Tagged: MLB

One Swing Of The Bat Closes The Book On 2013

Watching things come full circle is a part of life and naturally when one door closes the next one opens. We make decisions and judgements that we feel are best at the time and sometimes down the road we look back and second guess our decisions or maybe even regret them all together. However at the end of the day some decisions can be quickly reversed, others take time to correct and others are permanent and mold our lives forever.

Baseball in a sense is no different. Although baseball doesn’t necessarily have the ramifications of life, the comparisons are similar enough that you can see the point I’m trying to make. Trades, free agent signings and in game management decisions can shape a franchise for the short term, the long term and somewhere in between.

When things come full circle we are sometimes angry with the result, other times we’re thrilled with it and then there’s times when we’re just flat out confused by what has happened. Last night Juan Uribe ended the Braves season with one swing of the bat. Everything from the winter meeting moves of bringing in the Upton brothers, getting off to a red hot stat in April, to over coming horrific injuries, came down to one swing of the bat. The Braves season of 162 games of battling it out each and every night for 6 full months will be summed up by a hanging slider by David Carpenter that was crushed over the left field fence to give the Dodgers a 4-3 advantage in the 8th inning of game 4.

But what will get lost in this translation is that the Atlanta Braves over came many obstacles this season and over all had a season to be very proud of. If you’re someone who believes that it’s World Series or bust each season or as Billy Beane would say “If you don’t win the last game of the season then no one gives a crap”, that’s fine but you will end up disappointed a great majority of the time if not every time in the case of some fan bases who have had entire generations come and go since their teams have won the World Series ( Chicago Cubs ) 

There is something to be said about the Braves winning the N.L East because most people didn’t expect them to. I think when you suffer a loss like the one the Braves experienced last night the fan base begins to forget everything else that happened over the course of 162 games. During Spring Training there was a lot of hype surrounding this team and their newly rebuilt outfield but no one was certain that the Braves would win the division as Washington was still the favorite amongst many baseball experts.

Not only did the Braves prove that prediction wrong but they were actually in 1st place for every single day of the season except for one, April 4th.

This was not an easy road traveled either. The Braves suffered so many injuries and set backs this season that I think a lot of us almost forget about the ones that happened earlier on in the year. Johnny Venters never even threw a regular season pitch this year and he has been our premiere set up man. Eric O’Flaherty threw his last pitch somewhere around the middle of May against this very Dodger team at Turner Field. At this point many of us Braves fans began to panic and wonder how Fredi Gonzalez would get the ball to arguably the best closer in all of baseball Craig Kimbrel. What happened after that? The Braves would still go on to post the best bullpen ERA in all of baseball and on top of that set a franchise record for the same mark.

Jason Heyward missed significant time as did Brian McCann. Freddie Freeman spent a couple of weeks on the disabled list and still drove in over 100 runs on the season. BJ Upton and Dan Uggla struggled throughout most of the 2013 season and BJ was one of the players expected to make a huge impact when he signed with the Braves this winter and it just never happened. Other players stepped up and young players assumed roles that were well beyond the original expectations of them in 2013. No one panicked and no one quit and as a fan I am appreciative of the heart and effort this team always put forth.

When I look at the 2013 Division Series I am still glad that we were able to get a chance to play the best of 5. The Dodgers beat us 3 times and I can say they deserved to advance where as in 2012 I was unsure if the Cardinals really were the better team after that one game playoff. But at the same time some frustration does set in because at the end of the day this series went 4 games and from my perspective part of the problem was that in the post season you have to put yourself in a position to win, in a position where someone can make a big play, get a big hit or make a big pitch to help your team win that particular game.

During this series Games 1 and 3 were won by the scores of 6-1 and 13-6. The Braves were not even relevant in either of those contests which would end up amounting to 50% of the series, easy wins for the Dodgers where Atlanta was just dominated. Games 2 and 4 however were a 2-1 victory for the Braves and then of course last nights 4-3 defeat. But even in Game 4 the Braves were competitive and gave themselves a shot to win a ball game. If games 1 and 3 had played out in a similar manner there’s a good chance that 1 run ball games can be very split in terms of results and there’s a very good chance that the Braves could have been in a position to go back to Atlanta for game 5 or maybe they could be advancing to the N.L.C.S themselves.

Fredi Gonzalez has already been questioned and will continue to be questioned about his decision to leave Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen and use David Carpenter for the 8th inning. Now I’m fully aware that perception is 9/10th’s of everything that goes on in this world and how things seem are just as important if not more important then what they actually are. And what did fans see last night? They saw arguably the best closer in all of baseball standing in the bullpen as Juan Uribe hammered a hanging slider from David Carpenter in the bottom of the 8th inning of a do or die game.

The fans wanted to see Kimbrel pitch 2 innings to close the game and from what I’ve heard Kimbrel wanted to give it a shot as well. Now I love that Kimbrel wanted to get in there and close this game out and get all 6 outs but would he have been able to? Kimbrel has never had a 6 out save in his career and in game 2 he struggled a little bit getting that 4 out save to preserve that game and was greatly benefited by a close call on a steal attempt at 2nd base.

What if Fredi brought in Craig Kimbrel for a 6 out save and he blew the game in the 8th or even the 9th because he ran out of gas? Would people then question Fredi’s decision to put him out there in a crucial game to do something that he’s never even attempted before? I think there are arguments to both sides but because the outcome was undesirable we will continue to second guess the decision. If David Carpenter goes out there and strikes out the side then no one has an issue with the move.

Now the big question that looms over the Braves organization is where do they go from here? We just witnessed the Reds fire Dusty Baker after he had a very competitive season with the Reds and made a playoff run with his team. But it wasn’t to the satisfaction of the front office. They had hire hopes for this years Reds team and they believe they could find a better fit for dugout leadership to make a deeper run and accomplish the ultimate goal of winning the World Series.

Leadership is important in sports. Managers in baseball can’t play the game but they put their players in the best positions to be successful and they can certainly have an impact on the outcome of games and this is especially hitting home to anyone who truly believes that Fredi Gonzalez is the reason the Braves are heading home as we speak.

Whether you believe that Fredi Gonzalez is personally responsible for last nights loss or not you can’t ignore the significance of the front office’s support or lack of support for Gonzalez. And the reason for this in my opinion is because much of the Braves roster is set for next year. Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Jason Heyward, Just Upton will all surely be back and in the starting line up on Opening Day come 2014. There’s a very good chance that BJ Upton will get another chance to prove himself and try to secure himself a starting spot in Spring Training as he’ll only be in year 2 of his 5 year 75million dollar deal.

The rotation will set up in a similar fashion as well, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran will anchor the top 3 spots with the bottom 2 up for grabs I’d imagine. Many familiar faces will be in the bullpen as well; Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, David Carpenter, Eric O’Flaherty will be back in business and try to continue and improve upon the dominance of the 2013 Braves bullpen.

My point is I’m not sure there will be any significant roster changes for 2014. Frank Wren has done everything he could and spent a good deal of money to put this team together and he can’t stretch the dollar too far for the future because eventually guys like Freddie Freeman will need long term deals and there’s no way that the Braves front office will want him to walk away.

The most significant change may come in the form of a beloved Braves player hitting the road and possibly heading to the American League. Brian McCann didn’t sound to confident in the fact that he’d be returning next year and they’re saying the Rangers, Blue Jays and Yankees are likely to emerge as front runners for his services.

So is new leadership the drastic change that Frank Wren will produce in this off season? Is Fredi Gonzalez too soft spoken? Does he not possess the urgency that’s needed to win big games and snap his team back on track after a brief losing streak? Are his in game managerial decisions not up to Frank Wren’s standards? All of these questions will be answered shortly I’m sure.

The biggest strength of this Braves team may be the combination of talent and youth. The Braves sport the 2nd youngest roster in all of baseball and still managed to have one of the best records in all of Major League Baseball. So there is a very good possibility that this team does improve not by adding different players but continuing to grow and develop the ones that they already have.

During the 1940’s the Brooklyn Dodgers coined the saying “Wait Til Next Year!” and that’s exactly what Braves fans have to look forward to at this point. The promise and hope of 2014 will begin to take over the hurt and disappointment of 2013 and that’s what will bring us all back together during Spring Training as we try to root this team to a World Series and finally win the final game of season.

By: Bob McVinua

Braves May Have The Medicine To Cure The “Blue Flu”

The Braves are National League Eastern Division champions and for that they deserve a large amount of recognition. When you think back to the start of Spring Training and look all of those “expert” predictions that said the Washington Nationals would win the East this year you have to realize that despite the busy off season activity the Braves were still labeled as under dogs in their own division.

And despite injuries and struggles on the offensive end from highly paid players such as BJ Upton and Dan Uggla the Braves still manged to dominant the Eastern Division. By “dominate” I mean they were in 1st place every single day of the season except for April 4th and they held at least an 8 game lead every single day for the final 60 of the season. If that’s not dominance I don’t know what is.

But despite the incredible season and all that was achieved the Braves did fail to secure the number one seed in the National League for the post season which would have secured them home field throughout the playoffs and allowed them to play the winner of the Wild Card “play in game” rather then having to face the Dodgers in the N.L.D.S.

However what’s done is done and as fans we must continue to move forward and be excited about the fact that we do have an opportunity to play a 5 game series this year rather then having to take part in that wild and unpredictable one game playoff. Matching up with the Dodgers in a playoff series is not an easy task by any means because you’ll be forced to beat some combination of Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu in 3 of the 5 games you will play. And if you’re successful in that feat you will have taken down a rotation that boasts 3 of the top 8 ERA’s in the National League.

So how do the Braves go about accomplishing this? And what are some positives that the fan base and team itself can hang its hat on before Game 1 on Thursday.

Kris Medlen: A lot of people will tell you that the Braves don’t have a true ace and that they won’t be able to match up in a series with a team that arguably has 3 of them. While Clayton Kershaw will almost certainly be the National League Cy Young award winner and has terrorized line ups all year long there is reason for hope that the Braves can match up with him in Game 1.

Kris Medlen may not have been the Braves “ace” all season but he’s the Braves “ace” right now. Another strong Sept similar to the one he closed the season with last year has landed him in a position to take the ball in Game 1 and as baseball folks will tell you momentum and confidence can spear head a team straight through the post season.

Medlen has strong numbers against the Dodgers as well. This year he’s thrown a total of 13 2/3’s innings while allowing 0 earned runs and striking out 11 batters in 2 appearances against the Dodgers.

Home Field; Every team wants home field but for certain teams it may be much essential then to others. The Atlanta Braves are the only team in this years post season that have a losing road record ( 40 – 41) This is clearly a far cry from how the club plays at home as they boast a 56-25 record at home which is the best in the major leagues this season.

Something about playing under the lights at Turner Field in front of the Braves faithful energizes this ball club. I’ve spent all year trying to figure out what made the Braves such a poor road team and why they couldn’t figure out how to win games away from Turner Field. Well after 162 games I still have no answer for you but what I do know is the Braves will not have to win a single game in this series against the Dodgers on the road to advance. Winning all 3 games at Turner Field will be enough to send the Dodgers packing.

Injuries: While the Braves have their big outfield bat back in the line up in Jason Heyward, the Dodgers suffered bad news just before the post season that Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will not play in the N.L.D.S This is quite a blow for the Dodgers who now have a slightly thinner line up for the Braves pitching staff to rifle through.

Kemp hasn’t been a huge part of the Dodger’s success this year and yes he has been injured a lot of the season. However Matt Kemp is the Dodgers. He’s their most talented player and any line up is better with him in it. With both him and Ethier on the shelf the Dodgers will have to come up with some way to create a balanced outfield come Game 1 on Thurs.

Paul Maholm: To my knowledge the Braves playoff rotation hasn’t been set in stone yet and anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I’ve actually been campaigning for Freddy Garcia to get the 4th spot in the Dodgers rotation but there is an argument that appears to be shaping up for Maholm to take the mound in this series.

Maholm has made 2 starts against the Dodgers this season and has matched up with Hyun-Jin Ryu on both of those occasions and each time resulted in a Braves victory. The 2nd outing was especially strong when Maholm faced the Dodgers in Los Angeles and threw 7 1/3’s inning while allowing just 4 hits and 1 run.

Bullpen: The post season is all about pitching right? And we’ve addressed a lot in terms of the starters but you can’t forget the other element which is the bullpen. I like Atlanta’s bullpen quite a bit more then I like LA’s and I’ll tell you why.

The Braves are 1st in the majors in bullpen in ERA with a 2.46 which is actually a club record. The Dodgers are 13th a full run higher with 3.49

Atlanta has held opponents to a .222avg over the 2013 season while the Dodgers posted a .240avg against this year.

The Braves relievers have allowed only 126 earned runs to the Dodgers bullpen that’s allowed 183 earned runs.

Braves relievers only walked 155 batters all season long which was good for 2nd in the Major Leagues, the Dodgers gave away 186 free passes.

The Home Run: The biggest weapon the Braves have in their arsenal is that the long ball. As a team they hit 181 home runs this year which was good for 5th in the Major Leagues.

If you’re looking for a possible difference maker offensively this would be it. The Dodgers are not nearly as long ball happy as they’ve hit only 138 home runs as a ball club which was good for only 24th in the league.

Some would argue that the Braves are TOO dependent on the home run and that if it doesn’t come they’re almost surely to lose but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the entire course of a game changed by one swing of the bat. That instant offense where you can go from being down 1 run to being up by 2 runs. The bottom of the 9th trailing by a run, would you rather have to string 3 hits together off a tough closer like Kimbrel? Or would you like to be able to tie up the ball game on one swing of the bat?

When the autumn winds blow in October the games become lower and lower scoring. Each run is so critical and the entire game can turn on you in the blink of an eye. And in games where runs are hard to come by and it’s difficult to string multiple hits together, the home run can be your best friend.

By: Bob McVinua

Braves Trade Deadline Report

I’m sometimes hesitant to even put out an article about the trade deadline because the last thing the internet needs is more rumors and theories floating around, most of which never even come close to materializing.

However there is something to be said about the anticipation of the trade deadline as it’s almost the summer version of the winter meetings in which it allows teams to make that one final push towards their ultimate goal of winning a World Series. And while some fan bases will have renewed hope or further reassurance that their team is in it to win it, other fan bases will suffer the harsh reality that their team is no longer a contender and that they will be more or less packing it in for the rest of the season.

Over the winter meetings the Braves put themselves in kind of tricky spot, possibly without even realizing it. When Frank Wren signed BJ Upton and traded for Justin Upton to create a young and dynamic outfield as they would be combined with a young budding super star Jason Heyward, Wren was not just going for the gold in 2013 but he was building an outfield that could be together for the next 5+ seasons.

Now in doing so I loved the moves and was very optimistic about what the Braves would be able to accomplish this season. Now with that being said they’re in 1st place as of today by 5 full games and stand a solid 12 games over .500 despite their most recent 3 game losing streak.

Frank Wren’s move to build this epic young outfield put him in a situation that would prove to be difficult if things didn’t go his way. I say this because Wren will have to sit on his hands and hope for his young outfield to continue to progress and show signs of improvement or he will be forced to tear it down and admit that he made a mistake. The moves to obtain not 1 but both Upton brothers essentially locked Wren and the Braves into a strategy that would lead them down a road of difficult decision and produce a team that would give them some lack of flexibility at a point in time such as say, the trade deadline.

The Braves outfield isn’t going anywhere which means that 1/3 of the starting line up is locked in stone. Freddie Freeman is locked in at 1st base, Uggla is locked in at 2nd base and Simmons is untouchable at short stop.

The ONLY two pieces of this team that could change at the deadline would be third base and catcher. Now trading Brian McCann to receive some sort of value type player out of fear of not being able to resign him this off season makes some sense for next year and beyond but you have to remember, Frank Wren wants to win now, the team is built to win now as much as it is in the future.

You won’t be able to get enough in return (most likely) to replace the offensive output that McCann will give you down the stretch. Mind you his numbers aren’t staggering by any means but he also missed 6 weeks of the season due to his recovery from shoulder surgery and has been playing pretty well since he came back. Altering our catcher situation doesn’t seem like the way to go so I’d say lock McCann in as well.

That leaves Chris Johnson who came over with Justin Upton in the trade with Arizona and to be honest CJ has been a pleasant surprise for the Braves this year. He’s hitting .332 which is good for one of the highest batting averages on the team for a regular every day player, only Freeman is even comparable.

But despite Chris Johnson’s success he’s still not filling the void that really makes the Braves vulnerable. What the Braves really need is a lead off hitter and a way to get Simmons as far away from that lead off spot as possible. If we could bat Simmons 8th on a regular basis where he feels a lot more comfortable and is a lot more likely to produce, combining that with a solid lead off man that can play every day, I think this Braves offense would start to take off.

Yes, the Braves have Jordan Schafer who has played extremely well in limited action and of course he could fill the void at lead off. However the issue is there’s no way he’s going to play everyday. Fredi Gonzalez can’t sit Justin, BJ or Heyward on a regular everyday basis. Unless he came up with some sort of Outfield Rotation where one of the 3 outfielders sat every 3rd or 4th game and let Schafer into the line up. But I doubt that would go over very well and I’m not sure how productive that would be in trying to get steady offensive production from our other outfielders.

With all of that being said what the Braves are looking for is a rare find and rare breed of player. What the Braves need is a 3rd baseman who is capable of playing solid defense and batting in the lead off spot, someone who is capable of hitting over .280 consistently and possesses decent enough speed that they can be a threat on the base paths.

The difficult thing is we could all name multiple outfielders who could fill this void if we didn’t have such a jammed packed roster full of talented outfielders already. You may find a lot more short stops or 2nd basemen with these types of skill sets but with Uggla and Simmons on the roster those spots aren’t really available either.

It will be very interesting to see how Wren deals with and addresses the short comings of the ball club which knock on wood so far have been fairly minimal judging by their record and status within the division. However come October these types of weaknesses will be magnified and as the Braves search for more consistent offense I don’t think there’s any where else better to start the search then the top spot in the line up.

By: Bob McVinua

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

Wild Card About To Get Wilder?

Talks have really been heating up in regards to adding an extra wild card team to each league. There seems to be a lot of mixed feelings on this issue and I’d love to get some feedback from my readers to see what you guys think.

Lets take a quick look back on how the baseball playoffs have changed over the years.

Prior to 1969: Perhaps the most cut throat playoff structure. This concept had the team with the best record in the regular season from each league face off in the World Series. Very cut and dry, no margin for error. You had to be the best team in your league or your season went by the wayside.

1969-1993: Things opened up a little bit by separating each league into 2 divisions. These 2 division winners would face off in what would be the National League Championship Series and the American League Championship Series. The winners of each series would obviously be that season’s World Series match up.

1994-Present: The present format has been the most friendly in terms of giving each team the best odds of making the playoffs. 3 divisions were created and a wild card was implemented to make an even 4 teams. Suddenly the amount of playoff teams doubled.

 

Being a baseball fan since I was 7, allowed me to only watch the playoffs from 1994 on. So I have only witnessed postseason baseball with the format that we currently have. So I’d love for some more veteran baseball fans to shed some light on how they felt watching the playoffs expand into what they are today. So my opinion on this matter is slightly bias as I can only relate to having the 8 team playoff system.

It’s now March 1st and teams have already reported to their spring training facilities. What makes spring training so exciting? One word. HOPE. Every team has hope right now. Any one can make the playoffs and anyone could win the World Series. Sure some teams have better odds then others but no one can guarantee anything at this point in time.

In previous playoff structures the chances of your team being able to win the World Series was extremely slim. You would have either had to be the best team in your entire league or the best team in your much larger division. Both appear to have been quite a daunting task. As an Atlanta Braves fan I can’t even imagine the season starting right now and knowing that if the Braves don’t have the best record in the N.L then they will be eliminated at season’s end.

The 8 team playoff structure allows for more teams to make the playoffs which generates more excitement from each fan base. Not only can teams get in by winning their division but they can also sneak in as the Wild Card team. Which gives teams in very difficult divisions an extra chance to get into the post season. The drama of the post season also lasts longer as well. I wouldn’t want the entire season to end and jump right into the World Series. Again I am bias because this is the only playoff structure I’ve ever witnessed. I believe right now we are at a happy medium. Just enough teams make. 8 out of the 30.

Now if the new playoff structure were to get approved we would now allow 10 out of 30 teams to make the post season which is 1/3 of the league. To me it just seems like a little too much. Under the new rules we would have 1 extra wild card in each league and there would be an extra round where the 2 wild card teams from each league would play each other in a 1 game playoff to see who would advance.

Now I’m not one to be negative as you guys know so I will shed some positive light on this. 2 extra teams in the playoffs will give some excitement to more fan bases. But that’s about it. Other then that I really don’t think it does much good at all.

Alright, so you allow an extra team into the playoffs. But it’s only for ONE game. It’s not even like you’re allowing them to play a best of 3 series. It’s not much better then your team losing a one game playoff on the last day of the season. Is it really worth the trouble? I don’t think it is.

Now we have to put this into perspective here. Everything in life is situational. So if my team or your team were to get into that 2nd Wild Card spot then of course we would be excited about it. However what happens when my team or your team is in the 1st wild card spot and you are 6 games ahead of the team who grabs the 2nd spot. Then your team loses in that one game playoff, are you still going to be thrilled with the idea?

To me it just makes a mess of things and allows a possibly mediocre team into the playoffs. The NBA allows 16 teams into the playoffs which is more then half the league. Yes it may be over kill but they do at least allow them to get a 7 game series in. Fans will get to see their team play at LEAST 2 playoff home games. Which I think makes it worth the trouble.

If MLB were to make this a best of 3 series then maybe I’d be a little more open to it. Each team would be guaranteed at least one home game. The team with the better record would get games 1 and if needed game 3 at home. Game 2 would be at the home field of the 2nd wild card team. At least then you would get both fan bases involved in it.

If it were me I would leave things as is. I think that’s it worked out pretty well so far and if it’s not broke don’t fix it.

Sure this new format could have helped the Braves last year when they missed the playoffs by one game. They still would have gotten a playoff birth. However if they were the team who had won the wild card I wouldn’t have been thrilled with them being forced to play a one game playoff.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Braves Heading Down The Home Stretch

With today’s 7-5 loss to the Mets the Braves now only have 9 games remaining in their season.

Today’s loss was very tough. Holding a 5-4 lead in the 8th inning we as Braves fans have become accustomed to Venters and Kimbrel making these scenarios automatic wins. To be honest we are quite spoiled in that respect. Not many other teams have a bullpen trio like ours and these types of things are bound to happen from time to time. When you have 3 guys at the back end of your bullpen who pitch as often as ours and they still all have era’s under 2.00, you really can’t complain.

Venters appeared to have some serious control issues today as the Mets didn’t even have to work that hard to push two runs across in that 8th inning. That of course was very frustrating but we have to look back and examine this game as a hole. There were several other issues that played into us losing this game.

It didn’t help that Beachy walked the pitcher with the bases loaded to force in a run. Which then of course set up Tejada’s 3 run double. Dillon Gee isn’t even a good hitting pitcher. They intentionally walked the 8th place hitter to get to the pitcher. There should have been no hesitation there when it came to throwing strikes. To be honest when Beachy threw a 2nd ball I was a little disappointed. There was no reason to go past a the first ball in my opinion. Just go right after him with the fastball, don’t even try to get cute. Even if he hits the ball, most likely it won’t be hit hard and your fielders can back you up.

Beachy has done a great job for us all year and I’m not in anyway trying to take anything away from the guy. However that was a critical mistake that you just don’t make. Those 4 runs were more then enough to make the difference in the game. If Gee strikes out there and Tejada never gets to bat, I find it hard to believe that we wouldn’t win that game.

Of course at this point in the season a Cardinals loss tonight would certainly make this loss a lot more bearable. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to expand the Wild Card lead but at this point if we don’t give up any ground then it’s a very good thing. The Cardinals are back in Philly tonight and have the tough task of trying to beat a very good Phillies team. This of course only can work in our favor.

Now looking ahead to a few different scenarios. The worst possible one being that the Phillies win tonight and cut the lead to 3.5 games. Then they play on Thursday and were off, that’s the .5 game that has been throwing off the Wild Card standings thus far. Now if the Cardinals were to win that game as well, the lead would essentially be at 3.0 games with 9 to play for both teams.

Now I realize the Braves play 3 more games prior to the “catch up” game for the Cardinals but that would basically be the case. You can’t really argue with a 3 game lead with only 9 to play. We would just have to play solid baseball down the stretch. Nothing more and nothing less.

Now if the Cardinals were to loss tonight and loss that “catch up” game then we would essentially be 5 games ahead with only 9 to play. So there are a lot of scenarios to consider here as we head down the stretch.

The Marlins and Nationals usually give the Braves fits, especially on the road so we really need to step up to the plate and show that we want this thing. I’d prefer to TAKE the wild card away from the Cardinals then have them gift wrap it for us. I just think it would be nice to have some momentum going into the post season and not just stumble in.

So this week the Braves will need some help from the Mets and the Cubs. Hopefully they can play with some pride and give the Cardinals some tough games. The Mets clearly seem to still be into this season after getting ripped apart by their manager the other night. So I think they’ll come ready to play and we all know there is NO LOVE LOSS between the Cubs and Cardinals. I’d be anything that the Cubs would love nothing more then to help knock the Cardinals out of the playoff race.

Yes the Braves have the Phillies in the final series of the season, sounds familiar right? I believe that was the case last year when we were able to win on the last day of the season to clinch the Wild Card. The Phillies have already clinched the N.L East with PLENTY of time to spare. I think they’ll be in cruise control the rest of the way so I seriously doubt they will come into Atlanta the final 3 games and risk injury to their star players. That just wouldn’t be a smart move.

And if you’re feeling stressed about the Braves, just talk to a Boston fan. With their meltdown this weekend they are in an even tougher spot then us. That should make you feel better.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Who The Braves Should Be Rooting For…

Well it’s Saturday August 13th and as I’m sure you’re starting to notice Chop Talk never takes a day off. Just because it’s the weekend doesn’t mean there isn’t significant baseball news to report. Despite the fact that it’s only the middle of August the one thing on all baseball fan’s minds is this, playoff baseball.

Is your team in? Or is your team falling out of the race? If your going to make a move in the standings your time is starting to run out just a bit. A lot of the division battles are becoming 2 team races. The National League Central is down to a 2 team race as the Reds and Pirates have pretty much played their way out of it and the same can be said of the Rockies in the West Division.

With that being said, where do our Atlanta Braves stack up in all of this? Well the Braves find themselves in a comfortable but not optimal place in the standings. Yes they are the Wild Card leaders by 6.0 full games. However they have also suffered large set backs within the division. Since the All-Star break the Braves have lost a lot of ground to the powerhouse Phillies and find themselves 7.5 games back.s

So naturally baseball fans are beginning to figure out the different playoff scenarios that could possibly occur. Well as we speak the standings look just like this:

NL East: Phillies 77-41   Braves 70-49 (7.5 out)

NL Central: Brewers 68-51   Cardinals 64-55 (4.0 out)

NL West: Diamondbacks 66-53   Giants 64-55 (2.0 out)

NL Wild Card: Braves 70-49   Cardinals 64-55 (6.0 out)   Giants 64-55 (6.0 out)

So if the playoffs started tomorrow the Braves would be headed to Milwaukee to face the Brewers in a 5 games series. Yes the Brewers have Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun but the one thing they are lacking is a winning record against the Braves. Atlanta has gone 5-3 against the Brewers including a 4 game sweep in May.

Now for better or worse the playoffs won’t start tomorrow no matter how much we wish they would. So what other scenarios could the Braves find themselves in. Well winning the National League East would almost guarantee that the Braves would have the best record in the National League and would give them home field advantage. Is this possible? It’s probably not the most likely scenario out there but it’s definitely possible. I realize that the Phillies and their fans both think the division is theirs. However the Braves have 6 games left against the Phillies and currently sit 7.5 games out. If they want to have any chance of winning the division then they will have to take advantage of those head to head meetings. Both of these final two series will take place next month. The first one will be in Philadelphia taking place Sept 5th-7th and the second one will be in Atlanta the last series of the season. I’d say for the Braves to have a legit chance to win the division they would have to go 4-2 if not 5-1 in these two series. Not impossible by any means. Currently the Braves have a 5-5 record against Philadelphia. So no matter what the Phillies say or think they have not proven they can beat us in head to head meetings.

The Diamondbacks are exactly 2 games behind the Brewers. If Arizona was to win the National League West and have a superior record to Milwaukee, the Braves would head to Chase Field to start the playoffs. How do the Braves match up with the Diamondbacks? Well to the naked eye some would say not to good. Were sporting a 0-2 record against Arizona this season and that field has always been a place of horrors for Atlanta. Now I want to pose this question to my readers. Since when does a 2 game series serve as any evidence that one team is better then the other? We have a series coming up with Arizona that will be played at Turner Field starting the 19th and running through the 21st of August. That should give us a better idea of how we match up with these Diamondbacks.

Other playoff match ups could include the Giants who are currently just 2.0 games behind the Diamondbacks in the National League West and the Cardinals who sit a modest 4.0 games back of the Brewers in the National League Central. With the Braves having a healthy 6.0 game lead in the Wild Card despite their injury troubles I can’t see the Giants or Cardinals passing them for the Wild Card spot. When Jurrjens, Hanson and McCann rejoin the team I think that the Braves will slowly pull away. Just for the record the Braves currently hold a 1-2 record against the Cardinals and a very impressive 3-0 record vs the Giants.

My Opinion:

Very simply put I’d like to see the Braves get matched up with either the Brewers or the Diamondbacks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Brewers have a lot of fire power in their offense but we have proven that we can beat them by posting a 5-3 record against them this season, which includes a 4 game sweep at Turner Field. Which brings me to my next point. The Brewers have have an atrocious 26-36 record on the road. Yes if the Braves play them as the Wild Card team then Milwaukee will have home field advantage but at some point they will have to leave the friendly confines of Miller Park and will have to hit the road. When they do the Braves would take full advantage of this weakness winning BOTH games at Turner Field. Which means they would just have to steal one game on the road. Great pitching beats great hitting when it comes to the playoffs.

As far as Arizona is concerned this is a great story for baseball. A true underdog team making the playoffs always gets people excited. However this team has NO playoff experience at all. Their pitching is not deep enough to carry them to a series victory against Atlanta and they would most likely crack under the pressure. The playoffs are a completely different world then the regular season. The Braves would bring playoff experience and a better pitch staff to the table. Arizona would lose that series in 4 games.

Now of course the other side of the coin is the 2  teams I’d prefer NOT to play. Those teams would include the Giants and the Cardinals. The Giants proved last year that they have what it takes to win the World Series. They didn’t get past the Braves, Phillies and Rangers by accident. Their pitching may be up and down over the course of the regular season but the Braves found out first hand last year what it’s like to see Tim Lincecum on the mound come October. I’d prefer to avoid the Giants pitching and scrappy offense. They know how to win and I don’t want to chance it.

The Cardinals are another team that I do NOT want to see come playoff time. Tony LaRussa is one of the all time great managers. This guy is a proven winner and is more then capable of willing his team to a series win. Not to mention the murder’s row that they have sitting in the middle of their order. Pujols, Holliday and Berkman can do a lot of damage very quickly. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and seem to be picking up steam. Their pitching isn’t what it used to be but it’s plenty good enough to win games with the kind of offense they posses. Busch Stadium is also a very difficult place to play come playoff time. They have great fans and it’s a spacious ball park that the Cardinals are used  to playing in. The Braves actually travel to St. Louis for a series that runs from Sept 9th – Sept 11th. That will give us an indicator  to how we’d fair there in a playoff series.

By: Bob McVinua