Friday, April 24, 2015

Braves try to rebound against the Phillies

The Braves just got swept by the Mets. The Phillies just lost two games to the Marlins combined 15-2. These two titans of the diamond will meet this weekend in Philadelphia to decide the eternal question: Who is playing crappier?!!?

Game 1: Wood v. Harang
Game 2: Miller v. Buchanan
Game 3: Cahill v. Williams

Game one is a doozy because it pits our old flamethrower (sarcasm) Aaron Harang against our young gun Alex Wood. I miss Harang. I miss him even more when the back end of the rotation looks like the back end of a baboon. And I'll take the Harangutan over a baboon any day. Keep an eye on two guys for the Braves in this game: Eric Young Jr, Alberto Callaspo, and Chris Johnson. I would assume all three get the start, because they have all raked Harang in the past to the tune of 1.000+ OPS. On the flip side, I just need Alex Wood to make it through a game without giving up a hit or more an inning. He's been getting clubbed in the last two games, and we've lost both as a result.

Game two looks like a classic battle of HOT vs. NOT. Shelby Miller is red hot with a 1.69 ERA, a 2-0 record, and a WHIP of 1.19. David Buchanan for the Phillies is cold as ice with a 9.22 ERA, an 0-3 record, and an astounding WHIP of 2.27. That's all the analysis you should need. Go win this game. No excuses.

Game three features a rebounding Trevor Cahill versus a medicore Jerome Williams. This could go very very badly for Cahill if he's not settled down from this first two bad starts. Although they have limited ABs against Trevor, the Phillies are hitting him at a .300 clip. Considering that Cahill's mental state may be fragile, if he can get through the first two innings with no damage, this game could unravel fast. Meanwhile, the Braves have hit Williams at a .315 average with Nick Markakis being the obvious standout at .462. This game will be about which starter blinks first. And hoping the Braves bullpen doesn't piddle on the mound this time. Otherwise, newspaper on the nose.

CPA Predictions:

The CPA got roughed up again in the Mets series because it didn't expect the bullpen to give away game two. Game three was just a disaster on all fronts. Anyway it went 1-2 in that series and it's now 5-7 on the season with -4.45 units betting. Ugh. Time for a turnaround.

Game 1 - Braves by 1 run (this one is really close)
Game 2 - Braves by 1 run
Game 3 - Phillies by 2 runs

CPA thinks the Braves win the series. Then again, it thought we would beat the Mets and we got swept instead. The team needs to pitch better if they want to beat anybody, let alone the lowly Phillies.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Braves swept by Mets

That went poorly. I won't belabor the point, because the Braves played like garbage in a lot of ways in this series. But really, the Mets took advantage of some bad bullpen outings by Atlanta. Still, I think our team is going to walk away from this series feeling like they let some games get away. I believe the Braves were squaring up pitches and hitting balls right at guys. If it wasn't for the poor pitching, the Braves would have won the series.

Breaking down the games individually would be fruitless since they were all losses, so I'll go with the quick and dirty version. Braves got annihilated in game one because they couldn't score and gave up a ton of runs, they gave away game two because the bullpen couldn't hold a lead, and they got roughed up late in game three because apparently our guys decided to walk the ballpark.

Instead of things I liked, here's 3 things I hated:

  1. The bullpen - 7 runs in approximately 10 innings. That's what the bullpen gave up in this series. For those of you who like to attach an ERA to it, that's about a 6.30 bullpen ERA over the last 3 games. That won't even get the job done in the California Penal League. We wear caps and sleeves at this level, son!
  2. RISP Hitting - Braves went 3-17 with runners in scoring position, and that's a robust .176 batting average. Somewhere in California, BJ Upton is nodding his head saying, "Yeah that sounds about right." Gonna party like it's 2014. Did I say party? I meant weep silently in my room with Lionel Ritchie on Pandora.
  3. The defense - What went so very well for so long suddenly became a clown car rolling up to the New York Subway. Atlanta committed 3 errors in the series, and I should remind you that they had only committed one all season before this. If they were planning on tripling anything, I would have preferred...triples maybe? That would have been neat.
Since we lost all the games we have no MVP. Instead I'll point out the NBI. That's the Needs Big Improvement. That player is second base. Now, I know what you're thinking, second base is an inanimate object, or a position, not a player. And you'd be right. However, second base for the Braves has basically been non-functional for several years. I actually had to ask Twitter when the last functional everyday second baseman played for this team. They came up with Marcus Giles in 2006. Some tossed out Infante and Prado, but I consider them utility guys who play a lot of 3rd. And I make the rules, so I decide the winner.

The guys attempting to play second base right now are Jace Peterson, Phil Gosselin, and Alberto Callaspo. Mostly Peterson though since he won the job in spring training. Still, I looked up the hitting stats of the person who happened to be playing second base this season. Combined across all games, second base has a .170/.241/.208 slash line. That's horrific. Dan Uggla in 2013 hit better than that, and we paid him to go away and punish our rivals.

The really shocking thing is that Callaspo hits while playing other positions. When he's at second, he has a .182 average. When he's at 3B? He's got a .320 average. Yeah. Second base for the Braves once got a chain letter and threw it in the trash in 2006, and this is the result. A decade of crap at second based. Maybe when the new stadium opens we can bathe second base in a four-leaf clover pesto. Because good lord, it's like watching a horror film out there right now.

Next up, the Braves head to Philadelphia to face a team that's 5-11. Several of the Phillies players wear Life Alert jewelry so somebody can come get them if a slide goes wrong. Should the Braves beat this bunch of millionaire aging clap-trap? You bet they should.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Atlanta Braves take on the New York Mets in the Big Apple

I'm going to do this preview a little differently because we're facing the Mets with a chance to take over the division lead. I'm going to tell you why this series could go really well, then I'm going to tell you why this series could suck. I think this will be fun for me. If it's fun for you, good. If not, just tell me on Twitter and I'll give you your money back. (Because the site is free, hur hur)

Why this series against the Mets could go well:

  • We're not facing DeGrom or Harvey, the Mets two best pitchers by far. Between the two of them, they've started 6 games, and they have 5 wins. Those guys simply don't like to lose, and they can really keep opposing runners off base with their 1.14 and 1.00 respective WHIPs. I love a cool WHIP stat. (PS - Cool whip)
  • The Braves are the only team that's taken a series from the Mets so far. We've got their number where nobody else does, mostly because the rest of NL East so far is sub-par.
  • Dillon Gee is imploding this season so far with a 7.59 ERA, and the Braves handed him his only loss. He's due for #2.
  • The Braves lineup combined has a .800+ OPS against Jonathan Niese, so he's likely shaking in his boots about facing the likes of Jonny Gomes, who is 6/10 lifetime off him with a bomb.
  • Julio Teheran is pitching in Game 3, and the Braves have won all 3 of his starts so far, despite the "issues" in the game in Toronto. And by issues I mean him serving up batting practice covered in maple syrup.
  • Nick Markakis is batting .375 right now with 8 runs scored. His OBP is .479, which is 6th overall in MLB. I don't think any of the Braves have ever done that on this roster, but I could be wrong. What I'm certain of is that BJ Upton never led his little league team in OBP.
  • The Mets are really injured right now. In fact, their DL is already 8 players deep. The Braves need to take advantage of their lack of depth at certain positions. Sweep the leg. No mercy in this dojo.
  • The defense is electric right now for the Braves, and they've turned more double plays than anybody in baseball, while committing the fewest errors. It's been fun to watch. I mean Andrelton Simmons is rivaling Dominique Wilkins as the human highlight reel.
Why this series against the Mets could suck:
  • The Game 1-2 pitchers for the Braves are Trevor Cahill and Eric Stults. With their respective ERAs of 15.43 and 6.30, I'm not exactly confident in the back end of the rotation right now. Understatement of the article so far, I'm actually terrified of the back end, but I won't completely panic unless this series goes off the rails.
  • The Mets haven't lost a game at home yet. Granted, they played Philly and Miami who are terrible, but they have a lot of confidence inside of the confines of Citi-Field. And who wouldn't have confidence there, playing in front of hundreds of fat, surly, New Yorkers who were too stubborn to be Yankee fans?
  • The Braves face Bartolo Colon in one of the games, who just seems to be living a charmed life right now. The man can do no wrong on the mound and he's 3-0 as a result. Plus he can put a hurt on a buffet post-game.
  • Andrew McKirahan was suspended from the Braves, which means they are really short on lefty relievers. That means you hope the starters go deep. However, nothing about Cahill or Stults suggests they CAN go deep in a game right now. That means the bullpen depth will get tested, and a guy like Ian Thomas was called up to fill the gaps.
  • Our center fielders and second basemen are still hitting like crap, even though we got rid of Dan Uggla and BJ/Melvin. It's as if they cut a huge hitting fart in Turner Field and we can't crack a window.
  •  Fredi Gonzalez is still the manager, which means the lineups still won't make a ton of sense. Or the pitching changes. Or hell, much of anything he does short of drawing names from a hat. I'm not a hater of Fredi, I just have no idea what/if he's thinking half the time.
So there you have it. Do I know how this series will go? Absolutely not. Does the CPA? Maybe.

CPA Predictions:

The CPA was dead wrong about the Toronto series and as a result is went 0-3. I blame the fact it was interleague and early in the year. Excuses, excuses, you stupid machine. The CPA traditionally struggles with interleague because they don't face each other heads up that often. Still, it's now 4-5 on the season, and it's down -2.45 units.

Game 1: Mets by 2 runs
Game 2: Braves by 3 runs
Game 3: Braves by 1 run

So the CPA thinks the Braves take the series, and if that's the case they will find themselves 1 game back of the lead in the standings. That would be pretty cool to hand the Mets their second series loss, especially in the Big Apple.


Monday, April 20, 2015

McKirahan's Luck Runs Out, Busted for PED Use

It's a four leafed clover popping pills. Duh.

Short update on an issue you may have heard this morning. Andrew McKirahan, in a move that disgraces Irish-descendant people like myself everywhere, got suspended for using PEDs. Apparently, he's one of the first active Braves players to ever get busted for this, so thanks for nothing you jerk-face.

The really crappy part of this is that McKirahan is a lefty reliever, and those aren't exactly growing on trees down at the local Reliever Supply Store. Normally, we'd just call somebody up out of AAA Gwinett, but the problem is we aren't really flush with major left-handed talent. Our options are Ian Thomas, Brady Feigl, Donny Veal, and Manny Banuelos as the LH's down on the farm.

Here's the issue. Ian Thomas has seen about 16 games in the show last year, and he wasn't all that impressive with a 4.22 ERA, a 1.50 WHIP, and he was responsible for two losses. His K/9 rate (that's strikeouts per nine innings) is really robust, but he also will walk some folks and give up hits. My concern over him is his WHIP, which you can't have as a reliever. Too many baserunners are a deathknell for any reliever, because teams will grind on you late in games.

So while he's an option, I'm not in love with it. Manny Banuelos has been starting games down in Gwinnett, so I'm not sure they would want to bring him up right now as a reliever, especially since the back end of the rotation is suspect. We might need him later on. Feigl has been on the DL until recently, so there's no way he's ready yet. Donnie Veal is an interesting option as he's a journeyman 30 year old reliever by way of the White Sox, but he got rocked in 2014 and hasn't been called up since. I'd be more likely to give him a shot given his experience than Ian, simply because Ian proved he wasn't ready last season, or given many chances in spring.

The truth is that the Braves would love to have other options outside of the organization, because all the lower level options aren't great. My guess is they will be stuck with what they have, since almost nobody trades pitchers this early in the season. I would expect Ian Thomas or Donnie Veal to get the nod. We'll just have to see which one the Braves pick.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Braves win series in Toronto

I honestly didn't expect the Braves to take the series against Toronto, especially since they are one of the most powerful slugging teams in the league. However, when I reflect on what happened in these games, I actually think the Braves could have swept the series if not for some bad luck. Let's take a look at the games.

Julio Teheran was actually terrible in game one, and that's something you almost never see. His fastball was completely off, and as a result several Toronto hitters blasted them into the stratosphere. Julio gave up 5 runs on 4 homers, which is the highest homer total in a single game of his career. But the Braves were not to be deterred by Toronto's offensive onslaught. They chipped away with a full array of singles, doubles, triples, and even some homers of their own to put 8 runs on the board. Nick Markakis had an amazing day as he went 4/4 with 3 runs scored and a walk. They simply couldn't get him out. Braves ended up holding on to an 8-7 win.

The second game is the one I felt the Braves gave away. Alex Wood had a great outing going, and the Braves put 4 early runs on the board. But when the 7th inning rolled around Fredi Gonzalez left Wood in for one batter too many. After giving up a double and a single to make the game 4-1, Wood then gave up a triple and a controversial infield single to make it 4-3. What looked like a close play at first was reviewed by the umps, but the video evidence didn't show enough, so the call of safe was upheld. Even so, the Braves still had the lead going to the 8th, but the bullpen finally let them down. Jim Johnson gave up a huge 2-run homer to Bautista, making it 5-4 Toronto. The game looked over, except Kelly Johnson decided to pull a miracle out of his rear and hit a game-tying homer in the top of the 9th. In extras, Fredi Gonzalez made another tactical error by going to Sugar Ray Marimon, a guy with almost no MLB experience, in a 10th inning tie game. Bear in mind he had could have kept Avilan in the game, but he loves that lefty-righty stuff late. Anyway, Donaldson hit a walk-off homer for the Blue Jays, and the game was over. Fredi later admitted he would consider other options in similar situations. Nice. We could have used that YESTERDAY!

The third game was a Sunday affair in front of a huge crowd in Toronto. Over 44,000 from the attendance reports. And they all got a front row seat to the Braves handing them a butt-whomping. But it was a weird butt-whomping. First, the runs all came in the first 3 innings for the Braves. Second, all the runs came courtesy of really stupid throwing decisions or fielding issues by the Blue Jays. Third, Jonny Gomes had 4 RBIs, which is just crazy since he only had one hit, and it wasn't a grand slam. What happened was the Braves loaded the bases in the first inning, and Gomes hit a rocket over the head of the center fielder to clear the bases. Then, in the third inning after Freddie Freeman walked, Chris Johnson singled to center, Freddie for some weird reason tried to lope his way to third, the throw got away, and Freddie scored while CJ 2.0 moved up to third. A Gomes sacrifice fly brought him in. Give Shelby Miller a 5 run lead early, and he's going to win. And he did, Braves won 5-2.

Three things I liked:

  1. The base running in the third game was fun and crazy. Watching Freddie Freeman go first to third followed by Chris Johnson getting an error assisted triple? That's unlikely to happen again all season. Freddie runs like one of his legs is shorter than the other, and Chris regularly treats his shoes with cement.
  2. The homers! Man there were a ton of homers. The balls just seem to fly out of that stupid ballpark in Toronto. It must be the air or the Canadian exchange rate or something. Either way there were 12 homers combined in the series. That's a bunch even in the AL.
  3. The Double plays! Wow. How many Braves double plays did we turn in this series? SEVEN. There were seven double plays turned by the Braves, and they now lead the major leagues in double plays turned. Not only is that cool fielding, it's also a neat thing to brag about.
MVP of the series is easy. It's Nick Markakis and it's a complete runaway. Like Reagan beating Mondale in 1984 kind of a runaway. Ask your parents, kids. Anyway, Nick was on-base 11/14 times he came to the plate. That's an on-base percentage of .786, which is pretty absurd. Nick is now top 10 in the entire MLB in on-base, out of hundreds of players. Can you even comprehend how different this is from last year when our entire team was a bang-or-bust group of tilting windmills? Well? CAN YOU!?!

The great news is that the Braves carry this winning momentum into a series with the Mets, who inexplicably lead the entire NL with an 10-3 record. If they play their cards right, the Braves will take over that spot after the series is over.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Braves meet the Blue Jays up North

This was my attempt at a Maple Leaf. It's basically a horrible looking cross between a Christmas tree and Weed

The Braves are heading north of the border, eh? Gonna have some poutin and grab a few Molsens while they are oot and and aboot! That's Canadian talk for grabbing beers and fries when you go to the bars. Oh Canada. America's hat.

Anyway, the Braves play Toronto in a 3 game series. Let's check out the matchups:

Game 1: Teheran v. Hutchinson
Game 2: Wood v. Dickey
Game 3: Miller v. Norris

Julio Teheran takes the mound for the third time this season, and he's already sporting a 2-0 record. Julio's got a 1.50 ERA on the season with a 1.25 WHIP, holding opponents to a .238 average with 9 Ks. He's certainly earning the reputation as the team's ace. He's also going to need to be the team's stopper as the Braves are in a two-game skid. Facing him is Drew Hutchinson, a pitcher with two wildly differing starts. In his first game, Drew pitched 6 innings of 3 hit, 1 run baseball. In his second outing, he got knocked around for 7 earned run in 4.1 innings. So, I have no idea which Drew is going to show up. However, I do know that most of these Braves have limited looks at him, except Nick Markakis who has a paltry 5-22 line. We'll need more than that to win in an AL interleague game.

Alex Wood looks to bounce back from his mediocre start against the Mets where he got a no-decision giving up 3 runs in 6.2 innings. Almost nobody on the Blue Jays have ever seen Wood, and those that have don't have any success, to the tune of zero hits in 8 combined ABs. Wood has a really funky motion (I'm being polite there) so I have to believe that guys never seeing him is a big benefit to Alex. On the other side is RA Dickey. That name should be familiar to Braves fans as he used to pitch for the Mets before getting signed by the Blue Jays in 2013. Dickey found something of a Elder Statesman Renaissance of his career with the Mets, but at this point he's a 40 year old pitcher throwing spitters in the AL. That's tough for even young guys. Plenty of the Braves have seen Dickey and guys like Simmons, AJ, Freeman, Markakis, and Kelly Johnson all have over .800 OPS against him. I think this matchup favors the Braves.

The last game is another shot for Shelby Miller to get a win. The Braves are 2-0 in his first two starts, and Shelby currently has a sub-1.00 ERA. He's been everything we wanted and more in the early results. Here's the key for Shelby in this coming game: Don't pitch to Russell Martin. Martin is 5-16 with a double, two homers, 4 RBIs, and 3 walks off Miller lifetime. That's a wrecking ball, and nobody else on the Blue Jays is even close. I'd avoid him at all costs. Daniel Norris is the Jays pitcher, and he's a 21 year old basically rookie with 17 innings of total MLB experience. Notoriously, the Braves have been bad against newbie starters they've never seen. We'll get to see how this season plays out with that situation very early. Will it be better? I have no idea.

CPA Predictions:

The CPA is now 4-2 after going 3-0 on the Marlins series picks. I had hoped it would be wrong, but here we are. If you're betting, the CPA is also +1.8 units on the picks so far. Let's see if it keeps that up!

Game 1 - Toronto by 2
Game 2 - Braves by 1
Game 3 - Toronto by 1

CPA thinks the Braves will drop another series. But it's not as confident about the last game. Maybe we'll see the Braves steal a couple on the road with the DH in effect.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Marlins take final two games of series over Braves

The Braves are now sporting a 6-3 record after a bad home series against the Marlins. Some fans are already in panic, and some analysts are smirking about how the Braves are returning to their expectations. If you're one of those people, please take a moment and cram that stuff up your rear. Rooting against your team because you predicted them to fail, or panicking while both A - your team is above .500, and B - we're not even to Memorial Day is asinine. So calm down.

The truth is that our 4-5 part of the rotation is not great. It likely will get better, or the Braves will make some changes. But they certainly won't make changes with guys that have less than five starts under their belt in the season. You have to allow Roger McDowell time to make his alterations and work with the new starters.

Game 1 was a rain soaked affair that I actually attended. Sort of. I did show up to the game and the immediate 30 minute rain delay. Then I stayed for three innings and the next rain delay. At that point it was past 9PM with 6 innings left and at least a 45 minute delay to go. I left because I have a job. The Braves won anyway thanks to a solid 5 innings of 1 run ball by Shelby Miller, and a 5th inning flurry of offense led by Callaspo and Markakis. Braves took the game 3-2 even though Jason Grilli had some trouble in the ninth nailing down the save after allowing this first earned run of the season.

Game 2 was Trevor Cahill's first outing of the year. It went...poorly. If you can imagine a game of coach pitch, but the dad is slightly drunk and looks like he's about ten years out of his prime? That's pretty close to what happened. It was 4-0 and Cahill had given up 9 baserunners before the third inning was even over, plus he walked in a run. Fredi Gonzalez had to yank him in favor of Sugar Ray Marimon, whom I previewed in my previous Who the Heck Is That Atlanta Braves post. Sugar Ray had a good outing, and went 4 innings giving up only 2 runs. Better than Cahill at least, and Marimon is an MLB rookie. Either way, it just got worse from there on the way to an 8-2 Braves loss.

Game 3 was a day game where Eric Stults got his second start of the year. Considering the lifetime averages of the Marlins against Stults, I was expecting a disaster. I got a mild earthquake. Stults gave up 4 runs in 5 innings, so he was slightly better than Cahill in that he took longer to achieve a crappy result. The Marlins then touched up the bullpen for two more runs, but the game was long decided. The problem with small ball offense is that when you spot a team four runs, you're basically boned. Oh but the Cameron Maybin and Kelly Johnson both randomly hit solo homers in the game, so if you had them in FanDuel you're happy. The rest of us were just mad the Braves lost 6-2.

Here are the three things I liked about the series:

  1. Shelby Miller looks good still. He's a key starter in our rotation along with Teheran and Wood, and we'll need all three of those guys to carry the team while we work out the 4-5 slots.
  2. The Braves rallied in game one even though they were suffering through rain delays. They always kept it close and that's key with a team that will likely get 2-4 runs of offense on average per game.
  3. Sugar Ray Marimon looked good in his first outing as an MLB player. He came into the game with the bases loaded and one out. Then he escaped with no more damage by striking out the next batter and getting a grounder from the second. 
MVP goes to Sugar Ray Marimon for not only his pitching performance by escaping the bases loaded jam in his first ever major league inning. No, no. He also came up in the bottom half of the inning and got his first ever hit. I'm not sure how often a pitcher has ever gotten his first strikeout and his first hit in the same inning, but I bet it's a pretty rare club.

Maybe next time Sugar Ray will be in a game with a chance to win.