Category: Pitching

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

 

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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

4 Aces Make A Full Deck, Right?

Sorry guys I know it’s been awhile since I lasted posted. Had to deal with hurricane Irene and her raft. We just got power back today so I’m pretty excited as you can imagine. I didn’t want to waste any time in writing a new post because I came up with a fairly interesting topic, hoping to get a strong debate going.

September starts tomorrow. This of course marks the last month of the regular season. The Braves currently have an 8.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Making the playoffs doesn’t appear to be a huge concern right now with a solid lead in the standings with less then 30 games left to play. What does concern me just a little bit is the starting rotation. If someone said to me 2 months ago that the rotation would be the concern heading into the playoffs I would have laughed at them. At the all-star break my biggest worry was the struggling offense. As Braves fans can remember the struggling offense has been the killer for us in a lot of playoff series in the past 10 years or so.

I still believe that if this team is going to win a World Series then they will have to rely on the starting rotation. One would assume that the rotation would be Hudson, Lowe, Jurrjens and Hanson, right? Well how certain can we be of that right now? Hanson is having some shoulder issues, he should be fine for the playoffs but it’s impossible to tell what kind of shape he’ll be in when he comes back. We have Lowe who is an aging veteran, he’s struggled for most of the season. Jurrjens was our ace for the entire first half but he seems to have some serous control issues as of late. Hudson is the ace RIGHT NOW, as a manager you have to live in the moment and Hudson is the guy I’d put out there right now for a game 1 of the NLDS. Then finally you have Beachy and Minor, two very talented young pitchers who would most likely lack the experience needed to win in the playoffs. Let’s take a closer look.

Tim Hudson: 13-8 with a 3.10era. That doesn’t quite tell the whole story as Hudson has slowly begun to take over this Atlanta Braves pitching staff. This is a game of “what have you done for me lately” and Hudson has been by far the best pitcher since the all-star break. He has the stuff and the experience to be a #1 starter come playoff time. I think Hudson would have to struggle badly down the stretch to get bumped down in the rotation come October.

Jair Jurrjens: He’s my #2 barring that he returns to form, or at least close to it. If Jurrjens comes any where near what he was before the all-star break then he’ll be one of the best #2 starters in the entire playoffs. Despite his recent struggles, he’s still maintaining an era of under 3.00. That’s pretty impressive considering how badly he’s been getting shelled lately. Putting him at #2 takes a little bit of pressure of him as well. Jurrjens is still a young guy and has never pitched in the post season before. Game 2 is stressful but doesn’t compare to game 1.

Tommy Hanson: A great fit for the #3 spot in this rotation. I think Hanson is the guy for the 3rd spot for 2 reasons. One he was able to get a taste of the post season last year. This will not be uncharted territory for him. There’s no way that you can leave this guy out barring his health returns, which I think it will. He can use the rest of the season to get himself back into form, a big advantage due to the fact that the Braves have such a large lead in the playoff race.

Brandon Beachy: No this is NOT a misprint or a typo. I think that Fredi Gonzalez should announce Brandon Beachy as the #4 starter. He wouldn’t even have to pitch in the NLDS and would only make 1 start in the NLCS and World Series. This kid is one of the bright spots in the rotation going forward, why not give him a chance? He’s 7-2 with a respectable 3. 31era. I think he can get the job done. He’s made 20 starts with the big league club this year and he’s proving he can pitch well. I know he lacks experience but I still believe the best arm has to be put out there.

Derek Lowe should not be left off the playoff roster. What’s his biggest issue? He can’t go deep into games. Why not put him in the bullpen? It makes perfect sense. He can come into the game and get big ground ball outs with his sinker or eat up innings if there’s a blow out, saving the other valuable arms in our pen.

The last few weeks of the season will give us a lot of information. Will Hanson come back healthy? Will Jurrjens straighten himself out? Will Hudson continue to pitch well? A lot can change in 4 weeks but right now that’s my playoff rotation for the Braves.

Let me know what your rotation would be.

By: Bob McVinua