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? :-D

~Berigan~

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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~

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104: Beachy is just Peachy

Gil in Mechanicsville, VA – Some surprises were had as the Braves prepared to break camp and head north to begin the season for real.  The announcements to opt for performance rather than potential and also choosing a guy in Brandon Beachy who has shown both poise and skill over a guy on whom ten days ago I would have bet heavily, Mike Minor, because the Braves have a much larger investment.

As a number 7 pick in the first round draft in 2010 plus a rather healthy signing bonus with the added benefit of potentially being the only left-handed starter on an otherwise right-handed staff, The Beach just flat out-pitched his competition and won the final spot in the rotation.  I was fortunate to see Brandon pitch early in the spring against the Nationals and he had it going then.  He does not possess an overwhelming fastball but, folks, his change up is truly outstanding and his control is said to be Greg Maddux-like. That is pretty great company to be mentioned with when you are comparing control.

From my vantage point, I was unable to see exactly where the ball was pitched but I did see some really funny swings being taken by the likes of Jason Werth and LaRoache.  It is not as if Beachy is a “strike out” pitcher but I did not see one hard hit ball by the Nationals in his stint on the mound.  With his selection by the Braves as the number five guy in the rotation, I suspect that trend continued in his other games this spring as well.

Other surprised this spring may have been the selection of the diminutive Matt Young as the Braves fourth outfielder and Brandon Hicks as the utility infielder.

Young has proved he can hit for average and, with his speed, he will turn a lot of long singles into doubles.  He also appears to be able to hit in the clutch.  You don’t always need a three run homer to win ballgames.  How many times last year did we see the Braves fail to score after loading the bases with no or only one out?  The kid, and I use that term loosly as he is 28, can also play all three outfield positions and was also used at second base this spring.  He looks to be a gamer.  Every team needs a guy like this on their team if for no other reason than to ambush a pitcher who is looking into the dugout to see where the boppers are.   I guess the real  surprise has been that Young managed to play his way onto the team over Joe Mather who had been touted as the next “Great White Hope” by the Atlanta press.  Though Mather was given plenty of opportunity, he  just appeared to  play poorly while Young simply played better in every opportunity.

Brandon Hicks may have finally reached his potential.  A number three pick by the Braves behind Francouer and McCann, he has always possessed a great glove but his poor hitting has forced the Braves to keep him in AAA.  Bobby Cox has said he was one of the best young shortstops he had seen but it has always been his bat that held him back.  Perhaps the positive in the Braves opting for Hicks as their primary back-up over Diory Hernandez is Hicks’ ability to play third and Brandon appears to have added bulk this off season so a bit more power to be had with the stick.

Diory was also a bit disappointing with the bat this spring but I suspect he will be in Atlanta at some juncture during the season.  I don’t mean to paint that devil on the wall but six months is a long time in baseball and obliques get tweaked and elbows, shoulders and hammys somehow manage to be a problem for everyone at some point.

~Gil~

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103: Observations from 2011 Spring Training

by Gil from Mechanicsville, VA –

Viera, Florida – Greetings all!  While I touched on a few highlights about the game between Atlanta’s split squad and the Nationals in the previous post, I thought I would elaborate on some of my other observations.

First would be the noticeable difference in Nate McLouth.  Honestly,  it is nearly impossible to accurately describe the difference in the player I witnessed last year in camp and the one I  saw Friday.  It is not just the fact that he is hitting the ball the other way.  Where he was not making contact at all last year, he is now striking the ball with authority and without that exaggerated uppercut he has employed in the past.  Being a bit smallish in statue, McLouth is not a prototypical home run hitter to begin with.  He is, however, exactly the kind of guy you would want at the top of your line-up if he can get on base because he has great speed in addition to good base-running smarts.

Having guys like Schafer and McLouth available as table-setters for boppers like Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla and Brian McCann add so many possibilities to the Braves offense.  In addition, having a speed guy on base increases the likelihood of the latter seeing more fastballs and can be a huge distraction for opposing pitchers, increasing the probability of mistakes.  McLouth is also throwing the ball with greater ease.  Though I do not know the reason for the change and the big difference, I can only speculate that perhaps he was hampered by some type of injury last season.

Other players I observed who stood out were Brandon Beachy, Diory Hernandez, Freddi Freeman and Shawn Bowman.

Beachy was peachy.  He had the National hitters off balance during his entire 3 inning stint. He has a lively fastball which is complimented by a plus-change.  National hitters were doing the bunny hop trying to adjust for his change of pace pitches.  The only exception was Ed Merero who guessed right on a fastball and hit a ringing double down the left field line.

Diory Hernandez looked sharp both in the field at short and with the bat.  He is starting to reach the age where the term “prospect” no longer applies and will either make it or not at this juncture. With the trade of Infante’ to the Marlins, he has the perfect opportunity to move into a super-sub role. While he is mainly a shortstop/second base type of player, he has also taken a few turns at third and could play there if called upon.

Diory’s real shortcoming has always been trouble hitting major league pitching. He has shown the ability to hit at every other level he has played so perhaps it is now just his time.  I believe the biggest difference may be in his confidence level.  Spending some time with the big club last season may have allowed him to realize that he belongs at the major league level. While he has pop in his bat, he also has gap-to-gap hitting skills and very good speed.  He is going to stretch a lot of doubles into triples.

On Friday, he and Brooks Conrad turned two double plays against the Nationals.  While not called upon to make any spectacular plays, he made the plays he was supposed to make and that in itself could be a small victory. Kudos to Brooks Conrad, too, by the way.  He made a couple of very nice plays in the field and executed the pivot position at second with authority.

Freddie Freeman plays at a level that belies his young age.  He displays excellent glove work in the field and outstanding baseball sense when it comes to situational hitting.  It is so frustrating to watch many young – or old for that matter – players who possess power but who will always be swinging for the fences regardless of the circumstances of the at-bat.  How many times have we seen players go for the glory only to be struck out because the opposing pitcher knows that a power hitter’s weakness is change of speeds.

While we know that Freeman processes power, he can also hit to all fields and seems content to hit the ball the other way.  It is a lot harder to pitch to a guy who will hit the ball where it is pitched than to a player who is always trying to pull the ball.  One of the most difficult things for a first year player to do is to hit above .250.  It is just the nature of the game for a young guy to adjust to big league pitching because major league pitchers will get the book on you pretty quick if you have a weakness.  Remember Jeff Francoeur?  He would punish any pitcher who threw him a strike until pitchers quickly realized they did not have to throw a strike to get him out.  I’m not saying opposing pitchers won’t strike out Freeman but they are going to have to throw strikes to do it.

One last comment on Shawn Bowman – a young kid who plays third base – who will not likely be playing in Atlanta this season unless things do not go well health-wise for the club.  He is a good looking prospect with a decent glove and is a good hitter.  Again, not a guy who is trying to do too much but appears to know what he is doing in the batter’s box.  He has been a late-inning substitute this spring and I expect he will begin the season playing third-base in Gwinnett. Keep an eye on him though because he will definitely be playing in the big leagues somewhere one day.

~Gil~

A few photos from Gil:

Gil, Staff Reporter, Mayor of Stuffville

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102: As sure as hayfever, spring has finally arrived!


Mechanicsville, VA – Today marks the real start of spring for us baseball fans, not the artificial one that in marked by the spring solstice and listed on our “no longer free” calenders. No, it is not March 21st but the day when the first official game of what is known as Spring Training.

The day that all who’s team did not win the World Series title in October have been anxiously waiting for since the last out. The start of do-overs. When rookies and prospects vie for a chance to make it to the promised land of green fields and wily old veterans try to hang on for one more season of glory.

Spring training games mean zip in the broad scheme of things and the win-loss record means little in reality – but don’t tell that to the trolls who will jump on every opportunity to somehow diminish or inflate the importance of the final numbers.  Sadly, the real truth is the baseball owners have figured yet another way to extract another bit of coin from our pockets for the privileged of watching a lot of guys get ready for the real season.

Still, it is important to keep score, why else would we play? I am also pretty sure it will be important for some of these kids to have a opportunity to brag to their grand kids they hit a three run homer off  the likes of Roy Halliday or Tim Hudson, even if was at a time when neither was working on anything but locating a fastball over the plate.

No matter, it is spring and all hope is renewed. Every team – well except maybe the Pirates and the Indians – have a chance. Come on, it can happen!  Just ask the ’91 Braves.  Did anyone pick them to finish out of the cellar in the NL West that season?

So spring begins today.  For Braves fans it will be against the suddenly cash strapped Mets in Port St. Lucie. The line up will bear little resemblance to the one that will take the field against the Washington Nationals on March 31st, but who cares?!

It will be the first opportunity for us to get a sense of how far  Jordan Schafer has come from the brink of being a footnote in Braves lore. The first glimpse of Nate McLouth and his new found resolve to once again be a major league center fielder. To answer questions about Jair and his attempt to return to form that had so many Braves fan giddy with anticipation.

So come on fans… Spring has finally sprung, time for renewed hope, almost real baseball and evaluation of the next crop of seedlings called prospects.

~Gil~

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101: Pitchers & Catchers Report

Mechanisville, VA – As winter continues to cast its pall upon our  very souls with abounding  dampness and a chill that permeates to our very cores, the words “pitchers and catchers report” seem blissfully near. Oh how we all are longing for that smell of freshly mowed grass as the scent of peppers, onions and Italian sausages frying on a grill waft by our nostrils – like Smoky the Bear, growling and a-prowling and sniffing the air – only we will be hoping to catch the sweet aroma of spring.

Ah springtime, when all is new again.

The hope that the promising rookie we have read so much about while huddled around the hot stove is finally ready to hoist the team upon his strong, young shoulders and carry them to that promise land of playoffs.

We’re hoping that the wily old veteran has one more good season left in  his bionic knees and can   regain the once-powerful stroke that brought glory to the home nine for so many years.

That moves to a new position will not affect an all-star and the new acquisition will live up to his promise.

That the rotator cuffs, ligament and tendons of pitchers young and old will hold up through the long grueling season from early spring past the hot dog days of summer.

Yes, soon baseball fans will be able to shed their bulky sweaters and down-lined parkas for the flowery shirts and Bermuda shorts that will revel the ravages of time and age as their pale skin is once again exposed to sunlight.

Spring.  That time of year when all hope is renewed, the ledgers are even, last season fades from memory and the names of players previously unknown grace the lineup cards of thirty teams, all striving to be the last one standing in far away October.

Yes, the doldrums of winter are still with us, flu season still abounds but friends, there is still hope as we await for “pitchers and catchers report”, those sweet words that are the time-honored harbinger of springtime. Just as the robins flying north and the swallows retuning to Capistrano let us know the warmth of spring is upon us, the smell of neatsfoot oil and BenGay will let us know that “pitchers and catchers report” is a reality and not just wistful thinking during a long cold winter’s night.

~Gil~

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100: Is It Spring Yet?

by Gil

Mechanicsville, VA – Now that the baseball gods have been sated for another year with a vast array of broken bats, juiced baseballs, torn laburnums and torqued obliques, we can lament yet another year that the Braves failed to win a World Series.  The fact this year’s team may have been the epitome of over achievement, not withstanding.

Of course congratulations are in order for this year’s winner of baseball’s fall classic, the San Francisco Giants.  Who would have thought that the toughest challenge they would face in the post season would have come from our very own Braves?  So the Giants go on to  become the champions of the baseball world and alas, by the grace of God and a defense leakier than a shanty town roof, there goes Atlanta.  Then again, a few timely hits would have helped too.

But that is the past.  Now it’s back to the future, that ever renewing event we call a new season, a fresh start, a new beginning.  No time to stop and let the Giants enjoy their first World Championship in over 50 years.  No, we press on, anxiously awaiting the start of what will surely be the Fredi Gonzales era.  No need to fret that Liberty Media will tightly control the purse strings.  Hasn’t Fredi done more with less?  Can he find success in his adopted home town or will the first five game losing streak be met with shouts from the blogisphere for his immediate dismissal and angst about how he is a Bobby Cox clone?

I say let’s get the old hot stove glowing!   Time for all the fantasy team owners, deep in the bowels of their moms’ basements, to spend countless hours trying to get the jump on their brethren by scouring reams of stats, pounding away at the importance of WHIP, run differential, RBI with two outs and runners in scoring position and of course LSMFT.

And we can all hope Santa will leave  a Big Bopper to play left field under Frank Wren’s Christmas tree while we are at it.

~Gil~

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99: Flippin’ The Calendar

By Voice of Reason Raisins

Jefferson, GA (i.e. God’s country) – Yeah, I know we’re in the middle of an exciting and tight pennant race here in 2010, but I have 2011 on my mind.  It’s coming whether we have a Championship season or not.

So, here are my top 10 questions for 2011…

Freddie Gonzalez

#1:  Is there any covert agreement in place with Fredi, or are the reports true in that the Braves have given him no indication at all that he’s a candidate to manage here next season? Is Fredi really even the best candidate to replace Bobby? If not, who is? What about the current coaches? Clean house, or keep some/all? Who?

Rockin' Leo

#2: Very much related to #1… Leo has made absolutely no bones about his desire to return to the Braves as pitching coach. He also has indirectly been somewhat critical of how some of the pitchers are handled, and of some of the pitching philosophies being taught. Could we see Leo part 2? Fredi was here with Leo, not Roger…

#3: What about Omar? If Chipper returns, which he seems bent on doing, Martin goes back to 2B. What then of Omar. In my mind, he has established himself as an everyday player and as a top notch leadoff hitter. Where does he play? SS? Would Frank let Gonzo’s option go and make Omar the everyday SS? Maybe he could be our everyday LF. (I contend that Omar’s versatility will give Frank more offseason options than just locking in on one specific position.)

#4: This really isn’t a question, more of an assertion. Frank has to fix CF. Ankiel is a nice defensive guy, but not a starter for a contender. Melky is not an option (maybe a non-tender option, but not a starting option) and Schafer has a long, long road back. This may be Frank’s toughest offseason job next to hiring a manager (which ought to be easier than it appears.) Who’s available?

Nate McLouth

#5: What to do with Nate? He makes too much $$$ to just DFA. Nobody will take his contract from us. What do we do with him? This is a tough one…
#6: Non-tenders:   Diaz? Melky? Both are real possibilities, especially if we have to sit on Nate’s salary. I won’t be surprised to see both non-tendered, and a youngster (read: major league minimum salary player) kept as 4th outfielder. Maybe Brent Clevlen or Matt Young. Maybe Willie Cabrera. (http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=&sid=t431&t=p_pbp&pid=488757 )

#7: And what of KK? He won’t be in the 2011 rotation plans, so can he be traded? I think he really needs to pitch well for us in the next 4 weeks to redeem his value. He only has one year left on his deal, and it isn’t terribly unreasonable in the current inflated salary environment. Did I mention that he really needs to pitch well over the next few weeks?

Jonny Venters

#8: Who closes? Kimbrell? He was the heir apparent early in the season. That is until Venters came from nowhere and impressed everyone, including current door-slammer Wagsy. Wags says Venters has the best stuff on the staff. The whole staff. That’s some pretty stout words. Bobby has never felt really comfortable handing closer duties over to a youngster, but then again Bobby won’t be here, will he?

#9:  Who’s the next star in the pipeline to keep our eye on? It was Hanson for 2009, then

Matt Lipka

Heyward for 2010, and now Freeman seemingly taking over at 1B in 2011. So, who is the next one to watch? Is it just one, or the troika (first on blog?) of Aroydis Vizcaino, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado? We know they’re coming, and we’re all licking our chops over this new wave of talented tossers.  But what about position players? Maybe it’s young SS prospect Matt Lipka. You remember him, right? This year’s top pick… speedster… He had a stellar rookie season in the GCL, and was rewarded with a post-GCL promotion to Danville for their playoff run. He finished his inaugural pro campaign with a slash line of .296/.353/.392 with 34 R, 8 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 24 RBI, 22 K, 21/24 SB. You see the last part? 21 steals in 24 attempts. Also, notice he had only 22 K’s in almost 200 AB’s. He’s a few years away, but he looks like a good’un for sure. I’ll be keeping my eyes on him. Did I mention 21 out of 24?

#10: How will the Braves respond after fending off the Phillies, Padres, Reds, and Rays and winning it all in true Hollywood fashion to send HOF’er Bobby Cox into the sunset with his 2nd World Series title? (OK, maybe this part is a bit presumptuous, but it’s my list, so there…)

~Raisins~

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Leo with Glavine, Avery, Mercker, Maddux & Smoltz

Editor’s Note:  Found this photo and just had to insert it for old times’ sake.

Were they truly that young??

98: Fish or Cut Bait: Time for the Braves to Make Up Their Minds

By Gil in Mechanicsville

MECHANICSVILLE, VA – So, here we sit with about six weeks to go in a season that has seen the good, the bad and the ugly from the Atlanta Braves. Early season doldrums returned immediately following the All-star break and as of the this writing we have watched as the once comfortable cushion of 6 games in front of our closest pursuers shrink to two as the Philadelphia Phillies have put on an incredible run of thirteen wins in fifteen games. The scariest part may be they have done it without their best players on the field and a bullpen that rivals some of the worse Atlanta has ever assembled.

And here we thought our old nemesis, the New York Mets, would be our biggest problem. Well, I guess our good friend John Smoltz tagged it right when he dubbed the NL East as the shoots-and-ladders division.  Shame on us for thinking that maybe the Braves would run away with this thing. After all, don’t we still need that “Big Bat” in the middle of the order?

Martin Prado

The loss of Marteen Prado has been muted somewhat by the outstanding play of Omar Infante’ in his place. One wonders how the Braves would fare without Marteen’s prolific bat missing from the

Omar Infante

line-up but Omar has hardly missed a beat.  Dare we guess how the Braves might perform with both Infante and Prado in the lineup together on a regular basis?  While Marteeen appears to have cooled somewhat since the beginning of the final series with the Mets prior to the All-star break, it was not due to a lack of contact but more as a results of the law of averages catching up to him as those line drives he was stroking began to be hit directly at people.

J Heyward (photo: P. Skinner. ajc)

On the up side, maybe Jason Heyward is finally understanding that while hitting the ball the other way is a good skill to have, always hitting to the off field can make you pretty predictable too and cause you to be an easy out in the line up. It is good to see the Braves Rookie of the Year candidate start to hit the ball with authority to right field again.  Sometimes you need to be in scoring position while standing at home plate. That’s not to say we want to see J-Hey swinging for the fences every at bat but he needs to remind opposing pitchers of what he is capable of occasionally to keep them honest.

Chipper Jones may have found his lost stroke again too. After watching him struggle for the first eight weeks of the season, I think we were all wondering if Larry had indeed reached the end of the line. Right now, the Braves truly need for him to step up.   Chipper is capable of carrying this team for extended periods and now would be the perfect time for him to do it.

It’s my opinion that Troy Glaus is the biggest question mark.  His work around the first base bag has been stellar at times and he sure has made some pretty outstanding plays snagging errant throws from the infielders.  Of course, we all know that Troy was not acquired for his

Troy Glaus

potential defensive prowess at first but to add some right handed pop in the middle of the line-up.  We all thought Frank Wren might have made the steal of the century in signing Glaus to a low cost, low risk contract when he lit up the scoreboard in late May and July.  Sadly, as his knees began to show their age and  his bat did the same. The Braves woeful record of failing to hit with men in scoring position can be directly attributed to Glaus’ lack of production.  Since the departure of Texieria , the Braves assembly of hitters has not exactly struck fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. There  are  so many glaring holes in the lineup that pitchers feel no need to pitch to Chipper Jones or Brian McCann when they know there was an declining Troy Glaus or an out of sync Nate McLouth in the on deck circle.

Chipper & Mac

Still, that brings me back to the Braves most pressing  need, that one big bat in the middle of the order that forces opposing teams to throw to Jones and McCann. Without a guy who can consistently put a three run homer on you if you walk guys like Brian and Chipper, opposing teams will continue to load the bases with apparent impunity. Protection can pay big dividends, just ask the guys who hit ahead of Fielder and Howard.

So, the question remains, will the Braves pull the trigger and make the trade for that final piece, will they call up Freddie Freeman or will they simply stand pat? We are not privy to how much money the Braves have to work with nor do we know if the Braves front office is content to make it to the playoffs or seriously wants to vie for a World Series title in Bobby’s final year.  That said, without that final piece to the matrix,  the Braves may yet find themselves on the outside looking in come October because only four teams from each division are going to the big dance and there are at least eight teams in the running for a date.

Great pitching can carry you a long way but you still need to help them out by scoring more runs than the opposition.  Unlike soccer, baseball games do not finish in O-O ties.

~Gil~

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97: Frank has some work to do….

By Voice of  Reason Raisins

Jefferson, GA (God’s country) – I am glad Jason Heyward finally admitted that his thumb injuryJason Heyward has been contributing to his offensive woes. Denying it is the first semblance of immaturity I have seen in the kid, especially in light of Jordan Schafer spectacle of 2009. Really… what was Heyward thinking? That he’d lose his Major League job? Please…

I think the injury to HeyHey only underscores the Braves need to pick up an everyday LF. At the moment, we have Omar serving as the RH compliment to Hinske with Brandon Hicks as the backup SS.

I say, “Nay, nay.”

This should not be. Omar is the back up SS/super sub. The key word there is “sub”. He makes this team stronger as a sub, not as a regular. If we had an everyday LF capable of batting in the middle of the lineup, then we could have both Hinske and Omar on our bench, occasionally spelling the regulars and keeping everyone fresh… not to mention coming to the plate in late innings with runners on base instead of Brandon Hicks.  KnowhatImean?

Nate McLouth

The CF situation already stretches this team thin as far as OF goes. My hope is that Nate’s extended time off will allow him to return to vintage form. Or if nothing else, the Braves can see that he will not, and to do something about it. Melky has been hot lately, but do we really want to count on that to continue into October?

Again, I say, “Nay, nay.”

This team would be best constructed with Melky serving as the 4th OF. Do I think that Frank should address 2 OF positions before the trade deadline? Maybe. It’s not job #1, but something will have to be done. — Nate, Schafer… heck, maybe even Blanco. He hasn’t been terrible, you know. He certainly hasn’t been a downgrade from Nate. I don’t care, but consistency has to be found. Melky is not consistency. Melky is a day off. Somebody needs to step up. Else Frank has some tough choices.

My beloved Braves are a 1st place team not by accident, but by pure hard work, desire and talent. Oh, they are talented. They are absolutely talented. They have a good mix of veterans and young players, they have terrific pitching, they have grit and energy… they are a playoff team. But, as currently constructed, they have flaws. Those flaws will become more and more exposed as the season grows longer, and really exposed in any post-season that may occur.

Frank must acquire an everyday LF. Period. CF might take care of itself. Or it might just take alot of prayer, duct tape, bubble gum and grinding until October. But LF has to be addressed.

As we move into September, and all of our games are against the NL East, it’ll essentially feel like a full month of playoffs. It’ll also stress this team like a full month of playoffs. The current roster won’t take those stresses.  It’ll fly apart at the seams like Oprah’s girdle.

I say, “Nay, nay.”

I say Frank should take care of it now. We need a LF. Anybody got the number to Outfielders ‘R’ Us?

~Raisins~

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96: Your Schizophrenic Atlanta Braves!

by Berigan

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your schizophrenic Atlanta Braves!

Well, what does one make of this team??  After that wondrous opening day win by the score of 16-5, they looked like world beaters. On May 4th, they were 11-14, the only team in the east with a sub .500 record.

At one point this year, they had worst road record in the league (5-14) and a .217 road batting average. If the manager was anyone not named Bobby Cox, he would have been on such a hot seat, he would have to wear asbestos underwear!

We all know they looked like a team that had the life sucked out of them. I don’t know if any team on a losing streak looks quite as helpless as the Braves do. Heck, I’m not tellin’ y’all anything you don’t already know about the Braves on the skids. Or am I?? Nope…don’t think so.

But, what I do know is it’s bad form to start a sentence with a conjunction. Do it all the time though. Plus, gotta pad this out….pretty sure a  blog lead has to be at least 100 words, right??  ;)  [Editor’s note: At minimum, Ber!]

On May 23rd, the team was 5-1 in the previous 6 road games, after going 5-14 in first 19. That’s kind of hard for a team to do, but nothing is impossible with the 2010 version of the team! :P Over the last 10 games, the Braves are 7-3. In the same span, the Phillies are 4-6, have completely stopped hitting, and only have a 2 1/2 game lead over the Bravos. Now…we all know if there is one certainty in this sport, the Phils will hit. So…can we really compete with that team or are the Braves just a wildcard team??

Imagine if Liberty had been more concerned about keeping Heyward from being a super 2 player and he was being held back like Stephen Strasburg has been for the Nats? We would be in last place and out of the hunt, no doubt about it. Have to give credit where credit is due.

Don’t know if Wren, J.S, etc had to put in a big fight about this, but so very glad we have had the chance to see a future (present?) Superstar in action.

And (oops, conjunction again!) while it looked a few weeks ago that there was no chance of the playoffs this year, right now, we are in the thick of a playoff race and that’s a good thing! :)

Is this thing long enough??? Hmmm, what else can I add…Hey, did I mention a list I saw that listed the top 10 switch hitters of all time? Chipper was ranked number 2! Then, I looked down the list, saw no Ted Simmons. Chili Davis was 10th. 1372 RBI’s .274 BA.  Read  in the comments that Ted Simmons was 11th on this writer’s list.  A guy who drove in 1389 RBI’s and had a .285 BA. All the while catching. Sigh….no respect, Simba gets no respect. There, just the perfect length. :lol:    [Editor’s note: FYI, Ber, 490 words. :-) ]

~Berigan~

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

95: Opening Day With The Wildcat

.

by epriseWildcat

ENTERPRISE, AL – The wildcat is home from the most amazing baseball game I’ve ever seen. WOW!!!

The opening ceremony was fantastic. Well… except the fly-by which was mistimed and showed up half way through the national anthem. From my vantage point in section 225 we could not see the planes at all.

Heyward, Rich Addicks AP

Look who is standing respectfully, attentively and quietly. Photo by Rich Addicks, AP

Oh well… that was the about the only thing that went wrong for the Braves. Well… there was D. Lowe’s first inning. Yuk!!! From our vantage point there was no strike zone and there was no sink to his sinker. We’re lucky they only scored three!

As for our young right fielder Mr. Heyward there is no way to describe the excitement he generated with that blast deep into Braves bullpen. The Ted went absolutely crazy. The ball he hit was still rising from my vantage point deep into right field. It was a shot!!! I should also mention how smooth and graceful he is in the outfield. Amazing! This kid will be a fixture for the Braves for many years. The symbolic first pitch from Hank to Jason tells the story perfectly.

Hank & Heyward - ajc photo by Phil Skinner

Good gosh, there were Cub fans everywhere. It would be easy to over estimate their numbers but 15-20 percent wearing Cubs gear is probably pretty close. The obnoxious one in front of me left in the 7th inning. He’d seen enough. Atlanta needs to wake up and get behind this team and fill the seats.

I can remember a lot of speculation this winter about Marian Byrd and picking him up as a big bat. He may swing a pretty big stick but he can’t field a lick. Can’t imagine the Cubs will keep him in center field.

What a great day for Braves fans. For this Braves fan it was a great way to share a day with his son. What a shame they take tomorrow off. This line-up is strong with youth and veterans and the pitching is first rate.

Just a couple more observations of a great opening day for our Braves.

* The stadium staff and security could not be nicer. Very friendly and helpful.

* The stadium looks great! Upgrades to the electronic scoreboards and new graphics abound. The new Coke bottle is really cool. There have been major improvements to the sound effects played during the game. Long overdue! The Ted is a great place to watch a ballgame!!!

* The Chik-fil-A chopping cow appears to be having technical difficulties. He only managed to get into a full chop only once.

* The baritone singer in the tux that sang God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch was awesome! Should be a fixture at every home game. Sure beats Steven Tylers awful rendition during the Yanks-Red Sox game Sunday night. Yuk!

Really looking forward to going back in a couple of weeks.  Hope the weather is as great!

We'll be seeing a lot more of him! ajc photo by Phil Skinner

~epriseWildcat~

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94: “Hello again, everybody!” – can’t you just hear it?

by Carolina Lady

It’s pretty safe to say that all of us are genuinely excited about the Braves’ potential for this year’s diamond campaign.

A kid’s Christmas morning anticipation is nothing compared to a baseball fan’s sparkly-eyed, hyperactive grinning as his/her team gets ready to launch a shiny new season.

Raisins and Ber have already addressed many of the reasons why in the previous couple of  leads.

My thoughts were are a little more in the ‘intangibles’ category: what, if anything, will be the impact of Bobby’s final year as field manager?

From everything I’ve read, it’s universal that Braves people want him to go out with another World Series ring, none more-so than the players themselves.

I sense it in the columns I read and in the interviews given by those associated in any way with the team. It’s as if there is a new purposefulness in the players’ attitudes, a certain determination in the eye. Have you noticed it?

They seem to have a more definitive goal this year rather than the annual generic “We wanna go to the Series” one. A mission. And they know what they have to do to make it happen: win ball games.

I don’t think there’s a way to measure this ‘swan song’ influence except maybe by seeing a player dig down a little deeper, try a little harder, successfully make that stolen base, make that extra-base hit, move that runner over and bring him in. I’ll sure be looking for it!

I just hope they can maintain this focus through the full, grueling 162-game schedule. Somehow I think they will. If this lady’s yelling and jumping up-and-down in front of the TV/computer during game time will help, I will be in the BSOML by Oct 2010!

With all his good points and bad, I’ll  really miss Bobby when he retires. I cannot even imagine who will be tasked with trying to fill those spikes in 2011. Really don’t even want to go there right now. But it will be an almost impossible position to hold with any success.

Today I listened again to some of the interviews done after Skip died. When Don Sutton was asked what Skip was like to him, he responded, “He’s like the grumpy old uncle that I couldn’t wait to see again.” In a strange sort of way, that made me think of Bobby. Everybody loves the man.  And that’s special in my book.

Speaking of Skip, wouldn’t you just love to listen to his comments through this final Bobby Cox season? Undoubtedly he would bring a perspective that would ring true in every aspect and would be unique and memorable – as only Skip could do. Don’t know about you but I can’t watch a game without hearing his voice in my mind commenting with humor and his own brand of caustic wit.

Anyhow, those are just a few thoughts on a cold February evening on the Carolina coast.

What do you think?  What and/or how much influence do you think the retirement of  No.6 will have on the season?

Gil, we’re all looking forward to your reports from Florida! Take photos! Lots of ’em!

~CL~

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93: Spring Has Sprung – or soon will!

by Berigan

Well, with snow blanketing much of the US, clearly – it’s time to talk Braves baseball!

So, what do we make of the Braves version 2010?  Wasn’t it weird to have an offseason where the last thing we as fans were looking for was starting pitching?  Too many starters in fact. When did we last have that problem?! 19 hundred and something, at the latest!  Of course if any of the main guys go down, then we are like every other team in baseball, hoping and praying someone at AAA can go 5 innings and only give up 3-4 runs. But, as of now, I am sure everyone will agree that our starting pitching is in very good shape. As good as it was at the start of last season.

Now, the bullpen.  Ahh, yes, the bullpen.  While Gonzo and Soriano are not perfect, my feelings are they are better than Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner.  At least the former are younger!  ;)

Takashi Saito has had an ERA under 3 for his 4 seasons in the big leagues.  Very impressive!  But he is also going to be 40 on Valentine’s Day.  He also was in only 56 games last year.  I sure hope one of the translators will make both facts well known to Bobby! ;)

Wagner is a relative spring chicken compared to him as he will turn 39 in July.  62 Games and 62 innings the past two years.  Can he pitch in 3 straight games?? 2 straight??

We know if the 87 games Peter Moylan pitched in last year don’t cause his arm to fall off this spring,  he will be a steady presence, most likely racking up 80 plus appearances again. Kris Medlen should continue to improve on last years work.

Eric O’Flaherty will get the lefties out once again.  Scott Proctor, if he has regained his health, could be a big boost to the bullpen. Bobby has to find someone else to rely on besides Gonzo, and Sori…oh wait…anyway.  He has to find a way to trust someone besides the 2 middle-aged guys.  Just can’t use them like guys 10-12 years younger.

Will Manny Acosta finally get his act together??? Will Chris Resop and his 100 MPH stuff finally come through??? Those guys clearly have great stuff….

Speaking of question marks:  our offense.  (Some of this is going to be ‘no duh, Berigan,’ please bear with me!)

Starting at 1st. Troy Glaus.  Man, if this was 2009, we would be tickled to get him after another 100 RBI season.  But it’s 2010 and in 2009 he hit .172 in just 29 AB’s. The biggest thing going in his favor is he is still fairly young, won’t turn 34 til August.

2nd Base. Toot toot! (me tooting my own horn) I have long been a fan of Martin Prado. It seemed like he would never get his chance to show what he could do as a full time player. Finally got that chance, and showed to everyone he deserves it. Still, he only has 770 AB’s for his career, and some guys the league does figure out. I don’t think he will be one of those though.

SS: Yunel Escobar. He has finally proven himself, offensively and defensively -well, as long as no one is sliding into him!- but what about between the ears?  Didn’t it seem last year that any day he would do just the right thing to get his talented behind traded???  Will he finally mature this year???

3rd base:  Ol Chipper. There was this 37 year old.  He hit  17 HR’s drove in  62 RBI’s and hit .337.  Then he turned 38 and in 404 AB’s hit 14 HR’s drove in  44 RBIs and hit a lousy .255.  A lot of people thought he was washed up.  His manager even was trying to tell him he wasn’t a regular anymore.   He hit .275 at the age of 39, .288 at the age of 40, and at 41, in 505 AB’s he hit 19 HR’s Drove in 82 RBIs, and had a .330 B.A. Unless I have a cystal ball  (I do, but it only sees 30 seconds in the future)  I am not talking about Chipper, but another guy already in the the Hall of Fame.  Stan Musial!

Funny, when Chipper hit .248 at the age of 32, no one thought he was washed up. He hit .264 last year and even he seems convinced he’s about done.  Like the great Joaquin Andujar said, “There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is, You never know!”

Wait, what am I forgetting on the infield?  Catcher. McCann and David Ross.  If healthy, no worries.  Nuff said.

Left field:  Matt Diaz hit .313 last year!  Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it?!  He was very streaky early, .216 in April, .378 in May, .250 in June.  I think if he didn’t take those terrible swings on pitches low and outside he’d be thought of as a regular, IMO.

Anyway, likely a platoon guy with Melky Cabrera, who last year hit .274, 13 HR, 68 RBIs.  He lost the starting job last spring but won it back when Brett Gardner went on the DL.  So, Cabrera was in 154 games last year, the guy to man center for a team that won 103 games.  Of course, they also traded him.  But both he and Diaz arguably should be starting players, though neither has a whole lot of power. Seems we do have plenty of outfielders though, if you toss in Eric Hinske.

Center field:  Nate McClouth. Did you know he hit 26 HR’s and drove in 94 in 2008?  Do you understand why I think it’s bat poop crazy for him to bat leadoff on a team with little power?  *sigh*  Tilting at windmills.

Right Field:  some kid – what’s his name?  The JHey Kid!  Is he the real deal?  Everyone says he is.  Those short clips I’ve seen on the web show one of the smoothest swings out there – but he is 20.  What can we truly expect from him?

Willie Mays failed at first.  Cal Ripkin was bad at the very beginning, as well. ARod, at the age of 20, hit 36 HRs, drove in 123 and had a .358 BA.  But he also played 65 games in the previous two years in the majors. 

Ken Griffey jr came up at 19, and hit 16 Hr’s drove in 61, and hit .264. Are those realistic numbers for Heyward?  Would we win with those numbers?  Or How about what a 23 year old rookie by the name of Mark McGwire did as a rookie?  49 Homers! Not much pressure, but he should shoot for 50 to break his record!  :mrgreen: Still, wish the Braves had brought JHey up for a cup of coffee, especially if they are counting on him right out of the box.

So, long story longer – who knows what will happen this year?  3rd, 2nd or even 1st place all seem to be valid possibilities.  Which is why we watch the games, right?

PLAY BALL!!

~Ber~

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92: A Little Seasoned Wood for the Hot Stove

by Voice of  Reason Raisins

JEFFERSON, GA – Some so-called “fans” sure are funny…

Damon

They’ll call for signing Johnny Damon, yet trash the idea of trading for Luke Scott. (Their numbers are almost identical over the

L Scott

last four years.  Scott is significantly younger and cheaper.)

They’ll wail at the signing of Billy Wagner because he’s coming off surgery, and gnash their collective teeth at not retaining Gonzo and Sori, both of whom came off surgeries last season.

They’ll want to lynch Frank Wren over signing Troy Glaus because of his

T Glaus

one shoulder surgery (from which he returned at the end of last season and was activated for the playoffs), yet clamor for Frank to sign Xavier Nady, who is coming off of 2 TJ surgeries and has yet to prove he can even scratch his own back.

They’ll elevate the up and down Javy Vazquez to Cy Youngian heights for winning 15 games (against 10 forgotten losses) and putting up the best stats of his career in 2009. The same fans will crucify the steady Derek Lowe for having one down year in 2009, and winning just 15 games while losing an unacceptable 10. Horrors! :shock:

Many refuse to acknowledge that there was anything other than

A Viscaino

Vazquez and Melky Cabrera involved in the trade with the bankrolled Yankees.  And if they do acknowledge that Arodys Vizcaino was there, they ignore his pedigree. At the same time, they’ll absolutely go ballistic at the notion of including either Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado in a trade. Vizcaino is now rated in front of both of those deservedly treasured prospects in some publications.  And these “fans” somehow completely ignore lefty Michael Dunn, who will most likely be an important part of this year’s bullpen.  Oh, yeah… and there is still about $7 million or so to be spent as a net result. Can’t leave that nugget out.

M Dunn

(I, for one, am envisioning a 2013 rotation that includes Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Vizcaino, Teheran and possibly Mike Minor. That will be stout… STOUT.)

You know, we here in Stuffville are a unique bunch. We understand a few things.

First, the roster on January 5 is not the roster on April 5, when the Braves open the 2010 campaign at home against the Cubs.

Second, a GM’s job is not to shoot all of his bullets in pursuit of building for only the current year. He has to have forward vision and build for years down the road while fielding the most competitive team he can for the current season and keeping the franchise viable from a financial standpoint. It is simply the reality of operating in the current economic climate.

Third, and probably most importantly, we all have the good sense to realize that WE are the fans, and THEY are the professionals. That reality is lost on far too many laptop executives. I think fantasy baseball and the proliferation of far too many boutique statistics has warped the view of a lot of nouveau “fans”, who really have no idea how to have loyalty to a team and form a real emotional bond. We are in a “fast food” society that wants drive-thru satisfaction. In my estimation, you can’t truly enjoy the highs if you haven’t endured the lows. Plant the garden. Tend it, feed it, pull a few weeds, let it grow. Harvest the bounty.

But what do I know? I’ve only been a Braves fan since I was 5, when the Braves infield was made up of Clete Boyer, Sonny Jackson, Felix Millan and Orlando Cepeda. I had no idea who they were, but I had their cards and knew they played for my team. I do remember when Earl Williams was ROY in 1971.

And I remember 1973, when the Braves had 3 players with over 40 HR’s – Hank Aaron (40), Darrell Evans (41) and Davey Johnson (43). That same year, Ralph Garr stole 35 bases, and I had a Ralph Garr Road Runner (beep-beep) bicycle license plate proudly hanging from the back of my banana seat. I remember when Hammerin’ Hank broke “the record.” It was a day game. I was in 3rd grade. They announced it in class.

I will never forget any of those things. They are special to me.

Do you know what the common denominator is in all of those seasons from my kidhood? I could not begin to tell you the Win-Loss records of those teams. It didn’t matter; they were the Atlanta Braves. They were MY team. Period.

They still are. Period.

~Raisins~

91: I’m Feeling Lowe – Send Me An Angel

by Voice of Reason Raisins

JEFFERSON, GA – It’ll be a slow news morning since most of the talking heads were up way late into the early morning staying on top of the Doc Halladay / Cliff Lee 3-team blockbuster.

This much is for sure. The Derek Lowe chatter picked up dramatically last night. Most think he’ll be the next domino to fall. Most think to the LA Angels. I am 99% in that camp as well. I really do wonder, though, what will the final value be?

Many see Lowe’s 2009 season as a sign of decline. I don’t; but regardless, it’ll be used in negotiations. It’ll cost the Braves in their return.

My humble and amateur analysis deems Derek Lowe in 2009 as an anomaly. Look… the guy throws with a motion that does not tax him physically, except for the occasional blister. He’s not wearing down. He is a horse, and one of value. I believe the reports of his spotting a mechanical flaw. If I were a betting man, who I am not, I’d bet that Derek Lowe in 2010 will look closer to Derek Lowe in 2008 than Derek Lowe in 2009. And my feelings would not be hurt to see him toe the rubber in The Ted for another 3 years. But we don’t need him. He has become a surplus part. And as surplus, he’s very expensive.

But back to 2009, the guy won 15 games on a team that was obviously NOT in the top teams offensively. He must have been doing something right, huh?

So, is he worth $45MM over the next 3 years? Not to Atlanta, where they’ll still have the best top to bottom rotation in the NL, regardless of losing Lowe and regardless of Philly picking up Doc Halladay.

But what about in Los Angeles, in Halo-land? They just lost their ace John Lackey. And they lost their superman Chone Figgins… to division rival Seattle. And did you notice the Mariners just acquired Cliff Lee to go with Felix Hernandez? The Angels just got a nice kick in the teeth. Yep… just as news was breaking that The Angels were losing their ace, the news was breaking that the Mariners were adding Lee. Ouch…

All that said, as much as I’d love to see a Derek Lowe / Juan Rivera straight up swap, that won’t happen. The Braves will have to eat some of the remaining $45MM on the contract, or will have to give up a top prospect to offset it. I don’t see them giving up any top prospects, and I don’t see them paying as much as $12MM, as has been suggested. I do, though, see them paying maybe as much as $9MM, OR adding a guy like Jordan Schafer to the deal. Once you start adding pieces, though, it begins to get a little crazy.

What I mean is, the Braves wouldn’t swap Lowe + Schafer straight up for Rivera. Not equitable. So then you have to add something on the Angels end. Then you could end up with multiple players / prospects changing locale. Loopy.

In the end, it’d be nice if Frank could make it a straight up Lowe / Rivera swap, and keep all of his own pieces, including Schafer, and add a little cash on the side. Heck, it could probably happen today if Frank had Yankee money. But he doesn’t. So they’ll take some time and haggle dollars – big dollars. That could take time. But time will only increase the sense of urgency for LAA. And that need is the one thing that might make Lowe’s real trade value increase.

And while time is more on Frank’s side, he doesn’t have all winter, either. He still has to add a few more arrows to Bobby’s quiver, so he can’t exactly play a total waiting game.

Nope, this intrepid reporter – OK, this amateur Braves lovin’ spectator – thinks a deal will happen sooner than later… maybe even before Gil can get this posted. Who knows?

I do know this: the Braves and Angels now have an overlapping common goal. That should be a good place to start.

90: Where’s the Big Bopper?

Where’s the Big Bopper?

by Voice of Reason Raisins

JEFFERSON, GA – Unicorns, Bigfoot, UFO’s, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, free lunch, government intelligence, affordable power hitting outfielder…

It’s gonna take more that a ride on the Polar Express to make me believe.

This years Free Agent crop is headlined by two premier outfielders, Jason Bay and Matt Holliday. Do I really have to go into deep detail as to why the Braves cannot be considered serous contenders in the bidding for either of these two Rolls Royces? I don’t think I do.

Past the luxury models, we can move to the more affordable, practical sedans.

For Left Field, you’ll find names such as Marlon Byrd… uh, Marlon Byrd. That’s about it. C’mon… does Marcus Thames really excite you? How about Joey Gathright? David Delucci? Folks, it ain’t there. Garret Anderson is one of the better names on that list. Really…

OK, what about Center Field? OK, there we can find Mike Cameron. Past that there’s Rick Ankiel, Andruw Jones (ugh), and Corey Patterson. Bleh!

Maybe Right Field. Maybe not. Austin Kearns? Brian Giles? Jermaine Dye? Do you really want Dye in left field? Do you remember some of the misadventures we endured with Anderson? No thanks!

Um, First Base? There you will see Adam LaRoache, Russell Branyan, Nick Johnson and a bunch of scrap. Johnson has a nice OBP, but isn’t a bopper. Branyan? Hmmm… maybe, but he wants two years guaranteed. If I’m doing that, I’m doing it for Adam and keeping him at home. That said, none of those is guaranteeing you 30+ HR’s. Branyan comes close, but there is that back thing…

Bottom line: The Big Bopper isn’t there.

What about the trade market? Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham immediately come to mind, but why would the Nationals trade their core offensive players to their division rival? Answer: they won’t. Not happenin’. Carlos Lee? Contract is too prohibitive. Delmon Young? We just traded our version of Delmon Young to the Mets. Cody Ross? See Dunn and Willingham. Brad Hawpe? Nick Swisher? Not enough power to be a bopper. Maybe Ryan Ludwick? I don’t see St. Louis trading him since Holliday is likely to sign elsewhere. The one guy who might be out there and fits the description is Adrian Gonzalez, but it is not yet determined if he’s actually going to be available, and the Padres would gut the farm system of just about everything leftover after the Tex trade. Uh, no.

Much has been said recently as to the candidacy of Dan Uggla. I’m not buying. First, he’s never logged one inning in the major leagues outside of Second Base. And he didn’t do that particularly well. Why would you take the absolute strength of your team, being pitching, and reduce it with sub-par defense? Answer: you won’t. Also, see Dunn, Willingham and Ross. The Marlins do not particularly want to make the Braves any better, and likewise the Braves do not particularly want to make the Marlins any better. That is what you call “not a match”.

And that is what Frank has to find in the trade market… a match. Who will take our surplus (pitching, KJ) and give us our need (LF, 1B, ‘pen)?

So, what can we take from all of this blather?

There isn’t a Big Bopper out there and available. We probably have a better chance of seeing the real Big Bopper rise up and sing <i>Chantilly Lace</i> as we have of landing a Big Bopper for the lineup.

So, how do we overcome that obstacle? Well, is it really an obstacle?

Three mid-level signings give you a pretty darn good team, in my view. Mike Cameron, as I have said over and over, can be had on a one year deal for around $7MM, plays stellar defense, and will give you 20-25 HR’s and 70-80 RBI. Re-sign Rochey and Gonzo, and you have a team to compete with anyone in the NL.

And we can afford that.

We need to take a step back and realize that after the acquisitions of Nate McClouth and Rochey, we played as well as anybody in the league. And that was with Chipper tanking and Garret Anderson in left field. I’ll take a whole season of both Rochey, an outfield of N8, Cameron and Diaz (and/or JHey, but that’s a separate topic).

Add that to the best starting rotation in the National League, and maybe in either league, and we have a winning team.

The best part? We still have a starter to trade… we still have ammo to fill the gaps.

And we won’t have Greg Norton.

~Raisins~

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

89: 2010 Potential Warms Cold Winter Nights

POTENTIAL FOR 2010 WARMS THOSE COLD WINTER NIGHTS

By ssiscribe

ATLANTA — Nothing chills the heart of a baseball fan more than when the first cold front of the offseason blows through town, sending the garden blooms shivering and the good denizens scrambling for that favorite sweater.

And that’s where we stand on this night along the southern rim of the capital city. On the big TV is a big-time doing: the Yankees and Angels battling in the late innings of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.

For Los Angeles (times two!) and New York and Philadelphia, the here and now sits squarely in focus. Here in Atlanta, and wherever the legions of Braves Nation lay their heads on this chilly October night, 2010 already has arrived, regardless of what the calendar on the wall reports to us.

Winter has arrived, even if we’re told it doesn’t get here until December. It arrived in late September, after a spirited late-season push by the Braves fell a few games short of a miracle ticket to the postseason party.

For all the hub-bub and boost Atlanta’s torrid September surge provided, I couldn’t help but wonder two things:

1.) We don’t deserve to play in October, given how we’d played in April, May and June.

2.) If we hadn’t played the first 74 games of this season six games under .500, I’d be pulling money aside for World Series tickets.

Therein rests the hope as we look ahead to a new season, one that we’re already thinking about and talking about and obsessing about, even as four teams still try to settle the final matters of 2009. What we saw out of the Braves from the moment they were 34-40 to the dying days of September provide plenty of evidence this team is plenty good enough to be plastered on our TV screens — and not just in our consciousness and discussion — come this time next year.

Certainly, there are questions to address, holes to fill. Let’s face it: after a 90-loss season in 2008, the Braves had two offseasons worth of work to do to get this thing straightened out. Give Frank Wren and Co. credit for addressing the most-glaring need first. Not too long after having to rely on Jorge Campillo, Jo-Jo Reyes, James Parr and Buddy Carlyle to fill out a starting rotation, the Braves have a staff that is the envy of the sport.

Heck, they have TOO many starters, if it’s even possible to find oneself in such a scenario.

Now that the rotation is salted away and salved, it’s time to give the lineup the pop it needs to generate enough runs to propel this squad into the playoffs. Moves made along the way, from trading for Nate McLouth to Adam LaRoche’s homecoming to Martin Prado’s ascension to everyday player status, have helped.

Re-sign LaRoche, find one more bat (preferably right-handed in nature), and this team is golden. I really believe that, and no, it’s not the fumes coming from the Hot Stove on this cold winter’s night providing such an intoxicating aroma.

Baseball 2009 is done for me, despite this ALCS contest playing on my TV. Baseball 2010 awaits. Dare I say, with the evidence at my disposal, the Braves have poured a strong foundation.

Add a few bricks to it, and next October will be a lot warmer.

–30–

~Scribe~

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

88: Would you believe, we missed it by this much!

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

by Gil of Mechanicsville

Would you believe, we missed it by this much….

Last week in a post race interview with Nascar racing bad boy Kyle Bush, he was asked if he felt let down by just missing stock car racing version of a play-off by 12 points, just edged out by another team in the final race of the regular season. He was reflective and truthful in his reply when he said it was not the most recent race that was his downfall but rather the accumulation of near misses and questionable moves over the 26 race prelude that cause him to come up short.

I think that could also sum up the Braves season quite well. It was not losing two of three to the Phillies at home last week that have all but ended the Atlanta team’s playoff hopes but many instances where the Braves failed to play up to their potential over the course of a 162 game schedule.

However, the Braves faithful should not lose sight of what has been a remarkable turn-around for a club that was woefully bad last year. Going from a team which lost 90 games in 2008 to one that will likely win that many this year. In a world where everything seems to rely on winning the last game played in a season, the following of the Bravo’s should take heart that the future bodes well for their favorites.

There are a lot fewer holes to fill for next season. Frank Wren and company has done a pretty spectacular job of rebuilding the pitching staff and is a much better place than last year when filling the team’s need for a power bat in the line-up. In fact could be made that if the Braves had been able to field the team they currently have during the entire season, the results would be much different right now as far as the playoffs and likely would be holding off the Phillies for the NL East title.

While it is purely speculation on my part, here are some of the names I doubt you will see on an Atlanta uniform next year:

KJohnson

Kelly Johnson, while he may still ply his trade with another major league team next year, I doubt it will be in Atlanta. Kelly still has potential but the Braves have other options that are far cheaper and have greater ability at his position.
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RafaelSoriano
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Rafael Soriano: While he can be a top shelf closer at times and un-hittable, his price tag will be too high for as far as Atlanta is concerned especially with the emergence of Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty.
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Mike Gonzalez: See above. Rocky will make a great Gonzo1closer for a team that does not over use him. Gee, can you imagine what a pitching coach like Dave Duncan could do with a talent like his? Awesome.
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AndersonG4

Garret Anderson: While he has shown flashes of his greatness at time this year, I doubt he will return for an encore performance. With some pretty good talent in the wings for the Atlanta with Heyward and Scheffer, I think the money paid to him this season will be used elsewhere. Probably to re-sign Adam LaRoche to a two year contract.

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Standings as of 9/23/09:

88b
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~Gil~

87: The 2009 Braves – or ….

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

by Savannah Guy

How We Managed To Lose Games We Should’ve Won.

The most frustrating thing in sports is watching your team lose when you know it is more than capable of winning. Surely all fans feel or think or say that as they seek answers to why their team failed to have a winning season and reach the playoffs. For some, like the Pirates and the Nationals, the answer is simple. For teams like the Braves, the answers are more complex. The Braves have an average payroll, above average rotation and that’ll get you to the post season. Get players that’ll get you some runs and you’re there in October.

The Braves are not going anywhere but home when this season ends. Why did that happen? Is it just “the way the ball bounces”? Is it just “that’s baseball”, or is there something or someone that we can point to and confidently and reasonably say, “that was the one undeniable cause of our losing season”. In sports, that is almost impossible to prove and there are as many opinions as there are fans.

Seeking blame is not a helpful exercise nor is it a fruitful cause, but seeking answers to questions and solutions for problems is worthwhile and helpful, even if the exercise is to satisfy our own curiosity and sense of logic, reason, cause and effect. A few excerpts inspired me from a Mark Bowman, MLB article last night:

Jair Jurgens

Jair Jurrjens

“I don’t even know what to say anymore,” said Jurrjens, who has seen the Braves score two runs or fewer in 14 of his 29 starts. “It’s getting frustrating for us now, especially because of how big these games are for us right now.”

I’m afraid this may be closer to what he wanted to say: I do know what to say after playing with this club… that it’s been frustrating from day one in Atlanta. First chance, I’m out’a here.

“Wells was hard to hit at,” manager Bobby Cox said. “He was wild enough to be effective. He would make some real bad pitches and then make the most Greg Maddux-[like] pitches you could ever imagine.”

Another perspective: Hate to mince words but must differ with the skipper… Wells was actually easy to “hit at”. We hit “at” him all night, trying to impatiently force the situation and pull the ball and wound up swinging at pitches way up and way out of the zone. Wells was “effectively wild” (stunk) but occasionally got one over. We helped him out a great deal by swinging at everything except, uh, the ones across the plate.

This season is a nightmare for the Braves rotation, where one run might lose a game and three runs pretty much assures you of hanging one in the loss column.

I’m not tracking, but it seems like we were on a pretty good roll until Chipper put himself back in. His pinch three run double made him forget all about the slumpfest he’s been in, figured he was invincible, happy days were here again and determined he’d play every game after that. That hasn’t worked out very well for Chipper or the team.

But that’s just one player and I don’t hang this or any season on just one player. Was it untimely injuries to McLouth, Infante, Prado, Church, just as they were playing so well? Was it sticking with French and Kelly so, so incredibly long? Did we overlook Diaz too long? Was it the unwillingness or stubbornness to keep Chipper in, or allow him to camp in the 3 spot so long? Is it having Mac bat cleanup when Rochey would be a better fit? Were we one big bat shy of having a winning team?

Should we have kept Conrad in Atlanta to play second, moving Prado to third to let Chipper have some real time off? Should we be resting Mac more and let Ross contribute?

Was it a bad idea to pitch Gonzo and Soriano with big leads too many times or put them in to pitch too often on consecutive nights when most managers would’ve used others in the pen?

Medlen

Medlen

Did we pitch Moylan way too much, especially with him coming off surgery? Is Lowe done as a starter?  Have we mismanaged Medlen enough yet, jerking him around to the point of throwing him out of synch and robbing him of confidence? Has “loyalty” or “patience” with a struggling Norton hurt the team?  Is Garret done as a position player?

As always, there is not one single reason a team loses and not one single player that causes a team to lose the season. “All of the above”  (and more) would be the only viable and fair answer to so many questions about this 2009 season.

Yet, even with all of the injuries (which all teams have) and slumps (which all teams have), our starting pitching has been excellent. With the exception of Lowe, our rotation is at least as good as any in the game. Cy Young could not have won more games than Jair this year with such pitiful run support.

This season, even with less than stellar offense, with just a little less loyalty and patience and that stubborn old playbook, the Braves could be ahead of the Phillies today. We had a good enough team this year but in my humble opinion they were mismanaged all the way. Bobby didn’t manage bad enough to be tossed out in mid season as some owners do, particularly because of the laurels he rests on, and he didn’t manage so blatantly bad that he lost all benefit of doubt about his current capability.

The Braves were managed just well enough to almost win. Luck had nothing to do with this season like it did last year. Our injuries could have been played through. Rally-killing, automatic-out players that were mired in months long, excruciating slumps could have been lifted. Luck played no role in the 2009 season, unless you consider having a great manager that is (still) on top of his game good luck. A few less injuries to key players would have helped as would the good fortune of landing a big bat, but our bad luck in 2009 was bad managing.

managers1

Maybe we’ll manage to get’em next year.

~SG~


Braves And Stuff - Blogged

86: Are they for real???? Part 1, Pitching

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

by Berigan

Did you know Ted Simmons was the back up catcher and pinch hitter for the Braves from 1986 to 1988??? Don’t you feel better knowing this important bit of trivia???

Ted Simmons

Ted Simmons


Where was I??? Right, nowhere.

Some of this is painfully obvious, because it was originally a comment on a baseball thread for a jazz forum, that doesn’t know the braves like we know the braves. So there. Now I have updated, and padded the best I can. But I’m not going to kill myself for the mere $1000 Carolina Lady pays me to write these, you know??? :mrgreen: [CL to Ber: Do what?! :shock: ]

Anywho, the Braves, it could be argued, have the best 1-5 starters in all the majors. And Tim Hudson likely on the big league roster on or around Sept. 1st.

Kawakami

Kawakami

Kawakami is basically the 5th starter, (and paid more like a 2nd or 3rd) but when he’s against a big opponent, say Halladay, the Red Sox, or against the Dodgers, he has been huge! Funny, for a Japanese pitcher, I would have expected more consistency, but he needs challenges. I wouldn’t mind a bit IF the braves made the playoffs, for him to start game one. (And I wrote this before murderizing the mutts last night, am I good, or what????)

Derek Lowe

Derek Lowe


Derek Lowe is paid as a number one, but is more of a number 4 (or 5) of late. But his 4.45, while the worst of all the starters, is not horrible. Just horrible for a number one! ;) It sure seems like his sinker was crisper the first month and a half of the season. I thought fatigue helped sinker pitchers???

Tommy Hanson is technically our 4th or 5th starter. While he has come down to earth a bit of late, a 8-2 record and a 3.05 ERA in your first year is nothing to sneeze at! He has gone at least 5 innings every time out. A rookie of the year candidate for sure. Hanson is simply not pitching like a 22 year old. Check out Maddux, Glavine, or Smoltz’s stats for their first year or two in the majors and see how truly bad they were!

Jair Jurgens

Jair Jurgens

Now for the 2 best starters. Flip a coin. Jair Jurrjens. I still get the feeling he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. A certain baseball writer for the braves didn’t seem to think he was a #1 or 2. He simply gets no run support. 9-8 with a 2.00 ERA. 13-10 last year, with a 3.68 ERA. And he was born in 1986, like Hanson! Hard to think of him as being that young, doesn’t it??? Gee, think the Tigers ever regret handing him over in the Edgar Renteria trade??? Even Lowe said early in the year after he pitched, well we have our best pitcher going tomorrow, talking about Jurrjens. Could have been trying to boost the kids confidence. Could have been just telling it the way it is.

Javier Vazquez

Javier Vazquez

But the guy with the best ERA??? Pitched the most innings??? Who has the 2nd most strikeouts in the NL??? Javier Vazquez! As you all my recall, I was NOT happy about getting him this spring. Career ERA over 4.
Check out his year by year ERA from 2004. 2004- 4.91. 2005(in the NL by the way) 4.42. 2006-4.84. 2007-3.74. 2008-4.67.

We traded Tyler Flowers, a guy that in the spring of 2008 was hitting balls much further than anyone else. We gave him up for some hack, who wilted when called out by his manager to step up his game. Then he pitched in the WC this spring. I figured he was a likely candidate for Tommy John.

Instead, 10-8(should be about 14-4) 2.90 era, 162 innings, 178 strike outs! And a month ago, many braves fans, including me, were all for trading him to get the illusive big bopper. Well, right now…we are glad he is still on the club!

I don’t know if it’s having a manager that actually respects him, or being closer to family in Puerto Rico (Heard that was an issue in Arizona) but he has been gold, and at the age of 33 is having his career year. Go figure.

We all know the bullpen is not perfect. I can’t find any stats for some reason, but I read about a month ago , the bullpen ERA was 13th out of 16 teams in the NL. Kind of surprising. After Gonzo, Soriano, Moylan, and O’Flaherty it’s been a crapshoot most of the year.

Everyone knows Manny Acosta has great stuff, it’s being consistent that has been the issue. And you get the feeling the manager doesn’t have a lot faith in him. But, if the arms are to stay attached to Moylan, Gonzo, and Sori, then Logan, Medlen, and Acosta need to be pitched more, and from time to time in big games.

But with 5 starters that all have above average stuff, and 4 trusted arms in the Bullpen, and a manager that doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit (both literally and figuratively) the braves should stay in it til the last week of the season!

~Berigan~

85: The Braves: Play-offs?

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

by Gil in Mechanicsville

After much angst, we all find ourselves wondering if this team can actually make the playoffs. 4&1/2 games back with nearly 6 weeks to go; certainly it will make for interesting theater.

Good pitching beats good hitting, an old adage that has proven true for many seasons. With a National League best ERA, the Braves staff is once again leading the team to resurgence. So, what has changed to allow for the sudden optimism in Atlanta’s chances to again visit the post season after what seems to have been forever?  Simple, good pitching combined with timely hitting.

The Braves were on a run when Omar Infante’ suffered an unfortunate

Infante'

Infante'

injury. It seemed to stop the Braves in their tracks just when the seemed poised to make a run. It was not until the insertion of Martin Prado as an everyday player that the Braves have once again regained a winning form. Now, that is not to say that Kelly Johnson was dragging down the team, only to say no one was providing the spark. At the time, the Braves’ entire offense appeared centered around Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. As they went into their inevitable slump, so did the Braves.

Ryan Church

Ryan Church

Fortunately, the much-maligned Frank Wren also recognized the correlation between the two. The trade of hometown hero Jeff Francouer for Ryan Church appears to have helped shake the Bravos out of their doldrums. Coupled with the acquisition of Adam LaRoche for Casey Kotchman has also aided in a resurgence of offense. Additionally, blog whipping boy, Kelly Johnson, appears to have regained his timing as well as his confidence after a stint on the DL and a rehab stay in Gwinnett.

Now it appears Infante’ will be rejoining the club on Tuesday. While Diory Hernandez has a lot of upside, He is still a ways away from being an effective major league player. Infante’ is a much more proven utility man. In addition, two pitchers on the DL should be returning soon. Hudson and Carlyle should help bolster the pitching staff. While Manny Acosta can be effective at times, he is still pretty inconsistent. Perhaps the Nationals could use him in exchange for some of their prospects.

~Gil~

84: Buyers or Sellers?

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

by Voice of Reason Raisins

We discuss needs/possibilities mostly from a vacuum, looking at our needs and finding possible matches. I’d like to offer a little different perspective…

IF the Phillies add Roy Halladay for their stretch run, I believe the Braves should become sellers and build for next year. Does that make me a quitter? No – it makes me practical. The Braves are struggling just to reach .500, for crying out loud. What justifies any real playoff aspirations? The system, though, is set up to begin providing great pieces possibly as soon as next year. Keith Law believes the Braves are set up better than any other NL team for the next decade. Uh, that’s long time, folks. I don’t have any desire to disrupt that for a failed attempt to make a very iffy run at a playoff spot in ’09 with a very flawed team..

The reality is that the Phillies are MUCH more talented offensively, but lack the front line pitching to push them over the top. Add Halladay to their mix, and the balance tips generously toward the City of Brotherly Shove.

I have no desire to become perpetual rebuilders, but to admit that this year is a stepping-stone to greater success in the near future isn’t bailing on the season, it’s preparing for the next decade. And the real prospects go deeper than the familiar names of Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Cody Johnson and Jordan Schafer. A quick google of pitchers Brett DeVall, Julio Teheran, Cole Rohrbough and Zeke Spruill not to mention J.J. Hoover, Randall Delgado and Jacob Thompson will make even the most negative of fans smile a little. Then there are pitchers Scott Diamond, Eric Cordier, Edgar Osuna, Craig Kimbrel… I could go on…

Now the fielders:  move past OF Heyward and1B Freeman

Heywood&Freeman

and you get 1B Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg (a mouthful to say the least)

Riann

and OF Adam Milligan.

MilliganAdam

Those two are the next wave of Heyward and Freeman. Big time talents.  SS Brett Hicks is disappointing this year, but has impressed every year prior. We already have Martin Prado and Brooks Conrad, who has proven to me that he can be a viable everyday major-leaguer. The only real hole is at 3B. But that is where depth elsewhere bails you out, right? One fact many people overlook is that a minor league system is for two purposes: supply the major league team, and swap excess to fill need.

Think of this lineup:

1. McLouth, LF
2. Escobar, SS
3. Chipper, 3B
4. Heyward, RF
5. McCann, C
6. Freeman, 1B
7. Prado, 2B
8. Schafer, CF
9. pitcher

It’s not that far away, gang. That’s a young lineup aside from Chipper, and the pipeline is still full behind it.

Yep, I want the Braves to succeed every year including this one, but I’m realistic enough to recognize their shortcomings. We sorely need a LF… we sorely need a RF… we sorely need a 1B. We aren’t filling all 3 spots before July 31. Just can’t do it. Anything short of that still leaves a flawed team.

Now 2010… that’s different…

~Raisins~

83: Here’s Your (Braves) Rant!!!

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Like many of us long-time Braves fans, our allegiance wasn’t forged since 1991. Oh, no…and oh, dear, for otherwise, our patience would have been sapped long ago. Nope, for me, I harken (poetic, ain’t it!?!) back to the late 60’s/early 70’s, to the insufferable Milo Hamilton and the equally HamiltonMiloinsufferable Brave’s teams. But they were our Braves…and we clung to hope…cause that’s what true fans do. Milo left…we stayed through thick (you have to imagine) and thin(ner)!

The fact is, those earlier times were easier to be fans in the strictest sense. We enjoyed the game for what it was…and feasted on the occasional teaser (1982-83). The only other intrigue, ’69 aside, was Aaron’s chase of the Babe … Garber halting Rose’s streak … Horner jumping straight from college to the Braves, and homering … and Murphy’s exploits. Otherwise it’s pretty slim pickings.

But, we had Ernie, Skip, and Pete to keep us entertained…many times to the point they forgot the game, which was a good thing.

Now, we have reasonably good talent each year, but a Hall of Fame manager acting like there is one book to manage by … and it sucks! How is it we have one of the top three starting rotations in baseball, and a solid relief core, yet have three of the only six MLB pitchers with over 42 appearances this year? Please, someone … explain … pound it through this thick skull, ‘cause it ain’t computin’!

Yesterday was yet another loss squarely on Bobby’s shoulders. The seeds were sown three days ago, with his inane use of the bullpen…yet again. Hey, Bobby! Actions have consequences. The key to managing is not just for today but also for tomorrow! Hello! Anybody home?

I looked on incredulously as he pulled Medlen in the 5th…the 5th…no oneMedlenK out and a four-run lead. One reliever has already gone home with a sore elbow! If he’s gonna yank Medlen, how patient will he be with the relievers?

Typically, he wasn’t. “Boone, go get ‘em.” “Manny, loosen up!” “You too, O’Flaherty!” “Peter, you’re not tired, are ya?” “Hey, ‘New Guy’, go do a Joey Devine for us!”

Give me a freakin’ break! The bullpen is to hold the lead, when it’s time to hold a lead! Not for the manager to panic with a four-run margin…in the 5th inning. Either a player learns to work through some level of adversity – or he never learns. Hey, Medlen…you tried…prob’ly coulda done alright, ya know? As it is, good luck getting any confidence in your current role…but good luck with your new club!

Folks, don’t try to make sense of CoxFarewellthis; it’s why it’s a RANT! If there is any, it’s purely accidental – well, ‘cept for this: Bobby, it’s time to enjoy the sunsets!

~Salty~

82: Yunel ???

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by Voice of Reason Raisins

I can’t read Buster Olney’s recent article because I am not an ESPN Insider, (nor shall I ever be), but according to sources, Olney says that “the Braves are willing to trade Yunel Escobar for a good hitter”.

escobar

Should we be surprised? Head cases do not last long in the ATL. But is this an indictment of the Braves, or of Yunel? Before you answer that question, let me remind you of Gary Sheffield’s relatively quiet tenure under the tomahawk…

Sheffield

Gary Sheffield made his major league debut with the Milwaukee Brewers on September 3, 1988 at the tender age of 19. While there, he accused the organization of being “racist” and suddenly endured a series of “injuries” to his wrist, thumb and shoulder before being traded to San Diego prior to the 1992 season. While with the Marlins, he publicly stated his unhappiness with landing on an “expansion” team. With the Dodgers, he publicly criticized management, as well as coaches and teammates. He then spent two very quiet years with Atlanta before leaving via free agency for the Yankees. There he publicly criticized both Brian Cashman and Joe Torre before being traded to Detroit. Prior to this season, Detroit released him despite owing him more that $14MM.

The point? Even a guy with the clubhouse reputation of Gary Sheffield can find tranquility in the Braves clubhouse. But apparently Yunel cannot find such solace. Now don’t get me wrong here. I like a player with personality. I like the fire. But fires that burn out of control can do a good bit of damage in their wake. Maybe, I said maybe, it’s time to dig the break.

Now, to the field and the question of how sound a trade of Yunel would be. Obviously, it is impossible to judge without knowing what the return would be, but we are a group of speculators, eh?

So, that being said, if Wren could get a return of a decent defensive SS to go along with that bat, I’d be OK with it. And let’s be clear… the bat should be of the SG defined boppage variety. Nothing less is acceptable. So, to further speculate, if we can add a real bopper to a traditional bopper position, i.e. 1B, LF, RF, and add a decent defensive SS, would that make folks happy? I think so…

And remember – you have to give quality to get quality. No way around it.

Yunel is a special talent. He is a better offensive player than most SS, but not the best. He is above average defensively, but not the best. If you can add a bona fide bopper, and hold the line defensively, I think you are taking a step forward.

What do you think?

~Raisins~

81: C’mon, kid!

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by Savannah Guy

Watched the first two innings last night. A pretty exciting evening it was, but not because of the listless, hapless Braves. About the time the Braves game was called, a powerful storm rolled into Savannah like a freight train with massive lightning, driving pea-sized hail, rain, water spouts and micro-bursts. Pretty exciting stuff. Not so much the Braves.

It’s gotten to the point that Jeff Francoeur is more productive striking out than making contact. If it were not for killing rallies and hitting into double plays he’d get no action at all. Last night’s double-play with the bases loaded was not even a surprise.

As Gil said, it’s not Francoeur’s fault the Braves lost and it’s not Bobby’s fault that French can’t hit. However, Jeff has become the living, breathing metaphor for the entire team, with the exception of Chipper and Mac and our three starting pitchers ….. who are beginning to show their inevitable frustration for the lack of run support. The team looks listless when they take the field. They are a rudderless team. They looked as though they’d rather be somewhere else. Kelly is lost and confused. I’ve never seen this Atlanta team look so bad… ever.

So, what is the problem? Who should take the blame for French taking the field every day? Who is to be blamed for the 250 “slugger” taking a pouting 2-day, truncated stint in Mississippi? Who should answer for 233 hitting (missing) Kelly Johnson being cemented into second base when Prado or someone else could fill the spot?

Who takes the rap for Schafer struggling way too long before finally, appropriately, mercifully being sent back to the minors where he belongs this year? Who is responsible for using Peter Moylan until his TJ-recovering arm falls off? Who is responsible when the entire team goes into a funk and stays in that funk for two months? Who is ultimately responsible when a professional ball club appears listless, lost, confused and befuddled for so long? Who should be called on the carpet?

Who will call those in responsible management positions onto the carpet? With Liberty and the current regime, there will be no response to this miserable, hapless play, other than the usual spin.

For this Braves team, the GM, Cox and his buddies (otherwise known as coaches), there is no accountability for results outside of the accounting department and the dugout where some derrieres rest way too comfortably on their country club, media guarded, bullet-proof, faded and tattered laurels.

BobbyCox
C’mon kid.

~SG~

BravesAndStuff@hotmail.com

80: The Case Against Terry Pendleton

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by Berigan

Well, that is a strong sounding title for a new lead, blog, whathaveyou, isn’t it???

Yet, I do think anyone who reads here would defend TP both as a former player and as a man. He was a great player, the kind of player we need today – and I bet he will someday make a fine manager.

But, as a hitting coach??? Not so much.

TerryPendleton
He became the hitting coach in November of 2001. Next year, Javy Lopez hit .233, the lowest BA of his Braves career.

In 2001, team B.A. was .260.
In 2002, the team B.A shot all the way up to…. .260.
In 2003, the team average did improve to .284.Marcus Giles, Chipper, Andruw and Garry Sheffield all hit above .300.

Credit to TP, God given skill, or a little help from steroids???

As I mentioned before, can anyone remember a hitter saying Terry really helped them??? Or even complimenting him in general??? Someone that wasn’t Bobby Cox??? It must have happened somewhere, but I sure don’t remember it….
TPandCox

Sports south ran that “David Justice in his own words” a few weeks ago…I guess I always caught the last part, but watched it from the beginning. It was interesting on several levels. One, to see Justice realize he made some mistakes, how he would do things differently now…wishes he knew then what he knows now…Also how hitting coach Clarence Jones told him basically that he could continue to hit 20 homers a year, or start hitting the ball the other way, and how he could hit 40 in a year, which he did in 1993.

Again, the sort of thing I don’t hear mentioned with TP. Does he try to get Frenchy to not only hit the ball the other way, but with power??? Does he or the Batting practice guy throw him dozens of pitches outside to show him if it ain’t a strike, you CANNOT hit it??? He may…I don’t know.

How often do you see him interviewed??? I may have missed it, but you would think a few times a year he would talk about his hitting philosophy, what he always wants guys to remember. In fact, I rarely see any coach ever interviewed! I saw McDowell the other day and it made me think how DOB had even said how he wasn’t a good interview, and after being such a character as a player, how disappointed he was in McDowell the serious coach of few words.

Anyway, back to T.P. A recent article relayed the point of how hurt T.P. was with Frenchy seeking outside help with his hitting. Doesn’t that speak volumes???? Wouldn’t you think the greatest desire of a hitting coach would have, is to see a player be successful??? Especially one you had worked with all year and had no success with??? You can’t get inside someone else’s head, but I would wish the best to a player that I clearly hadn’t been able to help, and if another teacher came along(And TP has to know Rudy Jaramillo is considered the best hitting coach around) and helped him, I’d do my level best to find out what were the keys to the success, and help him stick with that plan.

The Frenchy we saw in Spring training and the first week or so of the season, looked like a new man, a man with a plan..a man with a smooth swing. Now look at him. He has a strange, powerless swing. Stance is more closed up. Even the home run hit the other day looked like total luck, not a good swing at all. Friday night he worked the count full and couldn’t hit a 93 MPH pitch right down the middle. If he was 35, they would say his bat had slowed down.

Does TP ever talk to him about percentages??? Me, I am just a nobody…a just a longtime fan of the game. But it’s plain as nose on your face that when a hitter has a weakness, word gets out, pitchers exploit those weaknesses. It’s not enough to say, don’t swing at balls out of the strike zone. Back that up with some stats. I bet TP could in 5 minutes find out how many pitches were strikes that Jeff gets with 2 strikes. As with Andruw the last few years, wouldn’t you think 80% of 2 strike pitches were outside??? Ok, one in 5 times you will look silly with the bat resting on your shoulder for strike 3, but the other 4 times, you will make the pitchers work. You might get a walk, or a pitch down the middle if the count goes from 1-2 to 3-2.

Hasn’t TP ever watched a Yankees-Red Sox game??? Every time I see them play each other, or other teams in the league, you see guys down 0-2, or 1-2 end up getting walked. Then the next guy works a 3-2 count, and the pitcher, not wanting to walk back to back hitters, will grove a pitch that is a double or a homer. Even a dope like me can recognize patterns in the way the game is played today. What works best today.

TP was a great player, a team leader. An agressive hitter that rarely walked. Probably not the best guy in the world to be a hitting coach. Like any hitter, he must have figured out some things he can pass on to hitters, but it sure doesn’t seem like enough to help those who can’t hit balls low and outside for a double….

After all this pounding on Terry Pendleton, hitting coach, I could still see him making a fine manager. His weaknesses as a hitting coach would be strengths with this team. It needs to be more aggressive on the base paths, to have more guys play with a chip on their shoulders….I think Terry wouldn’t coddle guys that were hitting .200, he’d bench them….

Meanwhile, Bobby is likely to manage the team for at least the next year or two, so I guess we will have Terry to kick around for awhile yet.

~Ber~

BravesAndStuff@hotmail.com

79: Wandering Around the Ballpark….

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by FloridaBravesGirl

I haven’t been to Turner Field for a few years… I was happy to see that the big chopping cow is not really that prominent & most unhappy to see that the BBQ no longer bears Skip & Pete’s names. Boo hiss.

Is anything cuter than those Little Leaguers parading around the field?

O Canada was sung beautifully by a member of the Atlanta Opera, followed by a somewhat less-polished Star Spangled Banner by a children’s choir. The entertainment value makes up for the few wince-inducing notes.

I was not aware there was a Kosher Day but the rabbi throwing out the first pitch sure seemed excited. Nice throw, sir.

Why do cheap hot dogs taste so good at the ballpark?

Filled out your All-Star ballots yet? I did a handful.

Why do the Braves hire the DMV photographer to take their player pics? Eek.

A very cool thing the Braves are doing: the Hometown Hero presentation. Every Sun. they introduce a recently returned local soldier on the field. The standing ovation for that gentleman was long & loud.

Do y’all think they have fans blowing the cinnamon-glazed nuts’ aroma into the stands? Mmm.

Even when he’s hurting Chipper still comes up with the big hit.

Woohoo! Diory’s 1st ( & 2nd) ML hit! Hope there’s many more.

A 7-run 7th! Jim, Don & Jake got to give away $$$ on radio.

Mac must have known I was wearing my new #16 shirt. That was worth sitting through a rainout the previous Sun., driving down in the rain & back home in a monsoon.

FBG

BravesAndStuff@hotmai

78: What do you think??

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by Voice of Reason Raisins (even tho’ he doesn’t know it! CL :lol: )

OK… even tough I am covered up with work (when the secretary was laid off, I absorbed ALL of her duties) I have to pose this question:

Now that it is Chipper’s elbow, can we at least begin again the discussion about a move across the diamond? He will most likely miss tonight’s game solely because he cannot make a throw from 3B. His bat? Gone… His presence? Gone… No knock on Kotch, who has done everything he is expected to do and then some, but he ain’t Chipper. Is it at least a valid talking point?

This is such a complex issue, though. As you all know, Casey is productive. He hits; he doesn’t strike out; he does all of the little things right; he plays a phenomenal defensive 1B; he does everything you want BUT hit for power. And he isn’t Chipper.

The flip side is… who plays 3B? Omar? He isn’t an everyday guy. Prado? Maybe, but is he Kotchman on the other side? Nice bat, good gap hitter, but not the power you want from a corner IF? There is no clear 3B anywhere in the pipeline. Van Pope? Van Nope. Eric Campbell? Not close. Brooks Conrad is interesting, but he isn’t an “up and comer”. The fact is, the Braves have no long term fill in for a guy who isn’t likely to play more than 130 games, and is getting a bit “long in the tooth”.

I have tons of respect for Chipper Jones. I am not trying to hurry any natural or unnatural process along in any way, shape or form. But at some point reason has to rule over emotion. I think we are there. I think it has to be addressed.
ChipperJones

Raisins

BravesAndStuff@hotmail.com

77: What Happened???

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by Carolina Lady

:?: What happened :?:

andersong4

Garret Anderson came to Atlanta with the reputation of a solid player who produced good numbers, went about his business professionally. Fans and fellow players alike described him as humble and quiet, a person of excellent quality.

He may be, probably is, just that. But we’ve seen precious little of him from day 1.

Signed Feb 22, he didn’t play until Mar 5. The very next day he came up with an injured calf muscle and was out until the very end of March.

Now it’s a strained left quad and on the DL.

According to MLB.com stats, Anderson has produced over the last ten games:
4/05/09 vs PHI: 4 AB, 1 hit, 0 rbi, .250 avg
4/07/09 vs PHI: 4 AB, 1 hit, 0 rbi, .250 avg
4/08/09 vs PHI: 1 AB, 0 hit, 0 rbi, .222 avg
4/10/09 vs WSH: 1 AB, 0 hit, 0 rbi, .200 avg
4/14/09 vs FLA: 4 AB, 0 hit, 0 rbi,. 143 avg
4/15/09 vs FLA: 1 AB, 0 hit, 0 rbi,. 133 avg
4/16/09 vs FLA: 4 AB, 2 hit, 0 rbi, .222 avg
4/17/09 vs PIT: 1 AB, 0 hit, 0 rbi, .211 avg
4/18/09 vs PIT: 4 AB, 0 hit, 0 rbi, .174 avg
4/19/09 vs PIT: 2 AB, 1 hit, 0 rbi, .200 avg

This just has to be an aberration. Garret is the Angel’s career leader in hits, runs, doubles, RBIs and total bases. That just doesn’t evaporate overnight. Last year he hit .293, 15 homers, and .758 OPS for the Angels.

So, what is it? The switch from AL to NL? Just suddenly developed muscle problems? The Braves’ misfortunes continuing?

I would find it very hard to believe that a person of his long-standing, high-caliber character would develop “Sheffield-like” attitudes and demeanor. Doesn’t fit. I have to believe that he has been beset by some physical difficulties and will eventually live up to our expectations.

I’ll admit to being purely shocked by Bowman’s assessment of him as a left-field manikin and as blank and emotionless in person. No explanations there.

Though something is obviously going on with him, I’m nowhere near ready to disrespect him or give up on him.

What do you think?

~CL~

BravesAndStuff@hotmail.com

76: YES! OPENING DAY!!!

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by FloridaBravesGirl

Opening Day! It seemed as if it would never get here. Now the fun begins!

…..And the :?: questions :?: .

Does Chipper have another great season in him? Can Lowe be the ace? Can Mac really contend for the MVP (thank you, Mr. Bradley)? Can JJ avoid the sophomore slump? Has Frenchy figured out how to play this game? How will Kawakami adjust? And has Mac learned any Japanese? :-) Will Schafer live up to his spring? How long before Hanson gets called up?

Soon the answers will start to come to us. Soon we’ll see our Braves on the field again. We’ll hear Joe crack a joke in that deadpan voice and Boog giggle. We’ll get used to Jim and Don on radio but miss Skip and Pete all the while. Soon we’ll see what this team is made of. I for one see better days ahead… soon!

videotop

~FBG~

BravesAndStuff@hotmail.com

75:Thoughts Out Of Left Field… Sort Of

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by Voice of Reason Raisins

JEFFERSON, GA – As each day of this seemingly never-ending extended Spring Training continues to move forward at a pace rivaled only by the traffic on the I-285 perimeter highway around Atlanta at 5:00pm on any given weekday, I have a few random thoughts I’d like to share…

Be forewarned, though… random means random. No telling what may spill forth.

Isn’t it strange how we clamored all winter for Braves news items in anticipation of the coming new season, and have nearly disappeared in mid-Spring? That one’s hard to figure, except that we know what we have now, well sort of. I mean, the team is here, but not really. You can’t even really look at it these games as a barometer of the potential of team’s fortunes for 2009. The WBC has taken players from not just all over our roster, but everyone else’s as well. These games really don’t mean squat.

Our star 3B has been away, then injured. Our star catcher, who needs to be working with an entirely new pitching staff, has not been present either. Our only offseason offensive acquisition, long anticipated I might add, has been injured and out. We don’t know who our CF will be. It’s just been weird.

Yet, the promise of a new season is still here… knocking on the door like a child wanting to come into Mom and Dad’s bedroom at 2:00 in the morning. It’s a mixed blessing. You love them, but are just a tad resistant to their being there.

duhHey… if our knees bent in the other direction, what would chairs look like?

I like Jordan Schafer. I like Josh Anderson, too. I look at both of those kids and see many common qualities. Actually, I see kind of the same player – except Schafer does it just a little better. In my opinion, Jordan Schafer is Josh Anderson, and then some. Schafer will be a star. Anderson will be a… well he’ll be on the roster. He’ll be on somebody’s roster, anyway. It may not be in Atlanta though. I think Jordan Schafer is taking the job and running with it, so to speak.

So Jeff Francoeur went 42 AB’s into spring before taking his first K. I gotta say, he really has made some wholesale changes to his approach at the plate. He better… Jason Heyward wants to play with the big boys in a bad way. Jason Heyward IS a big boy… and a superior talent. Jeff better start thinking about Delta for more than just endorsements.

When flies land on the ceiling, do they fly upside down and stick, or do they fly rightside up and flip at the last second?
duh2

The new pitching staff is really something. Derek Lowe has been all that and a bag of chips. Javy Vazquez has something to prove, and judging by his performance in the evil WBC, he means to prove it. Jair Jurjjens is poised to have a real breakout season. Kenshin Kawakami may have the best pure “stuff” on the staff. TommyH almost makes you wish TommyG was at home in his Barc-O-Lounger. Yet, TommyG is throwing better at this stage of his spring than in many before. Teams are calling and inquiring about Buddy Carlyle, for goodness sake. Good problems to have if you ask me. I want to see it against whole rosters, though, before anointing them as anything.

Yunel, KJ, Kotch… three solid performing consistent youngsters that may fly under a lot of people’s radar, but they will carry this team this year. Mark it, archive it, do whatever you want with it. VOR says that Yunel, KJ and Kotch will all have very solid, very consistent, very classic Braves type years. Bobby Cox will heap his accolades on those three all season long.

My 6-year-old daughter wrote a little storyhmmmm called, “I Ran Out Of Ink.” I started reading it but it was only 2 pages long. I don’t know why she didn’t finish it…

I bet Chipper is wishing he had gotten that contract extension before going to Canada and getting hurt again. He was what, 0 for 10 with 6 K’s, then pulled a muscle? Don’t get me wrong, I love Chipper Jones, and I hope he never puts on another uniform, but it’s gotta be tough for Frank Wren to think about 3 more years of Chipper when he can’t even swing a bat right now. I’m just sayin’…

Speaking of Frank, can we all agree that he had a plan, stuck hard to his blueprint, and by early results, did a pretty darn good job of building this year’s club? The pitching, from starting to relieving, looks rock solid. The infield is going to be outstanding both defensively and offensively. They may not lead the league in homers, but they may lead the league in extra base hits. They may also lead the league in RBI as a collective. Don’t laugh at that one. There will be a lot of RBI opportunities with this lineup. As Gil has many times said, there were a lot of RBI opportunities last season; they just didn’t drive ‘em in. That won’t happen outta this group this year. I’ll take consistent gap-to-gap hitters every day over all-or-nothing bashers.

teethWhat are you really supposed to do with your umbrella when you get to your car? If you take it down real quick and try to get in, you get water all over the place from the umbrella. If you try to get some of the water off before you get in, you get soaked doing it. And where do you put it? Seat? Floorboard? These may sound like trivial questions to some, but if you’ve got people in your passenger seats, this can be a daunting task.

I can’t wait for opening night. Plain and simple… I can’t. This spring has been too weird and too long already. I want to see MY team, all of them, and I want to see games that matter. I want to see jersey numbers under 60. Heck, I even want to hear Don Sutton, and I can’t believe I just typed that.

Thanks for paying attention. Now you know a little of what goes on in my mind. It’s kinda like a BB in a shoebox – it just kinda rattles around until it falls out.

L8r…

~Raisins~

BravesAndStuff@hotmail.com

74: How’s it looking?

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

    

So. What’s going on in baseball?

Manny has his $8.5m condo in Boston up for sale. (That’ll show ’em, Manny!) :roll:

Smoltz is happy is Boston. I wish him well. (shrug)

Junior is 0-9. But, according to sports writers, the fans are ‘energized’. :-)

The Yankees drama continues. (Their behavior and ‘drama’ remind me of a bunch of junior high school girls)

…..yawn….

What about the Braves?

I really like what I see. They are a ‘get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in’ type team – and I desperately hope Bobby will play them that way!

Look at yesterday’s game against the Yankees as one example:
Hitters got on base, Kotchman hits a 2-run double. Braves lead.
Later, Prado hits a double, Escobar hits a sac fly, Prado scores. Braves win.

The pitching is definitely there, IMHO. (Dear Lord, please don’t let them fall apart again this year!)

Kawakami needs a little more acclimation time, I think, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t wind up impressing us all.

hanson1And speaking of impressing: Hanson. Oh, wow! I want to see him in the regular rotation, but I don’t want it to be too early. Is he really ready? Judging by the comments I read from players, I’d have to say ‘yes’.

Then I read this from Cox about another young pitcher, Kris Medlen:
medlenk“”Medlen is impressive,” Cox said. “Everything that you hear about that kid, you like. He doesn’t walk anybody and he’s got three plus pitches, for me. He’s got a plus fastball, plus changeup and a plus breaking ball, with control. A lot of guys have plus-this and plus-that, but they don’t have control like he’s got.”

Continuing from Mark Bowman:
“Labeled by some as a poor man’s Greg Maddux, Medlen, who might actually look younger than Brent Lillibridge, possesses a fastball that rests between 91-93 mph and a changeup that has caught the attention of the Braves and many scouts from around the league.

Medlen’s stock began to soar after he was placed in Double-A Mississippi’s starting rotation midway through the 2008 season. In the 92 1/3 innings he worked as a starter, Medlen recorded 90 strikeouts and issued 21 walks.

Given a chance to make another solid impression during the Arizona Fall League, Medlen worked 25 innings, registered 25 strikeouts, issued just one walk and held opponents to a .203 batting average.”

gonzo1Moylan & Co in the bullpen look good. Gonzo seems ready and eager to go.

I can’t help but feel good about the pitching staff and the youngsters in the pipeline.

I like the infield. Not spectacular, but more than adequate. Steady. And that can take you places instead of always having to wait for a flash in the sun. Combine steadiness with occasional flashes and we might be pleased with the result.

The outfield. Garret Anderson. BIG, BIG plus! I’m very pleased with him as a person and a player. In centerfield, I think the team has a lot of potential with either of several players. In right? Well, I’m hopeful, I’ll leave it at that. (I read that Wrenn said something to the effect that they see improvement, are pleased with his efforts and feel that JF only needs some more time to finish putting it together’.)

andersongI also think that Garret’s very presence in the outfield will have a positive effect on the other 2 outer positions. For once, ‘veteran presence’ actually means something! There are people who can inspire others to perform at a higher level and I get the impression that GA is one of them.

Mac catching, David Ross backup. We’re secure there. (And a few days ago, I didn’t even know who Ross was! :roll: Give me time; I’ll get there! :lol: )

Niggling things I don’t like:

~Kawakami doesn’t speak English; I read that during games, his interpreter will not be allowed to accompany Bobby/whoever to the mound. Why??

~The comment was made that Mac needs to be in ST instead of at the WBC so ‘he could learn Japanese.’ Ummm, why doesn’t Kawakami bother learn English if he’s going to play here??

~Chino is still bench coach. Eddie Perez should be in that spot and Chino should be in the bullpen.

OK – what do you think?

~CL~

 

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73: An Angel in the Outfield

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Looks like we got ourselves an Angel in the outfield!

andersongarrett1

Garret Joseph Anderson
Born June 30, 1972, Los Angeles
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 225 lb.
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Position: Left Fielder

With Garret Anderson, I really think the Braves are in a much better position to make their presence felt during the season than they would have been with Griffey. Thank goodness, he went back to Seattle!

Garret has accumulated some good-looking numbers in his years with the Angles. According to CBSSportsWire.com:


A three-time All-Star, Anderson had spent his entire career with the Angels and holds several franchise records, including games played (2,013), runs scored (1,024), hits (2,368), doubles (489), total bases (3,743) and RBI (1,292). He ranks second in home runs (272) and career batting average (.296).

Anderson helped the Angels win the World Series in 2002, hitting .300 with two homers and 13 RBI in the postseason. Los Angeles declined to pick up his $14 million option after last season, instead paying a $3 million buyout.

I know next to nothing about Anderson, but this comment posted by someone on another blog says a lot, I think:


I can still remember seeing Garret play as a rookie for the Angels and being in amazement on how talented, humble, and professional this young man was. How was I to know that 15 years later we would be saying the same things about him. Braves fans should be ecstatic. He has so much more left in the tank then Jr and could really make a huge impact on the Braves title hopes for 2009. I have never been a Braves fan but I will be watching their box scores this season and pulling for them strictly based on their acquisition of Anderson. He plays the game the way it was meant to be played. He is one of those few players that would be successful regardless of the time period he played in.

I know the Braves are high on character and it sure sounds good to me!

I truly hope Francoeur can reverse his fortunes of last year – and I think he will. Chipper has given him pretty high marks this spring and he’s usually honest in his comments.

andersonjosh1

Centerfield?  Hmmm.  Anderson? Blanco?  Schafer?

Don’t know about Blanco. I think Schafer will probably be given a little more time in the minors to refine his craft. So that leaves Anderson. (Josh, that is.)

Anderson-Anderson-Francoeur? Not bad. We’ll just have to see how that one comes out of the wash.

Yes? No? Indifferent?

~CL~

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72: Spring is about to be sprung!

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by Berigan

Well, after being revived from a near death experience, (and some nasty frostbite) Spring is about to return…unless we are about to enter a new ice age. (20 for a low Tuesday night here in the ATL!!!) I’d rather enter another gilded age, but, I don’t have a say in the matter.

Speaking of things I have no say about, your Atlanta Braves! Our Bravos are about to get paid for what many have been doing for weeks if not months already, swinging bats, and throwing the ol’ Horsehide. Or is it cowhide??? Synthetic leather like material, PETA approved???

springtraining
Whatever, the guys are getting ready for the long grind ahead of them. And that’s just spring training, never mind the actual baseball season…..and fingers crossed, post season.

One thing just about every team, save the Padres have in abundance is hope for a good season, and with a few breaks, a real playoff race to be involved in.

Remember last spring??? Me neither, but Salty reminded me in a post a few days back that we had something like 10 potential starters last year at the start of spring.
We all could imagine a rotation of Hudson, Smoltz, Glavine, Hampton, and perhaps that kid Jurrjens (If he outdueled Chucky and Jo-Jo for 5th slot) giving the Mutts and Phillies phits, err, fits. Hmm, lets, see now, which of that group was still starting in September for us???

Do I really need to recap that we lose Smoltz and Hampton, but gained Javy Vasquez, Derek Lowe, and that Japanese guy, who’s name better start rolling off my tongue PDQ??? I guess I do, if I don’t want this lead to be only 3 paragraphs long! ;)

Thats 3 guys, that if their health luck/karma doesn’t do a 180 being acox Brave, should each make 30+ starts, and go 200 + innings, which will really rest the old bullpen in May and June, and make Bobby look like he has gained 30 IQ points, and is no longer in Forrest Gump territory! :D

A real bopper in Left will make him seem smarter than Einstein! That, and not starting McCann 12 games straight.

Anyhoo, I know we will all be writing about our hopes and dreams for the team in the coming weeks, we will get familiar with, and excited about some of the kids we only know based on their names, and what writers have written about them.

Baseball tonight occasionally does a segment where guys on the panel have to make bold predictions. Who might be a surprise MVP, what team will win the most games the 2nd half of season, etc.

heyward1My bold/crazy predictions are that if we don’t get a real left fielder in spring training, Justin Heyward will have a huge spring, sparking talk of him being the left fielder. Also, Tommy Hanson will be so impressive, and Glavine will hurt his hammy in the second to last start of spring and will go north with the club.

What are everyone else’s Batpoop crazy predictions for the Braves in 2009???

~Berigan~

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71: Ah, Spring! part dux

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by Gil in Mechanicsville

As we approach that magic time when pitchers an catchers report, I thought I would throw (no pun intended) a few more names for the good denizens of our blog to ponder over. Now to be truthful, most of the players mentioned will most likely be spending time in Atlanta on the Gwinnett roster in 2009 but you know, it never hurts to be apprised of the talents waiting in the wings. Uh… another bad pun eh?

toddredmondTodd Redmond, age 23 appeared in 28 games for the Mississippi Braves in 2008 and was named the Southern League pitcher of the year. Todd, a right hander, put up a record of 13-5 with an ERA of 3.52 in 166.1 innings pitched. He gave up 164 hits, 65 earned runs and struck out 133 while walking only 33. Folks, that is better than a 4/1 ratio of strike-outs to walks and indicates pretty good control. He is said to have a low 90s fastball, a slider and a curve but his best pitch is a change. His weakness is his tendency to pitch up in the strike zone. Sounds a bit like a right handed Chuck James but I suspect he is better than that.

Redmond came to the Braves from the Pirates via a trade for Tyler Yates. One thing we have learned is the Pittsburgh organization seems to have a plethora of good young arms at their disposal. Makes one wonder why they can’t seem to climb out of the cellar of the N.L. Central but that is a discussion to be left for another day. Now most folks seem to covet the young stud who can bring it at 95-96 MPH but I remember a guy by the name of Greg Maddux who never possessed great speed but made a pretty good living by knowing how to pitch.

The one thing I like about this kid is he has a knack for winning. Funny how some guys can pitch great but lose games and other guys “just win baby”… I doubt he will be a number one but he projects to be a pretty solid 3 or 4 guy in the line up. That folks is enough for me. Some of you guys in the Atlanta area should make the trek to Gwinnett several times this year because I suspect they are going to have a dynamite pitching staff.

Luiz Valdez – not to be confused with Juan the coffeluisvaldeze guy and not the same Luiz Valdez who pitched in winter ball in the Dominican this year. I discovered that Valdez is Spanish for Doe…. Lots of them are playing baseball too. Anyway, Luiz was another Mississippi Brave last year. More of a relief specialist, he appeared in 55 games, amassing 65.1 innings and notching 28 saves and a record of 4-3. His ERA was a sparking 2.76. In 2008 he gave up 48 hits while surrendering only 3 home runs. His strike-out to walk ration was about 2 to 1 as he struck out 77 and walked 36. Luiz, another product of the Pirates organization, was signed as a minor league free agent in the fall of 2007. Valdez has a 97-98 MPH fastball so we can get an idea of what he brings to the table. A right hander, he projects to be a middle relief guy or possible a set up man. He is still pretty young at only 24, he has a chance to make it to Atlanta in 2009 as a mid-season call up.

cordier1I already mentioned Eric Cordier in an earlier post. He was not invited to the big camp this spring but folks, keep an ear out for that name. I predict he will be in the majors in the next couple of years.

I will leave it to some of you folks who actually live in Atlanta to evaluate some of the up and comers in the Braves organization this year. I regret I will not have the opportunity to actually see  these guys as they make their way up the organizational ladder but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

It is an exciting time to be a Braves fan as good young pitching is on the way. Just be patient and try not to get caught up in the hype. I don’t remember Tom Glavine, John Smoltz or Greg Maddux being phenoms either when they first came up but you can get a gist of what a young player is capable of if you look close enough.

~Gil~

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70: Ah, Spring!

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By Gil In Mechanicsville

Well, almost, I can dream can’t I? Yes, we are only 30 days or so into winter but with global warming I can hope for an early thaw. Besides, pitchers and catchers report for Camp Leo Camp Roger early workouts in only three weeks. On the baseball calendar it must be spring.

Soon the sweet sound of horsehide hitting leather shall be upon us. Can that mean the sound of that same horsehide being stuck by ash will be far behind? I could have said maple I know but perhaps that would be more appropriately described as the crack of the bat… For all you little leaguer, pony league, college and high school types, it will be the “PING”…….but that is another story…

Now, as the all important early camps approach, who can Braves fans expect to show for early work. I thought that rather than talk about the usual suspects, Gonzalas, Acosta, Moylan and the like, I would throw a few new names into the mix. Some guys who have been acquired and may have a chance to show up in Atlanta or Gwinnett in 2009. Now, while many want to know everything there is to know about newcomer Tommy Hanson, I suspect he will get lots of ink from other sources before the end of spring training is done. Many of the fans will want to call him up to the bigs a bit too early. Folks, let the kid learn how to pitch and develop the arm strength needed before clamoring for him to be the next savior of the franchise. Lest we forget other promising rookies who were ruined from over exposure before they were truly ready, let me toss a few names out there. Steve Avery, Mark Fidrych, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Dontrelle Willis, I could go on but I think you get the idea.

The Braves’ former pitching coach, Leo Mazzone was a stickler about conditioning. This was especially true about young pitchers. Now maybe it was good luck and maybe it was an aberration but the facts show that during his tenure with the Braves, they had the fewest arm problems of any staff in baseball.

So who might we see this year for the “non-mandatory” early conditioning camp?

oflahertyEric O’Flaherty is 23 y/o southpaw. He went from being a rising star with a 7-1 record in 2007 out of the pen to a horrible start in 2008 for Seattle when he appeared in but 7 games and had an ERA of 20.25. Eric was sent down to the Seattle minor league system until June of last year where he compiled a 4.96 ERA in 15 appearances. He suffered a back injury in June and did not pitch for the rest of the season.. One must wonder if he was concealing an injury suffered in spring training. It has been known to happen with young players, afraid they will be labeled “fragile”. The Braves are hoping he has fully recovered from whatever ailment he suffered. He was too good a pitcher to pass up as far as the Braves were concern. Time will tell if he can return to pre 2008 form. O’Flaherty was claimed off waivers by the Braves in November of 2008. A good showing in spring training may make Will Ohman expendable.

logan1Boone Logan is another young lefty acquired by Atlanta in the off season. Just 24 y/o, he came over in the Javier Vazquez trade. Boone appeared in 55 games in 2008 accumulating 42.1 innings. He compiled 42 strikeouts and gave up 14 walks last season while compiling an ERA of 5.95. To say he was another young pitcher in Ozzie’s doghouse is an understatement. Apparently he was used as a situational guy ALA Jeff Ridgeway. Again it looks like even though the Braves will not start many left handers, they potentially have a bevy of lefties available out of the pen.

marek3Stephen Marek is another relief specialist acquired last season. He came to the Braves along with Casey Kotchman in the Teixeira trade with the Angels. 28 years old, he might be on the precipice of his career. Perhaps he is just cannon fodder for the minor leagues. After all, They need to fill the rosters so the real prospect have a place to play. That said, perhaps the Braves can once again catch lightning in a bottle. Buddy Carlyle was another pitcher who supposedly had his best years behind him and he worked out pretty well. Marek was assigned to Mississippi last year and pitched this fall in the AFL with Tommy Hanson. Marek helped hold down many leads for the Solar Sox and aided in the team compiling the top record in the league. He is not a big strikeout pitcher, but has managed a career K/BB rate of 2.62 last fall for Mesa, he compiled 12 innings of work, giving up 9 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7. He gave up zero earned runs and had a WHIP of 0.92. In late November he was added to the Braves’ 40 man roster, both protecting him from the Rule 5 draft and placing him in the bullpen mix for 2009.

I will review some more of the prospects in another post.

~Gil~

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69: The Gift of Giving

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by Salty

hank
There may be no greater lesson learned as a youth than the gift of giving. Whether in actions, manners, talents, skills… we kids often learn without realizing. Sports certainly deliver that message.

Thus, in the hopes of pounding out much needed filler a lead to for our Blog-Mistress…I’ll begin with saying, “Thanks, CL, for giving your tireless energy in building the little hamlet of Stuff-ville!” And you, IM/SG, clearly your role as CFO is proving invaluable…in ways we’ll all never really understand!

Why the photo of Henry Aaron? Simple…he’s the hometown hero of this ‘LA-born and raised’ fan. The lesson: admiration for his grace under fire throughout his career. Knowing the recognition was far too often for his accomplishments as a ballplayer, absent recognizing the quality of the man. I am pretty sure I was not the only kid who never saw Hank as a black player, just a hero. Not giving into the pain he surely must have endured served as a lesson in perseverance.

Fighting through a handicap, giving far more of his time to perfect (and even imperfect) strangers, and providing a lasting memento to this fan of the American Pastime has left an indelible reminder that decency among men remains. Thank you, Lew, for sharing so much of your gift with so many of us! What a super Wurlitzer!

~ Salty~

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68: The Hole In Our Hearts

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Fans KNOW the individual players on their team. They have an ‘emotional investment’ in them, if you will. Just having a warm body in a playing position creates a void in that emotional investment – and fans begin to turn away to find that which is missing. A TEAM has to consist of more than just a collection of people. There has to be a bond, a constant, a glue that holds them all together.

The constants that have been present with the Braves for SO long – TV coverage, Skip, Pete, Smoltz, Chipper and Bobby are disappearing rapidly. I’d bet the ranch that this is Bobby’s last year and, from Chipper’s comments, he’ll leave at the first good offer – especially with Bobby leaving.

The Braves are the Braves in name only.

We hated to see Andruw come apart because we KNEW him. We had watched him grow up.

We hated to see Glavine leave because he was one of US. We felt betrayed.

A part of each of us died when Skip died because we KNEW him and loved him dearly. He was our link to the team, he was their voice, he was our voice.

And Pete’s retirement was almost expected after Skip died. The two just belonged together and one without the other was just ‘wasn’t right.’ He’ll be so badly missed.

Without the TV coverage we had for so long, we feel suddenly cut off from our team with no recourse. Makes it harder to ’stay in touch’ with them. Distance grows.

And Bobby. We love him, we get aggravated with him, but again, he’s always been there, it seems. Few remember the early days BBC – Before Bobby Cox. How unreal will it be for him to be missing from that top step, yelling encouragement, or hobbling out to the mound?

Chipper’s eyes are now wide open. He knows he’ll be playing elsewhere very soon now, especially after Bobby retires. No illusions.

John Smoltz. A true warrior if there ever was one. If Tommy LaSorda bled ‘Dodger Blue’, then surely the Braves Tomahawk beats in John Smoltz’s chest. After all these years and all he’s been through to keep pitching, he is badly disrespected by the current management. Gone in a flurry of bad decisions, severely hurt feelings and ill-will.

Well, at least we had it once and that’s more than many fans can say. The Braves are a 3rd rate team and will most likely stay there. I’m not excited about them anymore. I hope that will change, but I’d be surprised if it does. I don’t like being blind-sided.

~CL~

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67: Smoltz Chose What???

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by Voice of Reason Raisins

JEFFERSON, GA – So, I wake up this morning to news that John Smoltz, the one affectionately referred to in some circles as the Braves’ “Bearded Icon”, is taking his iconic status, packing his bags and heading north. To be specific, he’s going to Boston. He’s going to storied Fenway Park. He’s leaving corporate Turner Field. That’s a tough one to swallow.

Well, after taking a few minutes to digest the bombshell, and giving myself a little time to consider it carefully, I have to conclude that I think that…

… we still don’t have all of the information. Actually, all we have is multiple media reports. I would like to hear the official response from the Braves. I would like to hear from Frank Wren. I would like to hear both sides of this story. I’m hurt, but I am trying to be, well, reasonable about it.

So from where I sit, the information I have at this point is this:

According to Mark Bowman on the MLB.com site, The Red Sox have been aggressively pursuing Smoltz over the past month and it appears they were able to land him with guaranteed $5.5 million contract that includes incentives that could increase his 2009 earnings to $10 million.

According to the Major League source, the incentives offered by the Red Sox were “more attainable” than the ones provided by the Braves.

Multiple sources have said the Braves were offering slightly more than $2 million guaranteed and performance-based incentives that could have increased Smoltz’s earnings to approximately $7 million.

So, if the reports are correct, and we really don’t yet know if they are, then the overall worth of the deal was only $3M or so different, assuming Smoltz could perform. And let’s be truly honest, that is only an assumption.

First, let’s talk about the money aspect, because I’m sure most of you feel the way I did when I first read it. Geez, Frank, give Johnny the dough!. But after thinking about it a little more, The difference in overall money is only $3M. The difference in guaranteed money is about $3.5M. Is it the $3.5M the difference? Is the attainability of the incentives the difference? Does John not believe he can achieve the Braves incentives? If not, that is a concern.

Is this a competitive issue? Does John believe that he has a better chance of going back to the World Series with Boston and therefore felt the need to go? If so, he can go with my best wishes because the Red Sox have a lot better chance of dancing in October than do the Braves. If that is his motivation, then God bless him. Go Sox.

Is this a personality issue? Are there irreparable rifts with the organization going back to the “homeboy upstairs”? Maybe… I doubt it. It didn’t seem to have been an issue in 2008.

All of the above factors focus mostly on Smoltz, but let’s look at Frank Wren for a moment. We know his plan. We know his parameters. We know there is money to spend and we want to see it spent, by golly! We have $40M, right? We haven’t seen it spent and we feel lied to. We feel ripped off. But let’s stop and think. There is already money committed to Javier Vasquez. There is already money spent on maintaining the bench and on acquiring a much-needed back-up catcher. There is already money set aside for raises for existing players. There is already money earmarked for offers extended to Wil Ohman and to Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami. And all of that taken into account, there is still about $25M left to acquire a top of the rotation pitcher and a left fielder with a better resume than Matt Diaz. Do you really want to commit 40% of your remaining budget on a 41 year old pitcher attempting a comeback from major shoulder surgery that might not even be able to contribute until May or later? Or counting just the guaranteed portion, it’s still 20% of the remaining money. It’s enough to forego an offer to Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez or anyone else upwards from Paul Byrd. It’s enough to resign the team to play Blanco/Anderson/Diaz in left field for another season. Frank Wren is going to be crucified in Atlanta in the wake of this staggering event, but the truth is that it is probably the in the best overall team interests to spend the remaining money in a more assured manner. It’s smart to stick to the plan.

John Smoltz has been my favorite Atlanta Brave. This is a personal loss for me, and I know it is a personal loss for many of you as well. But if I am Frank Wren, and I am trying to spend the limited amount of remaining money to field a contending team, I’m keeping my focus on the plan. I’m keeping my focus on the top of the rotation pitcher and the left fielder.

Admit it. We could not – Boston cannot – truly count on Smoltz to perform up to his legend, or even to perform at all. Reports say he’s progressing, but he’s been mostly reclusive, staying away from the media. Where have we seen that before? Oh, yeah… last spring when he covertly worked “his program” on back fields away from the media. That didn’t work out so well. Bobby Cox was quoted as saying John looked “terrific”. What do you expect Bobby to say, “John looked like crap”? I have a lot of concerns as to whether Johnny can perform at a major league level, and I would hope Frank Wren does as well. Boston can afford that risk. Atlanta cannot. Stick to the plan, Frank. Execute the plan, Frank.

Oh, I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth. The blogs and radio shows are already rife with the talk of how the Braves are “cheap” – how the Braves “owe it to Smoltz” to basically give him whatever he wants to keep him here. Who owes who more? I think John Smoltz has the Braves to thank for a lot as well. Folks say, “It’s only two million dollars. He’s earned it!” I say, what if that $2M is the difference between Lowe signing with Atlanta or with New York? I’d rather have it to spend on Lowe. I say Smoltz has already been paid for what he has earned, and the Braves don’t really owe him any more than the opportunity to finish his career in Atlanta, if he desires to do so. The opportunity is there, folks. He desires to leave. Set the emotion aside for a moment and you will recognize this too.

In the end, it is John Smoltz’ decision, and Smoltz’ alone. If he really wanted to finish his career in Atlanta, it would happen. We don’t know, and we may not ever really know the factors that played into his decision to leave. But it was his decision to leave. “Leave” is an action verb, requiring a conscious effort. As for me, I wish him Godspeed and a full recovery and a successful season in Boston, except for June 26-28 when Boston comes to Turner Field.

Guess what… The Green Bay Packers didn’t collapse when Brett Favre, who had a bit of a dramatic off-season, decided to continue his iconic career in New York. In fact, Green Bay had a pretty decent season. Favre started well, but faded late and actually hurt his team over the last part of the season when he looked tired and was less than 100% physically. His play cost the Jets their division title and a spot in the playoffs. Anybody see the parallel?

When it’s time, it’s time. John says it’s time. I root for the team, not the individuals. I’ll root for the Braves and the players who choose to be here. It really is about choice, isn’t it?

~Raisins~

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66: Beneful? Caviar? What will it take?

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by Savannah Guy The Invisible Man

Now, baseball: maybe Frank Wren should start serving the Beneful equivalent to attract game. Seems what he’s putting out there is not attracting much. Hard to get the good critters with burgers when they’re used to steak.

If the Liberty strategy is to save money to get the balance sheet as profitable as possible to sell within a few years and, in the interim, placates the gullible fans with promises, wild goose chases and PR, then their strategy seems to be working pretty well.

If they are in a two or four year rebuilding mode, they should probably just go ahead and announce that. Reasonable and savvy fans would understand it and appreciate it. Judging from the general attitude of some hardcore fans (bloggers) around the county across the river, Liberty has already succeeded with willing or unwitting accomplices in the stewardship of their austerity program.

When fans start managing and hot-stoving to middlin’ budgets and looking for bargain basement prices and opting for Jair Jurrjens as staff ace, then we’re just contributing to mediocrity and wallowing in delusion. Methinks those fans get so caught up in the fantasy/Monopoly money side of baseball that they don’t see what’s actually transpiring in the real world.

Many things need to happen for the Braves to compete in 09.

Thing one: We need to close a deal. I don’t expect the Braves to spend like the Yanks or Bosox, but when there is such a brouhaha over a guy like Furcal… and then even HE turns us down, our bar is not set very high. I’m very pleased that we didn’t get Furcal. Never liked him or his attitude. The Peavy “negotiation” was a debacle. Braves need at least one bonafide ace.

Thing two: Did I say we need an ace? We do. Javier Vazquez is not Lowe and he’s certainly not Sabbathia. Heck, Lowe is not even Lowe any longer. But the Braves have Vazquez. Then, we all love Smoltz and want him to return healthy and able to pitch, but it is a fantasy to think he’ll solve any of our starter lineup issues. It’s a very long shot that he can even pitch through ST. It’s not his elbow this time, it’s the shoulder. Glavine is pretty much the same story, although his arm isn’t quite the problem. But either of our great (old) aces are at best a number four starter on a winning club. We currently have a SP lineup that will wear out our bullpen by the end of May.

Thing three: We seem to be getting caught on the wrong side of the door when it slams on the parity of MLB in this new economic era. With an individual owner that is willing to spend and compete, that door could be kicked open again, but it’ll take big spending. With the trend of Liberty, that door will stay shut until the team sells.

Thing four: The Braves need a big, dependable bat. The LF platoon won’t cut it. We don’t have a cleanup hitter. Kotchman isn’t my idea of the big bopper at first, and we have an outfield filled with question marks when it comes to power and average. We need a threat in the lineup behind Chipper and before McCann. Simple as that.

Personally, I’m of the mindset that the Braves will be in the lower to middle of the pack until the time comes that we can grow youngsters into aces, like in 91, or when Liberty sells to an owner that wants to win. Until then, Braves are still and always my team and I’ll always hope the hope of a sports fan… but my expectations are not for them to be playing ball in postseason.

Fantasizing about Wren and Company putting a championship caliber team together with balance sheet austerity, band-aides, tooth pics, bubble gum and second-tier players is not exciting hot stove material, not practical and not realistic by any stretch of the imagination.

Maybe I’m just jaded. Maybe I’m spoiled. Maybe it seems negative but it’s not. Just seems realistic. Spending time and getting all emotional and rationalizing about trades for mediocre players or has-beens just doesn’t float my boat when by doing so, I still can’t control the outcome. Braves will sign a few players. We’ll see what we have when it’s announced and the ink is dry. Braves will play ball in the spring. We shall see what we have when it’s time for them to suit up.

Until then, unless Wren and Liberty break the trend that’s become painfully apparent, the Braves will be haggling over the castoffs and second stringers and struggling to be in fourth place in the division this year.

~IM~

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65: What a revoltin’ development!

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by Carolina Lady

Stuffville, USA – Well, as Riley would say, “What a revoltin’ development this is!” (If you don’t know who Riley is, Google it.) High hopes and expectations thwarted at every turn, it seems.

Sheets, anyone?
Randy Johnson for one year?
Lowe? I doubt it.
Who else that would be an improvement over what we already have??

What about the outfield?
Pray for Frenchy! We need him to come storming back this year!
Who’s in left?
Center?

About the only positions fairly certain are Chipper at 3rd and McCann behind the plate.

Haven’t heard a peep about Kotchman.

Where’s Ohman? Didn’t the Braves make an offer? What’s up with that?

Will Bobby come back in ’10?
50/50, I think. He’ll hate to walk away from a challenge, but then maybe he’ll just be tired of it. Who will take his place?

We don’t even have the broadcast booth covered for this coming season!

OK – what do you think Wren will do? What will the roster look like at the end of ST? Will Smoltz be successful in his return? Will Glavine give it a go? Who is going to wash the dishes? (Never mind, I know the answer to that one!)

Don’t complain about the lead; it’s all I could come up with in :15! :lol:

~CL~

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64: What In The Wide, Wide World Of Sports Is A-goin’ On Here?

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By: Voice of Reason Raisins           cupcake

Stuffville, USA – Well, here we are. It’s December 5, 2008, exactly one year from the day a certain Lady of Carolina stepped up to the plate and said, “Hello, World!” And thus the Braves and Stuff colossus began weaving its way into the cyber-fiber of our consciousness. We come, we go, we read, we comment, we laugh, we fume, we agree, we disagree, but we come. We gather. We assemble here in our own city block where we all have our own unique stories to tell in our own unique ways.

Over the course of a year, we have seen Grinches, Hillbillies, Jackasses, Journalists, Scribes, Guys, Girls, and Ladies. We’ve seen artists, musicians, veterans, pastry chefs, students, retirees, professionals and everything else you can imagine. We’ve encountered seals, flies, and blue werms. We’ve experienced the birth of a new Braves fan. There was even a report of a kilt sighting. Oh, the humanity!

We have come together from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Maine, New Jersey, and California just to name a few. We have agreed, we have disagreed. We have come together to pray for one another in times of crisis and difficulty, and we have celebrated together in times of joy.

At times, we can be very insightful. At times, we can be and idiots. We can talk about all things Braves, and we can digress as well. We began in the middle of one Hot Stove Season, and are fully engaged in the middle of a second. In between, we have experienced the hope of Spring Training and the disappointment of a season to forget.

And then there’s the Stuff…

Stuff is never in short supply here. There’s political stuff, humorous stuff, spiritual stuff, cooking stuff, computer stuff, car stuff, travel stuff, music stuff, personal stuff and stuff in general. Yes, we are full of stuff. We are stuffed to the Gils, (both in Mechanicsville and Jersey). Where would Braves and Stuff be without Stuff?

Yes, one year ago today, Carolina Lady began with these words,
“Hello, everybody!! This is the place to talk Braves baseball and other topics, meet friends new and old, and just hang out and enjoy yourself!

The rules are simple: keep it clean and no attacks.

Play ball!!!”

And thus it began.

The birthday party is over at Klobber’s saloon. There is Diet Coke on tap, and I understand the birthday cake is a red velvet masterpiece. Watch out for the Lincoln in the parking lot and don’t trip over the chainsaws. Some Guy dropped them whilst juggling. We’ll have a Minor League report, although it may be the last one we get from personal observation. There will also be an impromptu seminar on “How To Avoid The Filter”, given by Salty… although I can’t imagine why. I might bring my gee-tar for a few tunes.

Heck, we’ll just have a good ol’ time. Kinda like we’ve done for a year now…

~Raisins~

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63: Throwing Caution To The Wind – part IV

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by Gil in Mechanicsville

To conclude my synopsis on the possible Braves bullpen for 2009, I will comment on the best of the rest and perhaps some other possibilities from the Braves system. Again, it is necessary to take all of what I say with a grain of salt because things can change in a hurry. A big trade, a breakthrough spring, an off-season injury can all have a profound affect on how things can shake out.

Let’s start with Manny Acosta. The tall lanky Panamanian can be a showacosta stopper at times and then “bad” Manny will make an appearance and give up five runs before he knows what hit him, or make that who. Acosta, I think, is well suited as a set up man. He still has not developed the killer instinct of a closer but he is just too good to bring in to face one batter. When he is on, he has a 95 mph fastball and devastating slider that brakes sharply away from right-handers. However, like many other young pitchers, he tries to get too cute and aims for the corners. Depending on the umpire’s definition of the strike zone, he is going to either catch guys looking or start walking people. For some reason, he will allow a few bad calls get in his head and the next thing you know, “bad” Manny shows up. Acosta had some injury issues last season which really hampered his development. Hopefully he will be ready coming out of spring training to finally become a fixture for the Braves. He has the potential to be a really valuable and dependable piece of the pitching staff as long as he can realize he really does belong on the major league roster.

bennettjeffJeff Bennett also had a bit of a Jeckle-and-Hyde personality in 2008. He was a shadow of his former self with his new and improved physic last season, he had flashes of brilliance along with just plain awful. Who is the real Jeff Bennett, inquiring minds want to know. I think Jeff was also facing some fatigue issues in 2008. I just could not fathom why Bobby Cox would call on the same guys repeatedly last year. It was like he would forget a guy had pitched 3 innings two nights in a row and then have him come in yet again. Now the last thing a fringe guy like Bennett would do is say he could not go again. No, he is going to suck it up and take the ball and pray the batter will get himself out. It’s my humble opinion the biggest thing missing in the Braves dugout is a guy like Pat Corrales to tell Bobby who is ready and who is not. I’m not sure Chino or Roger really feels comfortable enough in their roles to speak up tell the skipper he is hurting the team’s chance to win. Anyway, Bennett is a ground ball specialist as he has a nasty sinker and is a go to guy when a double play is called for. In addition, he is pretty versatile as he can also be used as a spot starter or long relief guy. He has the tools to be a reliable arm out of the pen; the question is how often should you use him.

Buddy Carlyle, honest folks, you got to love this guy. All those yearsbuddy_carlyle knocking around the minors, getting frequent flyer miles on Greyhound. He persevered and made it back to the bigs in 2007. I told folks when he came up from Richmond, way back when, that they should not expect too much out of the guy. He will never be confused with Tommy Hanson or John Smoltz but he is what he is and he can give you four or five innings of yeoman like baseball and by the time the sixth inning rolls around, you look up at the scoreboard and realize your team is still in the game. If you can just generate a little offense he stands a good chance of getting a win. The thing that puzzled me last year was he would languish for weeks out in the bullpen before Bobby realized he was still on the staff and call him in to pitch. Amazingly, he would get out of a big jam and put up a couple more goose eggs on the scoreboard and just wow the crowd with his resilience. Next thing you know, he is the pet pig and his arm falls off from over use. Now, it may not be fair to accuse Bobby of misusing his pen last year, after all, when your starting five are going three and out, night after night in April and May, it is inevitable that your bullpen is going to implode in August and September. There is a reason bullpen guys are not starters. During the course of their careers some sharp-eyed coach has figured out that some guys just have a marked drop-off in their effectiveness after a certain number of pitches. Some guys can go the distance and some guys are sprinters. It is up to the coaches to put guys in the situations from which they can glean the most success.

ridgeway Jeff Ridgeway, had an up and down year. Used primarily as a short relief, situational guy against lefties, he had some early success but really struggled towards the end of the year. He will be in camp but look for him to be on the bubble in spring training. I would suggest he get an apartment in Gwinnett for 2009 so he can shuttle between AAA and Atlanta without having to leave home.

johnstockman

Phil Stockman, big righty who has battled injuries for the past couple of years. His biggest obstacle will be overcoming the fear of getting hurt yet again. He possesses a good fastball and curve but until he can get himself back in shape, he will be a fixture in Gwinnett.

moylanPhil’s fellow Aussie, Peter Moylan, should be back next year about May. He will start some work in spring training but it will still be too early for him to do any serious work. I look for him to begin the year in Gwinnett if not on the DL until he proves he can once again get major league hitters out. The most telling thing about TJ surgery is not about the inability to throw a fastball but about hurling breaking pitches. It’s when they stop breaking that they end up in the bleachers.

Francisley Bueno and Jorge Julio are likely to be on the team next year unlessfrancisleybueno the Braves sign someone in the off-season. I don’t know who the Braves have in their system that could be called upon next year but the crop of pitchers at Richmond did not look ready for primetime. If the Braves do not trade JoJo, I would expect him to start the year in AAA. The Braves are not going to make him into a reliever. The same goes for Chuck James. Of course lots of things can happen between now and February so keep a sharp eye out for changes.

~Gil~


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62: Uh – Did Somebody Break Wind, part III

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Gil in Mechanicsville

Okay, continuing on with the theme of “Pitching, Pitching, Pitching,” I thought I would toss in my two cents on the 2009 Braves prospects for the bullpen.

Once upon-a-time, the bullpen was a place where you banished hurlers who were either washed up or just not good enough to be a starter. Boy, have times changed. Today, starters go five or six innings or one hundred pitches or their arm falls off, whichever comes first and then the specialists are called upon. A long relief guy, a situational guy for lefties, a ground ball specialist when a double play is needed, a set up guy, the closer and the ever present “why is this guy still on the team because no one ever calls on him” guy.

Just like the real “journalists” do, I will work backwards and start with the closer. You know who that is because he is the fellow who gets most of the press and contrary to popular notion, cannot walk on water but he doesn’t need to because it never rains on his parade.

Closer possibilities for Atlanta in 2009…. (disclaimer: things can change in a hurry due to the need to trade a player for a part you do not already have or doing something stupid like putting their hand in a meat grinder or enjoying the good life a little too much and showing up stoned….)

Mike “Gonzo” Gonzalez, this kid is going to be a great one because he thinks he is suppose to be. (The antithesis of Manny Acosta) After experiencing Tommy John surgery, he made a nice recovery. Not to say there weren’t some dicey moments but just because you comeback, it does not mean you can pitch to the same level you could before you were hurt. Velocity or lack there of appears to be the most telling sign there is something wrong. The up side of all this is Gonzo will be better in 2009. He will be stronger and his fastball should return to it’s 98 mph range. The best side of all this however is the knowledge he may have gained in finding out he does not have to throw it all that hard to get hitters out. Of course I am still waiting for someone to call a balk on him with all that rocking motion.

Actually, I worry more about the Rafael (see, I told you I was hurt) Soriano, I doubt anyone took more heat than Rafael did last year over his on again off again soap opera but mostly about his supposed lack of courage because repeated MRIs failed to show any cause for his loss of speed and recurring pain. After signing a lucrative contract prior to the 2008 season, much was expected of “Mr. Sunshine”. For those of you who believe in the absolute infallibility of the medical profession I have two words, Mark Wohlers. Wohlers was vilified for his seemingly unexplainable loss of control. It was not until the Reds took a flier on him that he decided to allow for an exploratory surgery and discovered he indeed have a serious problem. Soriano had an exploratory performed by Dr. Andrews and a pinched nerved was discovered and corrected. I predict next spring Rafael will again impress the Braves Nation and remind everyone why he was paid closer money.

John Smoltz will be at a crossroads next spring. While his spirit is willing, his body may not be. The surgery performed on his shoulder does not have a track record of affording good results. The main reason is the tissues that comprise the labium are not conducive to surgical repair. It would be great to have thunder and lightning available to come out of the bullpen in 2009 but I would not bet the house on it, even though the a fore mentioned house has decidedly less market value to everyone except the tax assessor. If John does return, I predict it will be late in the spring before he believes he is ready. I would expect it will be much later in the season before he could be effective. As Braves fans we can hope but the obese woman may be warming up in the wings for the curtain call of the bearded icon.

Will Ohman will most certainly be pitching for someone else next season? Not because he was ineffective last season but because the Braves will not want to pay a set up man more than a couple of million a year. Perhaps the Braves will concede the fact a reliable lefty out of the pen is a valuable piece needed if they are to be serious about beating the Phillies and the Mets in their own division next year. I don’t foresee either of those clubs being weaker next year. Sometimes a GM has to bite the bullet and realize the cost of doing business is greater than you want it to be. I don’t see anyone else on the horizon who could fill Will Ohman’s role as effectively whatever the price.

Blaine Boyer is not my favorite Brave. I hope he can change my mind next season. I cannot put my finger on why I have lost faith in the strapping young righty who burst on the scene with such promise with the rest of the baby braves. Perhaps it’s Bobby’s perchance for using a pitcher until his arm falls off and then being surprised at the drop in performance. I had the opportunity observe Blaine on numerous occasions while with the Richmond club and if I could figure him out I would send him a telegram to advise him I was holding his career hostage. Perhaps a change in scenery would help, after all, he has all the tools to be a great reliever. He just has not mastered his Zen.

I will conclude my assessment on the Braves potential 2009 relief corps in part four.

Gil

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61: I Approve This Message

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by Voice of Reason Raisins

Jefferson, GA – Yes, today I stand before you to talk about the issues. No beating around the bush (no pun intended) here. I’ll go straight to the heart of the matter. Let’s get to it, huh?

Economic Policy: The economy is on everyone’s mind right now, especially with the big losses recently felt in the New York markets. Yes, no New York team in the playoffs this year. Surely, though, given the current economy of Major League Baseball, those losses will begin to reverse. No bailout needed here. The pure free market economics of the sport will prove to rise above the critics as the New York teams outspend everyone else this offseason, making it difficult for the Middle Class teams to get ahead. Of course, as the Rays have proven this season, dumping good money after bad is not necessarily the answer. Judicious spending, and wise choices, always are the keys to surviving in the new age economy. We must take this lesson to heart.

National Defense Policy: I believe whole-heartedly in a strong National defense. Of course, you have to win the National League before you can defend it. I believe with a good economic approach, including the aforesaid judicious spending and wise choices, we soon could find ourselves once again defending the National League.

Health Care Policy: This year, a strong Health Care position has become a prominent part of shaping one’s platform. I believe in Health Care for everyone, and fully intend to make sure that the training room is accessible at all times. Dr. James Andrews phone number is, as always, prominently posted on the team bulletin board. Specifically, though, I believe in a more preventative approach. I believe in better offseason training and stretching. I believe that March 1st is too late to start. I believe that elite professional athletes should keep the tools of their trade, their bodies, in shape year round. I believe that, in the case of health related matters, less is more.

Foreign Policy: I believe that we should have a strong foreign policy. Whether it be in Central America, South America, the Dominican Republic, Canada, etc. I, for one, am happy that we are venturing into the Japanese market. We must, however, make sure we operate within the negotiated rules, lest we damage our relationship with our Far East brothers.

Energy Policy: I believe in alternative energy sources, as long as they are approved by Major League Baseball. No PEDs here. We have an abundance of natural energy resources, though, if our players will just take that initiative. Fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, etc. are all excellent fuel choices when used efficiently and wisely.

Homeland Security Policy: We must play better baseball at home. No doubt about it. If you can win 2 out of 3 at home, and split on the road, you will win 95 games and find yourself in the playoffs.

Trade Policy: This is an area of great concern and great discussion this offseason. Obviously, coupled with the Economic issues we face, our Trade Policy has to be one that is not only attractive to our Trade partners, but maintains our own supply integrity as well. The former Trade Czar was masterful in this area.

Education Policy: I believe that no player should be left behind. All players not only should, but must have access to the finest instruction, by qualified instructors. Any instructors deemed unqualified should be summarily dismissed. Unfortunately, Terry Pendleton will return for the 2009 campaign. I am currently huddling with my advisers over this development. Secondly, all players not only should, but must have access to the teams video and tape library, as well as the “book” on pitchers and hitters throughout the league. Our players must engage themselves in proper preparation for whichever new team they encounter. To me, there is no excuse for lack of proper preparation. Those who cannot meet the mark could find themselves expelled. Just ask Jason Marquis.

Immigration Policy: I am all for legal immigration. I believe in extending opportunity to all who seek it legally. To those who come into our country illegally, if you can chuck it 95mph+ or rake like Rod Carew, I’ll find you a good lawyer…and an agent.

Agriculture Policy: This hearkens back to the very fundamentals of developing a strong organization. To build a strong team, there must be a strong farm system in place. This team has a strong farm system, but the new harvest is not yet at hand. Oh, there’ll be a couple of ripe ones to pop up early, but the real bounty is still a couple of years away. Names like, Heyward, Freeman, Hanson, Medlen, Hernandez and Hicks. The future is indeed a bright one, as long as we do not allow the plague of impatience to ravage what could be a bumper crop.

Domestic Affairs Policy: They are wrong. Period. Marriage is sacred, even though a lot of players seem to forget that sometimes on those long road trips. Of course, it’s not like this is the NBA or anything…

View of the Current Administration: The current administration is under a tremendous amount of criticism right now. Even though there are many positive points racked up over the last several years, many seem to lock in and focus on the recent failures, some of which admittedly exist. However, remember that mistakes made in the 9th inning are always magnified more than successes found in the 1st inning, and that the media doesn’t always paint an accurate picture.

I am the Voice of Reason Raisins, and I approve this message.

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60: Winds of Change are in the Air – Part II

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by Gil in Mechanicsville

Continuing with the theme of pitching options for the Braves in 2009, I mentioned in my previous post that several young pitchers currently in the Braves organization could figure prominently in Atlanta’s plans. I’ll begin with a couple who spent time on the big league roster in 2008.

JoJo Reyes, the big young left-hander has all the tools to be a big time front line pitcher. Unfortunately, he does not seem to realize that as of yet. I think his biggest problem is he gives opposing hitters too much credit. Instead of challenging opposing batters, he tries too hard to nibble at the corners and ends up in trouble with guys on base via walks and instead of the occasional solo dinger, he will give up runs in bunches. Perhaps another year in triple A will pay dividends. After all, he is only 22 years old. Still plenty of time to develop into the player the Braves envision he will be.

Charlie Morton, another bright spot for the Brave this year, he has long had the stuff to be a major league pitcher but like many other young players, he was not sure he belonged. Guy Hanson, the pitching coach for the Richmond Braves had worked hard trying to instill the type of mental toughness required for him to be successful in the bigs. A tired arm slowed him down late in the season. After all,  those innings pitched in the Arizona Fall League and in Triple A counted too. He once again looked sharp when used for two innings of relief at the end of the season. I predict he will be one of the last pitchers to be cut at the end of spring training if the Braves make a few trades for a starter or sign a top line free agent. It should be a real dogfight between him and JoJo and Jorge for the final slots on the Braves staff.

Chuck James is still seeking the true meaning to life, or at the least his long lost ability to throw pitches that are not immediately struck with such force that his head snaps back as he watches the ball sail into the dark of night. If he was a golfer, you could describe his problem as having a case of the yips. A condition that arrives without warning and causes its victim to lose all confidence in his ability to play and makes even a two-foot putt an adventure. Chuck himself has stated he needed to re-learn how to pitch this year. From my observation his mechanics are so out of whack because he continues to try to throw across his body. It is really difficult to consistently throw a pitch to the spot you are aiming when you are changing the release point on every throw. Walks are a nemesis for him and when you combine that with his propensity to give up the long ball, an ERA that resembles the score of an Olympic gymnast is likely. He is still searching for that elusive third pitch that would prevent batters from waiting on his change-up. You can get away with only having two pitches if you also have the control necessary to keep the ball off the sweet spot of the bat but the inability to perform as needed usually results in a short afternoon for the starter and a long afternoon for the bullpen.

Anthony Larew, looked to have turned to corner and had a great future ahead of him with Atlanta. Unfortunately for him, his arrival in Atlanta coincided with a blown out elbow and the need for Tommy John surgery. Bummer…. I am happy to say he returned to the Richmond club late this season and looked good for a guy coming off rehab. he had a couple of shaky starts the first week in August but started to come around after that. I expect he will continue to improve his arm strength and be ready to challenge for the final spot in the rotation for the big Braves. If not, he will be a short cab ride away in Gwinnette and likely be one of the first call ups should the Braves staff revert to 2008 form next year.

Up and coming Tommy Hanson is going to be on a lot of Atlanta Braves fans’ short list next year. I would expect quite a few folks will want to rush him to the big leagues considering his good numbers in Pearl this year. More likely for him will be a year or at least beginning of his Atlanta stay in the yet to be named Gwinnette stadium. I would suggest that he be allowed to learn how to pitch before he is thrown into the lion’s den. After all, a mistake made in the minors is a life lesson not often repeated in the majors. No need to ruin him mentally when he has such a great future. Often folks forget that the quality of the hitting in the minors is much less than the majors. Instead of pitching around a good prospect, a pitcher is faced with a line-up of guys who can put the bat on the ball.

In part III, I will sum up my take on the bullpen prospects for 2009.

~Gil~

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59: The Change We Need, Change We Can Believe In, A Change For The Better… Part I

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By Gil In Mechanicsville…

In this season of political spin, as politicians once again play us for fools and subscribe to the old Lincoln adage that you can fool all of the people some of the time, or at least long enough to get elected, I thought we would turn away from the posturing and one-upmanship for a few moments and talk about something that really means something to us, speculation of how the Braves line-up might look in 2009.

Let’s start with that most critical element of any successful major league franchise, pitching. First let’s assume that the Braves will at least try to bring back some of the reliable arms of the past. Tom Glavin may once again be a part of the starting rotation; the surgery to repair his balky elbow may be a resounding success. We likely won’t know until late march if he can be relied upon for one final hurrah in a Braves uniform but I suspect he would like to make one more attempt at glory.

John Smoltz may be the biggest question mark. The type of shoulder surgery he endured has not been known to have a high degree of success. Only the grit and determination, which he has shown repeatedly during his long career with the Braves, makes him a possibility to be a part of the Braves staff. While he may or may not be able to perform as a starting pitcher in 2009, I doubt he would be willing to serve in a support role in the Braves bullpen and I further doubt he would sign a contract for less than real market value. We will know by next March if we will see John on the field or in the broadcast booth.

Tim Hudson will be a non-factor next year unless the Braves are still in the pennant race in September. It is unlikely he would return to form in less than a year and his spot in the rotation is one of the huge voids that Braves need to filled this winter. We shall see just how good Frank Wren is as a GM if he can duplicate the type of deal his predecessor put together when he brought free agent Greg Maddux to Atlanta.

Jair Jurrjens was a real bright spot for the Braves this year. A true gem, for one so young to become the ace of the staff is too great a burden. Hopefully the Braves will spring for a true front line starter so Jair can continue to progress and mature without over using his arm. Too many innings on a young pitcher has repeatedly been shown to be a precursor to a shorten career.

Mike Hampton… yes, I know, so many feel he has stolen the money paid to him for the last three years but look at it this way, he was hurt while pitching. He worked like a dog to get back to where he can be considered to be a major league pitcher. Well, after watching him for the past few months, I think he has proven himself pretty well. As he becomes stronger and he regains velocity, he is going to once again be a valuable addition to the staff. I have no idea the type of contract he might be offered by the Braves but I do know one thing for certain, he is going to be on someone’s big league roster next year and the Braves will regret it if they do not re-sign him for 2009. He is still fairly young as pitchers go and if you compare him to Glavin and Smoltz, he is a virtual teenager.

Others who have a real chance at making the roster next year…. Jorge Campillo appeared to fade a bit down the stretch this year but for a while he really was a lifeline for the Braves. While he will never be confused as an ace, he was quite serviceable and hopefully he will rest his arm some during the off-season and be ready for action next April. Now while I will admit he is more likely the type of pitcher to be found on the National’s roster than the Braves, he has been much more solid than some of the other experiments Atlanta has tried the past few years. If he can learn to keep his change up down in the zone, he could easily be a 15 game winner for the Braves.

There are some other young hurlers in the Braves organization who have a chance to break through next season, Charlie Morton, JoJo Reyes, Anthony Larew, and Chuck James all have an opportunity to step into a role next year. I will give my prospectus of them as well as other young Braves hurlers in the organization plus the bullpen in my next contribution.

~Gil~

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58: Just Wait Til Next Year!!

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by Berigan

My turn again???? Seems like I just wrote one of these…..6  months ago!!! :)

Well, it’s getting old saying next year will be a better year in braves land. What’s funny, and great about this game, is you just never know who’s going to win, their division, the wildcard, or the World Series. Well, we know the WS winner will come out of the AL, but other than that, it’s a semi educated guess. Can anyone remember who was picked to be winners this spring??? Detroit was going to be about the best team in  baseball, certainly the best offense in decades. And the Indians were supposed to have 7-8 ML ready starters. So, one of those two teams was surely going to win the AL central, with the other team winning the Wildcard. That’s what the experts, people who live and breathe baseball, have watched the game closely for many moons said.

And we all know the only team that might, just might top the Red Sox in the east was the Yankees. The Rays were at least another year away from competing.

Mariners were likely to win the AL west. Well, they may win the worst record in the west this year, that’s about all…

In the NL west, how many people projected the Giants to be in 3rd place, with 2007 NL pennant winner Colorado in 4th,  and the Padres in last place???

I believe the Cubs were projected to win the central, but who expected the Cardinals in be in the hunt for most of the year? A team most people saw  and predicted, after Spring training, as the worst in their division???

In our own division, who among the experts, or among us, could see the Marlins competing through August????

Which brings us to the Braves. We know most(but not all) the experts predicted us to be a 3rd place team. But, the beat writer and most of us could see this team seriously competing for the flag in ’08.

We started the year with an embarrassment of pitching it seemed. Tons of hard throwers in the bullpen, with Gonzo coming back in  a few months. Seemed like we had 6-7 serious contenders for 5 starting jobs. Frenchy really to move from an excellent right fielder, to one of the best in the game. Diaz finally getting the chance to play every day. Yunel ready to have  break out year, in his first year as a starter. Chipper was back, we had one of the best hitting and fielding 1st baseman for the WHOLE year, Kelly Johnson and McCann just reaching their prime years as well. With Infante, we finally had someone who was a true super sub, no need to cringe if KJ or Chipper had the day off, or even if they went on the DL.

Well, best laid plans and all that. You all know the rest by heart. You just can’t predict injuries. Well, we knew Chipper would miss a few weeks, but that’s about it. Glavine had never gone on the DL. Smoltz would be Smoltz, Hampton would be back soon…losing the closer, and the 8th inning guy??? Hard to win doing that. Yet, our bullpen really wasn’t a big problem for the first 4 months of the season. But, we still didn’t seem to really be in a race.

I know I have been just  a tidge negative about Bobby, and about our chances for next year. But, like I mentioned above, you never know! The Mets may get better, but if they go into next year without a closer, they will still be easy to reel in. The Phils are likely to lose their 2nd biggest bopper. That can’t help. Marlins will have to get rid of anyone making more than 6 figures.

So, IF we can sign a solid starter or two, IF we can sign a power hitting right handed bat, IF Frenchy reverts to the 2006-07 model, IF Chipper can play in 140 + games, IF Soriano can pitch like he did last year, IF Moylan is back to his great self(and he should be) We could, we should be the team to beat!!!!

You heard it here first!!! You’ll see, just wait till next year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

~Berigan~

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57: The Old Man and the Sea change

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by Savannah Guy

With Presidents and other leaders and good Samaritans, circumstances usually make them what they are in the public record. The Civil War made Lincoln, as did that unfortunate theatre visit. The Great Depression, WWII, TVA and the promise of a “chicken in every pot” made FDR. The Panama Canal, the hostage crisis and that attacking rabid rabbit made Jimmy Carter. Well, maybe Carter isn’t such a good example, but you get the point… circumstance matters.

Now, Braves. There is no doubt that Bobby Cox is a Hall of Fame manager. Bobby Cox managed most all of those titles under the fortunate circumstance of Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux and a host of good pitchers around them. That circumstance has changed (drastically).

Now, on the games we play. Sports have changed too. Coaching in today’s pro sports arena is becoming pretty sophisticated stuff. Management requires learned skills, techniques, tactics and technology on top of mental sharpness and great experience in the game. In the old days of baseball managing, when things were simpler (just a few years ago), technology was a pencil or a piece of chalk.

Managing a game was not nearly as statistically critical or access to information at our fingertips at the speed of technology as fundamental as it has become these days. Now, along with playing experience, the cost of entry for a manager should include being well versed in all of the tools to efficiently, effectively and successfully manage a modern sports team, including those without the highest payroll. If you can’t outspend’em you have to outsmart’em.

Like it or not, over the next few years we’ll see more and more of the old-time managers, particularly those that aren’t particularly strategic and/or ‘new era’ coaches around them, as they become more and more ineffective. We have greater access to information than ever before. How we gather, interpret and act on that information will tell the tale. Change is inevitable. Those that don’t change are doomed to failure and irrelevance.

Now, fishing. In the old days (also just a few years ago) a champion offshore sport or commercial fisherman relied on his experience and instinct to find fish and earn a living through years of trial and error. He relied on visually identifying weed-lines and bird activity. Every successful fisherman spent time logging time and tides, studying fish patterns and seasonal species, paying attention to wind direction and just applied good old common sense and dead reckoning.

Today fishermen use modern GPS technology and satellite linked charts displaying real-time water temp, Ph, currents, wind direction, baitfish schools and such. They are also outfitted with the most amazing sonar and transducers that pipe detailed digital images in on color video monitors for tracking the exact conditions for species of fish they seek.

Without all of the sophisticated technology and access to more maritime research and information than ever imagined, the old-style commercial fisherman simply cannot compete. Some folks that hold a glamorous view of the trade may pine for the ‘old salts’ and the good old days when things were simple, natural and not so complex… but come dinnertime we’d buy our fish from the guys that caught them.

Now, jumping back to baseball again. MLB managers and an increasing number of coaches will have to master new methodologies and become fluent in emerging innovative technology, Sabermetrics, employ ever improving management software, digitally recorded and analyzed player profiles and so forth. For the health care (and increasing investment) of athletes, breakthrough medical research, surgical techniques, rehab and prevention will continue. Proactive procedures, vitamins and physical conditioning will be much more personalized to each unique athlete.

Embracing and mastering these kinds of constantly improving ‘tools’ by managers and coaches is already critical and will only become more critical. The managers that don’t adapt will become painfully and glaringly evident. As with all sports and all business, the game of baseball will continue to evolve. The team that embraces change and strives to stay ahead of the tech and information curve will have a distinct competitive advantage in recruiting, coaching, maximizing talent and minimizing injury on the field, in the clubhouse, in the executive office and every other location and aspect of the franchise and the game itself… including one run wins.

The old managers will go the way of the old fisherman. We’ll remember them with fondness, we’ll place them on a pedestal or induct them into the Hall of Fame or we’ll just pine for them when they’re gone. We’ll remember them in the context of ‘the good old days’, when life and the game of baseball was simpler.

Let’s hope the good, old-time managers know when it’s time to go, especially if they are beginning to come back to the docks empty handed. If they don’t go gracefully when it’s their time, they may irreparably harm their own legacy, taint our fond memories of successes they’ve enjoyed and instead, write an unsuccessful, annoying and sad final chapter to an otherwise arguably brilliant career.

We want to smile and cheer for a job well done when our ‘skippers’ walk or sail off into the sunset, not cringe, feel embarrassment, annoyance or frustration when they stay too long. We certainly don’t want to watch the boat take on water because of a skippers waning ability to see the cracks in the hull, flounder because of their lack of self awareness or sink because of their stubborn refusal to moor the boat when it’s time. For the good of the boat and the crew, Skippers have to know when to turn over the wheel in a storm.

It’s too late for Bobby Cox to leave while the Braves are on top. It may be too late for him to leave on top of his own game. Let’s hope it doesn’t get embarrassing for the old skipper with the sea change going on around him in Major League Baseball.

~SG~

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56: Eighteen years later, losing still stinks

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By ssiscribe

ATLANTA – Eighteen years. The time it takes for an infant to grow into a high-school graduate.

That’s how long it’s been since the Atlanta Braves have provided us with a season like this, a season that flew off the rails long ago, a season that is destined to finish with 90 losses.

Eighteen years. It’s a long, long time frame. Let’s rewind the clock for a minute.

I was 17 in 1990, looking forward to my senior year in high school, looking forward to college and adulthood. Atlanta was awarded the Summer Olympics, the city’s first major victory in anything remotely related to sports. Evander Holyfield won the heavyweight boxing championship. Georgia Tech kicked off its undefeated season, one that would end with the Yellow Jackets claiming a share of the national championship.

The Braves? Well, they stunk, losing 97 games and finishing last in the NL West. But what else was new? The Braves had been bad for the four previous years, and the 1990 season was no different. Atlanta lost 13 of its first 15 games, found itself 10 ½ games out of first as early as April 28, and finished 26 games behind the eventual World Champion Reds.

Then came 1991. I graduated high school and started college, and everything changed for my favorite baseball team … forever.

The fall would come; this, we all knew deep down inside. At some point, the run of division championships, the thrilling Octobers, the pursuit of the world championship, would come crashing down. We knew it would be painful to watch. But nobody dared to dream it would take this long to occur.

Even the past two years, which ended with the Braves standing outside the postseason party, carried with it a modest amount of hope as August unfolded. The wild card was still in play for Atlanta two years ago, the division still up for grabs last season.

Then came 2008. A season of high hopes, of lofty expectations, of talk surrounding a division title and a pennant, crashed into an abyss we haven’t seen in, oh, 18 years. The pitching staff imploded under the weight of injuries and overuse. The hitters became allergic to clutch situations. The team couldn’t win on the road for the first two months, couldn’t win at home in the heat of summer, couldn’t win at all in games decided by one run. Too few players lived up to expectations.

And so, here we are, smack-dab in the midst of misery, baseball style. It’s a long, long season when you’re winning. When you’re losing, well, it feels like the journey to October never will end. Get up, watch, lose, go to bed. Shake. Stir. Repeat.

It tastes bad going down, for sure, especially after eating steak and shrimp for the better part of two decades.

The focus long ago shifted to 2009, and that’s probably a good thing. There is little to salvage from a season that’s seen more injuries, more blown games, more frustration than this franchise and its now-beleaguered fan base has endured since the dawn of the ’90s. We’re tucked into the bomb shelter, experiencing the depths of a nuclear winter, something not experienced by Braves Nation in what seems like forever.

Actually, it’s not been forever. It’s been 18 years. And while so much has changed since 1990, one thing remains the same:

Being buried in August stinks.

The Scribe abides.

—30—

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