Today was a very “interesting” day for the Atlanta Braves organization. First off the legendary #6 was inducted into the Braves HOF and had his jersey number retired. After the game had started we realized the surprises were just beginning. In the 5th inning, after giving up back to back homeruns to Freeman and Uggla, Carlos Zambrano intentionally threw two inside fastballs to Chipper Jones. After getting ejected and arguing with fans that were making gestures to him, Zambrano decided to go to the lockers and pack up his stuff. His teammates told media that he had decided to retire. Who knows what will happen with this situation, but all i know is that Zambrano’s career is coming to an end soon.
Later in the game, word came in that the great Ernie Johnson Sr. had passed away. This man meant so much to the Atlanta Braves organization and played an enormous role in bringing the Braves to every television in America. The Braves will wear a patch on their uniforms for the rest of this season to commemorate this awesome human being. R.I.P. Ernie…….
The Gwinnett Braves played Pawtucket and Coolray field tonight. They lost 5-3 because of a 3 run 9th inning by Pawtucket. Brian McCann started his rehab assignment by serving as the team’s DH. He went 1-3 with an RBI single. He will be catching the game tomorrow, hoping to return to Atlanta’s lineup early next week. Julio Teheran continued to impress scouts with his usual performance. He pitched 7 innings giving up only 2 earned runs and striking out 5. Brandon Hicks also played a large role in tonight’s game going 3-5 at the plate.
Tonight the past, present, and future all came together for the Braves and made it a very memorable night.
The phrase, “pitching wins championships” is well known all over baseball. General managers are fully aware of the fact that it’s very difficult to win without a solid rotation and reliable bullpen. However the question that I will pose to you is this, can pitching alone win you a championship? The 2011 Arizona Diamond Backs might argue that it can. They had 2 pitchers carry them all the way to a game 7 win against the heavily favored Yankees. Or the 2003 Florida Marlins made a great run with Josh Becket leading the way, they too beat the heavily favored Yankees.
Great pitching is a wonderful thing to have but how much pressure can a staff and bullpen take before they stop bending and start breaking? The Braves are already starting to experience an over worked bullpen and a starting rotation that is starting to struggling just a bit as we get into the middle part of August. The offense on the other hand is showing some signs of life, lead by Dan Uggla’s 31 game hitting streak. Freeman has also been swinging the bat very well and has gotten his average up to .294 when he also experienced a hitting streak of over 20 games.
Prado had a big 4 hit game the other night against Florida including a go head RBI single that would eventually lead to a Braves victory. The addition of Michael Bourn has added a true spark plug to the top of our order and with his recent display of power Alex Gonzalez has now cracked double digit home runs.
While all of these things point to the Braves heading in the right direction offensively, we still must examine the facts. And for the Braves the offense still has major question marks surrounding it. One thing I like about stats is that they are factual, they may not always tell the whole story but no one can deny their accuracy.
Braves Offensive Rankings:
Runs Scored: 16th (486)
Batting Average: 24th (.246)
On Base Percentage: 24th (.312)
Slugging Percentage: 18th (.392)
As you can see these are not flattering stats for this offense that was supposed to be much improved from last season. The stat that jumps out most at me is team batting average. When your hitting .246 as a team it’s going to be difficult to win a World Series. In fact the worst team batting average to ever win a World Series was the 1969 New York Mets. That club hit .242 as a collective unit and earned the nickname “the hit less wonders”. As I’m sure all of you have noticed that .246 average posted by the 1969 Mets is not much worse then the .246 average that the 2011 Braves are sitting on.
Those Amazing Mets were also carried by their pitching staff to an extreme level. Despite being one of the worst hitting teams in all of baseball in 1969 the Mets still managed to win 100 ball games. Lead by Tom Seaver who went 25-7 with a 2.21era and Jerry Koosman who went 17-9 with a 2.28era. In fact the worst pitcher on that years staff was Jim McAndrew who posted a mediocre 6-7 record despite having a solid 3.47era. As a pitcher you really had to be on your game if you were going to put up wins with that anemic offense hitting behind you. Doesn’t this all sound familiar?
The leading run producer for the Mets that year was center fielder Tom Aggie who topped out at 76rbi. That team lacked a true run producer, sort of like this year’s Atlanta Braves. Currently Dan Uggla is the team leader in rbi’s and he only has 58. I don’t see him surpassing the 100rbi mark as were already getting into the middle of August. I’d say he has a chance to get close 80 or so, not much more then that. And in my opinion a solid run producer is a 100rbi guy. Chipper Jones in his prime was a 35 homer and 100rbi type guy. He was the face of the offense.
Now I’m not going to sit here and leave you guys with a gloom and doom ending to this article because I am an incurable optimist. The 1969 Mets won the World Series with timely hitting and solid execution. What’s the quickest way to make an impact in a baseball game? The quickest way to take the lead or to decrease a deficit? That’s right. The home run. And that’s something that the Braves have been fairly decent with this year. Getting timely home runs to win games late or to keep games close that appeared out of reach.
The Braves have 7 guys with 10+ home runs and Chipper Jones isn’t one of them.
Brian McCann (18), Freddie Freeman (15), Alex Gonzalez (10), Eric Hinske (10), Dan Uggla (24), Jason Heyward (12) and Martin Prado (11). Chipper just misses that cut with 9 homers.
The point I’m trying to make is that the Braves can still make a run at this thing with timely hitting. When you have 7 guys who have double digit home runs and Chipper Jones who at any age is always a threat to go yard, you have a potentially dangerous offense. A walk, a bloop single of 2nd base and a home run by Dan Uggla can put 3 runs on the board in the blink of an eye. This offense may not strike as often as we like but when they do they strike fast.
By: Bob McVinua
By: Kyle Chambers
Gwinnett- Won 1-0 over Scranton
Wil Nieves- 3-3
Brandon Hicks- 1-3, 1 HR (15), 1 RBI (40)
Randall Delgado-7.0 IP, 3 H, 6K
Cory Gearrin- SV, 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER
Mississippi- Loss 4-2 to Mobile
Donnell Linares- 1-4, 1 RBI (58)
Cory Harrilcheck- 3-4
Lynchburg- Won 4-1 over Wilmington
Todd Cunningham- 3-5, 1 R
Phil Gosselin- 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI (63), 1 3B
Andrelton Simmons- 2-5, 1 RBI (48)
Dimasther Delgado- 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 6K
Rome- Won 4-2 over Asheville
Evan Gattis- 3-4, 1 R
Matt Lipka- 0-2, 1 RBI (29)
Sean Gilmartin- 2.2 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 4K
Sean Gilmartin made his first start for Rome and was obviously on a pitch count. The Braves number one pick this year looks like he is still a couple years out of competing for a spot on the big league team. Meanwhile Randall Delgado continues to impress everybody that he faces. In his first two starts at Triple- A Gwinnett he has thrown 13 straight scoreless innings. We can understand why Frank Wren was not going to include him in any deal made at the trade deadline.
On Sunday afternoon we watched Mike Minor give us a “solid” but not great outing against the Mets. He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win the game. Now I’m sure most of you didn’t think much of the start by Minor but for me something suddenly hit home. It was like I realized the earth was round. Something so simple that it seems to be escaping everyone.
What has Derek Lowe been giving us all season? Decent outings at best. Very similar to the one that Mike Minor gave us this past weekend. When we look at the numbers they are not overly flattering for the veteran Lowe. Below are the ERA’s posted by Derek Lowe over the course of the past three seasons.
2009: 4.67era/ 2010: 4.00era / 2011: 4.78era
It’s been years since Lowe lasted posted a respectable ERA which I consider one that is under 4.00. Yes he had a great run in September of last year when he went 4-0 with a 1.08era. I’m not saying that wasn’t impressive because it certainly was. He carried us on his back down the stretch last year and was the biggest reason why we were able to clinch the Wild Card spot. I mean maybe Derek Lowe and Jason Heyward should room together on the next road trip so that they can talk about all the success they had last season while the team is trying to WIN NOW.
Mike Minor is 23 years old. Derek Lowe is 38 and at the end of his career. If we are getting very similar results from both pitchers then why not put the younger guy into the rotation? There is a 15 year age difference between the two players. In a year or two Derek Lowe will most likely be retired. Mike Minor is part of the future of this team that’s already very young anyways, why not add a little more youth to it. Minor can still develop and improve, while Lowe is clearly on the way out and is only going to start to deteriorate.
Mike Minor is sitting on a 4.85era this season. That’s not something that he should write home about but is it really that much worse than the 4.78era that Lowe is currently sporting? To me they are one in the same. I see very little edge in putting Lowe out there over Minor. Not to mention if Minor begins to out pitch Lowe. Another edge to having Minor in the rotation is that it gives us a lefty in an all right-handed rotation.
Now I’m not saying that we should release Lowe or do anything crazy like that. Obviously nothing drastic like that can or should happen. Lowe is a big game pitcher and loves to be in the game in crucial situations. Why can’t Lowe move back to the bullpen where he once called home. Let’s take a look at how Derek Lowe did while coming out of the pen. Granted he was younger during his bullpen days but there are lots of veteran pitchers that call the bullpen home. Coming out of the pen is more of a mind set then anything else.
In 1999 Derek Lowe saved 15 games while sporting a 2.63era. In 2000 he had a breakout year as the Boston closer, saving 42 games with an outstanding 2.56era. Even with a slight drop off in 2001 he still managed to save 24 games and produced a solid 3.53era.
Jair Jurrjens will come back from the DL. He will need a spot to fill and it can either be Mike Minor’s spot or Derek Lowe’s spot. The bullpen right now is solid but could stand to be even better. Take a guy like Christhian Martinez out and put Derek Lowe in his place. Or you could replace Anthony Vararo. To me those are the two weakest links in the bullpen right now. Even if Peter Moylan comes back there is still room for both him and Lowe to have spots in the pen.
If this all went according to plan the Braves bullpen would look something like this: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, George Sherrill, Arodys Vizcaino, Derek Lowe and Peter Moylan.
Who would want to face that bullpen come October? Derek Lowe gives the bullpen two huge advantages late in games. The first is that Lowe gets a ton of ground balls, perfect for getting double plays late in games. Say you have a 1st and 2nd situation with only 1 out in the 8th inning. Your up 1 run and want to protect that lead. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring in Derek Lowe? Just insert him into that situation. Another thing is that he does have a starter’s stamina. He could always give us 3 or 4 innings in long relief if we went into a long extra inning game or if one of our starters got knocked out early in the game. He could save a lot of wear and tear on the other guys in the pen.
By: Bob McVinua
As the calender turned from July to August something changed with this Braves team that was much more drastic then a new month. It almost seemed as if it was the dawn of a new era. As if someone flipped a switch and things were different. What was the difference? This team finally had speed. However Michael Bourn was not the only player providing this impressive increase in speed. There was another guy who know one knew much about until a week or so ago. There was a guy who was trapped in the minor leagues just hoping for a chance to prove himself.
On the outside Jose Constanza might not look overly impressive. He stands roughly 5’9 and weighs about a 150lbs soak and wet. But what he lacks in size he makes up for in speed, heart and determination. This is a player who was being bounced around the minor leagues for almost 7 seasons. The fact that most players who make it to the major leagues are up in 2-4 years tops. Everyone needs development but 7 season is a long time. It appeared that Jose Constanza would be a career minor league player as he turned 27 and still didn’t see much hope of playing in the big leagues.
If you search the internet you will find little information on Jose Constanza. Sure you might find some stats or brief scouting reports but who is this guy? I know that he was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I know that the Cleveland Indians signed him as a non drafted free agent. In February 2011 he was labeled Triple A’s best base runner. But to me these are all standard facts. A minor league scouting report and a birth place can be found on just about every player who’s ever played this great game of baseball. I want to know more about the man behind the speed.
So I’m sure a lot of you are wondering how did this journey man outfielder who had never played a day in the major leagues until a week ago take over Jason Heyward’s job in right field. That’s a good question. When you look at Jason Heyward you see an absolute monster. The guy is 6’5 and 240lbs. He has power at the plate and as much hype surrounding him as any Braves rookie I have seen in the past 17 years of being a fan. He was supposed to be the future of the Braves outfield and to be honest many people, including myself considered him to be the future of the franchise once Chipper Jones calls it quits.
One word can describe how this all happened. That word is opportunity. See without opportunity none of us would be where we are today. This doesn’t just apply to sports. This is a lesson that can be applied to life. If your boss hadn’t given you an opportunity then you wouldn’t have the job you do. If your spouse had never given you the opportunity to show how wonderful you are then you guys wouldn’t be married. Kid’s who try out for little league are given a chance when they are selected for a particular team. Opportunity is not about sports, it’s about life.
Jose Constanza got called up to the major leagues for several reasons. Some of them were just by chance and others were his own doing. At the time of his call up the Braves were lacking team speed, had slumping players and a brash of injuries. All of those things were blessings in disguise for our new found friend Jose Constanza. Those aspects of the situation he had no control over. However what he did have control over was that he was hitting .312 with a .361OBP at the time of his call up. Jose made himself a prime candidate to be promoted to the major leagues, so when the time came he was the one they wanted.
Another aspect that we’ve learned from this situation is that what you did yesterday won’t guarantee you success for tomorrow. People quickly forget about the past and that forces all of us to stay on our game. If your a sales men and you had a superb month in March but don’t sell a single thing in April and May, then your boss won’t care so much that you had a great month of March. Jason Heyward is having the same realization as we speak. Yes, he had a great rookie campaign but right now he can’t hit water if he was standing in a boat. Were in a pennant race and a slumping Heyward is not going to help us win games.
What’s the future for Jose Constanza? It’s tough to say for sure. Sometimes these journey man players fade almost as quickly as they came into the picture. Jason Heyward will ALWAYS have the upper hand in this battle. He is the “chosen one” as far as the Atlanta Braves are concerned. If Heyward starts tearing the cover off the ball in the next 2 weeks then Constanaza will either go to the bench or back to the minor leagues. Even if both players are producing at the same level, Heyward will be given the chance to play. Right, wrong or indifferent it’s just the way it is.
So if you ask me. Jason Heyward has as much control over Jose Constanza’s future as Jose Constanza does. This is not just a great sports story. This is a great life story. We should all be inspired by Jose Constanza and realize that we need to take advantage of all the opportunities that comes our way.
Opportunities have wings. And they will eventually fly away. Grab it while you can.
By: Kyle Chambers
It seems as if the Braves are opening another book in the franchise while closing another. This morning the Braves announced the release of the struggling Scott Proctor and the addition of one of the “untouchable 4” pitchers in Triple-A Gwinnett.
Vizcaino had only been in Gwinnett for about two weeks and was already impressing every body at that level while putting up a 1.29 ERA. On the year Vizcaino had made his way from Lynchburg to Mississippi to Gwinnett.
This year, with all three minor league stops combined, Vizcaino went 5-5 with a 3.06 ERA. Opponents batted just .225 against him. He started this year as a Starting Pitcher. However, halfway through this season the Braves made the decision to turn him into a reliever where they thought he would be more comfortable.
As for Proctor, he was a very nice guy. I have several autographs from him just because he would always take time to talk to the fans after games and practices. He just couldnt find his command this year like he had in years past. I wish him the best going forward in his career.
Once a week we will update you on what is going on down in the farm system for the Braves. This week we will run over the some of the eye-popping numbers that some of the minor leaguers are putting on the board.
- Stefan Gartrell , Gwinnett- 24
- Mauro Gomez, Gwinnett- 19
- Evan Gattis, Rome- 18
- Ernesto Mejia, Mississippi- 17
- Stefan Gartrell, Gwinnett- 78
- Ernesto Mejia, Mississippi- 71
- Mauro Gomez, Gwinnett- 68
- Joseph Terdoslavich, Lynchburg- 65
- Tyler Pastornicky, (85 AB) Gwinnett- .412
- Chris Garcia, Rome- .322
- Dan Nelson, Mississippi- .313
- Christian Bethancourt, Rome- .303