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
There are lots of reasons for playing lots of different players and all of them come with a unique set of circumstances. Some players are written into the line up card because they provide speed or power, some because they are the leaders of their respective ball clubs and others are just in their because they make too much money to sit on the bench despite their struggles.
But when Fredi Gonzalez inks in Jason Heywards name into the line up card what reason is he giving himself? Is he playing Jason for his ability to help this ball club win baseball games? Is he putting him out there so that he can work through his struggles? Or is he putting him out there because he’s Jason Heyward and he’s supposed to be a franchise player for the next decade and a half?
Certain players bring a certain element to the game that isn’t on the field related. A certain element that is based more on emotion then it is on factual information. We are only a brief way into this 2013 season and it’s too early to be labeling anyone as a success or failure for the season and I won’t even attempt to do that. However I can bring some issues I see with Heyward to the surface of this argument that I’m going to present to you guys.
Since before Heyward even saw a pitch in the Major Leagues he was a Braves icon. There was so much excitement and hype around him that blew even Freddie Freeman’s move to the big leagues out of the water. Freddie Freeman, despite often out performing Jason Heyward does not gather the same type of enthusiasm.
Maybe it’s because on paper Jason Heyward is almost a perfect a athletic specimen. He stands 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 240lbs. He can field his position, throw out base runners, hit for average, hit for power and the man can run like a deer despite his large frame. There are very few baseball players that look as good as Jason does on paper.
Unfortunately baseball games are not won on paper they are won on the diamond with excellent team and player performances on a nightly basis. And I believe that things may be getting a little too comfortable for Mr. Heyward. Being penciled into the line up card night in and night out despite his struggles and on top of that has not even been dropped out of the 2 hole yet.
Fredi is dealing with the pressure to play Heyward because he can not appear to give up on the team’s franchise player. There’s the energy surrounding the Upton, Upton and Heyward outfield. The only issue is one Upton is playing excellent baseball, the other Upton gets paid too much money to bench and Heyward is neither of those two things.
With Heyward under performing from a statistical stand point and only making 3.6 million from a financial aspect, the Braves could exercise the option of sitting Heyward. Now if any of you are arguing that no one has ever gotten better by sitting on the bench and missing at bats, you’re absolutely right but I’m not sure that’s Jason’s entire issue.
I think the Braves have possibly made it a little to comfortable for Jason in Atlanta. Always putting him in the line up and generally speaking batting him in a critical part of the line up ( the top 3rd) is sending him the message that he is guaranteed to occupy that spot no matter what the results may be.
But what if the Braves took a different approach with Heyward and Fredi put him in a position where he competed for playing time and competed for at bats with the other outfielders. Several situations come to mind of how Fredi could handle this in the near future.
Drop Heyward to 6th or 7th: When Jason was put in the bottom part of the order last season he thrived and basically tore the cover off the ball for weeks on end. He was hitting for a solid average and showing off his power while driving in runs. A lot of his success last season came from the lower part of the order and the reason he got moved back up to the top of the order was because of his excellent performance in the 6th spot. Not sure if he’s more comfortable there or if it’s a lower pressure situation (only Jason knows this) but he does seem to hit better in those areas of the line up.
Evan Gattis needs a job: If you have been a fan of what Evan Gattis has been bringing to the table for the Braves then you may want to listen to this alternative solution. With Freddie Freeman due back on Monday the whole at 1st base will now be plugged on a nightly basis. So if Gattis wants to get regular at bats then he will have to catch. However Laird catches at least 1 day a week with Teheran and in a few weeks McCann will hopefully be ready to come back. This creates a possible situation of moving Justin Upton to Right Field and having Gattis play LF, leaving the struggling Heyward on the bench. The line up would include all the major bats of Freeman, McCann, Gattis and the Uptons.
A Solution to our Lead Off Needs: The idea of possibly sitting Heyward also opens up the opportunity to get Jordan Schafer into the lineup. In a very small sample size Schafer has looked impressive this year and seems eager to get some playing time. The key here is that Schafer is a “true” lead off man, something that the Braves have been lacking all year. Schafer can also defend the outfield with his solid glove work and could take over for BJ in Center while moving him to right field.
These are all just possible solutions and I’m not saying that any of them should be 100% pursued at this point in the season but it’s imperative that Fredi keeps his options open and explores any and every alternative that would help the Braves win ball games.
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?
With the recent struggles of this Atlanta Braves team I have heard all kinds of explanations as to why it’s happening. Some people are saying it’s just a bad week and it’s nothing to worry about. Others are more concerned and saying that there’s something fundamentally wrong with this team. Some blame the pitching others claim we’re not hitting well enough with runners in scoring position and of course the always popular blame Fredi explanation. Which I will touch on in this article because I feel that’s actually not a bad explanation as to what’s happening in Atlanta.
I have many great memories of being a fan of this ball club. 14 straight division titles, one world series championship and getting to see some of the best pitchers of my generation all in a Braves uniform. However one thing that has always haunted Braves fans, especially of this generation is the lack of post season success. In fact it’s been a full decade since this Braves organization has one a playoff series.
As many of you remember the last time we won a playoff series was in 2001 when we swept the Houston Astros in the Divisional Round. We would then go on to lose 4-1 to the eventual World Series Champion D-Backs. Each of the following years of the playoff run, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 all resulted in quick 1st round exits.
So for fun I’ve tried to figure out what the differences were between say last years team or teams of the past few years and that very successful 2001 team. Now you can say that the 2001 Braves were not that great but they were good enough to reach the National League Championship Series which I’m sure we would ALL take right about now.
1) Runs Batted In:
The Atlanta Braves haven’t had a player drive in 100 runs since 2007! Yes the past 4 seasons we’ve been without a 100rbi bat in the middle of our order. So that’s where I will start the comparisons there. Yes, Uggla can hit home runs and he hit 36 of them last year which is very impressive. But he didn’t drive in nearly enough runs for an impact middle of the order hitter. If we are going to put Uggla in there simply for his power which I’m completely 100% fine with, he needs to be surrounded by RBI type players.
2001 Atlanta Braves Top 3 Run Producers-
1) Andruw Jones: 104 RBI 2) Chipper Jones 102 RBI 3) Brian Jordan 97 RBI
2011 Atlanta Braves Top 3 Run Producers-
1) Dan Uggla 82 RBI 2) Freddie Freeman 76 RBI 3) Brian McCann 71 RBI
Now I’m not trying to pick on last years Braves club. That’s not the purpose of this. However that team is obviously the most similar to what we have now so it’s the best pin point I can use for comparison purposes. As you can see that’s a HUGE difference in run production.
That’s 303 runs for the middle of the order driven in during the 2001 season vs just 229 runs driven in for the middle of the order last year. What’s the argument here? It’s more of a point of interest. Yes the Braves line up is very deep BUT would they be better served to lose 2 players in that line up in exchange for true run producers? Is that type of move what could change the fortunes for this club?
1) Where are the starters in the 7th inning? Forget the 8th or 9th
The 2001 Atlanta Braves got 200+ innings from three different starters. The reason this is important is obviously it deters wear and tear on your bullpen and also shows that you can count on your starters to lead you to victories.
Greg Maddux 233 innings, Tom Glavine 219 innings and John Burkett 219 innings.
Now if you compare that to the top 3 innings eaters of 2011 you’ll see quite a big difference
Tim Hudson 215 innings, Derek Lowe 187 innings and Jair Jurrjens 152 innings.
Yes, there were injuries that really prevented Jurrjens or Hanson from getting any where near that 200 innings. However the facts are still the facts. We only had 1 pitcher get over 200 innings vs the 3 we had in 2001. Even this year there is still some difficulty for these starters to get into the 7th or 8th inning which as a ball club you occasionally need.
3) Over worked bullpen leading to Sept collapse:
Now the previous facts will lead into the next statement. Yes, the bullpen needs regular work to stay sharp. That point I will never argue. But most of us could argue that 40 hours a week is enough at our jobs to “stay sharp”, we really don’t need a 60 hour work week to get our juices going. Do we sometimes need to do it? Of course. However it’s not optimal if it can be avoided.
Braves Bullpen 2001; Top 4 in Appearances-
Mike Remlinger 74 appearances, Jose Cabrera 55 games, Kerry Lightenberg 53 games and Steve Karsay 43 games
Now if you compare that to the innings worked by the 2011 Braves bullpen you’ll notice a startling difference.
Johnny Venters 85 appearances, Craig Kimbrel 79 games, Eric O’Flaherty 78 games and Scott Linebrink 64 games
That’s 306 innings vs 225 innings. Again we’re talking about MAJOR differences here. That’s equal to NINE FULL GAMES worth of extra bullpen innings. Venters, Kimbrel and O’Flaherty were each going out there on an average of EVERY OTHER day due to the amount of close games that we were forced to play due to lack of offense and the starters inability to go deep into games.
Right now the Braves are still 4th in MLB in runs scored and they are still currently 22nd in runs allowed. So as far as stats go the blame needs to go on the pitching staff and not the offense. Could we score more runs? Of course, every team would like to score more runs. But to say we’re out scoring 26 other teams in baseball, we really don’t have a ton of room to complain.
I still think this team needs to focus on key hits in big situations. Moving guys over and getting them in. If this Braves team is going to win the division this year I will have to say that we will need at least one batter to reach the 100 rbi milestone and have at least 2 other batters close to 90. So the middle of our order has their work cut out for them.
By: Bob McVinua
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.
I thought about putting some type of warning on this article for the die hard Jason Heyward supporters who attack me the second I say his shoe’s untied but I have to call it as I see it. I will be more then fair Heyward fans don’t worry. I’ve also noticed a large support group for Martin Pardo which I think is great. I’m ALL about supporting the players on this team but I have to take a very subjective view point on these 2 players. That view point being that neither of these players are guaranteed to be a part of the franchise’s future.
Jason Heyward has a huge impact on the Braves future. If he were to return to form then he can give us a “3 hole” hitter for the next 10+ seasons. That spot would be signed, sealed and delivered. Right Field would be set for a very long time. A huge relief for the Braves front office. However in order for that to happen we need to get Heyward back on track. Clearly Wren is not completely sold on that being guaranteed to happen as he won’t even guarantee a starting spot for Heyward next season. Those are not my words, those are the words of Frank Wren. Sure if Heyward shows up to Spring Training in full force and starts hitting the baseball all over the field then he’s going to get the spot. And let’s be honest Heyward has to do “less” to get the spot then anyone else. The Braves want Heyward in Right Field but aren’t willing to just give it to him which I completely agree with. If Heyward has a decent to above average spring then the job should be his. If he were to cough up that starting spot next season and fizzle out then the Braves will have a major position to fill in their line up. Leaving a question mark for the team’s front office.
Now we say “if” Prado because there’s no guarantee that he’s going to be here past the end of this month never mind the next 5 or 6 years. Prado is a good player. He’s usually consistent and he brings a lot to the table. His versatility is amazing. When you have a guy who can play almost any position on the diamond then you have a real weapon on your team. However we need to consider this. Prado doesn’t play any of these positions exceptionally well. 2nd base is by far his best position but with Uggla on the roster there’s not going to be any need to play there.
Prado represents some importance to the Braves as Chipper heads towards a milestone in his life that isn’t baseball related. His 40th birthday will be coming in April and it’s time to start considering some real replacements for Chipper. We’ve put this off long enough and I think that we need to decide if Prado is going to be a full time 3rd basemen when Chipper hangs it up. If Wren decides that he is then I’m all for giving him a contract of reasonable proportion. If he’s not their ideal 3rd basement then I think it may be time to part ways with him while we can still extract value.
The Braves have done a very a nice job with developing young talent on the pitchers mound but let’s not forget their efforts in developing position players as well. Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward are great talents with loads of potential. We need to get Heyward back on track and hope that Freddie can avoid the sophomore slump. If both of those things happen then we have 2/8 of our position players set in a stone for a very long time. Brian McCann can be added to that list as well, I don’t see him leaving Atlanta. So now we’re up to 3/8 of our starting line up being considered “long term solutions”.
While we’re on the topic of young talent we can bring up names like Tyler Pastornicky and Joe Terdoslavich. Two quality infielders who could fill the long term voids at short stop and 3rd base. Neither of them are obviously ready right now but in 2013 or even 2014 we could be in store for a treat with these two guys.
Nothing in life or baseball is guaranteed but I like that the Braves have stock piled enough talent to potentially last us for many seasons to come. The outcome doesn’t always go as we plan but in just like in life all we can do is put ourselves in a position to succeed and do the best we can. The Braves really have done a great job in doing that.
They key to building any successful franchise is locking pieces in for the long term. It’s very tough to compete for World Championships every year when the players are constantly changing. I feel that the Braves have done a fair amount of musical chairs over the years which may have hurt their chances to compete.
If you were to look back at the 2007 Atlanta Braves Roster there are only 6 players from that team left on the current roster. And I use the word “six” loosely because Matt Diaz left and came back. So some could argue that only 5 have remained for the entire time. Those players being:
1) Chipper Jones
2) Brian McCann
3) Martin Prado
4) Peter Moylan
5) Tim Hudson
6) Matt Diaz
That’s less then 25% of the roster. A fair amount of turnover for a team that is normally competitive. Now if you look at it from this view point. Is Prado guaranteed to be back next year? Going into 2012 this number could shrink.
That’s why I’m excited about the future of this Braves franchise. I really believe we have some key pieces that we should be able to incorporate into our long term plans. And that’s how championships are won.
By: Bob McVinua