166: CL Asks, “Why 3rd? Why Now?”

CL, basically because there is a small , unique window to try this.

adonisgarcia-e1498177403935.jpg

Adonis Garcia

Adonis Garcia is hurt and is not a long term solution at 3rd

RioRuiz

Rio Ruiz

base. Rio Ruiz started hot then cooled off quite a bit. He doesn’t look to be, as of June 2017, the long term guy there. So there is little risk of blocking someone in the system at 3rd right now.

 

 

MattAdams

Matt Adams

As much as I was a cheerleader for Matt Adams over James Loney, I had no clue he would do this well!  No one did.  I was hoping for 4 or 5 HRs, 10-15 RBIs, and a .260 BA in his first month here.  Instead, in 30 games as a brave, he has 11HRs and 29 RBIs with a .294 BA.  To put that in perspective, in 37 games, FF had 14 HRs (which lead the league when he was injured, and still lead the league for about a week after he was on the DL), 25 RBIs and a .342 BA.  Matt Kemp, in 60 games, has 12 HRs, 35 RBIs, and a .320 BA.

 

I don’t know if hitting coach Kevin Seitzer saw a flaw in his swing or if Matt Adams, having a chance to relax and know he was going to play everyday for two months unless he was flat out terrible, helped his timing and/or confidence, or what…but something has clicked…for a month at least.

 

MattKemp

Matt Kemp

Markakis

Nick Markakis

Braves could trade Nick M and move Kemp to right, and Adams in left, but that would more than likely give us 2 subpar outfielders and a very tired CF’er.

 

 

 

FFreeman

Freddie Freeman

So, with basically nothing to lose, it sounds like F.F. talked the braves into giving him a shot at 3rd.  If he makes an error a night, well, Matt Adams has to be traded. If he can be a league average guy or better (and guys like F.F. try harder and work harder than regular guys, which is why he’s a superstar) and if Matt can settle into being a .270 hitter who could hit 25-30 HR’s a year, drive in 90…then the braves have a much more dangerous lineup from here on out.
Also, that would be one less hole to plug as there are few 3rd basemen out there and, though there are several teams that can/will get the guy you want, if you don’t get someone who’s better than Garcia or Ruiz…then you have to play Garcia and Ruiz.

JonathanLucroy

Jonathan Lucroy

Plus there would be more moola to spend on a catcher like the Rangers Jonathan Lucroy (who, by the by, is going to be 32 next year and only has 4 HRs and 19 RBIs) or the braves will have more prospects to use to get a catching prospect or an ace (or a #2 like Archer that Coppy has a man-crush on) and to perhaps upgrade right field production from Nick M.  (I really like the guy, think he’s very good, but he doesn’t have much pop, and you need some pop from your right fielder if you want to compete with the Nats… and unlike other players, isn’t getting any younger 🙄 )

So much can go wrong, either guy can get hurt and make it a moot point, but a comment I saw about the move made a good point I hadn’t thought of:  if FF is ok at 3rd and Matt hits ok from here to the trading deadline, then the braves will look less like a team that has to trade Matt Adams.  They would still have that option but he won’t be sitting on the bench rotting once F.F. is back.

~ BER ~

#165: So, It Begins Again…

Gil

by Gil ‘N Mechanicsville

With 1/3 of the 2017 season now solidly in the rear-view mirror, it is probably an appropriate time to look at the Braves season, where it is, where its been and where it is likely to end up. For the first two months, a supposed strength of the Brave failed to materialize, that being pitching.  I know, no one thought a staff made up of a pair of AARP prospects and a rookie was going the lead the league in ERA but neither did anyone realistically think they would be this bad.

RADickey

Richard Allen Dickey   age 42

To be fair, R.A. Dicky is about what was expected, some good games, some bad games and some that were rained out.  Bartolo Colon and Julio Teheran however have been horrible. Unless you have a team that can routinely put a couple of touchdowns on the board, there is little hope for a W to be put up, they just have not pitched anywhere near expectations.

Bartolo+Colon+Atlanta+Braves+Photo+Day+Px85fmtaLGDl

Bartolo Colon  age 44

Bartolo may have an excuse that he simply is feeling his age; Julio, for whatever reason, has just not had it. He has developed a habit of giving up gopher balls at an alarming rate. It is as if he has caught what ever contagion afflicting the since-demoted Arron Blair and Matt Wisler and served up baseballs like they were on a Tee. Opposing hitters have fattened up their batting averages to an alarming degree when facing Braves’ pitchers.

JaimeGarciaAtlantaBravesPhotoDayTgyo2L19499l

Jaime Garcia age 30

We’ve gotten some decent pitching from Jaime Garcia, a new and unexpected addition to the lineup.  With a new addition to the DL, some of the new Minor League pitchers will be making their appearances in the Big Show.

The first will be Sean Newcomb who was acquired from the Angels as part of the deal which sent Andrelton Simmons to the left coast. Sean is a big left-hander who, like most young fire-balling hurlers, has had his troubles maintaining consistency with the strike zone. Perhaps he will get lucky and have an ump with a wide zone behind the dish when he is pitching.

         Kris Medlin                 age 31

If he can stay healthy, old favorite Kris Medlen looks to be on a path which should return him to the big leagues by July. Kris continues to build arm and shoulder strength after two Tommy John surgeries and a shoulder repair. He has altered his mechanics so as to lessen the stress on his shoulder. The rest of the young phenoms toiling away in high A and double A will likely not show up in an Atlanta uniform until the 2018 and 2019 seasons and beyond.

Freddie Freeman
age 27

Matt Adams
age 28

As far as offense, the injury to Freddie Freeman’s wrist was an awful set back to the hopes and dreams of the 2017 Braves. While the Braves front office pulled off quite a coup in dealing for Matt Adams, he is still not Freddie Freeman. Upon Freeman’s return in August, the Braves will determine how best to use Adams’ considerable talent.

Dansby Swanson
age 23

Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments could be the shaky play of rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson. Oh well, he will get past it. He perhaps is simply the victim of too high expectations after a fast start last September. It is a lot of pressure to put on a rookie to be the face of the franchise, just ask Jeff Francoeur. The current offense has shown glimpses of solid play and impressive offense but for now, we best just watch as this team goes thru its growing pains.

#164: Fodder for Food.. or maybe just fodder…

 

by Vox O’Reason

 

 

This team is really, really hard to figure out. I still believe they are a team capable of a .500 season except they aren’t playing like it consistently… and I think that’s the key. So why aren’t they?

This is my amateur assessment after the Braves fell to 11-18, almost 1/4 way into the season:

One, I never make any wholesale judgments on any team until Memorial Day… never. Just too many weather-related outcomes and uneven schedules this early in the year. Heck, it seems as if the Braves have played half their games vs. the Mets. That said, you can make some targeted observations.

Two, the Braves veteran starters, brought in for the sole purpose of providing innings and stability, have provided neither innings nor stability. The bullpen has already been overused and we’re only in the first week of May. Is it because we’ve played multiple series against both NYM and WAS, the top 2 HR hitting teams in the league? Or maybe they are the top 2 HR hitting teams because they’ve played multiple series against the Braves..? Doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that the starting pitching has been too inconsistent, and that includes Julio and Folty. Something has to give, and soon. No offense perform consistently when they are constantly trying to dig out of a hole every stinking night. So how do you get the starters on track? I suppose if I knew that, I’d be employed by a MLB team somewhere.

Three, the bullpen, which can have its bad moments, actually has turned in some pretty good outings. Heck, yesterday they gave us 7 innings of 1 hit ball until the fateful 14th. But when you have to trot a guy out there 3 nights in a row, you have

Collmenter

to expect trouble. Also, if you take away just Wisler’s stats alone, the overall numbers improve dramatically. JimmyJohn, Viz, JoRam have all been dominant at times. Sam Freeman thus far has been effective. But when you expose Motte, Kroll and EOF too often, you’re gonna get burned. And you never know if you’re gonna get the good Collmenter or the bad Collmenter. Ever. The inconsistency of our starters has overexposed the pen. Period. Improve the rotation and you automatically improve the bullpen. That part is simple.

Four, as I mentioned earlier, if you stop giving up an early lead every game, the offense can work more effectively. When I look at the lineup, it’s absolutely a lineup capable of pushing a team to a .500 record or better. Thanks to Adonis’ late revival, the top of the lineup is actually pretty good. Our catching tandem even leads the league in OBP at the position. No comments are needed for Dansby. Our eyes all work perfectly. I’ll only add my agreement with Gil that the kid is getting no help from the umps. That called strike 3 he took in the 11th inning yesterday was shoulder high. That’s just salt in the gaping wound. Heck, it made me feel uncomfortable and I’m not feeling his pressure. Overall, these guys are capable. They’re just being betrayed by the pitching.

Five, the bench is still not constructed well. Lane Adams has been a good addition, and Jace has been better than expected. Whichever of our catching tandem is not starting has respectively held his own as a PH. But here’s where it drops off the cliff. We’re already

Bonifacio

running a short bench, and we’ve got Emilio Bonifacio still taking up a spot. Why? He’s not contributing anything. Might as well add a 9th reliever. (If I’m in charge, he’s released immediately and Johan Camargo is added.) The absence of a good bench is exemplified by our 1-3 record in extra innings? Heck, we were forced to PH Julio in yesterday’s tilt. What greater example needs be shown? If you’re gonna run a short bench, you better make darn sure the 4 guys you have are of ML quality. I only count 3 on our bench. That’s a huge problem. We had the potential winning run on 3B in the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings yesterday, but nobody could drive them in. Good teams have a guy that can come off the bench and get it done at least once out of 3 times. We don’t.

Six, the manager is still the same guy that was a breath of fresh air in 2016. I don’t think he is a factor here. You could have Sparky Anderson in the dugout with this team and they still would have us all pulling our collective hair out. It’s simply not possible to put a puzzle together when you don’t have all the pieces.

Finally, you add all that up and you get 11-18. Want to get back to .500? Find more quality starts from the rotation and find a real bench replacement for Boni. They might not contend for a WC, but they sure as heck won’t be as frustrating as this current group.

 

 

#163: Warm Weather & The Braves Heat Up

Gil
Mechanicsville, VA

 

After a pretty ragged start to the season which saw the Braves boot the ball around like they were auditioning for a spot with the Atlanta United FC. Needless to say, no one secured a spot on the football club for fear of a rash of own goals occurring. While the Braves were in most of their early games, unforced errors led to a 1-6 record.

 

Along with a split of a two game set in Miami, the Braves returned to the Atlanta suburbs and their new home of Sun Trust Park. Warm weather and timely hitting as well as fundamentally sound defense the Los Bravos have chopped their way to a modest 5 game win streak. Perhaps most encouragingly it has been done in the absence of Matt Kemp while he rested a cranky hamstring.

The braves still face a pretty tough road as they continue to seek answers at several key positions. Adonis Garcia continues to man the third base position and it is likely he will be one of the first to be jettisoned when a suitable alternative is procured. Perhaps his best role would be as a right handed pinch hitter off the bench but after having future hall of fame player Chipper Jones play there, the drop off is noticeable. Even Martin Prado was solid as a super sub manning the position.

 

The Braves bullpen has found the sweet spot too with Rameirez, Vizcaino and Johnson closing games but these guys cannot pitch every night. It would be nice to see Braves starters going deep into games instead of coming out after 5 or 6 innings.

 

Ramirez, Viscaino, Johnson

Ian Krol still seems to have some problems being consistent in the strike zone and causes me to have some angst when his number is called to come in from the bull pen.What we don’t want to see is Snit fall in love with the same three guys every night to the point they lose their effectiveness or their arms fall off by August.

So, as the gNats blow into town, the first real test of the young season might well be upon us. Swatting the gNats could go a long way in showing this team and baseball they are pretty far along on the road to respectability.

162: New Season, New Faces

Gil

by Gil ‘N Mechanicsville

One of the great things about spring training is all the new faces we see and read about as management attempts to put together a product which will be able to win ball games and possibly be the best of the thirty major league teams.

Sure, we know about the regulars, Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte.

2017

It is not as if we don’t want to know about the stars, we do want to know they are healthy and are in great shape as well as if their bat is slowing down or have lost a step. It is reassuring to know all is well with the core of the team. After all, we have seen the rug pulled out from under the team on several occasions in the interest of getting better.

It is the new guys that create the most interest for me. Funny how there always seems to be a name or two we have hardly ever heard of who suddenly arrives on the scene to create a buzz.

2017b

Acuna – Albies – Newcomb

We were all exposed to the exploits Ronald Acuna this winter. The suddenly not so secret ‘secret weapon’ signed as an international free agent. We have followed with interest several of the prospects acquired thru trades as well as in free agent drafts, Names like Mataio and Albies and Newcomb who some folks believe should already be logging major league time. For some reason, they have a difficult time grasping the fact that few prospects ever reach the major leagues. Even fewer live up to the hype promoted by various front office types who try to gin up the interest in their respective clubs.

dansby

Dansby Swanson

This season we are looking forward to watching possible rookie of the year Dansby Swanson. To date, he has not disappointed. Maybe not the best at any one skill but a heck of a five tool guy who is really good at just about everything he does.

The brandonphillipsaddition of Brandon Phillips to man the second base position was a real positive move on John Cappelletti’s part. BP may not be the player he once was but he is no slouch and is an improvement over Jace Peterson as the Braves await the arrival of Ozzie Albies on the scene. Not to disrespect Jace but he will be much more valuable to the team as a super sub than he is as a regular. He has delivered on more than one occasion but he has also had long stretches of failure to make consistent contact.

This season, unlike the last two years, the lineup is pretty well set. Three of the four infield

rioruiz

Ruiz

positions will be manned by All-Star calibre players. Third base has 32 year old Adonis Garcia penciled in to start but several names have popped up as

johancarmarga

Johan

possible challengers to man the hot corner. Rio Ruiz has long been touted as a candidate but of late Johan Carmargo’s name has been mentioned. The unexpected loss of Sean Rodriguez following an off season traffic accident did yield Brandon Phillips for at least part of the year and has altered the expected plans to platoon Jace Peterson and Adonis.

 

Even so, it is still very early and there is no telling who might suddenly appear on the scene either via trade or promotion. I just would not assume or take for granted anything if I were listed on the Braves 2017 roster.

gil2

161:Countdown to Spring

Gil

by Gil Elliott

chsbrownst2

In just about a month, baseball’s spring training begins. More than the return of the swallows to Capistrano or the first Robin appearing at your feeders, it is the true harbinger of the return of warm weather and the renewal of life in North America. No longer will we have to rely on reports from the far flung reaches of the world to stay abreast of the Braves hopefuls nor need translations from Spanish to English the progress of players in various winter leagues.

Spring ballpark errors.

We will again be able to watch some meaningful baseball with the World Baseball Classic scheduled to make its return this year. We will also hold our collective breaths as we hope and pray none of our players are injured in what is essentially a glorified exhibition series. The WBC is a step above spring training games where there will not be anyone getting in their cardio by running the outfield during the game.

EPSON MFP image

charlie-brown-the-rosterSo, we anxiously await the arrival of pitchers and catchers and shortly thereafter the rest of the more than 200 players who will participate in the Braves organization when they return to Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Most of the this season’s major league roster is already set but there are always question marks. The Braves’ outfield is set other than the fourth outfielder as well as most of the infield but last minute trades or heaven forbid, injuries.

chsbrownpitcher

Second and third base still appear the slots most likely to be the ones targeted for upgrades. The anticipated arrival of yet another Curacao product, Ozzie Albies, is eagerly awaited by the denizens of Braves’ Country who have followed the young phenom for years. The signing of three veteran pitchers to anchor the starting staff signals that the Braves want their bevy of young pitching prospects to develop in a less stressful environment.

chsbrownsnoopyatbatSo, let the games begin. I will concede the floor to football as the NFL winds down and March Madness and the NCAA basketball tourney take center stage. They only mean we are that much closer to our true passion and meaningful baseball returns.

However, we do reserve the right to interrupt the other lesser sports should Coppy & Co make additional moves!

gil2

#160: Comers and Goers

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil ‘N Mechanicsville
December 8, 2016

The 2016 Winter meetings have come to a close and the big trades appear to be Chris Sale to the Red Sox and Adam Eaton to the Nationals. Chapman signing with the Yankees and Andrew McCutchen staying in Pittsburg, at least for now. Other moves have taken place too but I will talk about those later, the main thrust of our interest is still the Braves. So, let’s focus on them.

Bartolo Colon

Bartolo Colon

The Braves had previously signed two free agent pitchers to one year deals. R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. Both are bonafide members of the Geritol set and with the addition of Jamie Garcia, the Bravos have exponentially increase the age and experience in their starting rotation. Dickey, late of the Toronto Blue Jays signed a one year contract with a one year option for 2018. The knuckleballer should still be able to supply innings and the hope is he won’t wear out Tyler Flowers behind the plate. I am reminded of the line attributed to our old favorite Bob Uecker. When he was asked about how he caught Phil Niekro’s knuckleball he replied, “It’s simple, I just wait for it to stop rolling and pick it up.”

Robert Allen Dickey

Robert Allen Dickey

Dickey is 41 years old but it is not like he has to rely upon a 96 mph fastball to get guys out. His bread and butter has always been his ability to make a baseball do things a baseball is not want to do. Now, a knuckleball is not one which translate well to TV in it’s movement. It is however one where it is anyone’s guess where it will be when it gets to the plate. It is not as if a knuckleball is impossible to hit, it is just tough to hit well. As for a batter being able to time the pitch, he still has a decent fastball to keep opposing hitters honest. Don’t be surprise if a pitcher like Josh Collmenter doesn’t pick Dickey’s brain a tries to learn the pitch. It should be interesting when Dickey meets with Braves legend Phil Niekro this spring.

The second off season signing of note is the ageless Bartolo Colon. Another graybeard, Colon, who has outlasted Turner Field in longevity, can still get batters out with a variety of pitches. His “fastball” tops out around 88 mph but it is everything but straight. Movement and location, the two holy grails of the craft have been mastered by a guy who for all appearances is having more fun than any reasonable person should be expected to have. The impression he gives is a guy who is truly comfortable in his ample skin. For sure, he is entertaining and he has a wealth of experience and knowledge he can pass along to the next generation of pitchers in the Braves stable.

Jamie Garcia

Jamie Garcia

The final piece it the Braves’ new look rotation is Jamie Garcia. The lefty is another veteran. He was acquired from the St Louis Cardinals for rookies Chris Ellis, who I profiled in my previous lead. Also included in the trade package was prospect Luke Dykstra and right handed pitcher John Gant. Gant was acquired from the Mets, along with Rod Whalen for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. While Gant had some value, the Braves felt his ceiling was well below much of the talent currently in the pipeline.

Garcia had a bit of a down year in 2016 with the Red Birds but he did pitch over 171 innings last season. John Coppoletta was clearly looking for pitchers who could routinely pitch into the 7th inning as opposed to the 4 and 5 inning efforts put forth by several of the Braves young arms last season. The Braves revolving door should not have to swing quite so frequently in 2017. While fans should not expect the trio of new starters to log many 1 hit shutouts in 2017, they should be expected to deliver many solid quality starts. Perhaps with an improved offense, the Braves pitchers can focus on delivering innings and not worry about who is warming up in the pen and trying to be too fine in their pitches.

For sure, many of the young prospects will have a wide choice of peers from whom to choose as a mentor.

 

gil2

#159: Arizona Farm League Prospects: Update Part II

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil
Mechanicsville, VA

My last update profiled three of the six Braves prospects playing in the Arizona Fall League. This edition will provide some insight to those omitted last week.

Chris Ellis

Chris Ellis

First is right handed pitcher Chris Ellis. Chris is a 24 year old, 6’5″, 205 lbs, who was drafted in the third round (88th overall) by the LAX Angels in 2014. He was part of the return package for Andrelton Simmons which also netted Sean Newcomb and Erick Aybar. Ellis spent the better part of last season as part of the Gwinnett staff pitching after beginning the season in double A Mississippi. His record of 8 wins and 2 losses earned him a promotion to Triple A where he found the sledding a bit tougher. After promotion to the IL, his record sagged a bit to 3-7 with an ERA of 7.04 in 14 games and 62-2/3rds innings.

So far in the AFL, he continues to struggle with the strike zone with 11 walks and 10 strikeouts while giving up 15 hits and 14 runs, 11 earned after only 4 games and 12 innings pitched. Not exactly the kind of numbers one would hope to see from a top tier prospect. Perhaps he is tired, maybe he has an ailment he is not revealing or maybe he is trying to prefect a new pitch but whatever, it does not look good for the young righty from Mississippi. I think he is still growing into his body. Until he is able to command his pitches better, he will remain a prospect and not see the major leagues.

Evan Phillips

Evan Phillips

Next up is Evan Phillips, 6’2″, 215 lbs, a 22 year old right handed reliever who played college ball at UNC-Wilmington, NC. Drafted in the 17th round by the Braves, Phillips is one of those rare gems every scout dreams of and every GM looks brilliant for finding them and then taking them at a low cost low risk high reward situation. Phillips has shined at every stop in his professional career. While he has not put up the eye popping numbers of Jared Miller, a Diamondback prize, he was chosen as the Braves lone representative for the AFL All-star game. So far, he continues to record outs while pitching in a relief role. To date, he has appeared in six games, hurling 7.2 innings with 10 Ks and 5 walks. Aside from his first appearance, he has been solid in relief for the Salt River Rafters. While he has given up three earned runs, he has a .143 BA against so far in the AFL.

Evan is currently listed as the Braves #99 prospect but I suspect that number will rise as he continues to progress in the Braves system. His good work in Arizona will likely earn him an invite to the Braves’ spring training camp with the big boys to continue evaluate his potential against top flight hitters. Phillips works with a three-pitch mix, featuring a fastball in the 91-94 range, touching as high as 96. He also features a hard slider and a hard curve as his third pitch, both in the mid-80s in velocity. The knock on Phillips has been his lack of control but since moving to being used strictly as a reliever, his control has improved. Don’t be surprised to see his name linked in one of the many trade rumors we are likely to hear about this winter.

Kade Scivicque

Kade Scivicque

Lastly, in this trio, is cajun catching prospect Kade Scivicque (pronounced Siv-EEK) 6’0″, 225 lbs.  Kade was acquired from the Detroit Tigers organization in exchange for Erick Aybar at the trade deadline. The 23 year old native of Baton Rouge, LA, was a lightly scouted player out of LSU, taken 340th overall by the Tigers in 2016. He was not highly touted but his coaches all praised his leadership skills. He has been a little slow to develop his offense but has shown flashes of late in getting the bat on the ball. He is considered a “project” and potentially a backup candidate for the major leagues but then, you never know when a guy will finally have the lights turned on and he will “get it”. After the disappointment the Braves experienced with Bethancourt who we all heard was the next Johnny Bench, the Braves could use some over-achievers at the backstop position. I expect he will begin the 2017 season at Pearl Mississippi but if his bat continues to heat up, he could find himself at Triple A a couple of seasons ahead of schedule. He is currently batting a respectable .317 for the Rafters but it is a truly small sample size.

Next time I will preview the current Braves plying their trade in the other winter leagues.

gil2

#158: Arizona Farm League Prospects Update

 

Gil

by Gil in Mechanicsville, VA

The Braves sent their allotment of six players to the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League this month.   The league consist of six teams which are stocked by the 30 major league teams. It was conceived by the major league teams so they would have a way to monitor the progress of their young prospects without them having to leave the country. It also allowed the parent clubs to have tighter control on their prospects playing time as well as their diet and health.

Teams also wanted a winter ball league which would be convenient for both the players and for talent evaluaters. Their games are played in the Spring Training stadiums used by the Giants, Mariners, Padres, Cubs, A’s, Royals, Rangers, D-backs and Rockies. All of these stadiums are within 15 minutes of each other and the climate is conducive to late season baseball.

In all, 180 players are selected to play in the league with each major league holding a position draft to select the players who will play for each team. The players in the Arizona Fall League are good. The 2014 All-Star Game in Minneapolis featured 36 AFL alums. Nearly 60 percent of all AFL players make a Major League roster, with an incredible 212 All-Stars, 12 MVPs, four Cy Young Award Winners, three World Series MVPs, 66 Silver Sluggers, 58 Golden Gloves, and 25 Rookies of the Year.

dustin-allen-petersonFirst up is Dustin Allen Peterson, a 22 year old outfielder who was acquired from the San Diego Padres for outfielder Justin Upton. Peterson is currently playing left field for the Rafters. Drafted in the second round (50th overall) by the Fathers, he hales from Gilbert, Arizona, so he gets to visit his parents this fall.

Currently ranked as the 18th best prospect in a loaded Atlanta farm system, he batted .282 with 88 RBI and an OPS of .774.  Peterson hit 12 home runs but struck out 100 times in 578 plate appearances. While in the Padres farm system, he played 3rd base but the Braves moved him to the outfield after he was traded and in 2016, he started 5 games in center field and 125 games in left. Evidently, the Braves feel his best path to the show is as a right handed power hitter.

He is still a couple of years away from the big leagues and his fortunes will be tied to his ability or inability to make consistent contact with the ball. While the prevailing Sabermetric wisdom is that strike-outs don’t matter, you still need to hit at least .250 if you are going to play in the major leagues. Currently he is batting .308 in 26 at bats with a double, a triple and 4 strikeouts. I know, that is a very small sample size so take away what you will. He has shown some speed on the base paths but he is 6’2″ and 210 pounds. He still has some growing to do.

travis-demeritte

Next is Travis Demeritte, a former Texas farmhand who was the number one pick (30th overall) for the Rangers in 2013. Travis was acquired from Texas in exchange for right-hander Lucas Harrell and lefty reliever Dario Alvarez. Harrell you might remember was signed off the scrap heap by Atlanta and rehabilitated by the Braves. He actually pitched well for the Rangers before breaking down after two games. Sort of reminds me of the used car that lasts until just after the 30 day warranty expires, but I digress. Travis Demeritte does come with a bit of baggage, serving an 80 game suspension in 2015 for testing positive for a banned substance.

Demeritte is projected as a second baseman and has a bit more power than the prototypical second sacker. The Georgia native out of Winder-Barrow High School has shown the ability to put the ball out of the park but says his goal in the AFL is to make more consistent contact and work on plate discipline.

The Braves current number 9 prospect was actually added to the Braves contingent to Arizona after 19 year old Ozzie Albies broke a bone in is elbow on the final game of the season at Mississippi. It’s my belief that Travis profiles more as a third baseman and will likely play that position at double A Mississippi in 2017 as well as 2nd as Albies advances to Gwinnett.

dylan-moore-braves

The last of this year’s crop I will profile in this blog is Dylan Moore, a 24 year old shortstop, a California native who played college ball at the University of Central Florida. Dylan has only progressed to advanced A ball at Carolina until September 8th when he was assigned to Mississippi this season. Originally drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 7th round of the 2015 draft. He is a bit old to still be considered a top prospect but he is still an interesting case. The Braves evidently have seen some potential in him. Currently he is hitting .368 with two home runs for Salt River. He came to the Braves as part of a three way trade with the Florida Marlins which saw Jeff Francoeur moved to the Fish. Officially, he was acquired for “other cash considerations” specifically International slots going to the Rangers.

Dylan is listed as a shortstop and will likely start the 2017 season as the starting SS for Mississippi but he has also logged time at both second and first base. I suspect he will not be a starting shortstop in Atlanta with phenom Dansby Swanson blocking him but you just never know what the future could hold. After all, one of these guys could be converted to catcher…

gil2

#157: And it’s done…. Bring on 2017

 

Gil       Gil in Mechanicsville, VA

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Atlanta Braves

Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The lights have finally been turned off at Turner Field but not before the 2016 Atlanta Braves team put a final exclamation point on their wayward 2016 season. Yes, the Braves lost a total of 93 games this season but it is the trajectory of the team which gives hope for the future.

Perhaps we should take just a bit more stock in spring training games as a precursor as to what can be expected of a team’s fortune for the upcoming season. No, I don’t mean a winning record in the respective Grapefruit and Cactus leagues guarantees a World Series berth but it sure has portended the abysmal seasons for the Braves the last two years.

This year’s version of the team lost game after game in Florida and that same losing attitude prevailed for two months, dooming the team of any chance of having a respectable record. The Braves began the season on a pace to lose 116 games. Of course no one really expected Fredi Gonzalez to win a World Series with the collection of misfits he had been saddle with but the team took on a persona of losing. Everyone expected them to lose so lose they did. Even on TV, this team exuded defeat. They were simply playing out the string and it was only April.

When Fredi was released and Brian Snitker was promoted to take his place, no one really expected a big change, after all, he still had the same bunch of players who were going through the motions. The Braves were still woefully short on pitching, even while trading every retread they had rehabilitated for another young long term minor leaguer. Add the fact that Eric Aybar made fans pine for the since traded Andrelton Simmons with Aybar’s deer in the headlights attitude at both the plate and afield. It made fans wonder what John Coppoletta was smoking when he traded away Simba to the Angles.

But something changed, not all at once but the team played a little harder and with more moxie. Youngsters like Mallex Smith brought a spark and Freddie Freeman snapped out of his funk. Ender Inciarte came back from a stint on the DL and the team started playing teams tough. They were still losing but they were playing better and they were in most games right to the end.

The Braves were still playing mix and match with their starting staff and the bullpen had a shuttle service going between the Ted and Cool Ray. Sixteen different pitchers started games for the Braves this season. The bullpen was a disaster in search of a train wreck.

Matt Kemp2

Matt Kemp

But things slowly but surely began to change. Matt Kemp was acquired from the Padres in exchange for persona non grata, Hector Olivera. No one in baseball really gave the trade much notice. The Padres were reducing their liability by sending Kemp off to the East coast. The saber-metric crowd gave a huge ho-hum to the deal as Kemp was thought to be an overpaid has been. Funny how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. With Kemp in the line-up to protect Freeman, Mr Hugs took off. The entire line up started hitting. The defense was making plays, running into walls, diving for balls, throwing players out at the plate and generally playing like their hair was on fire.

The team started playing like they could not lose. A lot of teams 30 games out of first would just pack it in and make plans for October which did not include baseball but the Braves didn’t. If you did not know the Braves record, you would have thought they were the team playing to be in the play-offs and planned to be in the Fall Classic.

So what do we have to look forward to? The Braves are on the precipice of greatness again. Years when only one spot might be available when spring training begins. Back to the Braves way when one rookie was added to the team to break in slowly to the team loaded with talent. Now talent… Maybe this team is not yet blessed with the same level of talent as some other top tier programs but they do have something else, heart. As it stands now, I can hardly wait for spring training to begin.

gil2

156: The Home Stretch & The Braves Heat Up

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

by Gil ‘N Mechanicsville

So here we are, the final month of the season. A point in the past where we have seen the Braves totally collapse and limp into the postseason. No such worries this year, the Braves lost this season in April with a 5 wins, 18 loss record. May and June were hardly any better going 10-18 and 12-16 respectfully, so yes, it was over early for los Bravos. In fact, until August 31st, the Braves appeared to have a stranglehold on having the first overall pick in the 2017 draft.

All that seems to have turned around though with a good, not great record, but relative to the rest of the season, a very good August. 13-15 for the month is not going to win many championships but considering the state of the Braves pitching staff, it was a pretty spectacular month. Two things seem to have the greatest impact on the turnaround for the home boys in Atlanta: (1) Matt Kemp and (2) resurgence in the young pitchers.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp, no longer the All-star caliber player he was in LA is still head and shoulders above anyone else the Braves have had playing left field in years. He was traded for a guy who was a huge disappointment for all concerned with both the Dodgers and Braves. The Dodgers did at least recover some of their investment but the Braves basically ate about 30MM dollars. A guy who was so toxic, the Padres dropped him before he could get on a plane and fly to San Diego. Of course Olivera will have to console himself with the 62 million dollars he is signed for. A fellow can live pretty well in the Dominican Republic with that kind of scratch.

Matt Kemp was a salary dump for the Padres, plain and simple. All I can say is it must have been a pretty miserable marriage for the offensively challenged Padres to want him off their roster. Kemp showed up in Atlanta about 30 pounds overweight and somewhat out of shape but he has made a big difference for Freddie Freeman in particular and the Braves in general. No longer fleet afoot, he still can drive in runs and has played a decent left field. In the final game with San Diego, he actually laid out for a sinking line drive. He came up just short and the ball rolled to the wall for a triple but hey, up by 7 runs at the time, it was gutsy and I’m sure the effort was not lost on his teammates.

This team might be well out of it but they are not playing like it. The final month of the season is upon us and the Braves can only play the role of spoilers. They will again be playing a majority of NL East rivals. While the Nationals have pretty much wrapped up the division, the Mets and the Marlins are both clawing for a wild card berth. The Braves are playing for a modicum of respect and several are playing for a spot on next season’s roster.

It should be interesting as to who will make up the roster when the Braves take the field in their new ballpark next April. Truthfully, I only see two spots on the roster as being givens: Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson;  everyone else is on the bubble as far as I can tell. It should be an interesting offseason for the Braves.

gil2

#155: Four Down, Two To Go

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil in
Mechanicsville, VA

So, the Non-Waiver trade deadline has come and gone and no big news out of Atlanta. John Coppoletta said while some interest was expressed on players like reliever Jim Johnson and outfielders Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte, no one was willing to meet the Braves’ asking price. Well, I can live with that. Those players will still be available during the hot stove season to teams looking to add pieces. As it was, their was only a small number of teams looking to add pieces for the play-off push and other than Jim Johnson, no one really had a lot of value.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

This week the Braves did make a trade for a player who perhaps is on the downward side of his career in Matt Kemp but a guy who still shows more power than anyone other than perhaps Freddie Freeman. A lot of teams would not have wanted to add a player like Kemp but for Atlanta, he makes tremendous sense. He is a right handed bat who can protect lefty hitting Freddie Freeman and slot nicely between Freddie and Nick Markakis. While his defensive numbers are not that great, he could still play right field in place of Markakis or left. As far as left fielders go, I doubt his defense rates below that of other players who have been regulated to the off field of baseball.

Oliverez

Oliverez

Perhaps the biggest upside is moving the hugely disappointing Hector Olivera off the Braves payroll. While it has been widely rumored that Olivera will be DFAed by San Diego, it is not official and I suspect the Padres would simply allow him to pass through waivers and then play him in Triple A, or not. It’s no longer the Braves’ concern as to where the Cuban-born exile will play. I guess the real question is if any of the talent evaluators who pushed for the acquisition of Olivera are still on the Braves payroll or can their opinions be trusted?

So, back to what we can look forward to short term. The Braves hope that the addition of Kemp will increase the run production against the lefthanded pitching have had such a problem with this season. While not of the same talent level of a Cespedes, at least he is a bigger power threat than most everyone else who has played in the Atlanta outfield this season. Tyler Flowers is expected to return soon and also add some power to the line up.

I doubt Mallex Smith will return prior to the September call ups. For now, the Braves biggest problem seems to be who will fill the roster as starting pitchers. Coppy flipped Lucas Harrell to the Rangers so look for Gant to fill his spot as soon as he returns to full health. Perhaps Aaron Blair will return after his stint in Triple A. Even “utility” pitcher, Joel De La Cruz could fill in as a five starter. As it is, I expect the Braves will continue to take their lumps. The schedule is filled with the rest of the NL East rivals in the near future. The Marlins are much improved since we saw the last and both they and the Mets will try to use the Braves as a stepping stone to at least a play-off berth. The Nationals are still the class of the division and August and September is when they have normally played their best baseball.

At least perhaps we are not out of spring training for this team.

Gil2

 

154: Halfway Done & It’s Still Spring Training

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil
Mechanicsville, VA

The Braves have now played 79 official games to date. That is 3 shy of the 82 which would mark the official halfway point of the season. 27 and 52 for a winning percentage of .342 and 20.5 games out of first in the NL East. When the Braves broke camp in April, I do not think anyone had any delusions that the Atlanta club would be in contention for the division title but I also don’t think folks thought the Braves would lose so many games so quickly.

To be fair, the Braves had one of if not the toughest schedule for the first two months of the season. We were told by the folks who were supposed to know that while the team was in full rebuild mode, they would be competitive. I guess they are right in one regard, they are in contention for the number one overall pick in the 2017 MLB amateur draft. It has been brutal to watch this team night after night.

Of the 25 players on the opening day roster, pitchers John Gant, Williams Perez and Eric O’Flaherty are on the DL.

Gant, Perez, O'Flaherty

Gant, Perez, O’Flaherty

MIA:  Jason Grilli and Bud Norris have been traded, Jose Ramirez was demoted to Triple A Gwinnett and Alexi Ogando has been designated for assignment.

MIA

Outfielders Hector Oliveria is on the “suspended and we don’t know what we are going to do with him when he comes back list” and Drew Stubbs was released and is currently on the 60 day DL for a strained left pinky toe. He was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers when the Braves released him after 20 games.  Infielders/utility player Kelly Johnson has been traded to the New York Mets, again, and Gordon Beckham is nearing the end of a stint on the DL for a pulled hamstring.

111

Let us not forget that opening day manager Fredi Gonzalez and bench coach Carlos Tosca were also let go and Rob Smith was replaced by veteran pitcher Buddy Carlyle to manage replay review.

1111

So let’s recap, 7 of 12 pitchers and 4 of 13 position players have are not on the current 25 man roster. That does not account for guys like Jace Peterson spending time in triple A, Mallex Smith playing in place of Ender Inciarte and currently on the DL for a broken left thumb after being hit by a pitch. Adonis Garcia being sent down to learn a new position which he has yet to play, Erik Aybar being on the DL, although he was not missed to be honest and Daniel Castro who has since been up from Gwinnett and sent back down after hitting about a buck fifty.

These are not all of the transactions made by the Braves to date but it gives you a sense of the unsettled nature of the Braves as a team for the first half of the season. Recent moves have been mainly in the pitching staff. Tyrell Jenkins, Joel De La Cruz, Casey Kelly and Mauricio Cabrera coming up. Dario Alvarez being acquired off waivers from the Mets and Aaron Blair and Marks Marksberry going down. There have been over 40 transactions involving Atlanta players going up, down out or in to date. That does not include draft signings. No wonder the Braves got confused as to the availability of Emilio Bonifacio when they tried to bring him up to the majors and ended up playing a man short when they discovered he was not yet eligible.

Like I said, it has been very spring training like as to who will be in the lineup each night and as for starting pitching, the Braves only have two reliable starters with Julio Teheran and Matt Wisler on the roster since the Braves have traded Bud Norris. Mike Foltynewicz was reactivated on June 30th but he is still a work in progress. Most observers still expect Erick Aybar to depart from Atlanta before the end of the season. I would not be surprised to see Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies make their debuts in Atlanta in August.

Still likely to be on the auction block would be Jeff Francoeur, Arodys Vizcaino, Jim Johnson and Nick Markakis. For the right return, even the Braves ace Julio Teheran could be gone for the right return of prospects. If the Braves can make it to September, they can load of their bullpen with arms like the Rockies did a few years ago and let the relievers pitch two innings each game. Uh, just like spring training….

Trade-Dealine-cartoon-by-OTool

 

Gil2

153: Two Down, Four to Go

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil in
Mechanicsville, VA

 

As we head into June, we have seen a slight up tic in Braves win/loss percentage.  Currently, the Bravos are in a head to head race with the Twins for the privilege of having the overall first pick in the 2017 Draft. At this point, I don’t think it will make that much difference in the broad scheme of things as far as the immediate direction the team is headed in. The baseball draft is really all about the future. While I don’t have the answer at my immediate disposal, from observations made over a lifetime, it is my opinion that those players who are drafted and make it to the big leagues often take four years or more before they become truly productive.

The Braves helped speed up the process by trading for so many good prospects last season but they are still a ways away. I suspect the emphasis will continue to be pitching for the Braves because they are just so fragile it seems. Hopefully, the Braves will also find the next David Justice or Jermaine Dye, too.  I hope the Braves have learned their lesson with Cuban players. Sure, guys like Cespedes are out there but so are players like Mike Trout. You just have to be lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.

Perhaps the biggest failing of Frank Wren was the loss of so many seasoned and talented scouts to other organizations. I’m not talking about guys who advanced up the ladder but personnel who took lateral moves.   What we were left with were people who left the cupboard bare of talent.

In any give draft, I think a team is extremely lucky to get two players who actually make it to the big leagues. Not just on the team that drafted them but any big league team. There are so many pitfalls facing players on their way to the Show, the probability of making the right choice is akin to hitting all five numbers plus the powerball number in the lottery.

So, keep watching and praying the Braves hit the lottery this summer. As we watch the progress of kids like Kolby Allard and Austin Riley as they mature, I hope the Braves brass are watching the progress of nearly 2000 other kids who were drafted last season. We know the Braves’ needs, so do twenty-nine other teams in major league baseball. All are looking to pick each other’s pocket but trades should not be about who got the best of the trade but long term it should be how a trade helped each team meet their goal.

MLB.com 2016 Top Prospects

153insert

Gil2

152: One Month Down, Five to Go

Gil

Gil In Mechanicsville

Well, the first month of the 2016 season is behind us and in this year of rebuilding, the Braves have firmly established themselves in their cellar. They say every team has to rebuild at some point, the real trick is to not make it a generational thing like the Pirates did from 1992 to 2014. Everyone knew the Braves would be bad, nobody thought they would be this bad. Of course, the Braves have had a brutal schedule. Other than the Marlins, every team faced so far figured to be in the play-off this year.

EPSON MFP image

Most thought the Braves would fight it out with the Phillies to stay out of the cellar but the Phillies have done better than expected but they have not had as tough a schedule either. That said, they did sweep the Nationals in Washington last week. So far, the Nationals have been the class of the division. The Mets have stumbled a bit out of the gate but they are currently only 1/2 game behind the Nats.

AybarErick

Aybar

The Braves have endured two horrendous losing streaks. The inability to get timely hits coupled with a bullpen that is leakier than the Titanic post iceberg collision. Perhaps most surprising has been a very porous defense. They say every trade should be evaluated long term. That said, Eric Aybar has not made people forget Andrelton Simmons. Until the promising pitchers included in the deal show up, this deal has all the makings of being Len Barkerish on the bad trade scale.

So, what to look forward to? The Braves will begin to rotate some of their promising young pitchers into the rotation. Will that help? Maybe but until they actually find some pitchers who have the ability to hold leads after the sixth inning, they will continue to break the hearts of Atlanta fans everywhere. This is not the first time we have seen poor performance out of the pen, the last time we saw the Braves try secure a bat to make up for the

Schuerholz

Schuerholz

lack of arms in the pen. That resulted with John Schuerholz being demoted upstairs and the Rangers riding the trade to the World Series as they cleaned out all the available talent in the Braves farm system. It was a trade which I think has impeded the Braves ever since.

So, what do we have to look forward to short term?

Incarte

Incarte

Enders Incarte should be back soon.  That should allow Drew Stubbs or Mallex Smith to return to Triple A.  I still believe Albies will make it to the big club this season.  Just as soon as Eric Aybar improves his value and becomes acceptable to some other teams. That and who gets hurt, who stays healthy and who is positioned to make the play-offs.

Now, the biggest surprise might be the trade of Markakis. Not saying it will happen but I would not be surprised if it

Markakis

Markakis

does. Markakis would produce the biggest haul of any player currently on the roster. He has a very affordable contract for a player of his ability and would be a good addition for any team he was added to.

Other possible position player prospects we could see are Dansby Swanson and Rio Ruiz. I think a lot depends on how much the Braves think it would benefit both the club and the players to be promoted. The Braves already know the season is lost. Now it is a matter of how willing they are to bet they can keep their fan base intact for their move to their new stadium in 2017.

 

 

Gil2

#151: A New Beginning

Gil from Mechanicsville Mayor of Stuffville

Gil from Mechanicsville Mayor of Stuffville

by Gil Elliott

Leos staff

Leo’s staff

Long, long ago, in a city far away, there was a baseball franchise that achieved the pinnacle of success. This organization was one of the oldest in baseball with a reputation of being nomadic as well as somewhat mediocric. Oh, there were occasional spurts of success but nothing like what was to become know as an example of excellence which few believe will ever be equalled. Fourteen straight division titles. Of course there are those who will decry the fact only one world championship attained during that streak. However, that is still one more than the Cubs have won in the past one hundred and eight years.

Ted Turner

Ted Turner

This streak was built upon the money of Ted Turner, the idea of it all begins with pitching and the addition of a GM who was a savvy trader who knew how and when to pull the trigger for much needed pieces for each team. Knowing when to let some go and who to keep. That plus an environment which created an incentive for players to actually play for less money than what may have been available elsewhere.

John Schuerholz

John Schuerholz

Even the final season of the streak in 2005 was a Cinderella story nearly as amazing as the first in the worst to first story of 1991. The “baby Braves” with fourteen rookies on a roster to eek out an unbelievable finish resulting in Bobby Cox winning his final Manager of the Year award. But…. end it did. The sale of the Braves which was part of the Ted Turner, AOL, Time Warner merger resulted in Ted Turner losing controlling interest in the team. A corporate mind set permeated the organization and widespread defections began to take place. Stan Kasten, Dayton Moore, and many others signaled a change in the direction of the organization.

Glavine, Cox, Maddux Hall of Fame Induction

Glavine, Cox, Maddux Hall of Fame Induction

John Smoltz Hall of Fame Plaque

John Smoltz Hall of Fame Induction

 

While these changes did not show up immediately, it did begin to affect the overall quality of what had become a solid and substantial farm system which had been the secret of the Braves success. Developing players who could continue to replenish a team in a sport which has a relatively short shelf with players, few whom last more than 10 years after they reach the majors. When corporations take over any entity, they try to change the mindset of the acquired property and look at the bottom line and that is to do more with less and cut corners when possible and then flip the property after taking out the most value they can.

So it was with squeezing out Ted Turner and selling the franchise to Liberty Media by Time Warner/AOL. It was more of the same only worse. It was almost as if the Braves were following the Expos/Nationals model on how to destroy a once great franchise by cutting the farm system budget to the bare minimum and trading away any good player for cash. Almost like Jeffrey Loria on steroids.

Oh, the Braves still had some occasional flashes of success but even those were short lived. The center of power for excellence had shifted north. The Phillies, the Nationals and the Mets have all enjoyed their moment in the sun, all using the old Braves model of building from within. Now the question becomes whether these teams can sustain that success. We have already seen the Phillies fade as quickly as they arose. Burdened with a win-it-now philosophy where they overpaid for many of their stars, it left the cupboard bare.

So, what to expect this season? Sadly for Braves fans, the expectations are closer to a season more closely resembling 2015 than 1991. Of course a lot of Braves fans were still hoping for a miracle finish before the Braves threw in the towel and traded away Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to the Mets. The Braves went into a nosedive from which there was no hope of recovery. Losing 95 games, perhaps not that big of a surprise after fading in 2014 and losing 83, we had essentially the same team which had won the division in 2013 with 96 victories. One has to wonder, did the Braves get worse or did everyone else get better?

Chipper Jones #10

Chipper Jones #10

So many questions, so few real answers but the fix was in. Frank Wren was gone and it seemed anyone who knew him was fired too. Perhaps the lone survivor was Fredi Gonzalez but you do need a scapegoat while you blow up a team and completely rebuild from the ground up. What has been a real positive is the Braves have been acquiring some really good talent. The problem is this talent is still years away from having a significant impact on the fortunes of the team. Prospects are just that: prospects. Remember, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine were not overnight successes. Chipper Jones spent years in the minors before he arrived in 1995. The “Great Eight” became a nucleus for a franchise known for continues success. Keeping some, trading others but the beginning was much different from the end.

I still point to the trade of five prospects for first baseman Mark Teixeira with Texas was the real beginning of the end for the Braves. A trade which propelled the Rangers into the World Series and the Braves into mediocrity. The thing which had kept the Braves relevant was gone. That coupled with a diminished player development doomed the Braves to where they are.

But, a new beginning is now in progress. It will be a tough slog for the Braves with what could be one of the toughest schedules in the first two months of the 2016 season. The flip side is it should reveal the true character of these players. We should also see the arrival of some of the future stars of the game. Guys like Albies and Swanson and Malix Smith and some of the highly-touted young arms. I do not expect a magical season for the Braves this year but I do see a light at the end of the tunnel which looks a little less like an oncoming freight train and more like the actual portal into the light.

Gil2

#150: Plop Plop Fizz Fizz, Oh What Relief Is There?

Gil from Mechanicsville Mayor of Stuffville

Gil from Mechanicsville,

 

Last season, the Braves employed a menagerie of cast offs, retreads and hopefuls to fill the bullpen of a rebuilding organization. Two, Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, performed well enough to help keep the Atlanta club at least within striking distance of first place until mid July. Then disaster stuck with Grilli going down with a torn Achilles tendon. At that point it seemed the Braves lost their heart. Suddenly the bailing wire and duct tape gave out as pitchers lost whatever mojo they had to begin with as the Braves traded away the glue which had held them together.

 

Jason Grilli

Jason Grilli

 

With a paltry offense and a spotty starting staff, the bullpen proved to be more cannon fodder from which opposing teams could feast. So, what do the Braves have to look forward to in 2016? With the pitchers and catchers reporting this week, at least we have some small idea of what to expect. Jason Grilli, ever the optimist, claims to be healthy. We shall have to wait and see if he can hold up to the riggers of the full season. In fact, we might well have to see if he can survive spring training. Having to suddenly go full bore following such a debilitating injury can reveal just how tenuous the human body can be following surgery. It is why we have so many pitchers fail to recover from Tommy John surgery properly. Everyone feels the need to push it often to the peril of the player.

 

 

Jim Johnson is back after an epic late season fail with the Dodgers. While pitching in Atlanta appeared to agree with him, when traded along with Alex Woods for Hector Olivera, Johnson stunk up the joint in Chavez Ravine. Even so, the Braves are hoping that reuniting him with Roger McDowell can again make him the reliable set up man he was the first half of the  2015 season. I have often heard the the mound in LA has a much steeper slope and could be a possible cause of his maladies but  I am really thinking not having Andrelton Simmons manning the six hole behind him. When you are primarily a pitch to contact, ground ball pitcher, you better have a stellar defense behind yo to make it work.

 

Arodys Viscaino

Arodys Viscaino

 

Arodys Vizcaino proved to be a good closer after being re-acquired by the Braves from the Cubs. It appeared that Arodys has finally learned how to find the strike zone with enough consistency to utilize his fastball. While Grilli is penciled in as this coming season’s closer, Vizcaino looks to be ready to assume that role. Of course, the Braves will have to be in more games late for that to be an issue. With so many young starters on the Braves staff, an effective bullpen will be a must if the Braves hope to improve on last season’s 67-95 record.

Chris Withrow

Chris Withrow

 

New comer Chris Withrow is another long term investment made by the Braves. Withrow was acquired from the Dodgers last May following Tommy John surgery in 2013. The 26 year old has the potential to become a reliable set up man in the Braves 2016 bullpen. It will have been about 2 years since his surgery when the season begins so he should now be on the proper time frame to be fully rehabilitated.

 

 

Mike Foltynewicz

Mike Foltynewicz

Mark Foltynewicz could go either way this season, a lot depends on how well he recovers from off season surgery. He has been used as both a starter and a reliever in the past. It is harnessing the control on his 97 mph fast ball and developing a third pitch to allow for him to go through line ups multiple times which could decide his fate. I do find it amazing how many pitchers can throw upper 90s fastballs these days. I has got to be tough to be a hitter in the modern era. That said, Folty is reported to be about two weeks behind so I expect him to start the season in triple A. He won’t stay there long, just long enough to recover from some pretty serious off season surgery.

 

David Carpenter

David Carpenter

 

 

During the off season, the Braves signed David Carpenter and Carlos Torres, aka Super Mario, to minor league contracts. The Braves are hoping they can rehabilitate both pitchers to past glories. We shall see. With so many good young arms now making their way to Atlanta, I expect we will begin to see the arrival of some of the highly touted prospects by mid June.

 

 

Andrew McKirahan

Andrew McKirahan

Paco Rodriguez

Paco Rodriguez

 

 

Some other names which deserve mention are Paco Rodriquez and Andrew McKirahan. One thing to keep in mind, last season the depth just was not there on the farm to cover the rash of injuries. Hopefully, the bullpen will not be the black hole it was last season. For sure, if you are a pitcher who is looking for an opportunity to play in the big leagues, Atlanta should be a top five destination. The word is bring it early and often to show you deserve a job. It’s not like you have a bunch of All-stars blocking your path.

 

It may be ugly early for the Braves but hey, it is a full-on rebuild in progress. At the top of the list is pitching, pitching and pitching. It’s tough to go through it but when you have tried to get by on the cheap for years, it’s not surprising to discover your foundation is riddled with termites. After all, no one really wanted to pay for the exterminator. Why worry about termites when the roof leaks every time it rains?

Gil2

#149: A Call To Arms

by Gil Elliott 'Gil from Mechanicsville'

‘Gil from Mechanicsville’

With Shelby Miller traded away this winter, the Braves are down to only one really proven starter. Of course, I’m sure Shelby has to be happy moving to a team which has a legitimate chance of allowing for him to improve on his won/loss percentages.

JulioTeheran

Projected number one will be Julio Teheran. Julio has experienced steady growth as a hurler since being promoted to the big club some four years ago. He now has three plus pitches although his slider can be a little cranky, especially with an umpire with a strike zone the size of a postage stamp. Hopefully Tyler Flowers reputation as a good pitch framer will pay dividends for the Braves when paired with the young Panamanian.

Matt Wisler

Matt Wisler

The projected number two looks to be young Matt Wisler. Matt would likely be a number four or five on a contending club but with the rebuilding of the team, he will have to take his lumps as he grows into a real big league pitcher. He has shone he has the ability to be stellar at times but young pitchers always experience problems in their early years building consistency.

Bud Norris

Bud Norris

Bud Norris will fill the roll of seasoned veteran for a very young staff, if he proves he still has something left, I expect him to be used in the three slot. Hopefully, pitching coach Roger McDowell can help him return to the form he showed three years ago and not the guy who has been constantly shelled the past two seasons.

The four and five spots will be up for grabs among a bevy of young arms or possible one of the free agents singed to minor league contracts. Either Jhoulys Chacin or Kyle Kendrick who both have major league experience but are coming off down years due to injuries.

Jhoulys Chacin

Jhoulys Chacin

Jhoulys Chacin was released by the Diamond Backs last fall after coming up through the Rockies organization. While he is somewhat of a longshot to make the team out of spring training, he will certainly get an opportunity to make the staff. He has spent the majority of his career in the minor leagues but performed well last fall for the DBacks when given a chance going 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in five appearances, four starts. If not used as a started, he has been effective as a right handed reliever.

Kyle Kendrick

Kyle Kendrick

Kyle Kendrick is another right hander who is trying to make a comeback. He has spent the majority of his career with the Phillies before pitching for the Colorado Rockies last season. Again, the Braves signed him more as cheap insurance than as a sure fire back end of the rotation started. He will have an opportunity to make the team if the Braves feel their young prospects need more time in the minors.

Manny Buanuelos and Mike Foltynewics both had off season surgery
this fall. ManBam had bone chips removed from a troublesome elbow and Foltynewics had a more serious procedure which removed part of a rib which was suspected to be causing blood clots to form. Baseball has become a year round sport as far as conditioning is concerned. We will have to wait and see if there are any lingering effects for either of these two pitchers.

Williams Perez

Williams Perez

While Williams Perez will not be at the top of anyone’s fantasy league picks, he has a chance to make this season’s starting staff. While he did not possess blow them away stuff, he was not exactly horrible either. He will be on the bubble to begin the season with Atlanta but he is still pretty young. He is not blessed with a 97 mph fastball but he does have a good idea of how to pitch. He may only serve as a place holder for some of the Braves more highly touted young arms but he will have as good a chance as anyone to make the team as a number five/ long relief pitcher to begin the season.

I will talk about some of the projected relievers on my next post.

 

Gil2

 

#148: Surprisingly, The Grass Appears Just a Little Bit Greener

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil In Mechanicsville

As we get just a little deeper into the hot stove portion of the season, for some reason I am beginning to feel a little more optimistic about the direction the Braves are taking. Not Worlds Series optimistic mind you but .500 plus season optimistic. After all, the Mets have their very good pitching staff back, the Nationals have a new manager who might well at least get a talented team to perform up to their abilities and a Marlins team which should be better just because they are a better team than they showed last season too.

The Phillies are also on the path to rebuild but they still outplayed the Braves last year even with a very substandard pitching staff. No, the Braves look better even with the loss of a very promising young pitcher named Shelby Miller and possible the best defensive shortstop, nay, best defensive player in all baseball in Andrelton Simmons. The latter whom was worth the price of admission just to see him pull off one amazing play after another. Despite the presence of both of these talented youngsters in the line up, the Braves still managed to lose 96 games last season.

Not that such an inglorious fate could not await the 2016 club, it just feels to me the Braves have turned the corner and they did it in record time. It is a model the Marlins have employed repeatedly in the past but without great success, after all, prospect are just that, not tried and true sure fire super stars but even the superstars sometimes flame out with an ill times oblique strain or wrist strain. Every pitcher on the roster seems destined for a visit to Dr. Andrews for some “twinge” in the elbow or shoulder. Truth is, we just never know. The only answer seems to be so overstocked with players that you just overwhelm the opposition with depth.

Just like last season’s World Series winner. The did not have a team which finished number one in any category, just good enough overall to outplay the opposition when the chip were down. So, why do I feel more confident about 2016? First the returnees:

Freeman1GilFreddie Freeman.  I think we were all a little surprised when Fab 5 Freddie mentioned that he finally felt comfortable with the treatment his was getting and no longer thought surgery would be necessary…. Crikey, surgery? Braves held that little bit of info close to the vest didn’t they? I think we all recognized Freddie was not the same player after the All-Star game but wrist are like toes and should never be trifled with. It is where a player’s “pop” comes from. Freddie saves a lot of off line balls from his infielders from going into the dugout but it is his power bat which makes him a star.

 

AJ Perzinski, the ageless one. Signed last season to serve as mentor and back up to the since departed Christian Bethancourt, he put up some really good offensive numbers as well as handle a very young pitching staff with acumen. The most hated man in baseball sure became beloved in Atlanta. Now A.J. isn’t exactly Jonathan LuCroy but I think he will do just fine sharing time with recently reaquired Tyler Flowers. Anyone else remember reading about his exploits in the Arizona Fall League as reported bu Dave O’Brien? Weird how quickly time can fly.

 

MarkakisOutfielder Nick Markakis, Nick turned in a pretty solid performance last season and hopefully his power will return after having the off season to tone up. It is amazing how quickly one can lose muscle mass from inactivity. Nick still turned in impressive numbers where ever he was placed in the batting order in 2015. Unfortunately power was not one of them. The loss of Freeman and the lack of power by Markakis allowed opposing pitchers to play fast and loose with the Braves batting order.

 

TeheranJulio Teheran. With every game last season, you could see Julio mature as a pitcher. His slider improved greatly and he showed a much greater willingness to challenge hitters inside. Maybe he would not be a number one on a lot of teams but he is growing into the role. I expect a very good season from him in 2016.

 

Aybar

Aybar

Now, new acquisitions: I am torn between two of the newest Braves as having the greatest immediate impact, shortstop Erick Aybar who was part of the package acquired from  LA Angels or outfielder Ender Inciarte, acquired as part of the deal which sent arguably the Braves best pitcher Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Aybar is a very good shortstop, not Andrelton Simmons good but not a bad bridge to the next great Atlanta shortstop Ozhaino Albies or last seasons number one overall draft pick Dansby Swanson. Albies hails form the island of Curacao as have former Braves icons Andruw Jones and since traded Simmons. It should be interesting to see him battle it out with Swanson for the job. We might see Albies this season in June but Swanson is the same age. The difference is the young man from Curacao has come up thru the minors where as Swanson played college ball for Vandebilt. My advice is for you folks who can see either of these young men play in the minors to go while you can still afford the price of admission. It’s going to be quite a bit pricier to see the play when they make it to the big leagues.

Inciarte

Inciarte

As far as the value of Aybar verses Inciarte, I think Aybar will have the greatest immediate impact but Inciarte will have the longer run with the Braves. A superior centerfielder defensively and fast kid who can get on base, he could be a spark plug for the 2016 club. Depending on the progress the Braves make this season, Aybar may complete the season or be flipped at the trading deadline for yet more pitching. A lot depends on how well one of the two wunderkind develop early in the season.

The questions for the Braves afield remain at second, third and left field. Yep, that is a pretty big hole to have questions about. The Braves are hoping they did not make a huge mistake in trading away lefty Alex Woods for Cuban Hector Olivera. The Braves have been watching Olivera with the idea he could fill the need as a third baseman but have decided to try and move him to left field. The Braves know he has power but keeping him healthy might be a problem. Plan B seems to be fellow Cuban Adonis Garcia. Adonis has surprising power but is somewhat suspect when it comes to defense. We will have to wait and see how the hot corner works out for the Braves in 2016.

Flowers

Flowers

Tyler Flowers was signed as a free agent to share the catching duties with AJ Pierzynski this season.  Tyler still possesses some power but he has become very adept at framing pitches. The Braves had become very disenchanted with their future star Christian Bethancourt when he failed to show the maturity of taking on the responsibilities of a major league catcher and work  and prepare for every game. Catching was never really considered an offensive position so he could have been forgiven for hitting less that .250 but defensively he was a nightmare. Maybe he will find the answer in the dessert

A couple of other honorable mentions should be free agent signees Gordon Beckham who could platoon with  Jace Peterson at second base or even Emilio Bonifacio if he has anything left in the tank. The Braves are also going to need a back up shortstop so don’t count out seeing Daniel Castro back on the Braves bench.

Okay, enough for this round, We will discuss all the pitching probabilities next time.

………….

In Memoriam

Bobby Dews

Bobby Dews

 

 

#147: Hot Stove or Open Pit?

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil 
Mechanicsville, VA

Going back and reading some of the links posted previously, Coppy is finding Braves fans can be a tough crowd. Amazing how someone could supplant Frank Wren as the villain. No matter how well intentioned, folks get antsy when they feel you are more like Jeff Loria than Dan Dombroski.

Losing seasons are part of baseball but salary dumping is never a crowd pleaser. It’s as if the Braves have lost their focus. Changing from being a sports franchise to becoming a real estate developer. Even the most successful shopping mall has to have a couple of good anchor stores.

Unless you are a NASCAR fan, few people root for the corporate sponsor. Even so, I worked for DuPont for 25 years but never was a Jeff Gordon fan… If the Braves think a new stadium will increase the turnstile flow, they need only look at Pittsburg. Great stadium but until they started winning, most fans came disguised as empty seats.

Our old friend, Skip Caray, oft opined, the best promotion was a winning team. The Braves have to be very careful going forward. They risk alienating a whole generation of Braves fans if they are perceived as tanking. If they thought it was tough getting fans back after the baseball strike in ’93, they will find it doubly tough to comeback after losing 100 games for a few years. Add an increase in ticket prices and you could see a downward spiral from which it might be tough to pull out from.

The Braves endeavor to make Sun Trust Stadium a destination but I suspect a lot of folks can find good food or entertainment without the cover charge of $50 per ticket and having to sit through 3 hours of seeing your home team get clobbered each day. The Dodgers seem to draw quite well despite an ancient ballpark. Same could be said of Fenway. Not saying you don’t have to put money into an old park but when you can sit at home where the beer is colder, the seats are wider, the bathroom has no waiting line, and the view of the field is unobstructed, why bother to fight the traffic?

Gil2

#146: A Dim Light in the Dark

 by Vox O’Reason  –  Northeast Georgia

OK… I tried to give up and check out, because the collective displeasure across all venues about the 2015 Atlanta Braves was becoming almost overwhelming. It’s not in my nature to cater to the dark side of things. I am a “glass half full” guy, and will give the benefit of the doubt to a fault. I know it and I admit it. And I refuse to change it. You see, I am just a sinner saved by grace. A humble and grateful man that looks at things in a unique way, because I have a perspective that looks at things in a unique way. I march to the beat of the proverbial different drummer. And I’ll eagerly crank my guitar up and play loudly right along with him. I am the classic non-conformist… but for good reason. I strongly believe in that reason, and have submitted to being a voice for that reason… so to speak.

So for that reason, I have something to get off my chest. I reached a breaking point yesterday. Don’t misread or ballthruwallmisunderstand me. It’s everywhere, not just here in our little corner of Stuffville. Everywhere. Maybe because my neighbor and fellow fan has already converted all his Braves swag over to Bulldogs and Falcons… maybe because it was a Monday… maybe because everything collectively had gotten too loud for me to tune it out any more. I don’t know.

But yesterday I slipped a groove and went sideways. And in the evening as I was pushing my old lawn mower around on my overgrown yard, exerting and sweating – purging if you will – it kind of hit me. I shall not be swerved. I shall not conform. I shall not be silent. And I will explain why.

lineupbanner

dizzydeanThis is a flippin’ game, folks. It’s a bunch of guys in pajamas playing a game where one team tries to keep another team from hitting a little ball and running around in a big circle back to where they started so that they can go into a clubhouse and hug each other. It’s a kid’s game that grown men get to play. It’s something I did when I was a kid. And when I watch these grown men play it, it still takes me back to that time when the only thing that mattered was if we had enough guys to be able to hit to all fields, or if we had to close off Right Field. Heck, sometimes we didn’t have enough guys to even have enough baserunners. Anyone else remember “imaginary man on first”? We met at the school playground, set out our small squares of cut carpet, and started tossing the ball around to get loose. I always pulled up on my bike with my well worn glove slipped over the handle bar. Carrying my bat on my bike was a little trickier, but it could be done. Half the bats had been cracked, but we just wrapped extra tape on it to keep it together. And when that battered old bat sent that marked up baseball over the fence and into the woods, it was magic. Not Harry Potter magic. It was Ernie Johnson magic. And in my own mind, I could hear Ernie making the home run call as I circled the makeshift bases. I loved playing shortstop more than anything else, even more than hitting. I loved making the plays. I loved fielding the ball and turning quickly to gun it to first. I was Jerry Royster. I just knew that one day I’d be pickin’ them at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. I just knew it. The closest thing we ever had to a fight was if the runner was safe at home or not. And we even managed to work that out without too much difficulty every time. Those were truly the golden days. I miss them. They are long gone.

Now instead of fighting over being safe or out, I have to fight to keep my clients happy or my business will fold. You see, the next vendor for them is just a simple turn of the Rolodex away. I‘m expendable. My ability to keep my creditors off my heels is at the whim and pleasure of someone else. There’s a lot of pressure in that. I have a family that depends on me. This is my adult reality. It’s a very real everyday fight. And the clients hold all the cards. All the cards… and they know it. I have to fight this fight. No choice. It ain’t easy.

My wife teaches in a broken public education system where “No Child Left Behind” means no child gets ahead. They are overcrowded and underfunded. It’s run by bureaucrats that couldn’t teach a fish to swim. The system has given all the power to the kids and stripped the teachers of any authority. The students won’t learn and their parents don’t care, if they’re even in the picture at all. Most of today’s kids are savvy enough to realize that the schools cannot afford to hold them back and must push them along, like cattle in a herd. These kids truly have checked out and don’t care. Yet the teachers’ very livelihood depends on whether or not these kids can perform on standardized testing. It’s no wonder that quality college students are fleeing from education in unprecedented numbers. Where will the next generation of real teachers come from? It ain’t easy.

My oldest kid is trying to figure out who he is and what he wants to do in a world that increasingly punishes accomplishments and rewards apathy. It encourages entitlement and quenches ambition. Most public universities will openly seek to change every moral convention under which he has been raised. And they are proud to do it. He has to hold strong to his convictions and try to navigate in hostile waters. It ain’t easy.

My youngest lives in a world of intense and extreme peer pressure that demands conformity into a socio-group that has no moral compass. If you don’t belong to the right cliques, you are shunned and cast in any number of negative stereotypes. Self-esteem is promoted as more important than discipline and respect, yet the kids themselves do more damage to their own peers’ self-esteem than any educator or administrator ever could. I cannot imagine the pressures that she lives under on a daily basis. And we parents have to walk a balancing act to demand discipline and respect without adding additional pressures. And often we fail because the cards are stacked against us. It ain’t easy.

This next generation of voters and leaders stands and cheers loudly as Kanye West announces, in broken English, at the MTV Music Awards that he is running for president in 2020. These same current voters are giving presidential candidateduh and avowed socialist Bernie Sanders more tread than any American should ever have to imagine. In South Carolina, some character named Deez Nuts is getting 9% of the votes in early polls. This is reality. We’ve reached the tipping point where those who can take have crossed the 50% barrier to those who produce. They know it and are doing everything inside – and outside – the law to keep it that way. And the current “leadership” supports it. It’s crazy.

This “leader” can shape and change this great nation into his own globally submissive vision with “a pen and a phone” and we the sheeple stand by powerless to stop him. Remember when his spokesperson said at his first coronation, er… I mean swearing into office that they were “ready to rule” right away? That wasn’t a slip of the tongue. It was deadly accurate. It’s insanity.

Immoral and evil men can shoot and assassinate innocent sworn officers of the law, and our “leader” remains silent. But our defenders under the rule of law can exercise their lawful authority over law breakers, and our “leader” makes a public statement that empowers radicals to create public uprisings and riots and that encourages more killings of innocent people. And that is supposed to be model “leadership”. It’s worse than insanity; it’s evil.

People are now allowed to “choose” their gender. A man in a dress changes his name and is considered a hero, worthy of Bruce-min1awards and accolades. A prominent American university has announced that the pronouns “he” and “she” are being replaced on their campus because they are considered offensive. Meanwhile, a public school in this very country of ours has taken the labels off their restrooms so as not to force children to have to make that gender choice. And if you dare speak out against it, you are considered to be “hating”, publically vilified, and subject to losing everything you’ve ever worked for. It’s darkness overtaking the light.

Here in the US, a country founded on Christian principals no matter how the “leadership” tries to rewrite history, my fellow believers in Christ and I are losing our rights to practice our faith more and more each day as darkness tries to silence us completely. In the Middle East, they are practicing an open and public jihad to exterminate us. Yet our “leadership’ makes a deal to give them nuclear capability and the funding to accomplish it. All the while, most of America is being indoctrinated to think that Christians are a hate group with the liberal media fueling the fire daily. The bible says that everything will flip, that what is evil will be called good and what is good will be called evil… and it’s happening right before our very eyes. It’s real, and it’s happening all around us. I know and believe that we will be the victors. Darkness cannot prevail as long as light exists, no matter how dim the light gets. But the fight is difficult and bears its own collateral damage. It’s here and it’s real.

So I come back to baseball, and to my team the Atlanta Braves because it is like a warm blanket on a long, cold night. It’s the Baseball_frogone thing I can sink into and temporarily escape this insane and evil world. To me, it just simply takes me back to being a kid, picking teams, lining up and stepping into the batter’s box, where the biggest thing I had to worry about was who was pitching. After all, it’s still just a kid’s game, even if it is adults playing it. It might not be Jerry Royster making the plays anymore, but Andrelton Simmons is just as good. Better, even.

Does it really matter that the Braves got drubbed by the Bronx Bombers in their own home park? Is it really all that serious that half our players, and most of our bullpen, wouldn’t make the 25-man roster in some cities? Does it really have a major impact on our daily grind that Shelby Miller hasn’t won a game in over 100 days? To me is doesn’t. To me, it really doesn’t mean a tiny sliver of a thing in the overall scheme of today’s reality. They can get beat 20-6 and still come back to the park for the next night’s Bulova Time of First Pitch. The only thing that has changed are the numbers in the standings. Maybe a bullpen arm or two. The world still turns.

Skip3On the day that the great Skip Caray passed away, one of the Mets broadcasters noted that during an extended losing streak back in the mid-80’s when the team was annually awful, that Skip once introduced the team at the start of a broadcast with: “Like lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field”. Skip never took the game too seriously, never lost his sense of humor, and never lost his perspective. Neither will I.

My team has warts… big’uns too. And I still love them. Hey, let’s play two!!

ump

# 145: And Now, The Rebuilding Is Official

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil In Mechanicsville

Up until about 6PM CDT Friday night, folks in Braves Country still held out hope the Braves might stage a remarkable turn of events and sneak into the play-offs with an improbable cast of characters. After all, they were only 6 games back in both the division and the second wild card. Stranger things have happened, really… Did anyone really expect the Braves to be this close going into August? Alas, with the exportation of Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to NL East rival Mets, the Braves front office officially signaled to the world that the season is done. Trading two guys who have done much to add some life to a very anemic offense  for yet another pair of pitching prospects pretty much has signaled they are throwing in the towel for 2015.

Now, to be fair, it was not really a surprise for this trade to occur. The pundits and speculators have been signalling for weeks the Braves were in sell mode. The absence of Freddie Freeman from the line up has not helped either. Again, a failure to score runs can lead to a lot of losses, no matter how good your pitching is. To be honest, the Braves defense has had a bit of “Bad News Bears” quality to it. I have seen many times where sharpness with the glove has added a bit of pop to a player’s bat. Giving other teams extra outs, even bad ones, can often lead to long innings, many extra pitches and losses and lots of unearned runs.

So, what now? I expect some other moves to be made soon. Jim Johnson, A.J. Perzinski, Cameron Maybin and others may soon be traded to teams still in the hunt. None figured to be long term fixtures in Atlanta anyway as the rebuild towards their goal of putting a winning team in their spanking new stadium in 2017. For those of us who were spoiled by all the success of the Braves from 1991 to 2005, it is a bitter pill to swallow. Not like it has been unknown to fail in Atlanta, look at the past couple of years.

One thing we have all come to understand is nothing is a given in baseball. Sure, good pitching usually beats good hitting but a player and a team with talent still normally beats one with only desire. So, as the team rebuilds, fans need to look at the current situation as a process. Look for the silver lining as young pitchers hone their craft. Speaking from personal experience, the lessons learned from failure were often more deeply entrenched than those learned from success. Sure, even a blind squirrel will find a nut once in a while but you don’t see too many blind squirrels getting fat.

We will need to look at each player through the eyes of a scout rather than the eyes of a fan. It’s okay to be critical in your view but not to criticize, after all, they are human beings. Some will have the talent to stay, some will not. Let’s be realistic in our expectations. not many Chipper Jones or Greg Madduxs come along. That is why only 1% of all the professional major league players are ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. Let’s look at it as an opportunity to build another great dynasty in Atlanta. It is just tough sometimes watching them make the sausage.

Gil2

144: Half Way Home & The Braves Are Caught In A Rundown…

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

By Gil In Mechanicsville

In a 162 game season, 81 games represents one half of the games necessary to complete the race to the play-offs. Once upon a time, the team in the American League with the best record would face the National League team with the best record and meet in a best of seven series for the title of World Series Champion. Then, the leagues grew and grew. First to two divisions, East & West, for both leagues. This meant games would needed to be added as the two division winners of each league would meet in a best of seven series for the privilege of playing in the World Series.

Then each league expanded again, now there we three division in each league but this meant an odd number of teams would vie for the right to become league champion and meet the opposing league for the opportunity to be the World Champions of Baseball. No problem, there would be one team from each league which would be designated as a Wild Card team. They would be the team with the best record who had not won their division. First it was a best of three, then expanded to a best of five. Now a best of seven. All the while, the season was getting pushed deeper and deeper into the fall.

Not to be deterred by all the hardships generated from playing a sport, clearly designed for summer being played in cities with wind chills in the teens at night on dates normally reserved for football, the major league owners saw an opportunity to add even more revenue by expanding the play-off to include two Wild Card teams. No matter how improbable it might seem, even teams with very so so records had a chance to get into the big dance. Not that they had a serious chance of actually winning, they still had a chance. So, with all the revenue being produced from television rights, the season has now become a marathon with the final month of October and shutter, November, being like the final mile of the 26 mile marathon, only it was uphill and into the wind. A very steep hill and a cold, cold wind….

So, what does the previous three paragraphs have to do with the Braves? Well, by all accounts, the 2015 Braves were going to be one of the worse teams in baseball. Likely to lose at least 90 games and possibly 100 with the midnight trade of Craig Kimbrel to the Padres by John Hart. After all, why would a team going nowhere need a luxury piece like Kimbrel? No use having an All-Star closer when you are only going to win 60 games. So, what is the dilemma? Well, it is a bit of good news, bad news for the Braves at this point. With a team going nowhere, the two Johns would pretty much have a free hand of trading and selling off players. Not like the fans would notice. They would have given up by the end of May. The Nationals, who were stocked to the gills with high priced pitching, would be going to the World Series this year. They would win the division by 25 games and with only token resistance from the Mets, should have things wrapped up by June 1st.

Only problem, the Nats were so busy reading their press clippings, they forgot they still had to play every game on the schedule. Now, to be realistic, the Nationals have played better of late but they are far from unbeatable. The Mets? They have some really good young pitching, good enough to be a Wild Card team and even challenge an under performing Washington for the NL East title. That is except they are struggling to find enough offense on a nightly bases to win consistently. This leads us to the Braves. At the half way point, the Braves are 40-41. One game under .500 and only 1/2 game behind the Mets and 5  behind the Nats. Okay, I know, it’s still a losing season at this point but the loss of Freddie Freeman for the past month has had a lot to do with the Braves’ recent woes offensively.

But, the Braves’ silver lining has begun to show through the clouds of doom and gloom. Pitching…. Despite the hic-ups incurred by Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran, the debuts of Matt Wisler and Manny Benuelos have given Braves’ fans a glimmer of hope for the future. That and the recent hardening of the relief corp has helped to diminish some of the angst felt by everyone in Atlanta when a starter had to come out of a game. Now, by no means are the Braves being mentioned as shoo ins for the play-offs but stranger things have happened. This is what makes this season’s trade deadline a real poser for Hart & Company. Can you really trade away your best catcher and best reliever for a couple of more prospects when you are not yet really out of the conversation?

What kind of message does it send to your team when you ship your spark plug and chief cheerleader, Jonny Gomes, off to another club. Are the Braves really going to trow in the towel when the fight could still be won? I am as realistic as the next guy, I know this year was all about transitions, a revamping of an under performing and underachieving team into a prototypical National League team built on pitching, defense and speed. Perhaps this year’s team was a little too good too quick. It is going to be tough to make choice between being buyers or sellers this year as long as the Braves are hanging tough. Lots of baseball still to be played this year. The Braves may well fade this year late like the last three seasons but I would not count on it. By all rights, the Nats should be winning going away but you never know. Lots of years the Braves were supposed to win it all too and got beat.

So, let’s keep watching and rooting for and enjoying one of the most interesting ball clubs we have seen occupying Turner Field in years. Good pitching, good defense and just enough offense to keep you in the game for the full nine innings. We still have 81 more games to play to prove if the Braves are contenders or pretenders.

143: A Third Of the Way Home And They Are Not Dead Yet.

Gil Mechanicsville, VA    by Gil In Mechanicsville

As this is written, we are at the 65 games played mark for most major league teams, this represents about 40% of the total games for a season. It is at this point that most teams know their strengths and weaknesses. The haves are looking at the have nots and licking their chops for the player or players who can push their team over the top into the play-offs and ultimately The World Series. Surprisingly only a few teams look to be totally out of it. Those being the Phillies, the Rockies and Milwaukee. There are others who currently could be thought as slipping further and further behind even though their records are not that bad such as the Reds, the White Sox, Oakland and Seattle. the last two were on many pundits’ short list of being a World Series contender given their histories and improvements made to their rosters.

So much for predicting outcomes base on histories. I guess that is why they force teams to play the games between the lines because as they say, you never know… That brings us to this years version of the Braves. predicted by many to be far and away one of the worse teams in all of baseball for 2015 primarily because they had made an massive off season salary dump with such stars as Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Evan Gattis. Most people predicted the Braves would lose 90 games this season and would be battling the Fightn’ Phils to stay out of last place in the NL East. Well, at last glance the Braves are still hovering around .500 and st only 4.5 games behind the Amazins’ are actually therorictly still in it. How could this be so? after all, they not only traded three of their best hitters, they also traded away the best closer in baseball in order to get out from under the pall of doom also known as Melvin Upton Jr., the baseball player formerly known as B.J.

So what happened? Turned out Cameron Maybin has become the All-star player many thought he would be. Only took him six years, who knew. Maybin came to the Breves as part of the Craig Kimbrel/Melvin Upton for pitching prospect Matt Wisler, minor league outfielder Jordan Paroubeck, outfielder Carlos Quentin, plus the the 41st overall pick for 2015. So, not only did the Braves get a decent outfielder to replace Upton, they got a stellar pitching prospect who likely will see time with Atlanta at some point this season and the 41st draft pick. Don’t get me wrong, it hurt to lose Kimbrel but the salve on that wound was ridding Atlanta of BJ and his hideous contract. The gravy on the deal turned out to be that Maybin as played a stellar centerfield, a position the Braves had penciled in EY Young Jr to play during the off season. In a word, the Braves looked to have fleeced the Padres on the deal. That is saying something when you tell one of the players traded for, Quinton, who is being paid $8 mm this season to not even bother to get on the plane to report.

The other prospects coming to the Braves have made a surprising impact too. Jace Peterson who was part of the Justin Upton trade has been a much better player than the utility player he was purported to be. While he is still learning the second base position on the job, he has proven to be good enough to force s position change for projected super star prospect Jose Peraza to centerfield. his second move in as many years after being touted as an up and coming shortstop. Peterson has also proven himself to be a good lead off man with an OBP of .354 to go along with a .284 BA. The other prospect coming into the fold is Mike Foltynewicz, a young right handed starter who is still finding his way as a major league pitcher.

It’s funny but remember how much former GM Frank Wren talked about moving away from the power baseball game to a team with speed but never was able to make that happen? Well, it appears that Frank’s dream showed up this season. The Braves signed a bunch of veterans this off season to act as place holders to fill in short term until the prospects are ready in 2017 when the Braves move into their new stadium. This current group of misfit toys have played so much better than they were suppose to. Guys like AJ Perzinki, Jonny Gomes and Juan Uribe’ have all played well in addition to help stabilize a young club house that sorely was lacking in leadership skills. Even former Baby Brave Kelly Johnson has made a resurgence of sorts by playing three different positions as well as adding some left handed power and a .280 BA with 6 home runs and 21 RBI in 100 at bats so far his season.

Still, the bullpen has become a house of horrors with one of the worse ERAs in the majors. From night to night, one never knows which pitcher is going to put out the fire and which one is going to throw on more kerosene. The problem now facing John Hart and Co is how do you sell off pieces of the current club whole they are still viable as a post season contender? It seems the veterans did not get the memo that they were suppose to roll over and lose so deals could be made at the deadline which would allow for the Braves to bring up a few more prospects, trade for some other highly rated prospects and fire Fredi Gonzalaz all in the same season, thus severing the last tie to the Frank Wren era and John Hart bringing in his own man to manage this team.

142: Two Months Down And the Braves Are Still Relevant.

Gil Mechanicsville, VA    by Gil In Mechanicsville

So, with a quarter of the season already flying by, we have had a chance to get and idea of the 2015 Braves and what they are all about. Oddly enough, even without big time power bats and an All-Star studded roster, the Braves appear to be holding their own. Currently at 21-21, the Bravos are in third place in the NL East and 3 1/2 back of the Washington Nationals, the Atlanta club is just good enough most nights to keep you tuned in until the final out.

Other than Freddie Freeman, and possible A.J. Pierzynski, this season’s edition does not really have the one swing equals one run kind of power that gets you featured on Sports Center or Quick Pitch night after night. What they do have is a scrappy bunch of young ball players sprinkled with some salty veterans who somehow seem to know how to keep themselves relevant. To be honest, some nights I miss the three run homer by the good guys but truthfully, watching the line up drop in single and doubles and putting up a crooked number can be pretty exiting too. There is after all, a certain beauty in seeing solid contact being made batter after batter, even if sometimes those solid contacts turn into outs. At least the opposing team is forced to make a good play to record an out.

The pitching staff may be the Braves Achilles heel this season when all is said and done. Like the old adage, a team is only as good as it’s next day’s starting pitcher. So true for the 2015 Braves. Shelby Miller has risen to ACE status while Julio Teheran has slipped a bit but Julio can still hurl a gem or two with a fair amount of consistency. The number three guy is a still wet behind the ears young pup named Alex Woods. While Alex is not exactly the second coming of Sandy Koufax, he is a solid lefty who  is still learning on the job. He still needs to learn how to put opposing batters away after getting them down two strikes but being more efficient and learning how to keep the ball off the sweet spot of the bat could help him get deeper into ball games and save the pen.

The fourth and fifth starter slots are still the most worrisome for the Braves. Mike Foltynewicz has a cannon for an arm but he still has trouble harnessing it and he is still working on the mental part of the game. He is another guy you fell fortunate to get five complete innings out of in under 110 pitches. There is no doubt he has the potential to be a great starter but as with every young pitcher, there is a certain amount of growing pains we have to deal with as he learns how to pitch at the gam;s highest level.

The Braves latest experiment at number five is William Perez. A native of Venezuela, he has served his time in the minors. While his debut as a reliever was less than impressive, his no decision against the Rays may have given us some insight to his mental make up . He refuse to give in or give up and with the help of his teammates, showed a bit of toughness when things were not going well for him. Perhaps it was the image of him spiking the ball after a nifty double play to escape an inning unscafted was the most memerable moment of his recent outing.

The Braves are still trying to piece together a solid bullpen. One that employs the services of Eric Stults and Trevor Cahill is not likely one to strike fear into the hearts of opposing managers late in games. I think we all got a bit spoiled after having the likes of O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel at the back of the line up. No everything is bad with the Braves pen, there are some solid players plying their wares in Atlanta this season. Jim Johnson and Jason Grille have both been pleasant surprises so far. Brandon Cunniff has been a very pleasant surprise. Brandon is another gem who was mined from the independent leagues once again proving you never know who is watching you play. Luis Avilan looks to be more like the pitcher we saw in 2013 than the guy who struggled in 2014.

That still leaves Ian Thomas, Eric Shults, Trevor Cahill and Nick Masset holding down the fort, none of whom makes us feel the game is won simply because they are in the game. Young Cody Martin is back in Gwennett for a little R&R after faltering of late. Over use can do that to a pitcher but as long as the starters are only giving you five innings a night, Fredi G has little choice but to call on his pen to try to finish up the game. That and a ball club that relies heavily on it’s main weapons to hold a slim lead because they are not typically bombing the opposing team with runs.

Going forward, the Braves are taking their first excursion to the west coast this week. Unfortunately, we all remember the disaster of last season when the Braves went out west and proceeded to lose all but one game because they could not muster any offense. The season was never the same afterwards for the 2014 Braves. Perhaps this trip will give us some insight as to who and what this year’s team is all about. Contenders or pretenders, stay tuned for the verdict.

141: So It Begins Again

Gil Mechanicsville, VA    by Gil In Mechanicsville

Well, the 2015 season is underway and the first couple of weeks have held forth a few surprises. I guess the biggest being the departure of fan favorite and closer extraordinaire, Craig Kimbrel. Less than 24 hours before the start of the season, Kimbrel was sent to San Diego along with some heavy baggage formerly known as B;J Upton who’s play was so bad, he felt the need to change his name thinking he could fool the fans in Atlanta into believing a new player had been acquired.

So, a few additional faces we had not had a chance to discuss. Trevor Cahill, a former All-Star who has apparently lost his way since undergoing hip surgery. Mechanics are a funny thing for a major league pitcher, the least little thing can cause him to become a complete Jeckyl and Hyde act.  Coming to Atlanta the final week of spring training for a minor league outfielder and a deep discount on his 12 million dollar salary. Trevor did not look at all comfortable in his first start but perhaps like Matt Latos of the Marlins who was shelled by the Braves in his first start, he can come around to the point he can become somewhat of an innings eater. We will know soon enough I suspect.

Eric Stults also made the team. Originally slated as a fifth starter, he moved up a slot with the continued problems experienced by Mike Minor and his balky shoulder. The Braves will continue to hope Stults can be an effective back end of the rotation guy but I do not see the Braves going too deep into the season with him in the line up if Stults continues to struggle. I look for the Braves to turn to another one of their late spring acquisition, Matt Wisler. The 22 year old right hander who came along with Cameron Maybin from San Diego for Kimbrel and Melvin Upton. The young rightie has a high ceiling and appears far ahead of the Brave other wunderkin Mike Foltynewicz. Perhaps the Braves will score a trifecta win with Wisler, Folty and Lucas Sims by the time they move into their new digs north of Atlanta. For sure, the good folks in Gwinnett should take avantage to see these kids develop while parking and seating is cheap. I should also mention Manny Banuelos is another possibility if he can return to his pre Tommy John form. Like I said, mechanics are very important and is often the difference in a weak grounder to short or a 400 foot big fly.

The only real questions for the Braves will be if they can maintain the knack they have shone early on for staying focused in the field and continuing to put up good at bats. Not everyone on this season’s team is hitting over .300 but most every one of the hitters at putting up good at bats. There have been very few three strike at bats by the Braves hitter. Now, they have shone a few chinks in their armor to date but it’s been a fun ride so far. Still, the Braves are getting very little respect from the talking heads who are covering the sport on a professional basis. Can’t say that I blame them after the Braves made them look foolish last season. Besides, teams that tear down to the studs are not suppose to win. I guess the players did not get that memo….

By the way, I would be remiss if I did not mention my new favorite pitcher for the Braves, reliever Cody Martin. Love that kid. Cannot throw a 95 mph fastball but he can throw strikes and opposing hitters are not having much success against his Madduxess 90 mph cutter. He may be the one that Braves Country is glad didn’t get away.

#140: New Faces for 2015, Part V

By Gil in Mechanicsville

With only about two weeks left before games begin in earnest and the promise of a brand new season starts the long and rutted road to the World Series, the Braves still have spots open for the taking in their line up. The foot injury to Melvin Upton Jr. and the recurring shoulder problems of left handed pitcher Mike Minor has created opportunities for at least two more players to begin the season playing for the Big A.

Holdover players Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Andrelton Simmons and Christian Bethencourt looked to have had a good spring training. While CJ took a while to heat up, he has suddenly returned to 2013 form but with more power. Allowing the home runs to come rather than pursue them looks to have allowed the Atlanta third baseman to stay on the ball longer and make solid contact with greater frequency.

Simmons, Freeman and Bethancourt all have looked comfortable at the plate and should provide steady offense this year. Newcomers AJ Perzinski and Jonny Gomes have done nothing to dispel the names they have made for themselves as professional ball players. The veteran leadership often needed in a clubhouse full of youngsters was sorely missing last year after the departure of Tim Hudson and Brian McCain have been replaced with the likes of Perzinski, Gomes and relief pitcher Jason Grille.

Nick “The Neck” Markakis has begun his long awaited return to the game after off season spinal fusion surgery and by all accounts will be a force in the Atlanta outfield, perhaps not as exciting Jason Heyward but no slouch. Understandably, it will take a few weeks for him to regain his full strength but his initial return against Astros showed him going 3 for 4 as the DH. A good sign for a guy who had not seen live pitching for five months. His reputation is as a solid outfielder who knows how to play the game. He does not make mental errors and always hits the cutoff man and throws to the right base.

The rest of the starting line up still appears to be in a bit of a flux. Alberto Callaspo, one of John Hart’s earliest off season signings and projected starting second baseman showed up overweight. The teeth gnashing and ash wallowing began amongst the Braves fans who follow the blogs. Fortunately, it appears the 31 year old Venezuelan has shed some pounds and has played regularly at both second and third base this spring. He began slowly but of late, his bat has heated up. The switch hitter has shown the versatility that would enable him to be part of a soft platoon with Chris Johnson at third. Perhaps urged on by the strong showing this spring by Jace Peterson, who came to the Braves as part of trade that saw Justin Upton depart for San Diago, to win away from him the starting job at second base gave him incentive. Peterson’s slash line of .341/.449/.390 in 41 at bats this spring and solid defense has been a very pleasant surprise. Project as a “super sub” type player, Peterson has taken a bit of the air out of the “Perazza Now” balloon. That and Jose Peraza’s youth becoming evident at the plate. While his glove is major league ready, his bat evidently can benefit from some more time in the minors.

The center field jobs looks to be won by an impressive showing by E Y Young Jr. EY Jr was released by the Mets and was signed to a minor league contract by the Braves. Initially he was penciled in as a possible utility, fourth outfielder but the foot injury to Melvin Upton has given him the opportunity to open the season with Atlanta manning the number eight position in the defense. The added upside to EY Jr is he is a natural lead-off man. While it does not look at this point Upton has been Wally Pipped at this point, he has at least given most Braves fans the sense that Upton should take his time getting healthy before he needs to return.

Todd Cunningham’s window of opportunity may be closing if he does not win a job outright this spring. He has the ability to play all three outfield positions but he may be the pro-typical Quad A player. The same may be true for Joey Terdoslavich. He has had a decent spring for the Braves, hitting .278 with seven extra base hits, he can play either corner outfield spot as well as first base. He worked with his dad during the off season to cut down on his swing. He is in the mix against veteran Kelly Johnson who has played everywhere the Braves have asked him to to display his versatility. KJ’s bat has begun to heat up of late and it appears he will be given every opportunity to win a spot as a utility/left handed bat off the bench for this year’s club.

The last players to be considered will be Phil Gosselin, Zoilo Almonte and surprising off season minor league signing Pedro Ciriaco who has 15 hits and 7 strike outs in 42 at bats this spring. A second baseman who has spent time with Boston and Kansas City, he has a strong accurate arm and some speed. While it would be a long shot to see him make the team this spring, he has opened some eyes. Phil Gosselin looks to have secured his spot as the utility infielder again this season after being the starting second baseman the latter part of the 2014 season. Zoilo is still vying for the spot platoon role with Jonny Gomes. It’s my opinion that he is on the bubble to start the season with the club.

The pitching is still to be discussed. I will do so in my final spring training blog.

#139: New faces for 2015 and beyond, Part IV

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

By Gil in Mechanicsville

In early January, John Hart made two moves to shore up his outfield, the first was to sign right handed hitter Jonny Gomes to a one year contract for $4 million in 2015 with a $3 million vesting option for 2016. If the option does not automatically vest, it will become a team option.
Gomes, 34, has a career slash line of .277/ .376/ .485 against southpaws. Likely, Jonny will be used in a platoon in left field in a combination with either former Yankee outfielder Zoilo Almont or waiver pick up Eury Perez. Gomes has been referred to as being someone who plays like “his hair is on fire”. One thing is certain, no one will accuse this latest edition of the Braves of sleepwalking through games. Perhaps the biggest question will be Jonny’s ability to adapt to the proposed rules that the batter keeps one foot in the batter’s box at all times. Methinks he will need his entire time in spring training trying to overcome his current OCD routine of stepping out after each pitch. Maybe the Braves can start by finding him a batting helmet with a chin strap.

Until the sudden arrival Eury Perez, it was assumed the switch hitting Zoilo Almont would serve in a platoon role with Gomes with Zoilo getting the lion’s share of playing time facing right handed hurlers. The 26 year old Dominican has a career slash line of .268/ .330/ .433 and an OPS of.763. Zoilo however will likely have to now beat out Perez who fell into the Braves’ lap after being dropped off the Yankee’s 40 man roster to make room for Steven Drew.

Since the Braves appear to have lost faith in Todd Cunningham as a legitimate option in center, Perez rockets up the charts to B.J.’s backup and the out-of-options outfielder will have every opportunity to win a spot this spring on a wide-open roster. On a team that might have to steal a lot of bases to press the issue, Perez could have some value both off the bench and, if BJ struggles, he could steal some time from the high-priced outfielder. Perez probably won’t be much more than a fourth outfielder. On a good team, he’d be in AAA. On a bad team…well, he starts to looks a lot better than he really is.

Perez was originally signed as a undrafted free agent by the Washington Nationals in 2007, he was picked up by the Yankees off waivers last September when the Nats dropped him off their 40 man roster. At least the Braves are not waiting until the end of spring training to fill out their outfield like they did in the 70’s.

#138, New faces for 2015 and beyond, Part III

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

By Gil in Mechanicsville

Another addition to the 2015 Atlanta Braves roster is catcher A.J. Pierzynski. While is was originally thought by many fans in Atlanta that A.J. Would be the mentor to Christian Bethencourt and the primary back-up for the young Panamanian with fan favorite and home run threat Evan Gattis moving to the outfield. The idea was that Evan might still play behind the plate and allow for some depth at the backstop position. Every team needs an emergency third catcher, right? Well, that plan went out the window with not only the trade of Justin Upton to San Diego but with the trade of Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros for three prospects.

The 39 year old Pierzynski was signed to a one year deal for $2 million dollars plus a possible additional $700,000 in incentives. A.J., aka, the most hated man in the Major League Baseball is a 17 year veteran of the majors. Certainly enough time to rub more than a few teammates and opponents alike the wrong way. I get the feeling the reputation has been earned by a perchance to speak the un-varnished truth no matter who’s toes are stepped upon. With the addition of Pierzynski, of whom the character, Jack Parkman, of the baseball comedy films Major Leagues I & II may well have been based upon, and outfielder Jonny Gomes, things should be interesting in the Braves club house this season.

Anthony John Pierzynski is listed as being 6′-3” weighing 235 pounds bats left and throws right. Amazingly, his career stats both as a major and a minor leaguer are remarkably similar. In his 17 seasons in the bigs, he has amassed a career line of .281/ .320/ .424 with a career OPS of .744. Perhaps his best years were with the White Sox with whom he earned a World Series ring in 2005 but he has been very consistent through-out his big league career. Defensively, Pierzynski has thrown out just 24% of potential base stealers. The league average is 28% so the Braves are not employing him for his prowess with the leather but for his cumulative knowledge of the game and his winning attitude. I have no doubt he will push Christian to play at a high level. In addition, the veteran will likely be used as a left handed bat off the bench on occasion. While not known as a homerun hitter, he does have some power. Not Evan Gattis power but he can get the ball in the stands.

One thing for sure, he should be beneficial in tutoring young Bethancourt on how to prepare for games by going over pre-game scouting reports and establishing a game plan for that day’s pitcher and not just phone it in. To not play the game at full bore will gain the wrath of the most hated man in baseball.

#137: New faces for 2015 and beyond, Part II

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

By Gil in Mechanicsville

Aside from the J-Hey for Shelby Miller trade, John Hart opted to sign free agent Nick Markakis, late of the Baltimore Orioles to a four year $44 million dollar deal. Markakis, while not exactly Jason Heyward, he is a good replacement. Perhaps the fact he has been plagued with injuries in the past and was diagnosed with herniated disc scared some other teams away from taking a chance on the 32 year old outfielder. Off season surgery was performed on his neck and by all accounts it was considered a successful procedure.

Markakis has a career line of .290/ .358/ .435. This is despite of a career low of .271 in 2013 following three surgeries in 2012 for a sports hernia, repair to a broken hamate bone in his right wrist and surgery to repair a broken left thumb. The Orioles declined to offer Markakis a qualifying offer this off season which allowed the Braves to sign him without having to give up a compensatory draft pick.
Nick has also acquired a pair of Gold Gloves while playing right field for the O’s. While not as expensive as Heyward was likely to become, he is a adequate place holder to roam the outfield for the Bravos.

Nick’s best position in the line up is the two hole but with the Braves currently lacking a pro typical lead off hitter, I expect Markais will replace Heyward in that position as well. Markais is not blessed with the speed of Jason Heyward but likely Nick will be on base with a greater frequency than J-Hey ever has. Of course it is hard to say good bye to a player like Heyward who was a fan favorite and grew up in the Braves system. That said, I expect Jason to prosper in St. Louis. Cardinal fans are some of the best in all of major league baseball in their knowledge of the game and appreciation for a player who gives 100%. Expect him to garner enough fan votes to appear in quite a few All-Star games in the future.

I think I can speak for most Braves fans that we knew the Braves were likely to trade Jason Heyward and Justin Upton this off season because of Atlanta’s need to replace two thirds of their starting rotation and the need to restock their minor league system. In addition, with the reality of not believing they would be able to afford to re-sign either Heyward or Upton after this season, they would be traded. The real shock perhaps was trading away Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros. This represented the dismissal of all the Braves’ power potential aside from Fredi Freeman. Perhaps the player who will miss the protection of either Justin Upton or Evan Gattis.

The 2015 edition of the Atlanta Braves will have to be one which relies on ABC baseball much more than the three run homer. For sure, with all the good pitching currently in the NL East, it will be interesting to see if the Braves can compete.

Another addition to the Braves is 2B/3B Alberto Callaspo, a 30 year old from Maracay, Venzeuela. He is listed as 5′-9” 215 pounds. That is a bit on the stocky side but the Braves were advised he had employed a personal trainer this off season to assist in keeping the weight off. Callaspo is another of the Braves one year signings and is expected to be a place holder for young phenom Jose Peraza who is expected to make his major league debut no later than 2016. Most likely, Callaspo will be given the chance to hold down the 2nd base position but do not be surprised to see young Peraza after June of this season.

Callaspo has spent the majority of his career in the American League and has a career line of
.267/ .330/ .370 and an OPS of .700. Last season was Callaspo’s worse but much of it has been attributed to his being over weight. He is a switch hitter and projected to bat second in this season’s line-up. However, with young players like Peraza or Jace Peterson might push Callaspo to the bench or down to triple A to get into shape. Clearly, the expectation for the Braves is for Alberto to be worth the $3 million they have invested in him this season. The expectations for Callaspo is prove he can still play at the major league level.

#136: New faces for 2015 and beyond, Part I

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

by Gil in Mechanicsville, VA

One of the first trades made by new President of Baseball Operations/ General Manager John Hart was to trade Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever/long jumper Jordan Walden to St. Louis for right handed pitcher Shelby Miller and minor league prospect Tyrell Jenkins. While Miller has battled some inconstancy during his two years as a part of the St Louis rotation , he has shown constant improvement and when coupled with young Julio Teheran and Alex Woods, it should form the core of a very good major league rotation.

The 6 ‘ 3” 215 pound Miller hales from Houston Texas. He fills a dire need the Braves have found themselves in for starting pitching. The Braves have a promising starting pitcher who will be under full club control for the next four years. Of course, pitchers may be the most fragile human beings on earth with the difference between long term success and sudden flame out being a few strands of sinew attached between their ulna and humerus.

The 24 year old Miller features a complement of a 94 mph fastball and a plus curveball which he used in combination 98% of the time. After the All-Star break in 2014, he added a sinker into his repertoire with very positive results. The addition of the sinker added a critical third pitch needed by every successful starting pitcher. Miller’s major league history has shown an increase in the number of innings thrown each season as he matures. It is not unreasonable to expect Miller to exceed 200 innings pitched in 2015.

While Miller’s won loss record of 10-9 in 2014 might be somewhat deceiving in his true value, fans should remember that the Braves primary lefty and former number one draft pick, Mike Minor, posted a record of 6-12 last season. So, rather than throw out a bunch of stats, let’s just state that Miller is project to be a top of the order starter for the Braves. We all know it begins with pitching. While it will be tough for the 2015 Braves to compete head to head with the stellar staff assembled by the Washington Nationals and the up and coming flame throwers in New York and Miami, the Braves still have to play those games on the field. We cannot simply write those games off.

 The other addition to the Braves’ roster in the trade was young Tyrell Jenkins. Another lanky Texas native. He has experience some shoulder problems but may have discovered the cause of his problems being related to  taking a very long stride on the mound. Do not expect Jenkins to appear in Atlanta anytime soon and will likely begin 2015 at double A or high A ball but it is expected he will advance quickly as he perfects his change up to go along with his 2 seam and 4 seam fastball. He pitched well this year in the Arizona Fall League against older and more experienced batters. He has been projected by St Louis brain trust as a potential top of the rotation starter.

Gil2

#135: What Should Braves Fans Really Expect in 2015?

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil
Mechanicsville, VA

With the trades of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton this winter, the new Braves President of Baseball Operations/General Manager has sent a message that the future is still in the future. Although the Braves surprised everyone in the baseball world by winning the 2013 NL East pennant sprinting past the Washington Nationals who quite frankly, under performed the first five months of the season. The Nats only became relevant the final month of the 2013 season but it was too little too late and the Braves held on to win the flag.

2014 started off like gang busters for the Braves with a pitching staff that surprised everyone by posting a combined ERA of 1.50 for the month of  April.  Everyone in Braves Country was giddy with the surprise success of this team. Alas, it did not last and when the pitchers began to flag under the unrealistic pressure of maintaining such an other-worldly mark, the offense failed to pick them up. Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows it is not just pitching that wins baseball games, you need to put some runs on the board too.

There is a huge difference in being able to pitch with a three or four run lead than having to worry about one pitch, one mistake, one hanging breaking ball being the difference between being on the winning or losing end of a baseball game. It is often said that it is not just the number of pitches thrown in a game by a pitcher but the amount of high stress pitches thrown. Give a pitcher a five run lead and he can relax a little bit and challenge opposing hitters and not worry about being so fine with his pitches he starts trying to hit the corners with every pitch. Unfortunately for the Braves’ offense, their hitters were not only were fooled by pitches out of the strike zone, they also did not make opposing pitchers pay for their mistakes either.

Other than April of last year, the Braves posted only a .500 or sub .500 record. The worst month was September when they simply folded like a cheap suit after the Nats caught them and then never looked back. Washington finally woke up and realized they were as good as advertised.  They were, however, eliminated by the Giants who were on their way to their third World Series Championship in five years.

So, what do we have to look forward to for 2015?  To begin with, the Braves brain trust has determined they were not going to beat out the Nationals with the talent already assembled by since-departed GM Frank Wren and company. Perhaps the lingering bad taste of having to eat bad contracts to under performing second baseman Dan Uggla and the five year contract of B.J. Upton outweighed the single pennant won in 2013 and the miracle pick up of Arron Harang and Ervin Santana to replace injured Chris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. More telling is beyond Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Aderlton Simmons and Julio Teheran, the Braves scouting department had little to show for their efforts during Frank Wren’s tenure as GM for the club. That and the fact he was running off some of the Braves’s best scouting talent, the total collapse of the Braves in September appear to be the final straw to break the camel’s back. Perhaps the only real surprise was that Freddie Gonzalas remained at the helm of the team as manager.

It appears that Bobby Cox, who himself appeared at odds with since-departed GM Wren and may have even hastened his own retirement, likely saved Freddie’s job. After all, if you don’t have the horses to begin with, it’s hard to win the race.

Now, what do we have to look forward too? Interim GM John Hart and his staff have made the conscious decision that the Braves were faced with three realities:

1: they were not going to get any better with the current team assembled.

2: they desperately needed pitching to stay relevant in 2015.

3: there was no help on the horizon coming from a severely depleted minor league farm system.

There are lots of reasons for the third but the most likely suspect is the robbing of Peter to pay Paul theory. That is, in order to keep corporate owner happy with the bottom line, they cut corners in their minor league system  to stay within a budget set forth by team owner, Liberty Media. That was made even more severe after the negotiation of what appears to be an under valued TV contract. While teams like the Dodgers are reaping billions from their contract, America’s team got pennies on the dollar. After all, the Braves are still rated as the third most popular franchise in America following Ted Turner’s brilliant decision to buy both the team and a little known local UHF station in Atlanta and market them nationally via cable.

Tyrell Deon Jenkins Born: 7/20/1992 in Henderson, TX  Bats/Throws: R/R  HT: 6'4'' WT: 204

Tyrell Deon Jenkins     7/20/1992 Henderson, TX
Bats/Throws: R/R
HT: 6’4” WT: 204

Shelby Charles Miller Atlanta Braves – No. 17 Pitcher Born: October 10, 1990 (age 24) Houston, Texas Bats: RightThrows: Right

Shelby C. Miller (P)
Born: October 10, 1990 
Houston, Texas
Bats/Throws R/R

John the Elder made two trades to address the problem by first trading Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to St. Louis for rising star Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins.

He then traded soon-to-be free agent Justin Upton to the Padres for a bevy of young talent in a minor-league haul, including two former first-round picks:

 

 

 

 

trades

MAX FRIED (P)

age 20, b.  Jan 18, 1994
Ht/Wt: 6’3’/180
Bats/Throws:  Left/L

 

 

JACE RYAN PETERSON

Born: 5/9/1990 in Lake Charles, LA
Bats/Throws: L/R HT: 6’0″ WT: 210
Debut: 4/25/2014 College: McNeese State

 

 

DUSTIN ALLEN PETERSON

Age: 20 (September 10, 1994) in Phoenix, AZ
Bats/Throws: R/R Ht: 6′ 2″ Wt: 180
Draft: Round 2 (2013, SD)

 

 

MALLEX LYDELL SMITH

Born: 5/6/1993 in Tallahassee, FL
Bats/Throws: L/R
HT: 5’9″ WT: 170

 

MANNY BANUELOS

Born: March 13, 1991 (age 23), Gómez Palacio, Durango, Mexico
Height: 5′ 11″
Weight: 198 lbs
Bats: Left-handed

Banuelos is now into his second year of recovery of Tommy John surgery and is expected to vie for the fifth starter’s spot in the rotation.

Alberto Callaspo

Alberto Callaspo

The Braves had already signed journyman second baseman Alberto Callaspo, late of the Athletics as a place holder for Braves prospect Jose Peraza but the acquisition of Jace Peterson from the Friers may have pushed young Peraza down a spot on the depth chart.

A J Pierzynski

A J Pierzynski

The Braves also have inked veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski to serve as the backup/mentor for young Christian Bethancourt at the catcher’s position and allow the Braves to move slugger Evan Gattis to the left field position so his bat can be added to the everyday line up for the Bravos.

Nick Markakis

Nick Markakis

The Braves also signed free agent Nick Markakis of the Orioles to a 4 year $44 million dollar contract to play right field in place of the since traded Jason Heyward. Markakis has a couple of gold gloves to his credit himself and is known to be a contact type hitter. While he is probably better suited to hit second, he will likely be drafted to take Heyward’s spot as the lead off man in the line up given the Braves lack of other likely candidates for that position.

So, as it stands, with the Nationals pretty much standing pat and the Marlins vastly improving their club from last season, the Braves look to fight it out with the Mets for third place in the division ahead of the aging Phillies. Never say never however, after all, the 1991 Braves were picked by one and all to finish last in the National League West then dominated by Dodgers. A lot has to go right for the Braves this season and a few things have to go wrong for the Fish and the Nats but baseball is a game played on the field, not on paper. Now if only Hart and company can figure out some way to either trade the other Upton brother and his over the top contract away so they can have a little financial flexibility or somehow BJ himself take personal responsibility for his poor play and learns how to hit again so as not to be a drag on the club, the 2015 Braves might just have a chance to be more than just a footnote on the way to the 2015 World Series.

Gil2

#134: Love ’em? or Leave ’em?

Sometimes I feel that caring about the Braves, is like being a teenager in love…You are seemingly forever in flux. One minute, everything is GREAT! WONDERFUL! AWESOME! Then, the rug gets pulled from under your feet, and while sitting on your butt, you think to yourself, I am done! I will NEVER love Lisa, err, the Braves again!

But, time heals all wounds, and apparently, makes you stupid. Because, there you are again, like a moth to a flame, thinking this time, it will be different, you won’t get burned…not this time.

Hope, springs eternal, even in the middle of Fall. Doubt is also, not too far away either.

We know the Nats will be as good as anyone in baseball next year, they could once again win the division, even without making any moves, and losing Adam LaRoche.

The Mutts, as much as we all like to rag on them, have rebuilt their rotation. Jacob deGrom (Who? ) was named rookie of the year. He was the guy with the long hair, if that helps. 9-6, 2.69 ERA.

The worst starter in their rotation last year, Bartolo Colon, had a 4.09 ERA, and lead the team in innings, with 209 (Not bad for a fat 41 year old! )

And oh yeah, if he is healthy, Matt Harvey will be back next year, so the Mutts will likely be a lot better.

Marlins? They will be better no doubt. They are likely to get to get ol’ Adam LaRoche.

Philies? They will suck, but the Nats, Marlins, and Mutts, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of those teams won the division.

What about the Braves? Well, who knows? John Hart keeps saying, over and over the braves lost 400 innings with the seeming loss of both Santana and Aaron Harang.  I’m with Mr Raisins , the braves ought to consider re-signing Santana(even though Harang had a better ERA and pitched 8 more innings, he is 5 years older, and there is a good chance he will turn into a pumpkin) But, getting Shelby Miller, is half the rotation battle. And there’s a good chance his ERA will be less than Santana’s 3.95 ERA. So, just 200 innings to replace, unless they get a deal done with Santana.

So…the pitching side of the equation, looks to be in fairly good shape…as long as  there are no injuries.

Hitting, on the other side of the ball…meh, I said Meh!  :/

Down one hitter, yet few here or elsewhere feel the loss of JHey’s offense , It just didn’t feel like he was  a real presence in the lineup. Didn’t help they kept trying to make a leadoff hitter out of him, something he didn’t like and wasn’t.

But, his defense, that will be missed. A Mets historian was on mlbtv after the trade and said that he was glad he had left the NL East, as he had saved, 2-3 games a year with his glove.  Of course, you score more than 3 runs a game, you don’t need spectacular defensive plays. But, even with that defense, the braves were 17 games back, in spite of great pitching. So….to borrow and rework a lame phrase, it’s the offense, stupid. And boy, has the offense been stupid. At least the philosophy has been , as we all know. We all have watched games with runners on, and everyone and their brother thinks they are all J Up, and should swing for the fences. Especially with 2 strikes on the alleged home run hitters. It’s hard if not impossible to teach old dogs new tricks. So changes must come to the lineup. There is a need for more contact type hitters, more speed. Not having more than a single hands worth of real major league prospects, they can’t trade them for a speedster. Of course, Jose Peraza has stolen 60 bases a year in 2013 and 2014. But, he’s 20. Perhaps he comes to spring training, hits .400 and forces his way into the lineup. But most likely, the Braves will have to go with a Kelly Johnson solution as V said, and if he fails, up comes Peraza.

That might be May or June though. Without JHey, and after the failed experiment of BJ leading off, who can lead off? Really no one on this team. Simmons, IF he became more patient, but who knows if/when that will happen.

So, seems J Up has to be traded, for reasons everyone is familiar with . Can the braves get both a starter and a contact hitter for him? Will there be enough offense without J Up, and JHey? Can this team realistically expect BJ to at least go back to a .240 hitter that hits 20+ HR’s and drives in 70+? Or hope that some sucker team, err…an optimistic team  will take a chance they can fix him, and just pay him 2-3 mil a year. If BJ is hitting .190-.200 in May, that’s it, you can’t trade him, just release him at that point. Perhaps Seitzer (SP) can, with a willing BJ, rebuild his swing, flatten it out, take the wiggle out that seems to slow his bat up, and then it’s like getting a new hitter. Can’t see Hart, even if he says so, relying on that, when you are likely to trade away the 2 better outfielders.

So many questions. One reason Yasmany Tomas makes some sense on top of trading J Up alone. Trading J Up alone means getting a starter and perhaps an outfielder that isn’t a perfect fit. Trading him for one pitcher might get a better arm, or perhaps 2 quality prospects. At least, there are some options. As the team is currently constructed, there are holes, but they are not black hole sized holes.

Can this team compete? Sure, but it’s going to take some smart moves and taking some risks to be really competitive.

~ Berigan ~

 

 

#133: The Future Is Now

Vox O'Raisins

Vox O’Raisins

 

2015 STARTS NOW

Not feeling very good about our team this morning. Let me clarify… not feeling good about it as a whole. Sure, there are elements and players that I still am glad we have. Freddie, Jason (hopefully for more than just 2015), Simba, most of the pitching staff…

But as a whole, this team was more than just painful, they were embarrassing. At a time when the Braves faced must-win games at home, when they had to show their mettle, they were outscored 27-9 over six games. They were shutout twice. They scored in just 4 innings out of 53. 4 out of 53! They managed just 3 ER off 6 starting pitchers. In all my years of watching baseball, I’ve never seen anything like it. This was beyond collapse. Something has to be standing up to collapse. This team seemed as though they never got off the bench.

I need to qualify that statement. Our pitchers need to sue the rest of the team for non-support. We have a lineup full of dead-beat-batters. Our starters have notched a league leading 108 quality starts through game 156 to date this season. The segment that should have an excuse, that was truly decimated before pitch 1 of game 1, leads MLB in quality starts. Yet, the Braves are heading toward a sub-.500 team for only the 3rd time since 1990.

It’s mind-boggling.Upton-BJ.Wren

Things change over time, and sometimes change quickly. Two weeks ago, I advocated for Frank to be given one more shot to correct his mistakes. As recently as a few days ago, I half-heartedly stood up for Fredi in that he has been dealt a rotten hand. But the series against the Mets revealed more than just the obvious flaws we’ve discussed ad nauseum. Frank assembled a team that lacks certain necessary game elements to be effective, and he allowed the team’s leaders to leave at the same time. His inability to get along with other staff directly led to long-time and highly respected scout Dom Chiti and coveted pitching instructor Dave Wallace leaving for other teams. And it was revealed over the weekend that John Schuerholz is the one that stepped in to the breach and prevented Roger McDowell from departing to the Phillies. This team lost several strong planks and attempted to replace them with Popsicle sticks. The boat is sinking, fellas.

Fredi Gonzalez

Fredi Gonzalez

As for Fredi, yes he was dealt a rotten hand. But he looked totally lost and defeated over this last week as well. He appeared to be grasping at straws. And while he did seem to manage his pitchers better this year, his mis-handling of Even Gattis is just unforgivable to me. And let’s not forget this is the 2nd September in the last 3 that the Braves looked like they were making vacation reservations early.

No, there is much work to be done both on and off the field. We have 2 years left before we open a brand new ballpark and a new era for the team. There is no way that Terry McGuirk and John Schuerholz are going to let this bunch pave the way. This is the offseason for the foundation to be laid. Frank is and Fredi should be gone, along with Walker/Fletcher and Tosca, and likely Dascenzo. I still believe TP and EP should be safe, given their long term ties to the championship days of this team.

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves

At least John Schuerholz finally did what had to be done and canned Wren and his right hand man Burse Manno more changes are likely. My money is on John Coppolella, but with the appointment of John Hart as interim GM and the announcement of a blue ribbon search committee consisting of Schuerholtz, Hart and surprisingly Bobby Cox, anything is possible. That said, the new guy will get started with evaluating the team top to bottom.

I would have liked to see TP lead the last 7 games to see what he’s got. I’d would be nice to see if he could rally the troops and get this team to show some pride before heading to the beach or the golf course or the woods. However, perhaps his recent back trouble precluded that. That and Bobby Cox’s support of Fredi Gonzalez.  For better or worse, Bobby still appears to be willing to take a bullet for his guy.

As far as any great hope for 2014, it walked out the door yesterday. The push for 2015 should started today.

~ Raisins ~

 

#132: PO-TEN-TIAL

Vox O'Raisins

by Vox O’Raisins

PO·TEN-TIAL
adjective:  having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future
noun:  
1. latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness
2. physics:  the quantity determining the energy of mass in a gravitational field                                 or of charge in an electric field.

 

The Braves simply do not have the pieces in place to be a championship team, and I have to keep reminding myself that they are very young. What are they missing?

Dizzy Dean

Dizzy Dean

 

 

 

#1.  a rotation leading ace. That’s right, I said it again. It’s much ballyhooed, and much debated, but a champion has an ace to lead the way. Julio has the potential, but an ace doesn’t go into a critical game, get a lead, and wet his pants.  Julio did that yesterday.  Most championship contenders have that tough 1-2 punch, like Kershaw-Greinke or Verlander-Scherzer.. The Braves have… uh, Teheran-Harang?

 

FredMcGriff3

 

 

#2.  a slugger. One might think about Gattis or JUp or Freddie. The NL HR leader as of today is the Fish’ Stanton with 26. The closest Brave is JUp with 19, tied for 7th. The league RBI leader as of today is also Stanton with 74. The closest Brave is JUp with 64, tied for 8th. Both are middle of the road of 15 teams. Not championship caliber.

 

Chipp4

 

 

#3.  a leader. The great teams have a strong character leading the way ala Chipper Jones. The current Braves have a couple of Cali surfers, a couple of guys from a FLA retirement haven, and a handful of dudes who barely speak English. The only 2 guys who show any fire at all are BJ, who vents his K frustrations at umpires, and Chris Johnson, whom I really think may be a little unstable.

 

 

Here’s a curveball for you…

Fredi Gonzalez

Fredi Gonzalez

 

I have vented plenty at Fredi, and I think he has deserved most of that, but to be honest he’s been dealt a pretty rotten hand. And none of us knows how much pressure he gets from above to play certain players. His biggest fault may simply be that he doesn’t handle the press as deftly as Bobby, and therefor makes himself out to look like a doof. He’s had pitchers go down quicker than a Malaysian airliner, multiple black holes in his lineup, and no clear productive hitters on which to hinge any lineups. And somehow, even after a historic roadie to the worst coast, we are still in the hunt in mid-August. I guess he can do something right.

Here’s the 2-edged sword. Things are not likely to improve a whole lot over the off-season. We’re locked in to most of our pieces, and don’t have the financial flexibility to make any significant upgrades. But the flip side is that Julio does have ace-potential. Freddie does have slugger-potential. And any number of our youngsters could step up and become a leader.. potentially. But it’s all potential.  I had a coach in high school who taught me that “potential just means you ain’t done $#!+ yet.” I guess the key word is “yet”.

Will those elements emerge? Maybe. The potential is on the roster. But they ain’t done $#!+ yet…

~ Vox O’Raisins ~

#131: And away we go…

Gil Mechanicsville, VA

Gil
Mechanicsville, VA

The proverbial second half of the the Major League baseball season has begun. I say  proverbial because the the real halfway point occurred several weeks ago. As I    hammer away at the keyboard, the Braves are in a virtual tie for first place in the NL  East with the Washington Nationals. Virtual because to date, the Braves are 10  games over .500 with a record of 54-44 while the Nats are also 10 games over .500 at  53-43 with two games in hand over the Braves.

 

Surprisingly, this has come when the Braves have been all over the map as far as their play this season, part great pitching, part timely hitting, they have also have suffered through some abysmal stretches when it comes to making contact with the ball and scoring runs coupled with some leaky defense and erratic relief pitching. For some reason, those last two seem to go hand-in-hand.

 

In the past week, the long awaited departure of Dan Uggla mercifully took place the first day back from the All-Star break. With the remaining balance of approximately $19 million still on the Braves books, Dan will likely now be offered a league minimum contract by a team looking to catch a little lightning in a bottle from the 3-time All-Star. My guess would be Dan’s best bet would be with an American League team looking for a guy who can serve as a DH and not expose him too often to the perils of using him in the field. I still think he could play first base on occasion but that is a thread to be discussed by Dan’s potential suitors.

 

Gattis

Gattis

The Braves look to regain the services of El Orso Blanco on Monday. What the Braves gain in offense, they will lose in the defense so ably displayed by young Christian Bethancourt. The 22-year-old back stop has quickly gained the confidence of the Atlanta Braves pitching staff and looks to be primed to play everyday for somebody in the majors. While Gattis is prized for his prowess with a bat, his glove work has appeared lacking this season. While defense wins championships, you need somebody to get you at least one run and Gattis has shown the ability to deliver when the chips are down.

 

Still, the Braves still are face with some needs, a reliable veteran situational lefty relief pitcher and a power bat for the left side bench. A good lead off man and center fielder would be very beneficial too but perhaps we can flog that dead horse another day.

BJ Upton

BJ Upton

Just as Dan Uggla’s $13m per year contract became Frank Wren’s albatross, I fear Melvin Jr.’s contract is bird of the same feather. Melvin’s defense is suspect at best and his bat hardly justifies his big payday but at least it did not also cost the Braves any of their prized prospects. That would only have made the deal worse. Well, no one forced the Braves into signing BJ, they did it knowing full well his pluses and minuses. I just don’t think they realized his minuses would be so large.

 

 

Phil Gosselin

Phil Gosselin

The Bravos brought up Tyler Pastornicky to fill Dan Uggla’s spot on the roster. Some have wondered why Philip Gosselin was not allowed to remain with Atlanta but because he had already been returned to Triple A, he could not return for 10 days. Time will tell if the Pastor sticks with the big club or swaps places with young Gosselin. One has to wonder why the Braves did not really see the impending release of Uggla sooner. I expect the shuttle will be rather active between Atlanta and the farm clubs until the Braves find the right mix.

 

So, looking forward, what can we expect of this very young squad who became even younger with the release of Uggs. August looks to be the make or break portion of this season’s schedule for Atlanta. Nothing but contenders lined up with the likes of Oakland, Seattle, the Dodgers and Pirates as well as the Braves’ nemesis the Mets. Time will tell if the Braves are still fighting to hold off the pre-season favorite Nats or trying to chase them down in September.

Gil2

#130: Time to pull the plug, Frank….

Gil

Gil in Mechanicsville, VA

The Dan Uggla situation has extended beyond what any reasonable person should have to endure. I think  everyone gets it, Dan is past his prime and the Marlins snookered the Braves into taking a guy who was going to be  way over priced. The Braves should  have seen it for what it was. It is like many other GMs  discovered in the past  when trading the Braves for a  pitcher whom the Bravos had given up on. Said  pitchers hardly ever recovered  after being discarded by the Braves.UgglaSigns

Perhaps it is Frank Wren’s ego which will not allow him to admit he made a mistake. Message to Frank, get over it. If you don’t make a mistake or two, you are not trying hard enough. Okay, Kenshin Kawakami was a huge goof but Bobby Cox was involved in that a little bit. Never sign a pitcher who you have not personally seen in action yourself. Of course Melvin Upton may be on track to equal that blunder in scope. I’ve said it before, Melvin Junior stands to be the Braves’ Jason Bay. At least we all understood when you were forced to sign Derek Lowe for 4 years and $60 million, the Braves needed pitching and the Braves did actually get some value from him.

Get over it Frank, cut the cord and move on. You have to look at the situation as the cost of doing business. Salary is salary, whether you are paying one guy 90% or everyone gets an equal share, at the end of the day, it is what you are paying your team. It is why most teams are loath to give more than a three year contract and players push for huge payouts because it guarantees them a spot on a roster, no matter have miserably they fail.

Dan Uggla

Dan Uggla

So let it be with Dan Uggla, even if he is released tomorrow, it will not be the worse failure or bad trade the Braves have ever had. That distention still belongs to Ted Turner for the Len Barker trade and to Jonathan Schuerholz for when he traded away the farm in 2007 for Mark Texeria. Of course, the Rangers were pretty happy with what they got. It propelled them into the World Series for a couple of years. That said, think about how Billy Bean felt after trading away Tim Hudson for Tommy Tee and two pitching prospects who never panned out.

Uggla

Uggla

Throughout Dan’s exile to the nether world of the far end of the bench, all we have heard is how Dan has stayed professional. Working hard to stay ready and rooting for his teammates despite the fact he has become persona non grata on the 25 man roster. hey, he has done some good things for the team. Perhaps the Braves can restructure his contract so he gets paid $1 million dollars a year for the next 30 or so years in exchange to agreeing to his release. The Braves are going to have to pay him anyway. Dan is not stupid, he is not going to quit or refuse an assignment. After all, if the Braves are willing to play with a 24 man roster, he is willing to also serve for another season and one half.

Not every trade is a bad one, sometimes you get lucky. Chris Johnson is a great example of that. So keep the line moving

Gil2

 

 

129: Fast Approaching 60 Days

Gil

Gil in Mechanicsville

It is said that the first 1/3 of the season is the time a ball club is evaluated as to it’s needs and strong points. Certainly, no club is really out of it at the beginning of June and no club has won anything at that point either. So many things can happen between June first and September 30th to completely change the final outcome of a season. The loss of a front line starter, or a vital bullpen guy, your best hitter suffering some freak injury no one could have foreseen or predicted. On the other hand, a club can get hot. That prospect finally getting a shot and giving a lagging team a lift. So many variables including the difficulty of a schedule and even the inexplicable moves by a manager or the ineptitude of an umpire can come into play.

All that said, let’s take a look at some of the surprises and some things not so surprising for the Braves so far. I’ll make my final predictions on September 29th…. As a note to the reader, I did not post a lot of stats for each player referenced, just know that they are all pretty darn good.

Aaron Harang

Aaron Harang

Biggest surprise so far? Absolutely has to be the stellar performance of the starting staff. League leading in ERA and runs allowed. This after both the projected one and two starters went down in spring training to elbow injuries within 24 hours of each other. Aaron Harang, while he appears to have come back to earth and his most recent starts, was a huge pick up by the Braves. Harang is another scrap heap reclamation by Frank Wren and even if he falls flat in July, he has served admirably while the walking wounded heal.

Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana

 

Ervin Santana has been another good signing for the Braves. His last two outings have been a bit shaky but I think he has found himself. After all, he missed most of spring training and this is about the point when the lack of early work shows up.

 

JulioTeheran

Julio Teheran

The Braves future ace has arrived. Julio Teheran is showing everyone why the Braves refused to part with him under any circumstances. Other than one bump in the road in San Francisco when he was unable to find grip on the ball, he will discover the hidden pine tar trick soon, he has pitched like a front of the rotation guy. Not bad for a kid who has not yet reached his 24th birthday. The scary thing is he can get even better. Maturity allows a player to become a pitcher instead of a thrower. I hope he saw Lyle Overbay induce a weak pop up on a 69 mph fastball…. Just keep it out of the middle of the plate.

Mike Minor

Mike Minor

 

Mike Minor has returned and is pitching like the guy who came of age last year. Sure, he will give up a homer here and there but as long as he stays focused, he should serve well as the number three guy in the rotation behind Teheran and Santana. Gavin Floyd has yet to get a decision but that is not his fault. he is pitching a lot better than I expected for a guy one year removed from Tommy John.

 

 

David Hale

David Hale

Alex Wood

Alex Wood

The best part may be the Braves two aces in the hole so to speak, Alex Wood and David Hale. Both have been moved to the bullpen with the arrival of Floyd and Minor but it bodes well for the Braves to have two outstanding young hurlers available if needed. Meanwhile, they have done a wonderful job coming out of the pen. Hale has yet to give up a run and Alex Wood is getting the wins denied him as a starter.

While we are on the subject of the bullpen, let’s look at some nice surprises there too.

 

Ian Thomas

Ian Thomas

Ian Thomas, late of the independent leagues, has become a reliable lefty who has been given more responsibility of late. The slider he has added to his repertoire has given him another pitch to give hitter something to think about. He has a decent fastball and a big looping curve but the addition of his slider has made him money coming out of the pen.

David Carpenter

David Carpenter

 

David Carpenter continues to impress. Often mistaken for Craig Kimbrel, he has a nasty fastball but it is his slider that often gets him in trouble. Still, he has become the primary eight inning set up guy for Kimbrel.

 

Anthony Valvaro and Luis Avilan appear to have benefited from more rest or better said, less use with the emergence of Thomas, Wood and Hale. Often now they have become better used as situation pitchers rather than coming in to pitch a complete half inning.

Jordan Walden

Jordan Walden

Jordan Walden is perhaps the only question mark right now. Not because of his poor pitching but more because of his being prone to injuring his hamstrings. He has such a violent delivery, added stress makes him susceptible to spending time on the DL. The good thing is the Braves have so much depth in their pen, they can afford for him to heal rather than rushing him back. The Angels certainly must have mixed emotions about their trade with the Braves which saw Tommy Hansen go to the left coast with Jordan coming east. Personally, I think Frank Wren and company picked the Angles’ pockets.

 

That, I think, sums it up for the first part of the season, as of this posting the Braves are in first place in the NL East by three runs of the surprising Marlins. Good pitching is important and if the Braves could find a little bit of the magic they had last season at the plate, this team could run off a couple of 10 game winning streaks which will insulate them from their occasional funks.

Gil2

128: And It Begins Again

by Gil Elliott 'Gil from Mechanicsville'

by Gil Elliott
‘Gil from Mechanicsville’

So, here we are again, the annual rite of spring, opening day of Major League Baseball. Okay, so the Dodgers and Diamondbacks got a jump on everyone by going down under in a convoluted scheme by the commissioner to expand the brand of MLB by playing a three day set in Australia. So, the Dodgers are up by 3 and Arizona is mired deep in the cellar of the NL West and everyone else is still busy unpacking and repacking as they prepare for the 2014 season.

However, since this is a Braves site, I won’t waste a lot of time worrying about the other 29 teams in MLB, I am going to focus primarily on this blog’s namesake. So, without further ado, let’s discuss the pluses and minuses of the Braves’ 2014 addition. First the pluses. Location, location, location…. or in baseball speak, the schedule. As opposed to last season when the Braves has one of the toughest schedules to begin the year, this season, Atlanta faces one of the easiest schedules. I’m not saying the Braves will win three out of every four games but at least they should not be mired 10 games behind the Nationals by April 10th. Is that even possible?

Santana3

Santana

The Bravos who are clearly wounded by the double whammy of Kris Medlin and Brandon Beachy going down on successive days to elbow injuries, the Braves went from pitching rich to pitching poor almost over night. At least the braves were fortunate to have Ervin Santana still available for a late spring acquisition. While Santana might never be confused as a Greg Maddux level signing, he certainly may prove to be the guy who saves Christmas for the Bravos this season.

MikeMinor3

Minor

Mike Minor and his “Damn Brother, I don’t Think I would Have Told That” condition/injury which I am sure must have been both painful and embarrassing for him. I think I would have just said I got dropped kicked in the family jewels in a bar fight and been done with it. Anyway, at least it is not an elbow….. He should be back by May and along with off season trade pick-up Gavin Floyd, who is also returning from Tommy John surgery should give the 2014 Braves a much different look as far as their pitching staff goes. After all, a starting staff of Ervin Santana, Mike Minor, Gavin Floyd, Julio Teheran and Alec Wood/Arron Harrang seems infinitely more intimidating, at least on paper, than one of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Arron Harrang and David Hale.

Venters

Venters

Of course, you just never know. Every team is on small tendon away from being on tap to being an also ran. The Braves still have a potentially strong bullpen staff. One which is the main difference between them and 20 or so other major league teams. Not saying there are not so weak links but getting back a strong Jonny Venters for the second half could be a real difference maker.

UgglaDan

Uggla

And think, we have not even begun to talk about the Braves’ offense. That could be the real difference this season for the Bravos. A rejuvenated Dan Uggla appears to be set to finally be the guy Frank Wren traded away play maker Omar Infante for. $13 million dollars a season is not that big a contract these days as far as professional baseball players go but for the Braves, it is a significant chunk of coin. Along with BJ Upton who without question was the biggest disappointment for Atlantan’s since Sherman broke thru the defenses of John B Hood in 1864, Uggla and BJ both appear ready to finally pay off on Wren’s investments.

Douomit

Doumit

Ryan Doumit also looks to be a good off season pick-up for Atlanta. A guy who has power and can play several different positions as well as catch give the Braves some protection against Evan Gattis not being able to live up to last year’s storybook season. I’ll be honest, I think Evan will get off to a bit of a slow start because he has not had the opportunity to get his timing down this spring. Remember, last year Evan won a spot due to his red hot bat which had the benefit of some winter ball to get him going. This year, we learned El Orso Blanco had off season surgery on his left knee. Who knew it was a problem? No one ever mentioned it last season. Still, the Braves will miss BMac but all and all, I think the Braves will be okay at the back stop position.

Freeman

Freeman

Freddie Freeman has been red hot all spring, he looks to be finally become the Super Star a lot of us all thought he would be. Personally, I have thought Fab 5 has been overlooked by a lot of folks as far as his value to the team. A lot of balls are snagged by Freddie that go as throwing errors for the rest of the infield whenever someone else occupies the 3 spot.

 

Heyward

Heyward

Jason Heyward has looked strong this spring and is poised to be the biggest and strongest lead off man in the majors. Put that in with a gold glove defense and I think we will finally see J-Hay begin a string of All-Star appearances. The other brother from a different mother (and father) Justin Upton hopefully will play with a little more fire. He can be really, really good at times but he sure can give appearances of being lackadaisical at times.

Simba keeping up his excellent glove work as well as the improved play of Chris Johnson at third can really benefit the Atlanta pitching staff. While I think it will be really difficult for CJ to repeat his 2013 season as far as his batting average is concerned, Andrelton’s continued maturity at the plate should make up for it. Simmons has surprising power but it is his low OBP which is worrisome.

The Braves have a strong bench with Doumit, Pena, Laird, Schafer and Pasternicky. The one thing the Braves lack is an extra power bat from the left side. Did we ever think that would be the case? After being lefty heavy for so many years?

So, let the games begin! Try not to get too high or too low because as we have seen for so many seasons, things can change in the blink of an eye. Riding high in April, shot down in May…. So true, especially in baseball. 162 games of nail biting and then there are the play offs but first you have to throw out the first pitch.

Gil2

#127: A Farewell To Arms

by Gil Elliott 'Gil from Mechanicsville'

by Gil Elliott

So, in the past thirty days or so we have seen the number of healthy arms expected to fill out the Braves pitching staff diminish as fast as a spendthrift’s bank account. To be honest, I have not seen the Braves’ expected starting five so decimated since that fateful season of 2008. Y’all remember that don’t you? The year of Buddy Carlyle. Jorge Campillio, Chuck James and JoJo Reyes which led the Braves to go all in on Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami in 2009. It was during the Braves attempt to stay relevant and rebuild on the fly.

InsertThe projected starting five this season was sketchy to begin with. The Braves were counting on three pitchers who were rebounding from Tommy John surgery to lead the charge. “They” being Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and off season acquisition Gavin Floyd. To my way of thinking it was a bit like drawing to an inside straight to cover a pretty large raise. It isn’t impossible but the odds are against you. Those odds reared it’s ugly head and bite the Braves in the butt when within 24 hours both Medlen and Beachy went down to arm trouble. Throw in Mike Minor’s inhibited return to full strength to a somewhat odd necessity to have surgery to his urethra in January and subsequently causing him to strain his shoulder in trying make up for lost time.

What the Braves were left with was going from an embarrassment of riches in the pitching department to an embarrassment of a pitching staff. Guys like journeyman Freddie Garcia moving from a guy who was trying to pitch his way onto the Braves major league roster as a fifth starter/long relief guy to now the number three guy on your staff. That is scary.

Santana

Santana

Fortunately, the best free agent starter still available, Ervin Santana was still mulling over offers from American League clubs, Toronto and Baltimore. Now, let’s be realistic, Erwin Santana is no Clayton Kershaw. In fact, he may not even be a Kris Medlen when it comes to talent but he is certainly a huge improvement over what the Braves were looking at before inking a one year deal with the 31 year old righty from the Dominican Republic for the amount of $14.1 million dollars. This is in essence the same amount of the qualifying offer he turned down from the Kansas City Royals.

Given the circumstances, the Braves got off cheap. Yes, they have increased their payroll beyond their budgeted amount and gave up a first round draft pick, They got off a heck of lot cheaper than if they had to make a trade for a front line starter. Didn’t the Braves just trade a first round pick, Sean Gilmartin, for a pitcher? There is no guarantee a first round pick is ever going to make it to the show. My take is the Braves view not just the cost of adding a guy like Santana but the potential loss of revenue that comes with a losing team. I have said many times, the Braves spend what they choose to spend. Their self imposed salary cap is just that, self imposed. I’m not saying they should spend like the federal government but they have to be realistic if they want to stay relevant.

Gil2

126: Ah, Spring, Renewed Hope

by Gil Elliott

by Gil Elliott

What an odd winter we as fans of the Braves have experienced. It began with the announcement the Braves would be moving into their own house beginning in 2017 to a location 17 miles north of the Ghetto. Away from the site of occupancy they have plied their trade for nearly fifty years now.

I guess when we think about a club making a “big move”, that is not exactly what most fans would let come to mind. Not that I blame the Braves organization for wanting to look at how they can stay relevant. They are saddled with what is considered one of the worse local TV deals in all of professional sports. That’s right, not just baseball but in all pro sports.

Well, if you are handed lemons, it is good to know how to make lemonade and a little lemon zest to get maximum return on your lemons. Maybe even plant a few seeds to grow your own lemon trees, too. Looks like the Braves may have done just that.

Huddy

Huddy

BMcCann

BMac

No big free agent signing occurred this season by the Braves. It was really more of a subtraction than an addition in that respect. Former Braves “Baby Brave” Brian McCann signing long term with Yankees for $85MM and mildly surprising bull dog and former staff ace Tim Hudson bolting to the west coast for a 2 year $23MM deal. I would suspect that is about double what the Braves were willing to risk for a guy who is in decline. I can’t really fault either party for that one. The Braves just did not value Tim that much and BMac’s departure has been long seen by many as a one-trick pony whose future is in a place where he needs to hit only four times a game to be successful.  Big Poppi in Boston has certainly been able to make a living doing just that.

In a real baseball league, everyone has to hit and play the field on a fairly regular basis. So, how do you stay relevant where your competition are getting 2 billion dollar local TV deals? Looks like the Braves have made a good start. They have taken a page out of the government’s play book and put in a bunch of back loaded contracts. Not that I don’t applaud Frank Wren and company for thinking outside the box a bit by locking up the core of their home grown talent that has some pretty significant balloon payments at the end. (Didn’t they outlaw those in the mortgage industry?)  Anyway, if it looks good and gives the Braves some stability in keeping their core players together, all the better.

Jason Heyward

JHey

It looks like a lot of money but the way the contracts are structured, it will be the problem of the next owner and General Manager when 2018 rolls around. The Braves will likely have to pay Heyward if he finally develops into another Freddie Freeman as far as a reliable, everyday player or super star. Other than Robinson Cano, I did not really see player contract escalating this past off season. Heck, in five years, who knows what the dollar will be worth?

So! Where does that leave us? The Braves had a surprisingly good team last year. They really were a .500 hundred team for the most part but they took full advantage of a couple of 14 game winning streaks and the too late surge by a disappointing Nationals team who for all intents and purposes took their pre season press clippings a little too seriously. What was their greatest weakness?  Their bullpen, and all of us have seen that movie before.

So, what to expect this season from the Braves? A lot has to go right for the Braves to repeat as NL East champions:

Evan Gattis

Evan Gattis

– An Evan Gattis who can continue to inspire blue collar guys everywhere by swinging a big bat and tape measure home runs. That and he continues to hold up behind the plate.

Freemanfirstbase

Freeman

– A Fab 5 who continues to be clutch at the plate and keeps saying infield errors with the incredible ability to snare baseballs off the deck and way off the mark at first.

Andrelton

Andrelton Simmons

– A super star shortstop who is beginning to look like the next Ozzie Smith, who shows a bit more maturity at the plate and improves his on base percentage with more walks and line drives and fewer pop ups.

Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson

– The Braves have to hope that the guy who was considered a “throw-in” for fan favorite Marteen Prado continues to amaze with a a hot bat and an improved glove at third.

For the Braves to stay on top, in addition to the above, two of the most disappointing players in Braves history have to at least be among the league average when it comes to hitting. They say strike outs are no worse than any other out. But, with automatic strike outs every at bat, far too often we see the bases loaded with no outs – yet no one scores.

A young pitching staff full of number twos and threes are going to have to step up and stay focused on keeping their team in the game and hope the good guys can hit a three run homer or two and not feel the need to be perfect every game. It is that feeling of continuous pressure which leads to ulcers and gray hair.

Kimbrel

Kimbrel

The Braves secret weapon still has to be their shut-down bull pen. That is the real reason the Braves finished where they did last season. No team outside the Yankees can bludgeon the opposition into the submission every game – and even they found out what it means to have a weak pitching staff.

The Braves may have lost O’Flararty to the A’s this season but they have been without him for quite a while. They still have the best closer in baseball and don’t ever think that the last 3 outs in a baseball game isn’t the hardest to get. The only people who don’t think so are the teams who don’t have that “go-to” kind of guy . Just like having an Ace at the top of the pitching staff who gives your team confidence they can put up a W whenever he takes the mound, having a shut down guy at the end of the game helps everyone on the team try to turn it into a 6 inning game.

SO LET’S GO BRAVES… LET”S REPEAT!!!

125: Hall Of Fame: Destiny Fulfilled

by Gil Elliott 'Gil from Mechanicsville'

by Gil Elliott
‘Gil from Mechanicsville’

This past week, we discovered that two essential parts of the long time Braves’ stellar pitching triumphant were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Greg Maddux, aka Doggie, was without question one of the best pitchers ever to tie up a pair of baseball cleats. Those of us who were blessed with the opportunity to see Maddux pitch both in person or via the once venerable super station TBS remember so many of the gems hurled in under two hours. In an age where the average American League game often extended into four hours, when Greg was scheduled to pitch, you could still watch the game and bet on it being over early enough for you to watch your favorite prime time TV show.

Mad Dog

Mad Dog

I doubt Greg Maddux was the inventor of the strategy of pitching to contact, but he certainly was the master of its implementation. Often asked if he thought he would ever pitch a no hitter, he would reply that he doubted it. It just was not part of his game. Never blessed with the power to blow away hitters, he did possess the mind of a genius when it came to setting up hitters and keeping the ball off the sweet spot of the bat. Barry Bonds referred to him as old dipsy doddle because he never threw anything straight. Watching the game on TV allowed for us was to see the incredible movement on the ball no matter what he pitched. Ball control was his game. Anytime he issued a walk, it was of the intentional verity. The same is said of whenever he hit a batter. While he would profess innocence, everyone in the park knew his control was so fine, it was unfathomable that he could let one slip. He once pitched 51 consecutive innings without issuing a walk. Seldom did he throw more than three pitches to a batter. Of course in his typical self depreciating style, when ask to what he attributed his success, he cited having Rafael Furcal and Andrew Jones behind him certainly helped because he knew when the ball was struck, one of them would catch it.

Glavine

Glavine

The other first ballot Hall of Farmer elected who was a huge part of the Braves’ success was Tom Glavine. Another cerebral kind of guy, his game was also to make you hit his pitch. Often that pitch was a devastating change up. He lived on the outside for so long, the strike zone would became where ever he decided it should be on a particular start. When he found that batters started crowding the plate in anticipation of his extended strike zone, he learned that pitching inside was a winning strategy too.

Glavine likely would have won his 300th game as a Brave were it not for folks pushing the limits of a relationship and Tom calling the Braves’ bluff on an inside straight. I remember Glavine starting one All Star game and giving up six consecutive singles in the first inning, all ground balls. Needless to say, the National League lost that game but it was not until years later we discovered that Glavine was pitching with two cracked ribs in that game. Not that he didn’t execute his game plan, it was just the AL was hitting them where they won’t. That was the thing about Tom Terrific, he showed other pitchers on the team you did not have to be 100% to take your turn on the mound and still be successful. It also proves one can do what he is supposed to do but it still takes 8 other guys on a team to win. Glavine possessed a certain amount of grit, likely accrued from his youth hockey days. He showed others how to play through the pain. A lot of Braves fans never forgave Tom for signing with the Mets in 2003 nor his role as the President of the Baseball Player’s Association when the player’s strike of 1994 derailed the season. Say what you will, I believe it only demonstrated further his abilities as a leader both on and off the field.

Having a Hall of Fame manager to guide them did not hurt the pair either. Bobby Cox, BobbyCoxwho will also sit on the podium along with Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Frank Thomas, managed his teams to success, no matter their make up. Often the Braves were accused of always waiting for the three run homer to win games, seldom stealing bases or other wise employing the running game but Bobby was simply playing with the cards he was dealt. The speedy Furcal would often turn a game into a one nothing affair after legging out a single, stealing second, moving to third on a ground ball hit to second and scoring on a sac fly. Dion Sanders was another speedster employed by Cox but the two things a Bobby Cox team was known for were pitching and solid defense. Having players in the outfield who could “go get it”. Something that often contributed to the Braves pitching staff having the league leading ERA at the end of each season.

Smoltz2aHopefully, in 2015 we will be able to applaud the selection of John Smoltz, the third leg of the trinity of Braves pitching. John was the antithesis of Glavine and Maddux, relying upon power and an overwhelming split-finger pitch as opposed to finesse but that is a topic for discussion on another day.

Leo's Staff

Days of Glory

HOF2014

124: The players may change but the game remains the same.

by Gil Elliott 'Gil from Mechanicsville'

by Gil Elliott
‘Gil from Mechanicsville’

Dizzy Dean

Dizzy Dean

Hit the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball. Time honored axioms of the greatest game on earth. A game which is perfect for the haze of summer for when it is meant to be played. As followers of the game, we are all familiar with names like Cy Young, Dizzy Dean, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial and hundreds more who have graced the green fields of places known as Wrigley. Turner and Ebbets Field. Stadiums as cavernous as the Mistake on the Lake in Cleveland and as intimate as Fenway. Baseball fields which all have their individual quirks and idiosyncrasies but all have the same dimensions of 90 feet between each base and 60 feet 6 inches from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. But, even with these dimensions being the same, every field is unique in the way they play. Some teams let the grass grow long to slow the ball to allow for an infield comprised of slow-footed sluggers or lightning fast if the defense is stellar.

 Cy Young 1892

Cy Young 1892

Every season, one team remains as the winner of the ultimate prize in baseball, to be crowned world champions. Winners of a best of seven play-offs between the final teams left after a 162 game season to qualify for the play-offs and then to outlast the remaining qualifiers for the right to play for the championship. Not surprisingly, it is not always the best team, the highest paid team, the team with the best hitter, the best pitcher but most often, it is the team which is the most clutch, is best able to withstand the pressure of the moment who are victorious. Perhaps unfairly, it is the team which can get hot at the most opportune time who gain the glory.

 Avilan

Avilan

David carpenter3

Carpenter

This past season, we watched as our beloved Braves surprised most everyone in baseball by winning the National League East. Winning 96 games and beating the much ballyhooed Washington Nationals by ten games. They did this despite having their two highest paid players hit well below the infamous Mendoza line. Despite having one of the youngest teams in major league baseball. The Braves defied expectations by having a bullpen without the services of such stalwarts as Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flarety and Christian Martinez.

Ramiro+Pena

Ramiro Pena

Amazingly the emergence of Luis Avilan and a converted catcher by the name of David Carpenter, who by the way was released by Boston Red Sox after being traded from Toronto.

The 2013 Braves won 96 games despite having 20 players spend time on the disabled list at some point during the  season and others that missed significant time due to wear and tear. Amazingly, losing front line pitchers Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy and Paul Mulholm. Losing the services of gold glove outfielder Jason Heyward not once but twice for what amounted to 1/3 of the season. The untimely loss of super utility guy Ramiro Pena and just about every back up infielder on the 40 man roster. Jordan Schafer, who finally showed flashes of the potential the Braves saw in him when he was drafted by the them in the third round of the 2005 draft. The 2013 Braves won despite having to insert Kansas City Royal cast off Elliot Johnson at second base because Tyler Pastornicky could not make it past one week as the heir apparent at second base after a collision with Jason Heyward in short right field.

Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson

Andrelton Simmons

With Chipper Jones now a memory, Chris Johnson, who will likely never win a gold glove at third base, became a wonderful surprise with a clutch bat and strong arm and a more than adequate replacement for the foreseeable future at third base for the Bravos. All-World Andrelton Simmons who will improve the stats of every Braves pitcher who can induce a ground ball by opposing hitters and will continue to improve at the plate as he accrues acumen with the bat. A first baseman in Freddie Freeman who by all rights should be the starting first baseman for the National League All-star game for the next several years and should garner MVP consideration not only for his prowess with the bat but for the number of errant throws from the other infielders he snares as they pass within the vicinity of his position.

Evan Gattis

Evan Gattis

Everyone’s feel good story of the year, Evan Gattis has become an Atlanta legend in the course of a few short months. Exceeding everyone’s expectations by not only hitting in clutch situations but taking to a new position in left field and showing better than average ability while donning the tools of ignorance. No doubt Brian McCann will be missed when he leaves for a big payday soon but the catcher’s position is not one for which the Braves will have to seek a replacement. Christian Bethancourt, the here-to-fore heir to McCann will have to wait a while longer before he becomes the Braves number one signal caller.

So, who will be the next ex Braves besides McCann this season? Both the Braves and Tim Hudson have indicated they would like to continue their relationship. It may be the bean counters who decide if it continues. Reed Johnson’s Achilles heel may be his Achilles heel. Never counted on to be an everyday guy, he still has value both in the club house and as a right hand pinch hitter. Dan Uggla’s ability to see the light, or anything else for that matter, will be determine if he starts next season in a Braves uniform. I cannot see any other team having value for a guy who cannot make contact no matter what the price. It is not like Dan’s glove is going to keep him line up. No, Dan will either hit this spring or end up being a $13 million dollar albatross around Frank Wren’s neck.

Eric O’Flarerty or Jonny Venters, take your pick. One will stay, one will go. Let’s hope the Braves keep the right one. Personally, I think O’Flarerty would be the safer bet to keep but that does not mean he will. Comes down to where the Braves want to spend their money. BJ Upton will still be in town but methinks that if Frank’s crystal ball had given him any indication of the emergence of Evan Gattis as a right handed power bat this season, the off season signing of Upton would never have happened and 75 million dollars would have gone towards front line starter like Zack Grienke or even extending Brian McCann but that ship has sailed. Let’s all hope that BJ doesn’t become the highest paid pinch runner in the league.

~ Gil~

123: Let the Final Games Begin…

by Gil Elliott 'Gil from Mechanicsville'

by Gil Elliott
‘Gil from Mechanicsville’

Good morning folks….. Well, the time has finally come for the Braves to make the push to go into the play-offs with a big head of momentum.

I think the last thing we Braves fans want to see is the Los Bravos backing into October. I guess this means for me, no more Kameron Loe, no more “B” squad line ups, no more en mass days of rest.

Funny how even with a 14 game lead, how tenuous I feel about the Atlanta team’s chances going into October.

The Braves have a stable of pitchers who are capable of throwing a no hitter on any given night, unfortunately, they are also capable of being bombed out of existence on any given night. Besieged by walks, coupled with tape measure home-runs.

So, what to do? First off, put Philly out of their misery quickly. Then dispatch the Marlins and finally drive a stake thru the heart of the Nationals’ hope for a final wild card spot by taking all three from the gNats.

Right now, the Braves have a big ol’ bulls eye on their backs as far as the rest of the NL East is concerned. Kids trying to win a spot on next year’s roster on their respective teams. Veterans trying to show they are still relevant and teams in general saying we can beat you even if you win the title.

Working against the Braves right now are certain players who don’t feel the need to continue to play all out. We have seen many times in the past that employing the button downed, aloof approach as far as the playoffs has backfired on the Braves.

The one real edge this year’s edition of the Atlanta Braves is they are all relatively young, but still have been hardened by the memories of past failures.

They also have shown the ability to overcome the loss of key players. Despite the

absence of Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Jonny Venters, Christian Martinez, Eric O’Flarety and at times Jorden Walden and others, the Braves have continued to lead the league in wins, ERA, saves and other assorted stats.

Despite the absence at various times their front line catcher, Brian McCann, time spent on the DL by Jordan Schafer, Freedie Freeman, Reed Johnson and now Jason Heyward, the Braves have continued to win.

Finally, despite the lack of production by the Braves’ two highest paid players in BJ Upton and Dan Uggla have still won to the point they lead all of Major League Baseball with the best record.

So Braves fans, as we continue to ride the wave of success the Braves have had this season, it is with great trepidation we await the final games of September and hoped for momentum to go all the way to the World Series.

pitchers(Remember those days?)

~ Gil ~

122: To Be or Not To Be BMac

VOR

by VOR

 

I heard a pretty extensive discussion about Mac just yesterday. Good points were made.Brian McCann

First, this is Mac’s last deal. This is the one that sets him and his offspring up for life. There will be more than one AL team willing to offer Mac six years given their ability to have him DH occasionally now and extensively later. The Braves cannot offer that.

Second, the Braves will most certainly offer him a qualifying deal. In fact they’d be ecstatic if he’d take it. But he won’t. And the Braves will pick up a high draft pick. For all those who scream “you can’t just let him walk at the end of the year for nothing”, the Braves do get something, and it is something of worth. How do the Braves keep it going? By building through the farm system. How do you guarantee success through the draft? You can’t… but you do give yourself a lot better chance of hitting on a top prospect if you have more draftees. Draft picks matter.

Evan Gattis

Evan Gattis

Third, the sad fact is that money does matter. The Braves could afford to give Mac the payday he deserves, but at what cost? If you pay Mac, who do you not pay? Gotta extend JHey. Gotta extend Freeman. Gotta start thinking about Minor. And if you give Mac the years and money he’s gonna get from Texas or Boston or New York, then you end up like he Phillies with aging players eating up your payroll and spending more time on the DL. Utely is still bothered by the knee and half the player he was. Lee’s missing his next start because of his neck. Ruiz has had a couple of stints on the DL this season with his knees. Howard… remember Howard? Highest paid and least seen. Halladay? Well, you get the picture.

Look, I love Mac. He is the soul of this team this year. But I want what’s best for the Braves, not the Brave. How blessed is this team to have Gattis already performing, Laird on the bench and Bethancourt as a prospect? Many teams can’t even start a guy as good as the guy we have in AA. The Braves have been built to sustain success by moving young talent in and moving older talent out. It is the recipe for long term success. And Mac will look good in Ranger blue. :-)

~ Voice of Reason Raisins

121: Will The Real Braves Team Please Show Up….

by Gil Elliott 'Gil from Mechanicsville'

by Gil Elliott

So, a little more than a month has passed and we have seen two very different Braves teams. The first was a world beater, rolling off a 12 win/2 loss record before BravesSnowrunning into a buzz saw of a road trip. Perhaps it was the idea of playing in an environment more suited to ice hockey than baseball that was the killer but since that stellar start, the Braves have looked very average. Perhaps we expected too much before the Atlanta team came back to earth in the heady first two weeks of the season.  Routing the Braves_Cold_t300Nationals to open their home stand gave credence to the fact the Braves liked home cooking but suddenly the Nats bounced back and took the last two games of the series to earn a split. Then the Mets piled it on, snatching away an almost certain victory for the Braves by doing something no one else has ever done: hitting home runs off both O’Flarerty and Kimbrel in the same game to tie before scoring the go ahead runs in the tenth.

Perhaps we should all take a step back and realize the old adage of “It ain’t over til it’s over” is more true in baseball than any other sport. Rookie sensation Evan Gattis is perhaps human after all and Justin Upton will not hit 72 home runs this season. At least there appears to be some rays of hope with Dan Uggla heating up and BJ Upton at least playing a great centerfield. Now, if only his bat can speed up to get wood on those fast balls he has been futilely waving at for the first month of the season, that big contract won’t look so bad. Chris Johnson may have cooled a little but Freddi Freeman is showing signs of heating up.Brian McCann

The return of Brian McCann should provide a spiritual lift for the Braves. It is not just that he can hit but it is when he hits that has made him such a valued player in the Braves lineup. Nothing should be taken away from the surprising performance turned in so far by Evan Gattis but BMac is still one of the best catchers in the majors. A perennial All-Star until his balky shoulder diminished his production last season, Brian by all accounts appears to have returned to form. The combination of this being a contract year and the fact he should get a little more rest at the back stop position should translate to a Brian McCann we have not seen since his arrival in the Big A. That being a guy who is able to maintain his bat speed into the months of September.

All that said, the Bravos have a pretty tough road trip ahead. Then again, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. GO BRAVES!!

~ Gil ~

In Memoriam

rickcamp

Rick Camp
1953 – 2013

120: Well, two weeks down, thirty three to go.

by Gil Elliott 'Gil from Mechanicsville'

by Gil Elliott

With the first two weeks of the season behind us the Braves have shone they can play, making use of a lot of tools, while not yet at full strength. The Braves have been resilience being able to plug in their bench. This can work in the short term but the long haul is different, for one thing, it weakens the bench which has happened before. What you do not want to happen is to have to play for extended periods using your number two and three guys. In today’s world, advance scouting is a lot easier with so many games being aired over TV. While nothing can beat eyes-on in-person reports when scouting a team and players, being able to review a pitcher or hitter to determine tendencies is far and away easier when you can repeatedly hit the rewind button.

But back to facts, the Braves have been able to follow the old school baseball philosophy of beating up on the weak teams while playing the good teams at least even. This week, the Braves beat the Marlins, the Houston Astros of the National League, although that is a bit unfair to the Astros, they at least have a plan. Anyway, they have beat the Marlins, the Cubs, have taken on the Nationals and swept them all.

McCann

McCann

Everyone’s favorite bet to play in this year’s World Series is the Nationals but the Braves are in control of their own destiny. Soon, Freddie Freeman will be back and Brian McCann will return with a mission. Maybe the Braves will not be able to afford BMac in the future but there will be a lot of deep pocket American League teams and, perhaps even some in the National League, who will be willing to make sure Brian’s grand children will never want for anything.

Freeman

Freeman

The key, however, is still “good pitching beats good hitting”. Bad pitching is revealed for what it is.

Friday night’s game was a classic for Braves fans. Down early and in danger of being blown out, catcher Gerald Laird walked out to the mound after Teheran gave up the fourth run in just the second inning and calmed the rookie with the words of wisdom to buckle down and keep the team in the game. We had seen this same type of melt down before with Mike Minor when he simply gave up after allowing early runs. The change was dramatic: no more hits, a few quick outs and Teheran showed everyone the promise he holds for the Braves organization.

Teheran

Teheran

While Detwiler mesmerized Atlanta hitters for seven innings, he was relieved be a heretofore reputed strong Washington bullpen. Suddenly the National’s pitchers couldn’t find the strike zone and allowed the Braves to tie the game by the ninth and with the Nats’ newly acquired closer Rafael Soriano unavailable after closing three straight games against the White Sox, Drew Storen gave up a two run homer to the Braves’ latest surprise hero Ramiro Pena in the tenth inning. Craig Kimbrel nailed down the save while facing the heart of the Washington batting order. The net result was a shock to the Washington Nationals and a boost to the mojo of the Braves.

Huddy

Huddy

On Saturday, Atlanta’s newest folk hero crushed a high hard one from Washington’s favorite hurler, Stephen Strasburg, and sent it deep into the left field bleachers. As yet, no one has quite figured out how he caught up with the

Kimbrel

Kimbrel

ball. While it was only a two run homer, Tim Hudson made it stand up and actually out pitched the young phenom. The Braves added an insurance run in the ninth and young Kimbrel slammed the door shut the second straight night.

Maholm

Maholm

It was not until Sunday that the Braves best pitching performance was turned in. Paul Maholm turned a gem, mixing an occasional fastball with an assortment of breaking pitches to keep the Washington hitters off balance. The same could not be said of Gio Gonzalas as the Braves hitters feasted on nearly every mistake he made. It is still early days but the Braves have sent a message they are the real Beast of the East this season.

Beachy

Beachy

There is lots of baseball yet to be played but one wonders how the return of Brando Beachy, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann will affect this club.

I’m thinking it will make a strong club even stronger. Woo hoo.. I can hardly wait.

~Gil~

119: Up and Runing!

by Gil Elliott'Gil from Mechanicsville'

by Gil Elliott

I doubt anyone outside of the most fervent fan figured a beginning to the Upton Era quite like the one we have seen the first week of the 2013 season. With Justin homering in five if the first six games and his big bother breaking out of his early slump with a huge home run off Carlos Marmol to tie the game Saturday night. While the talking heads fawn over Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, the Diamondbacks’ former first over all pick of the 2007 draft has taken to Atlanta like kudzu on a Georgia highway embankment.

BJ (2) and Justin (8) Upton

BJ (2) and Justin (8) Upton

Yes, the D’Backs did pick up a fairly promising young right hander in Delgado but the early returns on J-Up have been like the price of gasoline futures during the Arab embargo. To be honest, the town of Atlanta has not had so much to be excited about since the premier of Gone With The Wind.  While it is still early days, the brass in Arizona must be wondering what they were thinking when they flipped Justin to the Braves for Marteen Prado.

Evan Gattis

Evan Gattis

Little has gone wrong for the Braves the first week with the flip-flopping of Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco at third and the same behind the plate with Gerald Laird and growing folk legend Evan Gattis. Even with the somewhat disappointing début of phenom Julio Teheran could not overshadow the excitement coming out of The Ted this first week of the 2013 season. Every move being made in the Atlanta dugout appears to be gold because no matter, this bunch of ball players have covered up every mistake made so far. While it is still way early to be crowning any team as the probable winner of this year’s Wold Series. The current team, being led with the heroics of the Justin Upton is certainly making sure they are being included in the conversation.

One has to wonder the effect the return of Brian McCann will have to the team in early May. Can this team get any better? It is a little scary to think about frankly. But, that is a topic to fret over another day. Let’s all ride the wave of euphoria while we can. To be sure, it is a mighty big wave.

~Gil~

#118: Up Up And A Hey

by Gil Elliott'Gil from Mechanicsville'

by Gil Elliott

‘Gil from Mechanicsville’

Wow, in the course of a few short days, Frank Wren and company turned a negative into a plus with the addition of a former number one over-all draft pick and sometimes misunderstood All-star in Justin Upton. To be honest, I did not see it coming. Along with former number one pick, B J Upton and a young and quickly maturing number one pick Jason Heyward, the Braves have put together an outfield that may only be behind the L A Angels in overall talent and ability, even that may be argued.

UptonsHeyward

BJ Upton, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward

Certainly, it is an outfield that could well hit 100 home-runs and drive in 300 runs over the course of a season. That and steal 60 bases, not to mention the potential to save runs which could vastly improve the entire Atlanta’s collective ERA.

I have been trying to recollect when the Braves have fielded a trio of outfielders who have brought as much potential for excitement and honestly, I cannot think of another time in Braves history they have had this much talent in the outfield at one time. Most certainly, the starting outfield for the 2013 National League All-star game could have these three players in it. They are that good. To think, in the course of a few short years, the Braves have gone from having one of the weakest outfield to one of the best. Amazing.

Martin Prado

Martin Prado

Sadly, the acquisition of Justin Upton did not come without a high cost. In addition to three minor league prospects and a once untouchable young starter in Randal Delgado, the Braves had to part with one of the most liked players in the organization in the person of Martin Prado. Prado was respected by fans and team mates alike because of his attitude and work ethic. In addition to being able to play every infield position, he had a perchance for being clutch. Not a big home-run hitter, he utilized the tools he had to spray the ball to all fields. He would on occasion hit the dramatic big fly but seemed to be just as content to hit a single the other way to move a runner over.

For sure, if the Arizona manager, Kirk Gibson, wanted a gritty player, he got one in the 29 year old Prado.

Now the only questions remain as to how well the combination of Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson are able to man the third base position which seemingly was to be held down by Marteen in the wake of Chipper Jones’ retirement.

JohnsonFrancisco

Juan Francisco, Chris Johnson

The Braves may have given up some defense with the addition of Johnson but Francisco has shone flashes of excellence at the hot corner. The reports out of winter ball have been very positive as to Long Juan in his effort to get into better playing shape. With the tremendous power one would wish to have in a third baseman, he appeared to have a bit of a lazy streak which cause the Reds to give up on the young Dominican and trade him to the Braves during spring training prior to the 2012 season. This after being the Reds heir apparent to play third on a full time basis in 2012 but Dusty Baker grew weary of Juan’s apparent indifference to the Reds’ directive to show up in shape. For sure, Dusty will not abide a lollygagger.

Now, spring training will soon be upon us. A better idea of what we can expect will become evident. There are holes always to be filled and a 162 game season can be a long and arduous journey. Injuries and mishaps along the way can turn promise into disappointments but for now, the folks in Braves Country are ready to get started and yearn to hear those two words,

“PLAY BALL!”

ballthruwall

117: Will The Next Left Fielder Come Out Of… Well, Left Field?

hotstove

by Voice of Raisins

Northeast Georgia, God’s country

Will The Next Left Fielder Come Out Of… Well, Left Field?

20 years of Braves opening day LF:

2013: ????

2012: Matt Diaz, by default… Chipper on DL; Martin at 3B

2011: Martin Prado, a converted IF

2010: Melky Cabrera, having an atrocious season

2009: Matt Diaz, but Frank’s darkest moment Garret Flippin’ Anderson was penciled in as the regular starter… he had a boo-boo on his wittle weg on Opening Day

2008: Matt Diaz, who platooned with Gregor Blanco

2007: Matt Diaz, whom we picked up off waivers after KC dumped him

2006: Ryan Langerhans, whom we ended up trading for a PTBNL that never was

2005: an old Brian Jordan redux, soon to be booted in favor of Kelly Johnson, a converted 2BcJones

2004: Chipper Jones, but Charles Thompson was called up from AAA and played the most games there that year

2003: Chipper Jones

2002: Chipper Jones, for cryin’ out loud

2001: B.J. Surhoff, hanging on to collect one final paycheck

2000: Reggie Sanders, having the absolute worst season of his career

1999: Otis Nixon, on his way out… Gerald Williams played the most games thereRYAN KLESKO

1998: Ryan Klesko

1997: Ryan Klesko

1996: Ryan Klesko

1995: Ryan Klesko

1994: Ryan Klesko, a converted 1B

1993: Ron Gant, a converted 2B

In 20 years, the most consistent play we have had from LF is from 1B Ryan Klesko.

Let that one sink in a minute…

Next in consistency of appearances in LF we have Matt Diaz, who had been let go by perennial doormat Kansas City. We made him a starter. Next? How about HOF 3B Chipper Jones?

Do we not see a pattern here? Is LF cursed for the Braves? Can we not, for the love of all that’s good and holy, get a real LF to play LF for more than a year? And I’m OK with converted IF Prado as my consistent LF, if I have a real 3B. But the 3B market is maybe the thinnest in baseball right now.

For 2013, I saw a small ray of hope – not even a ray, just a flicker – that we’d have a real LF for the first time since the atrocious days of baby blue uniforms. Frank said he was focused. “Narrowly focused”, he said, and with “resources”.

Now we are hearing words like “comfortable” and “in-house options”. That is a stark contradiction to “narrowly focused”. They are talking names such as Constanza, Schierholtz (lost him to the Cubs), Reed Johnson (not yet an “in-house option”)… bench players all.

Who are our “in-house options”? Jose Constanza… the Braves “spark plug” and “high energy guy”. Those are terms used to describe players who don’t have the physical tools, but try really, really hard. Jordan Schafer, picked off the scrap heap from Houston, who had the worst record in baseball last season. He is currently listed only as the #3 CF on the Braves official depth chart behind BJ Upton – the high payed star who will play 155+ games – and Jose Constanza. Telling. And of course, currently the Braves official depth chart shows Martin as the #1 LF and Juan Francisco as #1 3B. Long Juan (great name, Gil) can hit ‘em a mile when he connects. He subscribes to the theory that you swing hard in case you hit it. Can’t hit RHP’s for squat.BrianJordan

I am not thrilled with our “in-house options”.

Maybe we should try v.3 of Brian Jordan. Is Langerhans still trying to eke out a living? Can’t be much worse than our other “in-house options”…

~VR~

 

116: OUT!!! Now What?

by Gil
Mechanicsville, VA

As we all watched the Braves fall to the Redbirds with a resounding thud in the first ever Wild Card playoff game, many of us were left with a very empty feeling of so much promise left unfulfilled. Everything appeared to be lined up in favor of the Braves. Outstanding pitching staff, rock solid bullpen and some timely hitting albeit somewhat sketchy when it came to getting guys home from scoring position. What we did not expect was a rock-slide defense would suddenly look like the Saturday Tee-ball league.

The net results is an end to a season long before we were really ready for it to stop. Oh well, it is done. Over. Kaput! Time for us to turn to the all important topic of what to do next? The obvious answer is what is needed to build a team who will be playing beyond the first round in 2013. All the while knowing the other teams in their own division will also be stronger next season. Having deep pockets does not always translates into success but it sure does make it easier to rebound from a mistake.

I look at the Braves as needing two major pieces and several minor ones to shore up their bench. First, someone to replace Chipper Jones. That is going to be a tough chore in itself. More likely, the Braves will to acquire several parts in order to make the whole. Hall of Fame type players do not grow on trees but when you look at the Cardinals, you can see how it’s done. Albert Pujols is perhaps one of the top five ball players in either league. St Louis managed very nicely by picking up Carlos Beltran. Beltran does not play the infield but he gives the Cardinals the same type of presence in the line up that Albert did. Far too often people become fixated by position when looking for players. What the Braves really need is a player who can provide a threat to produce RBIs in the middle of the line up and then find a position for him to play.

Martin Prado

So many folks have suggested Martin Prado be moved back into the infield to play third but forget that Freddie Freeman came up as a third baseman and was moved to first because the Braves felt this was an area of greatest need. I think what this gives the Braves is a bit more flexibility when looking for a power hitter in the middle of the batting order. My thoughts are more to whether or not Brian McCann is able to return to form. The absence of his bat was telling this season.

Freeman

Centerfield/leadoff might be a bit more tricky. The Braves have been looking for someone to fill the lead off spot ever since Rafael Furcal left for Los Angeles. Pure speed is not the only criteria needed. Patience to see a lot of pitches and knowing how to get on base is critical. It is a role I see Andrelton Simmons growing into pretty easily. He certainly is wasted batting in the eight hole. Raisins suggestion of trading for Dexter Fowler is an excellent one and if the Braves front office is still taking the advice of the old B&S as we have seen in the past, one which we may see happen this fall.

Simmons

Yes, it would be nice to see Michael Bourn continue to patrol the outfield for the Bravos but Frank Wren is more likely to follow the Florida Marlins model of baseball acquisitions than the one employed by the Yankees. The Braves will make a one year qualifying offer of $12 million necessary to get a compensation pick but Bourn is headed north to either Washington or Philadelphia or west to the Dodgers. It’s been nice having him around but alas, the Braves are just not prepared to overspend for a guy who has shown he can break down over the 162 game season. At least not one who has played in the organization for 19 years.

115: And in a close play at the plate the Braves are…….

by Gil in Mechanicsville

Coming down the home stretch it looks like it’s going to be a close play at the plate for the Braves.

Kris Medlen

Last year at this time, we were all thinking, the Phillies are going to catch us but we should still make the playoffs, after all, no one has ever not made it with so much cushion.

Mike Minor

Then the doubt set in as two thirds of the starting rotation went down and Prado came up lame at the final turn. Alas, perhaps one of our greatest fears came into being. The only thing that saved the Bravos from being the number one choke story of the year is the Boston Red Sox managed to pull off the same feat.

So, the Braves are again looking squarely in the eyes of making the list of teams who will be

Ben Sheets

playing October baseball but perhaps this season, Atlanta will limp across the finish line ahead of the pack. Certainly, our pitching staff looks to be in better shape and the position players are not nearly as nicked up as last season.

All that said, it will take some good luck to go along with some good fortune and good defense for the 2012 edition of Los Bravos to go deep into the playoffs. Perhaps we should all remember the sage advice given to NASCAR drivers when they are reminded, “to finish first, first you must finish”. Being in a one game crap shoot just for the opportunity to meet a division champion is not the most

Paul Maholm

enviable position but it is certainly a more enviable place to be than perhaps Denver or Kansas City or the twenty two other major league teams who will be calling it quits after game 162 of the schedule. Heck, some of those teams called it quits on July 4th. Just ask the Marlins….

Anyway, adversity builds character and Lord knows the Braves have had a lot of character building done the past five or six seasons. At least the Braves have a solid pitching staff and a very deep and dependable bullpen to go with an offense which has shown it can get as hot as anyone for extended stretches.

I think we can pretty much rely on the likes of Venters, O’Flaherty, Durbin and Kimbrel to come out of the pen and make any game a 6 inning game. If only the Braves can keep Hudson, Sheets, Hanson and Maholm from giving the game away in the first six innings, I like our chances. Okay, maybe not enough to bet the family farm but I would be willing to put up someone else’s farm…..

Gil

114: Big Ben Hits Town, Alarm IS Sounded By The Rest Of The EAST

Mechanicsville, VA

Ben Sheets started for the Atlanta Braves in the final game of a three-day set against the Mets Sunday and showed there can be life after Little League. In true storybook fashion, the big right hander showed he had not forgotten how to pitch in this league. In fact, he might very well be in a league of his own right now with a jumping 90-93mph fastball and a drop off the table curve to go with his cutter.

With a back-end of a rotation previously consisting of Mike Minor and Randle Delgato leaking more runs than a pasta strainer, Ben Sheets showed the same All-Star ability he possessed before having two arm surgeries and being away from the game nearly two years. Six innings of two hit, one walk shutout baseball sprinkled with five strikeouts and a collection of flyballs and pop-ups made for an impressive debut in Atlanta.

For some reason, many Braves fans suddenly feel a measure of invincibility. Of course, as we all know, a team is only as good as their last start but for seven straight starts, they have been mighty good.

Sometimes the addition of a good veteran arm can have a very positive impact on an entire team. It appears this might be the case with Sheets. Of course his next start might be a bit more telling, it’s can be most telling when aging muscles are awaken from a long slumber. That said, Tom Glavin remarked during the telecast that for a veteran, the question is not on if he knows how to pitch, it is if he is physically able to pitch.

113: Another Sunday, More Thoughts…

The only thing about watching a Sunday baseball game is you usually only get to see all the scrubs play…

Looks like McCann is finally breaking out of his doldrums. Now, if only there was someone Uggla could talk with to get him turned around.

Chipper is getting back to where he was before the misplayed one hopper nearly took his leg off. McCann is making good contact. Bourne and Prado are just outstanding right now. Freddi Freeman is learning to play through the pain, Jayson Heyward is getting back to his rookie form and Simmons is really a nice surprise with the bat. That leaves Uggla on the MIA list.

That and having a reliable guy at the back end of the rotation.

Oh, and someone beside Venters to come in and throw gas on the fireman. After all, they are called fireman because they are supposed to be able to douse the flames, not be arsonist..

If Ben Sheets could return to form, that would be the outstanding story of the year, right next to Jair coming back and maybe Moylan being Moylan and being the ground ball artist he once was.

So, who do the Braves release to make room for another bat? I would say Jack Wilson is the 25th guy on the roster right now, closely followed by Hinske and Diaz. I once thought it would be Francisco but the big third baseman appears to be turning the corner a bit. The kid has so much raw power, he fails to realize the wall scraper count just as much as the 450 foot bombs. The only thing a big long loopy swing produces is a whooshing sound as the bat passes over the ball….

Minor or Delgado? Which has been more effective or maybe more correctly, who has been more consistent? One of them will go when Sheets comes up. Both have options, one is a righty who has better velocity, the other is a lefty. Both seem to hit the wall at some point. I think the prevailing thoughts of the many talking heads in baseball is the Braves need to do something to solidify their pitching staff. Adding another reliable and proven starter to the mix is the most likely answer. None of us know what kind of financial constraints Frank Wren is under but expecting to find the winning lottery ticket under your pillow is not likely to happen and makes for a pretty poor business strategy.

The old adage in racing is speed cost money, how fast do you want to go? Well, the same is true in baseball… Yes, sometimes a team finds the “Golden Ticket” but for the most part, to be a consistently winning franchise, you have to be willing to shell out the big bucks, just ask Ted Turner.

112: Some Thoughts on a Sunday Morning

Okay, is it just me or do you get the same feeling I do that some changes need to be forthcoming with the Braves current pitching staff? Randle Delgado and Mike Minor are currently auditioning to be be the next Kyle Davis and Jo Jo Reyes. Yes, I realize the Braves are currently in first place in their division but I do not believe they have the team to hold serve when they only have three legit starting pitchers in the fold.

Questions abound as to what is wrong with Jair Jurrjens, who is currently holding down a spot in Gwennett. Is is a mental thing or is he biding his time to join Derrek Lowe on the island of misfit pitchers? Speaking of Derreck Lowe, did anyone else besides the GM of the Cleveland Indians really think DLowe would be leading the American League in ERA at this juncture? Does anyone think the Braves can find a fourth starter for $5 million difference in what the Braves traded Lowe for to reduce their payroll?

I guess I would have to say that Mike (start me or trade me) Minor is my biggest disappointment right now. When will a rookie pitcher not named Stephen Strausburg get the benefit of the call several inches off the plate? Everyone else better show they have enough stuff to get it past major league hitters. Minor looks smooth enough with his delivery and his fast ball has plenty of giddy up on it but like JJ, it looks flat with little movement. Just like sitting it on a tee for big league hitters.

We have seen this before, guys like Chuck James who looked good for a short while and fizzled. I mean, even solo homeruns can add up but like Delgado yesterday, you walk guys ahead of big boppers you are playing with matches during the dry season. You don’t have to be tipping your pitches when everybody in the park knows you are not going to get the calls on the edges and you have to throw a fast ball over the middle of the plate.

It’s still early but Wren and company need to stop the bleeding pretty soon. The Phillies have learned how to win with who the have and the Nats are not going away anytime soon. That plus Chipper is still the engine that drives the Braves’ bus. At least until Uggla can get it started in the four hole.

111: One Down Five To Go.

With a highly successful April squarely in the rear view mirror, the 2012 edition of the Atlanta Braves appear to have made the monumental collapse of September behind them.

Sadly, it looks as if the Braves stellar pitching staff has developed a case of amnesia too. Maybe they have decided they no longer need to throw shutouts each time out or maybe they have collectively decided they are not going to allow their arms to fall off mid season. Whatever, it appears this Braves team is going to be a grip it and rip it sort of club.

Whichever, as long as they continue to stay near the top of the standings, we will get to view the ageless Chipper Jones suit up for one final post season.

Of course, it is way too early to really draw any conclusions about the 2012 team. We still have not seen them play all of the NL East rivals and upon further review, they have not exactly been world beaters when you think about it. After all, they are 2-4 against the Mets and 1-2 verses the Phillies. They have yet to play the Nats and the Marlins so who knows how they will fare against those two. Currently, Washington looks to be World Series bound and the Malins smell like they have been beached. Still another couple of weeks before we play them and the whole world can change in that amount of time as far as baseball is concerned.

That said, lets hang on for the ride because whatever awaits, it looks to be interesting.

110: 2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,500 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

109: Fodder For Brave Thoughts

by Voice of Reason Raisins

Well, with little fanfare, and almost no chatter, the Braves FOT’s (Front Office Types) held their annual organizational meetings last week in their Disney home away from home. Typically, I suppose, it’s not really newsworthy to most, but to news junkies like us, well like me at least, it is on my radar. It’s the time of year where they map out their general plan for the offseason – you know, where they say, “OK, this is what we have, this is what we need to let go, this what we need to bring in, and this is what we have to spend.”

Granted, not generally exciting stuff, but I sure do wish I could sit in on them and voice a few of my own opinions. What would I say? Glad you asked…

Position by position:

Jason Heyward

JHey

* We can start with the certainties. Catcher, 1B, 2B, 3B, CF and RF. They can talk all they want about RF being an open competition. There’s a Greek word for that… baloney. That will be JHey’s for as long as he wears a tomahawk.

Joey Terdoslavich

* What to do in left field? Well, JTerd (Joey Terdoslavich),  currently  a 1B, is tearing up the AFL. He hits for both power and average, and is being strongly considered for a  position change to LF. 1B seems to be  occupied for a while. But he will start 2012 in AA, and isn’t even on the radar for competing for a spot on the 25. We need to acquire a veteran guy who is a proven hitter. Frank’s track record says it won’t be through FA. A trade is a’comin’. What about Martin? Martin Prado is one of the best utility guys in either league. He is just a mediocre everyday outfielder. He would benefit the Braves better back in the super-utility role.

*Bench? Welcome back Martin; see ya Conrad; please rebound Big Hinske; and get a hit, would ya Matty? Rossy is thankfully back, too. We need a backup SS, though. Maybe we address that after we address the starting SS…

Gonzo

* Which brings me to SS. I’ll bet that Gonzo returns on a 1 year deal. He’d probably like a 2 year deal, but I honestly don’t think he’ll get that anywhere, and not from ATL either. Love his glove. His bat could do more, but he wins you games with his D. Pitchers love him.

Kris Medlen

* Even though the bullpen wore down toward season’s end, I think you still have most of it already in place. Gone is Line Drive Linebrink. Gone is Scott Proctor. Gone is George Sherrill. The ineffectiveness of those 3 forced Fredi to go to his horses more often. Peter finally made it back for a few appearances before his shoulder turned to lunch meat. His tenure with the Braves is done. His cost now exceeds his benefit. Look for him to be released. But we welcome back Kris Medlen,

Arodys Vizcaino

and Arodys Vizcaino proved he is a capable MLB pitcher. I won’t be surprised to see Arodys slide into EOF’s 7th inning role, allowing EOF to move around and make the pen a bit more versatile. Jonny and Special K return to their shut down roles. Martinez was very good at times in his long relief role, and I see no reason to believe he won’t return to the same. So 1 spot remains… DLowe?

Anthony Varvaro

God, I hope not. I think Anthony Varvaro earned it, though many think that Cory Gearrin would fit Peter’s old “ground ball specialist” role. I can see that. That will likely be a spring training battle.

Derek Lowe

* DLowe has to go… even if only for the clichéd “bag o’ balls”. The truth is, he still has value, if not $15MM worth. But he is a veteran hurler who can adjust and can still pitch effectively at times. Remember the near no-hitter earlier this season? Yes, that was this season. That said, he has worn out his welcome in Atlanta, and would likely benefit from the proverbial change of scenery. The only real question is how much $$$ are the Braves willing to eat in order to move him? I’ve already beat this mule and won’t rehash it here.

Tim Hudson

* Finally, we must address the rotation. Huddy is the clear #1 ace. Beachy is only getting better, and Minor proved he belongs… and is the only lefty there. Obviously, there are injury

Brandon Beachy

concerns surrounding both JJ and Tommy. That’s too bad. We needed one of those guys as a trade chip this offseason. Can’t do it now, you’d just get pennies back on the dollar. But Julio Teheran has nothing left to prove at AAA, and Delgado established himself in his big league starts as well. Too many starters… it’s a good problem to have.

Mike Minor

Julio Teheran

But if you’re Frank, it’ll give you even more grey hair. There will be more scrutiny over what he does here than anywhere else on the roster. That’s a tough call.

Randall Delgado

If  it were me, I’d take it to spring, prove one of either JJ or Tommy are healthy, and find a team desperate for a starter.

                                                                   That’s where you’ll find your LF.

~VOR~

#108: A Handful Of Questions About The Future

By VOR aka Voice of Raisins/Reason/Reality/Ridiculous/Rose-colored glasses

JEFFERSON, GA (God’s country) – There was a good bit of chatter a few days ago on MLBTR’s chat regarding the Braves, their pitchers and Michael Bourn. All very good questions, and questions we all pretty much ask regularly. So here are a handful of questions for 2012 and beyond:

1. Thumb: Will the Braves trade DLowe in the off season?
2. Index Finger: Will the Braves trade JJ in the off season?
3. Bird Finger: What pitcher goes to make room for Julio Teheran next year?
4. Ring Finger: What will Bourn make in arb?
5. Pinky: Will the Braves try to extend Bourn?

The first three fingers are about pitching. Literally. Those are the fingers used to grip the baseball… but I digress. Those first 3 questions can really be combined, and expanded to include Mike Minor, who must be included in the rotation candidates. No one seems to remember that Minor, like Teheran, has very little left to learn at AAA. He’d already be in the rotation of almost every other major league team. So, what to do? You already have 3 young stud pitchers in Hanson, Jurjjens & Beachy. Huddy is likely a Brave until he retires. He’s the veteran rock that all the youngsters lean on. He’s so entrenched in the community that I can’t see the Braves even entertaining any thoughts of parting with him. Huddy is a lock for next season. So is Beachy. He’s got every quality you want in a pitcher. He’s gritty, smart and cool under pressure. And he can pitch… not throw, pitch. He’s Greg Maddux lite. Following that, you have the 2 star youngsters, Jurjjens and Hanson, and you have the overpaid grizzled veteran DLowe. Obviously, one of those 3 pitchers will not be here next season.

First, let’s address JJ and Tommy. Both are under team control for the near future, and both are represented by Ber’s favorite, Scott Boras. Big Red, though, is under team control for a couple of years more than JJ, who is a FA in 2014. Red doesn’t hit the market until 2016. Plus, he’s the big righty power pitcher that every rotation must have. Tommy’s not going anywhere for a while.

So… for those keeping score, in no particular order, Huddy, Beachy and Hanson are locks for next year’s rotation. And I don’t think I’m going out on too flimsy a limb to say that Teheran/Minor will be the #5 next season. That battle will be fierce, with the loser going back to Gwinnett to be the first guy on Frank’s Rolodex.

So that really leaves one spot for DLowe and JJ in 2012. I know… no real earth shattering revelation here. We can all see that handwriting on the clubhouse wall. The conventional wisdom says that DLowe will finally be tradable with just 1 year left on his onerous contract and that he is the obvious one to go. I say, “Hold on there, Baba-louie! I’ll do the thinnin’ around here!” (Vague reference to Quickdraw McGraw…) The decision between the two is not as cut and dried as some would suggest. Yeah, I know that JJ is an All-Star and was clearly the Braves best starter for the first half of 2011. He was pretty much their best starter the first half of 2010. Problem is, they make us play the second half, too. JJ is a very talented pitcher, no doubt. He’d be the #1 on many teams in both leagues. His value is pretty high. That, to me, makes him the clear choice. His value will never be higher, and he’s gonna have to go after 2012 anyway. Too many studs in the pipeline.

And I’ll even offer one other scenario. I can see the Braves trading JJ during the off season, gaining a nice return while opening a spot for Teheran/Minor, and then dangling DLowe at the 2012 deadline. At that point, he’ll be the veteran rental pitcher that a lot of contending teams will covet going toward the playoff push. That’s likely where they’ll get their best return for him.

You say, “VOR! No way the Braves would have two rookies in next year’s rotation!” Reasonable objection… but again I say, “Hold on there, Baba-louie!” First, Minor has had enough major league starts that he isn’t a true rookie in that sense. Plus, he pitched in last year’s playoff push, and pitched quite well, if you’ll recall. Second, Teheran – whom I think wins the #5 spot – will have half a season under his belt before the aforementioned trade deadline. This is the pros, folks. Go big or go home. After 14 or so starts, is he a true rookie? I say no…

So my final assessment says the Braves will start, in no particular order, Huddy, Beachy, Hanson, Teheran & DLowe/Minor. Formidable, and among the best in baseball.

Now… Bourn. (Transition homage to The Scribe…)

4. Ring Finger: What will Bourn make in arb?
A: A lot.

5. Pinky: Will the Braves try to extend Bourn?
A: No. 2 words: Scott Boras. Boras won’t allow an extension; rather he’ll take him all the way to FA. It’s what Boras does. And Boras wants a lot, like DLowe kind of money. The Braves won’t make that commitment to Bourn. I can’t see it.

So that leads to…

6. Antonio Alfonseca’s 6th Finger: Who is the Braves CF in 2013 and beyond, now that Jordan Schafer is gone?
A: The water gets very murky here…

Schafer was not going to be the Braves long term guy anyway. He had his chance, and couldn’t make the step. As far as the farm system goes, they really like Matt Lipka, a SS who they have talked a lot about converting to CF. He’s a tremendous athlete with a ton of speed. He’s very young though (19), and 2013 will be pushing it for him… really pushing it. By the way, I am not sold on Jose Constanza long term, but I suppose you never know. He was hitting .312 with a .361 OBP for the season in AAA before his call-up, so I suppose he could just be a late bloomer. But we’ve had our Charles Thomas moments before.  I need to see more.  Outside the organization, that’s why you trade JJ.

One thing is for certain. I think we have seen what Frank and Fredi’s vision is for this team. In the post PED era, speed is the difference maker.  Pitching has risen to dominance, and good pitching will always beat good hitting, but speed can beat a good pitcher.  Speed can frustrate a good pitcher. There is no defense for it.

Somewhere, Whitey Herzog is smiling…

~VOR~

Comments and articles herein are the intellectual property and opinions of the writers and may not be copied without permission of the writers.

107: What a Difference a Trade Can Make

by Berigan

Well, (as Ronald Reagan used to say) the trade deadline is just a few short days away, and not unlike spring training (except for fewer teams involved), most everyone is hoping their team is on the road to the playoffs, and with just one key move, will make it to the playoffs.

But are the Braves just one player away?  The results on the field would say otherwise.  The good news is, unlike many other teams, the bullpen issues could very well be resolved from within.  Perhaps it’s easier said than done but if a couple of raw starters who throw 95-100 (we are told) can make the transition to pitching in the 7th or 8th, it would be good on so many levels:  keeping the innings total down on their young arms;  MLB experience in a pennant race; and not trading away prospects for a guy or two who could leave in the off-season.

So really, all we need is a hitter (or 3).  No problem! Just trade the next Adam Wainwright away and grit your teeth every time he comes to town and beats our Atlanta Braves like a drum. But be sure to trade the uber stud away for a guy who will leave after one year! Enough about the upstairs homeboy’s worst trade next to Tex to the ATL.  Let’s focus on this year.

I know some people here might believe in the WAR stats.  I guess I am just a bit old-fashioned in that I don’t think you can truly put a number on how many games a guy can improve your team. I’m sure if you looked back to the trade of Fred McGriff some stat head would say he brought a WAR of 2 or 3 for those 2 + months. We all know he lit a fire under our offense, one we thought we would get from Teixera as well, but didn’t happen for some reason in 2007.

Quintin

However, the 2011 Braves HAVE to add a bat.  There isn’t a Braves fan alive (or dead) who doesn’t know that.  Who though??? At the time that this short post is being written, there seem to be two big bats available:  Carlos Quentin and Hunter Pence – and a just a notch below is Ryan Ludwick.  (Remind me again, could we have gotten him for Jo-Jo Reyes a few years back, or someone else?)  And really the more I dug into Ludwick’s numbers, his 62 RBI’s are really amazing, as the Padres offense is so putrid they make ours look decent.  I think the next highest RBI guy on the Padres has 35! So, which one would make the biggest difference?

Carlos has the most power, and in a pitcher-friendly park.  Plus Adam Dunn has had a year that no one could imagine, (.160 BA) so his relatively low .BA would likely go up coming over, though it’s been a few years since he’s been in the NL, so it may take a while for him to get back up to speed.  Hunter Pence, who is now a Philly, has less power (at least this year) but having another .300 hitter in the middle of the lineup, with doubles power, would have been huge, IMO. Plus he’s a high energy guy, which would have fit in very nicely here.


Ludwick has a low BA this year  (.238) but is no doubt feeling pressure to perform for a terrible team and, from a hitter’s standpoint, in a terrible  park.  He hit anywhere from .267 to .299 (in 2008)  for the Cards.  So, long story short (okay, a few paragraphs story) the adding of just one of those guys would take pressure off of  Uggla, McCann, Freddie, everyone, and with one more guy clogging the bases, more high stress pitches on the pitchers on the other team.

And while typing this I find out Nate is going on the DL!  Wonderful.  Ok, Coco Crisp and Carlos?   Can Heyward play center?  Or is he too old? 😀

~Berigan~

Comments and articles herein are the intellectual property and opinions of the writers and may not be copied without permission of the writers.

106: Wednesday Morning Folderrol

by: The Voice of  Raisins…

A handful of observations on a Monday morning er, afternoon (it was morning when I started this):

Index finger: I believe that Huddy’s back is probably still barking. That can directly cause his pitches to stay up, which they are. Pitches up are deadly for a sinkerballer.

Middle finger: I am perplexed about this team. They look as though they should have a formidable lineup, yet the lineup is quite anemic. Hard to fault the pitching – which is currently a bit beat up – because they for the most part keep us in the game. But, dang… they have to be a little bit disheartened that they can’t get any run support, don’t ya think?

Ring finger: The most dangerous bat in the lineup right now is easily McCann, who is as consistent as they come. But aside from him, it’s gotta be Hinske, who isn’t even a starter. Sad commentary.

Pinky: I love so many things about Martin Prado. He works harder than anyone else out there, is the epitome of “team player”, and is likely the team “spark plug”. But when you look at his offense, he’s kinda “meh”. He has a flair for getting big hits a big times, but he also makes alot of outs. How many DP’s has he hit into from the 2 hole behind Schafer? A bunch. No doubt he is a very good player and a guy that we depend on. But his overall offense is really pretty average. He was a standout 2B. He would make a good 3B, but in all honesty with too little power. He is an average LF who makes a lot of outs. If Uggla was doing his usual thing, it would balance out. He ain’t, and it doesn’t.

Thumb: What do we do? The rising star can’t stay healthy, and the fading star can’t stay 100% healthy. The bridge star is mired in a horrendous slump. You can’t touch any of those golden spots in any improvement plans. The SS is an All-Star defensively, but wildly inconsistent offensively. The 1B is a young’un with a magic glove who is showing potential, but is not yet giving you the prodigious production you expect from that corner of the IF. But they are both necessary defensively and aren’t going anywhere. LF is manned by a beloved player who isn’t really in the elite of OF, but would cause a PR nightmare if replaced. We’re stuck with him. The regular CF is hurt – again – and makes too much $$$ to jettison. His replacement has potential, but is still unproven. The organization has to see if he is indeed in the future plans. An upgrade is slightly possible there, but not likely. We already have the best C in the NL, and arguably in MLB. Can’t improve there. What do we do? Man am I glad I don’t have “General Manager” on my door…

105: Freddi Freeman’s First Full Season Fun

Gil

Mechanicsville, VA –  For a lot of  folks, Freddi Freeman’s early season struggles had some wondering if this rookie was indeed ready for “Prime Time”.  Could the Braves really be so lucky as to pick another one-two punch out of the first year draft in Heyward and Freeman?  Looks like the answer to that question has been answered with a resounding “YES”.

Freddi Freeman

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has not been his prowess with the bat as he is still adapting to big league pitching but with his nifty glove work around the bag.  At least a dozen or more throws by various infielders have not been recorded as throwing errors but as outs because of his quick reflexes and long stretches for some pretty close tags.

In the next to the last play of  Sunday’s final against the Giants, he almost completed another amazing hook up with Alex Gonzalez that would have resulted in a final out that would have made the “Web Gems” for sure.  The kid has displayed a deft touch that not only gives the Braves’ pitching staff the confidence to pitch to contact but also allows the other infielders to not worry about having to be too fine with their tosses to first.

The Braves have had a revolving door at first base over the past twenty years.  In fact the only real mainstays have been in the pitching corps, at third base with Chipper and in centerfield for the ten years that Andruw Jones occupied the spot. While the Braves have employed some really great first baseman in the past with the likes of Andres Galarraga and Fred McGriff, it has more often than not been the position of necessity filled with players like Sid Bream and Gerald Perry with a few years of Adam LaRoche and Mark Texiera thrown in.

Rather than having a guy around whom you could build a franchise like a young Derrick Lee or Albert Pujols, the Braves filled the slot with the likes of Scott Thorman and Randell Simon or converted past-their-prime third basemen like Troy Glaus and Ken Caminiti.

Freeman has a long way to go before he reaches his full potential as a hitter.  To get anything above .270 from a rookie in his first full season is always a plus but Freddi has shown flashes of what we might come to expect.  He is a big strong player who “gets it” and does not always try to pull every pitch but has enough power to drive the ball the other way and is willing to take what the pitcher is giving him.  For sure, just squaring up on the ball and hitting it hard somewhere appears to be the MO of this kid rather than being pull happy which results in a lot of weak ground balls to the second baseman.

While those majestic, towering big flys into the bullpen can inspire a lot of oohs and ahhs, it was the line shot to left center that made me really sit up and take notice.  That is the sign of a player who is not trying to hit a five-run homer but one who is trying to make solid contact and has enough power to hit them out to all fields.

It is a welcome sight to an old Braves fan like me to see the Braves bring up a homegrown player who is likely to become an everyday fixture on the line-up card.  There are a lot of All-Star first basemen playing in the majors right now if you only consider their bat but very few are the total package of being MVP type players with both the glove and the stick.  It is my most humble opinion that Freddi Freeman is a player with that same potential.  For sure, he is going to be at the top of most every writer’s ROY list by the time he has made the rounds to different cities.

As for hitting, he is yet another young player who “gets it”.  Let’s be honest folks, anything above .270 for a first-year rookie is really gravy.  He has shown power but he also has shown that he understands that he does not have to try to pull everything to right field.  I don’t expect to see any radical infield shifts as we have on players like Brian McCann or Ron Howard of the Phillies.  He will have his share of O-fers this season because he is a contact hitter who is still learning the game but he is only going to get better with the stick.

~Gil~

Comments and articles herein are the intellectual property and opinions of the writers and may not be copied without permission of the writers.