Category: Cardinals

Where Was The Passion When You Need It The Most?

I hate quoting depressing songs for the titles of my articles but they just seem to fit these days. Where was the passion in the month of Sept for the Atlanta Braves? I’ll never accuse any team of laying down or not playing hard because I’m not in a position to judge that. However I can say that they didn’t have the fire in their eyes that I would have liked to see from them. Even after the game when Uggla stood out on the field for a post game interview I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My jaw dropped when this guy who is supposed to be a leader on this team can stand there and say “It just wasn’t in the cards”. Are you kidding me? Where is the passion I ask again. Lackluster attitude from one of the most talented guys on our ball club. Why not say something to the affect of, “We didn’t hit with runners in scoring position”. “We had an over worked bullpen”. “Starters didn’t get deep into games”. “We made some errors in the field”. “We lacked the big hit”. Saying things like that aren’t calling any one person out which is what you want to avoid doing as a good teammate. I don’t expect him to go out there and blame Kimbrel for blowing the game or saying that Prado couldn’t get the big hit when we needed him to. No not at all. However if you spread collective blame throughout the clubhouse, that’s taking responsibility. It wasn’t bad luck that cost the Braves a trip to the postseason, it was simply poor execution. Nothing more and nothing less.

I’m sitting here as heart broken as you are and I know it’s horrible that we have to talk about next year so soon but it’s reality at this point. Yes it may be a little too soon to speak of next years team when they’ve only had 1 day since a tragic loss and late season collapse. However I think this article could get the minds of Braves fans thinking and we only have to look forward to the winter meetings in December that’s when a lot of big moves could be made. So were not that far off from having some possible team changes. Just a couple of months. So let’s take a look at some of the team issues ( in my opinion) and what we can possibly do to improve on them. I welcome all of you to send me you r thoughts as well. Feel free to disagree.

Derek Lowe: I don’t think there’s any better place to start then with the worst pitcher on the staff. This isn’t an attack on Derek Lowe because he had one or two bad starts late in the year. No that’s not the case. Derek Lowe finished the season with a 9-17 record to go a long with a 5.05era. That’s unacceptable. Another thing to consider is this isn’t a 24 year old kid who’s developing or a 29 year old pitcher coming off a major injury who’s trying to turn his career around. Lowe is now 38 years old and showing a lot of signs of declining. I don’t see a pitcher who will be 39 next June (early in the season) having this miraculous come back season. Do any of you? Lowe makes 15 million dollars, enough said. He looks like a pitcher who’s at the end of his career that Fredi Gonzalez continued to put out there despite his struggles. A starting pitcher needs to give his team a chance to win and Lowe failed to do that this year. Look at his last start of the season. The Phillies jumped all over him and the Braves were out of that game early on. Or the start against the Mets where he couldn’t get out of the 3rd inning. Another blow out loss when the Braves really needed a big win.

Martin Prado: Last year Prado was great for us and when he got injured Braves fans were heart broken. You can always tell a players true value by how fans react when they get hurt. If fans don’t really care or aren’t worried about it then the value of the player isn’t all that high. Last year when Prado got hurt it was a huge loss to this team and really hurt them in the postseason. I just didn’t see the same fire in his eyes this year as I did last year. Him going to LF without so much as a word exchanged with Fredi Gonzalez shoes how selfless the guy is. He’s a team player for sure and a great guy to have in the clubhouse. But does he deserve to be in the starting line up on a team that’s trying to win a World Series? Prado had 13HR and 57RBI’s this season which isn’t horrible for a 2 hole hitter that missed quite a bit of time do to injuries and a staff infection. That was obviously beyond his control but the stat that concerns me the most is his batting average. A two hole hitter has to be close to .300 to be affective and Prado hit .260 with an OBP of barely over .300. At times during the season his OBP actually dipped into the .290’s which you can’t have as a 2 hole hitter. This team needs table setters. A lot of HR’s were hit this year with the bases empty as we struggled to put the crooked number up on the board. Is Prado the answer in LF? We know Chipper is coming back so Prado won’t be playing 3B full time anyways. Can we do better in LF then Prado? I guess that’s my question? Maybe a Shane Victorino type player. Someone who has good speed and hits for a high average. Jose Reyes would be a perfect fit for the top of our order but with our payroll it’s clearly an unlikely fit.

Is Hudson Our Ace?: Sure Tim Hudson pitched great for us down the stretch as an ace pitcher should. He really showed a lot of guts last night pitching deep into the game and keeping Philly from putting big numbers on the board. I’m very proud of Tim Hudson, he had a great Sept for us. He came up big against the Mets when we won that 1-0 game against RA Dickey. He came up big against Strausberg as well. Does this look familiar to anyone? Derek Lowe pitched tremendously in the month of Sept last year and just didn’t have it in 2011. Hudson is a gamer but so is Lowe. Hudson is a “bulldog” as Chipper would say but then again so is Lowe. Derek Lowe lost his stuff this year because he’s 38 years old. Hudson is 36 right now, will he hold up for another 162 game season pitching the same way he did this Sept? A baseball team can’t win a championship without a clear cut ace. He doesn’t have to be a CY YOUNG winner, I’m not saying that at all but he has to be someone you can give the ball to with confidence. Do the Braves have that right now? Tommy Hanson? Jair Jurrjens? Brandon Beachy? Mike Minor? Derek Lowe? None of those guys really jump out at me at all. Can Tim Hudson give us another year of 16-10 or better pitching? Can he rise to the occasion next year down the stretch, he’ll be 37 years old? The young guys can’t fill the void of an ace pitcher and with Lowe struggling so badly I don’t know if we have a guaranteed ace for next year.

Do We Bring In An Ace?: The season has been over for 24 hours and Fredi Gonzalez has already told Frank Wren that he wants the focus to be on pitching this off season. Why? Does Fredi have concerns about Hanson’s shoulder injury which appears to be more serious then they originally let on? Is he unsure about Jurrjens and how he will return? Is he hesitant to rely on such a young rotation as he did for the month of Sept? Trading for an ace is difficult and it’s normally much easier to bring one in through free agency. I know the Braves are not a big market club but sometimes you have to spend some money to get better and make a serious run at things. We need guys who can go pound for pound with the Phillies aces. If you cancel yourself out of the division before opening day you only leave yourself one way to get in, the wild card. I want to go into next year feeling good about our chances when we face Philly. How do we do that? They have 4 great pitchers on that staff. We need AT LEAST 2 in order to compete with them for a 162 game season. Guys like Mark Buehrle and CJ Wilson will be free agents this winter. Can the Braves make a play at one of them? The Rangers will certainly be the favorites to retain Wilson but maybe the Braves can convince him otherwise especially if the Rangers have a quick exit from the playoffs. I think the Braves should look into both options. Obtaining a starter would be big for this team and if we can unload Derek Lowe’s 15 million dollar salary then we’ll have extra payroll.

Options We Could Replace Prado With: If Prado does indeed end up on the bench then we will need to replace him and we can go about this in 2 ways. We can get a lead off style hitter to compliment Bourn at the top of the order. This player to me is Coco Crisp, a guy who stole 40 bases last year and gets on base an awful lot. Bourn and Crisp would be a dynamic duo at the top of this order and Crisp who has been playing in Oakland would love nothing more then to play for a contender. Now if we go for a guy who has a little bit of pop in his bat, someone who could hit 6th in the order and give McCann or Freeman some protection we could go with a Michael Cuddyer type player. He would be a cheap fill in and he hit 18HR last year for a terrible Twins team. He could be a nice fit in Atlanta.

How Do We Get This Offense to “Click”?: The question that no one could find an answer to. When opening day came around we scored only 2 runs against the Nationals. I remember that day as clear as if it was yesterday. Derek Lowe pitched a very solid game and didn’t give up any runs. The offense would struggle for months on end before having short outbursts showing that they were capable of scoring 7 or 8 runs in a game. The offense not only lost us games on the score board but they were also partially responsible for draining the life out of our extremely talented bullpen. That was a double killer for this Braves team. If we hadn’t played so many 1 run games this year then we wouldn’t have had to burn out Kimbrel and Venters. Those guys pitched in WAY too many games but in Fredi’s defense what else was he supposed to do? He had to send them out there, he couldn’t just give away games. We need to protect those guys by scoring more runs. We need to see a lot more 7-1 and 6-0 wins this year. Is it going to take a line up change? Is it going to take a free agent or bat we obtain from a trade?

Chipper Jones: Chipper has been the leader of this ball club for as long as I can remember. He delivered big hit after big hit and won the National League MVP award. He helped the Braves win a World Series in 95 and was part of that magical run of 14 straight division championships. However this is not the same Chipper that we’ve known over the years. He will be 40 years old at the start of next season and we are expecting him to play third base which is not called the hot corner for  nothing. Can Chipper make it through a 162 game season again? This year went better then last year but realistically how long can this last? Chipper’s bat was consistent and he is a switch hitters which is a big plus to our line up. Is Chipper staying longer then he really should? Clearly he’s under contract so the Braves were fully aware of the risk when they inked his deal so it’s not a “selfish” act on Chipper but is it time to walk away? Is Chipper’s veteran presence worth all the time he will miss next season? Even this past week he said he would have sat out most of the Phillies series if this was an April series. An April Series? He sat out the first game of the Phillies series in SEPT when the division was still somewhat within reach. Is Chipper willing to play everyday? Or is he in this just to try and scratch out another World Series title before he hangs it up? Clearly he believes this Braves team is capable of making a run this coming year as he clearly can’t wait around to rebuild a contender. So that vote of confidence should count for something.

Big Off Season Moves Create Confidence: How did the Mets respond to their 2007 epic collapse? They went out and got Johan Santana, an ace that they were in desperate need of. I realize that’s a New York team with a huge payroll that we don’t have. However the concept of restoring fan’s confidence was priceless. I’m from the North East and there wasn’t a Mets fan in site that was confident going into 2008. They were all excited during spring training. No the move did not pan out as they still missed the playoffs once again but the point is they weren’t worried about the collapse on Opening Day. That’s what Frank Wren needs to do. Bring in players who were NOT A PART of this epic collapse. This team needs some fresh faces to say “hey this is a new team, this isn’t last years club”. If they put those same 8 guys out on the field and keep the rotation exactly the same how are the fans supposed to react to this? They need to bolster the pitching rotation with either a guy who can be a potential ace or a guy who can eat up a lot of innings and save wear and tear on the bullpen. This club is also in need of another bat in the line up.

Jose Reyes: Short stop is big weakness for the Braves going into next season. Do we really want to bring back Alex Gonzalez who just doesn’t seem to have the will to win? He hits for a low average and is only good for his glove and hitting a few bottom of the order HR’s. I’m not knocking what he did to contribute this season but I don’t think it’s what we need. Is Pastornicky going to be ready to give the big leagues a shot? He would join other young stars like Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and all of the young pitchers, all of which would make him feel right at home I’m sure. He could play next to Chipper Jones for a season and learn a lot from him I’m sure. OR do the Braves make a splash. Do they finally open up the payroll and say I’m sick of losing to Philly, I need to do something NOW. Frank Wren is conservative but if you want to play with the big boys you need to spend some money. Could Jose Reyes be wearing a Braves uniform next year? Yes it is a stretch so don’t send me tons of comments saying that I’m out of my mind or asking me if I’m on drugs but just hear me out.

– We could down sell Reyes by giving him a chance to play for a winner. He would have great production in the line up with guys like Chipper, Mac, Freeman and Uggla hitting behind him. He would have a great shot at winning the division or at least making the post season as the Braves are MUCH closer to being a World Series contender then the Mets are.

– He could stay in not only the same league but the same division. He wouldn’t have to adjust to knew pitchers like he would in the American League and he could even stay in the very familiar N.L East.

– He could be the missing piece to our championship contender instead of being one of the core members on a team that’s waiting for tons of players to develop or for management to bring in more talent to help him and David Wright.

-We could hit Reyes in the 2 hole. He’s a guy who will easily hit 50pts higher then Prado did this season not to mention the fact that he would score a lot more runs and cause havoc on the base paths. Imagine Jose Reyes hitting behind Michael Bourn. Those two guys could end up with 90 or more steals between them. They would be PERFECT table setters for guys like Mac and Uggla who hit a ton of solo HR’s this year. It could really get the offense going.

This team is very close. That’s the bottom line. Chipper wouldn’t stick around if he thought this team had no chance of going all the way next year. Great teams don’t build 8.5 game leads despite a struggling offense. If this offense can “click” as Fredi would say then this team could win 95 games next year if not more. Think about how many 1 run games we played this year… Let that sink in and think about all the wins we missed out on. The wear and tear on the bullpen would never have been an issue if the offense had been able to score more runs.

Frank Wren can’t sit back and coast through the off season, he’s going to have to remain aggressive and bring in another piece or two to make things “click” around here. We are in a division with the arguably the best team in baseball. We can’t go into next season with 1 hand tied behind our back. We need to go in there and have a shot at home field advantage which can only be obtained with winning the division.

By: Bob McVinua

 

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Playoff Hopes “Chopped” To Pieces

I will once again reiterate the fact that I’m nothing more then a baseball fan who loves to write sports articles in his free time. This post is not a “sports writers” perspective on the Atlanta Braves, this is a die hard Braves fan who was left heart broken after last nights game. I’ve been a fan of this team since 1994 and I have seen some tough moments throughout the years. The 1996 World Series loss to the Yankees. Making it back to the World Series in 1999 with a great team and once again running into those same Yankees. Year after year of losing in the playoffs because of lack of offense became very frustrating for me. The offense has let us down at some point in the season, whether it was in the regular season or the post season, every year since I can remember. Even in the great string of post season runs we would always fall short because our offense just didn’t have it.

Game 1 of the 1999 World Series Greg Maddux pitched an absolute gem. He ran out of gas late in the game and when you looked at the score board as he walked off the field it was 1-0 Braves. Chipper Jones had hit a home run for his club, a solo shot that was the only run of the game. Once again we could have asked where was the offense?

The point I’m trying to make is that this is nothing new. We’ve been in need of an offensive makeover for quite some time. When was the last time anyone was truly afraid to face the Braves offense? Yea we did have some big bats in the line up in the late 90’s with Andruw Jones and Brian Jordan swinging the bats pretty well and of course we had Chipper Jones in the prime of his career doing everything he could to win games for us.

So what about this years club? Where did we go wrong? What happened? The first thing that we need to realize as sports fans is that EVERY GAME does count even when there’s 162 of them. No there isn’t any point in harping on the past or what the team did in April, May or June. However it does prove a point, one that will never be learned. Last years Braves club made the playoffs by 1 game. They were the ones along with the Giants who ended the Padres season last year. They were the team causing the heartbreak. But even so it was 1 game, they won the Wild Card on the last game of the season by 1 game. If they had won ANY of the close games they lost this year then we’d be playing in a one game playoff against the Cardinals tonight. I realize that close loses are going to happen and that you can’t win them all but when you’re down 5-4 on a hot July afternoon in the 9th inning maybe it makes you realize that you should hustle just a little bit harder or be just a little bit more patient at the plate, as you should never take any game lightly. Just like in politics where 1 vote can make a big difference, one game in the baseball season can do the same.

Chipper seemed quick to remind everyone that they were throwing 3  rookies every 5 days and that was a big part of why they were struggling. Really? So did Randall Delgado pitch better or worse then Derek Lowe this month? Would you rather have had Derek Lowe pitch a late Sept game this year, or would you rather go with Minor, Teheran or Beachy? Think about it. These guys kept us in a lot of ball games this month. I have said this countless times in these posts so I apologize for sounding like a broken record but it’s the truth. The Braves after last night lost SEVEN ” 1 run” ball games this MONTH alone. You can’t even tell me Chipper that you didn’t make the playoffs because you had injuries to the pitching staff. Maybe the injuries of Jurrjens and Hanson would have prevented you from making a World Series run, alright I’ll buy that but they were NOT the reason you didn’t make the playoffs. The offense was the reason that we didn’t make the playoffs and for more then one reason.

The Atlanta Braves hit under .200 with runners in scoring position this month and even in last nights game the big hit eluded them several times. Several players came up to the plate with a chance to drive in what would have been the game winning run on several occasions.  So if the Braves go 2-5 in those 7 games decided by ONE RUN then they are in the playoffs right now. Yup, they would have had to go 2-5 that’s it. They would have won the Wild Card by one game just like they did last year.

An enormous part of the Braves success this season was their ability to AVOID THE SWEEP. They did that very well through the first series of Sept. The bend don’t break attitude of this team was the reason they had such a big wild card lead in the first place. The one thing you need to do in baseball is avoid getting swept. Winning 2 out of 3 on a regular basis will leave you with a solid record at the end of the season. Even winning 1 of 3 from time to time will prevent long losing streaks. The Braves never lost more then 2 or 3 games in a row because they refused to get swept. This team had never experienced a true downward spiral until the end of the season when they got SWEPT THREE TIMES in one month.

Looking back the biggest series of the year was the one where the Braves went to St. Louis. They had a commanding Wild Card lead at this point, one that I believe was around 7.5 games. I said it several times before the series began, DON”T GET SWEPT. In game 1 of the series the Braves had the Cardinals down to their final out. Kimbrel was an out a way from insuring that we would win at least one of those 3 games. He blew the save and the Cardinals would steal the first game right out from under us and go onto win the other 2 games and complete the sweep.

That’s where this season went down hill. Getting swept by Philadelphia twice in one month didn’t help things either but losing all 3 of those games to the Cardinals proved costly. When they left the field after game 3 they were flying high and knew they had a shot to win this thing. That’s exactly what we didn’t want. Things were very different after that series as we would only win 1 more series the rest of the way and continue to plummet once we left St. Louis that day.

Now can you imagine if we had swept them? And the Cardinals were then moved to 10.5 back at that point? They probably would have been so heart broken that they might have fallen off right then and there. That would have been a 10.5 game lead with roughly 15 games left? We would have been a lock even with our recent struggles. Or even if we took 2 of 3 from them like we had been doing to teams all year long. We would have had an 8.5 game lead with 15 to play. Instead we left St. Louis up 4.5 with 15 to play and we weren’t feeling so warm and fuzzy about that.

Now mind you this will be part 1 of 2 in this season ending post. I will blog throughout the off season on various topics if you are still interested in Braves baseball all year round you’re in luck. This post is to sum up what went wrong in month of Sept and point out a few other basic down turns the Braves experienced. The second part will go into more detail about why the team struggled in certain areas and how they can possibly improve their team for next season.

The “collapse” as people are calling it was the entire month of Sept. I won’t deny that because it’s a fact. However let’s use a magnifying glass for a second. Lets zoom in a little closer. On Sept 23rd this team was up 3 games with 5 to play after the Cubs shocked the Cardinals at Bush Stadium. Up 3 games with 5 to play makes this “collapse” even worse in my opinion because despite playing horrible baseball for 3 weeks they were still in a GREAT position to make the post season.

Yes I’m focusing a lot on just the idea of this team making the post season and not so much their chances of winning a World Series or anything like that because to win a championship you need to make the playoffs, it’s that simple. So right now this team can’t look beyond making the playoffs for next season. They will have to regroup this off season and figure out not only what went wrong but how they can fix it. Knowing that something went badly is not enough, you need to be able to fix it as well.

The 2011 Braves gave us a lot highs and lows this year. It’s always disappointing when baseball season ends but baseball is a friend that only moves away for the winter and then comes back to visit again in the spring in summer. Think of it as time share.  🙂

Last night’s loss kind of summed up the feeling that I have been having for the past few weeks. Desperately hoping this team would find a way to get a big hit. Desperately hoping that this nightmare would soon end and I’d wake up and see this team in the postseason. It just wasn’t meant to be. Not this year anyways.

Even as a kid when I would see the Braves get eliminated from the playoffs year after year there would always be heartbreak and a touch of frustration as well. When you play 162 games I think that the concept of “having to start ALL over” is what kills baseball fans who suffer this type of defeat. We have to start all over next spring with game 1 and watch 162 games of baseball before we can even start to envision this team back in the playoffs. It’s never over until it’s over and I think Braves fans will never take another late season lead for granted again and I hope the players have learned the same lesson.

I will write part 2 either later or tomorrow depending on my time schedule. It’s kind of a rainy day up here which kind of suits my mood.

By: Bob McVinua

 

161 Games Weren’t Enough

Baseball is a funny game. It really is. The Braves and Cardinals have each played 161 games and nothing has been decided. I realize that this is not the first or last time this will happen but when you really think about it, how crazy is it that two teams that have played that many games have identical records? With all that goes on during the regular season you would think it’d be extremely unlikely. However here we are, the situation isn’t a good one for the Braves but yet I still find comfort in the fact that it could be worse.

There is obviously a lot of emphasis on game 162 tonight, as there should be. Two teams are fighting for the final playoff spot in the National League and both come from very different situations. The Braves are a team that started out strong and built a huge lead in the standings, only to let it slip away. The Cardinals on the other hand, saw a late season surge that allowed them to get right back into this race.

Two teams in the same spot that took two completely different paths to get there. Now sure momentum is huge here and the Cardinals certainly have that. However both teams find themselves in a VERY dangerous situation. It’s a one game season right now and you never know what will happen in any given game as it is just a TINY piece of the baseball season. For all we know Carpenter can take the mound for the Cardinals tonight and give up 6 runs in the first inning. Would that be the first time an ace pitcher has gotten hammered? How will Hudson fare under the bright lights of game 162? We just don’t know. The key for both teams will be to get off to a fast start.

A lot of people look at these match ups and say that the Braves are in a tougher spot then the Cardinals. Yes on paper the Cardinals are playing the Astros and the Braves are playing the Phillies. But lets look just a little bit closer. Hudson will face Joe Blanton who hasn’t made a ton of starts this year and the ones he has made haven’t been very good at all. The Braves have a HUGE advantage in this game as they also have the home town fans on their side and to me that does make a difference.

The Cardinals are playing a team with over 100 loses. But tonight they are facing a red hot Brett Myers who has an era of under 2.00 for the month of Sept. He’s throwing the ball extremely well right now and he is capable of shutting down the Cardinal offense and hopefully he will. Carpenter will give the Cardinals a great chance to win as well but the pitching match up here is much more balanced then the one that will be going on in Atlanta.

The Braves have backed themselves into a corner but still control their own destiny. At no point in this season have they needed another team to lose so badly. They just needed to take care of their own business which they have failed to do. They have had the Wild Card lead since the 20th of June! That’s over 3 months of being on t op in the standings and to lose it all on the last day of the season would be heart breaking.

If the Braves win and the Cardinals lose they are in.

If the Braves lose and the Cardinals lose then they have a one game playoff

If the Braves win and the Cardinals win then they have a one game playoff.

If the Braves lose and the Cardinals win then they will be eliminated.

3 out of the 4 scenarios are decent for Atlanta. They would at least give them the chance to play an extra game tomorrow. Only 1 of the 3 scenarios is troublesome. So in a sense we still control our own destiny. If we win today then we can’t go home and that’s something the Braves need to take comfort in.

By: Bob McVinua

 

A Season Of “Lowes” Can End Tonight

Derek Lowe has struggled badly this year. During the dog days of summer all we heard was that Lowe was going to turn things around in Sept. It never happened. I could sit here and throw a whole bunch of stats at you to try and prove one point or another. I’m not going to do that, for two reasons actually. One I don’t feel like looking up Derek Lowe’s stats right now and two they wouldn’t matter at this point anyways. The Braves in so deep right now that they just need to win games and no stat on this earth is going to get you to be a Derek Lowe believer if you weren’t already.

Derek Lowe has been terrible all season. I’m not trying to defend a guy who has failed to get it done all year and especially down the stretch. However this guy has been known to turn it on during the biggest moments in his career. When his team needs him the most he comes through in the clutch. There is every reason in the world to doubt Derek Lowe right now. However somewhere in my heart, as a fan that is. I feel as if Derek Lowe will give us a big start tonight. And a big start tonight would wipe away an entire season of struggles, especially if we clinch the Wild Card later tonight.

We have pressure on us, there’s no doubt. A 1 game lead isn’t much but I’d rather be up 1 game then down 1 game right now. There isn’t 5 or 6 games left anymore, were down to just 2 ballgames left on the schedule. If the Braves win back to back games, that’s it. The race is over and the red birds are going home. End of story. They need to win the last 2 games and we need to lose at least one of them just for there to be a 1 game playoff.

The Cardinals losing that game last night was huge for the Braves and really gave them new life. Cliff Lee last night presented the biggest test of the series for the Braves. Oswalt who is a very solid pitcher will go tonight. He’s a good but not great pitcher. He’s right handed which also helps the Braves. He’s not Cliff Lee, not in anyway shape or form and the Braves need to remember that.

Game 3 of the series and the final game of the season will be a gift wrap for the Braves. If they don’t win that game then they will only have themselves to blame. The Phillies will have a ton of guys coming in and out of the game and no pitcher will have a chance to settle in and get hot. No one will pitch more then 2 innings so the Braves can feast on all of their bullpen guys over the course of 9 innings. Not to mention the Braves will have their ace Tim Hudson on the mound that day. Like I said, if Hudson can’t be the Phillies bullpen tomorrow night then I don’t know that the Braves deserve that last playoff spot in the N.L.

At some point you need to stand up and help yourself. Not just in baseball but in life. A person can catch all the breaks in the world and get tons of help from other people whether it’s in school or business, but at some point they will find themselves in a situation where they need to stand up and get it done. The Braves are in that spot tonight, they need a win. Yes they are facing the Phillies but so what? It’s not like they haven’t beaten this team before. They’ve done it before and they can do it again.

The Braves are clearly sick of this whole situation. They are not fighting for a playoff spot that they figured to have had wrapped by now. Yes they did it to themselves but it’s still frustrating. If this team gets into the postseason I think their attitude might change some. I actually think they will feel less pressure when they get into the playoffs then they do now. Fighting for a playoff spot along with trying to avoid an epic collapse has been tough on these guys. They will breath a huge sigh of relief if they can clinch tonight and lock up their playoff spot.

By: Bob McVinua

 

It All Comes Down To This

They safe life comes down to just a few defining moments and this is one of them for the Atlanta Braves. These last 3 games are not just about the 2011 season. These last 3 games can create or erase a possible legacy that could haunt the Braves franchise for years to come. Being up 10.5 games at the end of Aug and not making the postseason could go down as one of the biggest late season collapses of all time. People still talk about the 2007 Mets and other teams that failed to make the postseason after possessing such a large lead in the standings so late in the season.

You don’t want to become a catch phrase or a locker room joke. “Don’t pull an Atlanta Braves collapse”. This season could be referenced in the poorest context for years to come. If we were to make the postseason and get swept in the first round none of this would even matter. No one talks about teams that have gotten swept in the playoffs, that happens all the time. However teams with 10.5 game leads usually don’t cough them up and fail to make the postseason.

If you had asked me a month ago if we would be in this situation, I would have said no way. Now here’s the thing. Yes I did  think the Braves were a good ball club and they seemed to be taking care of business on a nightly basis. I had the utmost confidence in this ball club. However my other reason for being so confident was the teams that were chasing us didn’t seem to have much life left in them. The Cardinals were struggling and at one point like I mentioned fell 10.5 back. I thought that was the breaking point for them. When we took 3/4 from the Giants at Turner Field I could feel their momentum start to disappear. Their offense was just horrible and they were putting far too much pressure on that pitching staff. So I honestly looked at the standings and said even if the Braves struggle some down the stretch, who could possibly catch them?

And that’s why you PLAY THE GAMES. No one saw the Cardinals getting that HOT down the stretch and I didn’t think the Braves would play so poorly down the stretch either. The two combined have left me absolutely stunned. I saw this team as a lock for the Wild Card and actually thought we were a likely contender to play in the NLCS contenders.

Over the month of September so much has changed. The “collapse”, as bad as it looks in the standings could have EASILY been avoided. Let’s take a closer look at some of the Braves September highlights. The first time I really looked at things this closely I wasn’t sure if I felt better or worse.

The Braves have gone 9-15 in the month of Sept.

The Braves have lost 6 games this month by ONE run

The collapse really began when the Braves were swept by Philadelphia

Just a few days later we were swept by the Cardinals

Craig Kimbrel blew two crucial saves this month. One against the Cardinals and one against the Marlins

Johnny Venters coughed up an 8th inning lead against the Mets in what would prove to be a crucial loss

An additional two losses came in defeats where the Braves lost the game by just TWO runs.

That’s far from a detailed breakdown of the Braves final month but it does show that things haven’t completely gotten away from them. When I first looked at these stats I wasn’t sure if I felt good about things because it showed that the Braves were still fairly competitive this month despite losing a lot of games. Or did it make me feel even worse because this team had so many opportunities to close this thing out. Our season could have been lost on 2 outs. The last out in St. Louis and the last out in Florida where Kimbrel got 2 outs on both teams in both games and we couldn’t close them out. We get those 2 outs and we have a 3 game lead going into the final series. No one would be worried or panicked at all. We win one game or the Cardinals lose one game and we’re in. Simple as that.

This may be one of my last positive spins of the season so I know you guys want to hear it. This may be getting old but it still holds true at least for right now. We are the team being CHASED, not doing the chasing. Tomorrow worse case scenario is that we’re tied. Still not chasing.

If we win 2 out of 3 from the Phillies and the Cardinals win 2 out of 3 from the Astros then WE are the team going to the playoffs. They need a little bit of luck and we control our own destiny. They have to play one game better then us in the final series of the season JUST to force a one game playoff. Yes, it’s in St. Louis but we would still have a shot to win that game. No one can put someone as a 100% chance to win or lose in a single game that could go either way. NFL style.

Another thing to consider is this. What will each of the 2 opponents bring to the table. The Astros are a team that’s been out of it since like May and have absolutely nothing to play for. Are they motivated to try and play spoiler or are they ready to get their golf clubs and head home for the winter? It could go either way. I suspect they will come out and play because a lot of guys on the roster are fighting for spots on next year’s team. Not to mention the Cardinals are a division opponent which always adds some incentive.

The Phillies are another team with nothing to play for and that’s a very difficult thing to do. They have struggled badly over the past week or so and who’s to say that won’t continue tonight? Maybe they come out a little flat tonight and the Braves jump all over them? It’s not like the Braves haven’t beaten Cliff Lee before and it’s not like the Braves haven’t beaten this same Phillies team earlier in the season when both clubs were hungry for wins.

In my opinion I have to put my money on the hungry dog. I believe that the hungry dog will fight harder for a meal then a dog that’s well taken care of. When your backs against the wall then people see what you’re really made out of. The Braves have been playing postseason like games for the past week if not more. If they do make it to the postseason the stressful atmosphere shouldn’t bother them too much.

If I was forced to make a prediction I would say that both the Cardinals and the Braves BOTH win 2 out of 3, leaving the Braves to claim the Wild Card. I have a feeling that the Astros will put up enough fight this series to grab one game from the Cardinals. And that win might come tonight with Wandy on the mound, it’s probably  their best shot.

The Phillies will probably pack it in for the final game, I’ve heard they will be going with a “bullpen mix” for the final game and the Braves will throw Tim Hudson. So I think we will win game 3 of this series and either game 1 or 2. I think that will be enough to clinch a Wild Card spot.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

Where Did 10.5 Games Go?

It’s important for everyone who reads my blog to always keep in mind that I am a fan first and a writer second. This isn’t my career it’s just something to do because I’m passionate about these Atlanta Braves. Just like you guys, I want them to win more then anything. I was 8 years old the last time the Braves won the World Series and I can still remember it. My parents actually let me stay up and watch the game and it was the greatest feeling ever. At the time of course I expected that the Braves would win the World Series every year and I wasn’t old enough to truly appreciate the moment. Tom Glavine pitched a great game and David Justice hit a home run for the only run we would need to beat those pesky Cleveland Indians. Even then good pitching beat good hitting.

Over the years memories tend to fade just a bit and with that memory being 16 years old already I sure could use another taste of a Braves championship. I think that we all could. But to win a championship you first need to make the playoffs. That seems to be something that’s going to be a lot more difficult then we all originally planned.

As I sit here typing this I am in absolute shock that the Braves were up 10.5 games on this Cardinals club less then one month ago. Where did those 9 games go? How did we let things get this bad? Why couldn’t we have put them away when we had a chance? So many questions start racing around your mind and the only human thing to do is remember all of those 1 run losses. So many of them stand out and it could come down to the fact that anyone of those games could have ruined our season. I know that does absolutely NO good right now but I just can’t help it. What if Kimbrel hadnn’t struggled early on in the season? What if he had closed out those games? This team has played SO many one run games that we could easily be a 100 win team right now or very close to it. Look at how many save opportunities Craig Kimbrel has? Look how many games we’ve had to use Venters and O’Flaherty. It’s been chaos every single night for these guys. How many times this year have we had an 8 run lead in the 9th inning? I can’t think of too many, can you guys?

This season has just been such a roller coaster of emotions. Dan Uggla can’t hit and we’re worried he’s going to struggle for the entire year. Jurrjens goes from being an early Cy Young candidate to struggling to injured all in a matter of a couple of weeks. So many injuries have plagued this team. Prado, Heyward, Hanson, Chipper, McCann etc have all been hurt this year. The first half of the season our starting pitching was so dominant and the offense couldn’t score any runs. Now the offense has turned it on a little bit and it’s the pitching that’s falling apart at the wrong time.

Although I don’t believe that any of those things are the reason why we are in the spot were in right now. I know that’ sounds crazy but it’s true. The Braves can’t blame injuries for what they’re going through. Granted they are not helping things at all but this team has a huge case of complacency. That’s the only word I can use to describe this team. I think that they got so comfortable being so far ahead that they started to take their foot off the gas just a little bit.

How would this happen? Well the Braves found themselves in a VERY ODD position for a decent part of the season. After the All-Star break they found themselves falling out of the division race. I think there was a sense that they just weren’t going to catch the Phillies at any point. The Phillies were just too deep and too powerful to try and chase down over the long haul. If this team was going to beat the Phillies they were going to have to do it in the NLCS. Take it to a 7 game series and see how it goes. Head to head they’ve done fairly well against Philadelphia despite the 3 game sweep a couple of weeks back.

The Atlanta Braves would wake up in the morning and look at the newspaper. They had a 7.0 or 8.0 game lead in the Wild Card and were at one point 25 games over .500. Then they look over to the N.L East and see themselves 8 or more games out. To them they felt like a division leader. They weren’t going to catch Philadelphia and they didn’t expect anyone to catch them.

It’s very easy to get relaxed when you have a substantial lead in the Wild Card or Division standings. It’s very difficult to play for “staying in first”. It’s a tough spot to be in especially in a baseball season. You have to motivate yourself every single night, it’s not the NFL where you have to get motivated for 1 game a week. This is a totally different ball game, no pun intended.

The urgency gets away from you in baseball. This game was meant to test you mentally as much as physically. In a sport where you can lose 2,3,4 games in a row and not have it end your season it’s tough to stay motivated.  A team in the NFL loses 4 games in a row and they are basically done. You get swept in a baseball series in the middle of Aug, no one really thinks that much of it. This is a game that will kick you in the gut if you don’t come out fighting every single night. It’s a game where you wake up one morning and think what just happened? The kill is slow and painful. It’s not a knock out punch.

The Atlanta Braves were getting ready for the playoffs in the middle of Aug if not before. This team never thought they would be in this spot. Leads can disappear quickly if you’re not careful. Look at the 2007 Mets. They were up 7 full games on the Phillies on Sept 12th and just absolutely collapsed. The bottom can fall out at anytime.

So everyone is thinking. Come on Bob what’s with all the negativity? Well I’m not in denial of what’s going on here and you guys read this blog for my opinions. I wouldn’t be doing you guys any service if I held anything back. I have to give you guys the truth 100%.

What are we facing now? Well we have 6 games left and we’re getting the heck out of Florida. No more looking back we can only look forward. I can’t believe I’m the one who’s saying that right now as I have the toughest time doing that myself.

Were currently 1.5 games up and tomorrow we can FINALLY get rid of that .5 game. Being from the North East I will have full access to the Mets-Cardinals game tomorrow so I will watch as much of it as I can. The Cardinals can close the gap to 1 full game or the Braves can see their lead expand to 2 full games. The schedules will even out and both clubs will have 6 games remaining. I’d actually feel OK with a 2 game lead with 6 to play. Leaves a tiny bit of room for error which I like. It’s obviously better then just a one game lead.

The Braves head to DC to play the Washington Nationals. Tim Hudson will pitch game 1, the Braves ace needs to come up big. The offense needs to score some runs. This is do or die time. The plan to ride it out the storm just isn’t working and we need to take care of business ourselves. Washington rolled over Philadelphia but is that because the Phillies are already packing it in? What kind of Phillies team will we get in the last 3 games of the season? Do they play all out just to spite the Braves? Last year they took 2 of 3 from us to close out the season.

We’ll need Hudson and Beachy to come up big for us in this series. It’s not a “must” but I’d love to see us sweep the Nationals and really get some momentum going as we head home for the last 3 games. I think that’s what this team needs.

It’s still too close to call and the Braves are far from out of this thing but the Cardinals are RED HOT right now and we’re slumping. That could change at any moment though, baseball is a streaky game. It would be a great start if the Mets could actually help us out tomorrow and give us a 2 game lead heading into the final 6. I think that would be a nice confidence and moral boost for this team. Have the Cardinals feel the pain of missing an golden opportunity. It would put a little bit of a damper on their momentum.

Tomorrow is a much needed off day. Fredi Gonzalez needs to motivate this team without throwing them into panic mode. I understand this can be very difficult. Let’s hope he can find away to calmly remind them that the Wild Card is still theirs to lose, the Cardinals aren’t in first we are. But at the same time he needs to stress the importance of winning OUR GAMES and not relying on other teams to do our dirty work. The Mets didn’t get it done in the first 2 games of this series but then again we didn’t do our job either.

By: Bob McVinua

Braves Wild Card Lead Down To 2.5

I’m not a professional sports writer, never claimed to be. I’m just a fan like everyone who is probably reading this blog right now. I was searching for a more upbeat title for this post but just couldn’t come up with one. Although I always try to take a positive spin on things, I can’t deny the facts. The Braves saw their Wild Card lead slip to 2.5 games at the same time as they watched Infante’s 2 run blast sail over the left field fence.

Those games always feel like a punch in the gut. I don’t know about you guys but I would have rather lost that game 4-1 then the Marlins walking off on us. I’m sure Kimbrel feels terrible and that he wishes he could have that pitch back. Sadly he can’t and the Braves can’t redo the 9th inning. Games like that so often come back to haunt a team during the stretch run. Battling for a playoff spot you can’t afford to lose any games, never mind having your closer blow a lead with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th.

Now here’s what you guys have been waiting for I’m sure. The positive spin that I have now become well known for by your reactions on Twitter. I get daily messages from Braves fans asking me what I think, knowing that they are hoping for a positive response. Keep them coming, I enjoy getting them. If you don’t like my positive approach then I’m not sure what to tell you. I’ll never apologize for having an upbeat attitude. Negativity has never gotten anyone anywhere. Life is all about your mindset and how you perceive things. Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you react to them. You can’t control if your tire goes flat on the highway or if your coworker calls out sick and leaves you with double the work. You can however choose to take a positive approach. Getting all mad and bent out of shape is only going to make the situation worse. If you calmly assess the situation, quite often you will realize it’s not as bad as it appears. I’ve never been one to “panic”, it’s just not in my nature. If the Braves do finish off this collapse I will be devastated. I’ll be the first to admit it and I will take it as hard if not harder then anyone else. Don’t mistake my positive attitude for not caring cause that’s not the case at all. I want this team to win so badly, just like all of you guys do. Tomahawk Nation, were all on the same side here. We may have different takes on this situation but at the end of the day we all want nothing more then to see the Braves win a World Series. I was 8 years old the last time they won a world championship and I feel they are long over due.

So let’s start in with some positive outlooks here. If we dig deep enough I’m sure we can find a reason to keep our heads held high as we go down the stretch run. Here’s what I’ll lead off with.

Anyone who played on last years Braves team is no stranger to the situation were in. Last year we were only 1.0 game up on the San Diego Padres. That’s it. So if anything were in a slightly better spot then last year, not by much but a little bit. And hey, everyone game counts right? Chipper and Prado I believe were both injured at this point last year and that was a huge hit to our team. We stumbled down the stretch but still managed to make it into the postseason. Yes it was an early exit but we lost to the World Series champions and gave them a better fight then anyone else in my opinion. The Braves clinched the Wild Card on the very last day of the season and almost had to go into a 1 game sudden death playoff if the Padres had managed to pull one out in San Fran. Weren’t we worried then? I’m sure we were but we often forget our past concerns when we KNOW that the scenario turned out alright.

Where does the .5 game go? I think this is a HUGE factor that not many people are addressing. That half game will either turn into a full game advantage for the Bravos or it will even out the standings. Which one will it be? Well we will certainly find out on Thursday when the Braves have an off day and the Cardinals battle the Mets.  A Cardinals loss on Thurs could be big for Atlanta if it helps bump us up a full game in the standings, don’t over look the Mets, as they took care of business against Atlanta on the road this past weekend.

The Cardinals have no more off days the rest of the season. The Braves will have the benefit of one on Thursday. Absolute worse case scenario I’m laying out is this. The Braves loss the next two games in Florida. The Cardinals win the next two games against the Mets plus the extra game on Thursday. So were saying the Braves loss 2 straight and the Cardinals win 3 straight. Now were DEAD EVEN with 6 games to play and it’s anyone’s race.

Best case scenario is the Cardinals cool off and lose 3 straight, the Braves win the last 2 games in Florida and then the lead goes up to 5.0 games with 6 to play and the race is over. See how quickly things could turn in our favor? The Braves need to win the next 2 ball games. And the Mets just need to win 1 of the 3 against St. Louis. That puts us up 3.0 games with 6 to play. That’s what I think will happen. It’s a middle of the road scenario so I’m not being super outrageously optimistic guys. I’m admitting the Cardinals will most likely take 2 of 3 from the Mets and I do think we’ll bounce back and win the next 2 against the Fish. That’s exactly what happened when they came to Atlanta.

I can’t see anyone sitting there and saying that the Braves are done when they are up 2.5 games. That to me makes no sense, if you’re saying it out of frustration then that’s fine. Everyone needs to vent from time to time. I’m not saying no one should ever get nervous and panic about their team, I’m not exactly thrilled with how tonight ended either but level heads will prevail and we have to realize were still in a good spot.

Do you know how many other teams would DIE to be up 2.5 games right now, playing meaningful Sept baseball? A lot. Don’t you think the Cubs, Pirates, Royals, Rockies, Padres, Orioles, Mariners, Twins etc would all like to be where we are right now? They wouldn’t be complaining about a 2.5 game lead, they’d be jumping for joy because they aren’t completely out of it. Imagine how frustrating it would be if we were 15 games out right now, playing meaningless games the last week and half? What fun would that be? At least were relevant and we have LIFE!

I believe the Braves have lost 7 games in the loss column since Sept 1st. That was a quick calculation on my part so don’t quote me on that and please correct me if I’m off. I’m not sure where that fits in as far as biggest collapses in MLB history. Maybe it’s a top 10 but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as the 2007 Mets. I’m from the North East don’t forget so I experienced the Mets 2007 collapse first hand. All the media coverage and all of the fans who were just in agony over it. I don’t want that to be us and hopefully we can avoid it all together. If we get into the post season this will all be forgotten. It won’t even matter and no one will mention it.

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I’m a firm believer in that. If the Braves don’t get “killed” at the end of the season, they might be better off because of these struggling times. They know what it’s like to fight for it and have to battle down the stretch. Teams like the Phillies who are clearly on cruise control right now are developing a passive attitude. You can’t turn your intensity on and off, Braves fans know that. It has to be there all the time. Phillies might not be able to turn it on during the playoffs, we saw last year how the Giants wanted it more then they did. Braves need to show how badly they want.

New season starts tomorrow. Braves have 8 games left to play. Let’s go 5-3 down the stretch. Force the Cardinals to play mistake free baseball the rest of the way with no off days.

By: Bob McVinua