Category: Sports

Braves Look To Cage Up The Cardinals

Alright. As promised we can get back to the most important topic in baseball, the Atlanta Braves. There’s a big game tonight against the Cardinals on the road in St. Louis. Although both teams are facing a good amount of pressure in this series I’d say that the majority of the pressure rests on the shoulders of the Cardinals. After all, were not chasing them. They are the team that’s 7.5 games out with 18 games left to play. In my opinion the Cardinals need to sweep this series to really challenge the Braves down the stretch and for the Braves I think 2 out of 3 should do the trick. Head to head meetings are where playoff spots are won or lost this late in the season. Yes the Cardinals face an up hill battle the rest of the way but they can certainly make life a lot easier if they could sweep this 3 game set.

For the Braves I think it’s all about taking 2 out of 3 and just making another statement. If this team wins the series then they will have gained 1 full game in the standings and more importantly knocked off 3 more games from their remaining schedule. For the Braves there’s no where to go. They aren’t going to win the division and the wild card team is always guaranteed the 4th seed in the post season and no chance at home field advantage. The Braves are in a spot where they just need to win games and focus on themselves. It doesn’t matter what the Phillies are doing. It doesn’t matter what the D-Backs or Brewers are doing. This team needs tunnel vision right now.

21 year old Randall Delgado will take the mound tonight for the Bravos and were hoping to see some good things from him. In his last start against the Giants he actually carried a no hitter into the late innings so we’ll be hoping for more of the same tonight. The Cardinals line up as a lot more offensive threats in it compared to the slumping Giants line up that Delgado faced last month. So it should certainly be a big test for the very talented young man.

Honestly this is the moment I’ve been anxious about for the past week or so. We need to avoid the sweep which would be a complete disaster. We can’t have a repeat of what happened in Philadelphia. A sweep would bring that 7.5 game lead down to just 4.5 and with 18 games left that could get a little dicey.

I am also noticing that Fredi Gonzalez is falling into a tough spot. One that might be corrected after this series. He’s on the fence between being in  place where he can rest players and prepare for the playoffs and a place where his playoff chances are being threatened. A very difficult place for a manager to be in. A team like the Phillies can start resting some guys and experimenting a little before the playoffs start. A team like the Cardinals knows that it’s all or nothing right now and that they have to do whatever it takes to make the playoffs.

Which spot is Fredi Gonzalez in? I think he’s caught right in the middle. If the Braves were to sweep this serious, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Then the Braves would hold a VERY comfortable 10.5 game lead and could then start to rest some players and figure out their playoff rotation.

Venters looks exhausted. I’ve never seen him with such control problems before and the last thing we want is to have him worn out and in affective for the post season. The bullpen is by far our biggest strength. The ability to shorten games could be the reason we make a run at the World Series. When you play the Atlanta Braves you’re playing a 6 inning game. That’s extremely intimidating and causes teams to press a lot harder in the earlier innings because they are afraid of not having the lead by the middle of the ball game.

By: Bob McVinua

Why 2011 Could End Differently

2010 was a great year for our Atlanta Braves. We had been absent from the playoffs since 2005 and just making the postseason was a great feeling. The expectations this year are very different for this team, at least they are in my opinion. Last year making the playoffs was a victory in itself and we were happy to be back in the mix of competitive ball clubs. This year I’m looking for a World Series to come to Atlanta.

Is this a far fetched dream? Or is it a very possible reality? Lets take a closer look and see how this years team compared to last years playoff squad. I think by the time you get to the end of the article you’ll see that we do have some distinct advantages that were missing last season.

1) Derek Lee played 1st base during last years playoffs. Yes Derek Lee has a great glove over at 1st base and made a great scoop play to save us game 2 in San Fran. Although he had some good moments with the glove, Lee was basically shut down at the plate. Derek Lee had just 2 hits in 16 at bats against the Giants giving him a horrible batting average of .125. He struck out 6 times and didn’t drive in a single run. I’d be willing to take bets that Freddie Freeman can hit over .125 and manage to drive in more then 0 runs at the plate. Derek Lee was brought in to bring some pop to the offense but it really didn’t turn out the way Frank Wren had hoped it would. Freeman gives us a much better chance to win. His bat has a lot more pop in it then Lee’s and I like that he’s a lefty. He’s just one of several guys who can protect McCann in the line up.

2) Brooks Conrad won’t be playing on a regular basis. Injuries hurt the Braves down the stretch and forced them to play Brooks Conrad at crucial points in the game. I know that you can’t blame 1 player for a team’s failed playoff performance but I do put a good portion of blame on Conrad. He had 3 errors in game 3 against the Giants. 1 of those errors was in the 9th inning with 1 out and a chance to help put the Giants away. He botched a ground ball and the flood gates just opened. His error on the pop fly also resulted in a Giants run. Those 2 runs were the difference between a win and a loss.

3) Dan Uggla. People can say what they want about his batting average but frankly I don’t care. I had a big issue with it being under .200 don’t get me wrong we all have standards. However if Uggla can finish with a batting average of .250 or so I’d be fine with that. The guy brings some series pop to this line up and gives McCann the protection that he didn’t have in last years playoffs. Having 2 big bats in the 3 and 4 spots is critical, especially when one is lefty and the other hits from the right side. Uggla has the potential to go yard at any given moment. That scares teams. And it should. Late in the game Uggla could provide a big blast that wins us the game.

4) Michael Bourn. This guy brings an element to this team that we’ve been lacking for way to long. SPEED. This guy can flat out fly. He can score from first with ease on a double in the gap. He can beat out infield hits. He can steal bases. He poses a threat to starting pitchers because they MUST keep an eye on him at all times. With Bourn hitting at the top of the order this offense becomes a lot more dangerous. Runs are tough to come by in the post season and he’s the type of player who can help us manufacture runs in a tight ball game.

5) Chipper and Martin Prado. These guys were both injured during the playoffs last year. I know I mentioned that Brooks Conrad was forced to play everyday because of injuries but this goes beyond Conrad having to play. When these guys are in the line up they provide something special. Chipper has proven that he can still tear the cover off the baseball. Prado is a great number 2 hitter who almost always puts the ball in play. He can get big hits if he needs to and he also has the bat control to just move the run over in a crucial spot.

6) The bullpen. Last years bullpen was decent but this years bullpen is record breaking. O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel are the most feared bullpen trio in the major leagues. All of these guys have era’s under 2.00. How often does that happen? Wagner did a great job for us last year but he was clearly on his way out. This is a new group of guys who have all been with the team since opening day. They know their roles as they have been clearly defined. Last year Kimbrel was forced to come in and close game 3 of the divisional series. It didn’t go his way partially because he wasn’t expecting to be the closer. If Wagner hadn’t gotten hurt then he wouldn’t even have been out there in the first place. Being able to shorten games in the playoffs could be the difference between the Braves going home early or sticking around for a World Series run.

There are questions about the starting rotation. That’s the one thing that is kind of concerning right now. While no one can guarantee that the rotation will be ready to go in full force by Oct, there’s also no one who can guarantee that they won’t be. It’s a wait and see type of situation which I know is unsettling for Braves fans.

Derek Lowe will take the mound tonight in Philadelphia for a big Sept start. This is Lowe’s month to shine and hopefully he will. A solid outing and a Braves victory tonight would make us all feel better about Lowe.

The one thing this rotation does have is depth. Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are all capable of making a start in the playoffs. I’d prefer to have a healthy Jurrjens or Hanson in there but you can’t complain when you have 6 very talented options to choose from.

The only questions left to be answered are with the rotation. Will Derek Lowe turn things around and return to his usual late season dominance? And will Hanson and/or Jurrjens return to form to help this team make a World Series run. Only time will tell.

By: Bob McVinua

Are The Braves Too Relaxed Right Now?

2011 has been a great year for the Atlanta Braves. They have over come injuries, offensive struggles, pitching struggles and a manager change. With all of this being said the Braves are a very impressive 81-57. They have a 7.5 game lead in the Wild Card with 24 games left to play. You would think that’s a very good spot to be in and I would have to say I agree. Last year the Wild Card race went right down to the wire and it seems as if the Braves are going to avoid the late season drama, right?

A week or so ago I would have said yes. The Braves appeared as if they had the Wild Card in their back pocket. They were playing very good baseball and with time running out in the season it appeared as if no one really had a legit chance of catching them. Now as I sit here at my lap top I’m counting down the days until the season ends. For me the season can’t end soon enough because the Cardinals are just 7.5 games back of the Braves entering play today. They are still very much in this thing and the Giants are holding steady at 8.5 games out. Neither one of these teams are even close to being mathematically eliminated and there’s still plenty of time for an epic collapse on the part of Atlanta.

I’m not one to spread panic and I actually despise bloggers who write articles for the sheer purpose of getting everyone riled up. That’s not what I’m trying to do at all. All I’m saying is this race is NOT in the bag by any means and I’m concerned that the Braves are not taking this as seriously as they should be. I understand that they have a comfortable lead right now and it’s Sept not the middle of July. Time is running out in the season and time is the best friend of the Atlanta Braves right now. The Cardinals might run out of time to catch these Braves but I’m not willing to chance it.

Jurrjens has been struggling as of late. Hanson is on the Disabled List. You never know what you’re going to get from Derek Lowe. He’s shown some signs of improvement but nothing that makes me feel good inside when Fredi hands him the ball. Beachy and Minor have been stellar as of late but how much pressure can we put on these two guys down the stretch? Hudson is the ace of this staff and he continues to give us good outings.

The Dodgers came to town on Friday playing a great brand of baseball. This team might be out of the playoff race but they are still red hot and have absolutely nothing to lose. The Braves coughed up a 5-0 lead on Friday night and lost a heart breaker last night. They are currently behind 3-0 this afternoon with Kershaw on the mound for the Dodgers. A comeback this afternoon is not impossible but appears unlikely as the Braves struggle to hit average lefties never mind Clayton Kershaw.

The upcoming week for this Braves team is HUGE. We have a 3 game set at Philadelphia to start the week. Then they are forced to travel to New York to play a double header because of Hurricane Irene. That sort of throws a monkey wrench into the week because instead of having an off day they are forced to play a double header instead.

Then to close out the week they have a 3 game set in St. Louis against the team that is most likely to catch them in the Wild Card race, if anyone does. Those 3 games against the Cardinals are obviously big games. A sweep in our favor would pretty much put the red birds out of contention. However a sweep in their favor would put them right in the thick of things as the season begins to come to a close.

We also have 3 games at home against Philadelphia that will likely be tough games UNLESS the Phillies decide to rest their starters as they will have nothing to play for. However I’m not counting on that as last year they went full force against us in the final series. There is no love lose between these two teams and I’m sure the Phillies would just love for us to miss the playoffs.

A lot of division games coming up. Outside of the Cardinals series there will be no more games played outside of our division. This means we have to beat teams like the Nationals and Marlins.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Braves are doing a terrific job and I’d much rather be 7.5 games up in the standings then 7.5 games out like the Cardinals but I’d still like to see a little bit of urgency from this Braves team. It would be absolutely devastating if we missed the playoffs after having such a big lead in the Wild Card so late into the season.

Is anyone else just the least bit concerned? Or is it just me?

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

4 Aces Make A Full Deck, Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know what your rotation would be.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Trades That Change The Future

Aug 1st 2007 was a big day in Atlanta Braves history. No it wasn’t a milestone hit. There wasn’t a significant injury or victory. What happened was one of the biggest trades in Braves history. On this day the Braves sent Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira.

It’s commonly said that you will have no idea the exact value of the trade for both teams until 3 or 4 years down the road, especially when the deal involves a lot of young prospects. Now while Teixeira was with Atlanta he was extremely productive. He hit 37HR and drove in 134 runs in just 157 total games, not even a full season. While the short stint with Atlanta was impressive, the issue is just that. The time he spent in Atlanta was far too short to justify the prospects that we parted with.

At the time of the trade the Braves found themselves 4.5 games behind the New York Mets. Yes just a few years ago the Mets were the front runners in the N.L East. But that’s besides the point. The Braves found themselves within striking distance and didn’t want to fall short of making the playoffs. On top of this they felt that they still had a decent shot of winning the wild card as well. What were they missing? Well they needed a big bat in the middle of the line up. Andruw Jones was not getting it done in the clean up spot and they believed that bringing in Tex would be the answer. He would provide a lot of power and would give them switch hitters in the 3 and 4 spots in their order. Sounds impressive right?

Well not only were Braves fans excited when the trade was made, the players in Atlanta were extremely excited as well.

” Yes we’ve got the team to win the World Series” – Brian McCann

“Seems like they’re trying to make us win a World Series around here” – Tim Hudson

Forget winning the World Series. The Braves failed to even make the playoffs that year as they would end the season 5.0 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. This would be the beginning of the Phillies run a top the N.L East that is still going strong today.

John Schuerholz must have been devastated when the team failed to qualify for the playoffs. He knew that he was giving up some elite prospects, 2 of the best ones in our entire farm system. Whether or not the Braves could keep Tex for the long term was a question that was asked almost immediately after the trade was completed.

” I’ll think about next year, next year” – John Schuerholz

That was pretty much the only response from John Schuerholz. In fairness what could the guy really say? He couldn’t second guess his own move right after it was completed. He knew that he would have to role with the punches and take any criticism  that would come his way. If the Braves had won the World Series that year or even made a deep run in the playoffs then maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.

You never know what kind of players prospects will actually turn into. If you look at all the prospects that the Mets sent to Minnesota in exchange for Johan Santana you’ll see that none of  them really amounted to anything. But this trade turned out pretty well for the Texas Rangers.

They would receive a franchise short stop in Elvis Andrus. A great young arm in Matt Harrison. And a franchise closer in Neftali Feliz who would go on to set the rookie saves record. These guys were a HUGE part of their World Series run last year. As a Braves fan I couldn’t help but feel a little upset watching our franchise’s prospects shine on the big stage. Granted I’m happy for any young athlete that does well I just wish that they were all wearing Braves uniforms rather then one’s that say Texas on them.

While Teixeira is long gone as most Braves fans have forgotten about him by now, there affects of the trade are still affecting the Braves today. Alex Gonzalez is now the Braves short stop and while he has done a decent job for the Braves I can’t say that I wouldn’t prefer to have Elvis Andrus out there right now. Can you imagine this Braves line up with Andrus in it? We would be set at almost every position for the next 5 years if not more, outside of 3B. The franchise does not really have a sure fire answer for a short stop in the minor leagues and Gonzalez will most likely be gone after this season. Does the team make a trade? Go to the minors? Or sign a free agent? Short stop is a critical position for a team that wants to contend. It’s said that the short stop is the QB of the infield.

I know that our bullpen is dominant and possibly the best in all of baseball. I love the guys we have in our pen and they do a terrific job. Where would Feliz fit into that bullpen? Would he just be ANOTHER great arm coming out of the pen or would we have traded him or one of the other guys for another big name bat or maybe even a starter? The options are endless.

Just 1 year later the Braves would trade Tex to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek. If that’s not heart breaking then I don’t know what is. At the end of the day we gave up elite prospects for a 1 year rental player that we had to give away for basically nothing. It would have been one thing if the Braves had been able to move Tex for another big name player or at least 2 or 3 decent players but we were forced to basically give him away for nothing. The whole trade was a huge bust there’s no way that anyone can justify it now.

The point of this article is not just to bash the Braves front office for a bad trade. The point I’d like to make as I wrap up this article is that Frank Wren showed incredible patience at this years trade deadline. He could have dealt one of our coveted pitching prospects for a 2 month rental but he didn’t. He knew that a move like that would not be in the best interest of the ball club going forward. He waited it out and still got a great player in Michael Bourn.

Every time the trade deadline rolls around and your team is in contention for a playoff spot you want them to make a big move. I can honestly say that at certain points I wanted Frank Wren to just pull the trigger and get Beltran. I would be lying if that thought never crossed my mind. If you check my Twitter account I’m sure I made reference to dealing Mike Minor for Beltran. Now I realize what a mistake that would have been.

When you make a trade like that your putting yourself in a very difficult position. It becomes almost a World Series or bust scenario and that is just putting too much pressure on your players to justify a move that the front office made. Sometimes these big trades pay off and other times they don’t. It’s a crap shoot but if you can hold onto your prospects and let them develop a lot of times this is the better way to go.

I applaud the discipline of Frank Wren and the Braves front office. They resisted temptation to pull the trigger and make the “easy move”. That’s not an easy thing to do and I think they deserve a lot of credit. Maybe we should all consider the Mark Teixeira trade when were pushing our teams to make wild and extreme moves at the deadline.

By: Bob McVinua

Who’s Our Right Fielder?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stats match up like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

Braves-Phillies On A Collision Course

Today is Aug 23rd. There are 33 games left remaining on the schedule for our Atlanta Braves and we are currently sitting on a very impressive record of 77-52. These are very exciting times for Braves fans. Everything seems to be coming together now and we have the perfect blend of veterans and young guys to seriously compete for a World Series.

As excited as I am about the prospect of our team going all the way this year I know we still have to be realistic. Like I said there’s 33 games left in the regular season and anything can happen. So let’s take a look at how the Braves stack up in both of their playoff races.

N.L East – Phillies 82-44  Braves 77-52 (6.5)

N.L Wild Card – Braves 77-52  Giants 68-60 (8.5)  Cardinals 67-61 (9.5) Nationals 62-64 (13.5)

So what stands out to you guys? Obviously the Braves are in a very good spot right now. Immediately you notice that the Braves have an 8.5 game lead in the Wild Card. And with 33 games to go you have to figure that if the Braves just play .500 baseball they will get in. The Giants and Cardinals have not shown any signs of making a serious run at this thing and the Braves really crushed the Giant’s playoff chances when they took 3/4 from them at Turner Field last week.

But why settle for the Wild Card? Sure there’s nothing wrong with being the 4th team in. In fact I don’t care how we get in because if you’re in it, you can win it. That saying has been true so many times in not only baseball but other sports as well. However why should we set the bar so low? If you look at the N.L East standings you see the power house Phillies on top, the team that “no one can beat”. The Phillies possess a 82-44 record guys, that’s almost 40 games over .500. Pretty impressive right? I mean lets be fair they are playing well and racking up a lot of victories. However you know who’s not being fair to us? Phillies fans certainly aren’t. Most commentators and analyst aren’t giving the Braves the respect they deserve either. This Atlanta Braves team is 25 games OVER .500 and they are in 2nd place in their division. That has to be a frustrating feeling for the Braves. However lets look at it in a positive light. Despite the Phillies Major League best record, the Brave our just 6.5 games back! We have put ourselves in a position where we are just hanging around and keeping just the slighest bit of pressure on those cocky and arrogant Phillies.

With the Braves sitting 6.5 games back I think they are in the perfect spot to make a late season push at the division. No one pays attention to a team that’s 6.5 games back. I guarantee you that the Phillies are not even giving us a second thought right now. It wasn’t that long ago that this Braves team was 9.5 games back but they slowly started to make up ground and creep back into this race. The Braves are in the rear view mirror and the Phillies are most likely to arrogant to realize it. The Phillies have turned into the Yankees of the late 90’s without the proven dynasty. This team is oozing with confidence and has no idea how tough it would be beat the Braves in a 7 game playoff series come October.

The Braves have the Wild Card in hand, it’s certainly not over but with an 8.5 game lead this late in the season, it’s their race to lose. If they don’t make the playoffs then it will be because of a major collapse that I honestly just can’t see happening. So they are playing loose, a team that has very little to lose in the case of the division. People talk about teams like the Astros and Cubs playing extremely loose because they have nothing to lose, that makes them extremely dangerous. Well what about this Atlanta Braves team? Are they not in a similar boat? Like I said this team is going to make the playoffs one way or another. Are they the Wild Card team or the top seeded N.L East team? That’s the only question. Winning the division would just be an added bonus that most people, including Braves fans aren’t expecting. The Phillies on the other hand will start to feel the pressure if the Braves can inch just a little bit closer. This is a team that’s SUPPOSED to win the World Series, never mind just the division. With that kind of pressure you might see the Phillies press just a little too hard at the plate. Or maybe over throw that fast ball just a little bit. Maybe Charlie Manuel will second guess himself and make a few bad decisions late in games. You never know.

Atlanta is just 6.5 games out of first place in the N.L East with plenty of time to go in the season. The next time the Braves play the Phillies will be on Sept 5th in Philadelphia. That of course will be a big series for both teams. However we can’t over look the fact that the Braves still have 12 more games before that series even takes place. 3 with the Cubs, Mets, Nationals and Dodgers. No disrespect to any of those teams but at the moment they are all sub .500 teams. Going 9-3 over those 12 games would be far from impossible. Even a nice 8-4 stretch would be nice. So it’s quite possible that the Braves could be a game or 2 closer then they are now when that big series in Philadelphia rolls around.

It doesn’t take a lot of time for things to turn around. The Braves have a very favorable schedule for the rest of the season. On top of  this they still have 6 head to head meetings with the Phillies, which includes a 3 game set IN ATLANTA the last series of the season. Can you imagine the Phillies holding a 2 or 3 game lead, heading into enemy territory for the final series of the season? Things could get very interesting if the Braves continue to creep up in stealth mode behind the first place Phillies.

No matter how the standings turn out I still for see the Braves and Phillies battling it out in the NLCS. I believe the Brewers horrible play on the road will come back to haunt them as you can’t play all your playoff games at home. And the Diamondbacks are a great young ball club but certainly don’t have the pitching depth to make a serious run. Granted the Giants could pull through and win the West but their offense is struggling so badly I just can’t see it happening.

If this N.L East showdown did occur in the N.L.C.S then I just want all Braves fans to know that we will NOT be the under dogs in this series. And truthfully neither will they. We are two VERY EQUAL teams and we should have NO FEAR what so ever going into Philadelphia for a big playoff game. The Phillies have done nothing to impress me in comparison to what the Braves have done. Check out some of the stats and information below. I think after you read it you’ll feel the same as I do.

1) The Braves and Phillies are tied for their season series. Both teams possess a 6-6 record against each other.

2) Both teams are are 3-3 on the road in these series. So much for home field advantage being a huge factor if the Phillies win the East.

3) Braves are tied for 6th in HR. Phillies are tied for 15th. The true sluggers are in Atlanta, not Philadelphia. We have the long ball.

4) Phillies are ranked 1st in ERA with 3.07. Guess who’s 2nd? Yup. The Braves with a 3.31 team ERA.

5) Braves pitching leads the majors with strike outs (1064). Phillies are in 4th with (988)

6) Phillies are first in WHIP with 1.16. Braves are in 2nd with 1.23

I know I’m just throwing what appears to be “random” stats at you but I think that all 6 of those factors would affect a playoff series. We think of the Phillies as a dangerous HR team with Utley and Howard. Well the Braves are actually capable of hitting more HR then the Phillies are. People are obsessed with the Phillies pitching staff but the Braves have matched them every step of the way.

It’s not about names on a piece of paper. Yes the Phillies have Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. But names don’t win a championship. On the field performance does. Games aren’t played on paper they’re played on the field. Guys like Freddie Freeman, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Brian McCann get it done ON the field. And that’s why I truly believe that the Braves CAN and WILL beat the Phillies in the NLCS.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

The Sophomore Slump

Prior to the 2010 season he was ranked as the #1 prospect in all of baseball. He stood 6’5 and weighed in at 240lbs. He was not only the face of the franchise but many people described him as one of the future stars in the entire league. He bounced around a lot as a youth, playing for 6 teams in just 3 minor league seasons. Taken 14th overall in the 2007 major league baseball draft the organization had high hopes for this talented 18 year old. He’s still just 22 years of age and most consider him to still possess a ton of talent.

In case you haven’t guessed it. I’m talking about Jason Heyward, last years rookie of the year runner up. A player who at the age of 21 hit a home run in his first major league at bat. A guy who hit 18 home runs, drove in 72rbi, hit for an average of .277 and had an OBP of .393. No matter how you slice it those are outstanding numbers for a 21 year old rookie. The sky was the limit for Jason as most expected him to take over the 3 hole spot in the line up when our future hall of famer Chipper Jones decided to call it quits.

Now so many things have changed. Instead of improving on his rookie campaign and making his mark on the league Jason finds himself in a whole new world, playing a whole new ball game. Instead of trying to increase his batting average from last year or add a few more home runs to his already impressive 18 long ball season in 2010, Jason is just trying to get himself on the field. Injuries plagued him earlier in the year but I’m not sure how long that can be used as an excuse. Jason has been healthy for a while now and has seen journey man Jose Constanza take his place in the line up more often then not. Instead of noticing when he’s not in the line up as in him having a day off, Braves fans now take notice as to when he IS in the line up. That’s never a good sign as you expect your best players to play everyday.

Heyward is a heck of an athlete, no one can deny that. His massive frame and overall strength make him a threat every time he steps to the plate. On any given pitch Jason Heyward has the ability to smash a double into the gap or even force a few balls over the center field fence. But why isn’t he? That’s the question that is puzzling so many fans and coaches right now.

Have the opposing pitchers figured him out? Look at guys like Gordon Beckham and Chris Coghlan. They are experiencing a similar thing after their rookie campaigns. The starting pitchers they were facing found flaws in their swing and those two guys are prime examples of players who have failed to make the proper adjustments. Is this the case with Heyward? Possibly. He’s striking out more then last year, mostly due to the fact that he continues to chase balls out of the zone. This however is very common for any slumping player as they are just pressing too hard when they step into the batters box. Maybe Jason is still being plagued by that shoulder injury? Maybe it wasn’t 100% when he came back. After being called out by Chipper Jones for the unwillingness to play hurt, did he come back before he was ready?

When comparing his 2011 stats to the ones from 2010 we need to be careful. We need to take into consideration that we have no idea what Jason Heyward will do for the last month or so of the season. There is not one person out there who could tell me that Jason Heyward couldn’t get hot and hit .330 for the whole month of Sept and drive in 25 runs with 10 home runs. That’s not impossible. So we need to take these comparisons with a grain of salt. There’s still more baseball to be played and baseball is like anything else in life, we can’t predict it with 100% certainty.

2011: .218, 12 home runs, 31rbi and a .310 obp

2010: .277, 18 home runs, 72rbi and .393 obp

With a month left in the season I would not say the power numbers have completely tanked. If Heyward could get hot over the next month and hit just 4 or 5 more long balls the rest of the way then power is not even in the discussion. A drop off a 1 or 2 home runs is not going to get the critics talking. On base percentage and batting average are more of a concern for me. Those are the numbers that show he’s just not getting on base. When you can’t get hits or walks you can’t score runs for your team. When your batting average is so low it’s almost impossible to drive in a ton of runs for your team. He needs to be a little more patient at the plate and not fall behind in the count so quickly.

Through all of this Jason Heyward has shown me one thing, his attitude is outstanding. He has never complained about being on the bench. He doesn’t sit there pouting or crying because Fredi won’t start him. He hasn’t made a public spectacle out of himself because of his slump by blaming the coaches or making any excuses for his poor performance. That’s something that cant be taught, that’s great character. We need to see value in that. The fact that he’s willing to work extra hours with the hitting coach on days he’s not in the line up and even approach Chipper for some hitting tips shows a great sign of maturity. He is certainly taking the appropriate steps to turn this thing around.

I can honestly admit that my optimal scenario has occurred and I can’t complain about what Fredi is doing or I’d be a hypocrite to my own articles. The point I had made over a month ago was that Jason Heyward needed competition, he needed a threat on the team that could take away some of his playing time. Jose Constanza has done just that. For how long? No one really knows if Constanza is a flash in the pan or if he’ll be with the Braves for the next 5 or 6 seasons. All I know is that RIGHT NOW he is a force on this team and he is major competition for Heyward. If nothing else comes from having Constanza on this team then I hope one thing happens. That he’s the reason Heyward is forced to come out of that slump, that a lone would make Constanza a huge part of Braves history.

When you come to the ball park knowing that your going to be in the line up no matter what, I think you lack a sense of urgency. I think you get too relaxed and that you might fail to make the proper adjustments. However when a journey man player from the minor leagues comes up and basically takes your job, then you have a problem. Your going to have to prove yourself worthy by performing at a high level. Up until this point Heyward was living on an image that he had previously created for himself. How long can you live on an image or on past accomplishments? Apparently not too long if your Jason Heyward.

Should Braves fans be worried about Heyward? In my opinion I would say no. Don’t panic Braves fans because things are too good right now to start worrying. Heyward has been struggling almost this entire season and this team is 24 games over .500 and running away with the Wild Card race. When the team is playing so well I find it extremely difficult to worry about 1 individual player. Right now any contribution Heyward can make is a bonus, it’s all icing on the cake right now.

Would I prefer that Heyward heat up right before the playoffs? Absolutely. The more hot bats you have in your line up the better. If he doesn’t then we do have Constanza to fall back on. That’s just the benefits of having depth on your team.

In all fairness to Jason Heyward I say we give him a little more time to prove himself. He has shown that he can tear the cover off the ball, he did it just last season. Were not waiting on some guy who’s never proven he can play the game at a high level. Were waiting on a guy to regain that ability that he once had. The talent is still there guys, it’s just being covered up by some bad mechanics, a bruised ego and a troublesome shoulder. If Jason Heyward can earn all of that praise for 1 good season, then in fairness we can’t doom him because of 1 bad season. To me the score would be 1-1 on Jason Heyward. One good season and one bad season. Let’s put him out there and get a little more sample of what he’s capable of and then decide. The only way he can get out of this slump is by getting some at bats. So for this reason I think Fredi needs to play him a couple of times a week.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

Aging Veterans Dominating The Payroll

I hate to write about money two articles in a row but I feel as if there’s a point or two that I really need to address. Yesterday’s article featured a story about big market teams in baseball and how they are stacking up against the smaller market clubs. We went over the fact that money alone was not enough to bring a championship to a particular franchise. Today I’d like to build on that article a little bit and address the Braves financial situation in a little more detail.

Yesterday I pointed out that the Brave are 15th in the league for payroll. Right smack dab in the middle. However we also realized when looking at the numbers that the Braves are a lot closer to the Kansas City Royals then they are to being the New York Yankees. So if we were to side with one or the other I say the Braves are closer to being a small market team that needs to watch it’s finances. So how are the Braves spending their money and are they spending it in the best ways to help the team win a championship. Let’s take a look.

As we discussed yesterday the Braves are sitting on an 87 million dollar payroll. Enough to attract possible free agents and lock some guys up to long term deals like we saw them do with Uggla over the winter. We know we have a 2nd baseman for the next 5 seasons costing us just over 60 million. If Uggla continues to produce like he has been the past 4 weeks then I’d say the money will be worth it. He’s a game changer.

Chipper announced just 2 days ago that he will be back in 2012. So how does this affect the Atlanta Braves bank account? Well Chipper is slatted to make 14 million dollars next season. I’m glad Chipper still loves the game of baseball and I’m glad that he is so determined to win another championship here in Atlanta. My only objection to his return next season is that 14 million dollars is the salary of a full time player, not a guy who needs several days off a week. To earn that kind of money I’d like to see Chipper on the field for 140 games. That would still give him 22 games off throughout the season but even that I think is doubtful. That’s a large chunk of the Braves pay roll going to an aging veteran.

However Chipper is not the only veteran who will be cashing big checks come next season. The other is our good friend Derek Lowe who is slated to make 15 million dollars next season. That’s a ton of money fora 38 year old pitcher that will turn 39 by the time next season roles around. I thought Lowe’s contract was a bad deal for us from the beginning. You always have to take age into consideration when signing these long term deals and I think 35 is a point of concern. Once you get past your 35th birthday as a professional athlete you can’t be treated as if you are 25 anymore. You might need more time off or your skills might slowly start to get away from you. Lowe can’t even get past the 6th inning these days and I don’t see him being a whole lot better next season. The Braves can try to trade him but how many suitors will there be? I know the Tigers showed some interest in him but Lowe has an old arm and a big contract, not exactly great selling points.

McCann is signed through the 2013 season. He will earn 8.5 million dollars next season, which compared to Lowe and Chipper, this is the steal of the century. McCann could arguably be the best over all catcher in Major League Baseball and some how he is earning 5.5 million dollars less next season then Chipper Jones. Alex Gonzalez will be a free agent next season which could allow us to get a younger more talented Short Stop. Weather we get that player from the minors, a trade or look for free agents to fill the void, I just can’t see them resigning Gonzalez who will turn 35 next season. His production is decent but will not warrant the money he will be looking for. Take Tyler Pastornicky and promote him to the majors. The Braves will be able to pay him a couple of million tops to be their starting shortstop. That’s a great bargain and could help free up payroll for other improvements.

Hudson is going to earn 9 million next year which again compared to Derek Lowe is a bargain. Hudson is throwing the ball well and Braves fans will welcome him back next year with open arms. He has a club option for 2013 so we could easily have him in the starting rotation for the next 2 seasons.

Freddie Freeman who only earned 414,500 dollars this year will be a free agent come October. This is an obvious “must sign” for the Braves as he is certainly the franchise first baseman in my opinion. He plays great defense, has an outstanding bat and a good attitude towards the game. We want to have Freeman in the lineup for a very long time. I don’t think resigning him will be too much of an issue, although I have no idea who else will try to pursue him. Freeman deserves a solid 5 year contract in my opinion, possibly even longer with him being so young. The Braves can take a large burden off their shoulders if they can get a long term deal done with Freeman.

Jason Heyward is also a free agent as of next year. Like Freeman he will unrestricted and will probably want a decent size contract. This is where is gets tricky for the Braves. Obviously they will want to resign him but how much is he worth? Is he still the franchise player we all originally thought he was? I don’t think Heyward has proven to anyone that he is worth a monster contract. The Braves need to be extremely careful here, as they don not want to put themselves in a bad situation down the road. Signing players who end up being flops to long term deals can have damaging affects on the long term growth of your franchise. You don’t want to be handcuffed to a ton of bad contracts or you’ll end up like the Mets and Cubs, which is the last thing we want as Braves fans.

Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel will be among the other free agents come October. This is a critical time for the Braves because it’s a chance to lock up a lot of their young talent for long term deals. These two guys are the two biggest pieces to our league’s best bullpen. No way we can let these guys go. However how much money will they ask for? Will we be able to sign all of these guys to long term contracts? This is a situation where I wish the Braves weren’t tied down by the Lowe contract. We could really use that 15 million dollars to serve a much better and more productive purpose, like signing Venters and Kimbrel.

Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens are among the players in the starting rotation who will be up for free agency as well. The list just continues to grow as I examine the Braves contract list with a fine tooth comb. I’d like to see this guys stand up and say that they want to remain a team and try to build a dynasty that will rival the Braves teams of the 90’s.

Fran Wren will have a lot of work to do this off season. It’s a critical time for our franchise and I hope we can lock up as many of the above players as we possibly can. Frank Wren might not be able to offer these guys the money that other clubs can but what he can offer them is a chance to win a World Series and to be competitive year in and year out. A lot of these guys are extremely young and if they know the others are signing long term deals then this is a team that will be good for a long time. Lets get all this over with so we can avoid free agent drama for years to come. Yes, were getting hit with it all at once but as soon as the contracts are done were going to have a team full of long term guys which will be a huge relief.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Where Did All The Money Go?

How many times have we heard that they Yankees “buy” their success? I must have heard it a million times and to be quite honest I’ve been on both sides of this argument. In times of frustration I have lashed out, giving all the credit to the Yankees bank account rather then the players they put on the field. I’ve also been level headed and said all teams put 9 guys out on the field and they play the game of baseball. Whoever wins games will have a shot in October.

So what is the impact of money on major league baseball? Well there certainly isn’t a salary cap so teams can naturally run wild with their payroll. It creates under dogs and big time favorites. It pits small market clubs against big market clubs. Money does have a major impact on the game, if money didn’t matter at all then players would only chose to play for teams they loved. They would chose by the stadium or the city. Maybe even the teammates they would have in each different organization. The coaches would be a high priority along with the facilities. And while all of these things certainly do matter, there is another reason why players smile every time they put on those pin stripes. That’s the mighty dollar. They know darn well that they got the biggest contract possible and they can smile all the way to the bank.

Money certainly makes it a little easier to get the results you want. I mean lets be honest, if you’re able to put the best players possible out on that field then you should have a better chance to win then the small market clubs. However it doesn’t always turn out this way. Some teams are actually frustrated with the amount of money they have spent over the past several years because they still aren’t getting the results they want. Let’s take a closer look at the 2011 Major League Baseball payroll chart.

Top 10 in payroll this season.

1) Yankees 202 million

2) Phillies 172 million

3) Red Sox 161 million

4) Angels 138 million

5) White Sox 127 million

6) Cubs 125 million

7) Mets 118 million

8) Giants 118 million

9) Twins 112 million

10) Tigers 105 million

What jumps out at me is that 6 of these teams would miss the post season if the playoffs started today. There’s 6 AL teams on this list and 4 NL teams. 3 of these teams the Mets, Cubs and Twins have virtually no chance of making the playoffs. The Tigers are one of the 4 teams that would make the postseason right now but they hold a very slim 1.5 game lead over the Indians in the AL Central. Come back to me in a 3 or 4 days and we could be down to 3 of the top 10 teams in payroll that would make the postseason.

It appears that even the richest teams in baseball are top heavy. Of the 4 teams in which would qualify for the postseason, 3 of them are in the top 3 in payroll. Those being the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox. All of those teams are certainly getting the best bang for their buck. No one can argue that. Their attempt of “buying” a ring is working thus far.

But what about teams 4-10 on this list? Only the 10th place Tigers would be seeing October right now. Both Chicago teams have written a lot big checks this year but are certainly not getting the results that they want. Are the “underdog” Twins really such underdogs anymore? They sit 9th in payroll with 21 teams behind them. Their payroll hit 112 million this year. To me any team with a payroll of over 100 million dollars is not an underdog. With that kind of budget to work with you have plenty of resources to attempt to obtain the players you want.

Let’s look at other notables on the other end of the scale.

Arizona. 25th in payroll with just 53 million. They are sitting in 1st place in the NL West ahead of the Giants who spend 118 million.

Cleveland. 26th in payroll. Just 1.5 games out of 1st place. Ahead of the White Sox who spent 127 million dollars this season.

Tampa Bay. Not a playoff team but 10 games over .500. Much better then the Cubs who spent 125 million vs the Ray’s 41 million.

Milwaukee. 17th in payroll with 85 million. They are sitting ahead of the Cardinals who spent 20 million dollars more then they did.

Texas. Still a decent payroll of 92 million but nothing in comparison to the 135 million that their division rivals the Angels spent.

Where do the Atlanta Braves fit into this payroll mess? Well they are currently 15th in payroll, right smack in the middle. I would not consider them a small market underdog or a big market favorite. The Braves spent 87 million dollars this year, just 5 million less then the high powered Texas Rangers. I would love to see the Braves add another 5-6 million to their payroll and creep up over the 90 million mark just for a little more flexibility. However were kind of in a weird place as Braves fans. There are a lot of teams that spend more then us but there are also small clubs that would like to be where we are financially. One thing I will note though is this. When you break it down the Braves are A LOT closer to the bottom then they are the top when you look at only the numbers. They are 51 million away from the bottom of the barrel Royals and they are 115 million away from the richest team in baseball, the New York Yankees. So if we had to decide one way or another, I’d side with the underdogs because that’s what the Braves are closer to.

Money alone can’t buy you a championship. Just like money can’t buy you health. I don’t like to make such a steep comparison but it’s true. Even the richest people in the world can become ill and even the richest teams in baseball can play badly. Other elements come into play. You need to take care of those players that you pay all that money to. You need to make sure they get the right instruction and the right support system in the club house. You need to make sure the players that your signing to these big contracts are worth it. Do they have their head screwed on right? Are they a cancer to the club house?

Despite having just the 15th highest payroll in baseball I think the Braves do have some bragging rights around the league. I think Dan Uggla is a top 5 second baseman in all of baseball. I think Brian McCann might be the best catcher in baseball right now. Freddie Freeman is without a doubt a top 10 first basemen and it’s only his first season in the majors. Michael Bourn is without a doubt a top 10 Center Fielder. Not to mention Jason Heyward is likely to rebound into a top 10 RF in the league as soon as he gets past this slump. The organization is the richest in all of baseball when it comes to talented young arms. So overall I think that Braves do alright for themselves.

Money can’t buy happiness in baseball. Only winning can. Never forget that.

By: Bob McVinua