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
There’s no question that the Braves have a lot of talented arms in their organization. And most of those guys have enormous amounts of potential. Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are all possible top of the rotation guys down the road. However at this very moment the only one who’s getting the job done at the big league level is Brandon Beachy. So although the rest of these guys have lots of potential, it’s not translating into a lot of quality starts right now.
This Braves team is very close to having a championship quality roster. They already have the 4th best offense in baseball so if the pitching staff can just pick it up a little bit then I believe this team can be very dangerous. So what’s the solution to the pitching dilemma? I think it may be Roy Oswalt.
Roy Oswalt is currently a free agent and available to be signed by any Major League team. He’s still a few weeks off from being ready but it’s still something we might want to be thinking about now.
Right now Roy Oswalt is 34 years old. He’ll be 35 in August. But to me his age doesn’t really mean a whole lot if you’re the Atlanta Braves. He’s still in his mid 30’s, he’s not 40 and with Derek Lowe gone the Braves could use another veteran presence in the rotation to compliment Tim Hudson.
Last year Oswalt went 9-10 with a 3.69era. Not great but solid. Although it was limited starts, in 2010 he went 7-1 with a 1.74era. So he is not that far removed from absolute brilliance. Can you imagine if the Braves plugged him into the rotation and he put up those types of numbers?
Oswalt’s career era is 3.21. He has made several post season starts which would be extremely valuable to the Braves as they certainly lack that valuable experience in October. Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Randall Delgado have combined for 1 post season start. So no matter where we turn there is going to be a lack of experience the second that Tim Hudson isn’t on the mound.
You of course have to consider the price. The price certainly needs to be right on a guy who is 34 going on 35 that is coming off an injury. But at the same time the Braves don’t need Oswalt to be a 1, 2 or really even a 3rd starter. Hudson, Beachy and Hanson fill out those roles nicely. We would just need him to comfortably fill the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation and hope that he can give us even more then we bargained for.
The Braves are World Series contender if they can get this pitching situation straightened out. An effective Roy Oswalt combined with a healthy Tim Hudson and young starters Beachy and Hanson could form an extremely dangerous rotation come October. One that mixes experience, youth and talent.
By: Bob McVinua
In today’s game so much emphasis is put on offense. Fans want to see their teams putting up crooked numbers on the score board as often as possible. Braves fans experienced a major offensive drought to end the 2011 season which lead to what was one of the worst collapses in Major League Baseball history. Time after time the Braves just couldn’t score runs and it made it nearly impossible to win games.
This year seems to be a much different story. Sure there’s been a few games here and there where the team has struggled to find offense but over all we have very little to complain about. The Braves have been one of the more impressive offensive teams this season as you can see where they rank in the following categories.
RUNS: 142 (1st in MLB)
HITS: 250 (3rd in MLB)
HR: 29 (8th in MLB)
RBI: 137 (1st in MLB)
SB: 21 (6th in MLB)
AVG: .267 (5th in MLB)
OBP: .329 (10th in MLB)
SLG: .418 (9th in MLB)
As you can see the Braves rank in the top 10 in pretty much every offensive category. That’s very impressive if you ask me. To be in the top 10 in both HR and SB. To be in the top 10 in AVG and SLG. They have all bases covered with a very balanced offensive attacked.
However on the other side of the ball, the pitching staff hasn’t been quite as impressive. As you can see where they rank in some of the more important pitching stats.
ERA: 4.33 (23rd in MLB)
HITS: 253 (29th in MLB)
AVG: .275 (27th in MLB)
WHIP: 1.41 (25th in MLB)
RUNS: 124 (24th in MLB)
So as you can the Braves rank in the bottom 3rd of the league in 5 of the most important pitching stats. Is this cause for concern? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s only May 5th so the pitchers have plenty of time to settle down and get into a grove but right now it appears that it’s the offense that’s carrying this team, not the pitching. A much different story from what we experienced last year.
Below are the current stats for each member of the Braves current rotation and also the stats posted by Jair Jurrjens
Beachy: 2-1 with a 1.38era
Delgado: 2-3 with a 5.14era
Jurrjens: 0-2 with a 9.37era
Hanson: 3-2 with a 3.74era
Hudson: 1-0 with a 6.55era
Minor: 2-2 with a 4.68era
Right now you would have to label Beachy the unofficial “ace” of this staff. With Hudson still coming back from a back injury and Hanson still trying to settle in. Minor has shown flashes of brilliance but has yet to put it together for a string of consecutive starts. Jurrjens struggled so badly that he had to be moved down to AAA where he appears to be getting back on track. Delgado is shaky at best with his 5.14era but every start he puts under his belt should lead to him getting a little bit better.
Now this staff could transform into an elite staff very quickly. Don’t get me wrong. However if the numbers continue to stay in this neighborhood for each starter then you would have to think that Frank Wren will consider making a move at the deadline. All off season we wanted to see a move for a bat and I was no exception. But with the offense ranking in the top 10 in all major offensive categories you have to think that they will be alright going forward, especially with the depth that the line up possesses.
Adding another veteran arm to the rotation could be a good idea. Derek Lowe gave us that presence during the 2010 season where he basically carried the pitching staff for the entire month of Sept. Unfortunately Lowe completely fell apart on us last year and we had to part ways with him but would an experienced arm in the rotation benefit our playoff chances?
Here are some guys we could consider going after. Now keep in mind that Frank Wren won’t likely sell the farm for an elite ace and we won’t be able to obtain a pitcher from another team in the thick of a playoff race unless we give them players who will be of immediate benefit which I also see as an unlikely scenario.
A 33 year old starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Currently pitching to the tune of a 2-4 record but don’t let that deceive you. Bedard has posted an impressive 2.65era thus far and has been the victim of poor run support. His walk to strikeout ratio is also pretty impressive as he’s struck out 37 and has only walked 14. It’s unlikely that the Pirates will be in the playoffs race come July as I expect the Cardinals to pull way out in front by that point. So it’s possible he could be available. He’s also a lefty which would give us a 2nd left hander to compliment Mike Minor.
I’m staying in the N.L Central as I zoom in on the “ace” of the Chicago Cubs. Dempster is 35 years old so he certainly brings a veteran presence to the mound. He’s 0-1 thus far but like Bedard has been a victim of poor run support. A guy who has posted a 0.95era should have at least one win but that’s just my opinion. This is another guy with an impressive walk/strikeout ratio at 29-9. The Cubs have struggled thus far and I don’t see them having that big of a turn around over the next few months. Would they be willing to trade Dempster for a couple of prospects?
Switching over to the A.L now, this is another pitcher that I think could help bolster our rotation down the stretch. McCarthy will turn 29 in July just a few weeks before the trade deadline so he certainly has a better age angle then the other two pitchers I’ve mentioned. McCarthy is 2-3 but still holds an impressive ERA of 2.96. The A’s offense isn’t exactly explosive so he’s isn’t the beneficiary of outstanding run support by any means. Texas appears to be the clear cut favorite to win the A.L West and I doubt the A’s have enough to compete for one of those 2 Wild Card Spots. They have unloaded guys such as Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez for prospects to attempt to rebuild so McCarthy might be the next to go.
Let me know of some other names that you guys think could be of interest to Frank Wren and the Braves. I’d love to hear some feedback.
By: Bob McVinua
Generally it’s a very unusual sight to see your #2 pitcher in your rotation get optioned down to AAA before the first day in May but that’s exactly what happened to Jair Jurrjens. Now I say #2 pitcher loosely as we still need to see how Hudson does in his return which should hopefully be by the end of this month. Fredi Gonzalez has made mention of April 29th or the 30th against Pittsburgh for being Hudson’s return to the rotation. Which as a side note is a nice time to bring him back as the Pirates are severely struggling to score runs right now. Might be a good chance for Hudson to get settled in and have a nice first start.
However the issue at hand isn’t about Tim Hudson. Jair Jurrjens has been a big disappointment to many this season. He’s currently 0-2 with a 9.37era. That just isn’t going to get it done for any team, any where never mind a team that’s trying to contend for a division title. Does all of this surprise me? Honestly, yes and no.
Does the fact that Jurrjens is struggling out of the gate surprise me? Not entirely and it really shouldn’t be a complete shock to anyone else either. This blog is not about throwing a ton of stats at you. However in certain circumstances stats are the best way to prove a point and paint a clear picture. That’s why stats are so coveted around sports.
Jair Jurrjens pitched through the month of Aug and that was as far as he went last year before going on the disabled list for the entire month of Sept. In the month of Aug 2011 he pitched to the tune of a 1-3 record with a 6.17era. That’s really the last memories we have of Jurrjens. He hasn’t pitched into the 7th inning of any game since the Braves played the Pirates on July 27th 2011. So it’s been awhile since we’ve gotten quality innings out of Jair as well.
So from that perspective I can’t say that I’m “shocked” by the results Jurrjens has posted so far this year. It’s pretty much a continuation of where he left off last year. He’s certainly lost some velocity. He’s not hitting his spots. Maybe he doesn’t completely trust that knee of his. It could be a lot of different things.
What does surprise me is that they are optioning him down so soon. Yes he’s gotten hammered and I know fans are all about instant results and don’t have any patience for struggling. But we do have 4 other quality guys in the rotation that are throwing the ball pretty well. Hanson, Beachy and Minor right now are “the big 3” of Atlanta. Delgado is 4 and Jurrjens is 5. If you aren’t happy with Jurrjens being your 5th best starter then by all means option him down, that’s what the Braves did.
By doing this they are taking immediate action which is good but they are also forcing a result. “He who hesitates is lost”, well the Braves certainly didn’t hesitate. This is now a critical part of Jurrjens career. He’s past the “babying” stage that some of the other starters are still in. You treat a 21-24 year old pitcher much differently then you do a 26 year old. However I’ve also heard the term “Braves veteran starter Jair Jurrjens” on numerous high light shows. To me this comment isn’t fair. Jurrjens is in no way shape or form a veteran pitcher. There aren’t many places where a 26 year old starter is considered a veteran but unfortunately for Jair, Atlanta is one of them. When you are 26 and the 2nd oldest pitcher on your staff that puts a little extra pressure on you. The pressure to excel your development. Jurrjens could go somewhere and be the youngest pitcher on a veteran staff. That would create a completely different out look on the situation.
Bottom line is the Braves are a pitching rich organization and with Hudson due back in less then a week there was no reason not to pull Jurrjens out of the rotation. He wasn’t giving them the best chance to win. He wasn’t pitching deep into games. He just over all wasn’t presenting the Braves with a lot of “value”.
Do I think they pulled the plug a little too soon? Yes, I do. I think they should have waited for Hudson to get back to the majors. See if his TRUE veteran presence could have affected Jurrjens in a positive way and also to see how affective he will be. The other guys in the rotation are throwing the ball well like I said, so I don’t think it would have hurt to give Jurrjens a couple of more starts. No, we don’t want a repeat of Derek Lowe but it’s still April.
Another aspect of the transaction that surprised me was how adamant Fredi Gonzalez was about keeping Jurrjens in the rotation. He had said on a few occasions that it wouldn’t be Jurrjens who would be lifted from the rotation when Hudson came back. It was almost certainly going to be Delgado.
If the move down to AAA doesn’t help Jurrjens then the Braves will most likely have to cut ties with the young right hander. He will have little to no trade value at this point and they certainly don’t have any interest in having him pitch through his struggles in the majors.
By: Bob McVinua
The Atlanta Braves are an organization that prides themselves in their great pitching. How does the saying go? Pitching wins championships right? Well… Not always. The rotations that consisted of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine only produced one World Series championship. Granted the the teams of that era were always very competitive as they would win 14 straight division titles, while making several trips to the fall classic itself.
Pitching to this day is still the staple of the Braves organization. Frank Wren prides himself on his young arms that consist of Minor, Beachy, Teheran and Delgado. All of those guys have great potential. The key word that I’m going to stress here is “potential”. I’m in no way bashing any of the young arms we have in our system. There’s a chance that we could have a future ace in there. However there’s very slim chance that we are going to hit a home run on all 4 of these guys, it’s just not likely to happen.
So in a more realistic sense we’re looking at MAYBE 2 of the 4 being in the rotation for the long term. The issue that a lot of these guys have is that they are strikeout pitchers which I know fans and scouts both love. However it puts a huge burden on your pitch count and that’s why these guys have struggled to get past the 5th inning, thus straining our beloved bullpen.
The rotation that appears to be set for many years to come does have a few wrinkles in it. I’m not in any way trying to push a panic button but it’s just something that as a blogger I have to point out. Now in a few years I could be proven completely wrong but I’m not as sold on the Braves rotation as I once was. Here’s why.
To win a division title it’s going to take a 5 man rotation to get the job done. Granted there are various degrees of pitching levels, as a #1 starter should be a lot more talented then your #5 starter. However it will take a complete rotation to get it done as you will need consistency from 1-5. Lets dig a little bit deeper into the Braves rotation.
Tim Hudson: Right now he’s the ace. I won’t listen to anyone who tells me otherwise. If there’s a must win game tomorrow, I’m giving Hudson the ball and until someone else steps up he’s are guy. However he’s currently 36 years old and will turn 37 before the All-Star break of next season. How much longer can we really rely on him? Look at Derek Lowe. When you get past 35 your potential to just “lose it” happens, it’s a natural occurrence in the game of baseball. Age will catch up with you eventually. How many more years of Tim Hudson do we have left is the question. 1 or 2 more after this year?
Tommy Hanson: Hanson has a lot of talent yet he still struggles to dominate. He has a horrible time controlling base runners and every team in the National League is well aware of this. He’s coming off a serious shoulder issue, that’s not a guaranteed safe return for Mr. Hanson. Another thing is that his throwing motion is begging for further injuries down the road. If he can’t stay healthy then the Braves might have to let him go sometime in the next 2 or 3 years. It’s a proven fact that teams will not wait around forever and if Hanson can’t get it together then he will be gone.
Jair Jurrjens: After you complete this post you might think twice about trading JJ because I certainly have. Jurrjens has the ability to be dominant but again like Hanson he’s battling injuries. Health is what counts in sports, I don’t care how good you are if you can’t stay healthy. To be honest I think Jurrjens has shown more dominance in his time with the club then Hanson has. If I’m taking one or the other on the spot it’s Jurrjens without question. But Frank Wren has him on the trade block and he’s bound to get plenty of activity as he’s only 25 years old. There’s a very good chance that he could be gone in the next few weeks.
Derek Lowe: Lowe was absolutely terrible last year and I’m glad that he was traded. However he did occupy a full time rotation spot last year and his spot is now currently empty. It needs to be filled by someone immediately. Not to mention he was looked at as the non official #2 guy at the start of the season and some might have argued him to be the ace as he did pitch opening day. This takes away from our “depth” as someone will need to fill that void.
Right now as we look at the above mentioned 4 pitchers you have to be thinking the same thing that I am. NONE of them are a guaranteed part of the Braves future rotation. Not in the long term I should say. In a couple of seasons Hudson will be retired. Lowe is already gone. Jurrjens might be traded in the next couple of weeks if not days and Hanson has shoulder issues to contend with.
Minor, Beachy, Teheran and Delgado:
A ton of talent in these 4 guys. However they are not the first pitching prospects in the world to have talent and not all of them amounted to as much as teams hoped they would. Again all of these guys could end up being absolute studs, that possibility exits. However it’s not likely. Lets be realistic and say over the next 2 years, maybe 3 that we get 2 quality pitchers out of this group. They may be the only ones left out of this once deep crop of great pitching.
If Hanson doesn’t come back healthy and Jurrjens is traded you are looking at putting Beachy or Minor in the #2 spot in the rotation. That’s the same issue we had in Sept when things fell apart. I like Beachy and Minor to be worked in at 3-4 at the highest. Middle of the rotation guys right now, not ace material. It’s to no fault of their own because they lack experience but why throw them to the wolves?
Frank Wren needs to look into a guy like CJ Wilson. Trade Prado to the Tigers for Delmon Young as it has already been discussed. That gives us our power bat in left field. Use the remaining money to bring in Wilson. He’s 31 years old and wants a 5-6 year contract. That does several things for Atlanta.
Win Now: We are developing young talent in this organization which is great but we want to win now. We’re more then capable of being 90+ win team right now. The fan base doesn’t want to see us finish in 2nd place for the next 2 or 3 years. It just wont be acceptable. By saying we can develop players and not win now puts us on the same level of the Kansas City Royals. You groom players that may or may not pan out and then before you know it you can be “rebuilding” for 10 years. This is not a rebuilding team lets do the best we can to win now while developing the young guys, it’s a perfect balance.
Ease The Young Guys In: If you have Hudson and CJ Wilson in the rotation then you are looking at putting Beachy in the 3 spot or possibly the 4 spot. Minor would be 4 or 5. That’s perfect. They can get an entire season worth of work in without putting so much pressure on them to be “the guy”.
By: Bob McVinua
2010 was a great year for our Atlanta Braves. We had been absent from the playoffs since 2005 and just making the postseason was a great feeling. The expectations this year are very different for this team, at least they are in my opinion. Last year making the playoffs was a victory in itself and we were happy to be back in the mix of competitive ball clubs. This year I’m looking for a World Series to come to Atlanta.
Is this a far fetched dream? Or is it a very possible reality? Lets take a closer look and see how this years team compared to last years playoff squad. I think by the time you get to the end of the article you’ll see that we do have some distinct advantages that were missing last season.
1) Derek Lee played 1st base during last years playoffs. Yes Derek Lee has a great glove over at 1st base and made a great scoop play to save us game 2 in San Fran. Although he had some good moments with the glove, Lee was basically shut down at the plate. Derek Lee had just 2 hits in 16 at bats against the Giants giving him a horrible batting average of .125. He struck out 6 times and didn’t drive in a single run. I’d be willing to take bets that Freddie Freeman can hit over .125 and manage to drive in more then 0 runs at the plate. Derek Lee was brought in to bring some pop to the offense but it really didn’t turn out the way Frank Wren had hoped it would. Freeman gives us a much better chance to win. His bat has a lot more pop in it then Lee’s and I like that he’s a lefty. He’s just one of several guys who can protect McCann in the line up.
2) Brooks Conrad won’t be playing on a regular basis. Injuries hurt the Braves down the stretch and forced them to play Brooks Conrad at crucial points in the game. I know that you can’t blame 1 player for a team’s failed playoff performance but I do put a good portion of blame on Conrad. He had 3 errors in game 3 against the Giants. 1 of those errors was in the 9th inning with 1 out and a chance to help put the Giants away. He botched a ground ball and the flood gates just opened. His error on the pop fly also resulted in a Giants run. Those 2 runs were the difference between a win and a loss.
3) Dan Uggla. People can say what they want about his batting average but frankly I don’t care. I had a big issue with it being under .200 don’t get me wrong we all have standards. However if Uggla can finish with a batting average of .250 or so I’d be fine with that. The guy brings some series pop to this line up and gives McCann the protection that he didn’t have in last years playoffs. Having 2 big bats in the 3 and 4 spots is critical, especially when one is lefty and the other hits from the right side. Uggla has the potential to go yard at any given moment. That scares teams. And it should. Late in the game Uggla could provide a big blast that wins us the game.
4) Michael Bourn. This guy brings an element to this team that we’ve been lacking for way to long. SPEED. This guy can flat out fly. He can score from first with ease on a double in the gap. He can beat out infield hits. He can steal bases. He poses a threat to starting pitchers because they MUST keep an eye on him at all times. With Bourn hitting at the top of the order this offense becomes a lot more dangerous. Runs are tough to come by in the post season and he’s the type of player who can help us manufacture runs in a tight ball game.
5) Chipper and Martin Prado. These guys were both injured during the playoffs last year. I know I mentioned that Brooks Conrad was forced to play everyday because of injuries but this goes beyond Conrad having to play. When these guys are in the line up they provide something special. Chipper has proven that he can still tear the cover off the baseball. Prado is a great number 2 hitter who almost always puts the ball in play. He can get big hits if he needs to and he also has the bat control to just move the run over in a crucial spot.
6) The bullpen. Last years bullpen was decent but this years bullpen is record breaking. O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel are the most feared bullpen trio in the major leagues. All of these guys have era’s under 2.00. How often does that happen? Wagner did a great job for us last year but he was clearly on his way out. This is a new group of guys who have all been with the team since opening day. They know their roles as they have been clearly defined. Last year Kimbrel was forced to come in and close game 3 of the divisional series. It didn’t go his way partially because he wasn’t expecting to be the closer. If Wagner hadn’t gotten hurt then he wouldn’t even have been out there in the first place. Being able to shorten games in the playoffs could be the difference between the Braves going home early or sticking around for a World Series run.
There are questions about the starting rotation. That’s the one thing that is kind of concerning right now. While no one can guarantee that the rotation will be ready to go in full force by Oct, there’s also no one who can guarantee that they won’t be. It’s a wait and see type of situation which I know is unsettling for Braves fans.
Derek Lowe will take the mound tonight in Philadelphia for a big Sept start. This is Lowe’s month to shine and hopefully he will. A solid outing and a Braves victory tonight would make us all feel better about Lowe.
The one thing this rotation does have is depth. Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are all capable of making a start in the playoffs. I’d prefer to have a healthy Jurrjens or Hanson in there but you can’t complain when you have 6 very talented options to choose from.
The only questions left to be answered are with the rotation. Will Derek Lowe turn things around and return to his usual late season dominance? And will Hanson and/or Jurrjens return to form to help this team make a World Series run. Only time will tell.
By: Bob McVinua
Sorry guys I know it’s been awhile since I lasted posted. Had to deal with hurricane Irene and her raft. We just got power back today so I’m pretty excited as you can imagine. I didn’t want to waste any time in writing a new post because I came up with a fairly interesting topic, hoping to get a strong debate going.
September starts tomorrow. This of course marks the last month of the regular season. The Braves currently have an 8.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Making the playoffs doesn’t appear to be a huge concern right now with a solid lead in the standings with less then 30 games left to play. What does concern me just a little bit is the starting rotation. If someone said to me 2 months ago that the rotation would be the concern heading into the playoffs I would have laughed at them. At the all-star break my biggest worry was the struggling offense. As Braves fans can remember the struggling offense has been the killer for us in a lot of playoff series in the past 10 years or so.
I still believe that if this team is going to win a World Series then they will have to rely on the starting rotation. One would assume that the rotation would be Hudson, Lowe, Jurrjens and Hanson, right? Well how certain can we be of that right now? Hanson is having some shoulder issues, he should be fine for the playoffs but it’s impossible to tell what kind of shape he’ll be in when he comes back. We have Lowe who is an aging veteran, he’s struggled for most of the season. Jurrjens was our ace for the entire first half but he seems to have some serous control issues as of late. Hudson is the ace RIGHT NOW, as a manager you have to live in the moment and Hudson is the guy I’d put out there right now for a game 1 of the NLDS. Then finally you have Beachy and Minor, two very talented young pitchers who would most likely lack the experience needed to win in the playoffs. Let’s take a closer look.
Tim Hudson: 13-8 with a 3.10era. That doesn’t quite tell the whole story as Hudson has slowly begun to take over this Atlanta Braves pitching staff. This is a game of “what have you done for me lately” and Hudson has been by far the best pitcher since the all-star break. He has the stuff and the experience to be a #1 starter come playoff time. I think Hudson would have to struggle badly down the stretch to get bumped down in the rotation come October.
Jair Jurrjens: He’s my #2 barring that he returns to form, or at least close to it. If Jurrjens comes any where near what he was before the all-star break then he’ll be one of the best #2 starters in the entire playoffs. Despite his recent struggles, he’s still maintaining an era of under 3.00. That’s pretty impressive considering how badly he’s been getting shelled lately. Putting him at #2 takes a little bit of pressure of him as well. Jurrjens is still a young guy and has never pitched in the post season before. Game 2 is stressful but doesn’t compare to game 1.
Tommy Hanson: A great fit for the #3 spot in this rotation. I think Hanson is the guy for the 3rd spot for 2 reasons. One he was able to get a taste of the post season last year. This will not be uncharted territory for him. There’s no way that you can leave this guy out barring his health returns, which I think it will. He can use the rest of the season to get himself back into form, a big advantage due to the fact that the Braves have such a large lead in the playoff race.
Brandon Beachy: No this is NOT a misprint or a typo. I think that Fredi Gonzalez should announce Brandon Beachy as the #4 starter. He wouldn’t even have to pitch in the NLDS and would only make 1 start in the NLCS and World Series. This kid is one of the bright spots in the rotation going forward, why not give him a chance? He’s 7-2 with a respectable 3. 31era. I think he can get the job done. He’s made 20 starts with the big league club this year and he’s proving he can pitch well. I know he lacks experience but I still believe the best arm has to be put out there.
Derek Lowe should not be left off the playoff roster. What’s his biggest issue? He can’t go deep into games. Why not put him in the bullpen? It makes perfect sense. He can come into the game and get big ground ball outs with his sinker or eat up innings if there’s a blow out, saving the other valuable arms in our pen.
The last few weeks of the season will give us a lot of information. Will Hanson come back healthy? Will Jurrjens straighten himself out? Will Hudson continue to pitch well? A lot can change in 4 weeks but right now that’s my playoff rotation for the Braves.
Let me know what your rotation would be.
By: Bob McVinua