Sunday, March 31, 2013

Series Preview - Phillies

Welcome to the first season preview of the year. It's our opening week match against the Philadelphia Phillies, and it will be blessed with an opening day pitch by none other than Chipper Jones, himself. He better get it over the plate, or he'll never live it down in the clubhouse. Let's dive into the matchups.

Game 1 - Hudson v. Hamels
Game 2 - Maholm v. Halladay
Game 3 - Medlen v. Lee

The opening day matchup of Aces between Hudson and Hamels should be the best of the series, and with good reason. Hudson has done well containing the Phillies over the years with a few exceptions. Ryan Howard basically owns Huddy with a .338 average and 7 homers in 65 ABs. His OPS (On Base % + Slugging %) is 1.144 in those ABs, which is frankly absurd. Anything over a 1.000 after 50 ABs essentially means you are raking a guy. My advice? Stay the heck away from Howard and focus on the other guys in the lineup. They are much less likely to take Huddy deep. Also, we have to keep an eye on Tim's performance in the early innings. Last season he had a tendency to let the floodgates open in the first two innings, before settling in and allowing nothing. The problem with that was we could often be down by 3-4 before we knew what happened, and that's a disaster with our guys flailing to catch up.

Hamels has always been a tough nut to crack for the Braves. We went 2-2 against Hamels last season, and in the two losses we scored a grand total of 3 runs. However in September, we touched him him up for 3 runs in 6 innings, followed by an explosion against the Philly bullpen that led to an 8-7 win. Keeping that in mind, he's not untouchable. Freeman and Justin Upton should be key in this game, since they have had the most success against Hamels. Both have averages over .260, and an OBP over .320, so we can expect them to get on base. The question is who knocks them in? Sorry to say, the best guy at that is Brian McCann, who owns Hamels with 15 RBIs in 57 ABs. As you well know Brian isn't going to get a start until May at the earliest. That means others in the lineup will have to step up. Oh, and don't expect that to be Dan Uggla. He's struck out 18 times in 55 ABs against Hamels, with a .145 average. At least he has 2 bombs off the lefty. Swing for the fences, Dan. We're not expecting much out of you in this one.

Game 2 will come after an off day because baseball worries constantly about an April shower wrecking their opening day. That means if a game gets rained out, they just move it a day. Weather reports for Monday put that chance at 20%, which is essentially nothing. We're going to need runs in this game. Why? Because Maholm has a terrible history against the Phillies. In 106 ABs, the Phillies lineup is sporting a .330 average off Maholm with 9 doubles and 14 RBIs. The good news? Only 2 homers. That means we can rely some on the defense to get us out of trouble. The defense can't put one back in the park. On the flip side, Halladay looked completely lost in Spring Training. He was giving up runs like candy at Halloween. Many think he's completely lost his fastball, literally. If that's the case, we need to take advantage. Freeman, and ironically Uggla, have done very well off Halladay in the past with their 1.00+ OPS. I'm not expecting a low scoring affair in this one.

Game 3 is the season debut for Medlen, who had an iffy spring as he worked on a few of his ancillary pitches. As most of your know, Medlen works off a fastball/change-up combo with devastating success. He's been working on a slider and curve combo to move into his rotation, but with limited results. Also, Medlen didn't have any starts against Philly in 2012, so we're not exactly sure what we'll get in this game. Cliff Lee has been trouble for our offense in the past. In 2012, we got 3 runs off him in 2 games. Turns out that was enough to go 1-1, but still. Both Uptons will be key in getting Lee off his game, since their hitting and speed have netted several extra base hits off the lefty. A guy you may see start in this one is Reed Johnson. I would put him in over Jason Heyward against Lee, because his success rate along with the Uptons would be much higher than Heyward's in the past. We shall see if Fredi G trusts the numbers or his gut.

So there you have it, the first series preview for the Braves season. Will we win? Will we start like we did last season and get swept? I can't say for sure. Let's see what the CPA (Current Prediction Algorithm) has to say about Game 1.

CPA Pick Game 1: Phillies 4 - Braves 3

Hmmm. The numbers don't favor us against Hamels with Ryan Howard in the lineup. The Braves can lower the bad odds without pitching to Howard, but you also have Rollins who gives Huddy troubles. Stats robot doesn't favor us in the matchup, but the long ball can be the game-changer. We'll see what happens.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New things for 2013

Heading into the regular season. I wanted to announce two changes I'm making to the blog for the year. The first is that I'm adding a weekly TV schedule for the Braves on the right hand side of the blog. You can see the template there now. You can come to the blog daily to get your information about yesterdays games, then make sure you know what channel and time we play that night. I can credit one of my regular readers and tax clients, Will, with that idea.

The second thing I will be adding is the Current Prediction Algorithm, or CPA for short. This is a various collection of stats that I've thrown together into a complicated excel formula that is so over the top, a circular reference error would rip a whole in the space time continuum. Ok, maybe not, but the reality is it will be a fun tool that predicts the final score of the game that night. The CPA will be a cold, unbiased look at the Braves chances to win, and possibly give us something to make fun of when it's wrong. After all, who doesn't like making predictions? I'll be keeping stats on the CPA all year long to see how often it's correct, or not. As per usual, my fan side reserves the right to disagree with the CPA and call it a soulless machine. Like Jeffrey Loria.

Opening Day is only 5 days away. Let the countdown begin!

Go Braves!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Recapping Spring Training 2013

Let's face it. Spring training is basically over. From last weekend going forward, the Braves have already made up their minds on roster spots. The starters are getting limited at bats and don't care. At this point, we're essentially just giving pitchers some last minute tune-up work, and the new guys in the lineup some time to work out the kinks. Evan Gattis got 4 ABs against the Mets today. That won't happen very often in the regular season.

Why do I say this? Because anything we can learn from Spring Training has been learned. And that's why I'm going to ignore the last week of games that are left and just focus on recapping the numbers so far from training. And honestly, training has been pretty great for morale amongst the players and fans. We have a ton to be excited about heading into this next season.

We'll start with the things that concern me, because they are so few. I only have two real concerns about the Braves going into the regular season: Mike Minor and Dan Uggla. Dan shouldn't shock anybody. As of today, Dan's had 23 strikeouts with only 3 walks, a .214 average, and only .300 slugging. That's obviously bad, but there are signs he may be ready to break out of it come April. In his past 5 games, Dan has had 5 hits with a homer. Things may be coming together for him, and we can only hope he can post at least a .250 average this season. Anything over that is pure gravy. That's semi-depressing how far our expectations for him have fallen, but it's the solid truth.

Minor concerns me because he's still not locating his pitches. He has the highest spring WHIP, the highest opponent average, and the most walks of all our starters. If I was rating our pitchers' training from 1-5 in the rotation, it would be Teheran, Maholm, Hudson, Medlen, and Minor. That's not exactly the way we will pitch them (obviously Hudson and Medlen go 1-2), but that's how they've stacked up in training so far. Minor got his act together late in the year last season, but we don't have a lot of options for starters this year if he struggles. We sort of focus tested Sean Gilmartin in a starting role, but the results have been frankly horrifying. Giving up 5 bombs in 13 innings doesn't endear him to anybody.

What's good? Where to start? Basically everything about offense shows that sky is the limit. The entire outfield has treated training as a long ball launching pad. Francisco has been seeing the ball well and gunning for a full time slot at third. Simmons continues to dazzle with his glove, and his speed will never slump on the bases. Freeman is murdering the ball when he makes contact. Gattis is going to be a great option as a backup catcher along with Laird. There's not a hole in the lineup if we just ignore second base. Let's just ignore that for the time being.

Teheran has been stunning. 26 innings, 35 Ks, 9 walks, a .082 opp average, and a 1.04 ERA in 6 starts. Um...yeah. If he can carry even 50% of his spring potential into the season, he and Medlen may be in a duel for the hot young phenom honors. We could have two of the best young starters in the game on the same team. It's very possible with the kind of stuff these kids possess. When you look at the bullpen, we have reason to believe that we can shore up the 7-8-9 innings with the best of them. Varvaro has looked very solid with a few hiccups in his 11 appearances. Gearrin looks like he really wants a place full time in the bullpen this year with 9 appearances and a K/BB rate of 11/3. Eric O'Flaherty has been underworked, but I think we can rely on his past experience to carry him through. Obviously Kimbrel is Kimbrel, the K-Crab! He'll be tough on everyone come regular season. Notice I haven't said much about Venters. The talk I'm hearing is that we've been trying to trade him, so I'm not sure if Everyday Jonny will even be on the roster in April, but we'll see. He's not really been on with his command, but he's been extremely limited, so it's hard to tell.

I think Evan Gattis is going to take over the role from Hinske last year as the player that everyone roots for coming off the bench. The Water Buffalo is going to be replaced by the White Bear. I think that many people will miss Chipper this year when the first dribbler goes down the 3rd base side, and there's no smooth old grey mare to do the quick pick'n'toss to first. I think that our outfield is going to be one of the most feared in baseball, with a combination of power and speed that hasn't been seen in Atlanta since the 90s. Most of all, I think this is going to be a fantastic season. I think we can win this thing, and I'm not just talking about the division. I think this may be the best team in the NL, and that we could be seeing the makings of a World Series squad. I didn't think that last year since we had all these questions about our lineup, our RISP, our rotation injuries, and various other things. But this year? I haven't been this excited about a Braves team in a long time.

And my bet is that you are too.

Go Braves!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Training Games 25-26: Phillies and Pirates

35 runs. Thirty. Five. Runs.

Not in a week. Not in a series. In two games. The only thing that could have been more offensively explosive in these games would be if Justin Upton yelled out, "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?" after his second bomb against the Phillies.

Do you enjoy bad pitching? There was plenty on both sides. Do you enjoy watching guys hit dingers? You're in luck; there were tons. The Phillies made the mistake of throwing Rodrigo Lopez's old ass out on the mound in game 1, and they didn't come to rescue him until after two innings of a beatdown that would have been stopped by a UFC ref as a submission. Here's a recap of how the first inning went:

Pastornicky doubles
Heyward grounds out
Justin Upton goes yard - 2 runs in
Freeman walks
BJ Upton doubles
Uggla strikes out (of course)
Francisco singles - 2 runs in
Pagnozzi singles
MEDLEN singles - 1 run in
Pastornicky singles - 1 run in
Heyward flies out

So besides proving that Medlen is a better hitter than Dan Uggla, the reverse rally monkey, we managed to plate 6 runs in the first inning. But wait, there's more! Philly gets up in the next inning and proceeds to take Medlen all over the park for 5 runs. However, the Braves weren't done. They put up 2 more, then 3 more, and it kept going. In fact, the only inning they didn't score a run in was the 6th. I think it was because they were bored of scoring at that point. Lopez has almost no shot of playing in the majors this year for the Phillies, so it's not like you can look at these runs and think they are off MLB talent. Also don't worry about Medlen, since he was trying to throw a curve as a workout pitch, and it wasn't working. He would go change or straight fastball in those scenarios in the regular season instead of hanging curves.

Atlanta goes 8-14 with RISP, only 5 Ks, 10 2-out RBIs, 4 homers, 2 doubles, a triple, and a freaking partridge in a pear tree. To game 2!

The Pirates are terrible. People keep telling you they are on the rise, and that they could post a winning season! I don't buy it. They had a nice story last year where they sort of competed in the NL Central before they realized they were the Pirates. As you all know, we own them. Some of our greatest moments in Braves history left Pirates fans waking up in a cold sweat screaming SID BREAM before they rock themselves back to sleep weeping. Last year was last year. This year, they will be an unchecked dumpster fire only outpaced by the Cubs, and it will be because their pitching will flounder. I don't trust Burnett or Wandy at all, and Karstens hasn't pitched a game all spring. McDonald is a 4.00+ career guy, and his command in spring hasn't been there. I guess we'll see, but if I'm taking bets, I'm putting them down for another disappointment.

That being said, it's not a wonder the Braves up 18 on them in training against Kyle McPherson, who if he is in the starter plan for the Pirates, good luck! You know what the best part of this game was? Dan Uggla went 2/3 with no strikeouts. Huzzah! Player of the day award goes to Freddie Freeman who went 4/4 with 4 RBIs, 2 homers, and a double. Is he seeing the ball well? I think yes, duh. Downside of the day? Minor got smoked for 10 hits, 5 runs, a homer, and 3 walks in 4 IPs. The offense outplayed the defense in both games, but where Medlen is not a concern in my mind, Minor is.

Minor's been scuffling in training. He's gone 18 innings now, which is around 3 starts total in a regular season, and he's sporting a 5.50 ERA. That in and of itself doesn't bother me, but his command numbers scare the crap out of me. Right now his K/BB rate is 15/12. That's BAD. Like you shouldn't be starting, bad. By comparison, Teheran is at 25/6, Medlen is 14/1, Huddy is 5/5, and Maholm is 13/8. Huddy's number doesn't bother me as much because he's a ground ball guy, not a K guy. Minor isn't. Also, Minor's WHIP is approaching a 2.00 (a good number is between 1-1.2), and that gets you benched in the long run. If you're letting 2 on base an inning? We'll never outscore that.

But for the time being, let's bask in the warming glow of the awesome power of our bats. HATS FOR BATS! Keep bats warm. Gracias.

Go Braves!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Weekend Roundup: Games 21-24 Cards, Yankees, and Mets x2

As you can probabaly tell there is a gap between updates during tax season. I think you all know why. Daily recaps don't start until after the 15th of April when I can settle in during daylight hours without constantly cranking the adding machine. Also, as we get closer to the actual real games starting on April 1st, I think we all realize that the last 10 days of spring training are totally useless. Everything will have been decided already in terms of roster slots and rotations, and we're just playing the games because we have to. I think you'll be excited about some of the new things I'll be adding to the blog once we get to the regular season, though. More on that in the coming weeks.

The game against the Cards is hardly worth going over. The only thing worth noting is that Minor struggled and Uggla had another hit. Minor didn't hit his zone at all and walked 4 guys while giving up 4 runs in 5 innings. Nobody had a homer, only Parraz had an extra bag hit, and we went 2-11 with RISP and 8 Ks. It sucked. Moving on.

Game 1 against the Mets was fun for the two bombs that Freeman and Francisco hit off Jeremy Hefner, the Mets starter. Hudson also looked much better going 6 innings with only 2 earned runs. BJ Upton also went 2/3 and looks good swinging the lumber every time he gets up to the plate. Downside? We went 0-8 with RISP and struck out 9 times.

The Yankees didn't send their A squad. They didn't even sent the B squad. On the radio broadcast, the announcers basically said if you knew any of these guys playing for the Yankees out there, you knew more than them. As a result, the "Yankees" only got 3 hits off Maholm and the relief crew. I don't really think this proved anything about Maholm, but maybe 6 innings of shutout ball will give him some confidence. The Braves lit up the 2012 rookie starter for the Yankees, David Phelps, for 7 hits, 4 runs, and a long shot. So at least the hitters were facing legitimate MLB pitching, albeit young pitching. Francisco went deep again (notice a pattern?), Reed Johnson had a double, and Heyward, Francisco, and Justin Upton had 2 out RBIs. The RISP was a much better 3-6, and the strikeout total was down to 7. Notice how the RISP improves when the Ks go down? Hmmm.

Game 2 against the Mets was as boring as baseball can get. The upside was Julio Teheran dazzling the Mets batters with his stuff. After 6 innings, Teheran had only given up one run on a homer, and struck out 7 with 2 walks. Downside? Unless your name was Chris Johnson, you didn't get much hitting done. Chris had a robust 3/4 day with a 2 out jack in the 4th off Niese (who we will see a lot of in the regular season). Dan Uggla went 0-4 with 2 Ks. Not so good there. It all ended with a 2-1 snoozer that the Braves won, but nobody was still in the stadium to notice.

So how do we look at this stage in Spring? I'll do a who's hot and who's not of the Braves during Spring:

Who's HOT? -

BJ Upton is batting .408 for spring with 5 doubles and 7 RBIs.
Freddie Freeman has 4 homers and is slugging close to .600
Chris Johnson is batting .333 with 3 bombs.
Pastornicky is hitting .364 with an OBP of .429 showing a good eye
Francisco is slugging .630 with 4 jacks and 8 RBIs.
Joey Terd is hitting a ridiculous .417 average for spring with 3 doubles in 36 ABs.
Evan Gattis has an absurd OPS (OBP + Slugging) of 1.076, and anything over .900 is considered awesome
Teheran has worked 20 innings with a 1.35 ERA
Maholm has worked 19.1 innings with a 2.33 ERA

Who's NOT? -

Dan Uggla is hitting .196 with 17 Ks and only 3 walks. He's also committed a team high 5 errors.
Bethancourt looks unready for primetime hitting only .133 in limited ABs
Reed Johson is hitting .179 in 39 ABs.
Chris Johnson has committed 4 errors at 3rd during spring. A sign he may not be ready as a starter.
Tim Hudson has an ERA of 5.40 in 20 innings of work. He's also given up 3 homers.
Sean Gilmartin and Cristhian Martinez both have ERAs in teh 6's, and look extremely shakey in middle relief
Jonny Venters has a WHIP that's over 2.3 in his limited work. He's simply putting on too many runners.

So there's a recap of where we stand. I think you'll agree that the lineup for the most part looks pretty hot, as do the starters. We need a little work on the middle relief, but overall it's shaping up nicely for our opener in April.

Go Braves!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Training Games 18-20: Nationals, Cardinals, Marlins

If wins matter to you, then these games would have mattered bigtime, since the Braves won them all. Personally, I was happy to see a few things that were consistent across all these matches. The Braves were getting hits with RISP. That's the key. That's what I want to see later in March.

Strasburg went one inning too long in his 5.1 innings, and we made him pay big time. In the sixth inning, the Braves exploded for 6 runs on 7 hits. Reed Johnson got a single, then Pastornicky singled, the Schafer walked the bases loaded. All this came with one out. After that? Floodgates opened. Justin Upton smashed a liner to score two. Francisco Ks. BJ smashed a liner to score another guy. Then we had back to back doubles by two of our AAA guys to score 3 more. It was just a hit parade to know out the young phenom Strasburg, who has to be put in bubble tape because he's delicate. He's a unique snowflake. We beat him up nicely, and I liked it. Braves went 5-8 with RISP in that game. However, it also came with 9 Ks, but I'll forgive that for 7 runs scored. Shockingly, those 7 runs came on no homers.

On to the Cardinals. The Braves put their foot on Westbrook and Lyons pitching for the Cards, and they never let up. Teheran was perfect as well. He pitched 5 innings of NO HIT ball. No hits, two walks, and 6 Ks. Unreal. The kid was on. The Braves went 9-20 with RISP and scored 12 runs with only 5 strikeouts and 5 walks. That's a much improved patience at the plate than I've seen lately, and it showed up in the box score. The player of the game in my mind had to, yet again, Evan Gattis. He went 2 for 2 with 3 RBIs as the catcher. He's absolutely raking right now. In his limited ABs with RISP, Gattis is batting .429 with 7 RBIs. Thats in a total of 7 ABs. He's averaging a run an AB with RISP right now. My mind is blown. BLOWN!

Last on the docket was the crappy Marlins, who sold off most of their players for candy in the offseason. Medlen gave them 2 hits, and that was it. No runs and 3 Ks in 4.2 innings. He would have gone longer, but he took a scary liner off his pitching arm in the 5th inning, and they decided to rightly pull him from the game. The good news is that he's fine and showing no signs of any damage. We can all breathe a small sigh of relief there. Meanwhile, Venters went into complete greasefire mode. He came in to relieve Medlen and walked the bases loaded, then walked in the only run of the game for the Marlins in the 6th. I've heard rumblings that we're trying to move him in a trade, but he's not helping his cause. The bats were quiet on both sides, but the Braves struck when it mattered. They went 1-6 with RISP, which sounds bad, but with only four hits in a 2-1 win we can live with it. Freddie Freeman provided the first homer of these three games with a solo jack in the third inning, so he gets my game ball vote.

In terms of overall issues, Venters is starting to scare me a little. He's gone six games now, and he's sporting a 4.26 ERA with a .367 opponent batting average. That's terrifying as a middle reliever. His job is to primarily keep games on ice, and that batting average is a bad sign. Cristhian Martinez is also a concern in the middle relief department with his 7.36 ERA in 7.1 innings of work and a .300 opponent average. I'm not loving those guys in their traditional roles so far. Meanwhile, Dan Uggla has 5 errors now in the field, and Chris Johnson has 3. I'm not ok with that at all in our infield. So far Juan Francisco has 0 errors in 73 innings as third, and I'm much more comfortable with his bat. The sad part is that we have literally not better option at 2nd than Dan Uggla. He could quietly murder this team's chances this season with his glove AND bat. My panic meter with him is at a 5/10.

Good news? The Uptons are raking. Freeman is smashing the ball. Heyward is smashing the ball. Evan Gattis is making a name for himself. Joey Terd is killing it. Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson are in a race for 3rd that's too close to call. So much about this team looks great. April can't get here fast enough.

Go Braves!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Training Games 16-17: Yankees and Marlins weekend roundup

So, I had a surreal moment when I turned on the TV on Sunday night and ESPN was playing the World Baseball Classic game between Dominican and Puerto Rico in Spanish only. Very confusing. It was like being back in Texas for a second. This just goes to show you that even broadcasting an exhibition baseball game in Spanish is still more popular than mid-major basketball. Take that Liberty, and your 15-20 record that somehow will be in the NCAA Tourney! On to baseball.

I had the priviledge of listening to the Saturday game against the Yankees on the radio. You know what I heard? A whole lot of not hitting. In fact, the game went 7 innings before anybody plated a run. And guess who came through with a clutch bloop single to get a runner home with 2 outs? Dan Uggla! I know, I'm shocked too. Mike Minor went 4 scoreless innings which was nice. The team also committed 3 fielding errors which was not so nice. Dan had one of those as well. He can't just have a nice day yet; he's still screwing it up somewhere. Overall though? This game was really really boring even for an exhibition. The Yankees stranded 11 guys, and in a regular season game probably would have lit us up. Or maybe not, given how old their team is getting.

I didn't see the game on Sunday, which was a blessing. That game against the Marlins started poorly and got worse in a hurry. Tim Hudson got lit up like a Christmas Decoration on Tim Allen's roof. I'm going to mark this down as a minor (Minor! Get it? Hurhurhur) concern because Tim is having the same struggles we saw last year. He can just look terrible in the first couple of innings and then lock in hard for the next 4. Tim started the game by immediately plunking the first batter. Then he gave up a single, a fly ball, and another fly ball. Ok, so at this point you have two on and two outs, and the damage has been well contained from two runners, no outs. All you need is one out to get out of a jam. NOPE. Next batter goes yardarm to right. 3-0, and you're scratching your head as a fan. Tim just gave up a 3 run jack to a guy who's never played in the majors.

Ok so you need Huddy to shake off the homer and rally in the second. He gives up an immediate single, a line out, a walk, and a ground out. Here we are again, runners on second and third, two outs. All you need is an out to... NOPE! Smack single to left, both runs score, and before you can sit down turn around and pick a bale of cotton, Timmy's down five runs. Now, if you're a Braves fan from the past you know exactly what we do in these situations. We hang our heads like a bunch of losers, don't score, and move on to next game while Fredi G or some other jackass "tips his cap" and rambles about running into a buzzsaw. This game was no different. The Braves ended up only scoring 2 more runs, the Marlins put up double digits.

Bright side of Sunday? BJ Upton went 3/3, and Jason Heyward went 2/3. Downside? Chris Johnson had his 3rd fielding error, and BJ Upton was caught stealing twice. Oh and we had no extra base hits except for some guy named Joe Leonard who doesn't matter.

Time to check the stats toteboard! Just as I'd suspected the Braves strikeout totals are on the rise, up to 121 in training now. That's 6th in the league, and only 8 away from the #1 spot, held by the worthless Mets. We now have as many strikeouts as the Houston Astros, who are manned by possible holdovers from the Mexican League. By far the disturbing thing is there are only 34 walks to go along with those Ks. That means right now we strike out 3.5 times as much as we walk. As a result our OBP is 24th in the league, and our runs scored is 21st. Simply put, we're not very patient, and we're not producing the runs needed to be that impatient. Luckily, it's training. Luckily, these numbers don't matter when game one starts. However, we don't want carry over if guys aren't seeing the ball well, or if pitchers haven't found their zone, or if Dan Uggla is swinging at air.

Am I worked up yet? No, right now this is all information. And the only information I really want is the score of our opening day win.

Go Braves!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Training Games 13-15: Tigers, Astros, Blue Jays

We had 3 games in 2 days over Thursday and Friday. The reason was that in Spring Training, on the weekends, you often see teams do what's called a split squad set of games. Essentially, that just means the team gets split in half, and they play different games that day against different opponents. They usually try to divide them up pretty evenly so it's not just the regulars and the scrubs.

So what did we learn against the Tigers? Well, first we learned that Teheran can go 4 innings with little damage. He also posted 5 Ks against one walk in that outing against the Tigers, so the command is there. We learned that Venters still isn't quite there yet, since he gave up 2 hits in one inning, but luckily no runs. We learned that Dan Uggla can occasionally get a hit in between strikeouts. We learned that Juan Francisco may have a lot of home run pop in his bat this season.

Against Toronto? We learned that even Medlen can still have bad days giving up 3 runs in 4 innings on 5 hits and a wall-clearer. We learned that there will be days that the Braves lineup can go absolutely ice cold and strike out 10 times, as we'd feared.

Against Houston? We learned that there will be days that the Braves lineup can go absolutely red hot and score double digit runs. It's going to be a lot of feast and famine, and we as fans better be prepared for that. If anything these two games on the same day were a tale of two cities. The haves and the have nots. The strikeouts and the out-of-the-ballparks shots. We learned that Evan Gattis is going to beat the office over the head with how good he can be. Gattis went 3/4 with a 3 runs bomb in the second inning and 4 RBIs total. Holy cow. Gattis is slugging .800 in spring training. Again, if he doesn't make this roster as a PH guy, something is very wrong about how the Braves are evaluating their talent.

We're keeping the fielding errors down now, which is one of the things I look for in training. I don't like the fact that Dan has two, or that Pastornicky has two, but I really don't think Pastornicky will make the team. Everyone else seems to be making good throws and keeping the ball in front of them. Also, no errors in the outfield yet, which is a great sign.

Today we play the Yankees again. Looks like the weather will be 70 degrees and perfect. Enjoy the game if you get the chance to see it. I'll be figuring out how to adjust payroll taxes in the meantime.

Go Braves!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Training Game #12: The Yankees again

Do you like hitting and offense? Sorry, we are fresh out of that here. The game against the Yankees was, to say the least, devoid of any real potency. The most exciting moment was when Dan Uggla got plunked in the back of the head with a fastball. He's fine, but as my friend Ashleigh put it, "Maybe that will knock some hitting sense into him." We can only hope.

One of the funniest moments in the game came in the 7th inning. The game was 1-0 Braves, and the Yankees were showing absolutely no signs of giving a crap about scoring. Tyler Pastornicky comes to the plate and legs out a slow roller to short where the SS lazily tossed the ball to first. He then proceeds to steal second, and in the process gets a free pass to third as the catcher heaves the ball into center field on an overthrow. Then to add to fielding fail, Mark Montomery commits a balk. That scores Pastornicky to make it 2-0 without the ball ever leaving the infield, or even another batter making contact. You don't see that very often.

Maholm probably couldn't pitch any worse and still hold a team to no earned runs. He went 3.2 innings on over 70 pitches (holy lack of economy, Batman!), he walked 4 guys, gave up 3 hits, and stuck out two. The command wasn't there at all. He was nipping at corners and missing all over the place. I'm glad he didn't give up any runs, but the Yankees weren't trying really hard yesterday, and he wasn't in the zone enough for my tastes. We did get to see JR Graham make another appearance, and he looked very solid in his 2 innings giving up only a hit, and inducing 3 straight groundouts in the 9th. That kid is going to be on the major league radar in the near future.

Hitting? Uhhh, hitting...hitting...let me check. Ah, Freddie Freeman went 2/3, so he's still seeing the ball really well. Jordan Schafer went 1/2 with a run scored and 2 walks, so his eye and patience at the plate was very solid. Then you have Dan Uggla who went 0/2 with a strikeout and took a pitch to the head. Ugh. He's exhausting me already. Heyward, Justin Upton, Joey Terd, and Chris Johnson also had an 0-for game with no walks. Add 7 more strikeouts to the board. That's becoming a very real number for us. We're now 11th in strikeouts in Spring Training, and closing in fast on the top 10. The good news is we're tied for 3rd in Spring Training for home runs. We'll need those bombs, but we'll also need people on base for them, and we're 29th in walks. Not the kind of approach I want. That's why we're working it out in Spring.

Go Braves!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Training Game #11 - The Hapless Mets

Meet the Mets, greet the Mets, come on out and BEAT the Mets. You'll be hearing that a lot this year. I don't think the Mets will win 70 games with the team they are forced to put on the field. I'm pretty sure their A-list players were foreclosed on by the bank and sold on the auction house steps. That's ok though, because I hate the Mets, New York fans, and everything that has to do with that general region. They'll probably just do what they always do and bandwagon to the Yankees, because they are gutless frontrunners. On to the game!

Chris Johnson? Have a day. Chris went 3/3 in the game with payday shot in the 7th off some guy who was selling hot dogs out of a cart in New York last year. Justin Upton also rang the bell in the first off Jeremy Hefner, his one real blemish in 3 innings of work. Despite the 4 runs, the Braves still went a paltry 1-8 with RISP, committed an error, and grounded into two double plays. Also, add 7 more K's to the big board. What's that number up to now Johnny? It's...75! We're actually below 7 per game now on average. For those that say strikeouts don't matter, I give you the top 5 teams in spring training with the most K's in the league: Mets, Mariners, Padres, Astros, Cubs. There's not a team on that list that didn't finish in the bottom half of every division they play in. You don't want to be in their company.

Hudson was iffy again. He gave up 6 hits and 2 runs with a walk over 4 innings. I'd like to see him do better with his WHIP againsts the crappy Mets, but the damage wasn't huge, and the ball stayed in the park. I can live with that and so can you. The rest of the bullpen went 5 innings of scoreless ball with only 2 hits total. Pretty stellar back half by the crew of young guns. Weird fact of the game: Hudson I guess decided he'd seen enough of Ike Davis' ugly mug after a double in the first, so he just decided to plunk him in the 3rd. Was it intentional? Meh, probably not, but I'd like to think Huddy was sending a subtle message to the Mets early. We own you Mets. And if you we don't own you yet, we probably can later when your team goes up for auction. Then we can change the name to the New York Debts.

Go Braves!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Training Games 9&10: Astros and Tigers

The weather was awful here this weekend, but it was very nice for the most part down in Florida. That's a good thing since we need our spring training fix. I even have the advantage of hearing the Saturday games on the radio since I'm chained to my desk during tax season. I have to look on the sunny side of these things.

From a pitching standpoint, the Astros game was fine. Medlen went 3 innings with only one blemish, a solo shot in first inning. He had a couple of strikeouts and walk, but otherwise gave up no hits. In other words, he looks pretty sharp. I've said it before, I'll forgive the solo shot mistake. I won't forgive the 3 run oops. The oops came in the game when Sean Gilmartin went 3 innings and gave up 4 runs in the 4th inning on 6 hits. Total disaster. So far, the Braves pitching staff as a whole hasn't really had too many games without a complete meltdown by somebody. Not really concerning, just a point about the depth of our bullpen beyond our steady regulars.

The hitting was another story. Freeman went yard on a solo shot in the 3rd. That's basically the offense for the game until Houston put in the dregs in the 7th inning. And if you are the dregs on Houston, I'm not sure you were even in AAA ball last year. You might have been in the California Penal League. Houston seems to be actively trying to become the biggest joke in baseball, surpassed only by Jeffrey Loria's lime green disaster of a stadium (that I always said was a bad idea, even while ESPN was kissing his rear about how great it was for the community). If our hits come after the 4th or 5th inning in any training game, they are essentially meaningless. That's just a note for the future.

On to the Tigers. Didn't we just play them? Seems like we did. The pitching was lights out against the Tigers this time. Minor redeemed his early game issues with 3 innings of 1 hit ball and 3 Ks. Venters, Gearrin, and Varvaro also logged 3 innings of 1 hit ball with 4 Ks. The Tigers couldn't touch those guys. Meanwhile, our boys touched up Doug Fister (a starter for the Tigers) for 3 runs on 5 hits with a moon shot. In fact, 3 different guys homered in the game: Uggla, BJ Upton, and Pastornicky. Upton's is the one that counts because it was off a real major leaguer. Freddie Freeman also managed to leg out a triple somehow. I would have loved to see that live because as we know, Special Fred is NOT fast. He probably looked like Frankenstein with a short circuit trying to hustle to the bag. Either that, or someone in the outfield fell over and he just moonwalked around the bases. I'm not entirely sure. I'm just happy those guys are showing up consistently in the box scores.

Some overall thoughts: I really like what Joey Terd is doing at the plate. 10 hits in 16 ABs is nothing to snark at, even in training. The same is true of Evan Gattis. How we don't have a PH bench spot for this guy on the team is almost beyond me. He seems like the prototype slugger you want to come in for a reliever late in the game, or in a double switch. I would be disappointed if he doesn't get a shot on the roster this year, at the very least when we open it up to 40 mans in the fall. Also, Pastornicky is doing his best to show he can handle a bat. He may be doing it against sub-par pitchers, but he's showing a lot more effort than I expected. I still don't think we can put him on this team, but I would love to trade him for something decent.

Go Braves!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Training Games 7 & 8: Phillies and Nationals

Well, we didn't slam one at Cole Hamels deep like I wanted, but we did ding him for 4 hits and a run in three innings. We didn't really hit well in either game, despite the overall totals. The reason is that we made a lot of our hay against the back ends of the pitching staff, which as we all know is mostly against the AAA scrubs we'll never see again.

That said, Maholm got smoked. I mean absolutely cut up, laid over hickory chips, and turned into pulled pork. In 2.2 innings the Phillies got him for 6 hits, 5 runs, and 2 walks. It was shockingly bad, and you would hope we don't see many of those in the regular season, because they are impossible to recover from. On the plus side, he didn't give up any long balls, and he had two strike outs. On the negative side, Kimbrel and Martinez also got lit up for a combined 5 hits and 5 runs in their 2 innings of work against the Phils. It's a training game though, so we can mostly look past the bad, but MAN. It was bad. Oh and we had 2 errors. This time Pastornicky got in on the error act, grounded into a double play, had 2 hits and 4 RBIs. That kid is all over the place.

The game against the Nats was a much more respectable matchup. Teheran went 3 innings with only a solo shot homer given up, but he notched 5 Ks to 0 walks. That's really really solid for a young kid to have that kind of control. Nobody cares if you give up the solo shots. It's the 3 run bombs that are killer. Other good news? Heyward went yard again, and BJ Upton notched another double. I'm starting to get very optimistic about this outfield, folks. They are seeing the ball really well, and they are doing it against the MLB starters from opposing teams, not the back end scrubs. Heyward has 3 homers now in 15 ABs. Both Uptons have 3 RBIs a piece on a combined 11 hits, and BJ has 3 doubles with a stolen base. That's over a .560 slugging average for both, but that's a meaningless number. It's just exciting to think about.

The bad news? Pastornicky had another error, bringing him up to 2 in a row. Uggla went 0-for-4 with 4 Ks. Dear lord. My threat level on Uggla is already pushing into the yellow-orange border. Uggla now has 10 strikeouts in 16 ABs. UGGGGH. The Braves now total 57 Ks in 8 games. That's a little over a 7 K per game average. Get used to that, because I believe we're going to see a lot of freewheeling come regular season.

Right now the pitching staff is shaping up nicely. Hudson has gone 5 innings with a 3.6 ERA, Teheran has gone 5 innings with a 1.80 ERA, Medlen has gone 2 innings with a 0.00 ERA. Then you have some struggles by Minor and Maholm, who are both posting ERA's over 9.00 with a combined 6.2 innings pitched. The good and bad on both sides is that the sample size is extremely small. What you really don't want to see out of any pitching in training is a struggle with command. So far, none of the starters have shown signs of that. In fact, the only guy who hasn't looked sharp with his command is Kimbrel, who is sporting 3 walks and only 1 K in 3 innings. Of course, he's not pitching in the 9th, so it's hard to judge. I have a feeling he can turn it on quickly.

Go Braves!