Thursday, December 6, 2012

Winter Meetings: BJ Upton Analysis

Hello again readers! I'm back for an update since we're past the regular season of football, and the Braves have started making some moves. We all knew that with Bourn looking for a huge payday, the Braves were hunting outfielders to round out the lineup. Prado likely moves down to 3rd, Heyward stays in right, and Simmons comes back to play SS with the right side of Uggla and Freeman intact. That meant we needed a CF and LF to figure out the starters. We got that CF with the signing of BJ Upton for $15M a year over 5 years.

Many of my friends have asked me what I think of the deal. Personally, the price tag seems high, but I think that you always pay a 15-20% premium on the free agent market when you try to attract a guy from another team. I believe that BJ Upton is probably a $12.5M a year type of player, but his speed and power make him a possibly 30/30 guy in 2013. Couple that with Heyward and Simmons speed on the bases, and you have at least 3 guys that can put pressure on an infield every time they touch the bags.

But lets look deeper into the numbers behind Upton's signing. After all, that's what I do. Here's the positives. BJ doesn't take a lot of days off, and he hasn't been hurt much in his career. Over the last 5 seasons, he's only missed 68 games of a possible 810. That means BJ has been playing 92% of the time for the last 5 years. In 2760 ABs in those 5 years, he's sporting a .248 batting average, an OBP of .325, and 89 HRs with 195 stolen bases. Over a regular season, you should be able to pencil in at least 20 homers and 30 stolen bases, including 70+ RBIs, minimum. To compare, that's pretty similar to Jason Heyward numbers from last year. Adding another OF with some pop would give our total outfield lineup a very scary speed/power ratio.

Now the downside. Also like Heyward, Upton is prone to strikeouts. Lots of them. In fact he's had over 160 Ks in the last 3 years at Tampa. That's on par with Dan Uggla numbers for strikeouts from last year. Everyone immediately says, "Uh oh" in their heads. Granted, that's my biggest concern about Upton making the transition to the NL. However, the major difference is that when Upton's making contact, it's going somewhere. When Upton puts the ball in play, he's hitting around .300 over the last 3 years. Compare that to Dan's .267 over the last two years in Atlanta. That's why I think of Upton having more in common with Heyward, who has a .309 average on balls in play over his 3 seasons.

In other news from our moves so far, the Braves lost David Ross to the Red Sox, and Hinske went to the Diamondbacks in a 1 year deal as of two days ago. That means two of our biggest club house leaders are now gone, in addition to the cavernous void that Chipper Jones leaves in the lockerroom. Will we have leaders next year that can step up and take control of this team? Some have pointed to Tim Hudson and Brian McCann, both of whom are in the last year of their deals. I find it hard to believe that soft-spoken Brian McCann could be the fiery leader we'd need, nor can a guy who pitches only once every 5 days give you the boost on a daily basis. That's not even bringing up the fact that Brian may not even be ready by opening day with his shoulder issues.

No, I think the answer of leadership needs to come from 3 places, and they aren't guys who you'd think of because they are so young. Jason Heyward is going to become the face of the franchise with the departure of Chipper, due to his play and draw in the city of Atlanta. Freddie Freeman will also draw attention with his bat and his glove, and Martin Prado will be the constant force at any position, especially taking the reigns from Chipper. Those are the 3 guys, all guys we expect to be around the franchise for a while, who I believe have to step up to fill the leadership void. Their voices and work ethic will set the bar for this team. They will be the Braves you see in interviews and in the national media. They are also going to have to overcome challenges. Prado has a very thick accent and can sometimes struggle with his English in the public forums. Freddie and Jason are both very young and will have to be ready to motivate some of the older vets. But it can be done. And it must be done for us to win.

All in all, we've made one of the two big moves we need to make in order to beat the Nationals next season. Make no mistake, we can never settle for the wild card again in this format. I think we all saw why. It's division or bust in my mind, from this point forward. There's a reason none of those wild card play-in teams were in the World Series this year. It messes with your rotation, grinds out your players, and forces you to play on the road constantly to win series. Let's just forgo all that and win the NL East next year. Sound like a plan?

Go Braves!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Braves 2012: The Post-Mortem

Well, it's all over. It ended the way the season went for the most part, with the Braves unable to hit with RISP. If there's one failing of the season, that would be it. I won't go into the infield fly thing, because let's face it, that was a horrible call. I still don't believe that alone cost us the game. It was our errors, and our lack of production at the plate. Taken at face value, we hung ourselves on the infield grass.

What I have to do is look at this season in total, and see how we fared. To be honest, we actually over-achieved in many ways. We overcame numerous back-breaking injuries to a pitching staff that turned out to be one of the best in the league. We suffered a complete overhaul of our starting rotation and came out smelling like a rose on the other end. We consistently maintained the best bullpen in the national league if not the majors as a whole. We also got to say goodbye to one of the best switch-hitters that's every played the game, and a first ballot hall of famer. We beat back the demons of a September collapse and made it back to the post-season. Nobody will be happy with the one game outcome, but I can say with simple honesty that I really enjoyed this season, and I refuse to let the last game color my memories of a team that won 94 games.

There's a lot to like about this season. The story of Brandon Beachy before his injury, and his rise to becoming one of the more dominant starters in the league. There's a chance we may get him back in July next season after the all-star break if things go well. We know we'll have Kris Medlen back, and he'll be itching to get things started again as a regular part of the rotation. We'll still have the best closer in the business in Craig Kimbrel. We'll still have an improving lefty in Mike Minor, a guy who has really battled since I questioned his ability back at the beginning of the season. He's probably the biggest turnaround story of the year for this team. You have to love the turnaround also in Jason Heyward, who went from complete disaster at the plate into a solid .270 hitter with 27 bombs. Also, you can't ignore the fact the Martin Prado is the best hitter we have on the team. A .300 average on the season, 42 doubles, 10 homers, 81 runs scored, and 17 stolen bags. He's a top of the order nightmare for opposing teams. We're going to need him as a leader in the clubhouse now that Chipper's gone. Also, the young guns Simmons and Freeman can both swing the bat and be solid in the infield.

There's also a lot to lament about this season. Jurrjens turned out to be a complete trainwreck. Hanson shouldn't be allowed to pitch on this team anymore since he can't get more than five and third. Uggla was terrible for 90% of the season. McCann is proving that he's not the catcher of the future for this team since he can't consistently hit or throw runners out. The Pastornicky thing simply didn't work. He's not as good in the field as Simmons, nor can he hit anywhere near as well. Bourne completely fell apart late. His .300+ average pre-All Star break crashed and burned into a .274 mark by the time the season was over. Randall Delgado is not the answer for this pitching staff, and may never be ready for primetime. And to top it all off, the Braves were tied for dead last with RISP on the season...with the Cubs. Anytime I say you're tied with the Cubs for any stat, you should be shaking your head.

After all we've been through, I'm actually very optimistic about next season, even without Chipper in the lineup. A lot of what the Braves will look like in 2013 will be decided in the offseason, but we do have a solid core of players in Simmons, Freeman, Prado, and Heyward. Uggla will still be there because he's under contract, and we just have to deal with it. I hope they resign Bourn and Reed Johnson to compliment our outfield, but we'll see what Wren has up his sleeve. When you look at the season we put together, we won more games than we've won since 2004. That's a HUGE improvement over the Braves teams we've had in the past. Yeah, the wheels came off in one game at the end. So what? I have every reason to believe that next season, with some better hitting pieces and this pitching staff, that we can win this division. 96-98 wins is not out of the realm of possibility at all.

So hold your heads up Braves fans. We're all hurting right now, and we have a long offseason to lick our wounds. But you know what? There's a lot of young talent and great stories waiting for this team. Chipper retires the last of the old guard we know from the 1990s teams. Now, this new team takes form, with new leaders, and new talent. They get to write the next version of great Braves history. I'm excited to see what the future holds for them in 2013. Until then...

Go Braves!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The One Game Playoff: Cardinals v. Braves

162 games all comes down to this. Thanks Bud Selig. Every Atlanta fan is optimistically nervous with Medlen taking the mound, all because we have the same fear. Can we hit for him? Nobody can answer that question, but we can dig into the who and the how of the game to maybe start feeling a little better about this matchup. As we all know, we have a unique opportunity to exact total revenge against a Cardinals squad that ruined our lives last season. We can be the team that takes them out to the woodshed and fires the final bullet. In many ways, I want this game because I want that opportunity to crush them. In other ways, the old Atlanta playoff worries rear their ugly head. Still, there's nobody you'd rather have by your side in this game than the Bulldog, Kris Medlen.

Kris Medlen is 10-1 on the season, 23 team wins in a row when he starts, and sporting a 1.57 ERA including his bullpen appearances. Medlen has 120 Ks in 138 innings, with only 23 walks. He's a strike throwing machine, and he can punch people out in clutch situations. That's exactly what you need in the playoffs, because any time a ball goes into play, bad things can happen. Medlen only pitched against St. Louis once this season in relief. The game was an 8-2 rout, and Medlen gave up 2 runs in 2.2 innings. However, that was in May. In September, Medlen's ERA was 1.26 with only 26 hits in 6 games. He'll give up 3-5 hits per outing, and go 6-8 innings pitched. Because of his youth, he's never been in the playoffs, but he's been put in tough situations where the Braves demanded a win, and got it. The Cardinals have a .242 average against Medlen in limited ABs, and none of them have hit a homer off him. When opponents have only been hitting .190 against him as a starter, you have to feel good about your chances.

Kyle Lohse is an 11 year vet with a career 4.45 ERA. Still, this season he's pitched dramatically better holding a 16-3 record and a 2.86 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP. In 211 innings, he's struck out 143 with only 38 walks. HOWEVER, he's not the same guy on the road that he is at home. In his 17 road games he's posted a 3.41 ERA with an opponent average of .251 and 11 homers. Also, whereas Medlen has been getting better late in the year, Lohse is getting worse. In September he's sporting a 3.89 ERA, a 2-1 record in 6 games, and 20 runs scored. In fact, the Cards are only 3-3 in his starts in September. That's a far cry from his August where he dominated with a 3-0 record and a 1.42 ERA. Lohse started against Atlanta once back in May, and got his clock cleaned. In 5 innings, he gave up 9 hits, 5 runs, 2 homers, and only struck out 3 batters. The Cards lost that game 10-7. The key was the Braves jumping all over Lohse early with 5 runs in the first three innings. Freeman was a big reason for that. Freeman went 2/3 with a bomb and 2 RBIs the only game he faced Kyle. Chipper has a .462 average against him with 5 RBIs. Prado his .429 against him, Uggla hits .333 against him, and Rossy went 1/2 when he faced him. Only one guy on the team doesn't his Lohse consistently well, Michael Bourn with a .229 OBP. That could be huge, or the other guys could rake. I like the fact that the majority of our lineup likes facing this guy.

In a one gamer, you never know what will happen. I do know one thing though. The Braves have to score in the first 3 innings. I think we all know what it's like to watch this team if they get skunked in the first three, and the heads start to drop. We can't have that old familiar friend, doubt, set into this lineup. Can we hit? Will we hit? We can't ask those questions. How much are we going to beat them by? When is Lohse going to get knocked out of the game? What kind of champagne does Medlen like? These are the questions we have to ask. I believe. I think we're ready. I know Medlen is ready.

Go Braves!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Marlins @ Braves: Games 2 & 3

We broomed the Marlins. No shocker there. We're also 4 back of the Nats with 6 to play. It's not mathematical, but we're done in the division race. We had our shot when we won the last two, but the Nats kept pace. Now it's just a matter of ticking days off the calendar until we face a 1 gamer against the Cards in October.

Tonight Chipper gets his due. His closing ceremony if you will. We all get to have one big teary celebration of Larry Wayne Jones Jr. And I will be there front and center, enjoying the show. Is there even a game? Doesn't matter. All that matters is that Chipper will be there and we will cheer for the greatness of #10, just like we did for Bobby last year. It's the very last piece of the old Braves we knew and loved from the 1990s, giving way to the young Braves who helped make the playoffs this year. It'll also be nice to put those demons from last year's collapse to rest in the stadium.

As for the games, we won, and they weren't really relevant. We're hitting, and our pitching is ridiculously dominant heading to the playoffs. That's the key factor. As such I likely won't be covering the rest of the season games left, because as soon as we get closed out by the Nats on the division, we're going to rest everyone. It's been a great regular season, and a great run for the Braves. I want to thank everyone for reading and enjoying things so far, and hopefully I have plenty more recaps left when the playoffs begin. Expect a full preview of the 1 gamer, with some extensive statistical guessing on my part. Expect a full recap of every game we get to play in the postseason. Expect greatness from the Braves. Expect a great close to a great season!

Go Braves!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Marlins @ Braves: Game 1 - Braves clinch a playoff berth

We're in the playoffs. I'm excited and not excited. My emotional conflict stems from the fact we might be semi-celebrating a one game one-and-done, or a shot at the real playoff series. So, I'm happy we are now assuredly in, but I'm still on the fence about this whole new playoff thing. That being said, it's a far cry from walking out of the stadium last year on the last game of the September collapse, and wanting to crawl into my bed to sleep until Christmas so I could remember what happy felt like.

Medlen wasn't great. He was good, but not dominant. In fact, he probably didn't deserve to win this game because he had trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark when he made mistakes. He went 7 innings with 3 runs on 2 homers and 5 hits. He struck out 8 and walked nobody. Overall, that's not a bad day for a starter, but we've come to expect so much from Kris Medlen you scratch your head when he actually gives up a late long ball. With Atlanta up 2-1 in the 7th, Solano hit a no doubter 417 feet to center, giving the Marlins the lead. Heading into the ninth, it looked like the Braves were finally going to snap the winning streak when Medlen took the mound.

BUT NO! Chipper Jones had other ideas. On a 2-1 count, Chipper drove a ball to deep right center that rattled around for a double. He advanced on a wild pitch to third with nobody out. At this point, Braves fans are just willing Freddie Freeman to hit a fly ball that will tie the game. He did so much more than that. As Freeman dug into the box with a 1-1 count, you could sense he was swinging for the fences. The pitch he got went sailing off his bat to center, bringing the entire crowd to it's feet. Could it be? Is it enough? IT'S GONE!!! BRAVES WIN IN A WALKOFF! Madness ensues. Players rush the field. Freddie gets mobbed. Champagne gets popped. Fans get sprayed with bubbly. The Braves clench a playoff berth and Freddie Freeman gets the MVP of the game.

Let's be completely honest. The Braves hitting wasn't great, but it was timely. At a 2-5 RISP mark, you can say we capitialized on our opportunities with 4 runs on 6 hits. On a day when the Braves wanted a victory to secure some chance at keeping our division hopes alive, we got it. Make no mistake, you drop that game, and our shot at the Nationals is completely dead. Now, only 4 games back, and the Nats facing a Phillies team with some of the best pitchers in the league? Who knows? Odder things have happened, but man oh man would I love to steal this division in the final weeks, and force the Nats to play in that one-gamer. Shock and awe, baby! The only way to do it is to keep winning. So let's go out there and continue our dominance of the Marlins with Maholm on the hill tonight.

Go Braves!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Braves @ Phillies: Weekend Series Recap

The Braves magic number for the playoffs is down to 2. Why? Because we took two out of the three games we needed to win the series against the Phillies this weekend. Hell, we probably could have swept them if it wasn't for Tommy "Sad Trombone" Hanson out there pitching. Do we have to keep putting him out there? If I wanted to watch a pitcher lose a game in 5 and 2/3 innings, I'd be an Astros fan. Actually, that's not entirely fair. Astros pitchers are gone by the 4th inning.

Game 1, Hanson takes the rubber, so you know I'm already barely paying attention. In fact I've probably already looked to see if we've got the giveup lineup in the game. Shockingly, no. We ran the full force out there including Chipper. Hanson decides to only go 5 and 1/3 innings (totally phoned it in) and gave up 5 runs on 3 homers. Did I mention he sucks? When's the last time he qualified for a win? Oh yeah, July 30th. For those of you lacking a calendar, that was about about 2 months ago. Since then he's given up 25 runs in 7 starts. Amazingly we won two of those games by simply outhitting people. Not this one, however. Braves went 1-7 with RISP, even though Prado and Uggla both had 2 hits a piece. Constanza gets the lone honor of being the guy who got a single with somebody on third. The rest of the lineup didn't show up. Sad Trombone plays a soulful tune as we lose the opener game 2-6.

In game 2, the offense exploded in the first two innings for 7 runs. Minor just had to keep the ball in the park to win this game, which he did with moderate success, save one Ryan Howard launch that hasn't landed yet. The key to the game was the Braves just slapping Halladay around early, and at the top of the lineup. Bourn, Prado, Heyward, and Chipper all had a multi-hit game. Freeman hit a 3 run jack in the first, Heyward hit a bases clearing double in the second, and Chipper knocked Heyward in with a double of his own. Add it all up, and you have 7 runs for the Braves and a quick exit for the Doc. Jason Heyward rose above the rest in the 8-2 victory with his 2 hit, 4 RBI, 2-3 with RISP day. The man was half the Braves offense, and for that he gets the MVP nod.

Game 3 was the definition of a pitcher's duel, and when it's a duel, there's only two guys for the Braves you want on the mound: Medlen or Hudson. In this game it was the latter. Huddy gets the MVP in the Braves 2-1 win by holding the Phillies to just 2 hits in 7.1 innings. TWO HITS. The one run didn't even come on a hit, as the Phillies had to sacfly their way out of a shutout. Huddy was masterful, and the Braves lineup was just good enough. And by good enough I mean they got 2 runs across even when they went 0-8 with RISP. Luckily for us, in September it doesn't matter how you win. There are no style points in a playoff race. Johnson, Prado, and Freeman all had 2 hits, and David Ross launched a ball 412 feet to give the Braves the early lead in the 2nd. With EOF and Kimbrel on the job in relief, the Braves managed to hold the Phillies to just 2 hits and a walk with 5 Ks. Truly a remarkable effort by the Braves hurlers and Huddy in the lead.

The Braves enjoy a day off today as we wait for the mediocre Marlins to arrive in Atlanta. A series win against the Fish would mean a Braves clinch in the playoff standings. We're 4.5 back of the Nats, so the division might be out of reach at this point, but weirder things have happened. I'll settle for a one-gamer with Medlen on the mound if it comes to that. Until then, just win baby!

Go Braves!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Braves @ Marlins Game 3

What does Melden do? HE WINS! You can feel a different vibe on the team when he takes the mound. They play incredible defense, manufacture runs, and make the small plays you need to take every game. As with any shutout win, especially one that's within 3 runs, you need dominant pitching. Medlen provided that and more. Meanwhile, the Braves lineup got several hits, but only went 1-4 with RISP. They stranded 6, but they got across 3 runs. Still, one hit is better than the 0-8 the Marlins had with RISP. Heyward hit a sacfly in the first to score Bourn after he doubled. Constanza hit a single with two outs in the second that scored Uggla. Freeman hit a sacrifice in the 3rd that scored Prado, after he walked to get on base. That was it. That was the scoring in the game. For the other 6 innings, it was all pitching, all the time.

Who gets the MVP. Tough call. Could it be the pitcher who just had his 21st team win in consecutive starts, tying Whitey Ford? Yes, that's Kris Medlen. I doubt I can throw any more bouquets at the kid than I already have, but I'll try. Medlen went 8 innings last night, and could have easily gone 9, without giving up a run. He stranded 5 runners during that stretch. He only gave up 4 hits and a walk compared to 6 Ks. His ERA on the season is now 1.51, and that is #1 in the MLB amongst pitchers with 120+ innings. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) rating is 4.2, 12th in the Majors for pitchers. He's in the same realm as guys like Gio Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez, RA Dickey, Cole Hamels, and Kyle Lohse. You're talking about the elite talent of the major league pitching ranks, and our little Meds is out there bulldogging it better than anyone.

Defensively, the Braves did a great job of keeping the Marlins in check. Even when Medlen struggled by throwing a pickoff ball past Freeman in the 5th, he got a pop up to center that Uggla quickly fired back in to hold the runner at third, then Medlen got the next batter to ground to Marteeeen who made a quick toss to get him at first. Great plays all around to hold the 3 run lead. Meanwhile, Chipper got a standing ovation from the hundreds of Marlins fans that showed up, and the Marlins organization gave him a nice gift of some fishing gear. I'm not sure where Chipper will fish on his ranch in Texas, but I'm sure there's water somewhere nearby, possibly up in Lake Travis.

Braves get a little rest today as they fly out to face the Phillies for the conclusion of this road trip. The Braves are now 5 games back of the Nats, who dropped 1 of their 2 games of the double header with the Dodgers yesterday. With only 12 games left, the Braves essentially have to sweep the Phillies, and hope the Nats drop 4 of their next 5 to the Dodgers and Brewers. At home. Yeeeeeah, unlikely. However, we can hope. If that doesn't happen, and we look to have things wrapped up with a week to go, expect us to start resting people and adjusting lineups for the dreaded ONE...GAME...PLAYOFF! Until then, just win baby!

Go Braves!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Braves @ Marlins: Game 2

Well that was a comeback great effort that didn't pay off. The Braves did absolutely nothing for 8 innings, tried to salvage the game in the 9th, tied the thing up, and then let it go in the 10th. We could focus on the last part of the game where we tied it up and then lost, or we can focus on the majority of the game where we didn't really do anything for Maholm at the plate. To be honest, Maholm was yet another victim of the Braves lack of production. The frustrating part was that we couldn't get hits against a guy who already had 12 losses on the season and a huge ERA. I guess it could have been worse. You could have been the Mariners who played 18 innings and lost.

The Good - Jason Heyward and Brian McCann had 2 hits each. One of BMac's two came in the 9th inning to tie up the game when he doubled off the left center field wall. Heyward came around to score earlier in that inning on the Dan Uggla flare single. Chipper had a run, a hit, and 2 walks in the game to help out the cause. As for production, those guys really showed up. Also Maholm went 6.2 innings with only 2 runs on 4 hits. You really have to hope as a pitcher that would get the job done.

The Bad - Unfortunately the starting pitching didn't get it done because the Braves struggled yet again, going 2-8 with RISP, both of those coming in the 9th. That means for 8 solid innings, they had no clutch hits. Freddie Freeman grounded into a bad double play in the game to kill a possible leadoff rally in the 2nd. He was on his way to a 0-4 collar with an 0-2 with RISP. He just couldn't get it done, even though he was putting the ball in play.

The Ugly - The top of the lineup went 0-9 in Bourn and Prado with 2 Ks. Prado managed to walk once, but it didn't help the Braves cause. Bourn is mired in a huge slump right now, and it's killing the Braves offense. He also went 0-2 with RISP, and didn't touch a base in his 5 ABs. That's unacceptable in a leadoff guy. You have to have the Bourn of April and May show up instead of this Bourn we're seeing in September. I'm not sure if he's tired, but the numbers are remarkably different. Bourn's OBP in September is .304, and that's down over 96 points since his .400 mark in April. It's been a steady slide too, along with his average. My guess is that he's running out of gas and needs some days off down the stretch to get some of his energy back. After all, he's played in 148 of the Braves 149 games with over 600 ABs. That leads the team by more than 25.

Tonight, Medlen takes the hill, and as we all know from experience MEDLEN ALWAYS WINS! Let's go get another W!

Go Braves!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Braves @ Marlins

The Marlins are terrible. I mean really really bad. For a team that had all the pre-season hype and money-spending-new-stadium-look-at-us thing going on, that place is now a lime green funeral home. Send in the clowns to take the field in that park. We faced off against a pitcher in Leblanc who gave up 6 runs in 4 innings. The amazing thing was that Hudson melted down in the 4th and let the terrible Marlins back into the game. Luckily, we shut the door on them and put another run on the board to finish off the game. Seven runs and 11 hits for the Braves did and should win any game we play. That's the best thing I take away from yesterday's matchup.

MVP of the game was Martin Prado with a 4-4 night, 2 RBIs, and a run scored. Dan Uggla gets another honorable mention for his 2-4 night with 3 RBIs. Together, those two guys propelled the Braves to the win. Dan's homer in the first was especially awesome as it came with 2 outs, and it looked like the Marlins might wriggle off the hook. In the words of Lee Corso: NOT SO FAST! Another mention goes to the wily vet Jeff Baker, who was playing LF in a rare start, and the kid went 1-2 with an RBI. That's a good job by a journeyman guy that you may be seeing more of in the near future since he murders LH pitching. I'd expect he gets a few PH spots later in games if they have lefty relievers come in to face our lineup.

Braves went for a robust 4-8 with RISP. Now, granted that's against the Marlins, but I'll take it every day of the week if we can get it. Also, we need to discuss why I'm worried about Hudson. He's getting caught in bad innings too often in his last 5 outings. Tim's ERA has risen to 3.77, and most of that is due to his recent performances. In his last 5, he's had 2 good and 3 bad starts, totalling 14 runs across 31 innings. That's an ERA over 4 in those starts. And yet, we're still having to question whether or not Fredi would start him in a one game playoff. I hope that's not a serious debate behind closed doors.

Tonight Maholm faces off against some clown from the Marlins with a 4-12 record and a 4.71 ERA. Let's not waste any time and jump all over these guys early. We can turn 4 in a row to 5 in a row by knocking him out of the game in the 3rd.

Go Braves!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Nationals @ Braves: Weekend Series Recap

Is that the brooms? After a Nationals series? You bet! The Braves managed to pull off a weekend set of stunners against a Nationals team that looked very confused at the plate. The Braves doubled the Nats run totals in the series, and the pitching was all we could ask for and more. Was it perfect at the plate for the Braves? Absolutely not, but when the chips were down we still found ways to win. When you're in a playoff race, that's what counts, especially at home.

Game 1 was the toughest of the bunch, but we had our toughest pitcher on the mound. Kris Medlen and the Braves = wins, period. He's risen to the point of uncanny with his peformances on the hill. Medlen goes 7 innings giving up 1 run on a career high 13 strikeouts. He had the Nats completely off balance for the majority of the game. Meanwhile, the Braves lineup was equally as confounded by Ross Detwiler. It wasn't until the bottom of the 9th, with unlikely hero Tyler Pastornicky at the plate, that the Braves finally pushed across on the winning run on a throwing error by the Nats. Good thing too, because Fredi G completely gambled and tossed Kimbrel in a tie game at the top of the 9th to set up the winner. The K Crab gets the win, the Nats get the loss, and Medlen gets the MVP for his stellar work yet again. All on an 0-7 with RISP performance by the Braves lineup. Medlen's now sporting a 1.62 ERA on the season, and has removed all doubts from most fans' minds that he's the go-to guy in the 1 game playoff.

Game 2 had Hanson on the mound (aka - The Sad Trombone). Why? Because that's the sound I play in my head when he walks out to the hill. True to form, he immediately gave up 4 runs in the first two innings. He only went 5 innings on 85 pitches. He's completely out of any playoff rotation in my mind, unless something horrible happens. Frankly, I'm sick of him. He's a Boras client, and he fought the 1 year renewal of his contract in 2011. He's arbiration eligible in 2013. I wouldn't pay him dollar one, the way he's pitching this year. He's well over a 4 ERA, his WHIP is 1.45 (insanely high), and he won't even get close to 200 innings with over 30 starts in the regular season. Both Minor and Hudson have pitched more innings, and Huddy missed the first month of the season. Yet, despite Tommy, the Braves bats woke up in time to win this game. How? Freddie Freeman. Special Fred went 3-4, 2 runs, and a bomb that went 423 feet. He got the MVP nod for his amazing work at the plate. Also, Jason Heyward had a homer with 2 RBIs, and Dan Uggla had a double with an RBI. The game turned on the weirdest of plays, when Simmons was plunked with the bases loaded in the 8th. Lucky, because the Braves were only 1-8 with RISP.

Game 3 was a win I didn't expect at all. Minor hadn't been getting much run support, Gio Gonzalez was going for the Nats, and I felt that our bad performance with RISP in the first two games would bite us in the third. WRONG! Braves score 5 runs in a 5-1 win, and they do it with 2-9 RISP on no homers. How is that possible? Bad errors and sacrifice plays is how. Braves got 2 of their 5 runs on sacrifices, and only 3 total runs were earned. Dan Uggla gets the MVP for his clutch 2 out 2 RBI hit in the 7th that iced the game. He's been getting better. I can't and won't say he's back, but I'm certainly more optimistic. The numbers certainly bear that out. Dan in his last ten games is batting .314 with 4 doubles, a homer, 4 RBIs, 7 walks, and most importantly only 4 strikeouts. Holy smokes. That's 10x better than the Uggla we saw as a turnstile in August. Maybe there's hope for him in a playoff run. I'm withholding judgement until the end of September, but he gets a thumbs up.

Braves head today into a 3 gamer in Miami. Huddy is going against a 2-4 pitcher in Leblanc. Assuming we can get through Huddy's shakey first two innings, I think we'll be okay. However...Mondays. Quick stat: Braves are 7-4 when starting a new road trip. Even more obscure, the Braves are 5-1 this season when starting a road trip after a home win. Even though it's a Monday, I feel pretty good about the matchup. Let's keep the streak rolling all the way to the playoffs!

Go Braves!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Braves @ Brewers: Game 3

This is ridiculous. We've been clubbed to death in one inning every single game in this Brewers series. In the first two, it was the seventh. In this game it was the fifth. EIGHT RUNS were scored by the Brewers in that one inning. We were up 2-0 until then. We were cruising along. Then WHAM! Big loss 8-2. So much for salvaging a game from this one. It didn't happen, and it's all Chipper's fault. Normally, I don't bang on the guy, but he had a horrible inning and it cost us huge. Bianchi got on first in the leadoff spot due to an error by Chipper, after a sacrifice, Aoki got on with an infield hit to third. There's where the inning should be over. You have three balls that never left the infield, two of which get hit to Chipper. But NO! Instead, Weeks homers and scores 3 to take the lead. Then Braun singles, Ramirez reaches on another infield single to the third. At that point, the hit parade was on. Lucroy singles, Schafer walks, Ishikawa doubles, and the freaking pitcher Gallardo doubles to add a little extra icing to the big crapcake that was the fifth.

Am I mad? Damn right I'm mad. We finally managed to put two runs on the board, something we haven't done all series, and we pissed it away with bad errors and terrible pitching. Lost in all of this was the fact we only had 5 hits, none of which came with RISP. Let's look at the big board! How many hits with RISP did we have in this series? Survey says...ONE! That's right. In the entire series we got one hit with a runner on second, and you know what's hilarious? It didn't score a run. Face it, we're pathetic right now, and it's not because of the front office, the manager, the ownership, or anything fans like to blame. It's specifically because our lineup players are weak mentally. They are soft. This isn't just one series or even one year where this is happening. We're witnessing the same exact situation occur over and over again in big moments. We're being mostly carried by our pitching staff who keeps bailing them out time and again until this series. What's ridiculous that we're still 7 games up in the Wild Card because the Dodgers, Cards, and Pirates have all lost a combined 12 in a row. I remember the last time we limped into the playoffs. It was against the Giants, and it didn't end well.

Here's the shame report from last game. Bourn, even though he's my favorite player, is now on my list. He went 0-4 against with 2 Ks. He was 0-12 on the series. He's now batting .190 over the last 10 games. That's ridiculous for a leadoff guy, and the key reason we're in such a slump at the plate. Prado went 0-4 with 2 Ks. Uggla went 0-3 with a walk and a K. Janish with 0-2 with a walk. On the good side, Freeman went 2-4, and Jason Heyward hit a bomb in the first.

Mercifully we have a day off to reflect on what the hell went wrong. Oh and then the Nats come to town. <Sarcastic cheer>. Obviously that's exactly the team we don't want to see when we're struggling at the plate. Yet, we have to face them again one way or another, and we can't afford to have a slide at home. That means we'll have to pack the Ted this weekend with fans ready to let the Nats know where they can stick their "Natitude."

Go Braves!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Braves @ Brewers: Game 2

The Braves are unwatchable in this series. There, I said it. We strung a game along until the 7th inning again, and then it blew up in our faces. I said going into this match with the Brewers that we'd need to score some runs, because the Brewers average about 5 a game. We've scored 1. They've scored 9. And now we're 0-2 in the series just trying to salvage a win after a shutout yesterday.

Hudson couldn't get out of the first again without giving up a run. It seems to be an issue with him in the second half of the season, and it's my main concern with him as a starter in a possible one-game playoff. After he collected himself, he went 5 shutout innings until the 7th, when the game went to pieces. It didn't really matter though, because we couldn't get one guy to cross the plate. We only had 5 hits for the entire game, two of which came from Andrelton Simmons. Yeah, the guy who's been on the freaking DL for over a month with a busted hand was the guy who can hit on this team. Unreal.

Here's your shame report for the game last night. Bourn went 0-4 with 2 Ks. Heyward went 0-4 with 1 K. BMac went 0-4 with 1 K. Overbay went 0-3 with 2 Ks. Uggla, Chipper, and Prado all had singles. We had no doubles, we had no triples, and we had no homers obviously. We only had one walk. We went 0-2 with RISP because hardly anybody could even touch second base. This is probably where we should just "tip our cap" right? That's what we're used to doing when we face off against a tough pitcher. Oh wait. We were facing Marco Estrada, a 2-6 starter going into this game with a career 4.44 ERA. He's not even a lefty. I REFUSE TO TIP MY HAT TO THAT!

Let's dig a little deeper. Why did we flail so much at the plate? Well in my humble opinion, Michael Bourn never touching a bag drives this offense into the ground. He's the best at working at bats on the team, but last night he ran into some bad luck. In his first AB he went 3-2 and grounded out after fouling off 2 pitches in a row. 2nd AB he struck out on 4 pitches trying to get aggressive with Simmons on second. Third AB was his worst as he took one ball and grounded out. This wasn't uncommon across the lineup. From the second inning where Chipper Jones walked to lead it off, you thought we had a chance. Then BMac struck out on 3 pitches, Dan flied out on two pitches, and Overbay struck out on 4 pitches. It was like as soon as someone touched a base we went into full on panic mode and just started hacking at crap.

So, we move on with our lives to game 3 in the hopes we can pull one out of the fire. Frankly, with Maholm on the mound v their Ace Gallardo, I'm worried. The Brewers have now won 8 in a row with Gallardo out on the hill, and they'll be going for 9 tonight. They are red hot and we are ice cold. Hopefully we can mix it up a little to lukewarm tonight. I think this quote from Fredi says it all: "We're not feeling too good right now with the way we're swinging the bats," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We swung the bats hard, but couldn't get it off the wall or in front of the wall to get some runs." We need Maholm to have the game of the month tonight.

Go Braves!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Braves @ Brewers: Game 1 Recap

Ugh. So the bullpen finally let us down. I was bound to happen, but it's never easy to watch the team implode in a late inning. That inning just happened to be the 7th when everything seemed to go wrong. It all started with Jonny Venters making an ill-advised throw to 3rd with 2 on and nobody out, and he tossed it into left field. From there the game was tied 1-1, and by the end of the onslaught it was 4-1 Brewers. That's all it took to win them the game since we were continuing to struggle at the plate. Minor of course deserved better, but that's the storyline of the year. We simply refuse to hit for Mike. At this point he's only averaged less than 2.5 runs per start of support.

Nobody on the Braves collected an RBI last night, but they did go 1-4 with RISP. That would be fine, except we had 10 hit and 3 walks. I'm not exactly sure how you get over a hit an inning average and only score one run, but we pulled it off with panache. The hilarious part was that it came off a double play ball. Other than that, we had nothing. I'm getting tired of saying that about this lineup. A key issue was that Bourn couldn't get on base, even when everybody else was hitting. That's never a good recipe for success when your leadoff guy struggles to touch a bag.

Frankly, watching this team over the last week has been exhausting, with the exception of the 11 run Mets game. Take that away and you know what you have? A team that scored 9 runs in 6 games. The fact that we've won 4 of those 6 games is completely insane, and you can credit your pitching staff for that. Thus, when the bullpen finally shrugged last night, I have no reason to get upset at them. You can see exactly who has been carrying the team, and if I'm mentally exhausted watching our lineup, and can't even imagine how frustrated our pitchers feel. They are having to grind on every pitch because they are terrified that giving up just one run may mean a loss.

Now for a little who's hot and who's not. That's where we look at the Braves hitting stats over the last 7 days. I think the list will shock you.

WHO'S HOT! - Jason Heyward is batting .370 with a slugging % over .500 and a homer. Dan Uggla is hitting .348 with 3 doubles and a homer. Prado is hitting .345, and BMac is hitting .300 with 2 bombs. So, with all those guys hitting over .300 on the week, how in the world are we not scoring more runs? Here's why...

WHO'S NOT - Freddie Freeman is hitting .083 with 5 Ks. Chipper Jones is hitting .211 with no extra bases. Oh and Michael Bourn his hitting .222 with only 1 double on the week. That's a pretty healthy portion of your hitters who were carrying the lineup early in the season. Now, they are going cold just as the cold guys are getting lukewarm. If we can all get hot at the same time, nothing would stop us.

Go Braves!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Braves @ Mets: Weekend Series Recap

The Brooms are back! After a weekend series of sweeping away the Mets and enjoying a ton of football, I'd say I'm in a pretty good mood. The Braves unleashed the fury with a flurry of runs this weekend, totalling 17 runs of total offense in the three wins. Maholm increased our shutout streak in game 1 with a 3-0 victory. The Braves bashed the Mets in game 2 with an 11-3 rout, and Brian McCann came up with a key sacfly in extras to take game three for the sweep. The Braves have no won 5 in a row, sit 5.5 back of the Nats, and we're 7 games up on the Dodgers chasing us in the Wild Card.

Game 1 was once again about our pitching. Maholm went 5.1 shutout innings, and the bullpen closed the door with 5 relievers and a save for Kimbrel. The key hitters were Uggla and Heyward who went a combined 4-8 with 2 homers. Uggla also managed to score 2 runs in the win. As such, Dan Uggla gets the rare MVP in our first win over the Mets. I think saying publically that we planned to sit him for the stretch finally pissed him off enough to get him going. Hey, whatever it takes, because the rest of the lineup was crap in the game.

In game 2, the offensive floodgates opened wide, and poured out 11 runs for Kris Medlen, as if he needed them. Prado went 3-6, Uggla went 3-3, McCann went 4-5, Constanza went 2-5, and even Medlen had himself a double for a 1-2 day. Braves went 6-21 with RISP (.285) so considering all the chances we had it could have been even more than 11 runs. I blame the fact there was a rain delay that knocked out Medlen early and slowed down our onslaught. That game's MVP is another unlikely candidate who had been on the shnide: Brian McCann. BMac gets the MVP for his 4 hits, 4 RBI day including a double and a homer. It's days like that where you scratch your head about Brian this year. He has the potential to be so great, and every now and then you see these bursts, but it hasn't been consistent enough at all to matter.

Game 3 was a grinder. Tommy Hanson was on the mound so I was already worried. The best joke I've heard about Tommy was that if he was a box of PopTarts, there would only be 5 and 2/3rds in the box. Tommy once again went his standard 5.2 innings with 2 runs given up, and he didn't qualify for the win. SHOCKER. The bullpen had to bail him out by going 4.1 shutout innings before BMac got the sacfly that won the game in the 10th. Braves went 1-11 with RISP at the plate (that happens alot when Tommy's out there), which was a day game slide back to our woeful lumber mark from the prior series. However, the MVP of this game was Michael Bourn. He was the only guy with a hit with RISP, and he was the only guy to have a multi-hit game on the day. In addition to that, he also swiped his 39th bag on the season! He now leads the NL by 4 bases, and he's 5 back of Mike Trout for the major league title in base thievery.

No rest for the Braves as they head into Milwaukee tonight to face the Brewers. The Braves need a bit of the bat boost we saw in game 2 to get past a Brewers team that's averaged 5 runs a game in their series against the Cardinals. Let's go out to Miller Park and hope there's some carryover from Wisconsin and Green Bay getting trounced this weekend.

Go Braves!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rockies @ Braves: Game 4 Recap

Well we set a franchise record. We managed to win two games in a row 1-0 on entirely unearned runs. Let me recap the scoring for you. In the second inning, the catcher attempted to throw the ball back to the Rockies pitcher. Normally, as in 99.99999999% of the time within MLB, this goes off without an issue. Yesterday, the pitcher Chacin either wasn't paying attention or got too flashy, and the ball went right by him. Francisco scored from 3rd on that error as the ball rolled around the infield. That was it. That was the entire scoring for the GAME. No, I'm not kidding. I was listening to it on the radio at work, and it was the most confusing thing I've ever heard in a game.

The Braves managed 7 hits, 3 walks, and absolutely zero earned runs. We went 1-8 with RISP, but that one didn't actually score a run because it was a sharp single with the pitcher on second. Uggla and McCann both played again (much to my dismay), and went 1-8 and 0-3 with RISP. I'm starting to hate both of them. Uggla we'll have to live with for a while due to his contract, but McCann is coming up on an option year. I hope the Braves do the right thing and let him go. I'm sick of him sucking since 2011. Bourn, Freeman, and Janish also didn't get a single hit. The only guys who have been consistently hitting in the lineup? You guessed it, Martin Prado and Jason Heyward. The bright shining spots, along with Chipper Jones, in an otherwise dreary set of players. Oh, and Huddy got a hit. It was another game where our pitcher outhit half the lineup.

MVP goes to Hudson. I mean it honestly can't go to a hitter, right? They did nothing. Hudson went 7 innings of shutout ball, followed by the bullpen locking the door on the Rockies. Given that Hudson also had a hit in the game, I think he needs to give an inspirational talk to the locker room titled, "Are you $&#*ing serious?" I can't imagine what was going through his mind when we stranded everyone in not one, but TWO innings with the bases loaded and less than two outs. I don't even really think there's a word I can use for how awful we're hitting. I would have to invent a new one, so I'm going to go with "terribadful." If clutch hits were air, we would have suffocated a week ago.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Some will say, hey! A win's a win's a win, right? Yeah, I guess so, and we did take 3 of 4 on this series. However, the way we did it was by setting a record that's never been done in a century of Braves baseball. And it's not the good kind of record. One would have to imagine that the law of averages kicks in at some point, and we start riding high on our streaky nature again. I can only hope that happens as we go up to face the Mets in NY this weekend.

Go Braves!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rockies @ Braves: Game 3 Recap

Minor was firing on all cylinders yesterday, and that was the only thing that saved our bacon. In a game where you absolutely needed your starter to show up, Minor had a no-no going through six innings. I think it's a given that he was the MVP, so I'll put that right up here in the top paragraph where it belongs. He was awesome. After seven innings of work, Minor had a one-hit shutout with 4 walks and 7 Ks. Our staff had the Rockies completely off balance, as they only managed 2 hits on the day. All we needed was the single run to come up with a much needed 1-0 victory that helped us maintain our pace in the Wild Card race.

A win's a win, but they aren't all sunshine and roses. This was far from a win that should make you feel comfortable as a Braves fan. Why? We went 0-11 with RISP. Our one run came on the throwing error by the Rockies in the 4th. We only had 4 hits. Brian McCann and Dan Uggla were both back in the lineup and equally worthless. Our pitcher had more hits than half of our lineup. We're in complete disarray at the plate, held together by the almost unreal contributions of a magic 3rd baseman, who is closer to drawing a social security check than he is to the beginning of his career.

Theoretically, if you look at the game in all it's pitching glory, nobody actually scored a run. The Braves just happened to shamble across the plate because the other team booted the ball around. That was the difference. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence, does it? Let's see how the Braves are doing on the week with the "last seven days" stats. Well, for starters we're dead last in the NL in runs scored on the week. We're hitting .228 as a team, which is one point better than the Marlins and Cubs. Great company there. We're 14th in slugging, and 8th in OBP, which means we're drawing a ton of walks, but no big hits.

We need to do a rain dance for runs. We need to do everything we can to break this streaky cycle of desperation and drought. Our approach seems to be good as we're coaxing baserunners, but we can't rely on the other team to literally throw the ball into the stands to win games. I guess my point is, don't be fooled by this win, or fall into the trap that we're a playoff caliber team. We're not right now. We CAN be. I've seen us look like that before. But as it stands, we would get smoked by any team with a remotely functional pitching staff and a pulse at the plate. Luckily the Rockies have neither, and we face them one final time this afternoon.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Holiday Weekend Recap: 5 games with a Chipper Walkoff

I'm back from vacation. I'm glad I got some time to relax away from baseball and the craziness, but I'm pissed off that the Braves seemed to go on vacation right with me. If Chipper Jones doesn't go deep in Game 3 against the Phillies, we're sitting at a 1-4 mark with 2 games to go against the Rockies. Instead, we're at a rather awful 2-3 over the long weekend, and we're only 5-5 over our last 10. Worse, we've taken our streaky nature to terrifying levels over these games, going from 0 runs scored to 8 runs scored in less than a week. Let's not really worry about the individual games of the weekend, and instead let's focus on the underlying issues with the team heading into the last push of the season. I think fans are rightly concerned, and I'm going to detail why.

In the Phillies series Minor got rocked for 4 runs, Hudson got rocked for 5 runs, and Maholm got rocked for 7 runs. It couldn't have gone worse for our starting pitchers. None of them gave us a chance to win those games, even though we theoretically could have won 2 of them. Kimbrel blew a save in game one, and Chipper saved the day in game three. Here's the thing, Braves went 5-26 with RISP stranding 22 runners in that series. That's batting .193 with RISP. We scored 14 runs in the series with those stats. Do you see the issue? We're streaky because we're completely trying to be a bang or bust long ball team. We hit 5 homers in the Phillies series for a total of 9 of our 14 runs. Guys, we don't have the kind of team to rely on those power numbers. We're 8th in the NL in total homers, and it's generating more than half of our offense right now. We are supposed to be a team built on speed, timely hitting, and good pitching. As of today, we're none of those things, and it shows in the results.

Our win against the Rockies came because Medlen took the mound, the only starter in the rotation who currently has his game working. Hanson went out there yesterday and got completely stranded by the Braves bats, but he still couldn't go 6 innings. I've always questioned his pitch economy, and it comes up time and again. Giving up 2-3 runs in 5 and 2/3 innings doesn't make you a passable starter in my book. Even though the Braves scored 6 runs to win in Medlen's outing, take a look at how they did it. It was still a 2-9 with RISP performance with a run scored on a wild pitch, another run on an error, and another run on a sacfly. After the third inning, the Braves offense completely folded up shop. With the two games against the Rockies combined, the Braves are 2-16 with RISP and 12 runners stranded. That's a .125 average in those situations. It's WORSE than the Phillies series.

Some things need to happen to clean this up. Fredi has made the right choice to move Uggla out of the lineup full time now. That absolutely had to happen, because Uggla's a turnstile out there. Second, we need Andrelton Simmons back yesterday. Janish has defensively held up his end of the bargain, but we need a base hitter in the back end of the lineup to improve our RISP numbers. Third, Freddie Freeman needs to stop swinging for the fences every at bat. He's a great hitter, but he's young, and his clutch average is suffering because he's coming out of his shoes every swing. Nobody would throw him a fastball right now the way he's approaching his ABs. In his last 10 games, Freddie has 9 hits, and 4 homers. He's hitting .270, but he's not adjusting his swing for RISP, and is thus hitting .233 in that category on the season. Lastly, we need somebody besides Medlen to give our team a chance to win. Our starter ERA has exploded to 3.98 on the season, putting us 8th in the NL behind Washington, the Dodgers, the Cardinals, the Reds, the Giants, the Mets, and the Phillies. Notice anything about those teams? Outside of the Marlins, it's everybody in our division and the teams we are competing with to make the playoffs. Our starters absolutely have to be better, or we're screwed.

Two games left with the Rockies, and honestly we need them both. We're 7.5 games out of the division and effectively dead there. It's Wild Card or nothing at this point, not that we ever really thought otherwise after the Nats series. Right now we're 3 games up in the WC race, with the Dodgers, Giants, and Pirates all jockeying for positions. If the NL West continues the way it has, you may see the Dodgers and Giants rough each other up too much to matter in the Wild Card. The Pirates need to continue their death spiral to make me comfortable, because there is nobody behind them worth a damn. The Cardinals are in unless they completely screw up, and I don't think they will. They are the reverse-Braves in September. They just win, and they have a run differential over 100 on the season. Let's close out the Rockies on a happy note, and move on to another hopefully easy series against the terrible Mets.

Go Braves!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Braves @ Padres: Game 2-3 Recap

Well we ended the road trip 4-6, and I was stuck in a conference room for 8 hours a day for the last 2 days listening to seminars on Audit and Tax updates. Yeah. Luckily I'm getting ready to head to Colorado for the long weekend, and I expect many of you are also preparing to enjoy the holiday in your own way. Mine will be with golf and watching football. So without a further ado let's recap these two games and move on to the home stand.

Game 2 was our standout game in the series, since we won it with Medlen on the mound. Do I need to say more than "Medlen" to let you know that we won? He gets the MVP for 8 innings of 5 hit shutout baseball in our 2-0 win. We went 1-7 with RISP which was terrible, but the Padres never even had more than 2 chances to knock an anybody. Our lineup still struggled with Heyward and Freeman both going 0-for, but McCann and Uggla did manage to both have hits in the same game, including Dan going deep in the 5th. However, even though we won a pitcher's duel, that lack of offense would show up in...

Game 3. The Braves had 7 hits, but only went 0-4 with RISP. Notice how we're still living and dying by homers? Oh, and Hanson was bad again. He goes less than 5 innings giving up 4 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks. It's another situation where Hanson gets batters into favorable counts and lets them off the hook with hits. He was constantly putting the leadoff man on base starting in the 2nd inning. The pitches weren't locating, and he was up in the zone on his fastball way too often, letting the hitters punish him repeatedly. The game took a turn in the 5th when Chipper ran into Janish on a popup behind 3rd, and then Tommy literally gave up on a bunt in front of the plate. With two on, and a sac to move them over, a double scored both runs to make the game 4-1. From that point on, we never came back and Tommy had to go. I'm sick of him, and he's the anti-Medlen in my mind. Whereas I never think we're going to lose with Medlen taking the hill, I ALWAYS think we're going to lose when Tommy toes the rubber.

The road trip was full of opportunities with Washington going into a huge skid, but we didn't take any of them. We're still 5.5 back, and 4 games up in the wild card. Nothing has changed. That can be good or bad. It's good from the perspective we played like crap and still managed to keep things even. It's bad that if we'd played a 6-4 trip instead of a 4-6, we'd be 3.5 back in the division race. It's worse when you consider that we lost a series to a Padres team that has no shot at all for the playoffs.

Considering what we know about the playoff picture so far, Washington, Cincy, St Louis, SF, and the Dodgers have the best shot with us to make it. Not all will, but I just wanted to see how we've fared against those teams as a possible playoff series projection. Here's the breakdown of our record in 2012:

San Francisco: 3-4
LA Dodgers: 3-3
St. Louis: 5-1
Cincinnati: 1-5
Washington: 5-10

So, I think you can tell we don't want to play Washington or Cincy. Unfortunately, they are probably going to be #1 and #2 in the NL regardless, so even if we win a wild card and get into the one game playoff, AND win the one game playoff, we'd be stuck with one of them. Ugh. We just gotta start hitting. A lot.

Go Braves!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Braves @ Padres: Game 1 Recap

Monday got us again. I don't know really what else to say. How do you recap a game where you only got 4 hits and no runs? Sure we went 0-3 with RISP, but it's not like that was the problem. The problem was not getting enough people on base at all. Shocking nobody, Heyward, Bourn, and Prado all had hits. Shocking nobody, Brian McCann, Freeman, and Chipper drew an 0-for in the 4-5-6 spots. The middle of our lineup has just been so depressing at times this year. In fact, that's what I'll cover in this little spot, because the game itself was horrible. We lost to rookie pitcher making his major league debut because we couldn't score. The only surprising thing during the game was Uggla getting a hit.

Part of the issue is that Chipper has been bad over his last week, and he's in the cleanup spot. The Braves are 2-5 in Chipper's last 7 games, and he's been batting .174 in that stretch with no RBIs. For a guy who's been awesome all season, those are remarkably tired looking numbers in late August. Freeman in the 5 hole has been something of a enigma. Overall on the season, he's batting .295 with 8 homers in that slot. However, it's been very boom or bust. In 10 games of August he had no hits. In 5 games he's had multiple hits. As a result he's been hitting .234 on the month, and that's nowhere near his .323 onslaught of July. Brian McCann has been on my list for a while, and I'll point out another reason he's there. In August, the Braves are 8-11 with Brian in the lineup. He's also sat out for 7 games during the month. Guess what the Braves record is during those 7 games he was out? 6-1. Hmmmmmmmm. Wonder why? Maybe because the guy in who's slugging .190 for the month gets replaced by the guy who is slugging .387?

I wonder what would happen if we sat McCann and Uggla at the same time? Fredi's never done it yet, but I'm seriously considering it as an option if we want to move some of the problems out of our lineup. Think about it. We gain almost 200 slugging points in the lineup with Ross, and we gain 95 points on the batting average by putting in Reed Johnson and moving Prado to 2nd. Fredi has said he's not going to be as loyal down the stretch, which is music to a fan's ears. We're sick of watching this team struggle in positions where we have no business struggling. Coming off a big win in SF, and then laying an egg against an untested rookie who shuts us out??? Embarrassing. That won't happen tonight with Medlen on the hill!

Go Braves!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Braves @ Giants: Weekend Recap Games 2-4

Well fans, we had ourselves a great weekend. It started with a very ugly loss on Friday that promised to send things into a dreadful shame spiral. However, Minor righted the ship on Saturday, and the bats came alive. By Sunday, the Braves had scored 14 runs in two days. That's more runs than we had scored in our previous 7 games combined. Minor and Hudson were dazzling, the bats were going long, and the lineup finally looked like it might be able to produce their way into the good side of our streaky nature. Let's hope the hits keep on coming against a Padres squad that's suddenly blazing hot.

Game 2 was a bad loss, so I won't waste time on it. That's the benefit of being able to recap these games in bunches after the weekend, in that I don't have to dwell on the crap. Sheets was bad, and it turns out he was injured. Now he's on the 15 day DL to recover for the bullpen when we expand rosters here in a few days. The Braves got 3 runs on all homers, and only had 6 hits. We went 0-2 with RISP because we hardly got anybody on base. It was bad, we're over it now, let's move on. The good news was that Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward were hot, which comes up later in the weekend.

Game 3 was one of those games that had potential disaster written all over it after the first inning. We lead off with both Bourn and Prado getting on base. However, the next 3 hitters stranded them without even sniffing a scoring chance. It looked like we were headed straight into the same ole same ole strand-em-all-and-let-God-sort-em-out strategy. Then Jason Heyward happened in the third. Minor drew a rare leadoff walk, followed by Martin walking. Heyward made Bumgarner pay for his mistakes. He drove on 391 feet to right that gave the Braves a 3-0 advantage. Minor went almost 7 innings giving up 3 runs, but he escaped a big jam in the 5th where he only gave up one after putting 2 on in the leadoff. The Giants bullpen absolutely imploded after they drew within a run at 4-3, and they let the Braves put up 3 runs in 2 innings, including two that were WALKED in. It was bad for them, great for us. Heyward gets the MVP for breaking the ice of our slump with his 3 run bomb. It was as if a very visible weight came off Minor's shoulders, and he was able to pitch like a fiend for 7 innings.

Game 4 was practically a laugher for the Braves after the 4th inning. Sure at that point it was only 3-0, but the way Hudson was controlling the plate, it could have been 10. Hudson went 7 innings with 1 run on 5 hits and a walk. If not for a sacfly in the 7th, Huddy would have had a shutout. Meanwhile, the Braves decided they were going to hit, and Huddy got in on that act as well. He went 2-3 at the plate, and was actively challenging McCann about his batting average since Tim is now hitting .233 on the season. At the time, BMac was at .231, but he didn't take that lying down. Brian had his best night in a month going 3-4, and raising that average to .236 on the year. Maybe he needs more prodding from Hudson to get going? It was all in good fun, but it was good to see them all get going. Huddy gets the MVP for his great pitching and dominance at the plate, but he wasn't alone. Janish also had a 2 RBI triple, and Francisco went WAY deep in the 4th for 454 feet over dead center. Oh, and should I mention that Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman went back to back on home runs in the 9th? Yeah that happened. It was very much an unleashing of frustration on the Giants pitching to staff to help earn the series split on the back end.

I liked that we got out of hock by going deep a ton in one of the largest ballparks in the league. I like that we went 7-25 with RISP in the last two games instead of the wretched 1-12 we'd gone in the first game. It's not perfect, but it's a large improvement. I hope to see more in the Padres series. I loved that Brian McCann had a good game to maybe get him some confidence back in his stroke. I loved that Freeman got the power back in his bat during the series. I loved that Heyward is still very sharp and can get clutch hits. What I didn't like was that we are starting to have to sit Dan Uggla. Even Fredi G doesn't believe he's going to come out of this slump, so we're gameplanning around him. Dan's now 3-32 in 10 games, so I understand the decision, but he's a huge chunk of our lineup in terms of potential power and money that's now meaningless. That's never a good thing unless he makes a breakthrough in limited starts. And I agree with Fredi that they should be limited. I wouldn't give him more than 2 of 3 starts max in a series now until it breaks open.

We face off with the Padres tonight in SD for a 3 gamer. That means more 10PM starts. Ugh. I'll catch the highlights in the morning if we're not leading after 3 innings.

Go Braves!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Braves @ Giants: Game 1 Recap

Admittedly, I didn't stay up to watch the majority of this game, and you probably didn't either, so let me give you a recap on the parts that matter. First, we lost 5-2. Second, we didn't score a single run until the 9th inning. Third, we went 1-12 with RISP. Do you really need to know anything else to hang your head and say, "Here we go again?" I'll tell you when I checked out. Dan Uggla and Brian McCann somehow got back to back hits to lead off the second inning. In that miracle of all miracles, I assumed we were about to break open something supremely awesome. But lo, how wrong I was. Janish grounded out to move the runners to 2nd and 3rd. Tommy slapped the first pitch right at the pitcher, and Uggla hung himself out to dry getting picked off at 3rd trying to scramble back. Then Bourn flied out. Inning over. I literally turned off my TV, made my peace with the fact I didn't have to watch anymore, and went to bed. And you know what? I didn't miss anything.

Credit where credit is due, Uggla didn't have a bad day. He went 1-2 with 2 walks. Anytime he's on base 3 times in a game, he's on fire. Too bad he made several baserunning errors while he was out there. I guess he forgot how to run the bases since it's been so long. Janish and Bourn both drew an 0-for. Prado had a lackluster 1-4 with an 0-2 with RISP. McCann got his one early single and then went into a shell. Zito had everyone up there just swinging at crap, and Fredi G even admitted that "our approach wasn't great against him early on." Well no crap. I guess we won't be "tipping our cap" like we usually do. Maybe holding some of your guys accountable instead of just shrugging and hoping would be a nice chance of pace.

Tommy was a disaster again. Can we stop walking on eggshells around this kid? We all know he's the one that deserves to be sent to the pen. He went 94 pitches in 4.1 innings before giving up 5 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks. Tommy now has a WHIP at 1.47, which is just one tick better than the greasefire of Tim Lincecum. Do you see the problem here? Almost 2 guys are reaching base every inning when Tommy pitches. You can't keep putting out fires like that, and you can't go deep into games. A guy who can gives up 3 runs through 5 innings is useless over the long haul. He's 45th among qualified NL starters in ERA. HINT: There's only 53 of those. Wake up Fredi. The six man rotation is over. This guy has to go.

Tonight we face Sheets against Vogelsong. I am not optimistic. It's also another really late start. Oh, and here's something Atlanta fans never want to hear. HERE COME THE CARDINALS! Guess who's on a 3 game winning streak and has now taken over the wild card position from the Pirates? Yep, St. Louis. Get ready, people. This weekend could get very interesting.

Go Braves!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Braves @ Giants: Series Preview

Oh good, a west coast series. Hooray for late nights and jetlag! Luckily we're coming in off a win instead of a bad sweep by the Nats. We've got to make the most of this 4 gamer against a Giants team that's been very hot lately. A split would probably be nice so we can move on to our next homestand. As you'll see with these two teams, there's a ton of unknowns and ifs in this series. Let's see how the matchups look:

Game 1: Hanson v. Zito
Game 2: Sheets v. Vogelsong
Game 3: Minor v. Bumgarner
Game 4: Hudson v. Lincecum

Give Hanson credit. He's been on the right end of winning results over his last 10 games. The Braves are 9-1 in his last 10 starts, even though his ERA has been extremely suspect. I still don't love his command, and I still think he is inconsistent when it comes to velocity, but the Braves seem to just out-hit any issues he's had. Zito's been a complete mess as well in his last two games, giving up 8 runs in 9 innings of work. However, he's also won both of those games because the Giants out-hit his problems. Nobody knows how this will go. You have two lineups that have been covering up a ton of sins from their starters. This one is a wash based on which starter can actually show up.

Sheets has gone from comeback story of the year to a gigantic long ball question mark. He's had 2 terrible outings over the last two starts, after storming out of the gate with 3 straight wins. Like Tommy, it's a question of which guy we'll get in this game? Will we get the Sheets who goes 7 innings of 1 run ball? Or will we get the Sheets that throws up back to back to back homers? That kind of inconsistency is mirrored in Vogelsong. Ryan in his last two games has been abysmal. He's lost his last two starts 14-2, and 7-1, both times getting knocked out before the 4th inning. He's given up 11 runs in just under 6 innings. I mean we're talking full meltdown on the mound. This all happened after he threw a 7 inning 3 hitter in St Louis. It makes no sense that he's gone into the tank, but it's happened. This is another game that's impossible to call because both of these guys have had such poor starts recently, but they are capable of much better performances.

Minor is battling with Sheets and Hanson for the last spot in the rotation. I think he's probably ahead of the other two because he's a lefty, but he can't afford to give up any ground since he's the least supported pitcher on the staff. If Minor had Hanson's run support, he'd be 9-7 on the season instead of 6-10. He's lost his last 3 starts because the Braves have scored a total of 1 run for him. That's a lineup problem, not a Minor problem. Bumgarner struggles with Braves in limited starts. He's gone 9.2 innings against us with an 0-1 record and a 4.66 ERA. He's prone to walks against us, he's given up more than a hit an inning, and we can score on him in bunches. I actually like this matchup IF IF IF we can finally give Minor the support he deserves.

Huddy has been bizarre. Get him outside of the first inning, and he's a glorious starter. Inside the first inning, he's a total disaster. Last time he faced SF at home, he went 7.1 against Bumgarner with only 2 runs given up. The Braves ended up winning that game on just 3 hits. Huddy got almost no support and still pulled it off. He can do it again because... Lincecum's a pot-smoking pot-hole in the Giants rotation this year. With an ERA over 5 and a 7-13 record, Timmy Smoke's not smoking anybody anymore. In his last 3 games, he's gone 1-2 with an ERA of 4.32. Even lifetime when Lincecum was grooving along, guys like Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, and Martin Prado were still hitting .300+ against him. I think we can win this one, and if it comes down to us being 2-1, we can take the series here.

So, as they said to the pioneers of early America, it's time to go West young men! Head out to the land of fruits and nuts, and come back with a trail mix of victories.

Go Braves!

Braves @ Nationals: Game 3 Recap

Fredi shook up the lineup, and it worked. Medlen went out there like a boss and won. Ho-hum, he sets a record for most consecutive wins by a team when one man is starting. Not the same as "wins" since you have to qualify for those, but I like any pitcher that can get a result. At this point, I think many of you feel the same as I do, he would be your choice for the one game playoff. As one of my buddies Ricky likes to say in emails, "All Medlen does is win!" We'd need that with everything on the line.

The Braves didn't really set the world on fire with runs in the first 8 innings. In fact, they only had two, but the way Medlen was rocking along that was enough. We didn't really crack the game open until the 9th inning when we put 3 on the Washington pen to make it 5-1. Let me say that I think taking McCann and Uggla out of the lineup made a huge difference. Rossy had a hit and a sacfly for a 1-3 day. Johnson went 1-4 with a leadoff single in the 4th. It should have scored a run, but Chipper rapped into a double play. The Braves still went 2-10 with RISP, but that's a lot better than the 1-6 we had in game, or the 14 men we left on base in game one. Atlanta only stranded 4 runners in game 3, with 9 hits and a walk. I hope to see more of this lineup until BMac or Uggla get right.

MVP goes to Medlen aka "The Bulldog" for his domination of the Nats lineup. He went 103 pitches over 7 shutout innings with only 7 hits and a walk. He struck out 7 batters during that stretch. Lucky sevens indeed! Medlen's now 5-1 on the season with a 1.86 ERA. In his last 32.2 innings, Medlen has given up 3 runs. That's a 0.83 ERA in 5 starts. Holy smokes. Toss in the fact he's got 29-5 strikeout-walk ratio? He's had every lineup on tile and is making pitches in the zone. The only downside is he wasn't ready to do this all season due to the Tommy John. I think he's stretched out now though. The chances of him ever going back to the pen after this run went from slim to none.

The Braves now have to jump on a jetliner out to the horrible west coast. We face the Giants for four games, two of which will be played with an EDT start of 10:30. I can tell you without a doubt I won't finish the game tonight at 2AM. I can tell you without a doubt, I will finish the Friday game because it's the weekend! Damn westies and their time zone changes. It's a conspiracy to keep people with real jobs in real states from watching OUR American past-time. Ispo-facto, it's obvious they are trying to keep us from loving America! HOW DARE THEY! That's why we should sweep them.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Braves @ Nationals: Game 2 Recap

That sound you hear is our division championship chances circling the drain. In another horrible hitting perfomance, the Braves lost to the Nationals 1-4 on a rainy Tuesday evening. I'm tired of writing these entries where I have to describe how bad we were at the plate. We all know exactly why it scares the hell out of us as Braves fans. The wound from 2011 when we went dead cold at the plate in September is starting to open up again, and we're grimacing with every loss. My confidence, which is usually unflappable when it comes to this team, will come into question if we don't salvage something from this series tonight. I've pointed at this 10 game stretch as the three series to define our postseason. So far, we're 1-4 in five of those games.

Jason Heyward was outstanding last night. He went 3-4, and 1-1 with RISP, in addition to stealing a base. That was where the good ended. Everyone else was terrible. The Braves went 1-6 with RISP, and outside of Heyward, only 4 other guys touched one bag. Maholm gave up 4 runs on nothing but homers. Even if we don't give up the last 3 run bomb, you have to score more than ONE RUN as a team. The idea that we're going to shut out opponents in an NL division race is laughable. I said in the series preview we'd need about 20 runs to feel comfortable in this series. We've scored 5 in two games. Washington has scored 9.

I'm going to call out the reason we're losing. There are people who are absolutely awful at the plate, and it has to be addressed. First, Brian McCann is batting .146 in August. On the season, Brian is batting .163 with RISP. He's been a disaster, and it's not just this year. It was latter half of last year too. Post all-star break he was batting .203 with 42 strikeouts. I'm very close to being done with him at the end of the year. We'll probably bring him back because he's optioned, but why? He's not producing and he's not defensively strong. Second, it's Dan Uggla. I'm back to wishing we'd traded him when we had the chance. Now, nobody would poke him with a 10 foot clown pole. Uggla's batting .206 in August, and that's after a good start. Third, Freddie Freeman has gone into the tank. He's batting .225 in August and he's only .244 with RISP on the season. Granted he's been clutch in the 2 out scenario, but other than that he's not been great. So there you go, your 4-5-6 hitters in the heart of the lineup have been dreadful this month. And the worst part is that the rest of the team has been performing AROUND them against bad teams. When we beat the Padres 6-0 last week? The three of them went 2-8 with no RBIs. During the last 7 days, all three of them are a combined 9-66 (a .136 batting average). That just so happens to be against the opponents we need to beat to get the playoffs. They aren't stepping up when we need it, and it could kill our season if it goes on much longer.

That's my rant. Here's the thing. I can forgive Freeman. He's a young kid who's been in the league for 3 years. He's an amazing talent in the field. He can pick a ball that nobody else can at first base, and he has been solid leading up to this point in the season. He's still batting near .270 on the year with this slump. The other two? You could dump them tomorrow and I would be ok with it. I'm tired of watching Dan Uggla attempt to break out of it, give us hope, and then dash it against a wall when it matters. I'm sick of Brian McCann being injured or not hitting and then hearing about how much money he's going to cost us next season, or that we'll have to make some tough decisions with our lineup. No, we won't. Let him go and spend that money elsewhere. This isn't me being reactionary. This is a steady progression look at what they've done on this team for a season and a half. Good and bad.

Medlen's on the hill tonight. He's been a winner in the last 14 games. I still think he can win here even though we're in a complete slump. However, if he doesn't, and we get swept by the Nats when it mattered most? Even I'm hitting the panic button. Not just because we'll have tanked the division, but because we're shedding game after game in the wild card race. Let's not let that happen. Go out there and win one tonight for Chipper, for the fans, and for our sanity!

Go Braves!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Braves @ Nationals: Game 1 Recap

Lots of so-called fans are going to want to jump off a bridge after last night's 13 inning loss. Frankly, I say let them. Let them panic and whine and complain. That's what they do. The intelligent fan on the other hand knows exactly what effect it has on tonight's game. Zero. We knew going into that matchup it was going to be the toughest to win. That we were in a position to take it at all after succumbing to a 4 run onslaught in the first is a miracle. The Nats had every chance to run away and hide, and they didn't. We had every chance to win it late, and we didn't. It was a slog where neither team played well, and when that happens, it's usually the team that bats last who wins. Home field advantage is huge in those scenarios.

Let's take a look at what happened after the first inning. We know that it was 4-1 Nats at that point, so it's best to see how we played in the later stages of the game. After that initial inning, the Braves went 1-11 with RISP, and they had 10 hits. We simply didn't get the key hits when we needed them. I'd rather be hitting and struggling with RISP, than not hitting, not getting on base and basically floundering. Yes, it's frustrating that we couldn't push the runs across, but you have to look at production as a whole. Prado had 3 hits, but went 0-2 with RISP. He didn't have a bad day at all, but the hits didn't come when he had a runner. Yet, he scored two of our runs because he was on base. That's the key factor, when you're getting on base, and moving runners, eventually things do work in your favor by the law of averages. When you're not producing, and not getting on base (like Game 3 against the Dodgers) you are dead in the water.

The Nats were no better in clutch positions, stranding runners at an epic rate. We got out of so many jams it's almost impossible to count them all. They stranded 12 runners, we stranded 14. They went 2-12 with RISP after the first. They grounded into two double plays, we grounded into one. They had 6 walks, we had 8 walks. We both struck out 8 times. With 2 on and nobody out in the 6th, they struck out twice and lined out to score nobody. With runners at the corners in the 7th, they grounded into a double play that ended the inning. With the bases loaded in the 8th, they popped up and then flied out to end the inning with no runs. Over and over again, they were just as pathetic at the plate until the bottom of the 13th, when we finally committed fielding errors that lost the game.

There's no point in looking at the pitching. Huddy was bad in the first, then locked down. Zimmerman only went 5 innings because he was just as bad, and then handed it to the pen. The pens battled it out. You can't really take anything away from this game on the pitching front except that Huddy continues to struggle early in games, and that better fix itself or we're doomed in a playoff series. The matchup tonight between Maholm and Strasburg is actually much more in our favor than this game. So, you can look forward to that tonight. My money is on the Braves. In short, don't panic. Don't be that stupid fan who gets reactionary because of one loss in a 162 game season. I'll tell you when you can panic. If we get swept, panic all you want. That's when the division race can officially be declared dead. Otherwise, I'm optimistic about our chances until the math says we're toast.

Go Braves!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Braves @ Nationals: Series Preview

There may not be a more important series in August than this one. Heck, there may not be a more important series in National League in terms of playoff projections. The Braves v. Nationals can swing the balance of power towards a division championship, or a wild card battle with a sweep either way. At the very minimum, I think we can all agree that the Braves have to win this series to stay in the division discussion. A 1-2 record here would put the Nats 6 games up, and we'd only have 3 left against them. That's pretty much impossible to cover unless they go into a tailspin. A series win makes it 4 games back with 3 to play. That just means you need a little help and a sweep. Still long odds, but not as long as others. On to the matchups!

Game 1: Hudson (12-4) v. Zimmerman (9-7)
Game 2: Maholm (11-7) v. Strasburg (14-5)
Game 3: Medlen (4-1) v. Detwiler (7-5)

Game 1 tonight is probably the most important of all the games, and luckily we have our Ace on the mound in Tim Hudson. We need to dazzle tonight, because you can't go down 0-1 right off the bat when you need a series win. The Braves have won 9 of Hudson's last 10 starts, including an 8 game streak going back to July 6th. Tim's coming off a 6.1 inning 2 hit performance where he dominated the Padres. Here's the bad news. That one loss out of ten? That was the Nationals. Huddy needs to keep an eye out for Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman. Desmond's hitting him for .297 across 37 ABs with 2 doubles and 3 walks, and Zimmerman roughed him up in the last outing for 3 hits and 4 RBIs. Meanwhile, Zimmerman is coming off a 1-6 loss against the Giants on the road where he gave up 2 runs. He's carrying a 2.38 ERA on the year, and the Nats have won 8 of his last 10 starts. The Braves lineup is batting .238 against Zimmerman, with the bright spot being Martin Prado, who is 4-8 against him lifetime. Here's the bad news. Freeman, Heyward, and Janish have never hit Zimmerman in 12 combined ABs. Uggla is batting 1-10, BMac is batting 1-7, Bourn is batting 1-6, and Chipper is batting 2-9. We'll HAVE to overcome our poor stats against Zimmerman to notch a win.

Game 2 is probably Strasburg's last start if they decide to shut him down. That being said, I expected to get his full attention on this pivotal series anyway. It's a match on a fire. Here's the thing. Despite his intimidating record, Strasburg is only 5-5 in his last 10 games, two of which he lost to us including that 10-11 late rally. I think we can get after him again. We're hitting .313 across the lineup with 3 bombs against the kid, and 7 doubles. Maholm goes against him, and he's 2-1 with our club. In his last 2 games, both wins, he's gone 16 innings and only given up one solo homer. That's the extent of his runs. Maholm is probably pitching at the top of his game right now, which couldn't have come at a better time. Against the Nats, he's had trouble with a couple of hitters, including the infamous Ryan Zimmerman (.333) and Jason Werth (.375). Otherwise, I actually think we have the better pitcher on the mound for this game, and it's one we'll certain have to win to take the series.

All Kris Medlen does is win. In fact, if he wins in Game 3, he'll set a record for most consecutive starts where the Braves won the game. Medlen has a 2.03 ERA on the year, and I think you all remember his complete game shutout against the Padres last week. Whereas he was tops on the list for probably getting sent to the bullpen after the 6 man rotation concluded, now I believe he's secured his spot at the top of the rotation with Huddy and Maholm. Medlen's only given up 3 runs in his last 4 starts, and Nationals hitters are only sporting a paltry .250 OBP against him. On the other hand, Detwiler has been reeling in his last two starts, going 10.2 innings with 7 runs on 9 hits. He's due for a buttkicking from guys like Chipper Jones (.308 against him) and Martin Prado who is lifetime 9-16 with 3 doubles and a triple! The downside is that Bourn is only 1-13 off Detwiler, so we'll need him to snap out of that to set the table. When it comes to an anchor game, I think this is our most favorable matchup of the whole series.

The key will be runs. Buckets of runs. I dare say that if the Braves don't score 20+ in this series, we may have some issues. Still, I think we can do just that. I think we can rough up these Nats who are expecting to cruise to the finish, shut down their best starters, and wait for us to collapse. NOT GONNA HAPPEN THIS YEAR!

Go Braves!

Dodgers @ Braves: Weekend Series Recap

We were lucky to get one win out of this series. Think about how poorly things could have gone if Juan Francisco doesn't come up big in extras of game one. It's very possibly that this is one of the worst hitting series we've had in a long time. That being said, we hung all our starters out to dry for the most part, even though they deserved better. The bullpen was seriously awful at holding things together in the last game, too. All in all, this isn't the kind of series I wanted to have heading into a big deal series against the Nats in Washington.

In Game 1, Hanson was good, then he was ok, then he went bad. Tommy went for a longer outing than usual: 6.2 innings, but he also surrendered the lead before he left. The Braves were down 3-1 heading into the bottom half of the 8th inning, when the game changed. Paul Janish singled, Reed Johnson singled, and Prado and Heyward got them in. That spurred on the series of events where we went to extras, had a chance with 2 outs in the bottom of the 11th, and Juan Francisco came through with a big hit to score David Ross for the game winner. The MVP of the game was Paul Janish, who went 3-5 with a run scored. He was one of the few guys who really stepped up at the plate during this close win.

Game 2 was a frustrating affair after the Braves took an early lead, but could have had a ton more. Then Ben Sheets gave up back to back to back homers in the top of the 2nd inning. Sheets was bad in this game, and it cost us. In a battle of "who gets left out" of the 5 man rotation, he's now very much in the questionable category. Six runs in six innings with 4 bombs? Yeah, I'll hope I never see that again out of Mr. Sheets. He's been great, but we need it even more down the stretch, and he's had two clunkers in a row now. Meanwhile, we got 5 hits, so it didn't really matter that Sheets gave up 6 runs. Here's where you KNEW things were going to be tough for us at the plate. In the first inning, Bourn walks, Marteeeeen doubles and scores him. Heyward flies out and they walk Chipper. So you have two on, and one out. Freeman pops out to foul ground on the first freaking pitch. That's ridiculous Freddie. He's walked two batters already in this inning and you pop out on the first pitch? Oh and then he walks Uggla, so they are loaded. That made me even more frustrated at Freeman's foul out. Rossy strikes out swinging on what would have been ball 4, leaving them loaded. Braves went 0-9 with RISP. Terrible. Oh but it gets so much worse...

In Game 3. Minor goes 7 inning giving up only a run. At one point he pitched out of a bases loaded no out jam. What did he get for all his work? Three hits of support and no runs. Braves went 0-3 with RISP because very few people could get to second base. We only had 5 baserunners for the ENTIRE GAME. Five guys. Not just a burger joint, but also a terrible day at the plate for the Braves. In fact, this may be the single worst game I've seen the Braves play all season. It was just horrible at bat after another, with Billingsly laughing at our ineptitude. This will be another one of those games where Fredi G would roll out the "Well you just have to tip your hat to <insert starter who owned us here>" Nope, here's why we lost. Bottom of the first, Bourn earns a walk, then Prado strikes out on four pitches, and Heyward grounds into a double play on the first pitch. Note that Billingsly has already walked a guy in an inning, but we're first pitch swining. Freeman went 3-1 before grounding out in the second, Francisco went 2-0 before fouling out in the same inning. Janish lined out on the second pitch in the 3rd. Uggla popped out on the first pitching the fourth. Janish flied out on a 2-0 count in the 5th. It just went on and on and on. Early swings after a guy has shown he can't throw strikes and we let him off the hook again and again. It's like we didn't want the walks. We were determined to put the ball in play, and the results were awful.

We better start hitting soon, because the Nats don't play nice. They beat up on the Mets and are sitting in the catbird seat at home for the game tonight. The only answer to beating these guys is to score 4-5 runs, because they will put some in on our pitchers. In fact, in our last series the Nats scored 24 runs on us in 4 games. We miraculously took 2-2 in a split, but the back end of that series was a nightmare. Luckily, we have better pitchers going this time around. Hopefully, we can support them better than we did against the Dodgers.

Go Braves!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dodgers @ Braves: Series Preview

To be the best you have to beat the best. Right now the Dodgers are the best in their division at 11 games over .500, and they have gone 6-4 over their last 10 games. The Braves are now 20 games over .500, and they have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games. I'd say that we have the better team, but this series also heralds the beginning of the "Six Man Rotation" a move I'm vehemently against. I could be wrong, but we'll see how it pans out. On to the matchups!

Game 1: Hanson v. Capuano
Game 2: Sheets v. Harang
Game 3: Minor v. Billingsly

I hate our matchups in this series. I understand why we're doing it (HINT: we want Maholm, Medlen, and Hudson to go against the Nats), but that doesn't mean I have to like it. In Game 1 you have Hanson coming off the DL against Capuano who is coming off an 8 inning shutout in Miami. Capuano is very much a strikeout artist, having notched 22 Ks in his last 3 starts. However, he's also subject to giving up walks with 7 in those games as well. He's the kind of pitcher you can run up a count on if you're not getting aggressive or going down 0-2 in the counts. Meanwhile, Hanson hasn't gone more than 5 innings and change since July 7th. His pitch economy has been a major issue with his outings, often causing him to leave after just 5 innings with over 100 pitches. He's also been walking people at an alarming rate with 16 walks in his last 4 games. I think this game could be a total disaster for us. Capuano is sporting a 3.11 ERA to Tommy's ballooning 4.29, and our lineup has a .239 average against Cappy. If we win, we win and I'll be pleasantly surprised, but I'm not counting on it.

Sheets goes in the second game against a very steady Aaron Harang. Sheets bore the brunt of a bad start and even worse hitting in his last outing, losing in a misleading 5-6 score. He's due for a large bounceback in my book. Harang has been cruising with a 3.76 ERA, giving up between 2-4 runs a start on most of his games. The thing is, he's rarely picked up enough run support in those matches to notch any wins. As such, he's lost 7 of his last 10, and his ERA is actually higher over those games around 4.45. Even better for us, the Braves has a career .353 batting average off Harang across the lineup. The biggest killers? Bourn, Heyward, and Uggla who slug a combined .660 off the righty. Meanwhile, the guy who hurts Sheets the most, Juan Uribe, isn't even likely to play in this series as he's 3rd on the depth chart at 3rd base. Take him away, and the rest of the lineup is barely hitting .220 off Sheets. I love this matchup.

Minor doesn't worry me as much as he used to coming up in game 3, but against a guy like Billingsly, I have my concerns. Billingsly is red hot, having won his last 5 in a row with a miniscule 1.56 ERA. Minor has lost his last 2 in a row, with an ERA around 4.15 for those games. Bear in mind that those losses against Minor were almost entirely on the Braves lineup scoring only one run in both of those games. Nobody was going to win in those situations. Billingsly doesn't walk many guys, he has a very low WHIP over his last month, and we're batting .248 against him lifetime. This would be the perfect opportunity to sub in David Ross, who is 3-5 against Billingsly, as well as giving Juan Fransisco a shot in place of Chipper who only has 2 hits in 9 ABs off the Dodgers righty. I'm sort of advocating the Sunday GUL (Give Up Lineup) in this scenario because they ironically have better numbers than the starters. Still, winning this one would be a steal, and we will probably need to win it if we want to take the series.

So there you go. As you can see, I'm only really seeing an advantage for us in Game 2. That means Tommy and Minor are going to have to grind, because not only will they be pitching for the series, they are likely pitching for their spot in the rotation.

Go Braves!

Padres @ Braves: Game 4 Recap aka "Chipper Bobblehead Night"

33,000 people showed up on a Thursday game against the Padres, doubling the previous two games attendance this week. There was only one reason. Chipper Jones Bobbleheads were given away to the first 20,000 fans at the gate. But Chipper wasn't done giving. Oh no. The Magic 3rd baseman decided to have his first multi-homer game in 3 years. They were both no-doubters over 400 feet. The old dude still has enough power left to take a young pitcher yard, make no mistake. The 6-0 win is all the sweeter when you got a Chipper Bobblehead nodding away.

This game was about 2 players having an outstanding game, and as such I think they both deserve MVP nods. First, Chipper obviously gets the MVP for going deep twice on his bobblehead night. The two homers plated 3 RBIs, and they both came in clutch situations with 2 outs. Chipper seems to feed on those kinds of expectations and pressure. Second, Kris Medlen had a complete game shutout for the first time in his career. Medlen went the distance against the Padres, giving up only 5 hits and no walks with 6 Ks. It reminded me a lot of Paul Maholm's complete game against the Mets not long ago. Medlen was in complete control of his pitches the entire stretch, and once Chipper had put two in stands it might as well have been 10-0 instead of 6-0.

Besides Chipper, Paul Janish and Jason Heyward also had multi-hit games. Jason and Chipper went back to back on homers in the 5th, moving Heyward to 3-4 on the night. Janish also went 2-4 on the night with 2 RBIs. Those 3 guys pretty much made up the offensive production in two innings, the 1st and the 5th. The Braves only went 2-7 with RISP, but that's the power of the long ball. I'm never in love with it, because it's so streaky, but I like it when it works. I will say that I was right about my prediction on Jason Marquis. We treated him exactly like the Reds did in July with 6 runs on 3 homers. That complete game shutout against the Pirates had no chance of carrying over into this matchup. Since I'm also picking on his this series, Brian McCann went 0-2 with 2 walks. He was hitless over those 4 games. I have my eye on him now. Uggla went 1-4 so my eye is drifting away from him. That's the good news.

So the winning streak extends to 3 games heading into tonight's matchup against the Dodgers. It's the beginning of that 10 game stretch I've been excited/worried about since the beginning of the month. This is make or break time because it includes a series in Washington. I'm concerned that the first game has Tommy Hanson going against Capuano since Tommy is just off the DL. However, I'll get into that more in the series preview. In the meantime, enjoy the series win, Braves fans. Enjoy moving to 4 games back of those crappy Nats. And especially enjoy the fact that shutting down Strasburg seems to be all they can talk about in Washington.

Go Braves!