I know last nights loss was a tough one to swallow. Always remember that I’m a die hard Braves fan just like you guys and the loss hurt me too. Last night the Braves took a 3-1 lead into the 9th inning and handed the ball over to their most trusted reliever. Kimbrel was on a very impressive scoreless innings streak when he entered the game last night and with 2 outs and a 3-1 lead still in tact it appeared that the streak might continue.
Well Albert Pujols had other ideas as a nailed a base hit that would score runs 2 and 3 for the Cardinals, tying the the ball game and leaving the Braves stunned. I know it’s natural to be upset with Kimbrel right now. The finger pointing always goes in the direction of the guy who didn’t do his job at the moment of the loss. That’s the laws of baseball and there’s no way around it. But as fans we need to remember all of the times that Kimbrel DID indeed shut the door. Besides his early struggles, Kimbrel has been lights out almost the entire year. Him and Venters have created one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball history. All of those things need to be remembered when get upset over a tough loss. Braves fans have been very spoiled when it comes to the back end of the bullpen, a lot of teams are not so fortunate.
I’m not here to make excuses for Craig Kimbrel because if he knew this article was being written I can guarantee he would tell me not to defend him. But I’m going to choose to be sensible now that I’ve had a night to sleep on it. This has been a very tough week for this Atlanta Braves ball club. They started the week in Philadelphia playing a big series and got swept. Then they were supposed to have a day off which then turned into a double header in New York. Going from a day off to a double header is a big difference. It was 2 extra plan ride that this team probably didn’t feel like taking after they got swept in Philadelphia. These guys must be exhausted. There’s no question about it. I think they played very well last night and they deserved to win that ball game, they just couldn’t shut the door. It happens to best of them. Even the great Mariano Rivera has blown some saves this year that I bet the Yankees wish they could have back. But at the end of the day, they know he’s Mariano Rivera and that he’s going to get it done 05% of the time if not more. That’s what the Braves have in Craig Kimbrel.
I’m not trying to down play the loss. One pitch by Kimbrel and one hit by Pujols changed the out look of the Wild Card standings by 2 full games. One swing, two games. That’s a lot. The lead could be 8.5 right now but instead it sits at 6.5. The Braves have less room for error but they are professionals and they have to deal with it.
Tony LaRussa was quoted as saying “I feel like we have to win this game” (quote regarding today’s game). To me that says it all. There’s less then 20 games left in the season and the Braves are sitting ona 6.5 game lead. Who’s the pressure really on here? Not us. Were not the one that has to make up 6.5 games in the standings with a little over 2 weeks left in the season. That’s not a spot I’d like to be in.
One positive is that the Cardinals travel to Philadelphia on Friday to start a 4 game set. That will be a very tough series for the Cardinals and could be a chance for the Braves to pad their wild card lead a little bit as they head into the final stretch of the season. Granted the Braves play the Phillies the last series of the year but it’s at home and with such a big lead it’s possible the Phillies won’t go all out to win those games as they won’t risk injury to critical players.
I still like the Braves to make the playoffs. I think time and the schedule is on our side. We need to win 1 game in St. Louis. I’d certainly prefer to win more then that but I think that will get the job done. Winning just one in this series would set us up with a 6.5 game lead with 15 games left in the regular season. The Cardinals would play 16 remaining games as they are one off the pace, hence the .5 game.
Have faith Braves fans. I think we can do this. A big audition game for Derek Lowe tonight. He blew the chance to shine in Philadelphia but he could make up for it here. If he can’t put together a solid outing against St. Louis then I don’t know how Fredi Gonzalez will be able to put him in the playoff rotation. Sept Lowe is running out of time to show he still has the stuff to get the job done.
By: Bob McVinua
2010 was a great year for our Atlanta Braves. We had been absent from the playoffs since 2005 and just making the postseason was a great feeling. The expectations this year are very different for this team, at least they are in my opinion. Last year making the playoffs was a victory in itself and we were happy to be back in the mix of competitive ball clubs. This year I’m looking for a World Series to come to Atlanta.
Is this a far fetched dream? Or is it a very possible reality? Lets take a closer look and see how this years team compared to last years playoff squad. I think by the time you get to the end of the article you’ll see that we do have some distinct advantages that were missing last season.
1) Derek Lee played 1st base during last years playoffs. Yes Derek Lee has a great glove over at 1st base and made a great scoop play to save us game 2 in San Fran. Although he had some good moments with the glove, Lee was basically shut down at the plate. Derek Lee had just 2 hits in 16 at bats against the Giants giving him a horrible batting average of .125. He struck out 6 times and didn’t drive in a single run. I’d be willing to take bets that Freddie Freeman can hit over .125 and manage to drive in more then 0 runs at the plate. Derek Lee was brought in to bring some pop to the offense but it really didn’t turn out the way Frank Wren had hoped it would. Freeman gives us a much better chance to win. His bat has a lot more pop in it then Lee’s and I like that he’s a lefty. He’s just one of several guys who can protect McCann in the line up.
2) Brooks Conrad won’t be playing on a regular basis. Injuries hurt the Braves down the stretch and forced them to play Brooks Conrad at crucial points in the game. I know that you can’t blame 1 player for a team’s failed playoff performance but I do put a good portion of blame on Conrad. He had 3 errors in game 3 against the Giants. 1 of those errors was in the 9th inning with 1 out and a chance to help put the Giants away. He botched a ground ball and the flood gates just opened. His error on the pop fly also resulted in a Giants run. Those 2 runs were the difference between a win and a loss.
3) Dan Uggla. People can say what they want about his batting average but frankly I don’t care. I had a big issue with it being under .200 don’t get me wrong we all have standards. However if Uggla can finish with a batting average of .250 or so I’d be fine with that. The guy brings some series pop to this line up and gives McCann the protection that he didn’t have in last years playoffs. Having 2 big bats in the 3 and 4 spots is critical, especially when one is lefty and the other hits from the right side. Uggla has the potential to go yard at any given moment. That scares teams. And it should. Late in the game Uggla could provide a big blast that wins us the game.
4) Michael Bourn. This guy brings an element to this team that we’ve been lacking for way to long. SPEED. This guy can flat out fly. He can score from first with ease on a double in the gap. He can beat out infield hits. He can steal bases. He poses a threat to starting pitchers because they MUST keep an eye on him at all times. With Bourn hitting at the top of the order this offense becomes a lot more dangerous. Runs are tough to come by in the post season and he’s the type of player who can help us manufacture runs in a tight ball game.
5) Chipper and Martin Prado. These guys were both injured during the playoffs last year. I know I mentioned that Brooks Conrad was forced to play everyday because of injuries but this goes beyond Conrad having to play. When these guys are in the line up they provide something special. Chipper has proven that he can still tear the cover off the baseball. Prado is a great number 2 hitter who almost always puts the ball in play. He can get big hits if he needs to and he also has the bat control to just move the run over in a crucial spot.
6) The bullpen. Last years bullpen was decent but this years bullpen is record breaking. O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel are the most feared bullpen trio in the major leagues. All of these guys have era’s under 2.00. How often does that happen? Wagner did a great job for us last year but he was clearly on his way out. This is a new group of guys who have all been with the team since opening day. They know their roles as they have been clearly defined. Last year Kimbrel was forced to come in and close game 3 of the divisional series. It didn’t go his way partially because he wasn’t expecting to be the closer. If Wagner hadn’t gotten hurt then he wouldn’t even have been out there in the first place. Being able to shorten games in the playoffs could be the difference between the Braves going home early or sticking around for a World Series run.
There are questions about the starting rotation. That’s the one thing that is kind of concerning right now. While no one can guarantee that the rotation will be ready to go in full force by Oct, there’s also no one who can guarantee that they won’t be. It’s a wait and see type of situation which I know is unsettling for Braves fans.
Derek Lowe will take the mound tonight in Philadelphia for a big Sept start. This is Lowe’s month to shine and hopefully he will. A solid outing and a Braves victory tonight would make us all feel better about Lowe.
The one thing this rotation does have is depth. Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are all capable of making a start in the playoffs. I’d prefer to have a healthy Jurrjens or Hanson in there but you can’t complain when you have 6 very talented options to choose from.
The only questions left to be answered are with the rotation. Will Derek Lowe turn things around and return to his usual late season dominance? And will Hanson and/or Jurrjens return to form to help this team make a World Series run. Only time will tell.
By: Bob McVinua
Sorry guys I know it’s been awhile since I lasted posted. Had to deal with hurricane Irene and her raft. We just got power back today so I’m pretty excited as you can imagine. I didn’t want to waste any time in writing a new post because I came up with a fairly interesting topic, hoping to get a strong debate going.
September starts tomorrow. This of course marks the last month of the regular season. The Braves currently have an 8.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Making the playoffs doesn’t appear to be a huge concern right now with a solid lead in the standings with less then 30 games left to play. What does concern me just a little bit is the starting rotation. If someone said to me 2 months ago that the rotation would be the concern heading into the playoffs I would have laughed at them. At the all-star break my biggest worry was the struggling offense. As Braves fans can remember the struggling offense has been the killer for us in a lot of playoff series in the past 10 years or so.
I still believe that if this team is going to win a World Series then they will have to rely on the starting rotation. One would assume that the rotation would be Hudson, Lowe, Jurrjens and Hanson, right? Well how certain can we be of that right now? Hanson is having some shoulder issues, he should be fine for the playoffs but it’s impossible to tell what kind of shape he’ll be in when he comes back. We have Lowe who is an aging veteran, he’s struggled for most of the season. Jurrjens was our ace for the entire first half but he seems to have some serous control issues as of late. Hudson is the ace RIGHT NOW, as a manager you have to live in the moment and Hudson is the guy I’d put out there right now for a game 1 of the NLDS. Then finally you have Beachy and Minor, two very talented young pitchers who would most likely lack the experience needed to win in the playoffs. Let’s take a closer look.
Tim Hudson: 13-8 with a 3.10era. That doesn’t quite tell the whole story as Hudson has slowly begun to take over this Atlanta Braves pitching staff. This is a game of “what have you done for me lately” and Hudson has been by far the best pitcher since the all-star break. He has the stuff and the experience to be a #1 starter come playoff time. I think Hudson would have to struggle badly down the stretch to get bumped down in the rotation come October.
Jair Jurrjens: He’s my #2 barring that he returns to form, or at least close to it. If Jurrjens comes any where near what he was before the all-star break then he’ll be one of the best #2 starters in the entire playoffs. Despite his recent struggles, he’s still maintaining an era of under 3.00. That’s pretty impressive considering how badly he’s been getting shelled lately. Putting him at #2 takes a little bit of pressure of him as well. Jurrjens is still a young guy and has never pitched in the post season before. Game 2 is stressful but doesn’t compare to game 1.
Tommy Hanson: A great fit for the #3 spot in this rotation. I think Hanson is the guy for the 3rd spot for 2 reasons. One he was able to get a taste of the post season last year. This will not be uncharted territory for him. There’s no way that you can leave this guy out barring his health returns, which I think it will. He can use the rest of the season to get himself back into form, a big advantage due to the fact that the Braves have such a large lead in the playoff race.
Brandon Beachy: No this is NOT a misprint or a typo. I think that Fredi Gonzalez should announce Brandon Beachy as the #4 starter. He wouldn’t even have to pitch in the NLDS and would only make 1 start in the NLCS and World Series. This kid is one of the bright spots in the rotation going forward, why not give him a chance? He’s 7-2 with a respectable 3. 31era. I think he can get the job done. He’s made 20 starts with the big league club this year and he’s proving he can pitch well. I know he lacks experience but I still believe the best arm has to be put out there.
Derek Lowe should not be left off the playoff roster. What’s his biggest issue? He can’t go deep into games. Why not put him in the bullpen? It makes perfect sense. He can come into the game and get big ground ball outs with his sinker or eat up innings if there’s a blow out, saving the other valuable arms in our pen.
The last few weeks of the season will give us a lot of information. Will Hanson come back healthy? Will Jurrjens straighten himself out? Will Hudson continue to pitch well? A lot can change in 4 weeks but right now that’s my playoff rotation for the Braves.
Let me know what your rotation would be.
By: Bob McVinua
On Sunday afternoon we watched Mike Minor give us a “solid” but not great outing against the Mets. He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win the game. Now I’m sure most of you didn’t think much of the start by Minor but for me something suddenly hit home. It was like I realized the earth was round. Something so simple that it seems to be escaping everyone.
What has Derek Lowe been giving us all season? Decent outings at best. Very similar to the one that Mike Minor gave us this past weekend. When we look at the numbers they are not overly flattering for the veteran Lowe. Below are the ERA’s posted by Derek Lowe over the course of the past three seasons.
2009: 4.67era/ 2010: 4.00era / 2011: 4.78era
It’s been years since Lowe lasted posted a respectable ERA which I consider one that is under 4.00. Yes he had a great run in September of last year when he went 4-0 with a 1.08era. I’m not saying that wasn’t impressive because it certainly was. He carried us on his back down the stretch last year and was the biggest reason why we were able to clinch the Wild Card spot. I mean maybe Derek Lowe and Jason Heyward should room together on the next road trip so that they can talk about all the success they had last season while the team is trying to WIN NOW.
Mike Minor is 23 years old. Derek Lowe is 38 and at the end of his career. If we are getting very similar results from both pitchers then why not put the younger guy into the rotation? There is a 15 year age difference between the two players. In a year or two Derek Lowe will most likely be retired. Mike Minor is part of the future of this team that’s already very young anyways, why not add a little more youth to it. Minor can still develop and improve, while Lowe is clearly on the way out and is only going to start to deteriorate.
Mike Minor is sitting on a 4.85era this season. That’s not something that he should write home about but is it really that much worse than the 4.78era that Lowe is currently sporting? To me they are one in the same. I see very little edge in putting Lowe out there over Minor. Not to mention if Minor begins to out pitch Lowe. Another edge to having Minor in the rotation is that it gives us a lefty in an all right-handed rotation.
Now I’m not saying that we should release Lowe or do anything crazy like that. Obviously nothing drastic like that can or should happen. Lowe is a big game pitcher and loves to be in the game in crucial situations. Why can’t Lowe move back to the bullpen where he once called home. Let’s take a look at how Derek Lowe did while coming out of the pen. Granted he was younger during his bullpen days but there are lots of veteran pitchers that call the bullpen home. Coming out of the pen is more of a mind set then anything else.
In 1999 Derek Lowe saved 15 games while sporting a 2.63era. In 2000 he had a breakout year as the Boston closer, saving 42 games with an outstanding 2.56era. Even with a slight drop off in 2001 he still managed to save 24 games and produced a solid 3.53era.
Jair Jurrjens will come back from the DL. He will need a spot to fill and it can either be Mike Minor’s spot or Derek Lowe’s spot. The bullpen right now is solid but could stand to be even better. Take a guy like Christhian Martinez out and put Derek Lowe in his place. Or you could replace Anthony Vararo. To me those are the two weakest links in the bullpen right now. Even if Peter Moylan comes back there is still room for both him and Lowe to have spots in the pen.
If this all went according to plan the Braves bullpen would look something like this: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, George Sherrill, Arodys Vizcaino, Derek Lowe and Peter Moylan.
Who would want to face that bullpen come October? Derek Lowe gives the bullpen two huge advantages late in games. The first is that Lowe gets a ton of ground balls, perfect for getting double plays late in games. Say you have a 1st and 2nd situation with only 1 out in the 8th inning. Your up 1 run and want to protect that lead. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring in Derek Lowe? Just insert him into that situation. Another thing is that he does have a starter’s stamina. He could always give us 3 or 4 innings in long relief if we went into a long extra inning game or if one of our starters got knocked out early in the game. He could save a lot of wear and tear on the other guys in the pen.