Watching things come full circle is a part of life and naturally when one door closes the next one opens. We make decisions and judgements that we feel are best at the time and sometimes down the road we look back and second guess our decisions or maybe even regret them all together. However at the end of the day some decisions can be quickly reversed, others take time to correct and others are permanent and mold our lives forever.
Baseball in a sense is no different. Although baseball doesn’t necessarily have the ramifications of life, the comparisons are similar enough that you can see the point I’m trying to make. Trades, free agent signings and in game management decisions can shape a franchise for the short term, the long term and somewhere in between.
When things come full circle we are sometimes angry with the result, other times we’re thrilled with it and then there’s times when we’re just flat out confused by what has happened. Last night Juan Uribe ended the Braves season with one swing of the bat. Everything from the winter meeting moves of bringing in the Upton brothers, getting off to a red hot stat in April, to over coming horrific injuries, came down to one swing of the bat. The Braves season of 162 games of battling it out each and every night for 6 full months will be summed up by a hanging slider by David Carpenter that was crushed over the left field fence to give the Dodgers a 4-3 advantage in the 8th inning of game 4.
But what will get lost in this translation is that the Atlanta Braves over came many obstacles this season and over all had a season to be very proud of. If you’re someone who believes that it’s World Series or bust each season or as Billy Beane would say “If you don’t win the last game of the season then no one gives a crap”, that’s fine but you will end up disappointed a great majority of the time if not every time in the case of some fan bases who have had entire generations come and go since their teams have won the World Series ( Chicago Cubs )
There is something to be said about the Braves winning the N.L East because most people didn’t expect them to. I think when you suffer a loss like the one the Braves experienced last night the fan base begins to forget everything else that happened over the course of 162 games. During Spring Training there was a lot of hype surrounding this team and their newly rebuilt outfield but no one was certain that the Braves would win the division as Washington was still the favorite amongst many baseball experts.
Not only did the Braves prove that prediction wrong but they were actually in 1st place for every single day of the season except for one, April 4th.
This was not an easy road traveled either. The Braves suffered so many injuries and set backs this season that I think a lot of us almost forget about the ones that happened earlier on in the year. Johnny Venters never even threw a regular season pitch this year and he has been our premiere set up man. Eric O’Flaherty threw his last pitch somewhere around the middle of May against this very Dodger team at Turner Field. At this point many of us Braves fans began to panic and wonder how Fredi Gonzalez would get the ball to arguably the best closer in all of baseball Craig Kimbrel. What happened after that? The Braves would still go on to post the best bullpen ERA in all of baseball and on top of that set a franchise record for the same mark.
Jason Heyward missed significant time as did Brian McCann. Freddie Freeman spent a couple of weeks on the disabled list and still drove in over 100 runs on the season. BJ Upton and Dan Uggla struggled throughout most of the 2013 season and BJ was one of the players expected to make a huge impact when he signed with the Braves this winter and it just never happened. Other players stepped up and young players assumed roles that were well beyond the original expectations of them in 2013. No one panicked and no one quit and as a fan I am appreciative of the heart and effort this team always put forth.
When I look at the 2013 Division Series I am still glad that we were able to get a chance to play the best of 5. The Dodgers beat us 3 times and I can say they deserved to advance where as in 2012 I was unsure if the Cardinals really were the better team after that one game playoff. But at the same time some frustration does set in because at the end of the day this series went 4 games and from my perspective part of the problem was that in the post season you have to put yourself in a position to win, in a position where someone can make a big play, get a big hit or make a big pitch to help your team win that particular game.
During this series Games 1 and 3 were won by the scores of 6-1 and 13-6. The Braves were not even relevant in either of those contests which would end up amounting to 50% of the series, easy wins for the Dodgers where Atlanta was just dominated. Games 2 and 4 however were a 2-1 victory for the Braves and then of course last nights 4-3 defeat. But even in Game 4 the Braves were competitive and gave themselves a shot to win a ball game. If games 1 and 3 had played out in a similar manner there’s a good chance that 1 run ball games can be very split in terms of results and there’s a very good chance that the Braves could have been in a position to go back to Atlanta for game 5 or maybe they could be advancing to the N.L.C.S themselves.
Fredi Gonzalez has already been questioned and will continue to be questioned about his decision to leave Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen and use David Carpenter for the 8th inning. Now I’m fully aware that perception is 9/10th’s of everything that goes on in this world and how things seem are just as important if not more important then what they actually are. And what did fans see last night? They saw arguably the best closer in all of baseball standing in the bullpen as Juan Uribe hammered a hanging slider from David Carpenter in the bottom of the 8th inning of a do or die game.
The fans wanted to see Kimbrel pitch 2 innings to close the game and from what I’ve heard Kimbrel wanted to give it a shot as well. Now I love that Kimbrel wanted to get in there and close this game out and get all 6 outs but would he have been able to? Kimbrel has never had a 6 out save in his career and in game 2 he struggled a little bit getting that 4 out save to preserve that game and was greatly benefited by a close call on a steal attempt at 2nd base.
What if Fredi brought in Craig Kimbrel for a 6 out save and he blew the game in the 8th or even the 9th because he ran out of gas? Would people then question Fredi’s decision to put him out there in a crucial game to do something that he’s never even attempted before? I think there are arguments to both sides but because the outcome was undesirable we will continue to second guess the decision. If David Carpenter goes out there and strikes out the side then no one has an issue with the move.
Now the big question that looms over the Braves organization is where do they go from here? We just witnessed the Reds fire Dusty Baker after he had a very competitive season with the Reds and made a playoff run with his team. But it wasn’t to the satisfaction of the front office. They had hire hopes for this years Reds team and they believe they could find a better fit for dugout leadership to make a deeper run and accomplish the ultimate goal of winning the World Series.
Leadership is important in sports. Managers in baseball can’t play the game but they put their players in the best positions to be successful and they can certainly have an impact on the outcome of games and this is especially hitting home to anyone who truly believes that Fredi Gonzalez is the reason the Braves are heading home as we speak.
Whether you believe that Fredi Gonzalez is personally responsible for last nights loss or not you can’t ignore the significance of the front office’s support or lack of support for Gonzalez. And the reason for this in my opinion is because much of the Braves roster is set for next year. Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Jason Heyward, Just Upton will all surely be back and in the starting line up on Opening Day come 2014. There’s a very good chance that BJ Upton will get another chance to prove himself and try to secure himself a starting spot in Spring Training as he’ll only be in year 2 of his 5 year 75million dollar deal.
The rotation will set up in a similar fashion as well, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran will anchor the top 3 spots with the bottom 2 up for grabs I’d imagine. Many familiar faces will be in the bullpen as well; Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, David Carpenter, Eric O’Flaherty will be back in business and try to continue and improve upon the dominance of the 2013 Braves bullpen.
My point is I’m not sure there will be any significant roster changes for 2014. Frank Wren has done everything he could and spent a good deal of money to put this team together and he can’t stretch the dollar too far for the future because eventually guys like Freddie Freeman will need long term deals and there’s no way that the Braves front office will want him to walk away.
The most significant change may come in the form of a beloved Braves player hitting the road and possibly heading to the American League. Brian McCann didn’t sound to confident in the fact that he’d be returning next year and they’re saying the Rangers, Blue Jays and Yankees are likely to emerge as front runners for his services.
So is new leadership the drastic change that Frank Wren will produce in this off season? Is Fredi Gonzalez too soft spoken? Does he not possess the urgency that’s needed to win big games and snap his team back on track after a brief losing streak? Are his in game managerial decisions not up to Frank Wren’s standards? All of these questions will be answered shortly I’m sure.
The biggest strength of this Braves team may be the combination of talent and youth. The Braves sport the 2nd youngest roster in all of baseball and still managed to have one of the best records in all of Major League Baseball. So there is a very good possibility that this team does improve not by adding different players but continuing to grow and develop the ones that they already have.
During the 1940’s the Brooklyn Dodgers coined the saying “Wait Til Next Year!” and that’s exactly what Braves fans have to look forward to at this point. The promise and hope of 2014 will begin to take over the hurt and disappointment of 2013 and that’s what will bring us all back together during Spring Training as we try to root this team to a World Series and finally win the final game of season.
By: Bob McVinua
And despite injuries and struggles on the offensive end from highly paid players such as BJ Upton and Dan Uggla the Braves still manged to dominant the Eastern Division. By “dominate” I mean they were in 1st place every single day of the season except for April 4th and they held at least an 8 game lead every single day for the final 60 of the season. If that’s not dominance I don’t know what is.
But despite the incredible season and all that was achieved the Braves did fail to secure the number one seed in the National League for the post season which would have secured them home field throughout the playoffs and allowed them to play the winner of the Wild Card “play in game” rather then having to face the Dodgers in the N.L.D.S.
However what’s done is done and as fans we must continue to move forward and be excited about the fact that we do have an opportunity to play a 5 game series this year rather then having to take part in that wild and unpredictable one game playoff. Matching up with the Dodgers in a playoff series is not an easy task by any means because you’ll be forced to beat some combination of Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu in 3 of the 5 games you will play. And if you’re successful in that feat you will have taken down a rotation that boasts 3 of the top 8 ERA’s in the National League.
So how do the Braves go about accomplishing this? And what are some positives that the fan base and team itself can hang its hat on before Game 1 on Thursday.
Kris Medlen: A lot of people will tell you that the Braves don’t have a true ace and that they won’t be able to match up in a series with a team that arguably has 3 of them. While Clayton Kershaw will almost certainly be the National League Cy Young award winner and has terrorized line ups all year long there is reason for hope that the Braves can match up with him in Game 1.
Kris Medlen may not have been the Braves “ace” all season but he’s the Braves “ace” right now. Another strong Sept similar to the one he closed the season with last year has landed him in a position to take the ball in Game 1 and as baseball folks will tell you momentum and confidence can spear head a team straight through the post season.
Medlen has strong numbers against the Dodgers as well. This year he’s thrown a total of 13 2/3’s innings while allowing 0 earned runs and striking out 11 batters in 2 appearances against the Dodgers.
Home Field; Every team wants home field but for certain teams it may be much essential then to others. The Atlanta Braves are the only team in this years post season that have a losing road record ( 40 – 41) This is clearly a far cry from how the club plays at home as they boast a 56-25 record at home which is the best in the major leagues this season.
Something about playing under the lights at Turner Field in front of the Braves faithful energizes this ball club. I’ve spent all year trying to figure out what made the Braves such a poor road team and why they couldn’t figure out how to win games away from Turner Field. Well after 162 games I still have no answer for you but what I do know is the Braves will not have to win a single game in this series against the Dodgers on the road to advance. Winning all 3 games at Turner Field will be enough to send the Dodgers packing.
Injuries: While the Braves have their big outfield bat back in the line up in Jason Heyward, the Dodgers suffered bad news just before the post season that Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will not play in the N.L.D.S This is quite a blow for the Dodgers who now have a slightly thinner line up for the Braves pitching staff to rifle through.
Kemp hasn’t been a huge part of the Dodger’s success this year and yes he has been injured a lot of the season. However Matt Kemp is the Dodgers. He’s their most talented player and any line up is better with him in it. With both him and Ethier on the shelf the Dodgers will have to come up with some way to create a balanced outfield come Game 1 on Thurs.
Paul Maholm: To my knowledge the Braves playoff rotation hasn’t been set in stone yet and anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I’ve actually been campaigning for Freddy Garcia to get the 4th spot in the Dodgers rotation but there is an argument that appears to be shaping up for Maholm to take the mound in this series.
Maholm has made 2 starts against the Dodgers this season and has matched up with Hyun-Jin Ryu on both of those occasions and each time resulted in a Braves victory. The 2nd outing was especially strong when Maholm faced the Dodgers in Los Angeles and threw 7 1/3’s inning while allowing just 4 hits and 1 run.
Bullpen: The post season is all about pitching right? And we’ve addressed a lot in terms of the starters but you can’t forget the other element which is the bullpen. I like Atlanta’s bullpen quite a bit more then I like LA’s and I’ll tell you why.
The Braves are 1st in the majors in bullpen in ERA with a 2.46 which is actually a club record. The Dodgers are 13th a full run higher with 3.49
Atlanta has held opponents to a .222avg over the 2013 season while the Dodgers posted a .240avg against this year.
The Braves relievers have allowed only 126 earned runs to the Dodgers bullpen that’s allowed 183 earned runs.
Braves relievers only walked 155 batters all season long which was good for 2nd in the Major Leagues, the Dodgers gave away 186 free passes.
The Home Run: The biggest weapon the Braves have in their arsenal is that the long ball. As a team they hit 181 home runs this year which was good for 5th in the Major Leagues.
If you’re looking for a possible difference maker offensively this would be it. The Dodgers are not nearly as long ball happy as they’ve hit only 138 home runs as a ball club which was good for only 24th in the league.
Some would argue that the Braves are TOO dependent on the home run and that if it doesn’t come they’re almost surely to lose but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the entire course of a game changed by one swing of the bat. That instant offense where you can go from being down 1 run to being up by 2 runs. The bottom of the 9th trailing by a run, would you rather have to string 3 hits together off a tough closer like Kimbrel? Or would you like to be able to tie up the ball game on one swing of the bat?
When the autumn winds blow in October the games become lower and lower scoring. Each run is so critical and the entire game can turn on you in the blink of an eye. And in games where runs are hard to come by and it’s difficult to string multiple hits together, the home run can be your best friend.
By: Bob McVinua
Freddy Garcia, nicknamed the “chief” has recently been called up from the minor leagues to add some relief to the Atlanta bullpen. At first I was very skeptical of the move and didn’t really see it as being anymore then an inexpensive way to eat up innings down the stretch while the team sits on a large division lead. Then when Garcia began to see minor league action and couldn’t seem to get anyone out I became even more convinced that this deal wouldn’t amount to anything.
Well we all know how quickly things can change in Major League Baseball and today’s zeros can become tomorrow’s hero’s in the blink of an eye. Frank Wren obtained Freddy Garcia from the Orioles in exchange for an undisclosed amount of cash considerations. Which to all baseball fans means a throw away guy that the Orioles had absolutely no interest in keeping. So while Wren made a quiet move that’s of no risk to the ball club what so ever he may have accidentally or purposely stumbled across something that could push the Braves over the top come October.
I’m no stranger to being called crazy, insane, out of my mind or even much worse things when it comes to my bold baseball predictions and confidence in my own knowledge of both the Braves and other Major League teams. So I expect this to be no different what so ever and I’m prepared to take any backlash that comes my way for making such a bold statement.
Freddy Garcia has an outside chance if not better of making the Braves playoff rotation. OK, you can sit down now and catch your breath…. You’re not dreaming and there’s no need to reread that previous line another 10x because I can assure you that you’ve read it correctly.
For the divisional round of the playoffs which the Braves are basically already locked into as they’ll get to avoid the Wild Card 1 game playoff this year (thank goodness) they can skate by with a 3 man rotation which most would suspect to be some combination of Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen. Now combined those 3 guys have made 1 career playoff start.
Now when you get to the National League Championship Series which yes, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here but assuming the Braves can advance through the Divisional Round they likely have to expand their rotation from 3 arms to 4 as that is very standard procedure. I believe the 2009 Yankees attempted to go with a 3 man rotation but I think that it puts a lot of strain on them and as you get deeper into the playoffs you run out of fresh arms.
So with all that assumed and even the possibility of a 4 man rotation in the Divisional Round does exist, who would be the Braves 4th starter? Would Fredi Gonzalez feel comfortable putting Alex Wood out there who is extremely inexperienced into a playoff scenario? Or he could go Paul Maholm? But again Maholm hasn’t proven by any stretch to be a solid starter since his scoreless innings streak at the very beginning of the season surpassed 20 innings.
Tim Hudson would have been the natural choice but he’s obviously injured. Who else could fill that void?
How about Freddy Garcia? Why not? He’s a veteran arm who has post season experience. To date he’s pitched in 4 American League Division Series, 3 American League Championship Series and has made 1 World Series start as well.
Garcia’s post season stats are not off the charts but he’s 6-3 with a 3.28era and has won some big games. Most notably he pitched Game 4 of the 2005 World Series for the Chicago White Sox and gave them an effort that was nothing short of impressive. Garcia threw 7 scoreless innings against the Houston Astros in a series clinching win for the White Sox. He allowed just 4 hits in that outing and struck out 7 batters.
Since being called up to the Major Leagues he’s pitched 7.1 innings, allowed 4 hits and struck out 4. Opponents are hitting just .167 against him thus far. Now of course this is a very small sample size but for what it’s worth it’s the most recent one that we have and all signs have been good thus far.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has shown a lot of interest and intent on allowing Teheran and Minor to occasionally skip starts in order to keep their innings down and their arms fresh. Why not give Freddy Garcia an opportunity to show what he can do in a spot start situation?
I think there is something to be said about post season experience. The lights shine brighter in October and the pressure mounts to levels that young pitchers have never even come close to experiencing. Wouldn’t it be nice to give the ball to a veteran guy who’s been there before and proven he can get the job done? I think a guy like Garcia could also prove beneficial off the field as well, as he can act as a mentor type figure to guys like Teheran and Minor who have never made a post season start in their young careers.
And if you’re still looking for another reason why the Braves should consider Garcia?
Well how about this? He’s the only player on the Braves active roster who’s won a World Series ring with the exception of Gerald Laird who won one in 2011 as a back up to Molina in St. Louis.
By: Bob McVinua
The word “injury” has plagued this 2013 Braves team all season long. The injury bug didn’t take long to hit as Jonny Venters the teams premier set up man was unable to throw a single pitch this regular season. Then it was Eric O’Flaherty who was hit with a season ending injury. At this point in time it was about mid May and many were in panic mode over what would become of this feared and revered Atlanta Braves bullpen.
It wouldn’t take too long to find out the answer to that question. After a little mixing and matching Fredi Gonzalez found the right guys to plug into those critical 7th/8th inning roles and they have been nothing short of spectacular. Luis Avilan has filled a huge role for the Braves this season as he’s been the main lefty to take over for both Venters and O’Flaherty and boy has he not disappointed. Avilan is sporting a very impressive 4-0 record out of the bullpen with a shiny 1.21era. The Braves have also gotten tremendous contributions from David Carpenter and Jordan Walden as well.
So really the Braves bullpen is a situation where it reshaped itself. Nothing more and nothing less. The faces are different as are the names but the results have remained pretty much the same. As a Braves fan myself I have absolutely no concerns about this bullpen at all. Even without the likes of Venters and O’Flaherty they still strike a ton of fear into their opponents and Fredi Gonzalez knows if he can get a lead to the 7th inning the game is pretty much over 9/10 times.
Roughly one month ago the Braves took another enormous blow as they lost their veteran ace Tim Hudson to an ankle injury. Hudson wasn’t just a veteran pitcher with playoff experience and an effective sinker. He was the leader of that rotation and his positive attitude and outlook affected everyone in ways that went far beyond the game itself. Many were concerned with how the rotation would fair without Hudson in it and while I’m sure Braves starters would tell you they miss him dearly, they’ve still managed to get the job done. Since the Hudson injury they’ve been able to put a strangle hold on the N.L East and even went on a run of winning 14 consecutive games.
Alex Wood stepped in and again like the guys in the bullpen has filled a bigger role then any of us could have even imagined. He’s given us quite a few quality start with an era under 3.00. His deceptive motion has kept hitters off balance and his fast ball is bordering on electric. But again, someone stepped up and held down the fort. This is the mark of a winning team and the Braves thus far have proven to have that in their DNA.
This afternoon as the Braves were playing the Mets at Citi Field, Jason Heyward suffered a fractured jaw and will miss 4-6 weeks. I don’t need to recap the medical report or the play in which it occurred because I’m sure everyone has heard about it and doesn’t need the refresher.
Heyward was really starting to heat as he was hitting .366 over the past 21 games and certainly seemed to have found a home in that lead off spot which had plagued Atlanta for most of the season. Jason will definitely be missed and this column is not to suggest other wise. The point I’m trying to push across here is that the Braves have over come so much adversity this season as it is, ranging from player injuries to those who just haven’t played up to expectations. And with all that said the Braves are still in 1st place by an enormous margin and still on top of that hold the best record in the National League.
With that being said. How do the Braves go about dealing with the Jason Heyward injury? Well here are a few things to think on as we wait to see what Fredi Gonzalez does.
For me he becomes the critical piece in all of this. Schafer has played 67 games for the Braves in which he’s hit .290 with a .380 on base percentage. He also has scored 24 runs and has stolen 13 bases in 16 attempts. Jordan Schafer isn’t Jason Heyward but he’s also a far cry from a player who should be buried deep on the bench and forgotten about.
Throughout most of this year ( minus the time he’s spent on the disabled list himself) Schafer has fought for playing time. This includes the period where both B.J Upton and Jason Heyward were struggling. There was a time when Schafer was thought of as the possible solution to our lead off issue until it was eventually resolved by putting Heyward in there, go figure.
Schafer gives us a very solid glove and arm in the outfield, speed on the bases and his plate approach is ideal for that of a lead off hitter. There’s no reason to make any other move then to give Schafer the opportunity to play every day. This way you can also keep Simmons down in the 8th spot where he feels far more comfortable in comparison to the top of the order where he’s struggled for a better part of the 2013 season.
15 Game Lead:
It’s an eerie feeling for me to even mention this after what happened in 2011 but I can’t help but feel as if the Braves have the division all but wrapped up at this point. This doesn’t mean that they have nothing to play for or that winning games becomes any less important but if you were to have the choice of being up 1 game or 15 in your division I think all of us would take option # 2.
With the Braves holding such a large division lead they can afford some of these set backs as long as Heyward will be back before the end of the season and ready to go for the playoffs. This is a luxury that most teams do not have and one that deserves to be recognized.
Then there’s Jason Heyward himself. We are all wishing Jason a speedy recovery and hoping that he comes back sooner rather then later. A fractured jaw is no joke and is an extremely painful injury but there is always a silver lining to any situation. Heyward’s injury is not directly related to his baseball activities and or motions. What I mean by that is this; his injury isn’t a broken hand, a torn ACL or fractured ankle. It’s nothing that will stop him from doing baseball related motions or one that will have a grave affect on his ability to play the game once he returns.
His jaw needs to heal for his own safety, comfort and peace of mind but once that occurs I think that an athlete like Heyward will bounce back rather quickly. He won’t be favoring his hand or limping on a bad ankle and his body should remain strong enough to make a push at the end of the season to be ready for October.
We all look forward to having Jason Heyward back in the line up as soon as possible but until that time comes I believe this Braves team is more then capable of holding down the fort. Every time there’s been an injury, every time someone has struggled the other guys have been there to pick them up. Someone always gets hot at the right time, a pitcher always comes up with a big start and the bench comes through when we need them the most.
By: Bob McVinua
However there is something to be said about the anticipation of the trade deadline as it’s almost the summer version of the winter meetings in which it allows teams to make that one final push towards their ultimate goal of winning a World Series. And while some fan bases will have renewed hope or further reassurance that their team is in it to win it, other fan bases will suffer the harsh reality that their team is no longer a contender and that they will be more or less packing it in for the rest of the season.
Over the winter meetings the Braves put themselves in kind of tricky spot, possibly without even realizing it. When Frank Wren signed BJ Upton and traded for Justin Upton to create a young and dynamic outfield as they would be combined with a young budding super star Jason Heyward, Wren was not just going for the gold in 2013 but he was building an outfield that could be together for the next 5+ seasons.
Now in doing so I loved the moves and was very optimistic about what the Braves would be able to accomplish this season. Now with that being said they’re in 1st place as of today by 5 full games and stand a solid 12 games over .500 despite their most recent 3 game losing streak.
Frank Wren’s move to build this epic young outfield put him in a situation that would prove to be difficult if things didn’t go his way. I say this because Wren will have to sit on his hands and hope for his young outfield to continue to progress and show signs of improvement or he will be forced to tear it down and admit that he made a mistake. The moves to obtain not 1 but both Upton brothers essentially locked Wren and the Braves into a strategy that would lead them down a road of difficult decision and produce a team that would give them some lack of flexibility at a point in time such as say, the trade deadline.
The Braves outfield isn’t going anywhere which means that 1/3 of the starting line up is locked in stone. Freddie Freeman is locked in at 1st base, Uggla is locked in at 2nd base and Simmons is untouchable at short stop.
The ONLY two pieces of this team that could change at the deadline would be third base and catcher. Now trading Brian McCann to receive some sort of value type player out of fear of not being able to resign him this off season makes some sense for next year and beyond but you have to remember, Frank Wren wants to win now, the team is built to win now as much as it is in the future.
You won’t be able to get enough in return (most likely) to replace the offensive output that McCann will give you down the stretch. Mind you his numbers aren’t staggering by any means but he also missed 6 weeks of the season due to his recovery from shoulder surgery and has been playing pretty well since he came back. Altering our catcher situation doesn’t seem like the way to go so I’d say lock McCann in as well.
That leaves Chris Johnson who came over with Justin Upton in the trade with Arizona and to be honest CJ has been a pleasant surprise for the Braves this year. He’s hitting .332 which is good for one of the highest batting averages on the team for a regular every day player, only Freeman is even comparable.
But despite Chris Johnson’s success he’s still not filling the void that really makes the Braves vulnerable. What the Braves really need is a lead off hitter and a way to get Simmons as far away from that lead off spot as possible. If we could bat Simmons 8th on a regular basis where he feels a lot more comfortable and is a lot more likely to produce, combining that with a solid lead off man that can play every day, I think this Braves offense would start to take off.
Yes, the Braves have Jordan Schafer who has played extremely well in limited action and of course he could fill the void at lead off. However the issue is there’s no way he’s going to play everyday. Fredi Gonzalez can’t sit Justin, BJ or Heyward on a regular everyday basis. Unless he came up with some sort of Outfield Rotation where one of the 3 outfielders sat every 3rd or 4th game and let Schafer into the line up. But I doubt that would go over very well and I’m not sure how productive that would be in trying to get steady offensive production from our other outfielders.
With all of that being said what the Braves are looking for is a rare find and rare breed of player. What the Braves need is a 3rd baseman who is capable of playing solid defense and batting in the lead off spot, someone who is capable of hitting over .280 consistently and possesses decent enough speed that they can be a threat on the base paths.
The difficult thing is we could all name multiple outfielders who could fill this void if we didn’t have such a jammed packed roster full of talented outfielders already. You may find a lot more short stops or 2nd basemen with these types of skill sets but with Uggla and Simmons on the roster those spots aren’t really available either.
It will be very interesting to see how Wren deals with and addresses the short comings of the ball club which knock on wood so far have been fairly minimal judging by their record and status within the division. However come October these types of weaknesses will be magnified and as the Braves search for more consistent offense I don’t think there’s any where else better to start the search then the top spot in the line up.
By: Bob McVinua
When Frank Wren assembled this ball club over the winter he knew exactly what he was getting in the general sense. No he did not anticipate B.J Upton having one of the worst batting averages in the Major Leagues but he knew these 3 things. He knew that this club would not produce many .300 hitters. He knew that this club would swing in miss a lot and he also knew that this team would live and die with the long ball.
Anyone who argues this point is missing the boat in my opinion. Frank Wren is a very smart guy and a very good General Manager. Whenever this team has been in need of something he’s gone out and gotten it. Whether it was a big power hitting right handed bat in which he traded for Dan Uggla. Or when Fredi Gonzalez was in need of a lead off man, what did Frank Wren do? He made a move for Michael Bourn who is one of the best pure lead off men in the game today.
Have all the moves panned out? No they haven’t but none of us can doubt Wren’s effort and passion to better this ball club. He was also the GM who refused to trade a top pitching prospect for Carlos Beltran when the Giants did. A trade that didn’t really pan out as Beltran ended up being injured and then leaving the following year anyways. Wren decided to trade Jordan Schafer for Michael Bourn instead and as we’ve all seen this year, Schafer has found his way back to the ball club despite Bourn’s departure.
But enough of me cheer leading for Frank Wren. I’ll put the pom poms down for a minute and tell you where I think the Braves line up stands at this moment, why it’s struggling to find consistency and how Fredi may be able to fix it.
1) Where’s the ignition?
An offense starts with the first batter who comes into the box to begin the game. The guy who is supposed to make the offense “go” or “start”. The Braves entered the season knowing that they didn’t have a true lead off man or really for that matter any lead off man at all. Simmons was unproven in that spot and B.J just doesn’t hit for nearly high enough average.
This I believe has hurt them at times. They lack that top of the order speed that allows a guy to get on and swipe 2nd base. Someone who has a high OBP and hits as close to .300 as humanly possible. The only guy that the Braves have to fill that role is Jordan Schafer who is currently hitting .310 in limited at bats. Schafer possesses a very good glove in Center Field and is more then capable of playing Right Field and Left Field as well.
Could he be the answer? It’s very possible. Although it’s been limited at bats Schafer has proven that he can hit at the big league level and has re-established himself as a credible player with a much improved attitude from his younger playing days. Schafer will also benefit tremendously from the fact that Jason Heyward and B.J Upton are both struggling. Fredi has shown that he’s willing to pull both Heyward and B.J from the starting line up but only for limited amounts of time. Do we reach a certain point where Fredi Gonzalez throws his hands up in the air and gives Schafer a full time starting job?
2) Big bats are abused behind the plate
This has been an on going concern for me and I’ve brought it up a few times in past articles but I believe it’s worth mentioning again. Brian McCann is an outstanding hitting catcher, in fact he’s an outstanding hitter period. I love what he brings to the table and apparently so do the people who keep handing him Silver Slugger awards.
However he is a catcher and he does take a beating behind the plate. The old adage that catchers lose 1-2 at bats per game because their hands hurt so bad from catching that they can barely be affective at the plate may not be 100% accurate but it does represent some valid points.
Catchers don’t play every day. And in the National League you can’t DH them. So often they are reduced to pinch hitting situation once every several games. Now this is why many N.L catchers don’t represent the most offensive production on their ball clubs. Yes there’s Buster Posey and Yadier Molina but those types of guys are few and far between. Thus making it difficult for a manager to have this type of player on their team and deal with the frustration of being forced to give them regular time off.
When your star player plays Left Field or 1st base you can get them into the line up 150+ times a year. They can play a day game after a night game without issue. Catchers can’t really do that and thus proves an issue with McCann. One of our more consistent hitters isn’t able to help the club every single day.
3) Double trouble
If having one great hitting catcher wasn’t tricky enough for Fredi Gonzalez he now has 2 of his most productive hitters at the catcher position. Evan Gattis has emerged as one of the best young hitters in the game and doesn’t falter even in the biggest moments, a flare for the dramatics if you would. He’s been extremely productive all year and has consistently found a way to drive in base runners.
However as I just mentioned he also plays catcher, just as McCann does. Often Fredi needs to choose one or the other to start behind the plate and occasionally finds other ways to get Gattis into the line up. He’s experimented with him both in left field and first base to see if he could handle the glove work of either or both of those positions.
The issue there is that Freddie Freeman is becoming one of the best overall 1st basemen in the National League. He fields his position as well as anyone with his great glove, agile footwork and his 6’5 frame. Some experts are already predicting a batting title in his future as well. So 1st base isn’t going to provide much playing time for Gattis which leaves left field.
Gattis in the outfield ( no that’s not a movie) is a bit of an adventure. I mean the guy is a catcher by trade and that doesn’t really translate outside of his throwing arm to tracking balls down in the outfield. So when put out there the Braves do sacrifice quit a bit of defense and puts even more added pressure on him to hit to make up for the difference.
4) B.J Upton and Jason Heyward
I’m just going to group these two guys in one category because they have almost identical batting averages and unfortunately that’s not flattering for either player. The comparison betweenwhat was supposed to be 2/3 of our All Star type outfield is that they are both hitting under .150. The Braves just can’t afford to have both of those guys struggling at the same time.
This topic has been worn out in my opinion and I think Braves fans already have a good enough sense of where I’m going with this but I couldn’t not point out the obvious. If I’m Fredi Gonzalez I would have my staff working around the clock with both B.J Upton and Jason Heyward to see if I can’t get at least one of them going.
The Braves have been good this year without getting any production from either one of those guys. If one or both of them could heat up during the summer months then I think this team is capable of pulling away from the Nationals in the N.L East.
5) Am I working today?
Can you imagine driving to your place of employment, walking in the door and asking your boss if you’re going to work today? And all he does is point to a piece of paper hanging on the wall with a bunch of names on it. He tells you if your name is on there then you’re working today, if not then you’ll sit out. And when you are selected to work you don’t know exactly where you’ll be working or which department you’ll be in that day.
Now obviously there are limited comparisons to being a Major League Baseball player and that of someone working a regular job that doesn’t involve a bat and a ball. However I’m sure you can get my gist of where I’m going with this. People in any work environment strive when they have consistency and understand their job and their responsibilities. It allows them to not only relax and settle in to what they’re doing but it allows them to perfect their craft.
Fredi Gonzalez hasn’t allowed his players that luxury. Outside of a few select players everyone is thrown in and out and up and down the line up. They don’t know if they’ll be on the bench or batting lead off. And I understand that Major League Baseball players need to be capable of performing in any situation whether it be predictable or not but what I’m getting at is this. Does it produce the best results?
When looking for stability I’d start with the top of the order. My suggestion would be to take Chris Johnson who’s batting .336 and put him in the 2 hole. This club needs a guy or two who can get on base in case Justin Upton hits one over the center field fence. How many of Justin Upton’s home runs have been solo shots? Too many guys, way too many. We need runners on the pillows when he comes up to bat so that we can maximize his production in the line up.
If Fredi can establish a regular line up that he puts out for the majority of games then I think you will see more offensive production from this club on a more consistent basis.
6) He who hesitates is lost
At certain points you need your leader to be decisive. Leaders solve problems and they do so in a way that displays confidence and the faith of his troops, players or employees that they are doing the best thing for everyone as a whole and that this decision will benefit everyone in the long term even if it doesn’t appear so at the time.
If Fredi has the trust of his players and the relationship with them that allows him to make critical and season altering decisions without an emotional outburst in the club house then I’d like to see him display this authority soon. What is the problem with Jason Heyward? Why is he not hitting? Is it his mechanics? Is it health? Is it where he’s hitting in the lineup? Examine all of these aspects with the comments and suggestions from your coaching staff included and make a decision. Is Jason Heyward going to be a regular player in the line up? Is he going to come off the bench for an extended period of time and try to work out his issues in the big leagues? Or does he get sent down?
Putting Heyward in a situation where he plays one day and then sits the next isn’t helping him at all. There’s no consistency other then Fredi being inconsistent. If he’s not in the line up for a week or two weeks then have him in the cage with the hitting coaches on a regular basis. Have him watching films till all hours of the night. Ask him questions to see where his head is at.
The same needs to be done with B.J Upton. Make a firm decision and stick with it. The wishy washy attitude of Fredi Gonzalez is only contributing to their struggles.
Without direction you’re lost. This team needs more defined direction. I’m not bashing the team nor am I saying there is any reason to panic. This club is in 1st place and by 4.5 games over a team that every one else picked to win the division.
Do I think this team will hit? Absolutely. When the dog days of summer come across the country the Braves bats will heat up with the weather. The heat and humidity cause the ball to fly out of the park at an alarming rate and that will play right into Atlanta’s style of play. It could be a very good summer in Atlanta and I predict it will be.
By: Bob McVinua
I can’t believe it’s already the end of May and that baseball season is almost a 1/3 of the way over already. It’s been a fun two months and I’ve enjoyed cheering for and stressing over these Bravos for the past almost 60 days. I thought that this was a good time to assess what I think the Braves have and what they don’t have. And moving forward what this team will have to do in order to be successful.
As usual I don’t want to bore anyone with stats, I may throw a few in there for reference points but I’ll try not to over load anyone. I can’t stand the fact that you can’t even read an article on baseball without it looking like a math problem.
1) B.J Upton
Have to start with the 75 million dollar man who has the lowest batting average in Major League Baseball at this point in time. Now this is not the B.J Upton that Frank Wren signed in the off season, not even close. The B.J that Wren saw in Tampa tearing the cover off the baseball for the entire month of Sept hasn’t shown up yet but his arrival is welcome at any point in time.
Major League Baseball players don’t forget how to hit. They are there for a reason or else you and I would be up there swinging a bat making millions of dollars ( wouldn’t that be nice ). There are 3 things that I contribute to B.J’s struggles and none of them have to do with lack of talent. Flawed mechanics, pressure and unfamiliar pitchers.
B.J has added so many moving parts to his swing it’s ridiculous and that’s why he’s late on every fastball that he attempts to hit. He needs to simplify that swing in the worse way and get rid of that added “loading” process that he’s developed like a bad computer. He also needs to forget about the contract. Money doesn’t play on the field for the players and that’s why guys making the league minimum can get off to hot starts and 75 million dollar players can strikeout every time up. And just like Pujols struggled last year going to the American League there’s a chance that B.J is batting the unfamiliarity of new pitchers who have figured him out before he’s had the privilege of doing the same to them.
2) Starter Stamina
This may seem like an odd thing to be #2 on this list but it’s concerning to me. We need our starters to give us quality innings and I’m not saying that we don’t or haven’t gotten these innings from our starters but we need more of it. We haven’t gotten a complete game out of one of our starters in quite a while and even 8 inning appearances are rare. You look around at other staffs in the league that go deeper into games and it really saves a lot of wear and tear on that bullpen. And as we’ve just witnessed bullpen over load will catch up with you and you can verify that with Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.
3) Where are the blow outs?
Staying on the trend of bullpen burnout where are the blow out wins for the Braves? When you are playing 1 or 2 run games every single night your manager is going to feel obligated to throw his best arms in order to close the game out, it’s that simple. 2 years ago when we played a major league most ” 1 run games” we taxed a ton of innings on the arms of our relievers which has come back to haunt us. This team needs to find the occasional 7-1 win for the sake of our bullpen health.
4) Jason Heyward
Bouncing around from bullpen issues back to outfield issues. B.J needs to be fixed at the major league level. He’s 28 years old and he’s making a ton of money on his 75 million dollar deal. The minor leagues are not an option for him so he’s going to need to correct his issues at the big league level and hope he can make enough adjustments.
However, Jason Heyward could be a candidate to get sent down to AAA for a little while. We do have Jordan Schafer who is more then capable of playing RF and joining the Upton brothers in the starting line up. This would also give us a true lead off man at the top of the order and that’s something we’ve been missing all year.
Bring Heyward down to AAA for 2 weeks could make all the difference. He could go down and relax, focus on hitting the ball. I’m not sure how receptive he would be to the idea but his age and salary make him a candidate for that type of move. What if a few weeks in the minor leagues brought back a completely different Jason Heyward? And some may argue well what if it doesn’t? Hey at least we would have tried something.
5) Jordan Walden
Tonight Walden looked really good as he hit between 95 and 97 on the radar gun consistently. Sometimes players just need a little time off to rest up and start fresh. It seems that maybe his D.L stint was a blessing in disguise and if he can continue to be affective then this would help to recreate our late inning 1-2 punch as Kimbrel would have someone to set him up.
The other thing to note is Walden does have closer experience with the Angels so these late inning situations are nothing new to him at all. The pressure will likely be far less of an issue then it appeared to be with Varvaro and Gearrin which would also allow for them to go back to their normal roles out of the bullpen in which they have been stellar at.
6) Brandon Beachy
The talk from what I’ve heard is that they’re hopeful that Brandon Beachy will be back to pitch 1 of the double header games against the Mets on June 18th if I’m not mistaken. So we’re still about 3 weeks away from that date but the topic has brought up a lot of interesting questions. The main one being who will be removed from the rotation when Beachy is inserted or is putting Beachy back in the rotation the best move for the team?
Kris Medlen showed last year that working out of the bullpen can be a great predecessor to the starting rotation. Medlen was brilliant out of the bullpen last year and gave us an opportunity to throw a quality pitcher several times a week and sometimes for multiple innings. Could Beachy ease himself into the starting rotation by fulfilling one of these roles for the Braves who have already suffered multiple bullpen injuries?
Now if Beachy were to jump immediately into the rotation that would call for someone to “exit stage left”. Maholm, Hudson and Minor all seem immune to such a move for various reasons which would leave Teheran or Medlen out to dry. Right now it actually seems as if Teheran has been a little more affective then Medlen has and as a young pitcher and highly touted prospect you’d almost hate to break Teheran’s momentum as a starter by changing his role.
If Medlen was able to do the job once he could almost certainly do it again. He would add valuable depth to our bullpen and would be a critical asset to the “bridge to Kimbrel” project. I wouldn’t look at this as a “demotion” if this were to happen, I’d keep an open mind and view it as an opportunity to help the ball club win games as we inch closer to our ultimate goal of winning the World Series.
7) This weekend
Now I rarely put too much emphasis on a single regular season series, especially when it’s before the All-Star break but there’s something very interesting that’s about to happen on our schedule and in the standings this weekend. The Braves still have 1 more game with the Jays and the Nationals still have one more remaining with the Orioles.
It’s not too far fetched to believe that we could beat R.A Dickey as we have many times over his career, especially at Turner Field and that the Nationals could fall victim to a pretty good O’s club. All in agreement? That would put the Braves 5.5 games up in the N.L East standings before the big showdown this weekend when Washington comes to town.
I will once again throw out a not so impossible scenario, that being an Atlanta sweep over Washington this weekend. Many would say this is unlikely but if you recall earlier in the year the Braves went to D.C and beat Strasburg and Gio on their way to a road sweep of the Nationals. Why couldn’t they sweep them once again in their own back yard?
But anyways you guys get what I’m getting at. If that were to happen the Braves would wake up Monday morning with an 8.5 game lead and a strangle hold over the N.L East. Not to say Washington still couldn’t claw back but that would be quite a whole to over come and would really be a big blow to their already struggling morale as a ball club.
This is an opportunity for the Braves to really deliver a big blow in these 4 consecutive games they play from now until Sunday. If they make the most of them they could really be sitting in a good spot.
8) Dan Uggla
Uggla hasn’t been the player that we thought he would be when he came over from the Marlins which is why I think a lot of fans are so nervous about B.J Upton. They can see glimpses of the same thing going on and many would argue Uggla has never fully snapped out of the funk that he began with 2 years ago.
However this year Uggla has already hit 10 home runs and we’re a 1/3 of the way through the season. A few of them have been timely blasts that changed the outcome or at least the course of a game in the late innings. You can never underestimate the power of the long ball as instant offense and thus far Dan has given the Braves just that. On pace to hit nearly 30 homers, even 25 would be a very solid power year for Uggla and the Braves could surely use the production.
9) Fredi Gonzalez
Eventually the manager has to face the music and take accountability for the results of their players. Right now the Braves are in a good spot sitting 10 games over .500 and holding a 4.5 game lead in the National League East. However is making the playoffs enough? What measures is Frank Wren currently holding Fredi Gonzalez to?
If Fredi were to make the playoffs as a wild card and once again lose in the one game playoff is that enough to satisfy the boss? At what point does Wren say we want to win the World Series and you’ve failed to deliver us that result with a team that’s more then capable of competing at a high level?
I still believe that Bob Melvin out in Oakland has gotten far more out of his players then Fredi has out of ours. Last year they won a division and 94 ball games. They took the Tigers to 5 games and had a shot to pull of the upset. They hosted a playoff series at home. And yes the Braves also won 94 ball games but Fredi did it with a lot more talent and a larger pay roll.
The Braves haven’t won a playoff series since 2001 and eventually the standards of just “getting in” will be thrown out the window and replaced with higher expectations. I know the Braves management likes Fredi a lot but they have also already put up with a lot in forgiving him for the epic late season collapse of 2011.
10) Will An Ace Emerge
I think the 10th and final thing to watch for the Braves is whether or not an ace will emerge from this staff. At the start of the season some argued it would be the veteran Tim Hudson while others were convinced it was Kris Medlen. Neither one has been overly dominating and although Medlen could have a better record if given more run support he still hasn’t been nearly as sharp as he was last year and is actually in danger of being removed from the rotation all together.
I think right now the staff ace appears to be Mike Minor. He’s the guy I personally feel most comfortable giving the ball to every 5th day and possibly close to that is Julio Teheran who has emerged quite nicely in his last few outings. Hudson and Maholm have been shaky despite Maholm’s very fast start.
Down the stretch every rotation needs that one guy who can stop a losing streak and who can lead their rotation into the playoffs. The guy who will get the ball in game 1 hands down. The guy you want on the mound with your season on the line.
Someone needs to grab that role going forward. I hope that player emerges over the summer months.
By: Bob McVinua