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NL notebook

Braves got a jump on swoon

Associated Press / September 30, 2011

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A franchise known for its postseason flops switched to fast-forward this time.

The Atlanta Braves went ahead and blew it before the playoffs.

Joining the Red Sox in a pair of unprecedented September flops, the Braves spent yesterday cleaning out their lockers rather than packing for an NL Division Series that seemed all but certain just a few weeks ago.

Atlanta had a 10 1/2-game lead on St. Louis in late August. The margin was still 8 1/2 games the first week of September. But the pitching faded, and the offense that had been a problem all year was finally exposed.

No wonder reliever Jonny Venters said he didn’t get much sleep after the dramatic final game, a 13-inning loss to Philadelphia that ended the season.

“I was just sitting in bed,’’ he said. “I couldn’t really believe what happened.’’

A dismal 9-18 record in the final month capped by a five-game losing streak finished off the Braves. The Cardinals claimed the wild card by a game when Atlanta closed the season with another excruciating defeat, 4-3, to Philadelphia in 13 innings after closer Craig Kimbrel - who set a rookie record with 46 saves - squandered a lead in the ninth.

“Our goal was to make the playoffs,’’ first-year manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We wanted to keep putting pennants up there [on the stadium facade].’’

The Braves have plenty of pennants at Turner Field, most commemorating an unprecedented 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005. Most people remember all the championships they failed to win. Only once during that streak did Atlanta win it all, and that was 16 long years ago.

In fairness to the Braves, they were shorthanded down the stretch. Two key starting pitchers, All-Star Jair Jurrjens (13-6) and Tommy Hanson (11-7), were sidelined by injuries. The bullpen, led by the dominant threesome of Kimbrel, Venters, and Eric O’Flaherty, lost some of its swagger. And the hitting totally shut down, averaging just over three runs a game the final month.

“Everybody started struggling at the same time,’’ Venters said. “Everything just kind of snowballed.’’

The Braves ranked 13th in the NL with a .243 average and 10th in runs (3.96 a game). They hit under .200 with runners in scoring position over that devastating final month.

“If you look at our offense for the whole year, it never clicked for whatever reason,’’ Gonzalez said.

Padres dismiss hitting coach The Padres fired hitting coach Randy Ready in the wake of a 71-91 season in which San Diego’s batters once again struggled in spacious Petco Park. Ready is the only member of Bud Black’s staff not to be invited back for 2012. Since moving into Petco Park in 2004, the Padres have fired their hitting coach four times. Additionally, Wally Joyner resigned with six games left in the 2008 season.

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