Category: Heyward

Braves Are No Stranger To Adversity

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.

Jordan Schafer:

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.

Jason Heyward:

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

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Braves Bats Are “Chopping” At The Bit

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.

Conclusion:

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

We’re a 1/3 of The Way Home

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

Braves Are Firing On All Cylinders

Two issues last year prevented the Braves from making a run at a World Series title. We all saw the potential this team had but wondered if they could put it all together and make a serious run at a championship. As the wheels fell off last Sept there were 2 glaring holes in this club. The lack of production from the offense and the inability of our starters to pitch deep into games, causing our bullpen to wear down.

Well currently those two issues have been corrected in grand fashion. The Braves are firing on all cylinders offensively. They’re averaging just about 7.5 runs per game over their last 7 games. Very impressive considering they started out so slow to start the season. They are doing it with a balanced attack. In my opinion the strength of the Braves line up is that it has excellent depth. 1-8 we are as good as any team in the National League.

No we don’t have a “Josh Hamilton”, “Prince Fielder” or “Matt Kemp” type player. I don’t believe anyone in our line up at the moment is capable of hitting 45 home runs and driving in 125 runs. However we don’t need them to. With our depth we can afford to have certain guys heat up and cool down throughout the season and still maintain a balanced attack. When your offense relies on just 1 or 2 guys you can’t afford to have them get injured or slump, your offense will surely slow down. Right now Freeman and Heyward are probably the two hottest hitters in the line up. Freeman hit 2 balls out of the ball park last night and Heyward continued his impressive hitting streak as it reached 9 games. Maybe next week it will be McCann and Uggla carrying the line up. You never know. However I do know this. If your offense is being compared to the Texas Rangers then you are surely doing something right.

The other thing that’s impressed me over this stretch of good play is that our pitchers continue to get deep into games. Last night Fredi called upon Johnny Venters to come into a game in which we had an 8 run lead, just to “get some work” in. When would that ever have happened last season? Never. He was forced to use Venters, Kimbrel and O’Flaherty almost every game. All 3 of them were in the top 10 in Major League Baseball for relief appearances made. That’s a lot of stress on those young arms that so far we are avoiding this season.

Speaking of the bullpen. This is another great strength of the Atlanta Braves. Not only do we have the Big 3 at the back end of the pen to close out games, we also have Kris Medlen and Livan Hernandez to give us multiple innings on multiple days each week if needed. Having those rubber arms in the pen will take a lot of stress off the guys at the back end as the season goes on. Christian Martinez has also been very solid for us this year as well.

It’s still early but you have to feel very good if you’re a Braves fan. Not only is this team built for the future but it’s also built to win right now. A luxury that most teams don’t have. They are either in a win now mode like the Yankees and Phillies. Or in a rebuilding mode like the Royals and Astros.

So I think Braves fans have a lot to look forward to this season and many seasons to come.

By: Bob McVinua

 

“If Prado” and “If Heyward”

I thought about putting some type of warning on this article for the die hard Jason Heyward supporters who attack me the second I say his shoe’s untied but I have to call it as I see it. I will be more then fair Heyward fans don’t worry. I’ve also noticed a large support group for Martin Pardo which I think is great. I’m ALL about supporting the players on this team but I have to take a very subjective view point on these 2 players. That view point being that neither of these players are guaranteed to be a part of the franchise’s future.

Jason Heyward has a huge impact on the Braves future. If he were to return to form then he can give us a “3 hole” hitter for the next 10+ seasons.  That spot would be signed, sealed and delivered. Right Field would be set for a very long time. A huge relief for the Braves front office. However in order for that to happen we need to get Heyward back on track. Clearly Wren is not completely sold on that being guaranteed to happen as he won’t even guarantee a starting spot for Heyward next season. Those are not my words, those are the words of Frank Wren. Sure if Heyward shows up to Spring Training in full force and starts hitting the baseball all over the field then he’s going to get the spot. And let’s be honest Heyward has to do “less” to get the spot then anyone else. The Braves want Heyward in Right Field but aren’t willing to just give it to him which I completely agree with. If Heyward has a decent to above average spring then the job should be his. If he were to cough up that starting spot next season and fizzle out then the Braves will have a major position to fill in their line up. Leaving a question mark for the team’s front office.

Now we say “if” Prado because there’s no guarantee that he’s going to be here past the end of this month never mind the next 5 or 6 years. Prado is a good player. He’s usually consistent and he brings a lot to the table. His versatility is amazing. When you have a guy who can play almost any position on the diamond then you have a real weapon on your team. However we need to consider this. Prado doesn’t play any of these positions exceptionally well. 2nd base is by far his best position but with Uggla on the roster there’s not going to be any need to play there.

Prado represents some importance to the Braves as Chipper heads towards a milestone in his life that isn’t baseball related. His 40th birthday will be coming in April and it’s time to start considering some real replacements for Chipper. We’ve put this off long enough and I think that we need to decide if Prado is going to be a full time 3rd basemen when Chipper hangs it up. If Wren decides that he is then I’m all for giving him a contract of reasonable proportion. If he’s not their ideal 3rd basement then I think it may be time to part ways with him while we can still extract value.

The Braves have done a very a nice job with developing young talent on the pitchers mound but let’s not forget their efforts in developing position players as well. Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward are great talents with loads of potential. We need to get Heyward back on track and hope that Freddie can avoid the sophomore slump. If both of those things happen then we have 2/8 of our position players set in a stone for a very long time. Brian McCann can be added to that list as well, I don’t see him leaving Atlanta. So now we’re up to 3/8 of our starting line up being considered “long term solutions”.

While we’re on the topic of young talent we can bring up names like Tyler Pastornicky and Joe Terdoslavich. Two quality infielders who could fill the long term voids at short stop and 3rd base. Neither of them are obviously ready right now but in 2013 or even 2014 we could be in store for a treat with these two guys.

Nothing in life or baseball is guaranteed but I like that the Braves have stock piled enough talent to potentially last us for many seasons to come. The outcome doesn’t always go as we plan but in just like in life all we can do is put ourselves in a position to succeed and do the best we can. The Braves really have done a great job in doing that.

They key to building any successful franchise is locking pieces in for the long term. It’s very tough to compete for World Championships every year when the players are constantly changing. I feel that the Braves have done a fair amount of musical chairs over the years which may have hurt their chances to compete.

If you were to look back at the 2007 Atlanta Braves Roster there are only 6 players from that team left on the current roster. And I use the word “six” loosely because Matt Diaz left and came back. So some could argue that only 5 have remained for the entire time. Those players being:

1) Chipper Jones

2) Brian McCann

3) Martin Prado

4) Peter Moylan

5) Tim Hudson

6) Matt Diaz

That’s less then 25% of the roster. A fair amount of turnover for a team that is normally competitive. Now if you look at it from this view point. Is Prado guaranteed to be back next year? Going into 2012 this number could shrink.

That’s why I’m excited about the future of this Braves franchise. I really believe we have some key pieces that we should be able to incorporate into our long term plans. And that’s how championships are won.

 

By: Bob McVinua

 

Who’s Our Right Fielder?

I told myself 100 times last night that I wasn’t going to write a story about this. I said that blowing it up into a bigger deal then it actually is, always a bad idea. But as I’m sitting here at my computer I can’t help but wonder something. Who is the Braves right fielder? Is it Jason Heyward? Or is it Jose Constanza?

Now I live in New England so I can’t even claim to have more exposure then my fellow Braves fans who are from the south, but I have heard A LOT of mixed feelings on this subject. I can’t remember the last time the Braves fan base was so divided on something like this. Now there are two different arguments to this situation and to be honest I believe both of them make sense. One of the things I love about the Braves fan base is that were generally very reasonable. Our points are usually very valid and we just want what’s best for our team.

Argument #1: Jose Constanza should be the right fielder. He has proved he can handle big league pitching and he brings a ton of speed to our line up. The one thing about speed is it never slumps and affects so many different aspects of the game. With Bourn and Constanza in the line up our opponents have to worry about extreme speed at the top and bottom of the order. Constanza can steal a ton of bases and beat out infield hits. His speed also helps him to field his position. The biggest and simplest part of this argument is that Constanza is HOT RIGHT NOW. Play the hot bat while it’s hot. This team needs to win now because were capable of competing for a world series right now. You don’t play .600 baseball by accident.

Argument #2: Jason Heyward needs to be in right field. Heyward is younger then Constanza and has been said to be the future of this franchise. There for he needs to be in the line up and getting at bats. The only way to get out of a slump is to get plate appearances. No one has ever broken out of a slump sitting on the bench. Heyward, as we saw last night possess some serious pop in his bat. He is a lot more likely to hit a 3 run home run in a big spot then Constanza is. We don’t want Heyward to lose his groove completely because of lack of at bats, thus making the slump even worse.

Both sides are very passionate about their sides. People are very upset that Heyward isn’t playing and other people don’t want a struggling Heyward in the line up. Some people love Constanza while other people are happy when he’s on the bench.

The bottom line is these are two different types of players. It’s like comparing Derek Jeter to Albert Pujols. They are in the line up to do two completely different things. It doesn’t mean that they both can’t be talented players, it just means that they have two very different ways of doing things.

The stats match up like this:

Jose Constanza: 23 games / 78 at bats / 18 runs / 29 hits / 7 steals / .372avg / .417obp

Jason Heyward: 99 games / 321 at bats / 42 runs/ 72 hits / 6 steals / .224avg / .314obp

The first thing that should jump out to you in fairness is the sample size. Constanza has played in basically a 1/4 of the games that Heyward has played in. So most people will say that the chance of Constanza keeping up this pace would be very unlikely and boarder line impossible.

But lets be fair to Constanza here. Yes he’s only played in 23 games. However he doesn’t have to keep his average at .372 to prove a point. If he kept up this pace in other categories such as stolen bases. if he played in 99 games like Heyward he would possibly have 28 steals right now. He would certainly pass 30 steals for the season as a full time player because speed DOES NOT slump.

Constanza’s batting average could drop down to .310 or even .305 which would be a lot more “normal” and he’d still be way ahead of Heyward. I do feel that some people have it out for Constanza because of his journeyman status. Here comes this 28 year old career minor league player, who has basically taken our future superstars job.

The thing is Jason Heyward has not voiced any concerns over it. He knows that he is going to have to win his job back by playing better. Last night was a very good start and we’ll have to see if he’s in the line up more often once Constanza comes back .

Yes Jason Heyward had a great rookie campaign but so do a lot of people. One year does not make you a super star that deserves a spot in the line up everyday. Dan Uggla didn’t get benched because he had proven time and time again that he is one of the best second baseman in all of baseball. He made a name for himself in Florida which allowed him to ride out his hitting slump on the field instead of the bench.

I think the over all offense was producing at a higher level with Constanza in the line up. I’m not looking at them as individuals here because I’m a much bigger Atlanta Braves fan then I am a fan of any single player. I like what Constanza brought to the line up. I think his speed produced a lot of runs and kept defenses off balanced. Whenever Constanza put the ball in play he had a chance to get on base. That’s not the case with Heyward. Speedy players very rarely slump for long periods of time because they can bunt for hits and beat out routine ground balls.

I believe that Heyward is the future right fielder for the Braves. However I think that Fredi has to play the HOT bat. It’s not different in any other sport, the player who’s hot RIGHT NOW plays. Fredi could not sit at the podium after a Braves loss and explain why he has a red hot bat sitting on the bench so that he can get Heyward at bats. It’s not like Heyward is sitting on the bench for weeks at a time. He’s in the line up at least once a week so he is still getting at bats.

By: Bob McVinua