Happy September Braves fans! I know I haven’t posted as much as of late but I wanted to touch on some things as we approach the post season. Yes it’s September and as a Braves fan I’m talking about the postseason… Sorry that was the pause while I’m sure someone out there was yelling at me for being a jinx or talking too soon.
Our Braves have quietly put together a very good season. As we sit we’re 86-64 a very impressive 22 games over .500. We’re 5.0 games out in the division and 6.5 games up for that coveted Wild Card spot. Although the Cardinals appear to be on their way to a win at the moment so that lead could sit at 6.0 pending today’s action.
Now while we still have a long shot at the division ( don’t laugh) I think it would be wise for Fredi and the coaching staff to prepare for the one game playoff. Now how do you prepare for a 1 game playoff? OK before I get into the specifics of this article I just want to say that a one game playoff goes against EVERYTHING that baseball stands for. Which is longevity. It’s not a sprint it’s a marathon. It’s not about winning 10 games and getting into the post season like the NFL and that’s exactly what Bud Selig has done here. He’s sprinkled a little bit of the NFL onto Major League baseball. Which as I stated before the season even started that I didn’t agree with, I’m not just complaining because my team has the 1st wild card in a strangle hold and I suddenly am afraid of the 1 game playoff. You don’t play 162 games to have a “play in” game essentially unless by some miracle both teams have identical records. Then FINE, I can live with that but as that doesn’t happen very often it’s rarely an issue.
And while I’m not really for the one game playoff the Braves are still likely to be involved. Now I had mentioned earlier on about preparing for a 1 game playoff. Now most would ask “well how would you go about doing that?”. And it starts with making sure you have the RIGHT starting pitcher on the mound. Your starter will set the tone and determine how much pressure there will be on the offense on that given night. This game would play right into Atlanta’s hands if it was a low scoring affair since their offense can be so streaky from one night to another no one wants to see them get behind 4-0 in the 1st inning.
So Fredi Gonzalez is sitting in his office with his feet up on his desk trying to decide who’s going to pitch this crucial game. Because I believe that if we can get past this game then we are capable of making some serious noise the rest of the way but it’s all about getting there now that this new system is in place. So Fredi has to have 2 guys in mind. Either Tim Hudson who is has been the veteran leader for this staff all year long or the younger but more consistent Kris Medlen. So let’s take a look and as fans try to decide who the best option is.
The playoffs are generally about momentum and what have you done for me lately so let’s see what Tim Hudson has done for the Braves lately.
In his last 10 starts he’s 6-2 with a 3.88 era. So not exactly lights out numbers but decent enough. Only losing 2 of the past 10 decisions gives us a little confidence and the 6 wins is also comforting to a certain degree.
Match ups. The next thing a manger should be looking for is how this pitcher has matched against other teams that are in the playoff race. Looking at stat lines against the Padres or Marlins is fine in terms of momentum but this is a completely different barometer in terms of gauging your starter.
St Louis Cardinals: Tim Hudson has faced the Cardinals ( a likely playoff match up) just once this season. Where he compiled the not so impressive stat line of 5.2 inning, 6 hits and 5 runs. This game was also played at Turner Field the same site as the Wild Card game will be played assuming the Braves hang on.
Philadelphia Phillies: Suddenly the Phillies are right back in this playoff picture and while they would have to leap frog several teams to get that 2nd Wild Card they are still heavily in contention and a team that Hudson has matched up with this year. In 2 starts against the Phillies one at home and one on the road Hudson has another not so impressive stat line. 9.1 innings 15 hits and 11 runs in both starts combined.
Experience: The last thing a manager needs to be aware of before sending a guy to the mound is their experience factor. Some may say that experience is over rated and perhaps in some cases it is but to me the more you do something the less nervous you are about it and the more confidence you have in doing it. So there is always something to be said about experience.
Hudson over his career has gathered up 14 professional seasons and has made over 400 starts in that span.
Another thing to note is some players melt under the bright lights of October. The pressure is on and the atmosphere is much different then the regular season. Hudson has made 9 career post season starts. Posting a 1-3 record with a 3.56era. Not stellar numbers but he has been there before both with the A’s and the Braves.
Now my job is to sell the finer points of each candidate and their possible pitfalls. With the information I give you hopefully you can form your own opinion on who you would like to see start that game and perhaps you already had an opinion long before even reading this. Either way I’ll follow the same structure for Medlen as a I did with Hudson.
Last 10 starts: Mighty Medlen has posted an 8-0 mark with a 0.76era in his past 10 starts. If you’re looking to ride the hot hand and momentum into the post season then there isn’t a better guy to go with then Kris Medlen. If you’re a what have you done for me lately type manager then Medlen will get a good hard look in this spot.
Match ups: I was hoping to touch on some key match ups here in terms of Medlen facing the Wild Card contenders but no such luck. Medlen has been able to avoid them this year and hasn’t made a start against the Dodgers, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates or Phillies this year. However he has made TWO very big starts against the Washington Nationals which will have to serve as our meter in terms of the playoff competition.
Medlen has thrown 14 brilliant innings against Washington this season, allowing 11 hits and only one earned run.
Experience: If you’re looking for a weak spot in Kris Medlen this is it. Medlen has never made a post season start so in terms of facing the pressure the results for Medlen are simply unknown. Now this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, everyone must start their post season career some where.
So there you have it. The 2 most likely candidates to pitch the one game playoff for the Braves. And while the presidential election of 2012 looms nearer the Braves may be having a small election of their own with Fredi getting soul possession of those electoral votes.
I’d love to hear what you guys have to say.
Medlen or Hudson?
Earlier today I was running a few errands and ran into a guy at the grocery store who is a huge baseball fan. So of course we got to talking about our favorite teams and other teams around the league who may be capable of making the post season. He pointed out that last year the Braves experienced a collapse of epic proportion which was just throwing salt in a nearly healed wound. I acknowledge what he said as a fact, what else could I do? So he then asked me what the difference was between this years team and last years? Why would the result be different?
I stood there for maybe a second or two and said “Kris Medlen”. Even being a big baseball fan he said “the name sounds familiar but I can’t put my finger on who that is, I know Craig Kimbrel”. That to me said it right there. Kris Medlen is in a thankless role in the middle of our bullpen. He’s not a closer and really isn’t even the official set up man. He just goes about his business and gives us effective innings the majority of the time he steps on the mound.
But what people don’t realize is that he is the glue that holds this bullpen together. There has been a lot of talk lately from fans in regards to moving Medlen to the rotation. Their view point is that he’s better then several guys we are currently running out there every 5 days. They would be correct but I couldn’t be more against moving Medlen to the rotation and I think it was a blessing in disguise that the move didn’t happen earlier in the year when he got sent to AAA to get “stretch out”.
Rare Breed: Medlen is a freak of nature. He combines starter like stamina with bullpen type aggression. I can’t think of another guy in baseball off the top of my head that does what Medlen does. Fredi can call on him to pitch 1,2 or even 3 innings at a time and know that he’s going to be reliable 90% of the time if not more. In a bullpen you typically have 1 inning guys like Kimbrel or Venters who throw hard and can get you 3 outs, anything more is pushing your luck. Or you have guys like Livan Hernandez who can throw 3 or 4 innings but in the process will give up 3 or 4 runs. The ability to do both is what makes Medlen so valuable.
The Bridge is Long: Sometimes as a fan you’re watching a game and just praying that they can take the lead into the 9th inning where your closer can have a shot to shut the door. Closers have evolved so much in the last 10-15 years. Almost every team has one and the majority of them are fairly effective. However the issue for a lot of clubs is bridging the gap between their starter and closer. Nothing is more frustrating then watching a bullpen blow a lead in the blink of an eye that took 6 innings to build. So if you’re team is up 7-4 in the 6th inning it can seem like an eternity until you get to the 9th but not with Medlen. Fredi can use him to go 2 or sometimes 3 innings if need be. This closes that gap with one managerial decision, not 3 or 4 calls to the bullpen. This is just a luxury that most clubs don’t have.
Added Depth: Johnny Venters has missed 2 weeks of the season and when he has been in there’s been a string of ineffectiveness. If this was happening last year there would be mass panic in Atlanta but this year there isn’t. I haven’t even heard Venter’s named mentioned that much this year at all. Medlen has been able to fill the void along with the resurgence of Eric O’flaherty. Having that added arm in the bullpen compromises for struggling and injured relievers a like.
Identity: Players need to know their roles in order to be affective. You can’t keep switching him back and forth between starter and reliever. That’s not good for his body or his mental state. He’s settled in very nicely with this bullpen role and I think that as long as he’s content and is succeeding there’s no reason to take him out of it.
So in conclusion the Brave have an excellent weapon in their arsenal when it comes to Kris Medlen. His ability to help shorten games and eat up innings has been a god send to this Atlanta Braves team all year. I think if the Braves are going to make a deep run in the playoffs then Medlen will certainly be a major part of it.
By: Bob McVinua