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!