Guerry Clegg commentary: You never know with these Braves

sports@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 2, 2013 

If the Braves hit, they will win.

That is …

If they hit opposite field singles with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If they can get runners on base ahead of Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis.

If they turn pitchers' occasional mistakes into bombs.

So here's what the skeptic would say.

"Well, yeah, IF they hit. But they're facing the top 1-2 starting pitchers in the National League. Good luck with that."

Sure, Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke could be untouchable. If they are flat-out nasty, there's not much any lineup can do about it. The 1995 Cleveland Indians had one of the most explosive lineups in the last 50 years. Then they ran into the Braves in the World Series, with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Steve Avery. The Braves held them to a.179 batting average over six games. The Indians had more strikeouts (37) than hits (35). Afterward, Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said, "We just haven't faced pitching like that."

But as Yogi Berra said, "Great pitching will always beat great hitting -- and vice versa."

The lasting image of that World Series is of Glavine shutting out the Indians for eight innings and Mark Wohlers finishing it. But the Braves gave up two, three and two runs in their other wins. They gave up five and seven runs in their losses. If Wohlers had blown Glavine's lead (let us pause to give thanks that Jim Leyritz didn't play for Cleveland), then anything could have happened in Game 7.

Point being: Just because Kershaw and Greinke are great does not mean they are unhittable, and certainly not unbeatable.

The Braves' starting pitching of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran is good enough to hang with Kershaw, Greinke and rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu. Charles Nagy, with a 4.55 ERA in the regular season, outpitched Smoltz in Game 3 of that '95 World Series. It happens. It's baseball. (That's precisely why the one-game wild card game is ridiculous.)

But, back to the Braves' lineup. They led the National League with 181 home runs and tied the Mets for the league-lead with 1,384 strikeouts. They ranked fourth in runs scored with 688. But they were maddeningly inconsistent. They could go days without a hit with runners in scoring position.

Leaving Dan Uggla off the first-round roster helps. Not to beat up on the guy. He's said to be a consummate professional and respected teammate. Maybe he can sort out his problems in the offseason. But for now, he's a mess. Leaving him off the roster does take away some power. But he has hit one home run over his last 139 plate appearances.

The Braves don't have to score buckets of runs to win three games. They just have to score enough to turn a lead over to the bullpen after six or seven innings. The later the game gets, the better the Braves are. Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in baseball. Luis Avilan and David Carpenter are two of the best set-up men. Anthony Varvaro has been stellar in middle relief. Luis Ayala has been quietly effective. Rookies David Hale and Alex Wood are fearless. Jordan Walden has struggled since coming off the disabled list, but he was dominant before getting hurt and may be just rusty from inactivity.

It should surprise no one if they hold the Dodgers to three runs in every game.

It will also surprise no one if they waste such splendid pitching because they score three runs in all games combined.

They are, quite literally and figuratively, hit or miss.

More Guerry Clegg:

Win over LSU emotional for Georgia coach Mark Richt

Georgia Tech both good and lucky

What a difference one drive makes

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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