Category: Pitching

Is a Chief Needed For The Braves Young Rotation

Freddy Garcia, nicknamed the “chief” has recently been called up from the minor leagues to add some relief to the Atlanta bullpen. At first I was very skeptical of the move and didn’t really see it as being anymore then an inexpensive way to eat up innings down the stretch while the team sits on a large division lead. Then when Garcia began to see minor league action and couldn’t seem to get anyone out I became even more convinced that this deal wouldn’t amount to anything.

Well we all know how quickly things can change in Major League Baseball and today’s zeros can become tomorrow’s hero’s in the blink of an eye. Frank Wren obtained Freddy Garcia from the Orioles in exchange for an undisclosed amount of cash considerations. Which to all baseball fans means a throw away guy that the Orioles had absolutely no interest in keeping. So while Wren made a quiet move that’s of no risk to the ball club what so ever he may have accidentally or purposely stumbled across something that could push the Braves over the top come October.

I’m no stranger to being called crazy, insane, out of my mind or even much worse things when it comes to my bold baseball predictions and confidence in my own knowledge of both the Braves and other Major League teams. So I expect this to be no different what so ever and I’m prepared to take any backlash that comes my way for making such a bold statement.

Freddy Garcia has an outside chance if not better of making the Braves playoff rotation. OK, you can sit down now and catch your breath…. You’re not dreaming and there’s no need to reread that previous line another 10x because I can assure you that you’ve read it correctly.

For the divisional round of the playoffs which the Braves are basically already locked into as they’ll get to avoid the Wild Card 1 game playoff this year (thank goodness) they can skate by with a 3 man rotation which most would suspect to be some combination of Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen. Now combined those 3 guys have made 1 career playoff start.

Now when you get to the National League Championship Series which yes, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here but assuming the Braves can advance through the Divisional Round they likely have to expand their rotation from 3 arms to 4 as that is very standard procedure. I believe the 2009 Yankees attempted to go with a 3 man rotation but I think that it puts a lot of strain on them and as you get deeper into the playoffs you run out of fresh arms.

So with all that assumed and even the possibility of a 4 man rotation in the Divisional Round does exist, who would be the Braves 4th starter? Would Fredi Gonzalez feel comfortable putting Alex Wood out there who is extremely inexperienced into a playoff scenario? Or he could go Paul Maholm? But again Maholm hasn’t proven by any stretch to be a solid starter since his scoreless innings streak at the very beginning of the season surpassed 20 innings.

Tim Hudson would have been the natural choice but he’s obviously injured. Who else could fill that void?

How about Freddy Garcia? Why not? He’s a veteran arm who has post season experience. To date he’s pitched in 4 American League Division Series, 3 American League Championship Series and has made 1 World Series start as well.

Garcia’s post season stats are not off the charts but he’s 6-3 with a 3.28era and has won some big games. Most notably he pitched Game 4 of the 2005 World Series for the Chicago White Sox and gave them an effort that was nothing short of impressive. Garcia threw 7 scoreless innings against the Houston Astros in a series clinching win for the White Sox. He allowed just 4 hits in that outing and struck out 7 batters.

Since being called up to the Major Leagues he’s pitched 7.1 innings, allowed 4 hits and struck out 4. Opponents are hitting just .167 against him thus far. Now of course this is a very small sample size but for what it’s worth it’s the most recent one that we have and all signs have been good thus far.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has shown a lot of interest and intent on allowing Teheran and Minor to occasionally skip starts in order to keep their innings down and their arms fresh. Why not give Freddy Garcia an opportunity to show what he can do in a spot start situation?

I think there is something to be said about post season experience. The lights shine brighter in October and the pressure mounts to levels that young pitchers have never even come close to experiencing. Wouldn’t it be nice to give the ball to a veteran guy who’s been there before and proven he can get the job done? I think a guy like Garcia could also prove beneficial off the field as well, as he can act as a mentor type figure to guys like Teheran and Minor who have never made a post season start in their young careers.

And if you’re still looking for another reason why the Braves should consider Garcia?

Well how about this? He’s the only player on the Braves active roster who’s won a World Series ring with the exception of Gerald Laird who won one in 2011 as a back up to Molina in St. Louis.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

A One Game Playoff Comes Down To One Critical Decision

Happy September Braves fans! I know I haven’t posted as much as of late but I wanted to touch on some things as we approach the post season. Yes it’s September and as a Braves fan I’m talking about the postseason… Sorry that was the pause while I’m sure someone out there was yelling at me for being a jinx or talking too soon.

Our Braves have quietly put together a very good season. As we sit we’re 86-64 a very impressive 22 games over .500. We’re 5.0 games out in the division and 6.5 games up for that coveted Wild Card spot. Although the Cardinals appear to be on their way to a win at the moment so that lead could sit at 6.0 pending today’s action.
Now while we still have a long shot at the division ( don’t laugh) I think it would be wise for Fredi and the coaching staff to prepare for the one game playoff. Now how do you prepare for a 1 game playoff? OK before I get into the specifics of this article I just want to say that a one game playoff goes against EVERYTHING that baseball stands for. Which is longevity. It’s not a sprint it’s a marathon. It’s not about winning 10 games and getting into the post season like the NFL and that’s exactly what Bud Selig has done here. He’s sprinkled a little bit of the NFL onto Major League baseball. Which as I stated before the season even started that I didn’t agree with, I’m not just complaining because my team has the 1st wild card in a strangle hold and I suddenly am afraid of the 1 game playoff. You don’t play 162 games to have a “play in” game essentially unless by some miracle both teams have identical records. Then FINE, I can live with that but as that doesn’t happen very often it’s rarely an issue.

And while I’m not really for the one game playoff the Braves are still likely to be involved. Now I had mentioned earlier on about preparing for a 1 game playoff. Now most would ask “well how would you go about doing that?”. And it starts with making sure you have the RIGHT starting pitcher on the mound. Your starter will set the tone and determine how much pressure there will be on the offense on that given night. This game would play right into Atlanta’s hands if it was a low scoring affair since their offense can be so streaky from one night to another no one wants to see them get behind 4-0 in the 1st inning.

So Fredi Gonzalez is sitting in his office with his feet up on his desk trying to decide who’s going to pitch this crucial game. Because I believe that if  we can get past this game then we are capable of making some serious noise the rest of the way but it’s all about getting there now that this new system is in place. So Fredi has to have 2 guys in mind. Either Tim Hudson who is has been the veteran leader for this staff all year long or the younger but more consistent Kris Medlen. So let’s take a look and as fans try to decide who the best option is.
Tim Hudson:

The playoffs are generally about momentum and what have you done for me lately so let’s see what Tim Hudson has done for the Braves lately.

In his last 10 starts he’s 6-2 with a 3.88 era. So not exactly lights out numbers but decent enough. Only losing 2 of the past 10 decisions gives us a little confidence and the 6 wins is also comforting to a certain degree.

Match ups. The next thing a manger should be looking for is how this pitcher has matched against other teams that are in the playoff race. Looking at stat lines against the Padres or Marlins is fine in terms of momentum but this is a completely different barometer in terms of gauging your starter.

St Louis Cardinals: Tim Hudson has faced the Cardinals ( a likely playoff match up) just once this season. Where he compiled the not so impressive stat line of 5.2 inning, 6 hits and 5 runs. This game was also played at Turner Field the same site as the Wild Card game will be played assuming the Braves hang on.

Philadelphia Phillies: Suddenly the Phillies are right back in this playoff picture and while they would have to leap frog several teams to get that 2nd Wild Card they are still heavily in contention and a team that Hudson has matched up with this year. In 2 starts against the Phillies one at home and one on the road Hudson has another not so impressive stat line. 9.1 innings 15 hits and 11 runs in both starts combined.

Experience: The last thing a manager needs to be aware of before sending a guy to the mound is their experience factor. Some may say that experience is over rated and perhaps in some cases it is but to me the more you do something the less nervous you are about it and the more confidence you have in doing it. So there is always something to be said about experience.

Hudson over his career has gathered up 14 professional seasons and has made over 400 starts in that span.

Another thing to note is some players melt under the bright lights of October. The pressure is on and the atmosphere is much different then the regular season. Hudson has made 9 career post season starts. Posting a 1-3 record with a 3.56era. Not stellar numbers but he has been there before both with the A’s and the Braves.

Kris Medlen:

Now my job is to sell the finer points of each candidate and their possible pitfalls. With the information I give you hopefully you can form your own opinion on who you would like to see start that game and perhaps you already had an opinion long before even reading this. Either way I’ll follow the same structure for Medlen as a I did with Hudson.

Last 10 starts: Mighty Medlen has posted an 8-0 mark with a 0.76era in his past 10 starts. If you’re looking to ride the hot hand and momentum into the post season then there isn’t a better guy to go with then Kris Medlen. If you’re a what have you done for me lately type manager then Medlen will get a good hard look in this spot.

Match ups: I was hoping to touch on some key match ups here in terms of Medlen facing the Wild Card contenders but no such luck. Medlen has been able to avoid them this year and hasn’t made a start against the Dodgers, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates or Phillies this year. However he has made TWO very big starts against the Washington Nationals which will have to serve as our meter in terms of the playoff competition.

Medlen has thrown 14 brilliant innings against Washington this season, allowing 11 hits and only one earned run.

Experience: If you’re looking for a weak spot in Kris Medlen this is it. Medlen has never made a post season start so in terms of facing the pressure the results for Medlen are simply unknown. Now this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, everyone must start their post season career some where.
So there you have it. The 2 most likely candidates to pitch the one game playoff for the Braves. And while the presidential election of 2012 looms nearer the Braves may be having a small election of their own with Fredi getting soul possession of those electoral votes.

I’d love to hear what you guys have to say.

Medlen or Hudson?

Bob McVinua

 

 

 

Medlen Is Bullpen Medicine

Earlier today I was running a few errands and ran into a guy at the grocery store who is a huge baseball fan. So of course we got to talking about our favorite teams and other teams around the league who may be capable of making the post season. He pointed out that last year the Braves experienced a collapse of epic proportion which was just throwing salt in a nearly healed wound. I acknowledge what he said as a fact, what else could I do? So he then asked me what the difference was between this years team and last years? Why would the result be different?

I stood there for maybe a second or two and said “Kris Medlen”. Even being a big baseball fan he said “the name sounds familiar but I can’t put my finger on who that is, I know Craig Kimbrel”. That to me said it right there. Kris Medlen is in a thankless role in the middle of our bullpen. He’s not a closer and really isn’t even the official set up man. He just goes about his business and gives us effective innings the majority of the time he steps on the mound.

But what people don’t realize is that he is the glue that holds this bullpen together. There has been a lot of talk lately from fans in regards to moving Medlen to the rotation. Their view point is that he’s better then several guys we are currently running out there every 5 days. They would be correct but I couldn’t be more against moving Medlen to the rotation and I think it was a blessing in disguise that the move didn’t happen earlier in the year when he got sent to AAA to get “stretch out”.

Rare Breed: Medlen is a freak of nature. He combines starter like stamina with bullpen type aggression. I can’t think of another guy in baseball off the top of my head that does what Medlen does. Fredi can call on him to pitch 1,2 or even 3 innings at a time and know that he’s going to be reliable 90% of the time if not more. In a bullpen you typically have 1 inning guys like Kimbrel or Venters who throw hard and can get you 3 outs, anything more is pushing your luck. Or you have guys like Livan Hernandez who can throw 3 or 4 innings but in the process will give up 3 or 4 runs. The ability to do both is what makes Medlen so valuable.

The Bridge is Long: Sometimes as a fan you’re watching a game and just praying that they can take the lead into the 9th inning where your closer can have a shot to shut the door. Closers have evolved so much in the last 10-15 years. Almost every team has one and the majority of them are fairly effective. However the issue for a lot of clubs is bridging the gap between their starter and closer. Nothing is more frustrating then watching a bullpen blow a lead in the blink of an eye that took 6 innings to build. So if you’re team is up 7-4 in the 6th inning it can seem like an eternity until you get to the 9th but not with Medlen. Fredi can use him to go 2 or sometimes 3 innings if need be. This closes that gap with one managerial decision, not 3 or 4 calls to the bullpen. This is just a luxury that most clubs don’t have.

Added Depth: Johnny Venters has missed 2 weeks of the season and when he has been in there’s been a string of ineffectiveness. If this was happening last year there would be mass panic in Atlanta but this year there isn’t. I haven’t even heard Venter’s named mentioned that much this year at all. Medlen has been able to fill the void along with the resurgence of Eric O’flaherty. Having that added arm in the bullpen compromises for struggling and injured relievers a like.

Identity: Players need to know their roles in order to be affective. You can’t keep switching him back and forth between starter and reliever. That’s not good for his body or his mental state. He’s settled in very nicely with this bullpen role and I think that as long as he’s content and is succeeding there’s no reason to take him out of it.

So in conclusion the Brave have an excellent weapon in their arsenal when it comes to Kris Medlen. His ability to help shorten games and eat up innings has been a god send to this Atlanta Braves team all year. I think if the Braves are going to make a deep run in the playoffs then Medlen will certainly be a major part of it.

 

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

Are The Braves Staring At “Would Have” “Could Have” “Should Have” In Their Rotation?

Everyone who reads my blog knows I hate to over load you guys with stats so I will try to keep them at a minimum for this article. Stats tend to bore people and frankly sometimes I get bored researching them. So what’s on the agenda today? Well with the recent injury of Brandon Beachy I think it would only be suitable that we discuss pitching.

The Braves rotation has been less then stellar this year with the exception of Beachy who is now headed to the D.L with an elbow issue. One would assume that he’ll miss 2-3 starts over the 2 week period. With the Braves “pitching rich” organization this should be no issue right? Lots of young arms available to plug into the rotation, so why then are Braves fans so worried?

The issue in Atlanta is that potential doesn’t always generate results. When dealing with youthful pitchers you must allow for a learning curve and the acceptance that things may not work out the way you wanted them to. This is something that fears me in regards to Frank Wren. I thought last year his move to NOT go after Carlos Beltran turned out to be a great one. Beltran was a half year rental for the Giants who missed the playoffs and lost a great pitching prospect of their own in return. All for what? Nothing really. So I applaud Wren for not pulling the trigger in that situation. By doing that he kept the young Braves arms intact and allowed for another year of development.

However now we need to reevaluate the current situation from a year a go. Brandon Beachy turned into an absolute stud. Even if his ERA went up a full run per 9 innings he’d still have a very solid 3.00era. If he could keep his era down in the 2.00’s even better because that would really establish him as a solid front of the rotation type pitcher. So Beachy was an absolute home run for the Braves assuming that he can stay healthy and on the same track.

Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Teheran still have yet to make a full break through. They’ve all shown some signs of brilliance but still haven’t been able to pitch up to the level of a Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy or Tim Hudson and here’s the thing. It’s FINE, it’s PERFECTLY FINE that they are not top of the rotation studs. Prospects are a very tricky part of sports, sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t.

And to be honest with you I think as Braves fans if we have a rotation that’s made out of 2/5 or 3/5 of our farm system pitching we should be very pleased with that because a lot of teams aren’t even that fortunate. If at the end of the day we ended up with Hanson, Beachy and either Teheran or Delgado or Minor at the back end we should pleased with that. It was not at all a failure in development.

Now if Wren thought that all these guys; Minor, Beachy, Teheran, Delgado and Vizcaino would ALL become number one type starters he was living in a fantasy world. I don’t think this is the case at all, however he doesn’t want to hang onto these guys for too long if they aren’t panning out. At the end of the day baseball is like any other business and when you have assets that appear to be valuable you don’t want them to sit there until they’re worthless.

The trade deadline is quickly approaching as time to me feels like it’s going by faster and faster with each passing week. So the end of July will be here before we know it. Now the worst deal a team can make is a half year rental, especially if it involves dealing away major prospects.

The other thing the Braves should keep in mind is that they will have money to spend next season with Chipper and McCann’s contracts coming to a close. So if they were to trade for a starting pitcher that is due to be a free agent at the end of this season they would have some money set a side to lock him up if both sides could come to an agreement.

Tim Lincecum: Yes I’m talking about the 2 time Cy Young award winner and a former World Series Champion. Yes he has a 2-8 record so far this season but as you recall this article is not about stats. Is Lincecum’s problem physical? Is it mental? I’ve seen no evidence of real injury this season so I suspect that some of it could be mechanics or just that maybe he’s growing out of San Fran. It happens. Players sometimes need a change of scenery to get them turned around. Matt Cain is the apparent new ace for the Giants and that’s likely not going to sit well with Lincecum. The Giants love young pitching and the Braves have plenty of it. With the pressure of the fan base to trade Lincecum growing more intense by the day they Giants may feel the heat to try and move their former ace for a reasonable price tag. Yes, Lincecum’s stats are terrible this year but no one can tell me that the 28 year old 2 time Cy Young award winner is out of gas. He still has plenty left and may just need a new coaching staff to bring out the better side of him.

Matt Garza: Another 28 year old starter that could possibly be on the move. The Cubs are almost in total rebuilding mode at this point. Clearly their current roster just isn’t working as they are dead last and on pace to have one of the worst seasons in Cubs history. So what does the new management team of the Cubs do? It’s likely that they start trading away pieces of the current team to try and attract younger talent that can turn this thing around. Matt Garza has shown some flashes of brilliance while in Chicago and could really help the Braves down the stretch.

King Felix: Everyone assumes that King Felix will be shipped to the Yankees because well the Yankees are a team with a lot of money. However we can’t always make that assumption. Does Felix Hernandez even want to pitch in New York? Cliff Lee didn’t. And it doesn’t guarantee a championship the way that it used to. The Yankees have only won 1 World Series in the past 10 years, the Marlins can say the exact same thing. Not to mention the Braves could compile a much better package of Minor League stars then the Yankees could. At the end of the day the Mariners have to get prospects in return to try and rebuild their organization. Why not start the process with guys like Mike Minor or Julio Teheran? I would give up both of those guys for a front of the line starter like Hernandez. Yes, his stats are down slightly this year but a LOT of that has to do with lack of run support in Seattle and the frustration of being on a losing team every single year. A rotation of Felix Hernandez, Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson and Randall Delgado could almost guarantee the Braves a trip to the post season and with those guys they’d be very tough to beat in a 5 or 7 game playoff series.

Final Note: With the new playoff format it could pay off greatly to have added depth in the rotation. If the Braves were to land one of the two Wild Card spots they would be forced to use their #1 starter in a 1 game playoff. This would obviously make him unavailable to start game 1 or 2 of the N.L.D.S. If the Braves were to add a quality starter they could throw Beachy or Hudson in the one game playoff (or the newly acquired starter) and still be able to stack 3 solid starters together for the N.L.D.S. This would be a big advantage over a lot of other teams in the National League.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Could An Old Foe Be The Answer For The Braves?

There’s no question that the Braves have a lot of  talented arms in their organization. And most of those guys have enormous amounts of potential. Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are all possible top of the rotation guys down the road. However at this very moment the only one who’s getting the job done at the big league level is Brandon Beachy. So although the rest of these guys have lots of potential, it’s not translating into a lot of quality starts right now.

This Braves team is very close to having a championship quality roster. They already have the 4th best offense in baseball so if the pitching staff can just pick it up a little bit then I believe this team can be very dangerous. So what’s the solution to the pitching dilemma? I think it may be Roy Oswalt.

Roy Oswalt is currently a free agent and available to be signed by any Major League team. He’s still a few weeks off from being ready but it’s still something we might want to be thinking about now.

Right now Roy Oswalt is 34 years old. He’ll be 35 in August. But to me his age doesn’t really mean a whole lot if you’re the Atlanta Braves. He’s still in his mid 30’s, he’s not 40 and with Derek Lowe gone the Braves could use another veteran presence in the rotation to compliment Tim Hudson.

Last year Oswalt went 9-10 with a 3.69era. Not great but solid. Although it was limited starts, in 2010 he went 7-1 with a 1.74era. So he is not that far removed from absolute brilliance. Can you imagine if the Braves plugged him into the rotation and he put up those types of numbers?

Oswalt’s career era is 3.21. He has made several post season starts which would be extremely valuable to the Braves as they certainly lack that valuable experience in October. Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Randall Delgado have combined for 1 post season start. So no matter where we turn there is going to be a lack of experience the second that Tim Hudson isn’t on the mound.

You of course have to consider the price. The price certainly needs to be right on a guy who is 34 going on 35 that is coming off an injury. But at the same time the Braves don’t need Oswalt to be a 1, 2 or really even a 3rd starter. Hudson, Beachy and Hanson fill out those roles nicely. We would just need him to comfortably fill the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation and hope that he can give us even more then we bargained for.

The Braves are World Series contender if they can get this pitching situation straightened out. An effective Roy Oswalt combined with a healthy Tim Hudson and young starters Beachy and Hanson could form an extremely dangerous rotation come October. One that mixes experience, youth and talent.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

Pitching Rich or Digging For Gold?

The Atlanta Braves are an organization that prides themselves in their great pitching. How does the saying go? Pitching wins championships right? Well… Not always. The rotations that consisted of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine only produced one World Series championship. Granted the the teams of that era were always very competitive as they would win 14 straight division titles, while making several trips to the fall classic itself.

Pitching to this day is still the staple of the Braves organization. Frank Wren prides himself on his young arms that consist of Minor, Beachy, Teheran and Delgado. All of those guys have great potential. The key word that I’m  going to stress here is “potential”. I’m in no way bashing any of the young arms we have in our system. There’s a chance that we could have a future ace in there. However there’s very slim chance that we are going to hit a home run on all 4 of these guys, it’s just not likely to happen.

So in a more realistic sense we’re looking at MAYBE 2 of the 4 being in the rotation for the long term. The issue that a lot of these guys have is that they are strikeout pitchers which I know fans and scouts both love. However it puts a huge burden on your pitch count and that’s why these guys have struggled to get past the 5th inning, thus straining our beloved bullpen.

The rotation that appears to be set for many years to come does have a few wrinkles in it. I’m not in any way trying to push a panic button but it’s just something that as a blogger I have to point out. Now in a few years I could be proven completely wrong but I’m not as sold on the Braves rotation as I once was. Here’s why.

To win a division title it’s going to take a 5 man rotation to get the job done. Granted there are various degrees of pitching levels, as a #1 starter should be a lot more talented then your #5 starter. However it will take a complete rotation to get it done as you will need consistency from 1-5. Lets dig a little bit deeper into the Braves rotation.

Tim Hudson: Right now he’s the ace. I won’t listen to anyone who tells me otherwise. If there’s a must win game tomorrow, I’m giving Hudson the ball and until someone else steps up he’s are guy. However he’s currently 36 years old and will turn 37 before the All-Star break of next season. How much longer can we really rely on him? Look at Derek Lowe. When you get past 35 your potential to just “lose it” happens, it’s a natural occurrence in the game of baseball. Age will catch up with you eventually. How many more years of Tim Hudson do we have left is the question. 1 or 2 more after this year?

Tommy Hanson: Hanson has a lot of talent yet he still struggles to dominate. He has a horrible time controlling base runners and every team in the National League is well aware of this. He’s coming off a serious shoulder issue, that’s not a guaranteed safe return for Mr. Hanson. Another thing is that his throwing motion is begging for further injuries down the road. If he can’t stay healthy then the Braves might have to let him go sometime in the next 2 or 3 years. It’s a proven fact that teams will not wait around forever and if Hanson can’t get it together then he will be gone.

Jair Jurrjens: After you complete this post you might think twice about trading JJ because I certainly have. Jurrjens has the ability to be dominant but again like Hanson he’s battling injuries. Health is what counts in sports, I don’t care how good you are if you can’t stay healthy. To be honest I think Jurrjens has shown more dominance in his time with the club then Hanson has. If I’m taking one or the other on the spot it’s Jurrjens without question. But Frank Wren has him on the trade block and he’s bound to get plenty of activity as he’s only 25 years old. There’s a very good chance that he could be gone in the next few weeks.

Derek Lowe: Lowe was absolutely terrible last year and I’m glad that he was traded. However he did occupy a full time rotation spot last year and his spot is now currently empty. It needs to be filled by someone immediately. Not to mention he was looked at as the non official #2 guy at the start of the season and some might have argued him to be the ace as he did pitch opening day. This takes away from our “depth” as someone will need to fill that void.

Right now as we look at the above mentioned 4 pitchers you have to be thinking the same thing that I am. NONE of them are a guaranteed part of the Braves future rotation. Not in the long term I should say. In a couple of seasons Hudson will be retired. Lowe is already gone. Jurrjens might be traded in the next couple of weeks if not days and Hanson has shoulder issues to contend with.

Minor, Beachy, Teheran and Delgado:

A ton of talent in these 4 guys. However they are not the first pitching prospects in the world to have talent and not all of them amounted to as much as teams hoped they would. Again all of these guys could end up being absolute studs, that possibility exits. However it’s not likely. Lets be realistic and say over the next 2 years, maybe 3 that we get 2 quality pitchers out of this group. They may be the only ones left out of this once deep crop of great pitching.

If Hanson doesn’t come back healthy and Jurrjens is traded you are looking at putting Beachy or Minor in the #2 spot in the rotation. That’s the same issue we had in Sept when things fell apart. I like Beachy and Minor to be worked in at 3-4 at the highest. Middle of the rotation guys right now, not ace material. It’s to no fault of their own because they lack experience but why throw them to the wolves?

Frank Wren needs to look into a guy like CJ Wilson. Trade Prado to the Tigers for Delmon Young as it has already been discussed. That gives us our power bat in left field. Use the remaining money to bring in Wilson. He’s 31 years old and wants a 5-6 year contract. That does several things for Atlanta.

Win Now: We are developing young talent in this organization which is great but we want to win now. We’re more then capable of being 90+ win team right now. The fan base doesn’t want to see us finish in 2nd place for the next 2 or 3 years. It just wont be acceptable. By saying we can develop players and not win now puts us on the same level of the Kansas City Royals. You groom players that may or may not pan out and then before you know it you can be “rebuilding” for 10 years. This is not a rebuilding team lets do the best we can to win now while developing the young guys, it’s a perfect balance.

Ease The Young Guys In: If you have Hudson and CJ Wilson in the rotation then you are looking at putting Beachy in the 3 spot or possibly the 4 spot. Minor would be 4 or 5. That’s perfect. They can get an entire season worth of work in without putting so much pressure on them to be “the guy”.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

Braves Unique Strength Could Be Enough

When I look at this Atlanta Braves team I don not see a dominant pitching staff. Sure the pitching was great in the first half but those days appear to be over right now. Unless the pitching rebounds in a big way then I don’t see the starters leading us to a World Series. In fact who will be in the Braves rotation come the postseason? Does anyone really know? As a writer there is no way I can predict a rotation with any real confidence.

In my opinion Lowe can’t be put into that rotation. He got hit hard against Philadelphia and St. Louis. If we were to get matched up with a team like the Brewers, imagine what they would do to Lowe’s hanging sinker? Braun and Fielder would have a field day. Balls would be flying all over Miller Park as the Braves would probably find themselves down 5-0 in the 1st inning.

However does Fredi Gonzalez have the guts to not start Lowe? It’s easy for me to sit here and say Lowe shouldn’t start but at the end of the day Lowe is Fredi’s veteran and best post season pitcher. If Fredi were to start one of the young guys in his place would he be afraid of the backlash if they were to falter? Oh I can see it now. “Why didn’t you start Lowe”. “Why would you put a 20 year old out there”. But when you look at the numbers Lowe isn’t our guy. Teheran pitched extremely well in New York and Delgado pitched a great game in St. Louis. In my opinion Delgado out pitched Lowe and Hudson in that Cardinals series.

You need to have one veteran in there. I would say that with full confidence. Hudson will be the game 1 starter. I don’t see any real advantage of putting a rookie out there for Game 1. Too much pressure and they would all be well suited pitching in games 2, 3 and 4 in my opinion.

Could we see Hudson, Beachy and Delgado? Or What what about Hudson, Beachy, Delgado and Teheran? I’ve entertained the idea of the Braves going with a 4 man rotation even in the first round which does happen from time to time. The Giants used a 4 man rotation against the Braves last postseason. Why couldn’t the Braves roll with 4 guys in this year’s rotation? I think it could work.

If the Braves don’t really have a strong 1-2 punch then wouldn’t it be better to show the opposing team 4 very different pitchers? Then they could still have their veteran “ace” Tim Hudson pitch Game 5 on full rest. It’s just a thought.

The Braves offense is nothing that strikes fear in the opposing team’s clubhouse. But they do have some weapons and a very deep line up. When Heyward is hitting 8th that shows the depth of this team. We have 8 very capable hitters, while most teams have 1 or 2 super star hitters that we really don’t have. Mac and Uggla are very dangerous but neither one of them have proven to be a 35 home run and 100rbi producers. I don’t believe that the offense alone will carry us to a World Series. However I think that it’s good enough to get the job done. This is a team that really needs to strike first and I think we’ll be able to put some early runs on the board with Michael Bourn at the top of the order. He always finds ways to create runs.

So what is the Braves unique strength? The depth of  that bullpen is so unique and such a powerful strength. Some people might say a bullpen can’t win you a World Series but I say why not? It’s not just a great closer. It’s not even just a great 8th-9th combo. When Peter Moylan is healthy and affective the sky is the limit for this bullpen. So far he’s looked pretty decent and he still has 2 more weeks to get back into form.

With Moylan, O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel the Braves have the ability to shorten the game down to 5 innings! And in the playoffs you will use these guys every chance you get, you leave nothing on the table in the postseason. We essentially need our starter to give us 5 innings and only allow 2-3 runs. That’s not such a tall order in my opinion as I feel it’s very doable.

Think about how this affects the other team. Most clubs fear a single closer who can shut them down 9 out of 10 times. They worry that they can’t be behind when the 9th inning comes around. Can you imagine how teams would feel if they knew they couldn’t be behind when the SIXTH inning comes around. That’s an enormous amount of pressure for an opposing offense and their coaching staff.

Maybe they try to be a little too aggressive. Or maybe they make mistakes on the mound trying to do too much. This bullpen is the biggest strength the Braves have. Yes it’s a very unique one if you ask me. What other team in baseball has 4 outstanding relievers who can potentially shorten the game until the 6th inning. Not many. I can’t think of one actually.

Although most would say they’d prefer the Yankees outstanding offense or the Phillies 4 aces, I’m more then happy with the Braves lock down pen. I think we take it for granted because it’s at our disposal. Just like Yankee fans take for granted that they have guys like Cano, Tex and Granderson in their line up. When we get to see it every night were not always impressed with it. But imagine the shoe being on the other foot.

The Braves are playing game 7 on the road and are down 4-1 in the 6th inning knowing that Moylan, O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel are waiting in the opposing bullpen. How would we feel now? Think about it.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Kimbrel Falters But Braves Still Playoff Bound

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

 

Why 2011 Could End Differently

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