Tagged: Atlanta Braves

Braves Bats Are “Chopping” At The Bit

When Frank Wren assembled this ball club over the winter he knew exactly what he was getting in the general sense. No he did not anticipate B.J Upton having one of the worst batting averages in the Major Leagues but he knew these 3 things. He knew that this club would not produce many .300 hitters. He knew that this club would swing in miss a lot and he also knew that this team would live and die with the long ball.

Anyone who argues this point is missing the boat in my opinion. Frank Wren is a very smart guy and a very good General Manager. Whenever this team has been in need of something he’s gone out and gotten it. Whether it was a big power hitting right handed bat in which he traded for Dan Uggla. Or when Fredi Gonzalez was in need of a lead off man, what did Frank Wren do? He made a move for Michael Bourn who is one of the best pure lead off men in the game today.

Have all the moves panned out? No they haven’t but none of us can doubt Wren’s effort and passion to better this ball club. He was also the GM who refused to trade a top pitching prospect for Carlos Beltran when the Giants did. A trade that didn’t really pan out as Beltran ended up being injured and then leaving the following year anyways. Wren decided to trade Jordan Schafer for Michael Bourn instead and as we’ve all seen this year, Schafer has found his way back to the ball club despite Bourn’s departure.

But enough of me cheer leading for Frank Wren. I’ll put the pom poms down for a minute and tell you where I think the Braves line up stands at this moment, why it’s struggling to find consistency and how Fredi may be able to fix it.

1) Where’s the ignition?

An offense starts with the first batter who comes into the box to begin the game. The guy who is supposed to make the offense “go” or “start”. The Braves entered the season knowing that they didn’t have a true lead off man or really for that matter any lead off man at all. Simmons was unproven in that spot and B.J just doesn’t hit for nearly high enough average.

This I believe has hurt them at times. They lack that top of the order speed that allows a guy to get on and swipe 2nd base. Someone who has a high OBP and hits as close to .300 as humanly possible. The only guy that the Braves have to fill that role is Jordan Schafer who is currently hitting .310 in limited at bats. Schafer possesses a very good glove in Center Field and is more then capable of playing Right Field and Left Field as well.

Could he be the answer? It’s very possible. Although it’s been limited at bats Schafer has proven that he can hit at the big league level and has re-established himself as a credible player with a much improved attitude from his younger playing days. Schafer will also benefit tremendously from the fact that  Jason Heyward and B.J Upton are both struggling. Fredi has shown that he’s willing to pull both Heyward and B.J from the starting line up but only for limited amounts of time. Do we reach a certain point where Fredi Gonzalez throws his hands up in the air and gives Schafer a full time starting job?

2) Big bats are abused behind the plate

This has been an on going concern for me and I’ve brought it up a few times in past articles but I believe it’s worth mentioning again. Brian McCann is an outstanding hitting catcher, in fact he’s an outstanding hitter period. I love what he brings to the table and apparently so do the people who keep handing him Silver Slugger awards.

However he is a catcher and he does take a beating behind the plate. The old adage that catchers lose 1-2 at bats per game because their hands hurt so bad from catching that they can barely be affective at the plate may not be 100% accurate but it does represent some valid points.

Catchers don’t play every day. And in the National League you can’t DH them. So often they are reduced to pinch hitting situation once every several games. Now this is why many N.L catchers don’t represent the most offensive production on their ball clubs. Yes there’s Buster Posey and Yadier Molina but those types of guys are few and far between.  Thus making it difficult for a manager to have this type of player on their team and deal with the frustration of being forced to give them regular time off.

When your star player plays Left Field or 1st base you can get them into the line up 150+ times a year. They can play a day game after a night game without issue. Catchers can’t really do that and thus proves an issue with McCann. One of our more consistent hitters isn’t able to help the club every single day.

3) Double trouble

If having one great hitting catcher wasn’t tricky enough for Fredi Gonzalez he now has 2 of his most productive hitters at the catcher position. Evan Gattis has emerged as one of the best young hitters in the game and doesn’t falter even in the biggest moments, a flare for the dramatics if you would. He’s been extremely productive all year and has consistently found a way to drive in base runners.

However as I just mentioned he also plays catcher, just as McCann does. Often Fredi needs to choose one or the other to start behind the plate and occasionally finds other ways to get Gattis into the line up. He’s experimented with him both in left field and first base to see if he could handle the glove work of either or both of those positions.

The issue there is that Freddie Freeman is becoming one of the best overall 1st basemen in the National League. He fields his position as well as anyone with his great glove, agile footwork and his 6’5 frame. Some experts are already predicting a batting title in his future as well. So 1st base isn’t going to provide much playing time for Gattis which leaves left field.

Gattis in the outfield ( no that’s not a movie) is a bit of an adventure. I mean the guy is a catcher by trade and that doesn’t really translate outside of his throwing arm to tracking balls down in the outfield. So when put out there the Braves do sacrifice quit a bit of defense and puts even more added pressure on him to hit to make up for the difference.

4) B.J Upton and Jason Heyward

I’m just going to group these two guys in one category because they have almost identical batting averages and unfortunately that’s not flattering for either player. The comparison betweenwhat was supposed to be 2/3 of our All Star type outfield is that they are both hitting under .150. The Braves just can’t afford to have both of those guys struggling at the same time.

This topic has been worn out in my opinion and I think Braves fans already have a good enough sense of where I’m going with this but I couldn’t not point out the obvious. If I’m Fredi Gonzalez I would have my staff working around the clock with both B.J Upton and Jason Heyward to see if I can’t get at least one of them going.

The Braves have been good this year without getting any production from either one of those guys. If one or both of them could heat up during the summer months then I think this team is capable of pulling away from the Nationals in the N.L East.

5) Am I working today?

Can you imagine driving to your place of employment, walking in the door and asking your boss if you’re going to work today? And all he does is point to a piece of paper hanging on the wall with a bunch of names on it. He tells you if your name is on there then you’re working today, if not then you’ll sit out. And when you are selected to work you don’t know exactly where you’ll be working or which department you’ll be in that day.

Now obviously there are limited comparisons to being a Major League Baseball player and that of someone working a regular job that doesn’t involve a bat and a ball. However I’m sure you can get my gist of where I’m going with this. People in any work environment strive when they have consistency and understand their job and their responsibilities. It allows them to not only relax and settle in to what they’re doing but it allows them to perfect their craft.

Fredi Gonzalez hasn’t allowed his players that luxury. Outside of a few select players everyone is thrown in and out and up and down the line up. They don’t know if they’ll be on the bench or batting lead off. And I understand that Major League Baseball players need to be capable of performing in any situation whether it be predictable or not but what I’m getting at is this. Does it produce the best results?

When looking for stability I’d start with the top of the order. My suggestion would be to take Chris Johnson who’s batting .336 and put him in the 2 hole. This club needs a guy or two who can get on base in case Justin Upton hits one over the center field fence. How many of Justin Upton’s home runs have been solo shots? Too many guys, way too many. We need runners on the pillows when he comes up to bat so that we can maximize his production in the line up.

If Fredi can establish a regular line up that he puts out for the majority of games then I think you will see more offensive production from this club on a more consistent basis.

6) He who hesitates is lost

At certain points you need your leader to be decisive. Leaders solve problems and they do so in a way that displays confidence and the faith of his troops, players or employees that they are doing the best thing for everyone as a whole and that this decision will benefit everyone in the long term even if it doesn’t appear so at the time.

If Fredi has the trust of his players and the relationship with them that allows him to make critical and season altering decisions without an emotional outburst in the club house then I’d like to see him display this authority soon. What is the problem with Jason Heyward? Why is he not hitting? Is it his mechanics? Is it health? Is it where he’s hitting in the lineup? Examine all of these aspects with the comments and suggestions from your coaching staff included and make a decision. Is Jason Heyward going to be a regular player in the line up? Is he going to come off the bench for an extended period of time and try to work out his issues in the big leagues? Or does he get sent down?

Putting Heyward in a situation where he plays one day and then sits the next isn’t helping him at all. There’s no consistency other then Fredi being inconsistent. If he’s not in the line up for a week or two weeks then have him in the cage with the hitting coaches on a regular basis. Have him watching films till all hours of the night. Ask him questions to see where his head is at.

The same needs to be done with B.J Upton. Make a firm decision and stick with it. The wishy washy attitude of Fredi Gonzalez is only contributing to their struggles.

Conclusion:

Without direction you’re lost. This team needs more defined direction. I’m not bashing the team nor am I saying there is any reason to panic. This club is in 1st place and by 4.5 games over a team that every one else picked to win the division.

Do I think this team will hit? Absolutely. When the dog days of summer come across the country the Braves bats will heat up with the weather. The heat and humidity cause the ball to fly out of the park at an alarming rate and that will play right into Atlanta’s style of play. It could be a very good summer in Atlanta and I predict it will be.

By: Bob McVinua

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We’re a 1/3 of The Way Home

I can’t believe it’s already the end of May and that baseball season is almost a 1/3 of the way over already. It’s been a fun two months and I’ve enjoyed cheering for and stressing over these Bravos for the past almost 60 days. I thought that this was a good time to assess what I think the Braves have and what they don’t have. And moving forward what this team will have to do in order to be successful.

As usual I don’t want to bore anyone with stats, I may throw a few in there for reference points but I’ll try not to over load anyone. I can’t stand the fact that you can’t even read an article on baseball without it looking like a math problem.

1) B.J Upton

Have to start with the 75 million dollar man who has the lowest batting average in Major League Baseball at this point in time. Now this is not the B.J Upton that Frank Wren signed in the off season, not even close. The B.J that Wren saw in Tampa tearing the cover off the baseball for the entire month of Sept hasn’t shown up yet but his arrival is welcome at any point in time.

Major League Baseball players don’t forget how to hit. They are there for a reason or else you and I would be up there swinging a bat making millions of dollars ( wouldn’t that be nice ). There are 3 things that I contribute to B.J’s struggles and none of them have to do with lack of talent. Flawed mechanics, pressure and unfamiliar pitchers.

B.J has added so many moving parts to his swing it’s ridiculous and that’s why he’s late on every fastball that he attempts to hit. He needs to simplify that swing in the worse way and get rid of that added “loading” process that he’s developed like a bad computer. He also needs to forget about the contract. Money doesn’t play on the field for the players and that’s why guys making the league minimum can get off to hot starts and 75 million dollar players can strikeout every time up. And just like Pujols struggled last year going to the American League there’s a chance that B.J is batting the unfamiliarity of new pitchers who have figured him out before he’s had the privilege of doing the same to them.

2) Starter Stamina 

This may seem like an odd thing to be #2 on this list but it’s concerning to me. We need our starters to give us quality innings and I’m not saying that we don’t or haven’t gotten these innings from our starters but we need more of it. We haven’t gotten a complete game out of one of our starters in quite a while and even 8 inning appearances are rare. You look around at other staffs in the league that go deeper into games and it really saves a lot of wear and tear on that bullpen. And as we’ve just witnessed bullpen over load will catch up with you and you can verify that with Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.

3) Where are the blow outs?

Staying on the trend of bullpen burnout where are the blow out wins for the Braves? When you are playing 1 or 2 run games every single night your manager is going to feel obligated to throw his best arms in order to close the game out, it’s that simple. 2 years ago when we played a major league most ” 1 run games” we taxed a ton of innings on the arms of our relievers which has come back to haunt us. This team needs to find the occasional 7-1 win for the sake of our bullpen health.

4) Jason Heyward 

Bouncing around from bullpen issues back to outfield issues. B.J needs to be fixed at the major league level. He’s 28 years old and he’s making a ton of money on his 75 million dollar deal. The minor leagues are not an option for him so he’s going to need to correct his issues at the big league level and hope he can make enough adjustments.

However, Jason Heyward could be a candidate to get sent down to AAA for a little while. We do have Jordan Schafer who is more then capable of playing RF and joining  the Upton brothers in the starting line up. This would also give us a true lead off man at the top of the order and that’s something we’ve been missing all year.

Bring Heyward down to AAA for 2 weeks could make all the difference. He could go down and relax, focus on hitting the ball. I’m not sure how receptive he would be to the idea but his age and salary make him a candidate for that type of move. What if a few weeks in the minor leagues brought back a completely different Jason Heyward? And some may argue well what if it doesn’t? Hey at least we would have tried something.

5) Jordan Walden

Tonight Walden looked really good as he hit between 95 and 97 on the radar gun consistently. Sometimes players just need a little time off to rest up and start fresh. It seems that maybe his D.L stint was a blessing in disguise and if he can continue  to be affective then this would help to recreate our late inning 1-2 punch as Kimbrel would have someone to set him up.

The other thing to note is Walden does have closer experience with the Angels so these late inning situations are nothing new to him at all. The pressure will likely be far less of an issue then it appeared to be with Varvaro and Gearrin which would also allow for them to go back to their normal roles out of the bullpen in which they have been stellar at.

6) Brandon Beachy

The talk from what I’ve heard is that they’re hopeful that Brandon Beachy will be back to pitch 1 of the double header games against the Mets on June 18th if I’m not mistaken. So we’re still about 3 weeks away from that date but the topic has brought up a lot of interesting questions. The main one being who will be removed from the rotation when Beachy is inserted or is putting Beachy back in the rotation the best move for the team?

Kris Medlen showed last year that working out of the bullpen can be a great predecessor to the starting rotation. Medlen was brilliant out of the bullpen last year and gave us an opportunity to throw a quality pitcher several times a week and sometimes for multiple innings. Could Beachy ease himself into the starting rotation by fulfilling one of these roles for the Braves who have already suffered multiple bullpen injuries?

Now if Beachy were to jump immediately into the rotation that would call for someone to “exit stage left”.  Maholm, Hudson and Minor all seem immune to such a move for various reasons which would leave Teheran or Medlen out to dry. Right now it actually seems as if Teheran has been a little more affective then Medlen has and as a young pitcher and highly touted prospect you’d almost hate to break Teheran’s momentum as a starter by changing his role.

If Medlen was able to do the job once he could almost certainly do it again. He would add valuable depth to our bullpen and would be a critical asset to the “bridge to Kimbrel” project. I wouldn’t look at this as a “demotion” if this were to happen, I’d keep an open mind and view it as an opportunity to help the ball club win games as we inch closer to our ultimate goal of winning  the World Series.

7) This weekend

Now I rarely put too much emphasis on a single regular season series, especially when it’s before the All-Star break but there’s something very interesting that’s about to happen on our schedule and in the standings this weekend. The Braves still have 1 more game with the Jays and the Nationals still have one more remaining with the Orioles.

It’s not too far fetched to believe that we could beat R.A Dickey as we have many times over his career, especially at Turner Field and that the Nationals could fall victim to a pretty good O’s club. All in agreement? That would put the Braves 5.5 games up in the N.L East standings before the big showdown this weekend when Washington comes to town.

I will once again throw out a not so impossible scenario, that being an Atlanta sweep over Washington this weekend. Many would say this is unlikely but if you recall earlier in the year the Braves went to D.C and beat Strasburg and Gio on their way to a road sweep of the Nationals. Why couldn’t they sweep them once again in their own back yard?

But anyways you guys get what I’m getting at. If that were to happen the Braves would wake up Monday morning with an 8.5 game lead and a strangle hold over the N.L East. Not to say Washington still couldn’t claw back but that would be quite a whole to over come and would really be a big blow to their already struggling morale as a ball club.

This is an opportunity for the Braves to really deliver a big blow in these 4 consecutive games they play from now until Sunday. If they make the most of them they could really be sitting in a good spot.

8) Dan Uggla

Uggla hasn’t been the player that we thought he would be when he came over from the Marlins which is why I think a lot of fans are so nervous about B.J Upton. They can see glimpses of the same thing going on and many would argue Uggla has never fully snapped out of the funk that he began with 2 years ago.

However this year Uggla has already hit 10 home runs and we’re a 1/3 of the way through the season. A few of them have been timely blasts that changed the outcome or at least the course of a game in the late innings. You can never underestimate the power of the long ball as instant offense and thus far Dan has given the Braves just that. On pace to hit nearly 30 homers, even 25 would be a very solid power year for Uggla and the Braves could surely use the production.

9) Fredi Gonzalez

Eventually the manager has to face the music and take accountability for the results of their players. Right now the Braves are in a good spot sitting 10 games over .500 and holding a 4.5 game lead in the National League East. However is making the playoffs enough? What measures is Frank Wren currently holding Fredi Gonzalez to?

If Fredi were to make the playoffs as a wild card and once again lose in the one game playoff is that enough to satisfy the boss? At what point does Wren say we want to win the World Series and you’ve failed to deliver us that result with a team that’s more then capable of competing at a high level?

I still believe that Bob Melvin out in Oakland has gotten far more out of his players then Fredi has out of ours. Last year they won a division and 94 ball games. They took the Tigers to 5 games and had a shot to pull of the upset. They hosted a playoff series at home. And yes the Braves also won 94 ball games but Fredi did it with a lot more talent and a larger pay roll.

The Braves haven’t won a playoff series since 2001 and eventually the standards of just “getting in” will be thrown out the window and replaced with higher expectations. I know the Braves management likes Fredi a lot but they have also already put up with a lot in forgiving him for the epic late season collapse of 2011.

10) Will An Ace Emerge

I think the 10th and final thing to watch for the Braves is whether or not an ace will emerge from this staff. At the start of the season some argued it would be the veteran Tim Hudson while others were convinced it was Kris Medlen. Neither one has been overly dominating and although Medlen could have a better record if given more run support he still hasn’t been nearly as sharp as he was last year and is actually in danger of being removed from the rotation all together.

I think right now the staff ace appears to be Mike Minor. He’s the guy I personally feel most comfortable giving the ball to every 5th day and possibly close to that is Julio Teheran who has emerged quite nicely in his last few outings. Hudson and Maholm have been shaky despite Maholm’s very fast start.

Down the stretch every rotation needs that one guy who can stop a losing streak and who can lead their rotation into the playoffs. The guy who will get the ball in game 1 hands down. The guy you want on the mound with your season on the line.

Someone needs to grab that role going forward. I hope that player emerges over the summer months.

 

By: Bob McVinua

Do We Need A Blockbuster Trade In Atlanta?

Last September I remember holding my head in my hands and starring in disbelief as Freeman grounded out to end the Braves season. It was a season full of ups and downs but no one thought this team would miss the playoffs once we possessed a 10.5 game wild card lead at the end of August. Yes injuries really hurt this team as lost 2/5 of our rotation for the good majority of the 2nd half of the season. Brian McCann suffered an injury that landed him on the disabled list and when he came back he just wasn’t the same player he was in the first half of the season. Jason Heyward struggled badly for almost the entire season and Derek Lowe faded into the night as it appears now that his career is in its final moments.

There were bright spots in the season as well. Dan Uggla’s hitting streak was very exciting to watch. Jose Constanza the journeyman OF was quite a spark plug for the team for several weeks and helped give the offense a boost. We got to watch a lot of our young pitchers grow and get some much needed experience under their belts. The addition of Michael Bourn gave the team its first real lead off man since Rafael Furcal. The bullpen was outstanding almost the entire season and Kimbrel broke the rookie save mark.

My question to you guys is this. Can this Braves team win a World Series or is there still work to be done? This is a very proud franchise that has had a lot of success since the early 1990’s. However in that span of over 20 years we’ve only brought in one World Championship. What’s missing? Or what continues to go wrong? If my memory serves me correctly this franchise hasn’t one a playoff series since 2001 when we went on to play the Diamondbacks in the NLCS. So it’s been awhile, 10 seasons since experiencing any real success in October.

What the Braves are lacking now appears to be a middle of the order threat. Yes Dan Uggla can hit the ball over the fence but has only surpassed the 100 RBI mark on 1 occasion. Between him and McCann they have played 12 full seasons and only have one 100 RBI season between them. 1 for 12 is not a great mark.

Chipper is a great player and a future member of the hall of fame. However he’s pushing 40 and that’s a tough time in your career to have to carry the bulk of the offense. Chipper needs to be accepted into more of a role player at this stage in his career. He had a good season last year but what can we expect from him this year? It’s not fair to expect anything astronomical if you ask me. If he hits 14 HR and drives in 60 runs we’ll have to be satisfied with that, his leadership alone adds a lot of value to this team.

I think Bourn and Pastornicky will make a great table setting combo at the top of the order. I like that Pastornicky has more speed then Prado does, so hitting him in the 2 hole is a move that I’m in favor of. Those guys can get on base and even steal a lot of bases but someone needs to be able to drive them in. How many times did Bourn get on last year only to get stranded at 2nd base? Countless times.

This team has some decisions to make here. This offense has been a hindrance for a while now. Even the years we would make the post season, we’d always have trouble scoring runs. Putting far too much pressure on our starting rotation and bullpen. Last year was no different. The lack of runs caused us to over use Venters, Kimbrel and O’Flaherty which then caused them to be worn out and unable to finish critical games down the stretch. If the offense had scored more runs throughout the season we would have been in much better shape. The starters would have thrown a lot less “stress pitches” and the bullpen wouldn’t have been over worked. So when it comes full circle the offense needs to take some of the blame here.

Dan Uggla has a contract that’s good for several more seasons. Chipper Jones is most likely done after this year as he’ll be turning 40 this up coming season. Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are both young promising players that deserve a little more time to develop. I’m hoping that Heyward can bounce back and make the necessary adjustments to be successful and that Freeman can avoid the sophomore slump that plagued Heyward.

So if we’re talking about a block buster deal to shake up the Braves offense there’s only one guy we can discuss. If you want to bring in big talent then you need to give away talent of similar value. Is Brian McCann the long term answer for the Braves as a middle of the order run producing player? And before everyone jumps out of their chairs and says “is this guy crazy?” hear me out.

This is the last year of McCann’s contract. Now is the time to make a franchise changing decision. He’s not gong to get a 2 year 20 million dollar deal. McCann is a 6 time all-star and one of the best catchers in the game. He’s going to want a 5 or 6 year deal if not more. Something that will take him into his mid 30’s. He wants and deserves security but are the Braves the team that will want to give that to him?

If he’s one of the best catchers in the game why on earth would you trade him? Well here’s the thing. It’s not always optimal to have one of your best hitters at the catcher position. Catching as everyone knows takes a huge toll on one’s body, whether it’s their legs or their hand from catching 95mph fastballs for 9 innings a night. By their 3rd at bat in the game it’s a known fact that catchers become less effective. Their hands are sore and their legs are tired. Catchers lose 1-2 at bats per game due to the stresses of catching, at bats where they are not at their best.

McCann is also a lefty. We have Heyward and Freeman, who are both left handed hitters. Trading McCann for a right handed bat could lead us to a left, right, left, right middle of the order in the 3-6 spot. What’s better then that?

With the catcher position my first concern is defense and how they work with the pitchers. There’s a TON of good defensive catchers out there if you are willing to sacrifice the offense. There’s nothing wrong with hitting your catcher 7th or 8th the majority of N.L teams do it anyways. Get a guy who can block balls in the dirty and who has strong enough arm to gun down runners.

Will McCann be affective long enough to serve a long term contract? Look at Joe Mauer. He was rolling a long great until he started to get injured and it really took a toll on him. Now the Twins are itching to get him out of that catcher’s roll and into the field. Mauer is a MUCH better athlete then Brain McCann. Can you see McCann playing the OF? Or 1st base? There’s just no way. He’s a catcher through and through. However in 5 years is he still going to be healthy and affective? It’s a big risk having your franchise player as a catcher.

Now if we found a respectable defensive replacement for McCann at the catcher spot and traded McCann for a corner OF then we would have a player that would not be at risk of so many injuries and who would give us a safer bet for a middle of the order hit as he ages.

Now if we’re talking about trading Brian McCann and possibly a prospect or two we could expect a great player in return. We’re not talking about trading him for Carlos Beltran or a guy who’s way past his prime. I’m talking about a mid-late 20’s corner OF who can provide some serious pop for this order.  A right handed bat that would off set Heyward and Freeman.

Call me crazy guys but ask yourself this. Is what we have right now working? Is what we have right now going to be enough to win a World Series which is the ultimate goal.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

 

Remember The Original Corner Stones?

This has been on my mind for the last week or so and I really wanted to address it with other Braves fans or baseball fans in general who might be reading this.

The Atlanta Braves are all about young pitching right? They have a ton of talent in their rotation that’s built towards the future and we should be set for a long time right? When you hear about the Braves pitching assets you hear names like Teheran, Delgado, Beachy and Minor. Those guys all have a ton of talent but I think that we’re forgetting something here.

What about the original corner stones of this rotation? Yes, I’m talking about Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens who are both by the way only 25 years old. These guys have not developed into solid aces yet but I think because of the young stable of pitchers we do have they seem to be getting old quick. These guys are 25 years old which is extremely young. Most teams would kill to have 2 guys with their talent level and at their ages in their rotation.

Last year before the All-Star break these guys were ranked #1 and #4 in ERA for the National League. They were the biggest part of the Braves success last year and it was their injuries that really took this team down a dangerous path. Yes we should have still won the Wild Card despite their injuries but if these guys had stayed healthy and continued to pitch to that level, this team was a serious contender to compete for a spot in the World Series. They battled the Phillies tooth and nail the entire first half of the season and really showed that they were a top notch ball club, despite the offense that did basically nothing to help them.

If Jurrjens and Hanson can come back healthy (which I know IF is the key word) then they should be considered the corner stones of this rotation. Then you add Hudson the veteran to the mix, Brandon Beachy and either Teheran or Minor. My preference personally would be Teheran. That’s a very solid rotation that can get the job done, especially if the offense is starts to actually click a little bit.

I’m all for making a move this off season, personally I think that we need another bat in the outfield. Prado is more moveable then Jurrjens is and I say that we could couple him with a prospect if need be. The bat that we need to obtain doesn’t have to be a superstar guy, it just has to be someone who can drive in some runs. Most likely this new player will hit 6th or 7th anyways.

With guys like Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward we should have plenty of offense if these guys play up to their potential. Then we talk about guys like Bourn and Pastornicky at the top of the order and we have a pretty solid line up that should be able to push across some runs.

I really like Medlen in the bullpen because he’s a guy who can go out and pitch an inning or two on back to to back days without an issue. His back round as a starter will help him with endurance which would be huge for this bullpen. The big 3 in the back end of the pen should be lights out again this year and I’m thinking that this team should have a chance to compete.

I’m just afraid that if you take Jurrjens out of the rotation that you will have to throw Beachy, Minor and Teheran out there every 5th day which gives us very little experience, coupled with the health issues of Hudson and Hanson. I’m leaning towards keeping Jurrjens and moving Prado. I really do think that’s the better way to go. Unless moving Jurrjens can bring a serious middle of the order bat to Atlanta but I really don’t see that happening.

With all the young talent within the system I think that we’ve lost sight in what we have with Jurrjens and Hanson. If you asked anyone 2 years ago who the future of the staff was, it was without question Tommy Hanson. He was the Braves prized possession as far as arms go. If these guys come back healthy then we have 2/5 of the rotation set for a very long time. Hudson gives us 3/5 of the rotation covered for next season and now we fill out the final 2/5 with a combination of Beachy, Teheran, Minor or Delgado. That’s quote a quartet to choose from in my opinion not to mention it gives us flexibility in case of injury.

I realize when something new comes a long we tend to gravitate to it but let’s not forget about the old here. And in this case the “old” is a pair of 25 year old pitchers who have proven they can get it done at the big league level.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

Braves Lineup Should Include Pastornicky

Something caught my eye today that is either new information or information that has missed my radar. Poking around the computer today I read several articles that made reference to Tyler Pastornicky being the starting shortstop for 2012!

This news changes a lot for the Atlanta Braves. Pastornicky is a guy who can hit 2nd in the order, potentially replacing Martin Prado. So now we have Bourn leading off with Pastornicky following behind him as we head into the heart of our line up.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, it takes away a need for the Braves. They would no longer be in the hunt for a starting short stop but rather a veteran back up. The quality of player has now changed dramatically. If this free agent short stop or someone acquired via trade isn’t going to be out on the field everyday then we can be less choosy with who we bring in. Secondly this leaves us with one pressing need which is a OF bat. Most likely a left fielder. If Pastronicky can replace Prado in the 2 hole then we can acquire a power bat who can hit anywhere from 4th-7th in the line up. Doesn’t really matter where he ends up.

Martin Prado can now be more easily traded allowing us to have a nice piece of trade bait to attract other teams. The other thing to consider is that Jurrjens trade value is going to sky rocket once Buerhle and CJ Wilson are signed. Once those 2 shoes drop the teams that are pitching hungry are going to attack Jurrjens like piranhas. It all comes down to supply and demand. Once those two are signed the pitching crop gets a LOT weaker thus making Jurrjens look like a stud. This isn’t a free agency that is packed with guys like CC Sabathia or Clayton Kershaw type guys.

There are supposedly 10 teams that are interested in Jair Jurrjens. That’s 1/3 of the league. I’m sure it won’t be a problem to move Jurrjens if we can just find the right deal. The Reds are interested in Jurrjens as they are in need of a number 2 starter. Would Drew Stubbs be a good option for Atlanta? Would the Reds be willing to part with him? The Rockies also are showing a lot of interest as it’s always important to put decent pitchers out there when you’re playing in such a pitcher friendly park, you need any edge you can get. Would a guy like Dexter Fowler come into play?

Dexter Fowler is an interesting option if he were to become available. The Braves offense really came alive in 2011 when Bourn was in the line up with Constanza. Remember the super fast guy who enjoyed licking his bat? He faded away very quickly but no one can deny that his presence was felt while in the line up. In fact I think he did more to boost the offense last year then Heyward did. I remember writing an article last summer about whether or not Heyward was going to lose his job to Constanza.

Dexter Fowler is a similar type of player. He’s very fast. He can steal bases and beat out ground balls. He can bunt for hits and track down balls in the outfield. Is he the power bat that Wren was originally looking for? No, not at all. However does he compliment Michael Bourn? I think he does. We could bat him 8th or even 2nd. Pastornicky could also hit 2nd or 8th.

Fowler would also give us a long term option in CF if Bourn was not willing to resign with the team. I believe that team performance is more important to Bourn then money. If the team makes a serious run this season and shows signs of being a contender then I think he will stay in Atlanta. After playing in Houston through some very tough seasons I can’t see him playing for anyone else but a strong contender. He seems happy in Atlanta but you never know for sure. If Bourn leaves then Fowler could act as a long term CF and lead off man for the Braves.

Drew Stubbs is also a very viable option if the Reds would be willing to part with him. Wren is interested in acquiring someone who’s still fairly young, not someone who is 36 and on their way out. Stubbs is only 27 years old and could possibly improve. He hit 15 home runs last year and drove in 44 runs. He also plays CF for the Reds so shifting him over to left field wouldn’t be an issue and he could be another guy who could possibly take over CF duties if Bourn were to leave. His biggest down fall is that he hit under .250 last year and batting average is something that the Braves struggled with all season last year. They need base runners badly, look at how many solo HR’s Dan Uggla hit last year.

Another option that could be considered would be sending Jurrjens over to the Yankees for Nick Swisher and a prospect of some kind. Swisher is a switch hitter who has a good amount of experience playing left field as he’s started over 100 games there for his career. The interesting thing about Swisher is his 85rbi’s would basically be good enough for the team lead in Atlanta. No one on the Braves drove in more then 90 runs last year. He also hit 23HR so his numbers would have a big impact on the Braves offense.

Those are just a few possible scenarios that could work for the Bravos. Let me know what you guys think..

By: Bob McVinua

 

Is This The Calm Before The Storm?

The Braves front office has been very tight lipped about what they’ve been up to. Frank Wren is clearly not willing to make any promises that he’s not going to be able to follow through with. That just seems to be his nature as he has already stated that it’s unlike the Braves will make any “major” moves. I’m not sure what Wren would consider to be a major or block buster move but something has to give here.

The Braves were able to unload Derek Lowe much quicker then I anticipated. I had this fear going into the off season that we wouldn’t be able to move a 38 year old pitcher who couldn’t get anyone out just this past season. However as fate would have it, the Indians jumped into the mix and wanted Lowe to fill out the back end of their young rotation. As the saying goes “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Not to add salt to the wound for Derek Lowe or mock him in anyway but he would serve no purpose for the Atlanta Braves. We’ve been there and done that, now it’s time to see what he can do in Cleveland. Perhaps a change of scenery is what he needs. None the less we saved 5 million dollars by completing the deal and unloaded the worst pitcher on the team, talk about killing two birds with one stone.

Wren has also discussed a modest increase in payroll for this season, nothing extreme but maybe somewhere in the neighborhood of several million dollars. Nothing fancy but hey when it comes to payroll I’d rather see it go up then down. On top of all of this Jurrjens and Prado are now on the trade block and I believe that Wren will pull the trigger on either one of those guys if the right offer comes across his desk.

What is going on in Frank Wren’s mind right now? What could he be plotting? Rumors of the Braves being interested in Jimmy Rollins have started to pick up a little bit of steam as of late. The Braves have a need at short stop and what better way to fill it then stick the Phillies short stop right in there? There are of course a few things that would need to be cleared up before this could even be a possibility. Rollins would have to agree to a contract that was 3 years or so. He will be 33 before the start of next season and we don’t need to be giving a short stop at that age a long contract. He will certainly want a fair share of money but he may possibly be willing to take a little bit less to go to a contender.

Yes, Rollins would be a great fit for Atlanta. He could hit in the 2 hole right behind Michael Bourn and give us a dynamic top of the order. Two guys who can get on base and steal bases. Rollins also has a fair amount of pop and some decent gap to gap power as well. His fielding is still top notch and he knows how to win. Could this be a move being set up by Frank Wren? Crazier things have happened.

If we were to obtain Rollins then we would still have a big whole in left field. The Braves outfielders were terrible offensively last year, no one can deny that. So naturally that’s where we want to go in free agency or the trade market. However lets consider this. Bourn played well for Atlanta and having his speed and energy at the top of the order for a full season should make a big difference. He will be comfortable with his surroundings and can go right to work. It’s never easy being dumped into a new environment half way through the season. I’m expecting big things from Michael Bourn in 2012. The other thing to keep in mind is that Jason Heyward SHOULD be a lot better then last season. They are making him a primary focus this off season and hopefully the new hitting coach will get him back into form. Personally I think Heyward’s struggles stemmed from laziness and the inability to make adjustments. He’s not a rookie anymore and pitchers at the major league level have figured him out. If he makes the proper adjustments and he can hit 20-25 home runs and drive in over 70 runs then he will be a very strong 6 or 7 hole hitter for us.

Scoring runs starts with the top of the order. If you have Bourn and Rollins up there as table setters then you will see guys like Uggla and McCann drive in a lot more runs.

Now left field is still an issue. However if Bourn, Heyward, Uggla, Freeman, Rollins, Chipper and McCann are all playing up to their potential then I think you can afford to put a mediocre player in left field. We’re not the New York Yankees thus putting an All-Star at every position is not an option. But if those other 7 guys are producing the way that they should produce then this is going to be a VERY dangerous team.

Trading Prado does mean losing a quality utility man as well as a potential starter. Prado has shown he can play 1B, 2B, 3B and LF without any problem. When your playing the National League you need guys who can cover all parts of the diamond. So losing him would hurt our depth, however if he’s going to want somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million dollars then we can most likely find a utility guy for maybe 1-2 million thus saving us some cash.

I think Rollins might be the guy the Braves are looking for. Think about this. When was the Braves offense scoring the most runs? It was when we had Bourn and Constanza in the lineup together. 2 spark plugs in the order just caused havoc for opposing teams.

Add Rollins to the mix. Straighten out Heywards swing and rebuild his confidence. Get a full productive season from Uggla.

Every year the Braves need to “improve” the offense. I’m almost tired of hearing it. Frank Wren added Uggla and added Bourn. What more do you want this guy to do? I do think we are missing a piece and I think it might be Jimmy Rollins.

Call me crazy all you want but I think that the combination of getting a good player at a weak position with stealing a good player from a RIVAL team might be enough to push Frank Wren over the edge. This is a chance for the Braves to make a statement.

By: Bob McVinua