Friday, October 11, 2013

Braves Season Recap 2013

It was a great season, despite how it ended. The Braves did something that nobody outside of Georgia expected them to do, and that was win the division. The Nats absolutely fell apart, the Marlins were the joke we all expected them to be, and the Mets continue to try to avoid their creditors. I'm not sure much will change as we go to next season, seeing that the Braves and the Nats have the highest and best chance of competing in a division that's mainly a two horse race until the other teams can spend some money.

What went wrong? That's what everyone seems to want to focus on first, so I'll look at that right off the bat. Well for starters, what went wrong was the health of the team. The bullpen suffered the losses of O'Flaherty and Venters immediately. Then Christian Martinez, Tim Hudson, and Brandon Beachy followed in the wake of season-ending injuries. But that wasn't all. Ramiro Pena suffered an injury just as he was hitting his hot streak, as did Tyler Pastornicky right when he was ready to make a contribution to the squad. It was just a MASH unit of wounded by the time the Braves crossed the finish line, and I'm not even addressing the two times Jason Heyward was out with both appendicitis and a broken jaw.

What else went wrong? Two of our highest price guys, BJ Upton and Dan Uggla, both finished the season with averages well below .200, and with strikeout totals well above 150. It's the two single worst performances by any two baseball players on the same team that I've ever seen without injury. What made it that much worse was the fact they were under contract for a combined $25.5 million. If they weren't, they would have been cut. They weren't the only issue though. The Braves struggled mightily with RISP all year long, and certain players just never picked up the pace in time to make a difference. Two of the other guys in that regard were Andrelton Simmons and Brian McCann. Simmons only had a .206 average with RISP, and BMac only managed a .227 with 34 RBIs. The McCann one is the most disappointing, because there were so many runs we left on the table with him at the plate in the post-season. He covered a lot of sins with his power, but his situational hitting simply wasn't up to par this season.

What went right? Chris Johnson is probably the most obvious choice. He was a kick-in on the Justin Upton trade, and he turned into a guy that was chasing the NL batting title down the stretch. What a pickup by Wren in that trade. Just don't look at the BJ trade with it. Freddie Freeman also was very right. I don't think I'll ever forget the All-Star voting battle of Braves Country versus ESPN trying to cram Puig down our collective throats. Freeman won that battle, but I guess ESPN won the war when the Dodgers knocked us out of the playoffs. Still, Freddie deserved every accolade as he finished with a .319 average, 109 RBIs, and 27 homers. What a season by our first baseman. The Justin Upton trade was also right for the most part. He carried this team for two months this season, and had hot streaks that saw him put a total of 27 homers on the board for the team lead. While he finished with a respectable .263 average and a robust .800+ OPS, I think we all looked at it with sad reflection, because we know he was capable of so much more. I think while Justin was streaky, he can continue to improve his game as he heads into next season with a little more consistency at the plate.

The pitching went very right for the majority of the season. They lead the league in ERA, and they wildly outperformed expectations even in the face of massive injuries to the rotation. I can't think of another team that could weather that storm and still manage to carry a team that was supposed to be known for hitting, but somehow slumped for 10 games at a time at the plate. The pitching, especially guys in the bullpen like Avilan, Carpenter, Varvaro, and Walden, kept the games on lockdown late in the year. It's a shame that disappeared in the playoffs down the stretch. However, one thing that didn't waiver was Craig Kimbrel, and if I'm looking at the best pitching story for 2013, it's him. Craig finished with 50 saves, a feat only touched by 11 relievers now in MLB history. The amazing part was that he finished with a paltry 1.21 ERA while doing it, and 4 wins to boot. He is and will continue to be the most feared part of the Braves pitching staff, until the Braves find that mythical starting Ace.

What moments will we always remember about this season? I'll always remember Jason Heyward laying out for that impossible catch to save the game against the Mets in the 9th. I'll always remember Evan Gattis tomahawking a neck-level fastball from Strasburg into the deep seats. I'll always remember Brian McCann meeting Carlos Gomez halfway up the third base line after the classless Gomez wouldn't stop cursing Maholm as he rounded the bases. I'll always remember the Freddie Freeman All-Star Twitter War. I'll always remember the questionable feeling in my gut when we had a runner on second and BJ and Dan were due up at the plate. I'll also always remember the time that Justin and BJ went deep back-to-back that proves they can get it done.

Mostly I'll remember the journey of this season, even as it drew to a close and we sort of knew we were too banged up and had too many hitting issues to get far. I'll remember the comments from all of you on and off the blog, and how you inspired me to hang with it every game. I'll remember the good times as we head into winter and wait for next year's team to come together.

See you in 2014.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NLDS Game 4 Recap

Well, it's all over. The Braves couldn't get past the Dodgers, and that's how the season will come to a close. I said back when we were fighting for the home field that I didn't believe the Braves took it seriously enough, and that if they caught the Dodgers early it was a likely loss. Turns out that's true. I'm not sure knowing what we know now about the Pirates that it would have been any better, however. Frankly, this team wasn't the team we thought they would be coming into the season, either by injury or under-performance.

Brian McCann, Justin Upton, and Freddie Freeman were mostly marginalized in this series. BMac in particular didn't even get a hit all series. He's on the way out, and I think he may have mentally folded under the pressure of trying to put one more outing together. David Carpenter folded again by giving up big home runs, and the last one to Uribe was the coffin nail. Freddy Garcia kept the game together for as long as he could, but the Braves simply wouldn't capitalize. They stranded 8 runners in the game, and they only had seven hits compared to 12 Ks. Every "strikeouts don't matter" guy that was screaming that in the beginning of the season needs to bookmark this team, and then shut up. They matter. They may not be the difference in the regular season, but you CANNOT win with a strikeout heavy team in the playoffs against Ace pitching.

I'll do a season recap on Friday after I've had some time to let the wounds heal, and let the season digest a bit. However, I'm not ashamed of this team. I'm proud of these young guys taking it this far after all the problems they've faced, all the injuries they witnessed, and having about $30M hit under the Mendoza line all year. This was a team that had no right to win a division, and it did. It also has a huge upside going into the next year, although probably one catch lighter. In the meantime, let's take a few days, let the salves work their wonders on our broken sports hearts, and look toward the weekend.


Monday, October 7, 2013

NLDS Game 4 Preview Update

The Dodgers are pitching Kershaw now over Nolasco. They aren't screwing aournd. We can disregard the previous CPA Prediction.

Here's the updated version with Kershaw facing Garcia. The stats no longer favor us at all.

CPA Prediction NLDS Game 4: Dodgers 4 - Braves 1

There's a lot to overcome here. You were going to have to beat Kershaw at some point anyway, so I'm happy in the sense we get to try on short rest. I'm not happy it's out in LA where Kershaw is going to have all the support in stadium. To be the best you've got to beat the best, though.


NLDS Game 3 Recap and Game 4 Preview

What can you say when you get your teeth kicked in? At least that isn't the last game we get to play. Teheran didn't have it from the get-go, and the Braves pitching was truly awful all night. Teheran gave up 6, Wood gave up 4 with the help of some errors (Atlanta had 2 of those), and Walden gave up 3. When you managed to give up 13 runs in a playoff game, I'm going to say that absolutely nothing you do at the plate is going to matter. And it didn't. The Braves scored 6, which should have been more than enough to win this thing, but as it turned out that number didn't even match half the Dodgers run production. So much for good pitching and the long ball. The Braves didn't have much of either so far this series.

The top end of the Braves order has been great. Gattis, Freeman, Justin, and Heyward are all hitting very well here at the end of the year. Gattis is 5-10, CJ is 4-12 with 4 RBIs, Freeman is 4-12, and Heyward is 3-13 with 4 RBIs. Simmons also has a couple of hits and an RBI to his name. Everyone else? They stink so far. Justin is a mediocre 2-11 with 2 runs scored, Elliot Johnson and Brian McCann both have no hits in a combined 19 ABs. The Braves in Game 3 went 3-11 with RISP. Not terrible, but not optimal either. The Dodgers on the other hand went 7-15 with RISP. That alone should tell you how the game went. When the situational hitting battle is that one-sided, your pitching staff is to blame.

We can't dwell on that game if the Braves hope to pull this series out of the fire one more time and bring it back to Atlanta. In a highly controversial move, Fredi Gonzalez has decided to pitch Freddy Garcia instead of electing to put Medlen back in the rotation on short rest. I can understand the decision for a couple of reasons. Medlen was already awful in his first start on full rest, and it's unlikely he's going to be any better on the short rest version. Also, Medlen isn't a strikeout guy anyway, so there isn't a huge advantage from one contact pitcher to another except for mentality. I think the manager is gambling that his veteran playoff experienced starter is going to know how to battle with runners on base. That's what's really killed the Braves. It's not the simple mistakes, it's how those mistakes have absolutely snowballed until they buried this team under an avalanche of hits. Here's another idea. STOP PITCHING TO HANLEY RAMIREZ!

So here's the rundown on the matchup: Garcia had a 1.65 ERA in September with the Braves, and a record of 1-2. The record was bad because the Braves scored nothing for him twice in that month. September wasn't exactly the highlight of the Braves offensive prowess. On the other side you have Ricky Nolasco, a Marlins castoff the Braves have tons of experience against. In September, Nolasco got lit up for a 6.66 ERA with a 2-2 record. The Braves lineup has smashed him for an almost .300 team average in the past, with special highlights by Heyward and McCann since they both have OPS numbers over 1.000 against Nolasco in 80+ ABs. The matchup looks good from that standpoint, and you know the Dodgers wouldn't be pitching Nolasco if they were in an elimination scenario. The Braves will just have to capitalize on their chances and hope Garcia gives them some old-man-magic.

The CPA predicted the Dodgers would win last night, but it was way off on the total of runs. Today it looks at the elimination game.

CPA Prediction NLDS Game 4: Braves 5 - Dodgers 3

The CPA likes the Braves to extend this thing just a little longer. Hopefully they can get some guys on base early and cut down on all the silly errors in the field. That will go a long way in keeping the lineup mentally in the game. Also, since they have so much experience off Nolasco, they can use that to their advantage up and down the lineup. Also, you hope that Nolasco is just the tonic Brian McCann needs to get off the shnide and go deep.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

NLDS Game 2 Recap and Game 3 Preview

The atmosphere for the must-win game at the Ted on Friday night was electric. From the opening of the game when the Dodgers scored first, you could sense a small amount of despair start to set in. However, with the RISP hit by Simmons to tie the game in the 2nd, everyone bounced back quickly, and the chop was in full effect. By the time the Braves took the lead in the 4th, you could sense the tide turning, and by the 7th when the lead extended to 4-1, the place was in full on euphoria. However, Carpenter gave up the two run shot to the Dodgers to make it 4-3 in the 8th, and the fans were on pins and needles. Only one run? Why can't we make this easy?!?! But Kimbrel came in late in the 8th to put out the fire, and although he walked some guys in the 9th, the Braves got their must-win in the bag.

The game wasn't a seesaw affair on the scoreboard, but that doesn't mean it was easy on anyone's nerves as the Braves played with razor thin margins for the 9 inning run. The key for the Braves in this game was going 3-9 with RISP, with hits from Simmons, CJ, and a huge 2 out hit by Heyward after the Dodgers foolishly walked Reed to get to him. Why teams keep doing that, I don't know. We saw Davy Johnson walk to get to Freddie several times in the regular season while playing the percentages. You know what? Sometimes you don't need the percentages when you know it's Heyward and the game is on the line. Besides maybe Freddie there's nobody else I want in that slot.

With only 6 hits, it's frankly amazing the Braves scored 4 runs, but they converted the chances they missed in the first game. That's going to be the difference in all the playoff matchups, especially with the Braves headed to face Ryu in Game 3 on the road. He'll be opposed by Teheran, making his first playoff appearance. Both guys pitched in the regular season with ERAs in the low 3's, and they both have the same regular season record at 14-8. The difference is that the Braves have had about 44 ABs against Ryu, but the Dodgers have never seen Teheran. As you know, that's typically a big advantage to the pitcher in any singular game.

One thing to note is that both Freddie and Simmons have taken advantage of Ryu in their appearances, but the rest of the lineup has really struggled. As a result, in two games Ryu has 2 no-decisions against the Braves with a robust 2.13 ERA. The rest of the lineup will really have to step up since I don't think the Dodgers will allow Freddie or Simmons to best them after what happened in Game 2. Teheran just needs to continue doing what he was doing in September, which was winning ballgames by any means necessary. It wasn't always pretty, but Teheran was able to wriggle off the hook most times without giving up too much damage. One thing he has to watch out for is the big inning. Those will sink you in the playoffs. It's all about managing baserunners now, and he has to stay mentally focused if he gives up walks or singles so they don't stretch into doubles and first to third situations.

The CPA has been wrong twice. Once we were sad about, the last one we were happy about. I think what we're learning is that a lot of what mattered in the regular season goes out the window in the playoffs. Still, let's see what it thinks.

CPA Prediction NLDS Game 3: Dodgers 3 - Braves 1

The Braves haven't fared well on the road this season, as we well know. Most of what the CPA is using in this case is Teheran's road ERA, since he has no stats against the Dodgers in his career. In terms of favorable matchups, simply because this is a road the metric favors the Dodgers. What the Braves need to do is take the same approach they did against Greinke and make the most of their chances. Maybe mix in a homer. We haven't seen one of those on our side yet.


Friday, October 4, 2013

NLDS Game 1 Recap and Game 2 Preview

Well, that was awful. Nobody will be impressed with a game where the Braves make several mental mistakes and only get 5 hits. Medlen was a total disaster on the mound with 9 hits and 5 runs in 4 innings, and even though the bullpen held on admirably for 5 more innings the game was already over. What's the one thing I kept hammering all year long? RISP. And what did the Braves do in that game? 1-8 with RISP. That's not going to cut it, especially when the Dodgers went 3-10 with RISP. They got the magic number, we didn't, and that's a loss 6-1. Luckily, it's not a one game series.

I thought the strikeouts weren't going to be an issue, but I was wrong. They were a huge issue. In fact, the Braves struck out 15 times, which is the most in well over a month. Add in the fact that not a single Brave had an extra base hit, and you can see what happened at the plate was just as bad as what happened on the mound. Nothing went right, and the result was inevitable.

The good news is we don't have long to dwell on it. There's another game tonight and another chance to pull even in this series before it heads back to LA. Make no mistake, if we lose this game the series is effectively done. The Braves aren't the kind of team who can rally from an 0-2 deficit to win 3 straight with 2 on the road. So they are going to have to dig deep to get themselves out of the funk they were in on the field yesterday.

The second game features a matchup between Mike Minor and Zach Greinke. Minor has been sliding a bit on his numbers since the beginning of September, and the Braves haven't won a single one of his starts in over a month. His ERA is 3.94 in September, obviously higher than his overall ERA at 3.21 on the season. However, the home ERA has surprisingly been worse than his road ERA with 3.62 and a 6-5 record. On paper, Minor doesn't look like the guy you want out there right now. But we just lost a game with the hottest hand we had on the team on paper. Sometimes, it simply doesn't matter what you've done in the past month. Sometimes, it's all about how one guy pitches in one game. That's what we're hoping for with Minor, because he has those games in him. He pitched several of them earlier in the year.

Greinke has also been worse in the final month than he was during the season. That's all relative though, since he didn't lose a game in August, and the Dodgers have lost two of his starts in September. For the most part, Greinke is still ridiculously tough with his final month 1.75 ERA, and he's averaging a K per inning. The last time Greinke gave up more than two runs was in July against the Reds. I want to make something very clear. Either Minor comes out dealing, or this won't be much of a game. The Braves are very unlikely to touch up Greinke for a big rally, and they will need to have clutch situational hitting when the chances arise. If the Dodgers jump out to a lead again? It's big trouble in the Ted.

The good news is that Justin, BMac, Elliot, and Heyward all have much better historical batting numbers off Greinke than they do off Kershaw. Also, Greinke hasn't faced a true playoff team since Cincinnati on September 7th, and he lost. Minor faced off against St. Louis in late August and won. So, it's not all doom and gloom statistically. The Braves just have to put lumber on the ball and make the Dodgers play the field. Another double digit strikeout day won't work.

So the CPA was wrong last night, and it wasn't close. What about tonight? Can the Braves salvage a game at home?

CPA Prediction NLDS Game 2: Dodgers 5 - Braves 2

The CPA doesn't favor the Braves at all with this matchup. I can't really blame it, the numbers don't look good. However, it was wrong last night, and it could be wrong again tonight. I hope it is, because the Braves can turn this thing around easily with a lead and some homers. We'll need it to keep this series going.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

NLDS Game 1 Prevew

I've decided to preview each game because it's so huge, and because things can change quickly in the course of a series. Starters can change, injuries can happen, people can get benched. This playoff series is like baseball in a pressure cooker. All patience and waiting are gone, and all that matters now are quick results. If you can't perform, you sit. That's what Dan Uggla found out yesterday. I'm not shocked or displeased. I'm only shocked that BJ actually made the roster. If he didn't, we would have had the two most expensive benchwarmers other than the Yankees. Oh wait, they didn't make the playoffs. Hur-hur.

The matchup is simple. It's their best guy versus our best guy lately. I say that because while Kershaw has been good wire to wire, Medlen has slumped, rallied, slumped, and rallied again. In September, Medlen went 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA. Kershaw in September was 3-1 with a 2.53 ERA. Oddly, that was Kershaw's worst month in terms of ERA since June. If anything, you could say that Medlen has been pitching better baseball in the last month of the year. But does that matter? None of the teams Medlen faced were playoff bound, while one of the teams (the Reds) that Kershaw faced made the post-season (although only for one game in the Reds case). Even so, the Dodgers lost that game and Kershaw got a ND. When I look at Kershaw's record since August, I'm not that impressed. He's made his hay against a lot of garbage teams with probably his best win against the Tampa Bay Rays. However, when he faced the Cardinals? He got dinged for 6 hits, 2 runs, and a loss in just 6 innings. He's not invincible by any means, although he is a very good strikeout artist. But does that even matter with the current Braves lineup? I would say probably not as much as it used to. The Braves lead the NL in overall Ks with 1384 on the season, but since the changes to the roster made in September, the Braves were only 4th in NL Ks. And that's even including an awful section of hitting where they were without Jason Heyward in the lineup.

So what are the long and short term matchups with the starters versus the Dodgers? Historically, Medlen has been fantastic against the Dodgers lineup, holding them to a .217 average with a .598 OPS and only a single homer. Those are fantastic numbers for any starter, and they are buoyed by the fact Kris has started 2 games in 2013 against the Dodgers with 13.2 IP and no earned runs. That's right, he's shut out the Dodgers both times this regular season. In fact, in Kris' entire career, his only decisions against the Dodgers are wins. The Braves have lost some of those games due to poor hitting, but Kris has kept them in the game. That's what we need tonight.

On Kershaw's side, he hasn't faced a lot of the Braves hitters for more than a couple of ABs. Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Elliot Johnson, and Evan Gattis don't have any true record against Kershaw. However, he's absolutely dominated hitters like Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Chris Johnson. Considering that those guys are three of your top hitters, you'll need them to beat the odds in order to get on base, and set up guys like Brian, Gattis, and Freddie as your RISP hitters. Over the prior three years to this season, Kershaw faced the Braves 3 times and never got a decision with a 3.22 ERA. Also, Kershaw is a lefty, and Justin, Jason, Gattis, Freeman, and CJ have been feasting on lefties all year. You hope they can bust one off Kershaw to rattle him, and the crowd gets the chop going so loud that he can't think straight.

In the week leading up to this game, the Braves are hitting .263 while the Dodgers were only hitting .236, and the Braves have outscored the Dodgers 27 runs to 20. If there was a hotter hitting team going into this game it's the Braves, and on top of that they have the home field advantage that has meant so much during the season. Let's see how the CPA sees this game going.

CPA Prediction NLDS Game 1: Braves 3 - Dodgers 2

The CPA thinks you'll see a lot of good pitching tonight, but they will make some mistakes and the Braves can capitalize with their power. Also, the Braves bullpen is much better than the Dodgers, so if it becomes a battle of the pens, that's advantage to the home team.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wild Card Game Preview: Reds v. Pirates

I figured I'd go over the Wild Card game, even though we aren't in the actual game or will face the opponent. The reason is that this team could come out hot, and in many cases the Wild Card winner has gone on to the NLCS if not the World Series. Plus, I'm bored having nothing else to discuss. So, let's take a look at the matchup:

Wild Card Pitching Matchup - Johnny Cueto (5-2) v. Francisco Liriano (16-8)

Now, right off the bat you may notice that Cueto doesn't even have 10 decisions this year. That's because he was sidelined with an injury for the majority of the season. In fact, Cueto has only pitched two games since he left with that injury in June. I'm frankly shocked they went with this decision on the Reds, because while Johnny dominated the two games he pitched, they were against the Mets and the Astros. Those are cellar dweller rosters with nothing to play for. He's about to put everything on the line against a team that hasn't seen the playoffs in two decades. Were it me, I would have gone with Mike Leake, who was 3-0 against the Pirates in 4 starts with a 3.28 ERA. However, I can understand why they went with Cueto since he was 1-0 against the Pirates in 2 starts with a 0.74 ERA. Still, that was literally months ago. Who knows if he can find that same gear with only two starts under his belt. It's a huge gamble in my mind.

On the Pirates side, there was no doubt who they were going to pitch. Francisco Liriano has been nothing short of electric this season with his 16-8 record, a 3.22 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.22. Liriano's biggest asset this year is that he's kept the ball in the park. Considering that the game is being played in Pittsburgh instead of Great American Smallpark, that's a huge advantage for the Pirates. Curiously, Liriano has a .193 BAA versus the Reds, but his record is 0-3 in 4 starts. Why? Because in those 3 losses he got a combined 4 runs of support. That's the essence of the problem with the Pirates. Their pitching is carrying them, but their scoring is abysmal, especially with RISP.

The Reds are the Pirates aren't playing amazing baseball in the month of September. While teams in the AL race were going 21-6 or 17-12, the Reds and the Pirates have been a rather average 15-12 and 14-12. The Reds are actually on a 5 game losing streak to end the season, and they've lost 6 of their last 10 while the Pirates have won 7 of their last 10. The Pirates actually swept the Reds to end the year. However, none of that matters now. It all comes down to one game because Bud Selig is a big fat cancer on the game of baseball and decided this was a wonderful idea. If I start thinking about the All-Star game deciding home field again I may throw something. Moving on.

The CPA normally doesn't do non-Braves games, but I'll let it out of the box to predict the winner of the Wild Card game. Let's see what it thinks.

CPA Predication Wild Card Game: Pirates 4 - Reds 3

The CPA thinks this game might be tied late, but that home field advantage and the Pirates bullpen pushes this into their favor. The Reds have the advantage in starters, but they have been hitting a paltry .577 OPS as a lineup over the last week, and only .701 in the month of September. Everything about the Reds has been trending the wrong direction, so unless they can flip the switch quickly, they may find themselves eliminated.