Tagged: Baseball

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 The Braves Have a Heyward “Obsession” ?

There are lots of reasons for playing lots of different players and all of them come with a unique set of circumstances. Some players are written into the line up card because they provide speed or power, some because they are the leaders of their respective ball clubs and others are just in their because they make too much money to sit on the bench despite their struggles.

But when Fredi Gonzalez inks in Jason Heywards name into the line up card what reason is he giving himself? Is he playing Jason for his ability to help this ball club win baseball games? Is he putting him out there so that he can work through his struggles? Or is he putting him out there because he’s Jason Heyward and he’s supposed to be a franchise player for the next decade and a half?

Certain players bring a certain element to the game that isn’t on the field related. A certain element that is based more on emotion then it is on factual information. We are only a brief way into this 2013 season and it’s too early to be labeling anyone as a success or failure for the season and I won’t even attempt to do that. However I can bring some issues I see with Heyward to the surface of this argument that I’m going to present to you guys.

Since before Heyward even saw a pitch in the Major Leagues he was a Braves icon. There was so much excitement and hype around him that blew even Freddie Freeman’s move to the big leagues out of the water. Freddie Freeman, despite often out performing Jason Heyward does not gather the same type of enthusiasm.

Maybe it’s because on paper Jason Heyward is almost a perfect a athletic specimen. He stands 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 240lbs. He can field his position, throw out base runners, hit for average, hit for power and the man can run like a deer despite his large frame. There are very few baseball players that look as good as Jason does on paper.

Unfortunately baseball games are not won on paper they are won on the diamond with excellent team and player performances on a nightly basis. And I believe that things may be getting a little too comfortable for Mr. Heyward. Being penciled into the line up card night in and night out despite his struggles and on top of that has not even been dropped out of the 2 hole yet.

Fredi is dealing with the pressure to play Heyward because he can not appear to give up on the team’s franchise player. There’s the energy surrounding the Upton, Upton and Heyward outfield. The only issue is one Upton is playing excellent baseball, the other Upton gets paid too much money to bench and Heyward is neither of those two things.

With Heyward under performing from a statistical stand point and only making 3.6 million from a financial aspect, the Braves could exercise the option of sitting Heyward. Now if any of you are arguing that no one has ever gotten better by sitting on the bench and missing at bats, you’re absolutely right but I’m not sure that’s Jason’s entire issue.

I think the Braves have possibly made it a little to comfortable for Jason in Atlanta. Always putting him in the line up and generally speaking batting him in a critical part of the line up ( the top 3rd) is sending him the message that he is guaranteed to occupy that spot no matter what the results may be.

But what if the Braves took a different approach with Heyward and Fredi put him in a position where he competed for playing time and competed for at bats with the other outfielders. Several situations come to mind of how Fredi could handle this in the near future.

Drop Heyward to 6th or 7th: When Jason was put in the bottom part of the order last season he thrived and basically tore the cover off the ball for weeks on end. He was hitting for a solid average and showing off his power while driving in runs. A lot of his success last season came from the lower part of the order and the reason he got moved back up to the top of the order was because of his excellent performance in the 6th spot. Not sure if he’s more comfortable there or if it’s a lower pressure situation (only Jason knows this) but he does seem to hit better in those areas of the line up.

Evan Gattis needs a job: If you have been a fan of what Evan Gattis has been bringing to the table for the Braves then you may want to listen to this alternative solution. With Freddie Freeman due back on Monday the whole at 1st base will now be plugged on a nightly basis. So if Gattis wants to get regular at bats then he will have to catch. However Laird catches at least 1 day a week with Teheran and in a few weeks McCann will hopefully be ready to come back. This creates a possible situation of moving Justin Upton to Right Field and having Gattis play LF, leaving the struggling Heyward on the bench. The line up would include all the major bats of Freeman, McCann, Gattis and the Uptons.

A Solution to our Lead Off Needs: The idea of possibly sitting Heyward also opens up the opportunity to get Jordan Schafer into the lineup. In a very small sample size Schafer has looked impressive this year and seems eager to get some playing time. The key here is that Schafer is a “true” lead off man, something that the Braves have been lacking all year. Schafer can also defend the outfield with his solid glove work and could take over for BJ in Center while moving him to right field.

These are all just possible solutions and I’m not saying that any of them should be 100% pursued at this point in the season but it’s imperative that Fredi keeps his options open and explores any and every alternative that would help the Braves win ball games.

By: Bob McVinua

 

A Dark Horse Is Emerging To Possibly Make The Braves Rotation

Anyone who is even somewhat familiar with the Atlanta Braves farm system has heard the name Julio Teheran. He is one of baseballs top prospects and has been the pride of the Braves farm system for the last couple of season. And while I believe Teheran is a very talented kid with a lot of up side, there has also been another name emerging in Braves camp this spring that could make for an interesting potential battle for the 5th spot in their rotation.

That young pitcher would be a guy by the name of J.R Graham. A 6’0 tall, 185lb hard throwing right handed pitcher. Graham may be a little less recognizable then Teheran but he has the ability to light up the radar gun and has been clocked at over 100mph on several occasions.

Although hype and name recognition often rule the roost in sports these days, I still believe that statistics over rule “potential”. I want a guy who can produce on the field and who has proven he can do so. Now I’m not going to make the case that J.R Graham is a far and away better starter then Julio Teheran but what I want to lay out is a few facts that show we could have a closer race for that 5th spot in the Atlanta rotation then many would assume.

When you look at both players 2012 stats you will see that Graham has the edge in several important categories. Now before I even start I know a lot of people will say that Teheran was in AAA for 2012 and Graham was still only in AA. Now the competition is surely different between AAA and AA but I don’t believe it is so different that we can’t draw comparisons from it.

JR Graham: 12-2 record with a 2.80 era in 26 starts

Julio Teheran: 7-9 record with a 5.08era in 26 starts

So the first thing I took notice of is the record. A far better winning % from Graham in comparison to Teheran. The ERA is also more then 2 runs per 9 innings better. Both pitchers made 26 starts so the data sample is pretty much the same.

JR Graham: 148 innings pitched with 7.5 hits/9 innings and 0.5 HRs / 9 innings.

Julio Teheran: 131 innings pitched with 10.0 hits/9innings and 1.2HRs/9 innings.

So it appears that in equal starts we are getting more bang for our buck with JR Graham. 17 more innings over 26 starts doesn’t seem like a lot but that could be 17 less innings your bullpen needs to eat up and that 17 innings is easily converted over to the amount of 2 starts of 8.5 innings a piece. As you can also see Graham allows 2.5 hits less per nine innings and also allows less then half the home runs. Again these numbers seem pretty insignificant but when you stretch them over the course of the entire season you could see some considerable differences.

JR Graham: 2.1 walks/9innings with 6.7 strikeouts/9innings

Julio Teheran: 3.0 walks/9innings with 6.7 strikeouts/ 9innings

Nothing overly alarming here but we can see that Graham averages almost a full walk less per nine innings and has identical strikeout numbers to Teheran which has always been Julio’s strong suit.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story here, nor will they ever with any sports situation but as I mentioned before I will always favor the numbers in a toss up situation. Both of these pitchers have electric fastballs which can hit into the high 90’s on the radar gun with Graham actually being clocked at 102mph during this spring. Now whether that radar gun was entirely accurate is up to you to believe or not believe but regardless he’s pushing triple digits with the heater.

Both of these guys have a lot to prove this spring training and my hope is that the Braves won’t unfairly gives this job to Teheran just because of hype or his ranking as their top prospect. I think JR Graham could really help this team at the back end of the rotation and if not there as a possible arm in the bullpen later on in the year.

Don’t sleep on JR Graham, we could be seeing him a lot in 2013

By: Bob McVinua

The Beasts Of The East

The Atlanta Braves aren’t a good team anymore. That label went out the window when Justin Upton came to town this past week. The Atlanta Braves my friends are a GREAT BASEBALL TEAM that is not only capable of doing great things, they will succeed in doing so.

Fist off we can’t forget that the Braves won a very respectable 94 games in 2012. And also mind you this includes the sluggish 0-4 start and playing 3 meaningless games with the struggling Pirates at the very end of the season. My point being this could have easily been a 96 or 97 win team had circumstances been slightly different. So we are already starting with a very good product and here’s why I think this years Braves team will take home the N.L East crown.

“UpUpHey”: The new look Braves outfield already has a catchy nick name and believe me they also have some SERIOUS talent. When I start breaking down this team suddenly our outfield becomes a clear focal point in terms of strength and value to the club. The Braves outfield is very special for a few reasons. We are talking about 3 guys; Justin Upton, BJ Upton and Jason Heyward who are all capable of hitting over 20 home runs, stealing over 20 bases and they can all field their position at a high level. Speed, power and golden gloves will grace the Braves outfield in 2013 which will be an enormous boost of confidence for our pitching staff in terms of defense as well as run production.

Lights Out Bullpen: The Atlanta bullpen has been a great strength of this team for a couple of years and Fredi seems to have found some very solid combinations for the late innings which allows us to get the ball to our All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel who had a record breaking season last year. As if the Braves bullpen wasn’t dominate enough, Frank Wren goes out and adds yet ANOTHER power arm in right handed thrower Jordan Walden. Walden possesses a mid to high 90’s fast ball and an impressive 11.1/9inning strikeout ratio. Combine that with a career era of just 3.06 you get one of the best “4th men out of the pen” in all of baseball. When you have arms like Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel you can basically play 6 inning ball games all year long. Talk about putting pressure on opposing teams. Would you want to trail Atlanta 4-2 going into the 7th inning? No, I wouldn’t either.

Starting Rotation: People can attempt to poke holes in our rotation all they want and believe me they’re trying. They can claim that some guys played to a higher level then normal last year and that we still lack experience at the back end. Let me tell you, this Braves rotation is not the same as the Greg Maddux / Tom Glavine era. But it’s still pretty darn good. We have the crafty veteran Tim Hudson leading the way, Kris Medlen who was completely dominate the last 2 months of the regular season last year, a great young arm in Minor who is poised to have a break out year and a very solid and dependable guy in Paul Maholm. The final spot is likely to be filled with top pitching prospect Julio Teheran who has been waiting in the wings for a while now. I’m very excited to see Teheran is capable of doing in a full time role with the Braves. He’s been up to the big leagues a few times in his career but never with any true consistency. Making a few spot starts here in there is never a true gauge of a pitcher’s ability and considering the offense Atlanta is going to put up this year I can’t think of a better situation  for a young starter to emerge into.

A Healthy McCann: Brian took a lot of heat last year for his sub-par performance especially late in the year when he elected to play with his sore shoulder. His late season struggles actually amounted to him eventually being benched for the Braves critical do or die 1 game play off which just goes to show that Fredi Gonzalez lacked confidence in his veteran back stop. Despite the time he was playing hurt and the time he actually missed due to injuries McCann still managed to put up respectable numbers for a National League catcher. McCann hit 20 home runs and drove in 67 runs for the Braves, which isn’t his full potential by any means but in comparison to the average catcher those numbers aren’t bad. However in 2013 we aren’t looking for “average” from Brian McCann, Braves fans can expect an increase in production after he had surgery on his injured shoulder in the off season. McCann is ahead of schedule and is targeting Opening Day as his return.

Michael Bourn Misconception: “The Braves don’t have a true lead off hitter”. This statement is technically correct and can’t really be argued. It’s likely that Simmons will be asked to hit in the lead off spot as insinuated by Fredi Gonzalez. As stated Simmons is not the prototypical lead off man that Bourn is however there are a couple of things I do like about Simmons in comparison to Bourn. The first one being that Bourn only hit .222 for the entire 2nd half of the season and I’m almost certain Simmons can at bare minimum match that but I’m projecting something in the .270’s which would be in reality a great improvement. The other issue with Bourn last year was the excessive number of strikeouts, not only for a lead off man but Bourn struck out 155 times which is a lot for ANY player. Now Simmons doesn’t necessarily have the comparable at bats to Bourn but last year Michael Bourn struck out in 20% of his at bats compared to 12% for Simmons. With the added speed to the overall line up ( The Upton Brothers) the Braves may miss Bourn less then people had originally thought.

American League Power: The Braves are looking at a line up that has 6 players that are almost certain to hit 20 homers or more. This group includes BJ Upton, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla. I don’t think there’s any player in that group that anyone can argue won’t hit the 20 home run mark this year and we can possibly add in someone like Juan Francisco or Chris Johnson depending upon how much playing time they receive. This will be a very deep and difficult line up to navigate through and despite the strikeouts the Braves are going to score a LOT of runs this year.

Replacing Chipper: In reality no one can just “replace” a living legend and future hall of fame player. No one can ever wear number 10 or take Chipper’s place in terms of his legacy as an Atlanta Brave we can replace him in the simplest aspect of all, his 2012 production. This past season Chipper hit 14 home runs and drove in 62 runs. Chris Johnson who came over in the trade with Justin Upton, hit 15 home runs and drove in 76 runs. If you look at those numbers and compare them we would actually get 14 more runs batted in and one additional home run with starting Johnson at 3B over Chipper. Now of course we need to be practical here and not say Chris Johnson is a better player then Chipper Jones because he’s certainly not but in the here and now he’s more productive at 28 then Chipper was at 40.

Now it’s still early and we haven’t gotten a chance to see the team in action but for all the reasons mentioned above I have reason to believe this team is going to be a real force in the National League this year and a team that other organizations are going to fear. Having won 94 games last year

So with all of that said here are my predictions for the 2013 Atlanta Braves

Final Record: 100 wins / 62 loses

National League East Champions

Best Record in the National League

 

By: Bob McVinua

With No Margin For Error The Braves Made Many

End of the season articles are always the toughest for me to write. I am an avid sports fan and enjoy watching all of my favorite teams play. However there is something special about the Braves that separate them from the rest, something that makes them special. Perhaps that’s because baseball is special.

Baseball represents so many of things that make life great. Baseball is the change of seasons and the welcoming of spring. Putting away your coats and shovels and getting out your baseball gloves. No more hiding in doors and watching TV, it’s time to get outside and play with your kids or even have some fun for yourself. Feel the sun beating on your skin and the warm air all around you. Get yourself ready for those long summer nights and put behind you those long cold winter months. Everything comes a live in the spring. The days start to get longer and your spirits start to lift a bit.

Then it’s time for baseball. It’s time for your favorite team to take the field again with the hopes that ANYTHING can happen. It gives you a chance to believe that miracles can happen and that underdogs can rise above adversity and any disadvantages that they may be up against.

Baseball like life is all about development. Baseball players aren’t created in a day a month or even a year. They are created over a life time of hard work and dedication. Perhaps trips to the minor leagues and riding buses around small towns just keeping the dream alive. Isn’t that what life is about? Working hard today for a better tomorrow? Starting out small and rising through the ranks of your company and proving yourself worthy. A lot can be taken from the baseball diamond and can be translated into real life situations. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce our way. Sometimes people make bad decisions and errors, some more costly then others. But all of us are working towards some ultimate goal in our lives, just as the Braves players and any players for that matter are working hard to obtain their team and individual goals.

The one game playoff is no different. The Braves were sadly given one chance after a full years worth of hard work to prove that they were worthy of a spot in the next round. But how many people out there have worked hard for a year or many years to get ONE SHOT at a job interview. Whether you get this particular job could come down to just one interview. And in that interview you know that they can’t get to know the real you in just 30 or 60 minutes. They can’t possibly understand all you’ve been through or the years of hard work that have gotten you this far. And just like the Braves who played 162 games to get to where they were, people don’t realize how good of a team they really were. We won 94 games this year just 5 more wins ALL SEASON and we could have won the division. They can’t judge us as a failed team because of one bad game but some will try. The format isn’t fair but sadly that’s the way that it is for right now at least.

In terms of the one game playoff recap or highlights I’m sure all of you have seen it a million times as have I. So there won’t be any point in me beating a dead horse here but I will point out a few things that I felt were game changers.

 

David Ross Home Run: This is exactly what the Braves needed. They needed to strike first and strike early. With Kris Medlen on the mound I thought that it would only take 3-4 runs to win this game and that was with a little margin for error. Medlen has been lights out all year so I felt very good about things. The Braves record is much stronger when they score first vs when their opponent scores first. The only issue with this was that I felt as if the team as they have done all season, will sit on a lead thinking it can last the entire game. I thought their could have been more urgency to score runs in the following innings.

Play Small Ball: In the bottom of the 3rd the Braves just received a shut down inning from Medlen after giving him the lead. Now at this point the emphasis needs to be on taking on more runs one at a time. Michael Bourn leads off the inning with a single which was a fantastic start. Now with Molina behind the plate and Loshe very strong at holding runners close to the bag it was nearly impossible for Fredi to send Bourn in that situation. I wouldn’t have either. What I would have done is had Prado lay down a bunt. He handles the bat extremely well and could have gotten Bourn to 2nd base with only 1 out and the middle of the order coming up. Bourn scores easily on any single and with Heyward and Chipper due up I’ll take my chances. Not to mention it would have caused Loshe to throw more “stress” pitches that inning. Fredi showed signs of bunting as he gave Prado the signal once to lay one down but took it off after the ball was fouled off. However with 1 strike I would have left it on. Then we’re a single away from making it 3-0. Build the lead slow and steady but take advantage of your opportunities. This was almost guaranteed to be a low scoring game of under 5 runs for both clubs if there hadn’t been mental mistakes.

Double Play Ball: This is the one that hurt the most. Beltran leads off the 4th inning with a single which is the Cardinals first hit of the ball game. Now here comes the middle of their order so Medlen must be in trouble right? Well not exactly. He gets a tailor made double play ball hit right at Chipper. Beltran still has some speed but he’s no where near the runner he once was and Holliday is an extremely slow runner coming out of the box and on top of that he is battling hip and back issues. Chipper just need to get the ball to second in a timely manner and Uggla would have had plenty of time to get Holliday at first. But instead Chipper throws the ball into right field allowing Beltran to go to 3rd. Now this play changes the entire dynamic of the inning. Medlen could take the mound with 2 outs and no one on if that double play is turned correctly. However now it’s 1st and 3rd with 0 outs. And with the way Medlen was pitching prior to and after that 4th inning you could clearly tell it was the error that shook him up. He wasn’t the same that inning because in his mind he should have been out of trouble. Yes as a pitcher you need to bear down but at the same time you expect your top ranked defense to make those kinds of plays behind you.

Why Are You Bunting: This was perhaps the biggest shocker to me.  In the bottom of the 4th inning the Braves had a chance to respond to the Cardinals and tie up this ball game. Simmons comes up with 1st and 3rd with 1 out. Now Simmons is a pretty good hitter in his own right so I wouldn’t have been shocked to see him lace a ball up the middle and keep the train moving. Or at least he could have hit a Sac Fly to tie up the game. But instead he lays down a safety squeeze per Fredi’s request and ends up being out at 1st base on an interference call. So now Medlen has to come up and try to drive in the run from 3rd with 2 outs. Not a good situation. The dynamic of the game would have changed again if the Braves had tied it up. The Cardinals took the lead but would have surrendered it right back the very next half inning. Mentally that makes a huge difference. Playing a tied game where you know one run could give you the lead vs needing one to tie. Now if Fredi was worried about Freeman’s ability to score on a fly ball then would a safety squeeze be any better? Probably not considering Simmons would have to push that ball in the perfect spot to allow Freeman to get home from 3rd. If Loshe fields that ball cleanly there’s no way that Freeman makes it home safely.

More Sloppy Play: You’ll notice how I skipped right over the Holliday home run. That was one run on one mistake from Medlen. That home run was not one of the bigger game changers for me although it did extend the Cardinals lead to 2. What bothered me far more then that home run was the sloppy play in the top of the 7th. Uggla makes a critical error to allow Freese to reach 1st safely and then advance on the poor throw. Now this was bad by Uggla on two accounts. First off he booted a pretty routine ground ball that allowed the lead off man to reach in the first place which never should have happened but then on top of making the initial error he threw the ball away. I mean that throw wasn’t even close. He should have just stuck that ball in his back pocket. Then the Cardinals would have had to decide if they wanted to bunt the runner over to 2nd or not which is slightly different then bunting him to 3rd as it would still take a base hit to score him. Once Freese was bunted over to 3rd base Fredi brought in Chad Durbin which proved to be the right call as Kozma hit the ball hard and right at Simmons who was playing in. Another chance for the Braves to cut off that run and Simmons like Uggla threw the ball away.

In Field Fly Rule: Perhaps they should call it the outfield fly rule in this case. This play was extremely aggravating to me and I can’t lay it to rest until I vent my feelings on here. I won’t go on a long rant but I think this call was horrible. I don’t care what the rule book says the point of the infield fly rule is to protect the base runners. In this case the base runners did not need protection as there was NO WAY Kozma was going to intentionally drop that ball to try and gun down the lead runner. Even if he threw out Uggla at 3rd which is very doubtful the Braves would have had 1st and 2nd with 2 outs, the same as if he had caught the ball. So there was NO NEED to call an in field fly there as it only hurt the base runners rather then protecting them. Did this call lose us the game? My answer is I don’t know. The bases would have been loaded with McCann coming to bat and only one out. Everything plays differently with the bases loaded. McCann would not have walked like he did. Motte knew he could pitch around McCann with a 3 run lead and he had a base open to do so. McCann would have gotten at least 1 or 2 good pitches to hit and he could have hit a home run or he could have grounded into a double play. Either way we’ll never know and I think that’s what is bothering most Braves fans. Personally I would have rather had Zozma just catch the ball, end of story.

2013: As you guys know the blog doesn’t stop just because it’s the end of the season. I’ll cover the winter meetings, trades and free agent signings as well. If you guys have any other ideas of topics you’d like to see covered please let me know and I’d be happy to accommodate as many of you as possible.

My next post will be done soon and it will cover some ideas that I have on how we can improve next years Braves team and some of the moves that I feel will and should be made.

Thanks to everyone who has read my blog over the course of the season. And lets not forget, Baseball is like a good friend that moves away each winter but is guaranteed to return at the first sight of spring.

By: Bob McVinua

” A man has to have goals- for a day, for a life time- and that was mine, to have people say there goes Ted Williams the greatest hitter who ever lived” – Ted Williams

 

No Need To Panic.. Or Is There?

It’s Friday May 11th and baseball season is just slightly over a month old. So how could anyone possibly be getting concerned about their teams this early on? Well in most cases there’s little reason to panic this early in the season, however these 5 teams jump out at me for the most cause of concern.

These were all teams that were picked by many to make the postseason. Other teams on the list were facing some question marks going into Opening Day. Some of you may disagree with the list and as always I encourage you to send me your feedback and opinions on everything that I write.

So without further delay here is my list of the top 5 most concerning teams at this moment:

1) Boston Red Sox:

I don’t see this one being heavily debated so I thought it’d be a clear cut number one. A few things concern me with Boston. They currently 12-19 with a 4-11 home record. If you can’t win at home then it’s very difficult to try and win the majority of your road games. Generally playoff caliber teams play well at home so the Red Sox being 7 games under .500 at Fenway Park this year sets off a red flag for me.

Another issue that can’t be ignored is the pitching staff. They are currently 29th in the majors in ERA, the only team worse in the pitching department is the Minnesota Twins. They are also 4th in the majors in walks allowed so they are clearly giving away far too many free passes. Walks always have a way of turning into runs.

Bobby Valentine is a question mark at the manage position. Some questioned the hire from day one. I personally am a fan of Bobby Valentine but I have feeling that he is overwhelmed by this slow of a start. When you take over a team that’s as talented on paper as the Boston Red Sox are you don’t think you’re going to have to fight tooth and nail each night to get a win. But that’s exactly what thye are having to do.

The Red Sox are 4th in the majors in runs scored so the overall team offense has been clicking. Scoring runs isn’t an issue if you rank in the top 5 in all of major league baseball, so that can’t be used as a complaint. The pitching has been terrible. A staff that includes Beckett and Lester should be performing a lot better then this.

The positive side for the Red Sox like all of these teams is that it’s still early. We aren’t even a quarter of the way through the season and we still have a long summer a head of us. Boston sits 7.5 games out in the A.L East going into today. To me 10.0 games is a threshold at this point in the season. You do not want to fall more then 10 games off the pace this early on especially in a VERY tough division such as this one.

2) Milwaukee Brewers:

This team to me has red flags souring sky high right now. They are currently sitting on a 13-18 record which is good for last place in the N.L Central. They are 7.0 games out of 1st place behind the red hot St. Louis Cardinals who are playing terrific baseball thus far. When I look at the Central Division I see 2 clear cut competitors for the Brewer’s crown. Those teams being the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. I don’t see the Cubs, Astros or Pirates being competitive for the entire season nor do I see them finishing ahead of the Brewers. However a 3rd place finish in the Central Division won’t do the Brewers very much good. The N.L despite having the extra Wild Card spot this year will be extremely competitive.

So let’s dive into the issues that the Brewers are facing right now. I’ve always said that every team needs some type of identity. You need to either pitch well or hit well to be a competitive ball club. If you can’t do either well then you are in a lot of trouble.

When you look at the Brewers right now they are 26th in team ERA and 28th in batting average against. So their pitching staff is getting absolutely hammered. On the other side of the coin their offense ranks 18th in runs, 26th in batting average and 4th in the league for most team strike outs. None of those are very flattering numbers.

This club is clearly missing the presence of Prince Fielder in the middle of that order. The left/right combo he created with Ryan Braun was fa nominal and created fear amongst rival pitching staffs. But without Fielder in the line up the team just isn’t the same. They are going to miss roughly 40 home runs and over 100rbis. That alone can’t be ignored.

Right now this team isn’t hitting well at all and they can’t seem to get anyone out. They need to correct one of these issues to gain an identity and become competitive again. Rickie Weeks is hitting just .164 and Corey Hart is hitting only .231. Getting those two guys would be a big step in the right direction. With the N.L sporting teams like the Cardinals, Reds, Nationals, Braves, Dodgers and Phillies I don’t think this Brewers team will be able to make the playoffs which is a huge step back for this franchise.

3) Los Angeles Angels:

This is my middle of the pack team in terms of “concern level”. They are sitting on a 14-18 record and remain in the seller of the A.L West. Sitting 7.0 games behind the Texas Rangers is not where you want to be in the first 5-6 weeks of the season. However there is hope for Angel’s fans.

We are all WELL aware of the struggles regarding Albert Pujols so I won’t even go there. The only thing I’ll mention about it is that I would suspect that he will rebound. He’s one of the best players to ever play the game and I’m sure it will take time for him to adjust to a new team, a new city and a new field.

It’s more then just one player that’s holding back this Angel’s offense though. This team is ranked 21st in a runs scored, 16th in team batting average and 26th in on base percentage. They are not in the top half of the league in any of those 3 major offensive categories. This team needs to score more runs. I also think they could look to upgrade the team speed as well, they sit 22nd in stolen bases.

The pitching has been some what of a bright spot for this club in the early going. Jared Weaver has already pitched a no hitter and CJ Wilson has been very solid for this team in the early going. They are ranked 12th in team ERA, 9th in batting average against and they are 6th best in walks. I suspect this pitching staff will help get this team back on track once they can find some life in those bats.

One edge that this team has is that over time the Mariners and A’s are likely to fall out of the race as they just can’t score enough runs to compete. Both teams have made early season noise or have shown flashes of being competitive in the past but always manage to fall out of the race by the All-Star break. This means that despite having to deal with the Texas Rangers within their division they should have 2 teams that they can beat up on as the season goes on. This could give them a big advantage over teams in say the A.L East

4) Philadelphia Phillies:

The Phillies were picked by almost everyone to win the N.L East during Spring Training. In my opinion the N.L East has become one of the strongest divisions in baseball when you look at a body of work from top to bottom. I cut the Phillies a little bit of slack here by giving them the #4 spot on this list but they have two factors in their favor. They are only 5.5 games behind the Nationals and they have been missing their two best offensive players for the entire season. If you take out any teams top two offensive threats their offense will sputter it’s just unavoidable.

As the Phillies sit 19th in runs scored, what surprises me is that they are 15th in team ERA as the pitching is supposed to be the heart and soul of this club. Granted they have been missing Cliff Lee for spurts this season but Halladay and Hamels are still in there and I think they should be better then middle of the pack in terms of ERA.

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will come back. The question surrounding them is when will they come back and when they do how affective will they be? Until those two questions are finally answered we wont know how good this team is. That’s just being fair and that’s what I go for as I write these articles.

My concern for this Philadelphia team is that the division appears to be much stronger then any of us initially thought. The Nationals are sporting one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball which allows them to possibly beat Philadelphia at their own game and the Braves are in the top 5 in runs scored which could pose a threat to any of the pitching staffs in the division.The Mets and Marlins also appear to be competitive as well, if they stay around the .500 mark for the entire season then there is going to be NO freebies down the stretch in this division.

We don’t know what Philly has to offer us yet. So that’s why I have them in the 4th spot.

5th Arizona Diamondbacks:

Call me crazy. A lot of people do. But of my top 5 teams that spark my concern this is the club that I have the least concern about. This is a very talented club that has had to deal with the struggles of Justin Upton who they naturally look towards to lead the offense. However I still believe it’s the pitching that will take this club to the postseason if they are meant to get there.

Ian Kennedy 3-2 with a 3.91era

Trevor Cahill 2-3 with a 3.26era

Joe Saunders 2-2 with a 2.50era

Wade Miley 3-1 with a 2.76era

All of those starters are solid. Every night they are going to have a chance to win with this pitching staff. Two issues this staff does face is that they are giving up too many long balls. You must keep the ball in the yard if you’re going to be able to dominate the opposing line up. You make it far too easy for the other team to beat you when on 1 swing of the bat they can put up a run.

 

 

I believe this staff will settle in nicely and carry this club through the summer months. The Dodgers are red hot and playing well on both sides of the baseball as they have the best hitter and pitcher in the N.L. But let’s keep in mind the cause for true panic is not making the post season at all and I have a feeling this won’t be the case for the D-Backs. I think they’ll have enough talent on the mound to make a run for that 2nd Wild Card spot.