Every week in my Braves update, I throw in a list of the top five positive plays from the previous week. Today, I want to examine the top five positive plays and the top five negative plays of the season thus far within their game context. Personally, I think lists like this are part of the reason WPA is such an interesting statistic.
The five best plays of the season
- April 22 at NYM – Kelly Johnson hit a 3-run homer off Aaron Heilman to give the Braves a 9-6 lead in the 8th inning (+.432). The Braves had already snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in this game. John Smoltz was cruising through five innings, and the score was tied at 1. Jeff Francoeur hit a two-run single to help the Braves go up 3-1, but Smoltz imploded in the sixth, allowing five runs to the Mets, spotting them a 6-3 lead. Edgar Renteria tied the game at 6 with a 3-run homer in the 7th inning, but Johnson’s homer with two outs in the next inning delivered the knockout blow. The Braves would win the game by that 9-6 score.
- May 8 vs SD – Edgar Renteria tripled to right off Heath Bell, tying the game at 2 in the 8th inning (+.419).Anthony Lerew was pitching a solid game, but Justin Germano had out-dueled him. Both pitchers had given way to their bullpens, and the Padres led 2-1 heading into the bottom half of the eighth. Matt Diaz led off the inning against Heath Bell with a single and gave way to pinch runner Pete Orr. Kelly Johnson replaced Orr on the basepaths after a fielder’s choice, and then Renteria tripled him in, tying the game. Andruw Jones would later drive in Renteria, and the Braves won the game 3-2.
- June 5 vs FLA (Game 1) – Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a 2-run homer off Renyel Pinto, scoring Jeff Francoeur and giving the Braves a 2-1 lead (+.392).Buddy Carlyle was pitching the game of his life in this one, but a third-inning mistake pitch to Aaron Boone and an equally great performance from Sergio Mitre had given the Marlins a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom half of the seventh inning. Mitre had been replaced after five, and Renyel Pinto was the Marlins’ second reliever in this game. Francoeur led off the inning with a single, giving the Braves a chance to tie the game on an extra-base hit, but after Scott Thorman made an out, Salty decided to give the Braves the lead. He homered, and Chris Woodward actually followed with a homer of his own. Salty’s shot was the deciding factor, however, and the Braves won the game 3-1.
- May 30 at MIL – Brian McCann cleared the bases with a 3-run double off Brian Shouse, giving the Braves a 3-1 lead in the 8th inning (+.389). David Bush and Tim Hudson were locked in a pitcher’s duel in this game, though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the 9-3 final score. A small-ball manufactured run in the Brewers’ half of the seventh gave them a 2-1 lead, and Bush gave way to setup man Derrick Turnbow for the eighth. After Matt Diaz grounded out to lead off the inning, Kelly Johnson and Willie Harris both walked, and Edgar Renteria hit an infield single to load the bases for McCann, who was hitting cleanup. With the Braves still down a run, McCann doubled in all three baserunners, providing the eventual game-winning margin. The Braves continued piling it on and won the game 9-3.
- April 4 at PHI – Scott Thorman hit a go-ahead home run off Ryan Madson in the 11th inning (+.375). The Phillies led most of the way in this one, getting a couple of runs to back Cole Hamels’ great start. Hamels pitched seven shutout innings before the Phillies’ bullpen took over, and closer Tom Gordon eventually took the mound in the ninth with a 2-0 lead. Jeff Francoeur led off the inning with a double and Brian McCann tied it with a homer. Amazingly, that play didn’t make the top five, partly because of the preceding double’s effect. Both bullpens held serve in the 10th after Gordon escaped the inning, and Scott Thorman took Ryan Madson deep in the latter’s second inning of relief. That shot proved to be the winning margin, as Bob Wickman shut the door for a 3-2 win.
The five worst plays of the season
- April 25 at FLA – Miguel Olivo doubled in two runs in the 9th inning off Bob Wickman, pulling the score closer at 3-2 (-.402). Marlins’ starter Scott Olsen couldn’t keep the Braves in the park early in this game, and he found himself down 3-0 after a trio of solo homers by Johnson, Chipper, and Matt Diaz. Other than that, he was great, and he held in and dueled Tim Hudson for eight innings before Fredi Gonzalez brought in his bullpen. Tim Hudson was still in the game to start the ninth because of a reasonable pitch count, but three straight singles forced Bobby Cox to put Bob Wickman in a tough bases-loaded situation to save the game. Miguel Olivo was the first batter he faced, and Olivo’s 2-run double left he and Aaron Boone in scoring position, ultimately causing the biggest blow in the inning. The Marlins would eventually win 4-3 after another one of the five worst plays, which happened later in the inning.
- April 22 at NYM – Jose Reyes tripled in three runs off John Smoltz, giving the Mets a 5-3 lead in the sixth inning (-.398). As you read earlier, the Braves eventually won this game, but Reyes’ huge hit off a slowly disintegrating Smoltz looked like the deciding blow, and a batter later, Smoltz had to be removed from the game. The Mets were up 6-3 after that inning and looked like a safe bet to win at the time.
- April 29 at COL – Matt Holliday hit a walk-off 2-run homer against Steve Colyer (-.361). This game was mostly back-and-forth, and neither starter was particularly strong. Kyle Davies was done after five innings and five runs, while Aaron Cook lasted just an inning longer and gave up a 5-2 lead he had built as the Braves tied it at 5. The Braves tacked on a run in each of the 8th and 9th innings before turning things over to Bob Wickman, who let the Braves’ lead escape with his control. Brian Fuentes and Tyler Yates held things in check through the tenth, and Steve Colyer entered the game for the Braves in the bottom of the 11th. After striking out Garrett Atkins, Colyer walked Todd Helton. Matt Holliday followed the walk with a dramatic walk-off homer, winning the game for the Rockies, 9-7.
- May 16 at WAS – Ryan Church hit a 3-run double off Kyle Davies to give the Nationals a 6-4 lead in the fifth inning (-.346). Neither starter was sharp in this one, but what would you expect from a Davies-Levale Speigner pitching matchup. The latter was gone after allowing four runs in as many innings, and Davies had allowed two runs of his own over the same time before things began unraveling in the fifth. Ryan Langerhans, now a National, singled to right with one out, getting the ball rolling. Jesus Flores walked, and Cristian Guzman reached on a Kelly Johnson error, loading the bases. Ronnie Belliard had an RBI groundout that was followed by a Ryan Zimmerman walk, re-loading the bags. Then, Church cleared things up with a 3-run double, chasing Davies and scoring what would be the final runs of the ballgame as the Nationals’ bullpen preserved the 6-4 win.
- April 25 at FLA – Alfredo Amezaga hit an RBI single off Bob Wickman, tying the game at 3 (-.293). After the events described in Worst Play #1, Joe Borchard was intentionally walked, and then Wickman struck out Josh Willingham, giving the Braves at least a chance to escape with a win. Unfortunately, Amezaga followed that strikeout with a single, scoring Aaron Boone from third to tie the game. Miguel Olivo would win the game on the following play by scoring on a passed ball.
So, there you have it, the top five plays each way in the Braves’ season to date. As you can see, the positive plays were bigger, so let’s hope they can keep that up for the rest of the season. I’d love to see Amezaga’s hit remain in that #5 spot through October.