Wiedmer: Team melting like Mayfield's Braves ice cream

Wiedmer: Team melting like Mayfield's Braves ice cream

September 27th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Spying Mayfield's Braves ice cream in my grocer's freezer early Monday, I thought, "Why not?"

The Atlanta Braves appeared to need all the help they could get long before Monday night's game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

And even if they hadn't, who could resist a serving (or two) of white chocolate ice cream with ribbons of raspberry and small chunks of fudge folded in? At least it sounded like a win-win proposition.

It felt that way, too, in the early innings. Chipper Jones homered in the first. The Braves added another run in the second to lead 2-0.

Said rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman of that start: "The homer was huge. Then we came back the very next inning with another run. Everybody was feeling great. But then it all fell down."

Indeed, the Phillies did what teams capable of winning 100 games -- they are 100-60 this season -- do when challenged. They gradually fought back, scoring single runs in the fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth to win 4-2 and break Braves hearts all over the Southeast.

It was Atlanta's 16th setback in its last 24 games. It further opened the door for St. Louis -- still one game back in the wild-card race after losing in 10 innings in Houston -- to catch the Braves. It was beyond frustrating in both the lead the Braves lost and they way they lost it.

After all, it's not as if Philly had roared into this one. The coasting Phillies had lost eight of their last nine games. Had the Braves not decided to sleep through September, they might have entered this series fighting for the National League East crown instead of hoping and praying to land the wild-card berth.

Instead, they were something like 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, continuing a month in which they're below .170 in that category.

Worse yet, they now have to count on the Houston Astros, a team that has lost more than 100 games, to bail them out. And whenever the season ends, unless it shockingly ends with a champagne bath in the World Series instead of Wednesday night at Turner Field in the regular-season finale against the Phillies, one question needs asking above all others:

What has to be done for this team to hit the ball at a major league level?

Yes, the pitching could have been better on occasion down the stretch. Yes, injuries were killers, especially to starting pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. It's also not like team ace Tim Hudson (36) or Jones (39) are getting any younger.

But that still doesn't explain how inept this team has been at the plate. Hitting coach Larry Parrish was supposed to be such an improvement over longtime coach Terry Pendleton. But this team actually appears to hit the ball worse.

The Braves don't move runners over -- bases were loaded with nobody out against Washington on Sunday, and not a single run crossed the plate -- and they swing at first pitches as if it's one strike and you're out instead of three.

"Everybody is upset in the locker room," manager Fredi Gonzalez said late Monday. "But we're glad there's another game tomorrow."

There are two more games guaranteed. But even Jones -- the ultimate competitor playing Monday's final three innings in great pain after reinjuring his knee -- didn't sound too hopeful before the loss.

"Our young guys need to get out of their heads what's at stake and get into their heads what's in front of them," he said.

What's in front of them now could be a lot of golf and television watching. Maybe they could serve themselves up a bowl of Braves ice cream to make this very bitter pill of a finish a tad bit easier to swallow.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.