Category:MLB
Posted on: July 20, 2009 1:21 pm
 

Braves Beat - 2nd Half, The Week Ahead & More

Welcome to another fun installment of the Braves Beat.  Last week we enjoyed the festivities of the annual All-Star break and the beginning of the official second half of the baseball season.  We got a lot to go over so here we go.

The Braves 2nd Half Chances

Seen a lot of these writings over the last week describing what the Braves need to do in the second half to make a run at a playoff spot.  The answers were pretty much 1) Get another bat and get the offense going, 2) Continue to pitch well, and 3) By all means stay healthy.  I pretty much agree with all of these sentiments. 

Now with that said, object #1 will be intriguing to watch over the next 10 days as we inch ever so closer to the trade deadline.  I have no idea what the Braves are going to do to help the offense, but I can guarantee two things; 1) Tommy Hanson, Jayson Heyward, and Freddie Freeman will NOT be part of the deal, and 2) The Braves will not acquire a half year rental.  Whoever they get will be on the ball club next year.  Keep an eye on the Marlins.  They had a nice run in June and early July, but just like the start of the season we are not starting to see the Marlins come back down from their high.  If they get any further back, look for them to unload some talent.  It won't be a firesale we are all accustomed to seeing out of Miami, but a deal here or there.  Cody Ross and Jorge Cantu would be nice trade pieces for the fish should they continue to slide and the Braves obviously have interest in Ross.

As of this writing the Braves have just finished off a 3 out of 4 series win against the Mets.  They begin a 4 game set with the Giants tonight at Turner Field sitting just 4.5 games back of the NL Wild Card and the Giants.  Taking 3 of 4 from the G-Man can set the tone for the rest of the summer on what is shaping up to be a nice Wild Card race.  Of course I would love to see the Braves play for the division and they are still within striking distance at 6.5 and in 2nd place.  However, I tend to look at the next best scenario right now and that would be to put distance between the yourself and the Marlins and Mets while at the same time, getting closer to the Wild Card lead.  If the Braves can achieve that, then the 9 games they have left with the Phillies (6 at Turner Field) will help the Braves inch closer to the division lead, especially since the head 2 head tables have turned from a year ago and the Braves are 7-2 against the Phils.  But as I have said in the past, beating the Mets, Phillies, and Giants are great, but if you continue to struggle against the Nationals, then no way can you sustain a streak to get you back in it.

Summary:  Braves win the East, if they continue to play like they have over the past two weeks, continue to hit and score runs, and take care of the NL East as they have a boat load of games remaining against the division.  They will need to win each remaining series against the Phillies which would give them a 6-3 record and inch them closer to the division lead.  A sweep in one of those series would be nice as well.  The Braves must take care of the Nationals.  No excuse playing .500 against a team that still has yet to crack the 30 win mark.  Starting tonight the Braves can make their run for the NL Wild Card and I bet when all is said and done this will be where the Braves are standing in the end with a trip out west to play the Dodgers in the NLDS where anything can happen with good pitching.


Retirement of #31

This past Friday night the Braves retired the jersey number worn by the greatest pitcher of our lifetime, Greg Maddux.  It was truely a spectacular night and one that will definitely be copied again when Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, and even Bobby Cox are retired.  Greg Maddux was truly great watching as I had the pleasure seeing growing up in the Atlanta area.  You always knew the Braves had a 9 in 10 chance of winning the game if he was pitching.  Good to see Maddux get the exposure he deserves and this fan will be making the trek up to Cooperstown in 5 years when Mad Dog is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.


Francouer's Return


It was good to see Jeff back in Atlanta in just one week after his trade to the Mets.  He looked like someone just took a huge boulder off of his back and seemed to be having fun and no pressure.  The fans who were at the games all weekend were truly class acts and gave Jeff the notierity he deserves instead of the bashing he has taken from the fans here at home.  He also looked like he started going back to his approach from early this season and in spring training, going the other way with pitches and not trying to pull everything.  Heres hoping nothing but the best to Jeff the rest of the way and now he can focus on baseball again and not trying to be the hometown hero. 

Other Ramblings......


- Anyone notice how ESPN continues to have probably the worst baseball announcers?  How in the world do they get away with this?  Jon Miller is great, but how many times does he have to point to Joe Morgan's time with the Reds everytime he compares a player.  More great players played the game that were not part of the Big Red Machine......come on Jon give it a rest already.  Also Steve Phillips needs another front office job because he has no business being in the TV booth.  Again, Joe Morgan needs to be fired as he brings nothing to the broadcast anymore. 

- Time to rethink the All-Star game.  Baseball seriously needs to scrap the whole concept and begin a do-over.  Yes it should still be NL vs AL, but its time to rework the festivities and take away that stupid World Series home field carrot because we are all tired of seeing the AL Champion be given home field advantage when probably only 1 player from their team contributed to the AL team's win.  All-Star week with legends games, futures games, the HOF induction, the HR derby, etc.... needs to be pack into a one week festival instead of three days.  Give the players who participate some extra time off and give those who don't a whole week to get ready for the second half.  The week needs to begin on Monday with the legends game and the futures game, Tuesday a charity game with celebs, Wednesday the HR Derby, Thursday the actual game and end on Saturday with the HOF ceremony.  Sunday can be an off day with games set to restart on Monday.  Its not perfect, but its better than what we have now.

- Are they seriously considering a movie based on the book Moneyball? 

- Speaking of movies; Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, and The Rookie are still some of the best baseball movies ever.  Watched all three of them on TV this past week and they never get old. Bull Durham ranks up there with them too.

- Boy this trade deadline is all and only about one player - Roy Halliday.  In my opinion he stays with the Blue Jays and gets dealt in the offseason.  No one team is going to pony up the prospects to get him.  It will take a three team deal to get it done. 


The Week Ahead

Alright time to close out the ole blog for another week.  The week ahead, as we discussed earlier, has the Braves beginning a big 4 game set tonight with the Wild Card leading Giants.  A series win here will help pull the Braves closer to Giants who currently have a 4.5 game lead over the Braves.  The week rounds out with a trip up to Milwaukee to face the Brewers

Posted on: July 12, 2009 12:40 am
 

Braves News, Francoeur Trade, and More

Hello again fellow Braves fans.  It has been awhile since I last put up a fresh blog, but this time of the year is a relaxing time for me personally and now all that is done it is time to get back to blogging. 

I guess the news of the week and top banter for Braves beat writers and local sports moguls will be the trade of Jeff Francoeur on Friday.  While I am not in disagreement with the trade nor am I shocked by it, it is a little suprising that the Braves would trade him within the division. Not only within the division, but to your arch rivals up in Flushing.  Though I doubt, this may come back to haunt the Braves in a big way because of the fact that Francouer does have the talent (.293 19 HRs, and 105 RBIs in 2007 and .260 29HRs, and 103 RBIs in 2006) and if he ever gets in with a hitting coach that can get him right (Andruw Jones scenario in Texas anyone?) then he could be able to live up to the potential he had labeled on him coming out of the minors.  Given the current regime in NY, I seriously doubt we will see this in 2009.  However, next year will get very interesting in Flushing.  It is no secret with the Mets struggles that both manager Jerry Manuel and GM Omar Minaya are on the hot seat with Owner Fred Wilpon.  If the Mets continue to falter and lose ground in the NL East again, then major changes will commence in 2010.  If a hitting coach comes in and elevates Francoeur's game and the Mets win, then Frank Wren will be viewed as the man who helped the rival Mets beat our beloved Braves.  I am thouroughly surprised the Mets gave up (and the fact the Braves received anything of value for Jeff) Ryan Church.  I don't think Church is a superstar or a difference maker, but he is a nice piece.  Nice move so far.  Only time will tell what happens here. 

Jeff in the Big Apple

The Braves have been playing well as of late, 6-4 in their last 10, and it has to be a pleasant surprise to see Martin Prado and Matt Diaz getting playing time and contributing. Keep this up and once Chipper, Mac, and Yunel get going again and the consistency of Garret and Nate as of late the Braves will be looking better going into the second half.  Of course they still need a big bat and it looks as if 1B might be where the Braves can look too.  More on this in the next blog as we dissect final trade candidates going into the deadline.

Sweeping the Phillies was great and taking 2 of 3 from the Cubs was definitely nice. (Who else is tired of seeing Cubs fans act like they are on the same stature as the Red Sox and Yankees? Me personally I wish they would just go back to irrelevancy because last time I checked it has still been 100 years and counting since they last won a WS and over 60 years since they last won a pennant.)  However, the Braves need to find a way to handle the Nationals.  Since the start of 2008 the Braves are 16-16 vs Washington.  For a team that will probably lose 100 games, the Braves must beat them and losing 2 out of 3 is not going to cut it. Gotta get better with that going into the second half. 

Good prospect news as it was announced last week that future Atlanta Braves Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman were promoted from advanced A Myrtle Beach to AA Mississippi.  Don't be surprised to see both in Atlanta during September call ups.  Remember this is where Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez, Andruw Jones, and David Justice came up and made their marks early and earned spots in Atlanta for the future. 

The week ahead sees the Braves heading into the All-Star break with a chance to get at .500 on Sunday against the Rockies.  Then it is wish BMac all the luck in the mid-summer classic and enjoying three restful days back in Atlanta.  At the end of the week the Mets and former Brave Jeff Francoeur are in town to open the second half in a 4 game set.  Heres hoping the Braves can get off to a fast start and put some distance between them and the Mets and setting sites on the Phillies and Marlins for the remainder of the season.


Posted on: June 12, 2009 3:14 pm
Edited on: June 12, 2009 5:33 pm
 

Braves Beat - June 12th 2009

A look back and its almost All-Star time

What a week and half it has been for the Atlanta Braves.  Just a little over a week ago the Braves parted ways with future HOF pitcher Tom Glavine, optioned Jordan Schafer to AAA Gwinnett, called up top prospect Tommy Hanson, and traded for CF Nate McClouth, in which many fans in Pittsburgh and a few players immediately started questioning the Pirates decision.  We'll leave that up to our good friends from Pittsburgh to decide, but it would be nice to see the Buccos develop and keep their star players and become a force in the NL again.  As a Braves fan I do miss those classic series with the Pirates and the recent 4 gamer in Atlanta this week is very good reason why.


Back to our first topic and that is changes the Braves made.  I think we have all beat the Glavine issue into the ground and you can gladly dive into my posts over the last week regarding that subject.  All I am going to state on the blog is the Braves are a better team with Tommy Hanson and Nate McClouth and I am excited about the rest of the season.  However I thought personally the Braves did a disservice to Tom Glavine and totally botched his release from the team. Definitely could have been handled better and I wish Tommy all the best with whatever he decides.

Now let me say a few things about Tom Glavine because it is obvious his career with Atlanta (and quite possibly with MLB as a player) is over.  Tommy has been the face of the Atlanta Braves during the remarkable run of the 1990s.  Tom was drafted out of high school in 1984 and made his major league debut in 1987.  He did struggle his first several seasons, but definitely set the tone for great things in 1991 when he won 20 games and his first Cy Young award. Tom pitched the game of his life on that crisp October night in 1995 that brought Braves fans their first and to this point only Championship. Yes he burned some bridges with the whole strike thing in 1994 and again when he left for the Mets in 2002.  I don't fault Tom for any of those because he was just doing what he had to do.  The strike situation is so complex that the average fan would not understand. Tom was elected player representative and had to deliver.  In 02 when his last contract with the Braves was up, Tom had two options on the table: a 4 yr deal with the Mets or a 3 yr deal with the Braves with performance options and considerably less money.  Seriously if we were in that situation which one would you take?  Those who still criticize him for that move for not taking the home town discount are probably the ones who critize the front office everytime they don't spend alot of money on a particular player in the FA market.  As a fan I was upset for him leaving, but I did not blame Tommy.  If the Braves really wanted to keep him they would have found a way to do it.  I also know that the team would pretty much take Glavine to task on the field for jumping ship to the arch rival Mets and for 2003 and 2004 they did.  I was hoping for a story book ending for Tommy, but unfortunately that did not happen.  I do hope that he and the team can let time heal all wounds and honor this Atlanta Legend.


All-Star Time is here again


Well it is that time of year again. Time for Braves fans to stuff the ballot box for our favorite Braves who are deserving of an All-Star nod.  We will take a look at the few Braves who should get some intense consideration for the All-Star game this year in St. Louis.

Brian McCann - C


BMac is once again having a great season and should be a shoe in for his 4th consecutive All-Star game. Mac is hitting .312 6 HRs and 24 RBIs and all of this after sustaining vision issues early in the season which seem to be all but forgotten (except my wife who thinks I would look great in a pair of McCann Oakleys).  Currently McCann is 2nd in NL voting for catchers behind St. Louis favorite Yadier Molina.

Expectation: McCann will make the team.  I am going out on a limb and say that he passes Molina and will start the All-Star game for the NL.


Chipper Jones - 3B


Chipper is once again proving he is always in contention for the All-Star game.  His stats as of this writing are .320 8 HRs and 31 RBIs.  He is making a June surge case to be on the team despite his nagging injuries from earlier in the season.  Not the steller first half performance where he was hitting over .400 for most of the first half, but .320 is nothing to sneeze at and he is once again in the thick of the NL batting title race.  Chipper is currently 3rd in NL voting for 3B behind fellow NL East third basemen David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman.

Expectation:  Barring an injury from one of the top two vote getters, I just don't see Chipper making the jump to start the All-Star game.  It is also hard to see him get selected for the team as a reserve even though he definitely deserves it.  Wright gets all the media love while Chipper continues to be consistent and Zimmerman is having a great year and will probably be the only National representative. Chipper just misses, but as a plus for Braves fans he gets three off days to rest.

Jair Jurrjens - P


Though Jair has struggled as of late, it really isn't any of his doing.  He is still pitching quality starts despite not getting wins because his team cannot score enough runs to support his solid outings.  Currently 5-4 with a 2.85 ERA.  Still one of the top pitchers in the NL with that low ERA.  He has been very good on the road with 3-1 2.27 in his six road starts.  Pitchers are selected by the NL Manager as reserves are announced.  Jair has a good shot to be pitching in this game and NL Manager Charlie Manuel will get to see him one more time before selecting NL pitchers. 

Expectation:  I believe Jurrjens has a shot to get in as long as he continues to throw solid starts.  Getting a few more wins wouldn't hurt either. Still can't tell what will happen as the NL has seen some very good pitching performances this year.

Derek Lowe - P


Derek Lowe is having another great season. Currently at 7-3 with a 3.44 ERA.  Outside of the Florida game in early may where he gave up 6 runs, Lowe has been very solid this season and is making a strong case as one of the pitchers for the NL team.  With some run support Lowe has a chance to be at 10 wins or more going into the break.  Pitchers are selected by the NL Manager as reserves are announced and Lowe has a very good chance to make the team as he is currently one of the top leaders in NL in wins, quality starts, and ERA.

Expectation:  Lowe will be chosen as one of the NL pitchers.  I don't think he will be a starter as Johan Santana will need something along the lines of a disaster to take that honor away from him.


Recap:  As things stand right now I expect both Brian McCann and Derek Lowe to make the NL All-Star team.  Chipper and Jurrjens definitely deserve consideration and with over 3 weeks to go have a chance to make some noise and impress those who will be selecting reserves and pitchers.


Next blog and the upcoming week:

Next blog we will take a look at Tommy Hanson's first major league starts and welcome back old friend John Smotlz as he could see some action when the Braves visit the Red Sox and when the Sox come to Atlanta later this month.  
The next week and a half sees the Braves head on the road to Baltimore, Cincinnatti, and Boston for a 9 game road trip.  Going to be interesting to see how the Braves fare over the next several weeks as the schedule is about to get real tough and we see if any of the latest moves make the Braves a serious contender. 






Posted on: May 31, 2009 11:16 pm
Edited on: June 2, 2009 2:44 pm
 

Atlanta Braves Beat Blog - May 31, 2009

Braves Eyeing Trade Market

Last week we discussed the Braves after 40 games and it was mentioned that an offensive upgrade is needed for them to get over the top in the NL East.  This week has not been great and the offense has exposed for the lack of pop it has.  Alot has been focused on the outfield and with great reason.  The Braves outfield was last in the majors in 2008 with only 27 HRs as a unit and are last again this season with a putrid 8 HRs as a four man unit.  Clearly the Braves need a power bat in the middle of the lineup, but they also might need someone to man CF because of Jordan Schafer's troubles adjusting to the big leagues.  Since all of the future OF stars are in AA or lower, the Braves will have to look outside the organization to upgrade the OF. 

Sadly Jeff Francouer's time in Atlanta may be up.  While I am of the opinion to keep the guy around and let him work his way out of these troubles; I also understand that since he is being counted on to put up big numbers, management has seemed to finally reached their tipping point with Jeff.  Had the Braves had a LF or CF who could bash out 30 HR and 100 RBI then Jeff would get more time.  However that is not the case and it seems his time in Atlanta is up as soon as the Braves can secure another RF.

And that is a good lead in to our topic this week and that is who the Braves might be interested in. These following players are those who have already been rumored to be available or teams are in a position soon to make them available.  We will look at outfielders since that is the primary need for the Braves at this posting.

Carlos Lee - Houston Astros


Pros: Having a very good 2009 season hitting .313 8 HRs 29 RBIs. A .360 OBP and .516 SLG%.  Hits RH and plays a decent LF.  Houston is currently in last place in the best division in baseball.  Really not going anywhere and management would love to dump Lee's contract.

Cons: His contract.  Lee is currently making 18.5 million for the next three seasons and The Braves would have to unload a hefty contract or get Houston to eat some of the money for the rest of this year.

Matt Holliday - Oakland A's


Pros: Plays LF and bats RH.  Hitting an ok .264 6HRs 28 RBIs.  Plays very well in the NL and is only under contract for the rest of the year.

Cons: Only under contract for this season and is a Scott Boras client.  His contact is 13.5 million so Oakland would have to eat some of this money.  A's GM Billy Bean would also command a nice ransom from the Braves for a guy he gave up alot for.  Holliday has the schtick of being a product of Coors Field and his short time in Oakland has not helped this view. 

Brad Hawpe - Colorado Rockies



Pros:  Can play RF and can hit for both average and power.  Having a great 09 season hitting .343 7 HRs 39 RBIs.  Splits between Coors Field and the road are comparable so he is not a product of the high altitude and could swing it well in any ball park.  Only making 5 million this year so the Braves can afford him.  Rockies seem to be ready for another fire sale as they recently released World Series manager Clint Hurdle and traded Holliday in the offseason. 

Cons: Hits LH.  Rockies will command a nice return of prospects and major league players. 

Corey Hart - Milwaukee Brewers




Pros: Hits RH and plays RF.  Has 6 HRs and 19 RBIs.  Salary not very much so the Braves could take on his contract.

Cons: Only hitting .256 with .330 OBP. Strikes out alot (49 this year) and is comparible to Jeff Francouer who the Braves are trying to improve. 

Jeremy Hermida - Florida Marlins


Pros: Plays LF. Hitting .270 5 HRs and 22 RBIs.  Low Salary and familar with pitchers in NL East.  Marlins and Braves have hooked up before in trades.

Cons:  Bats LH and plays within the division for a team who considers themselves a contender.  Strikes out alot; 45 already this season.


Austin Kearns - Washington Nationals


Pros: Bats RH and plays RF.  Will come cheap.

Cons: Not much of an upgrade.  Only hitting .226 3 HRs and 15 RBIs.  Strike outs are a little high. Making 8 million dollars and the Nats will probably not want to eat any of his money. 

Andruw Jones - Texas Rangers


Pros: Hitting .282 5 HRs and 14 RBIs in only 85 ABs.  Has a very nice .415 OBP and seems to finally be back to the Andruw of pre 2006.  Knows the Braves system and coaches.  A big fan of Bobby Cox and vice versa.  Will come cheap since the Dodgers are picking up his salary.  Texas likes trading with the Braves and the Bravos could afford to spare a few prospect pitchers who could help Texas in the long run.  Currently in an OF logjam with the Rangers as all 3 starting spots are manned by Josh Hamilton, Marlon Byrd, and Nelson Cruz.  Plus the Rangers have David Murphy ready as a 4th OF.  Andruw is expendable.

Cons: Hitting very well in hitter friendly park.  Not getting regular playing time so conditioning is still a concern.  Will leaving Texas and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo cause Andruw to lose focus and revert back to his old hitting ways?  Can Andruw overlook his not so great relationship with Terry Pendleton and be the offensive force the Braves need?  Can he still play CF with his recent injury history? 

Juan Pierre - LA Dodgers


Pros: Lead off hitter who can get on base and create run scoring opportunities.  Having a great 09 season hitting .374 20 RBIs 20 RS and 10 SB.  Plays a decent LF and CF and would possibly be available once Manny Ramirez returns in early July.  Makes contact and does not strike out often.

Cons:  getting older,  arm strength not very great and lacks power.  Making 10 million this season so the Dodgers would have to eat some payroll for the Braves to make a move.  Dodgers might keep Pierre even when Manny comes back.  Not a certain they would trade him though he could bring a nice return.


So those are the outfielders who could be available for the Braves this upcoming trade deadline or before.  This blogger certainly likes the before option.  With Kelly Johnson coming out of his funk, the Braves may opt to keep him around until Infante returns and then proceed with the platoon unless Kelly just starts raking it for a consistent period (finally) and the Braves decide to keep him at 2B full time.  With that seemly the likely scenario the Braves may opt to not go after a guy like Mark DeRosa who they have recently been rumored to be pursuing.  Cleveland seems to be asking for too much at this point and the Braves seem to let things play out before committing to a trade for the former Brave infielder and fan favorite. 

So as it stands it seems the only need the Braves will try to fill will be the OF spots.  Will it be 1 or 2?  That is anyones guess right now, but judging by the way the Braves played on the recent road trip and the fact that both Schafer and Francouer sat out a game each makes me think 2 could be the number they are looking at.  Only Frank Wren and the front office know for sure what they are going to do. 

Now you are probably asking who are the Braves going to give up in a trade.  Please keep in mind that alot of you are going to say Francouer or Jo Jo Reyes or Matt Diaz.  Please understand that a package is probably going to have to consist of Francouer and some minor league prospects; though those not named Hanson, Heyward, or Freeman.  Kris Medlen seems to be a nice piece the Braves would be willing to listen too; as is Cole Rohrbough, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke.  Keep in mind that they have some OFs who could command some attention such as Brandon Jones, Gorkys Hernandez, and Cody Johnson.  As for the Major League roster, Francouer of course and possibly Kelly Johnson and Martin Prado might garner some interest.  Jordan Schafer has drawn interest in the past, but I suspect the Braves will have to be wowed by an offer to give up on him so soon which I totally doubt will happen. 

Ok there you have it that is some early looks at the upcoming trade market.  Maybe none of these guys are available or maybe all of them are.  Who knows, but this is just an early list at what could be standing in a Braves uniform in the not so distant future.  For the Braves sake they better hope so.  If not, its going to be a long summer with some uncertainties.

The week ahead.......

The Braves are off on Monday as they return home from the recent 7 game west coast swing.  Tuesday begins the next homestand in which the Braves will see the Cubs and Brewers in for 3 games each.  Should be some good matchups and Turner Field should be packed now that school is out and the Cubs are in town. 



Coming up next on the blog

Next time we will discuss the upcoming All-Star game and what Braves could be headed for the NL team.  We will also look at any changes the Braves make and the possible return of Tom Glavine and update the Tommy Hanson watch. 






Posted on: May 24, 2009 5:14 pm
 

Atlanta Braves Beat Blog

The Braves at 40 Games

As the Braves conclude their first interleague series with the Blue Jays, let's take a look at the team as it stands after forty games. The reason to look at forty games is because this is the benchmark that Bobby Cox has always used to gauge just how good his Braves teams are. With that said let me state that these are clearly my views of the team and not those of Bobby Cox even though I think Bobby would agree on some of these.  So here is how things are going for the Braves:

What has gone right for the Braves:

Clearly coming out of 2008 and going into 2009 the game plan by Frank Wren and the front office was to improve the starting rotation and get the Braves back to the blue print that gave them all of the success during their 14 year run and that is a strong and deep rotation.  The Braves took some flack for giving Derek Lowe ace money.  Clearly though after starting 6-2 with a 3.45 ERA in 10 starts, Lowe is definitely pitching like an ace.  However, if you ask him he would say (and he did say this in New York last week) that the Braves best pitcher is Jair Jurrjens. Whats great is he has the stats (4-2, 1.96) to back that assertion up.  Javy Vasquez (4-3, 3.39) has been solid and been everything that the Braves have asked for since acquiring him in the offseason.  These three starters are giving the Braves innings in each start as well as throwing out quality outings each time out.  This has been the achillies heal so to speak over the last three seasons and is now the strong suit of the 2009 Braves. Kenshin Kawakami has battled back after a rough start to his Major League career with three solid outings in his last four starts and outdueled in my opinion the best pitcher in baseball over the last 5 years. The jury is still out on whether he will be the next Dice K or Irabu, but as a Braves fan you have to like the way he has battled back and pitched lately.  The Jo Jo Reyes experiment is clearly done at the fifth spot and Tom Glavine is expected to be back on May 30th.



Though the bullpen started off very badly the unit has pitched well over the long haul thus far and look to continue as we go forward.  Soriano and Gonazalez have been very good and give Bobby a nice 1-2 punch in closing out games.  Eric O'Flaherty has been this years version of Will Ohman and Peter Moylan, despite his performance against the Rockies on Monday, seems to be coming around. These four give the Braves needed depth in the bullpen and with the starters going deep into games, the unit should be sharp going into the latter part of the season.  Adding Manny Acosta who was 1-3, 2.86 in Gwinnett should help as well.

What hasn't gone right for the Braves:

Clearly this conversion begins and ends with the offense or lack thereof.  I know this is the biggest understatement of the season, but the offesense has been the achillies heal for the Braves.  With just a little more offense to back up the steller pitching the Braves could be well in front of the NL East.  Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Yunel Escobar, and Casey Kotchman are the only ones who are producing, but they cannot drive in runs if no one is on base in front of them.  The lack of a leadoff hitter has hurt this team and losing Omar Infante even though he only played in a platoon mode will hurt.  He is the Braves best leadoff hitter and the Braves were scoring runs with him getting on base. With the lack of power in the lineup the best way for this team to score runs is to create those opportunities with a leadoff hitter who can get on base consistently.  Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar have not been able to do this and the better option was Infante. 

I really hate to continue to kick that dead horse, but with only 10 steals total as a team the Braves are going to have to figure out their leadoff situation.  Without enough power in the lineup, run scoring opportunities are going to have to be created from this position. The Braves also need to let Schafer use his speed at the bottom of the lineup when he gets on base.  No steals for a guy who posses that skill is a huge disappointment and that lies with the coaching staff.  Either the speed or power situation is going to have to improve for the offense to score the runs needed to protect the pitching.

The Jeff Francouer experiment has not gone as many had hoped it would.  After getting off to a good start, Jeff has started to revert back to his old habits and is constantly getting away from everything he worked hard on in the offseason. While he has admitted this problem and has vowed to correct it, he is obviously pressing now while the Braves really need him to be his 2006-2007 form in order for them to get on a roll.



What we can expect over the next 120 games:


They Braves, as they are currently constructed, can hang with the Mets and Phillies in the division.  However, if they want to get over that hump and surpass these two favorites a power hitting OF or a speedy lead off hitter will need to be acquired. Over the next couple of weeks we should start to hear some of the names of those who will be available for trade. From the way it stands now, the Braves will be buyers and though a big splash is probably out of the question, a solid move to solidfy the lineup will probably be made.  Since Infante will slated to be back by or shortly after the All-Star break the move will likely be a power hitter.  The pitching is very good and should continue to be so and the offense will have its good days to keep the team in it.  I think we know where Frank Wren will be focusing his attention on over the next several weeks.



Posted on: May 11, 2009 2:02 pm
 

2009 Braves

Here we are 31 games into the season and already some of my fellow Braves fans are throwing in the towel.  I read three blogs on a daily basis about the Braves and see so many fans who just give up that I cannot help but forget about defending Atlanta from being a fairweather sports town.  I am going to take the remainder of this blog to post a few things about what my fellow Braves fans think about this season so far:

1) Lets bring the young guys up and see what they are made of. This is just crazy thinking when the players some of you want to bring up are only in A ball and are still learning how to play in professional baseball. They will come up and more than likely stink up the place for a month or so and have a total loss of confidence as you send them back down. Then you start their arbitration clock and before you know it by the time they are good ML players, its time to trade them or lose them via FA.  The only player in the minors that has any reason to be on the big club right now is Tommy Hanson.  However the Braves obviously want to wait until June so as to start his arbitration clock later and get an extra full season out of him.

2) This total love fest for players who just can’t cut it and a downright hatred for those who have a track record of being nothing but solid players who can be clutch. Some of you have anointed Kelly Johnson as the team savior all the while attacking Jeff Francoeur and calling for his head. Jeff has had solid seasons in his first two years and then had a major speedbump last year when nothing seemed to have gone right for the kid…..yes I said kid because he is only 25 and a ML player usually doesn’t hit his prime until 28-32. Jeff is still learning the game and has a track record of being a very solid player. So far this year he is adjusting and changing the way he is playing the game. Its only 31 games in and he has had some success mainly his RBIs and effectively hitting the other way. He will have this new approach down pat by the time the All-Star break comes around. It simply takes time to get used to it. Give the poor boy a break already. As for Kelly, he came up as a LF in 2005 and has been terribly inconsistent with the bat ever since. He has been the starting 2B for the last two seasons. Usually your 2B is either lights out defensively with some solid offense or he is a monster with the bat and plays solid defense. Kelly is neither. His bat is terribly inconsistent and his glove can be counted on for changing the game in the opponents favor more times than not. Outside of a six week stretch in which the Braves were long out of it in 2008, Kelly has and it seems will continue to be a very streaky and ineffective hitter. I am sorry, but I just don’t see the aura around him or why he is so loved when he shouldn’t even be in the starting lineup. He is nothing more than a 4th OF with some pop off the bench. You have to be strong up the middle to be a championship team. Kelly Johnson is not that kind of player and I know I will get some sarcastic remarks, but oh well the truth hurts sometimes.

3) Quit being impatient with the young guys who are on the team.  I have heard many claim that Jordan Schafer is just not cut out to be a Major League CF.  Alot of people point to his strike outs and claim he cannot cover CF like Andruw did.  Please did Andruw really spoil us that bad??  Andruw is one of those rare defensive CFers that come around ever so often in MLB and usually only one team has them.  Schafer has been nothing but solid in the OF and is catching everything that is hit to him.  He has to learn the angles of major league ball parks but he will learn that as the season goes on.  Yes he strikes out a lot, but what do you expect from a kid who has played a total of 31 major league games.  He is adjusting to the majors and will strike out alot.  That is why he is batting 8th in the lineup. Plus he is learning.  Look at the last week, he has been in the cage with Chipper trying to correct his swing.  I have heard nothing but kudos from the players about his approach.  Some of you take heart to Bobby Cox benching Kelly Johnson because he is struggling with the bat, but allows Schafer to play.  Well Bobby said it best before the Phillies series this weekend.  "As long as he continues to catch everything, no need to sit him down."  I think we can all read between the lines on that one. 

4) Bobby Cox is not the only coach on this team.  Bobby is a great manager who surrounded himself with great baseball coaches. Jimmy Williams, Ned Yost, Freddy Gonzales, Pat Corrales, Jim Beauchamp, Bobby Dews, Clarence Jones, and Leo Mazzone. He has slowly lost those reliable coaches and his teams performance has suffered as a result. Bobby is a great game manager, but his coaches now are subpar. Leo coached a great pitching staff and put them on a routine. Cl. Jones had taught hitters how to be clutch. Pat Corrales and Beach knew how to manage a defense and bench and the Braves always managed to play great defense during their run. Now defense is not only not practiced, its not even preached it seems. Bobby still has it, but his current crop of coaches are just not cutting it. Take your fire out on them and give Bobby the benefit of the doubt.

5) They have been without their best hitter for much of the season so far and the lack of offense shows with the glaring hole.  Also the one acquisition you made in the offseason to help the offense has been out too. Give these guys time to get healthy and back in the lineup consistently. Also give Jordan Schafer a break. He is a rookie and is going to struggle until he can get used to the speed of the game and make adjustments on the fly. Once he does, look out.

6) Again folks, we are only 31 games into the season and the Braves are only 2.5 games out. They have the talent to win, its only a matter of putting the lineup together with all starters and seeing what the team can do. Remember, Bobby always says that it takes 40-50 games in with a full team to see just how good they are. Do you think we can give these guys about 20 more games to see if they can get better? I remember many of times during the run they had when the Braves started out slow and come mid-June hit their stride and never looked back. Lets see how this team is fully healthy before we write them off.

7) Oh and please remember that the Braves run ended in 2005.  This is not those teams or even resembles those teams.  This is a new Braves era and its time to start giving these guys time to gell as a team.
Category: MLB
Posted on: May 11, 2009 1:35 pm
 

Atlanta Braves vs Brooklyn Dodgers

The great run of 14 consecutive division titles for the Atlanta Braves ended in 2005.  Since then the Braves have been mediocre at best and have only gotten as close as 5 games from the postseason since losing to the Astros in the 2005 Division Series.  Since the run ended many Braves fans clamor for the old days where the Braves penciled in anywhere from 95-105 wins a season and a NL East Championship.  Well those days are now long gone and while the current team has hope and the future looks very bright, we may never see another run like that of the Braves. 

I know alot of people will say the Yankees run from 96-03 was better and I will agree it was because they won 4 World Series Championships and got to play in 6 total. That run was better, but it was also shorter.  The Braves had a consistent run from 1991-1999 where every NLCS and every National League Champion had to play in the southern city. Basically the National League and a trip to the World Series ran through Atlanta in the 1990s.  Now with the streak over we hear alot of critics rightfully say that the Braves never won more than 1 Championship even with all of that success.  They have this right, but what gets me is they downplay the success of the Braves run and fail to give it the respect it deserves.  Many claim the Braves were the Buffalo Bills of Baseball during the 90s and others claim that the Braves were a lighter version of the Big Red Machine of the Cincinatti Reds of the 1970s.  I say neither comparison is right.  The Braves (unlike the Buffalo Bills) won a championship and only one (unlike the Big Red Machine).  They and the fans had the mindset of "Wait til Next Year" which brings me to the correct comparison and that is the Brooklyn Dodgers

Now to have a logical debate and compare these two teams one needs to look back at the history before the great runs.  The Brooklyn Dodgers were a ladistical team prior to 1947.  They won a few times, but were never a major force.  They had to share the New York spotlight with their archrivals the Giants and the Yankees and could never get over the top until Branch Rickey came along.  The Atlanta Braves were the same way.  Upon moving to Atlanta they had mild success winning the first ever NL West division crown in 1969.  However, outside of Hammerin Hank and his run to break Babe Ruth's HR record, the Braves never got any spotlight from the baseball world until Ted Turner came around in the late 70s.  The Dodgers run began in 1947 when Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson and broke the color barrier Major League Baseball.  Jackie joined a group of fine ball players such as Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Don Newcome, and Duke Snider.  Together they made the Dodgers formidible and led them to the NL Pennant eventually losing to the Yankees in the World Series.  The Braves great run began in 1991 when the pitching talents of Tom Glavine, John Smotlz, and Steve Avery finally began to blossom as a cohesive unit.  That mixed with gritty veterans of Terry Pendelton, Sid Bream, and Lonnie Smith and fiesty younsters Dave Justice, Ron Gant, and Mark Lemke gave the Braves the beginning of something special.  They went on a miracle run and ironically caught the Dodgers after being behind 7 games at the All-Star break and won the NL West and NL Pennant beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 7 game NLCS, shutting out the Pirates after game 5. They would lose a heart breaker in the thrilling 1991 World Series to the Twins

The parallels don't stop there between these two clubs.  The Dodgers would win the NL Pennant five more times between 1947 and 1956 and finally winning their only World Series in 1955.  The Braves would begin their 14 year division championship run in 1991 and would win the NL Pennant four more times between 1991 and 1999 finally winning their only championship in 1995.  Another parallel is both the Braves and the Dodgers had a great pennant race with the Giants.  The Braves and the SF Giants in 1993 and the Dodgers and the NY Giants in 1951.  However the Braves came out on top of their pennant race with the G-Men while the Dodgers fell to the "shot heard round the world."  Another comparison can be the World Series villian.  The Braves and Dodgers played the New York Yankees the most times in their runs.  The Braves in 1996 and 1999 and the Dodgers played the Yankees in all 6 of their World Series matchups. However the Dodgers had more luck beating the Yanks in 1955 while the Braves collapsed against the Yanks in 96 and were overmatched in 99.

The most important parallel between the two clubs is the Hall of Fame caliber players they each displayed.  The Dodgers had Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Don Newcome, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider.  The Braves had the pitching trio of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz along with Chipper Jones and players who will receive votes but might not get in Fred McGriff and Andruw Jones.  These two teams could not sustain their winning ways without this nucleus of players.  Although the second half of each teams run is where the parallels stop.  The Dodgers moved to LA in 1958 and would again move to the top of the NL in 1959 and again in 1963. 65 and 66 winning the World Series 3 times with a new core of players.  The Braves however would only win one more playoff series in 2001 before eventually having their run ended in 2006. 

In closing my thoughts to the critics of the Braves run is, why do baseball historians hold the Brooklyn Dodgers to a higher standard and give them nostalgalistic lore while the Braves are mocked for only winning one championship?  However if you look at the Brooklyn Dodgers and their run from 47-56 prior to moving to LA, they won only one Championship too and they are held to a lovable standard that the Braves and their fans do not enjoy.  I hope this blog can somehow change a few minds. Both teams should be applauded for their great runs in the baseball history books.

Category: MLB
 
 
 
 
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