Watching things come full circle is a part of life and naturally when one door closes the next one opens. We make decisions and judgements that we feel are best at the time and sometimes down the road we look back and second guess our decisions or maybe even regret them all together. However at the end of the day some decisions can be quickly reversed, others take time to correct and others are permanent and mold our lives forever.
Baseball in a sense is no different. Although baseball doesn’t necessarily have the ramifications of life, the comparisons are similar enough that you can see the point I’m trying to make. Trades, free agent signings and in game management decisions can shape a franchise for the short term, the long term and somewhere in between.
When things come full circle we are sometimes angry with the result, other times we’re thrilled with it and then there’s times when we’re just flat out confused by what has happened. Last night Juan Uribe ended the Braves season with one swing of the bat. Everything from the winter meeting moves of bringing in the Upton brothers, getting off to a red hot stat in April, to over coming horrific injuries, came down to one swing of the bat. The Braves season of 162 games of battling it out each and every night for 6 full months will be summed up by a hanging slider by David Carpenter that was crushed over the left field fence to give the Dodgers a 4-3 advantage in the 8th inning of game 4.
But what will get lost in this translation is that the Atlanta Braves over came many obstacles this season and over all had a season to be very proud of. If you’re someone who believes that it’s World Series or bust each season or as Billy Beane would say “If you don’t win the last game of the season then no one gives a crap”, that’s fine but you will end up disappointed a great majority of the time if not every time in the case of some fan bases who have had entire generations come and go since their teams have won the World Series ( Chicago Cubs )
There is something to be said about the Braves winning the N.L East because most people didn’t expect them to. I think when you suffer a loss like the one the Braves experienced last night the fan base begins to forget everything else that happened over the course of 162 games. During Spring Training there was a lot of hype surrounding this team and their newly rebuilt outfield but no one was certain that the Braves would win the division as Washington was still the favorite amongst many baseball experts.
Not only did the Braves prove that prediction wrong but they were actually in 1st place for every single day of the season except for one, April 4th.
This was not an easy road traveled either. The Braves suffered so many injuries and set backs this season that I think a lot of us almost forget about the ones that happened earlier on in the year. Johnny Venters never even threw a regular season pitch this year and he has been our premiere set up man. Eric O’Flaherty threw his last pitch somewhere around the middle of May against this very Dodger team at Turner Field. At this point many of us Braves fans began to panic and wonder how Fredi Gonzalez would get the ball to arguably the best closer in all of baseball Craig Kimbrel. What happened after that? The Braves would still go on to post the best bullpen ERA in all of baseball and on top of that set a franchise record for the same mark.
Jason Heyward missed significant time as did Brian McCann. Freddie Freeman spent a couple of weeks on the disabled list and still drove in over 100 runs on the season. BJ Upton and Dan Uggla struggled throughout most of the 2013 season and BJ was one of the players expected to make a huge impact when he signed with the Braves this winter and it just never happened. Other players stepped up and young players assumed roles that were well beyond the original expectations of them in 2013. No one panicked and no one quit and as a fan I am appreciative of the heart and effort this team always put forth.
When I look at the 2013 Division Series I am still glad that we were able to get a chance to play the best of 5. The Dodgers beat us 3 times and I can say they deserved to advance where as in 2012 I was unsure if the Cardinals really were the better team after that one game playoff. But at the same time some frustration does set in because at the end of the day this series went 4 games and from my perspective part of the problem was that in the post season you have to put yourself in a position to win, in a position where someone can make a big play, get a big hit or make a big pitch to help your team win that particular game.
During this series Games 1 and 3 were won by the scores of 6-1 and 13-6. The Braves were not even relevant in either of those contests which would end up amounting to 50% of the series, easy wins for the Dodgers where Atlanta was just dominated. Games 2 and 4 however were a 2-1 victory for the Braves and then of course last nights 4-3 defeat. But even in Game 4 the Braves were competitive and gave themselves a shot to win a ball game. If games 1 and 3 had played out in a similar manner there’s a good chance that 1 run ball games can be very split in terms of results and there’s a very good chance that the Braves could have been in a position to go back to Atlanta for game 5 or maybe they could be advancing to the N.L.C.S themselves.
Fredi Gonzalez has already been questioned and will continue to be questioned about his decision to leave Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen and use David Carpenter for the 8th inning. Now I’m fully aware that perception is 9/10th’s of everything that goes on in this world and how things seem are just as important if not more important then what they actually are. And what did fans see last night? They saw arguably the best closer in all of baseball standing in the bullpen as Juan Uribe hammered a hanging slider from David Carpenter in the bottom of the 8th inning of a do or die game.
The fans wanted to see Kimbrel pitch 2 innings to close the game and from what I’ve heard Kimbrel wanted to give it a shot as well. Now I love that Kimbrel wanted to get in there and close this game out and get all 6 outs but would he have been able to? Kimbrel has never had a 6 out save in his career and in game 2 he struggled a little bit getting that 4 out save to preserve that game and was greatly benefited by a close call on a steal attempt at 2nd base.
What if Fredi brought in Craig Kimbrel for a 6 out save and he blew the game in the 8th or even the 9th because he ran out of gas? Would people then question Fredi’s decision to put him out there in a crucial game to do something that he’s never even attempted before? I think there are arguments to both sides but because the outcome was undesirable we will continue to second guess the decision. If David Carpenter goes out there and strikes out the side then no one has an issue with the move.
Now the big question that looms over the Braves organization is where do they go from here? We just witnessed the Reds fire Dusty Baker after he had a very competitive season with the Reds and made a playoff run with his team. But it wasn’t to the satisfaction of the front office. They had hire hopes for this years Reds team and they believe they could find a better fit for dugout leadership to make a deeper run and accomplish the ultimate goal of winning the World Series.
Leadership is important in sports. Managers in baseball can’t play the game but they put their players in the best positions to be successful and they can certainly have an impact on the outcome of games and this is especially hitting home to anyone who truly believes that Fredi Gonzalez is the reason the Braves are heading home as we speak.
Whether you believe that Fredi Gonzalez is personally responsible for last nights loss or not you can’t ignore the significance of the front office’s support or lack of support for Gonzalez. And the reason for this in my opinion is because much of the Braves roster is set for next year. Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Jason Heyward, Just Upton will all surely be back and in the starting line up on Opening Day come 2014. There’s a very good chance that BJ Upton will get another chance to prove himself and try to secure himself a starting spot in Spring Training as he’ll only be in year 2 of his 5 year 75million dollar deal.
The rotation will set up in a similar fashion as well, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran will anchor the top 3 spots with the bottom 2 up for grabs I’d imagine. Many familiar faces will be in the bullpen as well; Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, David Carpenter, Eric O’Flaherty will be back in business and try to continue and improve upon the dominance of the 2013 Braves bullpen.
My point is I’m not sure there will be any significant roster changes for 2014. Frank Wren has done everything he could and spent a good deal of money to put this team together and he can’t stretch the dollar too far for the future because eventually guys like Freddie Freeman will need long term deals and there’s no way that the Braves front office will want him to walk away.
The most significant change may come in the form of a beloved Braves player hitting the road and possibly heading to the American League. Brian McCann didn’t sound to confident in the fact that he’d be returning next year and they’re saying the Rangers, Blue Jays and Yankees are likely to emerge as front runners for his services.
So is new leadership the drastic change that Frank Wren will produce in this off season? Is Fredi Gonzalez too soft spoken? Does he not possess the urgency that’s needed to win big games and snap his team back on track after a brief losing streak? Are his in game managerial decisions not up to Frank Wren’s standards? All of these questions will be answered shortly I’m sure.
The biggest strength of this Braves team may be the combination of talent and youth. The Braves sport the 2nd youngest roster in all of baseball and still managed to have one of the best records in all of Major League Baseball. So there is a very good possibility that this team does improve not by adding different players but continuing to grow and develop the ones that they already have.
During the 1940’s the Brooklyn Dodgers coined the saying “Wait Til Next Year!” and that’s exactly what Braves fans have to look forward to at this point. The promise and hope of 2014 will begin to take over the hurt and disappointment of 2013 and that’s what will bring us all back together during Spring Training as we try to root this team to a World Series and finally win the final game of season.
By: Bob McVinua
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
However there is something to be said about the anticipation of the trade deadline as it’s almost the summer version of the winter meetings in which it allows teams to make that one final push towards their ultimate goal of winning a World Series. And while some fan bases will have renewed hope or further reassurance that their team is in it to win it, other fan bases will suffer the harsh reality that their team is no longer a contender and that they will be more or less packing it in for the rest of the season.
Over the winter meetings the Braves put themselves in kind of tricky spot, possibly without even realizing it. When Frank Wren signed BJ Upton and traded for Justin Upton to create a young and dynamic outfield as they would be combined with a young budding super star Jason Heyward, Wren was not just going for the gold in 2013 but he was building an outfield that could be together for the next 5+ seasons.
Now in doing so I loved the moves and was very optimistic about what the Braves would be able to accomplish this season. Now with that being said they’re in 1st place as of today by 5 full games and stand a solid 12 games over .500 despite their most recent 3 game losing streak.
Frank Wren’s move to build this epic young outfield put him in a situation that would prove to be difficult if things didn’t go his way. I say this because Wren will have to sit on his hands and hope for his young outfield to continue to progress and show signs of improvement or he will be forced to tear it down and admit that he made a mistake. The moves to obtain not 1 but both Upton brothers essentially locked Wren and the Braves into a strategy that would lead them down a road of difficult decision and produce a team that would give them some lack of flexibility at a point in time such as say, the trade deadline.
The Braves outfield isn’t going anywhere which means that 1/3 of the starting line up is locked in stone. Freddie Freeman is locked in at 1st base, Uggla is locked in at 2nd base and Simmons is untouchable at short stop.
The ONLY two pieces of this team that could change at the deadline would be third base and catcher. Now trading Brian McCann to receive some sort of value type player out of fear of not being able to resign him this off season makes some sense for next year and beyond but you have to remember, Frank Wren wants to win now, the team is built to win now as much as it is in the future.
You won’t be able to get enough in return (most likely) to replace the offensive output that McCann will give you down the stretch. Mind you his numbers aren’t staggering by any means but he also missed 6 weeks of the season due to his recovery from shoulder surgery and has been playing pretty well since he came back. Altering our catcher situation doesn’t seem like the way to go so I’d say lock McCann in as well.
That leaves Chris Johnson who came over with Justin Upton in the trade with Arizona and to be honest CJ has been a pleasant surprise for the Braves this year. He’s hitting .332 which is good for one of the highest batting averages on the team for a regular every day player, only Freeman is even comparable.
But despite Chris Johnson’s success he’s still not filling the void that really makes the Braves vulnerable. What the Braves really need is a lead off hitter and a way to get Simmons as far away from that lead off spot as possible. If we could bat Simmons 8th on a regular basis where he feels a lot more comfortable and is a lot more likely to produce, combining that with a solid lead off man that can play every day, I think this Braves offense would start to take off.
Yes, the Braves have Jordan Schafer who has played extremely well in limited action and of course he could fill the void at lead off. However the issue is there’s no way he’s going to play everyday. Fredi Gonzalez can’t sit Justin, BJ or Heyward on a regular everyday basis. Unless he came up with some sort of Outfield Rotation where one of the 3 outfielders sat every 3rd or 4th game and let Schafer into the line up. But I doubt that would go over very well and I’m not sure how productive that would be in trying to get steady offensive production from our other outfielders.
With all of that being said what the Braves are looking for is a rare find and rare breed of player. What the Braves need is a 3rd baseman who is capable of playing solid defense and batting in the lead off spot, someone who is capable of hitting over .280 consistently and possesses decent enough speed that they can be a threat on the base paths.
The difficult thing is we could all name multiple outfielders who could fill this void if we didn’t have such a jammed packed roster full of talented outfielders already. You may find a lot more short stops or 2nd basemen with these types of skill sets but with Uggla and Simmons on the roster those spots aren’t really available either.
It will be very interesting to see how Wren deals with and addresses the short comings of the ball club which knock on wood so far have been fairly minimal judging by their record and status within the division. However come October these types of weaknesses will be magnified and as the Braves search for more consistent offense I don’t think there’s any where else better to start the search then the top spot in the line up.
By: Bob McVinua
End of the season articles are always the toughest for me to write. I am an avid sports fan and enjoy watching all of my favorite teams play. However there is something special about the Braves that separate them from the rest, something that makes them special. Perhaps that’s because baseball is special.
Baseball represents so many of things that make life great. Baseball is the change of seasons and the welcoming of spring. Putting away your coats and shovels and getting out your baseball gloves. No more hiding in doors and watching TV, it’s time to get outside and play with your kids or even have some fun for yourself. Feel the sun beating on your skin and the warm air all around you. Get yourself ready for those long summer nights and put behind you those long cold winter months. Everything comes a live in the spring. The days start to get longer and your spirits start to lift a bit.
Then it’s time for baseball. It’s time for your favorite team to take the field again with the hopes that ANYTHING can happen. It gives you a chance to believe that miracles can happen and that underdogs can rise above adversity and any disadvantages that they may be up against.
Baseball like life is all about development. Baseball players aren’t created in a day a month or even a year. They are created over a life time of hard work and dedication. Perhaps trips to the minor leagues and riding buses around small towns just keeping the dream alive. Isn’t that what life is about? Working hard today for a better tomorrow? Starting out small and rising through the ranks of your company and proving yourself worthy. A lot can be taken from the baseball diamond and can be translated into real life situations. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce our way. Sometimes people make bad decisions and errors, some more costly then others. But all of us are working towards some ultimate goal in our lives, just as the Braves players and any players for that matter are working hard to obtain their team and individual goals.
The one game playoff is no different. The Braves were sadly given one chance after a full years worth of hard work to prove that they were worthy of a spot in the next round. But how many people out there have worked hard for a year or many years to get ONE SHOT at a job interview. Whether you get this particular job could come down to just one interview. And in that interview you know that they can’t get to know the real you in just 30 or 60 minutes. They can’t possibly understand all you’ve been through or the years of hard work that have gotten you this far. And just like the Braves who played 162 games to get to where they were, people don’t realize how good of a team they really were. We won 94 games this year just 5 more wins ALL SEASON and we could have won the division. They can’t judge us as a failed team because of one bad game but some will try. The format isn’t fair but sadly that’s the way that it is for right now at least.
In terms of the one game playoff recap or highlights I’m sure all of you have seen it a million times as have I. So there won’t be any point in me beating a dead horse here but I will point out a few things that I felt were game changers.
David Ross Home Run: This is exactly what the Braves needed. They needed to strike first and strike early. With Kris Medlen on the mound I thought that it would only take 3-4 runs to win this game and that was with a little margin for error. Medlen has been lights out all year so I felt very good about things. The Braves record is much stronger when they score first vs when their opponent scores first. The only issue with this was that I felt as if the team as they have done all season, will sit on a lead thinking it can last the entire game. I thought their could have been more urgency to score runs in the following innings.
Play Small Ball: In the bottom of the 3rd the Braves just received a shut down inning from Medlen after giving him the lead. Now at this point the emphasis needs to be on taking on more runs one at a time. Michael Bourn leads off the inning with a single which was a fantastic start. Now with Molina behind the plate and Loshe very strong at holding runners close to the bag it was nearly impossible for Fredi to send Bourn in that situation. I wouldn’t have either. What I would have done is had Prado lay down a bunt. He handles the bat extremely well and could have gotten Bourn to 2nd base with only 1 out and the middle of the order coming up. Bourn scores easily on any single and with Heyward and Chipper due up I’ll take my chances. Not to mention it would have caused Loshe to throw more “stress” pitches that inning. Fredi showed signs of bunting as he gave Prado the signal once to lay one down but took it off after the ball was fouled off. However with 1 strike I would have left it on. Then we’re a single away from making it 3-0. Build the lead slow and steady but take advantage of your opportunities. This was almost guaranteed to be a low scoring game of under 5 runs for both clubs if there hadn’t been mental mistakes.
Double Play Ball: This is the one that hurt the most. Beltran leads off the 4th inning with a single which is the Cardinals first hit of the ball game. Now here comes the middle of their order so Medlen must be in trouble right? Well not exactly. He gets a tailor made double play ball hit right at Chipper. Beltran still has some speed but he’s no where near the runner he once was and Holliday is an extremely slow runner coming out of the box and on top of that he is battling hip and back issues. Chipper just need to get the ball to second in a timely manner and Uggla would have had plenty of time to get Holliday at first. But instead Chipper throws the ball into right field allowing Beltran to go to 3rd. Now this play changes the entire dynamic of the inning. Medlen could take the mound with 2 outs and no one on if that double play is turned correctly. However now it’s 1st and 3rd with 0 outs. And with the way Medlen was pitching prior to and after that 4th inning you could clearly tell it was the error that shook him up. He wasn’t the same that inning because in his mind he should have been out of trouble. Yes as a pitcher you need to bear down but at the same time you expect your top ranked defense to make those kinds of plays behind you.
Why Are You Bunting: This was perhaps the biggest shocker to me. In the bottom of the 4th inning the Braves had a chance to respond to the Cardinals and tie up this ball game. Simmons comes up with 1st and 3rd with 1 out. Now Simmons is a pretty good hitter in his own right so I wouldn’t have been shocked to see him lace a ball up the middle and keep the train moving. Or at least he could have hit a Sac Fly to tie up the game. But instead he lays down a safety squeeze per Fredi’s request and ends up being out at 1st base on an interference call. So now Medlen has to come up and try to drive in the run from 3rd with 2 outs. Not a good situation. The dynamic of the game would have changed again if the Braves had tied it up. The Cardinals took the lead but would have surrendered it right back the very next half inning. Mentally that makes a huge difference. Playing a tied game where you know one run could give you the lead vs needing one to tie. Now if Fredi was worried about Freeman’s ability to score on a fly ball then would a safety squeeze be any better? Probably not considering Simmons would have to push that ball in the perfect spot to allow Freeman to get home from 3rd. If Loshe fields that ball cleanly there’s no way that Freeman makes it home safely.
More Sloppy Play: You’ll notice how I skipped right over the Holliday home run. That was one run on one mistake from Medlen. That home run was not one of the bigger game changers for me although it did extend the Cardinals lead to 2. What bothered me far more then that home run was the sloppy play in the top of the 7th. Uggla makes a critical error to allow Freese to reach 1st safely and then advance on the poor throw. Now this was bad by Uggla on two accounts. First off he booted a pretty routine ground ball that allowed the lead off man to reach in the first place which never should have happened but then on top of making the initial error he threw the ball away. I mean that throw wasn’t even close. He should have just stuck that ball in his back pocket. Then the Cardinals would have had to decide if they wanted to bunt the runner over to 2nd or not which is slightly different then bunting him to 3rd as it would still take a base hit to score him. Once Freese was bunted over to 3rd base Fredi brought in Chad Durbin which proved to be the right call as Kozma hit the ball hard and right at Simmons who was playing in. Another chance for the Braves to cut off that run and Simmons like Uggla threw the ball away.
In Field Fly Rule: Perhaps they should call it the outfield fly rule in this case. This play was extremely aggravating to me and I can’t lay it to rest until I vent my feelings on here. I won’t go on a long rant but I think this call was horrible. I don’t care what the rule book says the point of the infield fly rule is to protect the base runners. In this case the base runners did not need protection as there was NO WAY Kozma was going to intentionally drop that ball to try and gun down the lead runner. Even if he threw out Uggla at 3rd which is very doubtful the Braves would have had 1st and 2nd with 2 outs, the same as if he had caught the ball. So there was NO NEED to call an in field fly there as it only hurt the base runners rather then protecting them. Did this call lose us the game? My answer is I don’t know. The bases would have been loaded with McCann coming to bat and only one out. Everything plays differently with the bases loaded. McCann would not have walked like he did. Motte knew he could pitch around McCann with a 3 run lead and he had a base open to do so. McCann would have gotten at least 1 or 2 good pitches to hit and he could have hit a home run or he could have grounded into a double play. Either way we’ll never know and I think that’s what is bothering most Braves fans. Personally I would have rather had Zozma just catch the ball, end of story.
2013: As you guys know the blog doesn’t stop just because it’s the end of the season. I’ll cover the winter meetings, trades and free agent signings as well. If you guys have any other ideas of topics you’d like to see covered please let me know and I’d be happy to accommodate as many of you as possible.
My next post will be done soon and it will cover some ideas that I have on how we can improve next years Braves team and some of the moves that I feel will and should be made.
Thanks to everyone who has read my blog over the course of the season. And lets not forget, Baseball is like a good friend that moves away each winter but is guaranteed to return at the first sight of spring.
By: Bob McVinua
” A man has to have goals- for a day, for a life time- and that was mine, to have people say there goes Ted Williams the greatest hitter who ever lived” – Ted Williams
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.
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.
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?
It’s Friday May 11th and baseball season is just slightly over a month old. So how could anyone possibly be getting concerned about their teams this early on? Well in most cases there’s little reason to panic this early in the season, however these 5 teams jump out at me for the most cause of concern.
These were all teams that were picked by many to make the postseason. Other teams on the list were facing some question marks going into Opening Day. Some of you may disagree with the list and as always I encourage you to send me your feedback and opinions on everything that I write.
So without further delay here is my list of the top 5 most concerning teams at this moment:
1) Boston Red Sox:
I don’t see this one being heavily debated so I thought it’d be a clear cut number one. A few things concern me with Boston. They currently 12-19 with a 4-11 home record. If you can’t win at home then it’s very difficult to try and win the majority of your road games. Generally playoff caliber teams play well at home so the Red Sox being 7 games under .500 at Fenway Park this year sets off a red flag for me.
Another issue that can’t be ignored is the pitching staff. They are currently 29th in the majors in ERA, the only team worse in the pitching department is the Minnesota Twins. They are also 4th in the majors in walks allowed so they are clearly giving away far too many free passes. Walks always have a way of turning into runs.
Bobby Valentine is a question mark at the manage position. Some questioned the hire from day one. I personally am a fan of Bobby Valentine but I have feeling that he is overwhelmed by this slow of a start. When you take over a team that’s as talented on paper as the Boston Red Sox are you don’t think you’re going to have to fight tooth and nail each night to get a win. But that’s exactly what thye are having to do.
The Red Sox are 4th in the majors in runs scored so the overall team offense has been clicking. Scoring runs isn’t an issue if you rank in the top 5 in all of major league baseball, so that can’t be used as a complaint. The pitching has been terrible. A staff that includes Beckett and Lester should be performing a lot better then this.
The positive side for the Red Sox like all of these teams is that it’s still early. We aren’t even a quarter of the way through the season and we still have a long summer a head of us. Boston sits 7.5 games out in the A.L East going into today. To me 10.0 games is a threshold at this point in the season. You do not want to fall more then 10 games off the pace this early on especially in a VERY tough division such as this one.
2) Milwaukee Brewers:
This team to me has red flags souring sky high right now. They are currently sitting on a 13-18 record which is good for last place in the N.L Central. They are 7.0 games out of 1st place behind the red hot St. Louis Cardinals who are playing terrific baseball thus far. When I look at the Central Division I see 2 clear cut competitors for the Brewer’s crown. Those teams being the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. I don’t see the Cubs, Astros or Pirates being competitive for the entire season nor do I see them finishing ahead of the Brewers. However a 3rd place finish in the Central Division won’t do the Brewers very much good. The N.L despite having the extra Wild Card spot this year will be extremely competitive.
So let’s dive into the issues that the Brewers are facing right now. I’ve always said that every team needs some type of identity. You need to either pitch well or hit well to be a competitive ball club. If you can’t do either well then you are in a lot of trouble.
When you look at the Brewers right now they are 26th in team ERA and 28th in batting average against. So their pitching staff is getting absolutely hammered. On the other side of the coin their offense ranks 18th in runs, 26th in batting average and 4th in the league for most team strike outs. None of those are very flattering numbers.
This club is clearly missing the presence of Prince Fielder in the middle of that order. The left/right combo he created with Ryan Braun was fa nominal and created fear amongst rival pitching staffs. But without Fielder in the line up the team just isn’t the same. They are going to miss roughly 40 home runs and over 100rbis. That alone can’t be ignored.
Right now this team isn’t hitting well at all and they can’t seem to get anyone out. They need to correct one of these issues to gain an identity and become competitive again. Rickie Weeks is hitting just .164 and Corey Hart is hitting only .231. Getting those two guys would be a big step in the right direction. With the N.L sporting teams like the Cardinals, Reds, Nationals, Braves, Dodgers and Phillies I don’t think this Brewers team will be able to make the playoffs which is a huge step back for this franchise.
3) Los Angeles Angels:
This is my middle of the pack team in terms of “concern level”. They are sitting on a 14-18 record and remain in the seller of the A.L West. Sitting 7.0 games behind the Texas Rangers is not where you want to be in the first 5-6 weeks of the season. However there is hope for Angel’s fans.
We are all WELL aware of the struggles regarding Albert Pujols so I won’t even go there. The only thing I’ll mention about it is that I would suspect that he will rebound. He’s one of the best players to ever play the game and I’m sure it will take time for him to adjust to a new team, a new city and a new field.
It’s more then just one player that’s holding back this Angel’s offense though. This team is ranked 21st in a runs scored, 16th in team batting average and 26th in on base percentage. They are not in the top half of the league in any of those 3 major offensive categories. This team needs to score more runs. I also think they could look to upgrade the team speed as well, they sit 22nd in stolen bases.
The pitching has been some what of a bright spot for this club in the early going. Jared Weaver has already pitched a no hitter and CJ Wilson has been very solid for this team in the early going. They are ranked 12th in team ERA, 9th in batting average against and they are 6th best in walks. I suspect this pitching staff will help get this team back on track once they can find some life in those bats.
One edge that this team has is that over time the Mariners and A’s are likely to fall out of the race as they just can’t score enough runs to compete. Both teams have made early season noise or have shown flashes of being competitive in the past but always manage to fall out of the race by the All-Star break. This means that despite having to deal with the Texas Rangers within their division they should have 2 teams that they can beat up on as the season goes on. This could give them a big advantage over teams in say the A.L East
4) Philadelphia Phillies:
The Phillies were picked by almost everyone to win the N.L East during Spring Training. In my opinion the N.L East has become one of the strongest divisions in baseball when you look at a body of work from top to bottom. I cut the Phillies a little bit of slack here by giving them the #4 spot on this list but they have two factors in their favor. They are only 5.5 games behind the Nationals and they have been missing their two best offensive players for the entire season. If you take out any teams top two offensive threats their offense will sputter it’s just unavoidable.
As the Phillies sit 19th in runs scored, what surprises me is that they are 15th in team ERA as the pitching is supposed to be the heart and soul of this club. Granted they have been missing Cliff Lee for spurts this season but Halladay and Hamels are still in there and I think they should be better then middle of the pack in terms of ERA.
Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will come back. The question surrounding them is when will they come back and when they do how affective will they be? Until those two questions are finally answered we wont know how good this team is. That’s just being fair and that’s what I go for as I write these articles.
My concern for this Philadelphia team is that the division appears to be much stronger then any of us initially thought. The Nationals are sporting one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball which allows them to possibly beat Philadelphia at their own game and the Braves are in the top 5 in runs scored which could pose a threat to any of the pitching staffs in the division.The Mets and Marlins also appear to be competitive as well, if they stay around the .500 mark for the entire season then there is going to be NO freebies down the stretch in this division.
We don’t know what Philly has to offer us yet. So that’s why I have them in the 4th spot.
5th Arizona Diamondbacks:
Call me crazy. A lot of people do. But of my top 5 teams that spark my concern this is the club that I have the least concern about. This is a very talented club that has had to deal with the struggles of Justin Upton who they naturally look towards to lead the offense. However I still believe it’s the pitching that will take this club to the postseason if they are meant to get there.
Ian Kennedy 3-2 with a 3.91era
Trevor Cahill 2-3 with a 3.26era
Joe Saunders 2-2 with a 2.50era
Wade Miley 3-1 with a 2.76era
All of those starters are solid. Every night they are going to have a chance to win with this pitching staff. Two issues this staff does face is that they are giving up too many long balls. You must keep the ball in the yard if you’re going to be able to dominate the opposing line up. You make it far too easy for the other team to beat you when on 1 swing of the bat they can put up a run.
I believe this staff will settle in nicely and carry this club through the summer months. The Dodgers are red hot and playing well on both sides of the baseball as they have the best hitter and pitcher in the N.L. But let’s keep in mind the cause for true panic is not making the post season at all and I have a feeling this won’t be the case for the D-Backs. I think they’ll have enough talent on the mound to make a run for that 2nd Wild Card spot.
Talks have really been heating up in regards to adding an extra wild card team to each league. There seems to be a lot of mixed feelings on this issue and I’d love to get some feedback from my readers to see what you guys think.
Lets take a quick look back on how the baseball playoffs have changed over the years.
Prior to 1969: Perhaps the most cut throat playoff structure. This concept had the team with the best record in the regular season from each league face off in the World Series. Very cut and dry, no margin for error. You had to be the best team in your league or your season went by the wayside.
1969-1993: Things opened up a little bit by separating each league into 2 divisions. These 2 division winners would face off in what would be the National League Championship Series and the American League Championship Series. The winners of each series would obviously be that season’s World Series match up.
1994-Present: The present format has been the most friendly in terms of giving each team the best odds of making the playoffs. 3 divisions were created and a wild card was implemented to make an even 4 teams. Suddenly the amount of playoff teams doubled.
Being a baseball fan since I was 7, allowed me to only watch the playoffs from 1994 on. So I have only witnessed postseason baseball with the format that we currently have. So I’d love for some more veteran baseball fans to shed some light on how they felt watching the playoffs expand into what they are today. So my opinion on this matter is slightly bias as I can only relate to having the 8 team playoff system.
It’s now March 1st and teams have already reported to their spring training facilities. What makes spring training so exciting? One word. HOPE. Every team has hope right now. Any one can make the playoffs and anyone could win the World Series. Sure some teams have better odds then others but no one can guarantee anything at this point in time.
In previous playoff structures the chances of your team being able to win the World Series was extremely slim. You would have either had to be the best team in your entire league or the best team in your much larger division. Both appear to have been quite a daunting task. As an Atlanta Braves fan I can’t even imagine the season starting right now and knowing that if the Braves don’t have the best record in the N.L then they will be eliminated at season’s end.
The 8 team playoff structure allows for more teams to make the playoffs which generates more excitement from each fan base. Not only can teams get in by winning their division but they can also sneak in as the Wild Card team. Which gives teams in very difficult divisions an extra chance to get into the post season. The drama of the post season also lasts longer as well. I wouldn’t want the entire season to end and jump right into the World Series. Again I am bias because this is the only playoff structure I’ve ever witnessed. I believe right now we are at a happy medium. Just enough teams make. 8 out of the 30.
Now if the new playoff structure were to get approved we would now allow 10 out of 30 teams to make the post season which is 1/3 of the league. To me it just seems like a little too much. Under the new rules we would have 1 extra wild card in each league and there would be an extra round where the 2 wild card teams from each league would play each other in a 1 game playoff to see who would advance.
Now I’m not one to be negative as you guys know so I will shed some positive light on this. 2 extra teams in the playoffs will give some excitement to more fan bases. But that’s about it. Other then that I really don’t think it does much good at all.
Alright, so you allow an extra team into the playoffs. But it’s only for ONE game. It’s not even like you’re allowing them to play a best of 3 series. It’s not much better then your team losing a one game playoff on the last day of the season. Is it really worth the trouble? I don’t think it is.
Now we have to put this into perspective here. Everything in life is situational. So if my team or your team were to get into that 2nd Wild Card spot then of course we would be excited about it. However what happens when my team or your team is in the 1st wild card spot and you are 6 games ahead of the team who grabs the 2nd spot. Then your team loses in that one game playoff, are you still going to be thrilled with the idea?
To me it just makes a mess of things and allows a possibly mediocre team into the playoffs. The NBA allows 16 teams into the playoffs which is more then half the league. Yes it may be over kill but they do at least allow them to get a 7 game series in. Fans will get to see their team play at LEAST 2 playoff home games. Which I think makes it worth the trouble.
If MLB were to make this a best of 3 series then maybe I’d be a little more open to it. Each team would be guaranteed at least one home game. The team with the better record would get games 1 and if needed game 3 at home. Game 2 would be at the home field of the 2nd wild card team. At least then you would get both fan bases involved in it.
If it were me I would leave things as is. I think that’s it worked out pretty well so far and if it’s not broke don’t fix it.
Sure this new format could have helped the Braves last year when they missed the playoffs by one game. They still would have gotten a playoff birth. However if they were the team who had won the wild card I wouldn’t have been thrilled with them being forced to play a one game playoff.
By: Bob McVinua
I will once again reiterate the fact that I’m nothing more then a baseball fan who loves to write sports articles in his free time. This post is not a “sports writers” perspective on the Atlanta Braves, this is a die hard Braves fan who was left heart broken after last nights game. I’ve been a fan of this team since 1994 and I have seen some tough moments throughout the years. The 1996 World Series loss to the Yankees. Making it back to the World Series in 1999 with a great team and once again running into those same Yankees. Year after year of losing in the playoffs because of lack of offense became very frustrating for me. The offense has let us down at some point in the season, whether it was in the regular season or the post season, every year since I can remember. Even in the great string of post season runs we would always fall short because our offense just didn’t have it.
Game 1 of the 1999 World Series Greg Maddux pitched an absolute gem. He ran out of gas late in the game and when you looked at the score board as he walked off the field it was 1-0 Braves. Chipper Jones had hit a home run for his club, a solo shot that was the only run of the game. Once again we could have asked where was the offense?
The point I’m trying to make is that this is nothing new. We’ve been in need of an offensive makeover for quite some time. When was the last time anyone was truly afraid to face the Braves offense? Yea we did have some big bats in the line up in the late 90’s with Andruw Jones and Brian Jordan swinging the bats pretty well and of course we had Chipper Jones in the prime of his career doing everything he could to win games for us.
So what about this years club? Where did we go wrong? What happened? The first thing that we need to realize as sports fans is that EVERY GAME does count even when there’s 162 of them. No there isn’t any point in harping on the past or what the team did in April, May or June. However it does prove a point, one that will never be learned. Last years Braves club made the playoffs by 1 game. They were the ones along with the Giants who ended the Padres season last year. They were the team causing the heartbreak. But even so it was 1 game, they won the Wild Card on the last game of the season by 1 game. If they had won ANY of the close games they lost this year then we’d be playing in a one game playoff against the Cardinals tonight. I realize that close loses are going to happen and that you can’t win them all but when you’re down 5-4 on a hot July afternoon in the 9th inning maybe it makes you realize that you should hustle just a little bit harder or be just a little bit more patient at the plate, as you should never take any game lightly. Just like in politics where 1 vote can make a big difference, one game in the baseball season can do the same.
Chipper seemed quick to remind everyone that they were throwing 3 rookies every 5 days and that was a big part of why they were struggling. Really? So did Randall Delgado pitch better or worse then Derek Lowe this month? Would you rather have had Derek Lowe pitch a late Sept game this year, or would you rather go with Minor, Teheran or Beachy? Think about it. These guys kept us in a lot of ball games this month. I have said this countless times in these posts so I apologize for sounding like a broken record but it’s the truth. The Braves after last night lost SEVEN ” 1 run” ball games this MONTH alone. You can’t even tell me Chipper that you didn’t make the playoffs because you had injuries to the pitching staff. Maybe the injuries of Jurrjens and Hanson would have prevented you from making a World Series run, alright I’ll buy that but they were NOT the reason you didn’t make the playoffs. The offense was the reason that we didn’t make the playoffs and for more then one reason.
The Atlanta Braves hit under .200 with runners in scoring position this month and even in last nights game the big hit eluded them several times. Several players came up to the plate with a chance to drive in what would have been the game winning run on several occasions. So if the Braves go 2-5 in those 7 games decided by ONE RUN then they are in the playoffs right now. Yup, they would have had to go 2-5 that’s it. They would have won the Wild Card by one game just like they did last year.
An enormous part of the Braves success this season was their ability to AVOID THE SWEEP. They did that very well through the first series of Sept. The bend don’t break attitude of this team was the reason they had such a big wild card lead in the first place. The one thing you need to do in baseball is avoid getting swept. Winning 2 out of 3 on a regular basis will leave you with a solid record at the end of the season. Even winning 1 of 3 from time to time will prevent long losing streaks. The Braves never lost more then 2 or 3 games in a row because they refused to get swept. This team had never experienced a true downward spiral until the end of the season when they got SWEPT THREE TIMES in one month.
Looking back the biggest series of the year was the one where the Braves went to St. Louis. They had a commanding Wild Card lead at this point, one that I believe was around 7.5 games. I said it several times before the series began, DON”T GET SWEPT. In game 1 of the series the Braves had the Cardinals down to their final out. Kimbrel was an out a way from insuring that we would win at least one of those 3 games. He blew the save and the Cardinals would steal the first game right out from under us and go onto win the other 2 games and complete the sweep.
That’s where this season went down hill. Getting swept by Philadelphia twice in one month didn’t help things either but losing all 3 of those games to the Cardinals proved costly. When they left the field after game 3 they were flying high and knew they had a shot to win this thing. That’s exactly what we didn’t want. Things were very different after that series as we would only win 1 more series the rest of the way and continue to plummet once we left St. Louis that day.
Now can you imagine if we had swept them? And the Cardinals were then moved to 10.5 back at that point? They probably would have been so heart broken that they might have fallen off right then and there. That would have been a 10.5 game lead with roughly 15 games left? We would have been a lock even with our recent struggles. Or even if we took 2 of 3 from them like we had been doing to teams all year long. We would have had an 8.5 game lead with 15 to play. Instead we left St. Louis up 4.5 with 15 to play and we weren’t feeling so warm and fuzzy about that.
Now mind you this will be part 1 of 2 in this season ending post. I will blog throughout the off season on various topics if you are still interested in Braves baseball all year round you’re in luck. This post is to sum up what went wrong in month of Sept and point out a few other basic down turns the Braves experienced. The second part will go into more detail about why the team struggled in certain areas and how they can possibly improve their team for next season.
The “collapse” as people are calling it was the entire month of Sept. I won’t deny that because it’s a fact. However let’s use a magnifying glass for a second. Lets zoom in a little closer. On Sept 23rd this team was up 3 games with 5 to play after the Cubs shocked the Cardinals at Bush Stadium. Up 3 games with 5 to play makes this “collapse” even worse in my opinion because despite playing horrible baseball for 3 weeks they were still in a GREAT position to make the post season.
Yes I’m focusing a lot on just the idea of this team making the post season and not so much their chances of winning a World Series or anything like that because to win a championship you need to make the playoffs, it’s that simple. So right now this team can’t look beyond making the playoffs for next season. They will have to regroup this off season and figure out not only what went wrong but how they can fix it. Knowing that something went badly is not enough, you need to be able to fix it as well.
The 2011 Braves gave us a lot highs and lows this year. It’s always disappointing when baseball season ends but baseball is a friend that only moves away for the winter and then comes back to visit again in the spring in summer. Think of it as time share. 🙂
Last night’s loss kind of summed up the feeling that I have been having for the past few weeks. Desperately hoping this team would find a way to get a big hit. Desperately hoping that this nightmare would soon end and I’d wake up and see this team in the postseason. It just wasn’t meant to be. Not this year anyways.
Even as a kid when I would see the Braves get eliminated from the playoffs year after year there would always be heartbreak and a touch of frustration as well. When you play 162 games I think that the concept of “having to start ALL over” is what kills baseball fans who suffer this type of defeat. We have to start all over next spring with game 1 and watch 162 games of baseball before we can even start to envision this team back in the playoffs. It’s never over until it’s over and I think Braves fans will never take another late season lead for granted again and I hope the players have learned the same lesson.
I will write part 2 either later or tomorrow depending on my time schedule. It’s kind of a rainy day up here which kind of suits my mood.
By: Bob McVinua
They safe life comes down to just a few defining moments and this is one of them for the Atlanta Braves. These last 3 games are not just about the 2011 season. These last 3 games can create or erase a possible legacy that could haunt the Braves franchise for years to come. Being up 10.5 games at the end of Aug and not making the postseason could go down as one of the biggest late season collapses of all time. People still talk about the 2007 Mets and other teams that failed to make the postseason after possessing such a large lead in the standings so late in the season.
You don’t want to become a catch phrase or a locker room joke. “Don’t pull an Atlanta Braves collapse”. This season could be referenced in the poorest context for years to come. If we were to make the postseason and get swept in the first round none of this would even matter. No one talks about teams that have gotten swept in the playoffs, that happens all the time. However teams with 10.5 game leads usually don’t cough them up and fail to make the postseason.
If you had asked me a month ago if we would be in this situation, I would have said no way. Now here’s the thing. Yes I did think the Braves were a good ball club and they seemed to be taking care of business on a nightly basis. I had the utmost confidence in this ball club. However my other reason for being so confident was the teams that were chasing us didn’t seem to have much life left in them. The Cardinals were struggling and at one point like I mentioned fell 10.5 back. I thought that was the breaking point for them. When we took 3/4 from the Giants at Turner Field I could feel their momentum start to disappear. Their offense was just horrible and they were putting far too much pressure on that pitching staff. So I honestly looked at the standings and said even if the Braves struggle some down the stretch, who could possibly catch them?
And that’s why you PLAY THE GAMES. No one saw the Cardinals getting that HOT down the stretch and I didn’t think the Braves would play so poorly down the stretch either. The two combined have left me absolutely stunned. I saw this team as a lock for the Wild Card and actually thought we were a likely contender to play in the NLCS contenders.
Over the month of September so much has changed. The “collapse”, as bad as it looks in the standings could have EASILY been avoided. Let’s take a closer look at some of the Braves September highlights. The first time I really looked at things this closely I wasn’t sure if I felt better or worse.
The Braves have gone 9-15 in the month of Sept.
The Braves have lost 6 games this month by ONE run
The collapse really began when the Braves were swept by Philadelphia
Just a few days later we were swept by the Cardinals
Craig Kimbrel blew two crucial saves this month. One against the Cardinals and one against the Marlins
Johnny Venters coughed up an 8th inning lead against the Mets in what would prove to be a crucial loss
An additional two losses came in defeats where the Braves lost the game by just TWO runs.
That’s far from a detailed breakdown of the Braves final month but it does show that things haven’t completely gotten away from them. When I first looked at these stats I wasn’t sure if I felt good about things because it showed that the Braves were still fairly competitive this month despite losing a lot of games. Or did it make me feel even worse because this team had so many opportunities to close this thing out. Our season could have been lost on 2 outs. The last out in St. Louis and the last out in Florida where Kimbrel got 2 outs on both teams in both games and we couldn’t close them out. We get those 2 outs and we have a 3 game lead going into the final series. No one would be worried or panicked at all. We win one game or the Cardinals lose one game and we’re in. Simple as that.
This may be one of my last positive spins of the season so I know you guys want to hear it. This may be getting old but it still holds true at least for right now. We are the team being CHASED, not doing the chasing. Tomorrow worse case scenario is that we’re tied. Still not chasing.
If we win 2 out of 3 from the Phillies and the Cardinals win 2 out of 3 from the Astros then WE are the team going to the playoffs. They need a little bit of luck and we control our own destiny. They have to play one game better then us in the final series of the season JUST to force a one game playoff. Yes, it’s in St. Louis but we would still have a shot to win that game. No one can put someone as a 100% chance to win or lose in a single game that could go either way. NFL style.
Another thing to consider is this. What will each of the 2 opponents bring to the table. The Astros are a team that’s been out of it since like May and have absolutely nothing to play for. Are they motivated to try and play spoiler or are they ready to get their golf clubs and head home for the winter? It could go either way. I suspect they will come out and play because a lot of guys on the roster are fighting for spots on next year’s team. Not to mention the Cardinals are a division opponent which always adds some incentive.
The Phillies are another team with nothing to play for and that’s a very difficult thing to do. They have struggled badly over the past week or so and who’s to say that won’t continue tonight? Maybe they come out a little flat tonight and the Braves jump all over them? It’s not like the Braves haven’t beaten Cliff Lee before and it’s not like the Braves haven’t beaten this same Phillies team earlier in the season when both clubs were hungry for wins.
In my opinion I have to put my money on the hungry dog. I believe that the hungry dog will fight harder for a meal then a dog that’s well taken care of. When your backs against the wall then people see what you’re really made out of. The Braves have been playing postseason like games for the past week if not more. If they do make it to the postseason the stressful atmosphere shouldn’t bother them too much.
If I was forced to make a prediction I would say that both the Cardinals and the Braves BOTH win 2 out of 3, leaving the Braves to claim the Wild Card. I have a feeling that the Astros will put up enough fight this series to grab one game from the Cardinals. And that win might come tonight with Wandy on the mound, it’s probably their best shot.
The Phillies will probably pack it in for the final game, I’ve heard they will be going with a “bullpen mix” for the final game and the Braves will throw Tim Hudson. So I think we will win game 3 of this series and either game 1 or 2. I think that will be enough to clinch a Wild Card spot.
By: Bob McVinua
It’s important for everyone who reads my blog to always keep in mind that I am a fan first and a writer second. This isn’t my career it’s just something to do because I’m passionate about these Atlanta Braves. Just like you guys, I want them to win more then anything. I was 8 years old the last time the Braves won the World Series and I can still remember it. My parents actually let me stay up and watch the game and it was the greatest feeling ever. At the time of course I expected that the Braves would win the World Series every year and I wasn’t old enough to truly appreciate the moment. Tom Glavine pitched a great game and David Justice hit a home run for the only run we would need to beat those pesky Cleveland Indians. Even then good pitching beat good hitting.
Over the years memories tend to fade just a bit and with that memory being 16 years old already I sure could use another taste of a Braves championship. I think that we all could. But to win a championship you first need to make the playoffs. That seems to be something that’s going to be a lot more difficult then we all originally planned.
As I sit here typing this I am in absolute shock that the Braves were up 10.5 games on this Cardinals club less then one month ago. Where did those 9 games go? How did we let things get this bad? Why couldn’t we have put them away when we had a chance? So many questions start racing around your mind and the only human thing to do is remember all of those 1 run losses. So many of them stand out and it could come down to the fact that anyone of those games could have ruined our season. I know that does absolutely NO good right now but I just can’t help it. What if Kimbrel hadnn’t struggled early on in the season? What if he had closed out those games? This team has played SO many one run games that we could easily be a 100 win team right now or very close to it. Look at how many save opportunities Craig Kimbrel has? Look how many games we’ve had to use Venters and O’Flaherty. It’s been chaos every single night for these guys. How many times this year have we had an 8 run lead in the 9th inning? I can’t think of too many, can you guys?
This season has just been such a roller coaster of emotions. Dan Uggla can’t hit and we’re worried he’s going to struggle for the entire year. Jurrjens goes from being an early Cy Young candidate to struggling to injured all in a matter of a couple of weeks. So many injuries have plagued this team. Prado, Heyward, Hanson, Chipper, McCann etc have all been hurt this year. The first half of the season our starting pitching was so dominant and the offense couldn’t score any runs. Now the offense has turned it on a little bit and it’s the pitching that’s falling apart at the wrong time.
Although I don’t believe that any of those things are the reason why we are in the spot were in right now. I know that’ sounds crazy but it’s true. The Braves can’t blame injuries for what they’re going through. Granted they are not helping things at all but this team has a huge case of complacency. That’s the only word I can use to describe this team. I think that they got so comfortable being so far ahead that they started to take their foot off the gas just a little bit.
How would this happen? Well the Braves found themselves in a VERY ODD position for a decent part of the season. After the All-Star break they found themselves falling out of the division race. I think there was a sense that they just weren’t going to catch the Phillies at any point. The Phillies were just too deep and too powerful to try and chase down over the long haul. If this team was going to beat the Phillies they were going to have to do it in the NLCS. Take it to a 7 game series and see how it goes. Head to head they’ve done fairly well against Philadelphia despite the 3 game sweep a couple of weeks back.
The Atlanta Braves would wake up in the morning and look at the newspaper. They had a 7.0 or 8.0 game lead in the Wild Card and were at one point 25 games over .500. Then they look over to the N.L East and see themselves 8 or more games out. To them they felt like a division leader. They weren’t going to catch Philadelphia and they didn’t expect anyone to catch them.
It’s very easy to get relaxed when you have a substantial lead in the Wild Card or Division standings. It’s very difficult to play for “staying in first”. It’s a tough spot to be in especially in a baseball season. You have to motivate yourself every single night, it’s not the NFL where you have to get motivated for 1 game a week. This is a totally different ball game, no pun intended.
The urgency gets away from you in baseball. This game was meant to test you mentally as much as physically. In a sport where you can lose 2,3,4 games in a row and not have it end your season it’s tough to stay motivated. A team in the NFL loses 4 games in a row and they are basically done. You get swept in a baseball series in the middle of Aug, no one really thinks that much of it. This is a game that will kick you in the gut if you don’t come out fighting every single night. It’s a game where you wake up one morning and think what just happened? The kill is slow and painful. It’s not a knock out punch.
The Atlanta Braves were getting ready for the playoffs in the middle of Aug if not before. This team never thought they would be in this spot. Leads can disappear quickly if you’re not careful. Look at the 2007 Mets. They were up 7 full games on the Phillies on Sept 12th and just absolutely collapsed. The bottom can fall out at anytime.
So everyone is thinking. Come on Bob what’s with all the negativity? Well I’m not in denial of what’s going on here and you guys read this blog for my opinions. I wouldn’t be doing you guys any service if I held anything back. I have to give you guys the truth 100%.
What are we facing now? Well we have 6 games left and we’re getting the heck out of Florida. No more looking back we can only look forward. I can’t believe I’m the one who’s saying that right now as I have the toughest time doing that myself.
Were currently 1.5 games up and tomorrow we can FINALLY get rid of that .5 game. Being from the North East I will have full access to the Mets-Cardinals game tomorrow so I will watch as much of it as I can. The Cardinals can close the gap to 1 full game or the Braves can see their lead expand to 2 full games. The schedules will even out and both clubs will have 6 games remaining. I’d actually feel OK with a 2 game lead with 6 to play. Leaves a tiny bit of room for error which I like. It’s obviously better then just a one game lead.
The Braves head to DC to play the Washington Nationals. Tim Hudson will pitch game 1, the Braves ace needs to come up big. The offense needs to score some runs. This is do or die time. The plan to ride it out the storm just isn’t working and we need to take care of business ourselves. Washington rolled over Philadelphia but is that because the Phillies are already packing it in? What kind of Phillies team will we get in the last 3 games of the season? Do they play all out just to spite the Braves? Last year they took 2 of 3 from us to close out the season.
We’ll need Hudson and Beachy to come up big for us in this series. It’s not a “must” but I’d love to see us sweep the Nationals and really get some momentum going as we head home for the last 3 games. I think that’s what this team needs.
It’s still too close to call and the Braves are far from out of this thing but the Cardinals are RED HOT right now and we’re slumping. That could change at any moment though, baseball is a streaky game. It would be a great start if the Mets could actually help us out tomorrow and give us a 2 game lead heading into the final 6. I think that would be a nice confidence and moral boost for this team. Have the Cardinals feel the pain of missing an golden opportunity. It would put a little bit of a damper on their momentum.
Tomorrow is a much needed off day. Fredi Gonzalez needs to motivate this team without throwing them into panic mode. I understand this can be very difficult. Let’s hope he can find away to calmly remind them that the Wild Card is still theirs to lose, the Cardinals aren’t in first we are. But at the same time he needs to stress the importance of winning OUR GAMES and not relying on other teams to do our dirty work. The Mets didn’t get it done in the first 2 games of this series but then again we didn’t do our job either.
By: Bob McVinua