Tagged: Wildcard

No Need To Panic.. Or Is There?

It’s Friday May 11th and baseball season is just slightly over a month old. So how could anyone possibly be getting concerned about their teams this early on? Well in most cases there’s little reason to panic this early in the season, however these 5 teams jump out at me for the most cause of concern.

These were all teams that were picked by many to make the postseason. Other teams on the list were facing some question marks going into Opening Day. Some of you may disagree with the list and as always I encourage you to send me your feedback and opinions on everything that I write.

So without further delay here is my list of the top 5 most concerning teams at this moment:

1) Boston Red Sox:

I don’t see this one being heavily debated so I thought it’d be a clear cut number one. A few things concern me with Boston. They currently 12-19 with a 4-11 home record. If you can’t win at home then it’s very difficult to try and win the majority of your road games. Generally playoff caliber teams play well at home so the Red Sox being 7 games under .500 at Fenway Park this year sets off a red flag for me.

Another issue that can’t be ignored is the pitching staff. They are currently 29th in the majors in ERA, the only team worse in the pitching department is the Minnesota Twins. They are also 4th in the majors in walks allowed so they are clearly giving away far too many free passes. Walks always have a way of turning into runs.

Bobby Valentine is a question mark at the manage position. Some questioned the hire from day one. I personally am a fan of Bobby Valentine but I have feeling that he is overwhelmed by this slow of a start. When you take over a team that’s as talented on paper as the Boston Red Sox are you don’t think you’re going to have to fight tooth and nail each night to get a win. But that’s exactly what thye are having to do.

The Red Sox are 4th in the majors in runs scored so the overall team offense has been clicking. Scoring runs isn’t an issue if you rank in the top 5 in all of major league baseball, so that can’t be used as a complaint. The pitching has been terrible. A staff that includes Beckett and Lester should be performing a lot better then this.

The positive side for the Red Sox like all of these teams is that it’s still early. We aren’t even a quarter of the way through the season and we still have a long summer a head of us. Boston sits 7.5 games out in the A.L East going into today. To me 10.0 games is a threshold at this point in the season. You do not want to fall more then 10 games off the pace this early on especially in a VERY tough division such as this one.

2) Milwaukee Brewers:

This team to me has red flags souring sky high right now. They are currently sitting on a 13-18 record which is good for last place in the N.L Central. They are 7.0 games out of 1st place behind the red hot St. Louis Cardinals who are playing terrific baseball thus far. When I look at the Central Division I see 2 clear cut competitors for the Brewer’s crown. Those teams being the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. I don’t see the Cubs, Astros or Pirates being competitive for the entire season nor do I see them finishing ahead of the Brewers. However a 3rd place finish in the Central Division won’t do the Brewers very much good. The N.L despite having the extra Wild Card spot this year will be extremely competitive.

So let’s dive into the issues that the Brewers are facing right now. I’ve always said that every team needs some type of identity. You need to either pitch well or hit well to be a competitive ball club. If you can’t do either well then you are in a lot of trouble.

When you look at the Brewers right now they are 26th in team ERA and 28th in batting average against. So their pitching staff is getting absolutely hammered. On the other side of the coin their offense ranks 18th in runs, 26th in batting average and 4th in the league for most team strike outs. None of those are very flattering numbers.

This club is clearly missing the presence of Prince Fielder in the middle of that order. The left/right combo he created with Ryan Braun was fa nominal and created fear amongst rival pitching staffs. But without Fielder in the line up the team just isn’t the same. They are going to miss roughly 40 home runs and over 100rbis. That alone can’t be ignored.

Right now this team isn’t hitting well at all and they can’t seem to get anyone out. They need to correct one of these issues to gain an identity and become competitive again. Rickie Weeks is hitting just .164 and Corey Hart is hitting only .231. Getting those two guys would be a big step in the right direction. With the N.L sporting teams like the Cardinals, Reds, Nationals, Braves, Dodgers and Phillies I don’t think this Brewers team will be able to make the playoffs which is a huge step back for this franchise.

3) Los Angeles Angels:

This is my middle of the pack team in terms of “concern level”. They are sitting on a 14-18 record and remain in the seller of the A.L West. Sitting 7.0 games behind the Texas Rangers is not where you want to be in the first 5-6 weeks of the season. However there is hope for Angel’s fans.

We are all WELL aware of the struggles regarding Albert Pujols so I won’t even go there. The only thing I’ll mention about it is that I would suspect that he will rebound. He’s one of the best players to ever play the game and I’m sure it will take time for him to adjust to a new team, a new city and a new field.

It’s more then just one player that’s holding back this Angel’s offense though. This team is ranked 21st in a runs scored, 16th in team batting average and 26th in on base percentage. They are not in the top half of the league in any of those 3 major offensive categories. This team needs to score more runs. I also think they could look to upgrade the team speed as well, they sit 22nd in stolen bases.

The pitching has been some what of a bright spot for this club in the early going. Jared Weaver has already pitched a no hitter and CJ Wilson has been very solid for this team in the early going. They are ranked 12th in team ERA, 9th in batting average against and they are 6th best in walks. I suspect this pitching staff will help get this team back on track once they can find some life in those bats.

One edge that this team has is that over time the Mariners and A’s are likely to fall out of the race as they just can’t score enough runs to compete. Both teams have made early season noise or have shown flashes of being competitive in the past but always manage to fall out of the race by the All-Star break. This means that despite having to deal with the Texas Rangers within their division they should have 2 teams that they can beat up on as the season goes on. This could give them a big advantage over teams in say the A.L East

4) Philadelphia Phillies:

The Phillies were picked by almost everyone to win the N.L East during Spring Training. In my opinion the N.L East has become one of the strongest divisions in baseball when you look at a body of work from top to bottom. I cut the Phillies a little bit of slack here by giving them the #4 spot on this list but they have two factors in their favor. They are only 5.5 games behind the Nationals and they have been missing their two best offensive players for the entire season. If you take out any teams top two offensive threats their offense will sputter it’s just unavoidable.

As the Phillies sit 19th in runs scored, what surprises me is that they are 15th in team ERA as the pitching is supposed to be the heart and soul of this club. Granted they have been missing Cliff Lee for spurts this season but Halladay and Hamels are still in there and I think they should be better then middle of the pack in terms of ERA.

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will come back. The question surrounding them is when will they come back and when they do how affective will they be? Until those two questions are finally answered we wont know how good this team is. That’s just being fair and that’s what I go for as I write these articles.

My concern for this Philadelphia team is that the division appears to be much stronger then any of us initially thought. The Nationals are sporting one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball which allows them to possibly beat Philadelphia at their own game and the Braves are in the top 5 in runs scored which could pose a threat to any of the pitching staffs in the division.The Mets and Marlins also appear to be competitive as well, if they stay around the .500 mark for the entire season then there is going to be NO freebies down the stretch in this division.

We don’t know what Philly has to offer us yet. So that’s why I have them in the 4th spot.

5th Arizona Diamondbacks:

Call me crazy. A lot of people do. But of my top 5 teams that spark my concern this is the club that I have the least concern about. This is a very talented club that has had to deal with the struggles of Justin Upton who they naturally look towards to lead the offense. However I still believe it’s the pitching that will take this club to the postseason if they are meant to get there.

Ian Kennedy 3-2 with a 3.91era

Trevor Cahill 2-3 with a 3.26era

Joe Saunders 2-2 with a 2.50era

Wade Miley 3-1 with a 2.76era

All of those starters are solid. Every night they are going to have a chance to win with this pitching staff. Two issues this staff does face is that they are giving up too many long balls. You must keep the ball in the yard if you’re going to be able to dominate the opposing line up. You make it far too easy for the other team to beat you when on 1 swing of the bat they can put up a run.

 

 

I believe this staff will settle in nicely and carry this club through the summer months. The Dodgers are red hot and playing well on both sides of the baseball as they have the best hitter and pitcher in the N.L. But let’s keep in mind the cause for true panic is not making the post season at all and I have a feeling this won’t be the case for the D-Backs. I think they’ll have enough talent on the mound to make a run for that 2nd Wild Card spot.

 

 

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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 lossĀ  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

 

What A Difference A Swing Makes

I’m normally not one for doing game recaps as you can probably tell. I figure that you guys get enough of that from ESPN and MLB Network. On the rare occasion that I do a game recap, I like to at least point out some of the less obvious occurrences. Last nights battle between the Braves and Giants felt like a playoff game. It was truly amazing the tension between the two teams who were playing a game in the middle of Aug, not the middle of October.

Games as good as the one we saw last night deserve a closer look to see if we got any information that might give us an indication or two that one team has the edge. On one swing of the bat Freeman altered the Wild Card standings by 2 full games. This goes right back to the point I made in the previous article, head to head games are critical to your success when in a playoff race. At the end of each game the standings will be altered in one way or another, they can never stay the same as in the case of both teams getting a win when they are involved in two different series. When Freeman hit that ball up the middle scoring the game tying and game winning runs he gave the Braves a 5.0 game Wild Card lead. However let’s picture a different scenario. What if that ball had been a line drive to the 2nd basemen? The out is recorded and now the Giants are facing only a 3.0 game deficit in the Wild Card standings. Clutch hitting for Freeman did the Braves a lot of good in more ways then one.

For some of us it seemed as if Hudson just didn’t have his best stuff last night and to be honest I agree. However it wasn’t quite as bad as it appeared. When Hudson took the mound in the 4th inning he must have been feeling pretty good about himself. He had been able to escape some early trouble and had put 3 zero’s on the board to start the game. The 4th inning would not be nearly as kind to Hudson. Let’s break it down.

The 4th inning was where the Giants were able to tie the game without even recording a single hit. Hudson was not able to make them work for their runs, it was more of a hand out if you ask me. Bourn opened the inning with a huge error in center field. That allowed the lead off man to reach base. The difference that made was huge. Instead of one out and no one on, Hudson had a runner on first with no outs and the feeling in the pit of his stomach that he knew Bourn should have made that play and didn’t. Errors get in pitchers heads, I don’t care how good they are. Hudson would show some of that frustration when he proceeded to walk the following batter and then hit the one after that. The Giants would follow with 2 sac fliesĀ  to tie the game. Not a single hit was recorded, yet the Giants were able to tie the game.

To make matters worse for the Braves, they continued to allow the Giants to get quick and easy runs. I’m not dismissing the long ball in any way shape or form. However it’s a quick strike attack that doesn’t require any real work. Compare that to a lead off man drawing a walk. Stealing second. Getting bunted over to 3rd. Then scoring on a sac fly. That’s small ball, that’s what I mean by “working” for a run. We didn’t make the Giants do that. They used our own weapon against us. They had home runs by Schierholtz and Fontenot that provided them with a 4-2 lead. All 4 runs were not hard to come by.

The other big story was the Braves being able to get runs off Brian Wilson. This isn’t the first time that the Braves had been able to score off Wilson. It was Nate McLouth who drove in a pair of runs against Wilson earlier in the year when the Braves traveled out west. In the post season last year Alex Gonzalez hammered an RBI double off of Wilson. It’s quite apparent that the Braves do not “fear the beard”. Which to me says that the Braves have taken away one of the Giants biggest strengths. If I’m aware of what the Braves have done against Wilson I’m sure he is equally aware and it must be in his head when he takes the mound against Atlanta.

So how did the Braves score 3 runs off one of the best closers in the league? Well Constanza started off the inning with an infield single. Once again the team speed of the Braves came through in a big way. Eric Hinske would follow with a good at bat, as he would draw a walk putting two men on with no outs. Now Wilson started to panic a little bit. You could see it in his face that he almost had a “here we go again” type look on his face. Bourn then laid down the sac bunt and moved the runners up to 2nd and 3rd with only 1 out. I liked this play from Fredi for a few reasons. One, I like having 2 runners in scoring position with only 1 out. Two very capable hitters were following Bourn in the order and I liked that Fredi eliminated the double play possibility and put his team in a position where a base hit could tie the game. Second, Bourn handles the bat very well. There was even a chance that he could beat out the bunt if the ball ended up in the right place on the infield.

Prado would follow with a clutch hit to score 1 run, Lugo had to be held up at 3rd base. Part of me cringed a little bit because with Wilson you need to score when you have the chance, but at the same time I understand that you can’t risk having a man gunned down at the plate either. McCann would draw a walk, showing good patience at the plate. Uggla despite being red hot was unable to drive in the run from 3rd. Freeman who showed great confidence for a rookie had an awesome at bat. If you guys remember he was down 1-2 in the count. Wilson was only a strike away from ending the game. By Freeman working the count full, he allowed himself to get a pitch to hit. Wilson had to throw a strike, as walking in the tying run was not an option. Freeman took that pitch and drove it up the middle for a base hit which ended the game. An outstanding finish to an outstanding game.

Now I have 2 opinions on this game. Why wasn’t Chipper Jones in the line up? This was clearly a big game as you could feel it in the atmosphere, how could he be sitting on the bench? If you remember Chipper was the first and only guy to call out Jason Heyward for not being out on the field when the team needed him most. He said Jason at 80% is better then most guys at 100%. Chipper could have played last night and chose not to. Chipper has been my favorite player since I was 8 years old. I grew up wearing a Chipper Jones jersey to school in Connecticut where there are only Mets and Yankees fans. I love this guy, there is no doubt about it. I think most Braves fans love him, but think about this. If it was anyone else, would you tolerate it? If this was Dan Uggla choosing to not play because he was sore, would that be OK? Or what if it was Prado or Bourn? Does Chipper have the right to sit out whenever he wants? I know he wants another shot to win a ring, that part is obvious but he needs to be on the field more. If this continues then it might have to be his last season, it’s almost not fair to the team.

My second thought on this game is that not one person has mentioned Christhian Martinez. I know your giving me a weird look through your computer screen but what a nice job this guy did in the top of the 9th inning. A lot of people thought that game was over, Wilson was coming in with a 2 run lead there was no way the Braves would come back. Martinez could have pitched a sloppy inning assuming the game was over but he didn’t. He showed heart and went out there and put a zero on the board. If he had given up just 1 run then that game could have been tied and going into extra’s where anything could have happened. I give him a lot of credit for keeping us in the game.

Other Notes: The Braves are now 4-0 against the Giants this year. With a win against them last night the Braves clinched the season series even if they were to lose the next 3 games. Even if they were to win just one of the next 3 games then they would still finish with a 5-2 record against the Giants which isn’t too shabby.

The Braves got away with only using Hudson and Martinez in last nights game. That means none of the big 3 had to pitch last night. A night off for O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel is a very rare thing. This should mean that they will all be fresh and available for tonight’s game. The bullpen might be more readily used tonight as the Braves are throwing rookie Randall Delgado. I say if Delgado can give us 5 solid innings I’ll take it.

By: Bob McVinua