Category: Uncategorized

What Went Wrong: Minnesota Twins

So I have been absolutely beating the Braves playoff race to death. There is no way I can write another article about it until something drastically changes, good or bad.

I’ve come up with another series of articles that some of you might find interesting. When Spring Training comes there is a great feeling in the air because everyone believes they have some chance to compete. Sure there are certainly favorites just like in any other sport but you never truly know what will happen until the games are played.

Last year the Minnesota Twins went 94-68. That was good enough to win the A.L East and earn a home playoff series in their new stadium. The Twins were matched up with the Yankees who just always seem to have their number when they meet in the postseason. Part of it I honestly think is mental and that the Twins started to expect to lose those types of games. Not a good mindset to have. The Yankees disposed of the Twins in just 3 games and all the hard work over the course of the season came to quick end for the Twins.

Still they maintained a positive attitude going into Spring Training as most teams would after winning a division title. They made a few moves over the course of the off season and they felt good about their chances to repeat.

Although baseball is a TEAM game like all other sports you can’t over look the value of each individual player. Sports like basketball often have a much high emphasis on single player talents because they can control the game a lot more then a start baseball player. Kobe Bryant can go down to the other end of the court and shoot the ball on 20 straight possessions if he so chooses. He can really take over the game. In baseball Albert Pujols can’t go up to the plate for 10 straight at bats. He can’t just go up to hit because the bases are loaded in a crucial part of the game. It just doesn’t work that way.

However baseball spans itself over 162 games. Basically twice as many as basketball and 10 times as many games as football. So over the course of time teams will really begin to miss their star players when they are either struggling or out with injury.

Joe Mauer the Twins best player has only played in 82 games this season. He’s hit only 3HR and drove in just 30 runs. That’s not going to get it done. Justin Morneau played in just 69 game. He has hit only 4HR and has sadly matched Mauer’s production in the RBI department with 30.

Your two best players have a combined 7HR and 60RBI? That’s a real deal breaker when it comes to winning your division.

These injuries put a lot of pressure on guys like Jim Thome and Michael Cuddyer to be the soul run producers and that just wasn’t going to happen.

Not one pitcher on the Twins staff has more then 9 wins. I’ve never heard of a team making the playoffs without 1 double digit winner in the rotation.

It was tough to watch the Twins this year and truthfully I never realized how bad they were record wise until today. I saw them sinking in the A.L Central Standings but I had no idea that they were 30 games under .500.

Only the Houston Astros have a worse record in all of Major League Baseball.

A real rough year for the Twins and they still have a lot of question marks as they close out the season. Morneau hasn’t been fully healthy in awhile. Mauer doesn’t seem like himself at all. They have had him at 1st base and even in the OF t his year. They need to figure out what they’re going to do with their franchise player.

The Twins are well managed and are a classy bunch of guys. I wish them the best going forward.

By: Bob McVinua

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The Standings Aren’t The Real Concern For Atlanta

There’s some concern buzzing around Tomahawk Nation after last nights game but I think it might be for the wrong reasons. I hate to see my fellow Braves fans in a panic so I usually try to write something that is upbeat and positive. Last nights 9-0 loss to the Phillies was not the way I had hoped the Braves would start this series. Chipper started the series off with a bang by saying how the Braves weren’t afraid of the Phillies and how he thought the Braves were the most likely team to give the Phillies a run for their money come the postseason. Personally I like the approach. Show some confidence and swagger. Your ball club is more then 20 games over .500 and just like the Phillies we also have a playoff birth basically locked up.

What I didn’t like was that Chipper Jones makes those comments and then doesn’t play. He looked extremely upset with his teams performance as he watched from the dugout. The key word being dugout. I understand he’s an older player but this is a big series for his team and I think he should have played in the first game.

The loss to Philadelphia was disappointing to say the least but to be 100% honest with you guys, I don’t see this team winning the N.L East. I think the deficit is just too large to over come this late in the season. However we shouldn’t feel bad about it. All playoff spots lead to the same road. Whether you win the division or the wild card, if you’re in it you can win it. It’s that simple. Sure the road to the World Series will go through Philadelphia but didn’t it go through the same road last year? Yes it did. And the Phillies got left behind on the side of their own road as the Giants continued on to win a world championship.

I think it’s important for this team to win games for the purpose of maintaining their wild card lead and also to build some confidence going into the postseason. However I think the team’s biggest concerns are not in the standings but in the club house.

Mixed news came in yesterday in regards to Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. It appears that Hanson has the best chance to return in time for the postseason, as they have announced that it’s very likely Jurrjens will miss the entire 1st round of the playoffs. Although Hanson has the best chance of a possible return he’s still looking at another 2 weeks or so.

With only 3 weeks left in the regular season that doesn’t give Hanson a lot of time to return to form. It’s very possible that Hanson will only be able to make one start before the playoffs begin. That doesn’t give Fredi Gonzalez much to go on when he’s forming his playoff rotation.

Right now the offense is pretty much set. Assuming everyone is healthy there are very few question marks of who will play what position and who will hit where in the order. I don’t see Fredi straying too far from the normal line up that he’s put out there that past few weeks. The only thing I’m still not clear about is the OF rotation. Bourn and Prado will be out there everyday as long as Chipper is alright to play. Then you have Diaz, Heyward and Constanza fighting for playing time in RF. Tough call as to who will get the majority of the time out there. Diaz will likely face lefties I would assume as that’s what he was brought in to do.

The rotation is the real issue with so many possible scenarios looming. Hudson is the clear cut ace and #1 starter at this point in time. I don’t think anyone, including Fredi Gonzalez would argue that. But what happens when you drop down to #2 and #3. A 4th starter won’t be necessary for the divisional round but we still need to fill those last two spots.

If Hanson comes back and appears to be in good form I have a feeling that he might be the #2 guy. Then I would assume that Beachy would be put in the #3 spot if he continues to pitch well.

But what if Hanson doesn’t come back. What if both Hanson and Jurrjens are out for the 1st round? Do we dare put Derek Lowe in the #2 spot? Or do we risk putting Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy into the playoff rotation? I think there is a good amount of risk involved with both moves. Having Minor and Beachy in the playoff rotation gives us no experience what so ever.

The Phillies are not who we should be worried about. Catching them would be nice but is extremely unlikely at this point. We need to focus on maintaining that wild card lead and getting our playoff rotation in order. Fredi is going to have to make some tough decisions down the stretch.

The Braves should be more worried about the health of their team then the N.L East standings.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Baseball Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

I am a fan of all sports. I love football, baseball, basketball, tennis; you name it. If there’s competition involved then I’m there. I know this is a Braves blog and you guys look forward to hearing all of the latest news on Atlanta Braves baseball. With the holiday weekend behind us I decided to switch things up for today.

One of the reasons why baseball is my favorite amongst all professional sports is the length of the season. Yes, I’m saying that the length of the season makes baseball such a great game. Now to most people that would seem absolutely insane. I hear a lot of “How can anyone watch baseball, the season is too long”. I get that a lot and I’m sure all of you have heard that one quite a few times yourself. Clearly those people are not die hard baseball fans like me and you.

There is something magical about the 162 game season. I feel that it takes patience to be a baseball fan. 162 games is a lot of games and those games move and at a slow to steady pace. Each move is carefully decided by the players and coaches. Every pitch could be critical. Hundreds of pitches are thrown in each game alone. The amount of decisions is astonishing when you really stop to think about it.

Football is the favorite sport of many. I’ll admit that I look forward to football season just like anyone else. I enjoy watching games on Sunday afternoons even though my Dolphins don’t usually give me a ton to cheer about but that’s besides that point. Football is a great game. It’s very fast paced and the season appears to fly by because games are only played once a week for each team and the season lasts for only 16 weeks. But to me this just feeds into the instant gratification aspect that this country and so many others are obsessed with. I want it and I want it now. People don’t want to wait for anything. It’s much easier to follow a season of 16 games rather then following one that lasts for 162 games.

Baseball is a marathon and the NFL is a sprint. If you lose 3 games in a row during an NFL season then you need to hit the panic button. If you lose 4 or 5 then you’re basically finished and you can look forward to next year. See to me that’s not as much fun. I hate the suffering I feel inside when my team loses back to back games or god forbid our team loses 3 or 4 in a row.

Think about the comparison. If the Braves lost back to back games it wouldn’t even matter. Sure we hate to see our Bravos lose but hey if it’s only 2 or 3 in a row then we’ll be fine. Granted certain games are more crucial then others but when there’s 162 of them you can’t freak out about back to back loses. Baseball is a sport where fans can settle in and enjoy the ride. There’s ups and there’s downs just like any other thing in life.

Baseball is the sport that best represents our lives. Think about it. How many of us have had perfect lives? Not many, if any. You have your good times and your bad times. Hopefully you have more good then bad just like baseball teams. A great team will win 100 games in a season. Well what about the 62 times that they failed? A great hitter will get a hit 3 out of every 10 at bats. That means a good player will fail 7 out of 10 times.

The baseball season is full of memories. Remember when the Orioles started out the season so strong? People were saying they might be able to compete in the A.L East after all. Now they find themselves in the seller of the division with no chance of making the playoffs. Remember when the Mariners were just 1.0 game out of first place in the A.L West? Then they went on that horrible losing streak and played themselves right out of contention. Or how about the Pittsburgh Pirates? They actually got a taste of first place for a little bit of time but would eventually fall by the way side.

So much happens over the course of 162 games. It’s such a great journey that starts every spring and allows us to enjoy our favorite sport almost every single night. We don’t have to wait until Sunday to watch a baseball game. There’s games on EVERY single night of the week. Baseball fans can appreciate the marathon mentality.

I don’t even believe in Cinderellas when it comes to Major League Baseball. Nope, not in the least. If you make the playoffs after a 162 game season then you are not a Cinderella. There are under dogs in the playoffs for sure. But only in a head to head match up sense. In the big picture if the D-Backs make the post season then they are not some fluke like a March Madness team. The Giants, Rockies, Dodgers and Padres will have had 162 games to make a statement. If the D-Backs out last the Giants over that long of a period then they are just BETTER.

Baseball represents patience. Baseball is the marathon of sports just like life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon as well. We can’t freak out every time something bad happens to us. We have to realize that’s just a single loss in the game of life. There’s always time to make a comeback and we live our lives every single day, not just on Sundays. Baseball is inspirational in a lot of ways.

So as we keep this in mind, lets enjoy the last 2 months of the baseball season.

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

 

 

 

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

Aces Are Wild

No were not talking about poker. Were talking about the Atlanta Braves starting rotation. Which right now some people are starting to doubt. Personally I may take their side in this debate, as the offense appears to be showing some signs of life and the bullpen is very solid. Yes the offense was shut down by Matt Cain last night, but over all they have been showing signs of improvement. Uggla and Freeman have been hitting the ball extremely well and we’ll let McCann get readjusted to being back in the starting line, then we can make a final judgement call.

For the first half of the season the starting rotation carried this team. They were arguably the best rotation in all of baseball, lead by ace pitcher Jair Jurrjens. I am a firm believer that every team needs an ace. And by ace I don’t necessarily mean a top 5 pitcher in all of baseball. Obviously there are only so many “great” pitchers available for the taking. When I use the word ace, I am referring to a clear cut #1 starter in your rotation. Not 2 or 3 guys that are decent and could probably pitch in a big game down the stretch. Probably won’t get it done come playoff time. By the end of Sept, if not before you need to have all of your roles established. This includes having your #1 starter defined. You only get one shot at playing game 1 in each series. The ever so crucial game 1 dictates the out come quite often. It’s your first chance to jump out in front of the opposing team and make a statement. It’s a game you want your ace on the mound for. Well what if you don’t have a clear cut ace? Well I firmly believe that this leads to confusion and hesitant decision making when determining your rotation in October. You can’t afford to have a wait and see type attitude. Or a “play it by ear” approach.

So that leads me to my next question. Do the Braves have a clear cut ace? The kind of pitcher who can stop a losing streak or take the mound in game 1 of the World Series? If this Braves team lives up to it’s potential, the potential that we all see in this team then they will be forced to put a guy out there in either game 1 of the NLCS or possilby game 1 of the World Series. Who should they turn to?

If we had asked ourselves this same question just 30 days prior to this we would have come to an immediate conclusion. Jair Jurrjens is our ace. He’s the guy we want on the mound come October. With an outstanding ERA of just 1.89 at the All Star break I don’t think anyone would have argued or even debated the fact that Jurrjens was the best pitcher on this staff. Now, do we still feel the same way? I’m not so sure. I’m not one to jump on and off band wagons but to be quite honest Jurrjens doesn’t look like the same pitcher. It’s not just that he’s not getting the same types of results but it appears that his confidence his way down. He’s not his spots and he’s just not able to get big outs in crucial situations. He looks like a completely different guy in the second half of the season.

Jurrjens as I’ve mentioned in prior articles is not a guy who likes to pitch hurt. He likes to be healthy when he takes the mound, he needs to be healthy to make good things happen. We’ve seen the difference between a healthy Jurrjens and an injury plagued Jurrjens. They are as different as night and day. It’s not easy to play hurt, I’m not saying it is. But when you think of some of the game’s best pitchers, they are willing to go out there and lay it all on the line. Is Jurrjens willing to do that? Is he a big game pitcher? I’m not sold on this idea.

In the second half of the season Jurrjens has seen his ERA jump from 1.87 all the way up to 2.84. I’m not saying 2.84 is a horrible ERA, just like I’m not saying his 12-5 record isn’t respectable. None of those statements would be accurate. He has a very strong record and a solid ERA. The only thing I’m pointing out is the massive jump up. His ERA is up almost a full run since the All Star break and he’s only made 5 starts. Not to mention if he hadn’t had a stellar outing against Pittsburgh on the 27th of July where he went 7 strong innings only allowing 1 earned run, his ERA would really be in the gutter. That was his only decent start since the All Star break.

This article is not intended to bash Jair Jurrjens. That’s not my intention, in fact Jurrjens is probably one of my favorite players on this Braves team. I think he wants to win badly, he wants to be that ace pitcher. He’s very young and has great stuff. The future could still be very bright for Mr. Jurrjens. My job as a writer is to pose questions. And this is my question to you. Could Tim Hudson be the ace of this staff as we head down the stretch run? Because I think he can.

Hudson is 4-1 in his 7 starts since the All Star break. He’s gone at least 7 innings in all of those starts and his ERA has dropped from 3.44 down to 3.13. To be a premier pitcher in this league I believe you need to have an ERA of under 3.00. That to me shows dominance and Hudson is nearing that level right now.

Let’s put it this way. His worst start since the All Star break was against the Pirates. He went 7.0 innings. Gave up 5 hits and allowed 3 runs. He got tagged for the lossĀ  in that game, his only loss since the break. If that’s your worst start of the 2nd half then you should be pretty proud of yourself Tim Hudson.

The Braves as a team are 5-2 in the starts Hudson has made in the 2nd half. The 2 starts that Hudson wasn’t able to win, the Braves lost those games 3-2 and 3-1 respectively. Not exactly the best run support for Hudson but he still managed to keep them in the game. Hudson also has a fair amount of playoff experience. He’s been to the playoffs 4 times with Oakland and 3 times with Atlanta. He’s appeared in 10 playoff games and has made 9 post season starts. He holds a 1-3 career record with a respectable 3.46era. Now I will admit that Hudson has never pitched past the Divisional Round. So I can’t say he’s a sure bet on the mound in Game 1 of the World Series but some experience is there. Jurrjens, who I know is 11 years younger then Hudson has never pitched under the bright lights of October. He was absent during last years playoff series against the Giants. Hudson however was present during last years battle with the Giants and pitched a stellar game for Atlanta. He went 7 full innings allowing just 1 earned run. If you remember he was the game 3 pitcher who was locked in that duel with Sanchez and was not helped in any way by Brooks Conrad’s lack of fielding ability.

I’m not trying to be a band wagon jumper. I’m not jumping on Hudson because he’s the “hot” pitcher right now. I can however see Tim Hudson being the game 1 starter in the playoffs. I think Fredi likes his experience and right now he is the best pitcher we have. If you were to choose one Braves pitcher to take the mound in a game that decided the fate of this planet, wouldn’t you pick Tim Hudson? I know I would.

By: Bob McVinua

 

What A Difference A Swing Makes

I’m normally not one for doing game recaps as you can probably tell. I figure that you guys get enough of that from ESPN and MLB Network. On the rare occasion that I do a game recap, I like to at least point out some of the less obvious occurrences. Last nights battle between the Braves and Giants felt like a playoff game. It was truly amazing the tension between the two teams who were playing a game in the middle of Aug, not the middle of October.

Games as good as the one we saw last night deserve a closer look to see if we got any information that might give us an indication or two that one team has the edge. On one swing of the bat Freeman altered the Wild Card standings by 2 full games. This goes right back to the point I made in the previous article, head to head games are critical to your success when in a playoff race. At the end of each game the standings will be altered in one way or another, they can never stay the same as in the case of both teams getting a win when they are involved in two different series. When Freeman hit that ball up the middle scoring the game tying and game winning runs he gave the Braves a 5.0 game Wild Card lead. However let’s picture a different scenario. What if that ball had been a line drive to the 2nd basemen? The out is recorded and now the Giants are facing only a 3.0 game deficit in the Wild Card standings. Clutch hitting for Freeman did the Braves a lot of good in more ways then one.

For some of us it seemed as if Hudson just didn’t have his best stuff last night and to be honest I agree. However it wasn’t quite as bad as it appeared. When Hudson took the mound in the 4th inning he must have been feeling pretty good about himself. He had been able to escape some early trouble and had put 3 zero’s on the board to start the game. The 4th inning would not be nearly as kind to Hudson. Let’s break it down.

The 4th inning was where the Giants were able to tie the game without even recording a single hit. Hudson was not able to make them work for their runs, it was more of a hand out if you ask me. Bourn opened the inning with a huge error in center field. That allowed the lead off man to reach base. The difference that made was huge. Instead of one out and no one on, Hudson had a runner on first with no outs and the feeling in the pit of his stomach that he knew Bourn should have made that play and didn’t. Errors get in pitchers heads, I don’t care how good they are. Hudson would show some of that frustration when he proceeded to walk the following batter and then hit the one after that. The Giants would follow with 2 sac fliesĀ  to tie the game. Not a single hit was recorded, yet the Giants were able to tie the game.

To make matters worse for the Braves, they continued to allow the Giants to get quick and easy runs. I’m not dismissing the long ball in any way shape or form. However it’s a quick strike attack that doesn’t require any real work. Compare that to a lead off man drawing a walk. Stealing second. Getting bunted over to 3rd. Then scoring on a sac fly. That’s small ball, that’s what I mean by “working” for a run. We didn’t make the Giants do that. They used our own weapon against us. They had home runs by Schierholtz and Fontenot that provided them with a 4-2 lead. All 4 runs were not hard to come by.

The other big story was the Braves being able to get runs off Brian Wilson. This isn’t the first time that the Braves had been able to score off Wilson. It was Nate McLouth who drove in a pair of runs against Wilson earlier in the year when the Braves traveled out west. In the post season last year Alex Gonzalez hammered an RBI double off of Wilson. It’s quite apparent that the Braves do not “fear the beard”. Which to me says that the Braves have taken away one of the Giants biggest strengths. If I’m aware of what the Braves have done against Wilson I’m sure he is equally aware and it must be in his head when he takes the mound against Atlanta.

So how did the Braves score 3 runs off one of the best closers in the league? Well Constanza started off the inning with an infield single. Once again the team speed of the Braves came through in a big way. Eric Hinske would follow with a good at bat, as he would draw a walk putting two men on with no outs. Now Wilson started to panic a little bit. You could see it in his face that he almost had a “here we go again” type look on his face. Bourn then laid down the sac bunt and moved the runners up to 2nd and 3rd with only 1 out. I liked this play from Fredi for a few reasons. One, I like having 2 runners in scoring position with only 1 out. Two very capable hitters were following Bourn in the order and I liked that Fredi eliminated the double play possibility and put his team in a position where a base hit could tie the game. Second, Bourn handles the bat very well. There was even a chance that he could beat out the bunt if the ball ended up in the right place on the infield.

Prado would follow with a clutch hit to score 1 run, Lugo had to be held up at 3rd base. Part of me cringed a little bit because with Wilson you need to score when you have the chance, but at the same time I understand that you can’t risk having a man gunned down at the plate either. McCann would draw a walk, showing good patience at the plate. Uggla despite being red hot was unable to drive in the run from 3rd. Freeman who showed great confidence for a rookie had an awesome at bat. If you guys remember he was down 1-2 in the count. Wilson was only a strike away from ending the game. By Freeman working the count full, he allowed himself to get a pitch to hit. Wilson had to throw a strike, as walking in the tying run was not an option. Freeman took that pitch and drove it up the middle for a base hit which ended the game. An outstanding finish to an outstanding game.

Now I have 2 opinions on this game. Why wasn’t Chipper Jones in the line up? This was clearly a big game as you could feel it in the atmosphere, how could he be sitting on the bench? If you remember Chipper was the first and only guy to call out Jason Heyward for not being out on the field when the team needed him most. He said Jason at 80% is better then most guys at 100%. Chipper could have played last night and chose not to. Chipper has been my favorite player since I was 8 years old. I grew up wearing a Chipper Jones jersey to school in Connecticut where there are only Mets and Yankees fans. I love this guy, there is no doubt about it. I think most Braves fans love him, but think about this. If it was anyone else, would you tolerate it? If this was Dan Uggla choosing to not play because he was sore, would that be OK? Or what if it was Prado or Bourn? Does Chipper have the right to sit out whenever he wants? I know he wants another shot to win a ring, that part is obvious but he needs to be on the field more. If this continues then it might have to be his last season, it’s almost not fair to the team.

My second thought on this game is that not one person has mentioned Christhian Martinez. I know your giving me a weird look through your computer screen but what a nice job this guy did in the top of the 9th inning. A lot of people thought that game was over, Wilson was coming in with a 2 run lead there was no way the Braves would come back. Martinez could have pitched a sloppy inning assuming the game was over but he didn’t. He showed heart and went out there and put a zero on the board. If he had given up just 1 run then that game could have been tied and going into extra’s where anything could have happened. I give him a lot of credit for keeping us in the game.

Other Notes: The Braves are now 4-0 against the Giants this year. With a win against them last night the Braves clinched the season series even if they were to lose the next 3 games. Even if they were to win just one of the next 3 games then they would still finish with a 5-2 record against the Giants which isn’t too shabby.

The Braves got away with only using Hudson and Martinez in last nights game. That means none of the big 3 had to pitch last night. A night off for O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel is a very rare thing. This should mean that they will all be fresh and available for tonight’s game. The bullpen might be more readily used tonight as the Braves are throwing rookie Randall Delgado. I say if Delgado can give us 5 solid innings I’ll take it.

By: Bob McVinua