Tagged: rotation

We’re a 1/3 of The Way Home

I can’t believe it’s already the end of May and that baseball season is almost a 1/3 of the way over already. It’s been a fun two months and I’ve enjoyed cheering for and stressing over these Bravos for the past almost 60 days. I thought that this was a good time to assess what I think the Braves have and what they don’t have. And moving forward what this team will have to do in order to be successful.

As usual I don’t want to bore anyone with stats, I may throw a few in there for reference points but I’ll try not to over load anyone. I can’t stand the fact that you can’t even read an article on baseball without it looking like a math problem.

1) B.J Upton

Have to start with the 75 million dollar man who has the lowest batting average in Major League Baseball at this point in time. Now this is not the B.J Upton that Frank Wren signed in the off season, not even close. The B.J that Wren saw in Tampa tearing the cover off the baseball for the entire month of Sept hasn’t shown up yet but his arrival is welcome at any point in time.

Major League Baseball players don’t forget how to hit. They are there for a reason or else you and I would be up there swinging a bat making millions of dollars ( wouldn’t that be nice ). There are 3 things that I contribute to B.J’s struggles and none of them have to do with lack of talent. Flawed mechanics, pressure and unfamiliar pitchers.

B.J has added so many moving parts to his swing it’s ridiculous and that’s why he’s late on every fastball that he attempts to hit. He needs to simplify that swing in the worse way and get rid of that added “loading” process that he’s developed like a bad computer. He also needs to forget about the contract. Money doesn’t play on the field for the players and that’s why guys making the league minimum can get off to hot starts and 75 million dollar players can strikeout every time up. And just like Pujols struggled last year going to the American League there’s a chance that B.J is batting the unfamiliarity of new pitchers who have figured him out before he’s had the privilege of doing the same to them.

2) Starter Stamina 

This may seem like an odd thing to be #2 on this list but it’s concerning to me. We need our starters to give us quality innings and I’m not saying that we don’t or haven’t gotten these innings from our starters but we need more of it. We haven’t gotten a complete game out of one of our starters in quite a while and even 8 inning appearances are rare. You look around at other staffs in the league that go deeper into games and it really saves a lot of wear and tear on that bullpen. And as we’ve just witnessed bullpen over load will catch up with you and you can verify that with Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.

3) Where are the blow outs?

Staying on the trend of bullpen burnout where are the blow out wins for the Braves? When you are playing 1 or 2 run games every single night your manager is going to feel obligated to throw his best arms in order to close the game out, it’s that simple. 2 years ago when we played a major league most ” 1 run games” we taxed a ton of innings on the arms of our relievers which has come back to haunt us. This team needs to find the occasional 7-1 win for the sake of our bullpen health.

4) Jason Heyward 

Bouncing around from bullpen issues back to outfield issues. B.J needs to be fixed at the major league level. He’s 28 years old and he’s making a ton of money on his 75 million dollar deal. The minor leagues are not an option for him so he’s going to need to correct his issues at the big league level and hope he can make enough adjustments.

However, Jason Heyward could be a candidate to get sent down to AAA for a little while. We do have Jordan Schafer who is more then capable of playing RF and joining  the Upton brothers in the starting line up. This would also give us a true lead off man at the top of the order and that’s something we’ve been missing all year.

Bring Heyward down to AAA for 2 weeks could make all the difference. He could go down and relax, focus on hitting the ball. I’m not sure how receptive he would be to the idea but his age and salary make him a candidate for that type of move. What if a few weeks in the minor leagues brought back a completely different Jason Heyward? And some may argue well what if it doesn’t? Hey at least we would have tried something.

5) Jordan Walden

Tonight Walden looked really good as he hit between 95 and 97 on the radar gun consistently. Sometimes players just need a little time off to rest up and start fresh. It seems that maybe his D.L stint was a blessing in disguise and if he can continue  to be affective then this would help to recreate our late inning 1-2 punch as Kimbrel would have someone to set him up.

The other thing to note is Walden does have closer experience with the Angels so these late inning situations are nothing new to him at all. The pressure will likely be far less of an issue then it appeared to be with Varvaro and Gearrin which would also allow for them to go back to their normal roles out of the bullpen in which they have been stellar at.

6) Brandon Beachy

The talk from what I’ve heard is that they’re hopeful that Brandon Beachy will be back to pitch 1 of the double header games against the Mets on June 18th if I’m not mistaken. So we’re still about 3 weeks away from that date but the topic has brought up a lot of interesting questions. The main one being who will be removed from the rotation when Beachy is inserted or is putting Beachy back in the rotation the best move for the team?

Kris Medlen showed last year that working out of the bullpen can be a great predecessor to the starting rotation. Medlen was brilliant out of the bullpen last year and gave us an opportunity to throw a quality pitcher several times a week and sometimes for multiple innings. Could Beachy ease himself into the starting rotation by fulfilling one of these roles for the Braves who have already suffered multiple bullpen injuries?

Now if Beachy were to jump immediately into the rotation that would call for someone to “exit stage left”.  Maholm, Hudson and Minor all seem immune to such a move for various reasons which would leave Teheran or Medlen out to dry. Right now it actually seems as if Teheran has been a little more affective then Medlen has and as a young pitcher and highly touted prospect you’d almost hate to break Teheran’s momentum as a starter by changing his role.

If Medlen was able to do the job once he could almost certainly do it again. He would add valuable depth to our bullpen and would be a critical asset to the “bridge to Kimbrel” project. I wouldn’t look at this as a “demotion” if this were to happen, I’d keep an open mind and view it as an opportunity to help the ball club win games as we inch closer to our ultimate goal of winning  the World Series.

7) This weekend

Now I rarely put too much emphasis on a single regular season series, especially when it’s before the All-Star break but there’s something very interesting that’s about to happen on our schedule and in the standings this weekend. The Braves still have 1 more game with the Jays and the Nationals still have one more remaining with the Orioles.

It’s not too far fetched to believe that we could beat R.A Dickey as we have many times over his career, especially at Turner Field and that the Nationals could fall victim to a pretty good O’s club. All in agreement? That would put the Braves 5.5 games up in the N.L East standings before the big showdown this weekend when Washington comes to town.

I will once again throw out a not so impossible scenario, that being an Atlanta sweep over Washington this weekend. Many would say this is unlikely but if you recall earlier in the year the Braves went to D.C and beat Strasburg and Gio on their way to a road sweep of the Nationals. Why couldn’t they sweep them once again in their own back yard?

But anyways you guys get what I’m getting at. If that were to happen the Braves would wake up Monday morning with an 8.5 game lead and a strangle hold over the N.L East. Not to say Washington still couldn’t claw back but that would be quite a whole to over come and would really be a big blow to their already struggling morale as a ball club.

This is an opportunity for the Braves to really deliver a big blow in these 4 consecutive games they play from now until Sunday. If they make the most of them they could really be sitting in a good spot.

8) Dan Uggla

Uggla hasn’t been the player that we thought he would be when he came over from the Marlins which is why I think a lot of fans are so nervous about B.J Upton. They can see glimpses of the same thing going on and many would argue Uggla has never fully snapped out of the funk that he began with 2 years ago.

However this year Uggla has already hit 10 home runs and we’re a 1/3 of the way through the season. A few of them have been timely blasts that changed the outcome or at least the course of a game in the late innings. You can never underestimate the power of the long ball as instant offense and thus far Dan has given the Braves just that. On pace to hit nearly 30 homers, even 25 would be a very solid power year for Uggla and the Braves could surely use the production.

9) Fredi Gonzalez

Eventually the manager has to face the music and take accountability for the results of their players. Right now the Braves are in a good spot sitting 10 games over .500 and holding a 4.5 game lead in the National League East. However is making the playoffs enough? What measures is Frank Wren currently holding Fredi Gonzalez to?

If Fredi were to make the playoffs as a wild card and once again lose in the one game playoff is that enough to satisfy the boss? At what point does Wren say we want to win the World Series and you’ve failed to deliver us that result with a team that’s more then capable of competing at a high level?

I still believe that Bob Melvin out in Oakland has gotten far more out of his players then Fredi has out of ours. Last year they won a division and 94 ball games. They took the Tigers to 5 games and had a shot to pull of the upset. They hosted a playoff series at home. And yes the Braves also won 94 ball games but Fredi did it with a lot more talent and a larger pay roll.

The Braves haven’t won a playoff series since 2001 and eventually the standards of just “getting in” will be thrown out the window and replaced with higher expectations. I know the Braves management likes Fredi a lot but they have also already put up with a lot in forgiving him for the epic late season collapse of 2011.

10) Will An Ace Emerge

I think the 10th and final thing to watch for the Braves is whether or not an ace will emerge from this staff. At the start of the season some argued it would be the veteran Tim Hudson while others were convinced it was Kris Medlen. Neither one has been overly dominating and although Medlen could have a better record if given more run support he still hasn’t been nearly as sharp as he was last year and is actually in danger of being removed from the rotation all together.

I think right now the staff ace appears to be Mike Minor. He’s the guy I personally feel most comfortable giving the ball to every 5th day and possibly close to that is Julio Teheran who has emerged quite nicely in his last few outings. Hudson and Maholm have been shaky despite Maholm’s very fast start.

Down the stretch every rotation needs that one guy who can stop a losing streak and who can lead their rotation into the playoffs. The guy who will get the ball in game 1 hands down. The guy you want on the mound with your season on the line.

Someone needs to grab that role going forward. I hope that player emerges over the summer months.

 

By: Bob McVinua

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Jurrjens Showing Improvement In AAA

When you’re 0-2 and your ERA is over 9.00 you really can’t expect people to think too highly of you. This was exactly the case with Braves starter Jair Jurrjens.

Since being demoted down to AAA he has shown signs of improvement. He’s currently 1-0 with a 1.80era and had a very impressive outing on Sunday where he went 8 strong innings allowing only 2 runs on 95 pitches. You can’t beat that. He went deep into the game, kept his pitch count low and showed excellent control as he only walked one batter.

Are AAA hitters the same quality as Major League hitters? Of course not. If they were then they wouldn’t be in the minors. However we need to take it as a good sign. Some of the guys he faced over the weekend could be a year or two removed from the big leagues and he dominated them.

There’s a few points I’d really like to make on Jair Jurrjens, one’s that will highlight the purpose of this article. The first one being this. Jair Jurrjens is NOT a veteran starter. Maybe in Atlanta he’s considered a veteran because he’s on a staff where everyone else besides Hudson is younger then him but in reality he’s still a fairly young pitcher. In my opinion no pitcher under the age of 30 is considered a veteran and in some cases I think this could stretch up to as high as 31 or 32. Jurrjens is currently 26 years old and if he bounces back quickly from this down turn in his career he could easily have another 8-10 seasons left in him and I’ll explain why.

Velocity. Velocity. Velocity. That’s all we hear about with today’s young pitchers. Strausberg throws 98mph. Chapman can hit 105mph. That’s great. You can dominate hitters with an over powering fastball without question. And that’s why it’s the number one pitch for most pitchers. However when was the last time you saw Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux throwing 98? You never did. They were pitchers who could pitch. They threw the right pitches at the right time and located them perfectly.

Am I comparing Jair Jurrjens to future hall of fame pitchers? No. But I am however going to compare their styles of pitching. Velocity is down this year for Jurrjens. He’s throwing the ball in the low 90’s on a good day. He can’t blow that ball past big league hitters. If he leaves his fast ball up in the zone it’s going to land on top of someone’s car in the parking lot. He also has a change up and a slider that almost appears to be a “slurve” type pitch. Jurrjens relies on movement and location just like the two pitchers mentioned above. So can Jurrjens regain his composure and experience success at the big league level? Absolutely.

Jurrjens needs to get back to the basics. He needs to pitch to contact and not try and strike guys out. Pitching to contact will allow him to keep his pitch count down and go deeper into games which is exactly the kind of starter the Braves need right now. Would you rather have a guy on the mound who goes 5 innings throwing 98 or a guy who throws 90 and can get through 7 or 8 innings on a regular basis?

In tune with the pitching to contact Jurrjens needs to get more ground balls. When he first came up in the Majors he was getting a very high percentage of ground ball outs. However as the years have passed his ground ball to fly ball ratio has flip flopped. Up until getting sent to the Minors Jurrjens was getting about 60% of his outs via the fly ball, which was creating some issues. When the ball is continuously hit in the air there is a constant threat of home runs and extra base hits. When a pitcher keeps the ball on the ground he forces the opposing team to string several hits together just to push across a single run not to mention the ground ball can be a pitchers best friend as it creates the vast majority of double plays.

In 2009 Jurrjens went 14-10 with a 2.60era. In 2011 despite missing time at the end of the season he still managed to post a 13-6 record with a 2.96era. He has shown flashes of brilliance. Yes that’s a small sample size but it still can’t be completely over looked. The other thing to consider is that you need 5 guys to complete your rotation.

Currently Mike Minor is 2-2 with a 5.97era which isn’t exactly stellar and Randall Delgado is 2-2 with a 5.14era which again isn’t exactly top notch. No two starts isn’t enough to prove Jurrjens worthy of returning to the majors but you have to believe he’s well on his way, especially if the two above mentioned starters continue to struggle.

Jurrjens needs to trust his body and his instincts. He needs to locate his fast ball and chose his pitches wisely. He needs to get more ground balls in comparison to fly balls. If he can do these things then I suspect he’ll be a very good starter for the Braves as the summer months loom.

By: Bob McVinua

JJ Heads To AAA

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

 

Pitching Rich or Digging For Gold?

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

 

 

 

4 Aces Make A Full Deck, Right?

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

 

Aces Are Wild

No were not talking about poker. Were talking about the Atlanta Braves starting rotation. Which right now some people are starting to doubt. Personally I may take their side in this debate, as the offense appears to be showing some signs of life and the bullpen is very solid. Yes the offense was shut down by Matt Cain last night, but over all they have been showing signs of improvement. Uggla and Freeman have been hitting the ball extremely well and we’ll let McCann get readjusted to being back in the starting line, then we can make a final judgement call.

For the first half of the season the starting rotation carried this team. They were arguably the best rotation in all of baseball, lead by ace pitcher Jair Jurrjens. I am a firm believer that every team needs an ace. And by ace I don’t necessarily mean a top 5 pitcher in all of baseball. Obviously there are only so many “great” pitchers available for the taking. When I use the word ace, I am referring to a clear cut #1 starter in your rotation. Not 2 or 3 guys that are decent and could probably pitch in a big game down the stretch. Probably won’t get it done come playoff time. By the end of Sept, if not before you need to have all of your roles established. This includes having your #1 starter defined. You only get one shot at playing game 1 in each series. The ever so crucial game 1 dictates the out come quite often. It’s your first chance to jump out in front of the opposing team and make a statement. It’s a game you want your ace on the mound for. Well what if you don’t have a clear cut ace? Well I firmly believe that this leads to confusion and hesitant decision making when determining your rotation in October. You can’t afford to have a wait and see type attitude. Or a “play it by ear” approach.

So that leads me to my next question. Do the Braves have a clear cut ace? The kind of pitcher who can stop a losing streak or take the mound in game 1 of the World Series? If this Braves team lives up to it’s potential, the potential that we all see in this team then they will be forced to put a guy out there in either game 1 of the NLCS or possilby game 1 of the World Series. Who should they turn to?

If we had asked ourselves this same question just 30 days prior to this we would have come to an immediate conclusion. Jair Jurrjens is our ace. He’s the guy we want on the mound come October. With an outstanding ERA of just 1.89 at the All Star break I don’t think anyone would have argued or even debated the fact that Jurrjens was the best pitcher on this staff. Now, do we still feel the same way? I’m not so sure. I’m not one to jump on and off band wagons but to be quite honest Jurrjens doesn’t look like the same pitcher. It’s not just that he’s not getting the same types of results but it appears that his confidence his way down. He’s not his spots and he’s just not able to get big outs in crucial situations. He looks like a completely different guy in the second half of the season.

Jurrjens as I’ve mentioned in prior articles is not a guy who likes to pitch hurt. He likes to be healthy when he takes the mound, he needs to be healthy to make good things happen. We’ve seen the difference between a healthy Jurrjens and an injury plagued Jurrjens. They are as different as night and day. It’s not easy to play hurt, I’m not saying it is. But when you think of some of the game’s best pitchers, they are willing to go out there and lay it all on the line. Is Jurrjens willing to do that? Is he a big game pitcher? I’m not sold on this idea.

In the second half of the season Jurrjens has seen his ERA jump from 1.87 all the way up to 2.84. I’m not saying 2.84 is a horrible ERA, just like I’m not saying his 12-5 record isn’t respectable. None of those statements would be accurate. He has a very strong record and a solid ERA. The only thing I’m pointing out is the massive jump up. His ERA is up almost a full run since the All Star break and he’s only made 5 starts. Not to mention if he hadn’t had a stellar outing against Pittsburgh on the 27th of July where he went 7 strong innings only allowing 1 earned run, his ERA would really be in the gutter. That was his only decent start since the All Star break.

This article is not intended to bash Jair Jurrjens. That’s not my intention, in fact Jurrjens is probably one of my favorite players on this Braves team. I think he wants to win badly, he wants to be that ace pitcher. He’s very young and has great stuff. The future could still be very bright for Mr. Jurrjens. My job as a writer is to pose questions. And this is my question to you. Could Tim Hudson be the ace of this staff as we head down the stretch run? Because I think he can.

Hudson is 4-1 in his 7 starts since the All Star break. He’s gone at least 7 innings in all of those starts and his ERA has dropped from 3.44 down to 3.13. To be a premier pitcher in this league I believe you need to have an ERA of under 3.00. That to me shows dominance and Hudson is nearing that level right now.

Let’s put it this way. His worst start since the All Star break was against the Pirates. He went 7.0 innings. Gave up 5 hits and allowed 3 runs. He got tagged for the loss  in that game, his only loss since the break. If that’s your worst start of the 2nd half then you should be pretty proud of yourself Tim Hudson.

The Braves as a team are 5-2 in the starts Hudson has made in the 2nd half. The 2 starts that Hudson wasn’t able to win, the Braves lost those games 3-2 and 3-1 respectively. Not exactly the best run support for Hudson but he still managed to keep them in the game. Hudson also has a fair amount of playoff experience. He’s been to the playoffs 4 times with Oakland and 3 times with Atlanta. He’s appeared in 10 playoff games and has made 9 post season starts. He holds a 1-3 career record with a respectable 3.46era. Now I will admit that Hudson has never pitched past the Divisional Round. So I can’t say he’s a sure bet on the mound in Game 1 of the World Series but some experience is there. Jurrjens, who I know is 11 years younger then Hudson has never pitched under the bright lights of October. He was absent during last years playoff series against the Giants. Hudson however was present during last years battle with the Giants and pitched a stellar game for Atlanta. He went 7 full innings allowing just 1 earned run. If you remember he was the game 3 pitcher who was locked in that duel with Sanchez and was not helped in any way by Brooks Conrad’s lack of fielding ability.

I’m not trying to be a band wagon jumper. I’m not jumping on Hudson because he’s the “hot” pitcher right now. I can however see Tim Hudson being the game 1 starter in the playoffs. I think Fredi likes his experience and right now he is the best pitcher we have. If you were to choose one Braves pitcher to take the mound in a game that decided the fate of this planet, wouldn’t you pick Tim Hudson? I know I would.

By: Bob McVinua