two other franchises (Braves, Diamondbacks) who have at least three starters – all of whom were 25 or younger in 2011 - who posted a cumulative ERA better than 4.00 since the start of the 2010 season.

Evan Longoria's amazing season continues

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
11:43
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AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Evan Longoria celebrates with teammates after hitting the game-winning HR (his second of the night) as the Tampa Bay Rays won the American League Wild Card berth.

Evan Longoria had a heck of a season for a guy who finished the year with a .244 batting average for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Boston Red Sox may have collapsed, but Longoria was as responsible for carrying his team as any player has been all season.

Longoria’s second home run of the game Wednesday night – a walk-off with one out in the 12th inning against the New York Yankees that gave Tampa an 8-7 win and the AL Wild Card berth – was his fourth career walk-off HR and second of this season. Longoria's HR is the sixth game-ending HR in MLB history which clinched a postseason berth, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Here’s a closer look Longoria’s 2011 season:

• All 31 of his HR hit came with the score tied, or within four runs, one way or the other.

• The last 10 home runs he hit during the regular season either tied a game, gave the Rays a lead, extended a lead of one or two runs, or cut a deficit to a run.

• Longoria had four home runs in the eighth inning or later that either tied a game or put the Rays ahead. Only two players in MLB had more -- Jose Bautista with six, and Jay Bruce with five.

• In the two-week stretch from September 15 to the end of the season, Longoria faced a two-strike situation 32 times. He reached nine times via hit and seven times via walk, giving him a two-strike on-base percentage of .500 (MLB average for the season was .247). He also reached base via error once.

• Despite missing 29 games, Longoria entered the final day of the season fifth in the major leagues in Defensive Runs Saved among third basemen with 12.

A chronology of some of Longoria's biggest moments down the stretch:

September 15-18 - Longoria was 6-for-15 with two home runs and seven RBI as the Rays won three of four games in Fenway Park from the Red Sox. In the game the Rays lost, Longoria homered, singled, walked twice, and made an amazing catch on a Dustin Pedroia line drive that turned into a double play in the seventh inning, with the Rays down a run.

September 27 - With the Rays down 3-2 in the sixth inning against the Yankees, and the bases loaded with nobody out, Longoria starts a 5-4-3 triple play to get the Rays out of a jam.

Then, in the seventh inning, facing an 0-2 count, Longoria fouls off three pitches (including two well out of the strike zone) and works out a walk from Rafael Soriano. The next batter, Matt Joyce, hits a home run that propels the Rays to a 5-3 win.

September 28 - Longoria helps the Rays rally from a 7-0 deficit. He hits a three-run home run to cut the lead to 7-6 in the eighth inning. Then, he hits a walk-off home run to win the game and clinch the wild card in the 12th inning.
The National League Wild Card race goes to the final day with the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals tied at 89-72. The Braves entered Tuesday with a one game lead in the Wild Card, but lost 7-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies, while the Cardinals scored 13 of the game’s final 14 runs against the Houston Astros in a 13-6 win.

In Wednesday’s Wild Card madness, Atlanta’s Tim Hudson gets the call at home against the Phillies (7 ET on ESPN2). Over the last two years, Hudson is 21-9 with a 2.38 ERA at home, including a 2.29 ERA there this season. Last year, Hudson pitched in the final game of the regular season, when the Braves clinched a playoff spot. He allowed four ER in seven IP and got the win over the Phillies.

Chris Carpenter will start for the Cardinals against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, where he has not won since September 3, 2005 (he’s made five starts in Houston since that last win). If both teams are still tied after Wednesday, a one-game tiebreaker would be Thursday at Atlanta.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since 1995, 13 different teams have clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the postseason, not including regular season playoff games. The biggest September deficit ever overcome by a team that made the postseason was 8½ games by the 1964 Cardinals, who went on to win the World Series. The 2011 Cardinals were 8½ out after games of September 5.

Story to Watch
The Braves were 81-55 through September 1 and seemingly in command of the NL wild card race, with an 8½ game lead over the Cardinals. They were leading the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 at home on September 2, but blew the game, losing 8-6. That started their collapse.

What’s gone wrong for the Braves and who’s to blame? Well, Atlanta is struggling against left-handed pitching during its September to forget. The team is hitting .231/.263/.332 against left-handed pitching this month. The Phillies will start the right-handed Joe Blanton but lefty Cole Hamels is expected to pitch in relief.

Those who were reliable in the Braves bullpen in the first five months of the season have not been in the final month. Jonny Venters has a 6.08 ERA since August 26. Craig Kimbrel has a 6.75 ERA since September 9.

Key Stats
Chipper Jones has hit a wall. He’s 8-for-41 (.195) in his last 12 games. Brian McCann is hitting .180 in 36 games since coming off the DL in mid-August.

With a win, the Phillies would set a franchise record with their 102nd win of the season.

Story to Watch
The Cardinals looked to be out of the Wild Card race, but have won 15 of 19, including a 3-game sweep of the Braves, to move into a tie for the NL Wild Card lead. What’s gone right for St. Louis?

Albert Pujols has looked like the Albert Pujols we’ve come to expect at this time of the season. He’s hitting .363 (fifth-best in the NL) with five HR and 19 RBI (tied for fifth-most in the NL) in September. Pujols had one of the biggest hits for the Cardinals, a two-run game-tying single with two outs in the ninth inning of the series opener against the Braves, a game the Cardinals would win in extra innings.

Key Stat
Pujols is hitting .300 with 98 RBI. He has never finished a season batting under .300 (he will do so with a 1-for-4 or worse Wednesday if the season ends) or with fewer than 100 RBI.

NL Pennant Race Panic Meter

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
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Just a few weeks ago the Atlanta Braves appeared to have a playoff spot locked up. After a 5-2 win over the Washington Nationals on September 1, the Braves were a season-high 26 games over .500 at 81-55 and owned a 8 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card race.

The next night they were leading the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 at home, but blew the game, losing 8-6. That started their collapse, as they have gone 8-15 since then, which is the worst record in the NL starting on September 2.

So what’s gone wrong and who’s to blame on the Braves?

The Braves are struggling against left-handed pitching during their September to forget. The team is hitting .240/.276/.323 against left-handed pitching this month, and have lost four of six games started by southpaws.

A number of Braves position players have struggled since the start of the month. Chipper Jones is 3-for-22 with five strikeouts in his last seven games. Since coming off the DL in mid-August, Brian McCann is hitting .174 with a sub-.300 OBP.

The Braves have been hindered by injuries to two of their top starting pitchers - Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson – while veteran Derek Lowe is 0-4 with an 8.24 ERA in his last four starts.

The bullpen that was so reliable in the first five months has been unstable in the finals weeks. Jonny Venters has a 5.84 ERA since August 23, and Craig Kimbrel has a 6.75 ERA since September 9. The bullpen has five blown saves this month, only the Cubs and Mets have more.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cardinals playoff hopes appeared to be on life support just a few weeks ago. Following a 4-1 loss to the Brewers on September 5, the Cardinals trailed by 8 games in the Wild Card race.

Since then they have won 14 of 18, including a three-game sweep of the Braves. They have the best record in the NL starting on September 6 and have pulled to within one game of the Wild Card lead.

So what’s gone right for the Cardinals during their recent hot streak?

Matt Holliday missed nine games with an injured hand, but Allen Craig stepped up in his place. Craig has started eight of those nine games, and is hitting .281 with six extra-base hits, including three home runs.

Albert Pujols has looked like the Albert Pujols we’ve come to expect at this time of the season. He’s hitting .374 with five homers and 19 RBI in September, ranking among the league leaders this month.

The Cardinals have also gotten an unexpected offensive boost from shortstop Rafael Furcal. After hitting one home run in 37 games with the Dodgers, he’s hit seven in 48 games with the Cardinals. All seven of his homers have come with the score either tied or within two runs.

The Braves finish up with three home games against the Philadelphia Phillies, who have the majors' best record, while Cardinals face the league's worst team, the Houston Astros, in their final three games.
The San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves open a four-game series in Atlanta at 7 ET on Monday Night Baseball on ESPN.

San Francisco makes its first trip to Atlanta since clinching the 2010 National League Division Series over the Braves, which began the Giants' march to the World Series title.

Chances are if this game is close late in the game, the winning team just might close out the game in its final at-bat. Among all National League teams, the Braves (20) and Giants (18) have the most wins in their last at-bats this season.

On the mound

Madison Bumgarner takes the mound for San Francisco, hoping this turn on the hill is much better than the last time he faced the Braves. On April 22, Bumgarner allowed four runs (three earned), four hits, two walks and two strikeouts in only 2⅔ innings of work in a 4-1 loss.

A major key to success for Bumgarner has been getting through the third inning without too much damage, something he didn’t do back in April (allowed all four Atlanta runs to score). In innings 1-3, Bumgarner has allowed 42 ER in 69.0 IP (5.48 ERA). But in innings 4-9, he has allowed just 15 ER in 76⅓ IP (1.77 ERA).

Tim Hudson will take the mound for Atlanta. In his past six starts against the Giants, Hudson is 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA, and in his past three starts against San Francisco, he’s allowed only four earned runs in 23⅔ innings.

Hudson thrives with David Ross behind the plate, winning nine of 10 decisions this season. Ross has served as Hudson’s personal catcher since June 15, well before Brian McCann was injured, and the numbers demonstrate exactly why that move was made.

Matchups

As a member of the Philadelphia Phillies from 2006 to 2007, Aaron Rowand hit .315 with a .368 on-base percentage and .454 slugging percentage in 29 games against Atlanta. However, since joining the Giants, Rowand is hitting only .250 with two HRs with a .316 OBP and .426 slugging percentage in 21 games against the Braves.

Dan Uggla went 0-for-3 in the Braves' 6-5 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, snapping his 33-game hitting streak. Uggla was struggling before the streak began, hitting only .173 (he raised his average to .232 before the streak ended). Since 1900, among single-season hit streaks of at least 30 games that did not begin the season, Uggla had the fourth-lowest BA.

Stat of the game

This stat comes courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau: Atlanta’s Chipper Jones has not walked in his past 53 plate appearances. That’s the longest such streak of his career; his previous high was 49 plate appearances without a walk in June 1995 (his rookie season).
The New York Mets appeared headed for just their third three-game road sweep in Atlanta since 1990 when they entered the bottom of the ninth inning leading 8-6.

However the Atlanta Braves stormed back with two runs in the ninth before scoring the game-winning run in the 10th inning in a rather unconventional way -- on a game-ending balk by D.J. Carrasco.

It was Carrasco's fourth career balk, but first coming since 2005 when he had three. For the Mets it marked just their second loss by a game-ending balk in franchise history. The other came back in 1989 against the Dodgers.

While Carrasco goes home the goat, the biggest blow of the game came in the bottom of the ninth inning when Brooks Conrad hit a pinch-hit two-run home run to tie the game. It was Conrad's fifth game-tying or go-ahead pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning or later since 2009. That leads all players in the majors during that span.

Conrad became the first Braves pinch-hitter since Greg Norton on September 14, 2008 to hit a game-tying or go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later against the Mets. He was the fourth Braves player to do so since 2000.

Chipper Jones also homered Thursday night, the 47th of his career against the Mets. Elias tells us the only active players with more than 47 career homers against any National League team are Albert Pujols (51 against the Chicago Cubs) and Lance Berkman (50 against the Cincinnati Reds).

Despite the loss, Jose Reyes continued his strong play picking up three hits while surpassing the 100-hit mark for the season. He did so in the Mets 69th game played setting the franchise record for fewest team games needed to reach 100 hits. He broke the record of 72 games previously held by Lance Johnson.

Reyes also picked up his 12th triple of the season in just 66 games played. That matched his total from the last two seasons combined (169 games).

Elsewhere around MLB:

Cliff Lee
Lee
• Cliff Lee threw a two-hit shutout Thursday as the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Florida Marlins, the sixth shutout thrown by a pitcher in the past three days. Lee also got it done with the bat pounding out two hits. According to Elias he was the first Phillies pitcher to allow two or fewer hits in a shutout performance while stroking a pair of hits with the bat since Steve Carlton did it against the Cubs in October of 1980.

• The Pittsburgh Pirates improved their season record to 35-33 with a win against the Houston Astros. Elias passes along this gem. Since beginning of its streak of consecutive losing seasons in 1993, Pittsburgh has been two games over .500 this far into a season in only two other years: 1997 (latest: 67-65) and 1999 (latest: 40-38).
Chipper Jones
Jones
Chipper Jones -- who named his son Shea because of how well he played in the New York Mets' old stadium -- led off the eighth inning with a home run to spark the Atlanta Braves to a comeback win at Citi Field.

It's his 46th career home run against the Mets, the fourth-most all-time against the franchise. He broke a tie with Hank Aaron on that list, giving him the most home runs by a Braves player against the Mets.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Mets have led in the seventh inning or later in EACH of their past six home losses. That sets a major-league record.

Dating to May 16, the Mets have been outscored 29-3 after the sixth inning in those six home losses.

The loss drops the Mets to 20-5 this season when leading entering the eighth inning; they were 66-5 in that situation ALL of last season.

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