Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Call the exterminators, we got Nats in the Ted

I'm already hearing from local radio personalities, fans, blogs, and other sources that this series will mark the end of the Braves season. That when the Braves lose this series that formally removes them from all playoff contentions before the All-Star break. That's ridiculous. The Braves were in the lead last year of the division on this date. They lost by 17 games. The Dodgers in 2013 were 4 games out on this date, and won their division by 11 games.

In fact, remove the 8-1 record against the Nationals. You know what the Braves would be in the standings? 3 games over .500 instead of 4 games under it. And that's playing without Freddie for a big stretch, a terrible bullpen, and a rotating door of starting pitchers. The hitting talent is there on this team to make a run, the starting rotation is getting sorted out, and the bullpen is slowly crawling out of the crapper. I think the team can compete, they just have to not bury themselves against the Nationals for the rest of the season.

Game 1 - Miller v. Zimmerman
Game 2 - Wisler v. Fister
Game 3 - Banuelos v. Scherzer

OK so it doesn't look great on paper. Shelby Miller is probably the best shot at a win since he's a 1.59 ERA at home with an opposing team average of .214 on the season. That's compared to Zimmerman's road woes with a 5.40 ERA and a .338 opposing average. You're not going to get a better matchup, other than the fact the guy who hits Zimmerman the hardest (Freeman) won't play in the game. That means guys like Nick Markakis (OPS .840 against Zimmerman), and Kelly Johnson (.357 average off Zimmerman) will have to step up as difference-makers.

Wisler is still too brand new to really critique, but you hope he can hold up against the Washington hitters better than he did in DC when he was rocked for a 7-0 defeat. Then again, if the Braves are determined to score 0 runs, no amount of pitching will help. That being said, Doug Fister has been a Braves killer in Washington, but he lost the only game the Braves took from the Nationals this season when he was last in Atlanta. So, you hope that the bad road version of Fister shows up, and that version has a 4.87 ERA in 4 games with a 1-2 record.

Who the heck is Manny Banuelos? He'll be making his MLB debut most likely against the former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, who threw a no-hitter 10 days ago, and has given up exactly 2 runs in his last 26 innings. GOOD LUCK KID! Make sure to apply the Desitin directly to the burning area on your body.

Other Key Players

- AJ Pierzynski - He's hitting 11/33 off Scherzer lifetime with a homer, double, and triple. He's probably the only guy who can hit him. We'd need the miracle homer from AJ with maybe a walk, and win the game 2-1 if we have a shot.

- Jace Peterson - Jace is hitting 3-27 over the last 7 days. I need him to be better than that in this series if we're going to have a chance. He's likely the lead-off guy or at the very least a top of the order guy that needs to get on base.

- Juan Uribe - Juan may get a start in this series, and ever more important he's going to be called on off the bench to be a key hitter at some point. We'll need him to be a guy who drives in the big run in this series.

CPA Predictions:

The CPA went 3-0 in the last series which is great! It was also right that the Braves would lose the series, which sucks. But the number climbs to 28-37 as I slowly get back to .500 on the year.

Game 1 - Braves by 1
Game 2 - Nats by 3
Game 3 - Nats by 2

CPA says we lose this series too. Frankly, I don't blame it. This is a tough row to hoe. But we're about to get a much easier schedule and possibly some better matchups next week. So have faith! We're not out of this yet!

GO BRAVES!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Atlanta Braves steal one from Pirates, but Julio Teheran implodes again



When you go 1-5 on a road trip, you can't be happy. I'm not happy. I'm not exactly pissed off given that I knew exactly how ugly this thing could get without Freddie Freeman, but I'm not happy. I'm middling between tapioca pudding and vanilla pound cake. I'm in a bland state of sugary meh. Plus I think Julio Teheran might be completely bi-polar, and the Hyde portion of his personality travels with the road team.

Game 1 - Williams Perez was rolling right along in this game until he got injured with a liner, and now he's subsequently on the DL for 15 days. Because life is fair like that. He went 4.2 innings and allowed 2 runs, but in reality he allowed 0 runs while he was actually in the game. The runs he was credited with came because Avilan couldn't get a single out before the Pirates plated 2 runs on 2 hits. But still, Uribe tied the game with a homer in the top of the 6th, so all was not lost. Then, the problem was the Braves offense was so bad they only got a runner to second once in the rest of the game. And the game went 10 innings. Braves lost in extras 3-2.

Game 2 - Road Julio showed up, just like clockwork. Road Julio looks like he's pitching covered in maple syrup. Everything is slower, sticky, and right over the middle of the plate. Julio gave up 9 hits, 6 runs, in 6 innings on 101 pitches. It wasn't like Freddie Gonzalez yanked him either. He just left him out there to twist in the wind. I'm actually in favor of that, because I'm tired of the bullpen having to clean up a starter's disaster. Let him eat the innings. The Braves had ZERO chance of winning this game after the first inning when they went down 5-0 anyway, so I guess you can take some solace that Julio finished without too much more damage. That being said, I don't give away medals for getting the car to the repair shop after the engine falls out. Braves lost 8-4.

Game 3 - Alex Wood really deserves a ton of credit for this win. Alex pitched 7.1 innings of shutout ball when the Braves needed it most, because they weren't doing much offensively. They finally broke through in the 5th inning when Markakis singled home Maybin, and then again in the 7th when Peterson jacked a 408 homer to center. Turns out the Braves needed that insurance run as Grilli had a tough time nailing down the save, and Maybin collided with Perez in the outfield allowing the Pirates to score a late run. Still, Grilli rallied back and got the save, and the Braves won the game 2-1.

We lost the series so no reason to do an MVP, but honorable mentions go to Alex Wood for his shutout peformance and Jace Peterson for his 4 RBIs in this series. Jace was probably the only guy who could hit with RISP, plus he bagged a homer. Nice job Jace!

Next up the Braves face the Nats again. Get ready to watch people jump off the bandwagon like rats from a sinking ship. Don't be those fans. Be positive. I'll give you a reason why in the preview tomorrow.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Swept by Nats, No Freddie, And now the Pirates

I don't even want to recap the series with the Nationals, so I'm not going to. Sufficed to say, it was horrible, and the worst part about it was that in the last game we didn't even make an effort to keep from getting swept. Nope, instead Fredi Gonzalez ran out a lineup that included both Johnsons, Ciriaco, and Peterson in the infield. I mean really? That's a give up lineup if I've ever seen one.

We got beat, but the worst part is this series exposes how badly we need Freddie Freeman in the lineup. And the news of his return is that it may not be until the All-Star break. Which is still two weeks away. That's a lot of losses that can pile up in the interim. I'm worried the team may get buried during that period, and that's a shame. Freddie got a platlet-rich injection in his wrist, whatever the hell that means, so he's probably healing faster maybe? Or it will give him night vision and the ability to fly? I'm not a doctor, so I don't know.

What I do know is that we have to win some games against the Pirates or we're going to look silly. MATCHUPS!

Game 1 - Perez v. Liriano
Game 2 - Teheran v. Morton
Game 3 - Wood v. Locke

I'll take this with our three starters first. Perez is dealing lately and he's probably one of the most consistent starters we have in the rotation next to Shelby Miller. Which is insane because the kid is a mid-year call up out of AAA. However, Perez did get knocked around by Pittsburgh for 4 runs in his last meeting with them, but the Braves lost the game 8-10 so it wasn't exactly his fault. Julio Teheran is amazing at home. Julio Teheran on the road is straight trash, homie. How bad? Try a 7.17 ERA and a .366 opponent average. If he doesn't get that on track, he'll get destroyed by the Pirates. Alex Wood is still confusing me, as he has 3 W's in a row, followed by 3 L's in a row for his record. He needs to rebound now, and he needs to stop giving up early runs that get him in a hole. The Braves aren't hitting well enough without Freddie to climb out of 3 run deficits.

Francisco Liriano for the Pirates didn't face the Braves in the last series, but he has been very steady with a 3.26 ERA that belies his 4-6 record. The key for Liriano is that he gets a ton of strikeouts, which is good against the more K-prone teams. But that's not Atlanta this year. That's Atlanta last year. This year you hope to make solid contact and get him out of the game early on. Next, the Braves face Charlie Morton who was on the opposing side of that 10-8 loss to the Pirates. The good news is that we got to Morton for 4 runs in that game. The bad news was the bullpen imploded. I think Morton is a guy the Braves can hit, but I know for a fact Julio is bad on the road. After that, Jeff Locke will close out the series, and he's a mess right now. 4.73 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP, he's the guy that the Braves beat in the lone win of the prior series. Get him again and you might take this one as the rubber game if Wood can hold on.

Other Key Players:

- Nick Markakis - Nicky has a .353 average against Liriano and a .500 average against Morton. We'll likely need him to get some key hits in the first two games.

- Kelly Johnson - As long as Freddie's out, Kelly's going to play somewhere, and I need him to continue what he did in the Washington series where he went 5/9 at the plate.

- Andrew McCutchen - The Braves have to find a way to get this killer Pirate out, and they can't let him come to the plate with RISP situations, because he's a destroyer right now slugging .519 in June.

CPA Predictions:

The CPA went 1-2 in the Nats series, which sucks but oh well. The series sucked. 25-37 now on the year, with only a small hope of ever getting back to .500. But it starts today!

Game 1 - Pirates by 2
Game 2 - Pirates by 5
Game 3 - Braves by 1

The CPA hates this series, and I don't blame it. The thing could come off the rails, but I'm hoping we salvage at least a game before coming home to face the Nats again. Keep your chins up Braves country!

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Braves and the Nats without Freddie Freeman

The Braves got some bad news today that Freddie Freeman is hitting the DL for a 15-day stint due to a bruised wrist. I'm hoping that's all he'll have to serve because we need him in the lineup. Freddie has 12 homers on the year with a .299/.367/.520 slash. That's a huge hole in the order we'll need to replace with apparently Chris Johnson. At least for today. MATCHUPS!

Game 1 - Wood v. Strasburg
Game 2 - Miller v. Zimmerman
Game 3 - Wisler v. Fister

The Braves have really murdered Strasburg in the last few years, and I'm hoping that trend will continue in this series. Strasburg is also coming off the DL so he'll be facing the Braves as his first MLB assignment since getting injured. In his last 3 years, Strassy has a 4.23 ERA against the Braves with a 4-5 record in 15 starts. Meanwhile, Wood has done really well against Washington hitters with the exception of his last start against them where he was dinged for 3 runs. So which Wood will we get? Better yet which Strasburg? Only time will tell.

Miller has some really bad luck in his start against Boston where he gave up 4 runs, but only 1 of them was earned. He'll look to bounce back against Zimmerman who has lost his last 3 starts and looks really lost out on the mound. Normally, I'd say look for Freddie Freeman to be a spark against Zimmerman since he's hitting over .900 OPS against him, but Freddie's on the DL. Sad panda. Instead look for young gun Jace Peterson to hopefully extend his hitting luck against Zimmerman, as he's taken him for a 3/6 clip over his career.

Wisler's brand new, but he looked great in his debut win against the Mets. Fister is a Cy Young winner who is also coming off the DL recently, and he looked really poorly doing it in a 5-3 loss against Tampa Bay. Cameron Maybin could be a sparkplug in this game as he's gone 2/6 off Fister in the past with both of those being doubles. Add in the fact that the Washington hitters have never seen Wisler, and you might be able to get a key win here in the likely rubber game of this pivotal series.

Other Key Players:

- AJ Pierzynski has a .400 average against the Nationals this year in 15 ABs
- Kelly Johnson will likely have to fill in for some injured players, and he's already logged a homer against the Nats in 3 games.
- Bryce Harper as absolutely demolished the Braves pitching with a 1.556 OPS. You can't let him beat you in this series.

CPA Predictions:

Game 1 - Braves by 2
Game 2 - Braves by 1
Game 3 - Nats by 4

CPA likes a Braves series win, which would be awesome since it would put us over .500 for the first time in a long time. Frankly, I'll take any series wins at this stage of the game, especially against a rival.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sweep the Mets and Back from Vacation

I went to Kiawah Island over the weekend, so I didn't get to do a proper preview of the Mets series. That's a shame because we swept them. And I would have loved to predict a sweep and actually have it come true. Like this guy:

https://twitter.com/AdamRubinESPN/status/611241820304080896

Oh wait, he writes for the Mets on ESPN, so he probably meant that THEY would sweep. Hahaha, Adam Rubin you kidder. Take a bite of the Big Apple. Don't mind the maggots.

Game 1: Matt Wisler made his MLB debut with 8 IP good innings allowing 1 run on 6 Mets hits. The Braves did not fare well against Jason DeGrom until Jace Peterson drove in 2 RBI’s on a line drive double to center field scoring Andrelton Simmons and Pedro Ciriaco. Overall, it was the pitching by newbie Wisler that really made the difference. For a kid to come out there in his first game of the year and really put the, at the time, first place Mets in their place? See what I did there? Wordsmithing, kids. Braves won 2-1.

Game 2: Williams Perez got his 4th win of the season while Andrelton Simmons had himself a night going 4-4, and AJ Pierzynski also went 3-4 with his first triple of the season. That's right, AJ Pierzynski scored a triple. I'm not even sure how it happened since I didn't see it live, but I imagine the Mets defenders had to fall down in the outfield, and then tackle each other in some sort of rugby scrum like kittens fighting in a sock. And even then he only barely made it with enough oxygen that would get a man to Everest. Williams Perez wasn't dominant and immediately gave up 2 runs to start the game, but the Braves bounced back with 4 runs of their own in the early innings. However, the Mets tied the game at 4-4 on a pair of homers in the 5th and 6th innings. But the Braves wasted no time by rallying back in the 6th with a Ciriaco sac-fly, and a Cameron Maybin sac-grounder. Was it a pretty tie-breaker? If you're into small-ball it was flat gorgeous. Braves won 6-4.

Game 3: Julio Teheran really confuses me this year. I made it back in time to see this one live at my home, and I can honestly say that Julio inside the confines of Turner Field looks like a world-beater. On the road he looks like Trevor Cahill. I have no idea why his home and road splits are so ridiculous, but I can tell you that Julio must love home-cooking, his bed, and hate hotels. Teheran pitched 7 innings of 1-hit shutout baseball, and he had everything working. It was brilliant to watch. It would have been more brilliant if the Braves had scored in the early innings to give him a lead. Alas, nobody could get anything done against the equally brilliant Matt Harvey of the Mets. That was until the 7th inning, when Ryan Lavarnway (backup catchup to the stars) decided to double with 2 outs. Julio's spot was up next, and even with only 78 pitches, Fredi Gonzalez decided to gamble. He took out Julio for Pedro Ciriaco, and Pedro ended up getting the base hit that won the game. It was a great move by a manager who doesn't get a lot of credit, and the bullpen was able to hang on with Jim Johnson getting the save. Braves won 1-0.

Three Things I Loved:

  1. We swept the Mets - What's not to love about that? Meet the Mets, beat the Mets, step right up and sweep the Mets! Bring the kiddies, bring the wife. Guaranteed to get the broom of your life!
  2. Matt Wisler was awesome - We need somebody on this staff to step up in the small rotation roles, and it was good to see Wisler fill that gap like Williams Perez has been doing. I hope it continues.
  3. The bullpen was great - Great? You serious? Yes, I'm serious. The bullpen pitched 6 innings in this series and allowed ZERO runs. That's huge. It's huge because they were better, and it's huge because the starters were going deeper into games.
Which leads me to this series MVP. Could it be any other than Julio Teheran? Of course not. He's been battling a lot of things, but his win was masterful in a way that only Braves pitching can really be. When's the last time this team won 1-0? Answer, this was the first time all season. And that's great for him and great for the team.

Next up, the hated first place Nationals. But the good news? We just took down one first place team this series. Why not another?

GO BRAVES!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Bye Bye Bethancourt, Hello BoSox

In a statement from the Atlanta Braves today, they announced that they have optioned Christian Bethancourt down to AAA, and called up Ryan Lavarnway, who I think did a stint in a boy band at some point. At least that's what the pictures looked like, and the name.

Am I sad that Bethancourt has been recalled? Hahahahaha, no.

If you've been reading at all, you know that I know that you know that I think that Bethancourt sucks. You follow all that? Good. Try to keep up. Because the problem with Bethancourt, even in his 2014 scouting reports, has been his bat. He has problems with power, his one game-winning-first-career-MLB-homer withstanding. He has problems with getting on-base. He has problems driving the ball and with pitch recognition. You know what helps with pitch recognition? Almost nothing. Ask Dan Uggla when things started to go really wrong. The answer certainly isn't hanging around the MLB level and hoping for the best.

Can Bethancourt improve enough as a hitter to be a starting catcher at the top level? Yes, it's possible. Will he ever be a major slugging catcher? Absolutely not. The potential upside consensus on Bethancourt is a defensive specialist who would "get by" with an average bat. But when you're below average batting and you're costing your team games with past balls? That's a problem. Frankly, unless you're Ozzie Smith wearing the tools of ignorance, you can't hit around the Mendoza line and hope to keep a job.

Instead Bethancourt was hitting .208 with .528 OPS, and 5 passed balls with 3 errors. This is in 29 games mind you. Not. Good.

So now AJ Pierzynski is the every day catcher until his knees turn into putty, or he gets so drunk during the game we have to do a defensive replacement like Beer League Softball. If you don't know what I'm talking about? Follow the link to drunken insanity:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2496644-braves-c-aj-pierzynski-admits-he-has-drank-beer-during-games-played-hungover

So yeah, that might explain why the pitch selection for the bullpen has been slightly off-kilter. Might want to lock that up, Beer-Bo Baggins.

That brings us to a series against the Boston Red Sox. Who apparently stink. Like to the tune of dead last in the AL East and a myriad of horrible Keystone Cop like defensive struggles. It's 2 games in Boston and 2 games in Atlanta, so I'm rolling them both together in this preview.

Game 1 - Perez v. Porcello
Game 2 - Teheran v. Miley
Game 3 - Wood v. Kelly
Game 4 - Miller v. Buchholz

Quick rundown of the Braves starters so far. Perez is looking good coming off a win and an odd save in his last two appearances, while holding onto a respectable 2.70 ERA and very solid 1.03 WHIP. Teheran continues to confound me as he's gone 2 wins, then loss, then two wins, then a loss. Now if you're into patterns, that would indicate we have 2 wins coming. Then again, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Consult your financial professional. Alex Wood? He's back to annoying me. Two losses in a row, and the one in New York against the Mets was all his fault. He needs to get back on the beam and quickly. Shelby Miller is on a string of no-decisions because the bullpen is awful, but I'm hopeful he can continue to show the world why he's the best trade we've made in years with his 2.02 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.

On the opposing side, we get Rick Porcello, a former Detroit Tiger who is now a struggling Red Stocking with a 5.26 ERA. Nick Markakis OWNS Porcello so keep an eye out for him to do some damage. Wade Miley, who was originally a failed Disney Channel character, changed careers to become a lefty starter with the Sox, and he's posting another 5.00+ ERA. Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson both have dingers off Miley in the past. Joe Kelly is another Sox player with, you guessed it, a 5.45 ERA and they've lost 4 of his last 5 starts. Nobody has really had many ABs against Kelly on the Braves. Lastly, we get Clay Buchholz whose name I can't really say without it sounding like Buttholes, so I have the emotional sense of humor of a 12 year old. Buttholes has a 4.22 ERA so he's the leader in the clubhouse for the Southie Anti-Dumpster Fire Trophy this season.

CPA Predictions:

22-33 after calculating the SD series. I missed the Mets because I was out of town, so we move on to BAHHHHSTAN.

Game 1 - Braves by 1
Game 2 - Braves by 2
Game 3 - Braves by 1
Game 4 - Braves by 3

That's right, it's sweep time for the CPA! Take that you weird talking Taxachusetts people!

GO BRAVES!


Monday, June 8, 2015

Bye Bye Pirates, Hello Padres (And Some Familiar Faces)



The Braves didn't manage the series against the Pirates very well, and I have some severe criticisms of how Fredi Gonzalez managed the games as well. I'm not a kill the manager guy, and I frankly don't harbor the hate for Fredi that other Braves fans do. But I will point out when he does something stupid, because the manager job is not supposed to be complicated. And when you make it unduly complicated I will call you out.

Game 1 saw Williams Perez finally look like the replacement level pitcher that I've expected to see for a while now. That's not to say he can't be better, but this game was a clunker for him, going 5 innings with 4 runs due mostly to a 3-run homer by Starling Marte in the 5th. The problem wasn't the 5 hits. The problem for Perez was the 5 walks. That's a WHIP of 2.00 in the game, and that's a recipe for disaster. But Perez was bailed out by the Braves offense thanks to four runs, mostly courtesy of Pierzynski hits.

But here's Fredi Gonzalez mistake number one of this series. Brandon Cunniff came into the game in the 6th inning to relieve Perez. Cunniff pitched to 2 hitters, with 9 pitches, 6 of them strikes. He got both outs and the bases are clear. He's absolutely fine out there and doing a rare thing for the bullpen lately which is to throw strikes with a clean sheet. But what does Fredi do with 2 outs? He goes to Avilan because of lefty-righty match-ups. That's absurd. When your bullpen is struggling and it's obvious you have a functional guy out there, you don't yank him with one out left in the inning. But that's what Fredi did, Avilan came in cold, walked a guy, and gave up a 2-run homer to make it 6-4 Pirates.

That was basically your ballgame, even though the Braves rallied back some. Uribe made it 6-5 with a RBI single, but the Pirates struck back in the 8th because of Fredi mistake #2 in this game. What mistake was that? He left Trevor Cahill in the game for an extra inning with a 1-run deficit. Trevor Cahill sucks. Unequivocally. I will barely ever say that about a player because almost everyone on an MLB roster does something well. But not Cahill. He blows and needs to go away. And by a freaking miracle he made it through the 7th inning unscratched, even though he should only be coming in with 3 run deficits or 5 run leads. So after playing reliever pinball in the 6th, Fredi inexplicably lets our worst pitcher go out for a second inning, and Cahill gets shelled for 3 runs. 9-5 Pirates, and the game would end up being a 10-8 loss for the Braves.

Game 2 actually saw Julio Teheran look better pitching, but the results were just as frustrating as before. My problem with Julio continues to be placement, but he seemed to be getting better in this game early on at getting his fastball to go where he wanted. The Braves struck first with some early runs thanks to a Chris Johnson homer and a Freddie Freeman sac-fly. But then Julio made a mistake to Andrew McCutchen (NOT the guy you want to make a mistake to), and the ball left the yard 412 feet later to tie the game at 2-2. Fredi G tried to leave Teheran in as long as he could since the bullpen is a disaster, but with 2 straight singles in the 8th, Julio was done. Jim Johnson couldn't hold off the Pirates getting a hit with 2 outs, and they tied the game again at 4-4.

Jason Grilli actually made an appearance in this game in the 9th and blew away the Pirates to keep it tied. It was great to see Grilli get the appearance, and even better to see him do what he did on the mound after a long rest. But the best was yet to come as young Christian Bethancourt, a much maligned player by people like myself, managed to smash a shot down the right field line that just barely snuck over the wall inside the foul pole, and the Braves won 5-4 in a walkoff. That wasn't C-Beth's only hit though, he had himself the best day of his career, going 3/4 with the homer and 2 RBIs.

Game 3 wasn't much to write home about offensively. The Braves not only got skunked by Gerrit Cole, the Pirates ace, but they also got plunked twice and did nothing about it. Oh, and Alex Wood got ejected after the 5th inning for arguing balls and strikes with the umpire on the way to the dugout. And here's Fredi Gonzalez mistake #3 of the series, he did absolutely nothing. Alex Wood didn't curse, didn't get in the umps face, and had literally turned to walk away when he was ejected. It wasn't close to fair. Did Fredi defend his player and argue the ejection? No. Did he get ejected himself? No. Did he support Alex in the post-game comments? No. What he did do was say Alex couldn't get ejected there. WELL NO CRAP, FREDI! Glad you managed to understand that. Now your job as the manager is to show umpires they can't do that to your players without seeing your Hellfire. But you're not Bobby, and I guess you didn't learn the lessons that made him a first ballot Hall of Famer. Right or wrong, you support your guys, and our team looked like candyasses in this loss 3-0 to the Pirates. PLUNK SOMEBODY, GET EJECTED, DO SOMETHING! Act like you aren't gonna take it!

<deep breath>

I'm fine. I'll get over it. It's just, man, that frustrates the hell out of me as a fan, and as a guy who likes to watch good baseball. Anyway, we lost the series so there's no 3 Things I liked. Instead, here's some neutral thoughts.
  1. Julio looks better - The results aren't there yet, but he went deeper, his armslot looks better, and his velocity on the fastball was back up in the low 90s. I like his progression and if he keeps it up the numbers will match it.
  2. Uribe is much better than I thought - Uribe is probably riding a tide that will fall off at some point, but for now he went 4/12 with a double, and 2 RBIs in the Pirates series. I think we may have fleeced the Dodgers and the Cardinals in one year.
  3. Bullpen is still a disaster - How many runs did we give up in the pen this series? Let me get my abacus. Uh...looks like 6 were earned, but I'd add 2 more for the ones Jim Johnson gave up that got credited to Julio. Either way, they blew game one, and that's the difference between winning and losing the series.
Honorable mention for the MVP nod, since there is no MVP when we lose a series, goes to Bethancourt. He hit his first homer and it was a walk-off. Getcha some, young gun. I hope he continues to hit, but I fear with his swing until he makes some serious adjustments, that's not going to happen soon.

So in the efforts of combining recaps and previews, and also making these articles longer than ever before, let's jump into the 4 gamer with the Padres! Here are the matchups:

Game 1 - Miller v. Kennedy
Game 2 - Foltynewicz v. Shields
Game 3 - Perez v. Ross
Game 4 - Teheran v. Cashner

At this point you know that all our starting pitchers have been doing fairly well, or at the very least they aren't the problem. So let's focus more on the opposing pitchers and take a look at the hitter matchups. Ian Kennedy has an ERA that's ballooned to 6.60 on the year with a WHIP at 1.47, and 5 losses on his record in 9 starts. The Padres as a team have only won 3 games when he's taken the mound. Also, Freddie Freeman absolutely crushes this guy to the tune of 6/10 with a bomb and 2 doubles. Look for Kennedy to pitch around Freddie, which means guys like Markakis and Maybin will have to surround him with some hits to force the issue. Other than that? Let Shelby dominate and give him some runs.

Game 2 we get the Padres best pitcher, 7-0 James Shields with his 3.58 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. His record is impressive for a guy in the mid-3's on ERA, which honestly means I wouldn't pay that much attention to it, or get discouraged by it. He's been getting tons of run support, which I DO worry about with a guy like Folty on the mound who is a rookie. Nick Markakis has tons of experience against Shields, and he's hit him really well with a .841 OPS in over 70 plate appearances. His approach and tips should help other hitters in the lineup who haven't seen him as much. Also, keep an eye on Juan Uribe in this game if he plays. He could be the key with some power against Shields.

Game 3 is Tyson Ross, who has an ERA near Shields at 3.75, but his WHIP is much higher at 1.51. You know what I say about WHIPs that get over 1.50, you're begging for trouble. The fact his ERA is actually under 4.00 with that kind of WHIP number is something of a miracle. But Ross has strikeout stuff, and he can get himself out of jams with no contact if he gets into big trouble. The key for the Braves in this game will be to capitalize when Ross puts runners on. If they can put the ball in play and amass a few RISP hits? Ross will implode and the Braves will win.

Game 4 is against Andrew Cashner, and he's a greasefire right now. In his last 3 outings, Cashner has been progressively worse giving up 3, then 5, and finally 7 runs. Yet somehow, the Padres won 2 of those 3 games. Why? Because their offense has been hitting on all cylinders. Again, look for Juan Uribe in this game since he's had some really good luck off Cashner. I'd like to see him be the key again. Also, bear in mind that Julio has been traditionally bad against SD with a 1-2 record and 5.79 ERA. But remember that this lineup for the Padres is brand new, and oh yeah! Guess who is in the building? BJ/Melvin/Crappy Upton has been activated. So he might sneak into one or more of these games. Boo him roundly.

This series is really going to come down to the bullpen stopping the bleeding, and keeping San Diego from getting tons of runners on base. Because this Padres team is silently a top 5 in the MLB offense in scoring runs. Yes, you read that right. The reason you never hear about them much is because they are scoring all those runs without the benefit of homers. Remind you of anyone? That means keeping them from dinking and dunking us to death will be key, and the bullpen has done a really poor job of that lately. Shore it up boys.

CPA Predictions:

What's that Haters? That's the sound of the CPA going 3-0 on the series! AWWW YEAH! Too bad it predicted a Braves series loss, but still. Small victories for the prediction metric. The CPA is now 20-31 on the year, and it just needs to keep climbing. Step by step. Day by day. A fresh start over, a different hand to play. Bonus points if you know what that lyric is from. If you were born in the 80s, you probably do.

Game 1 - Braves by 3
Game 2 - San Diego by 1 (very close here)
Game 3 - Braves by 1
Game 4 - San Diego by 1

The CPA likes a split in the 4-gamer, with the 2nd game being a swing game. It's basically 52-48% for and against the Braves in that second match. So if the Braves can make that a Win? Maybe they walk way with a 3-game series win. Hopefully!

GO BRAVES!

Friday, June 5, 2015

YARRRRR THAR BE PIRATES THIS WEEKEND!

Coming off a couple of blown bullpen games, the Braves can at least hold their heads high that the offense is scoring runs. In fact, the Braves are averaging 6.5 runs per game in their last 6 games. That's huge! They need to take some confidence into this home stand against a surging Pittsburgh Pirates team who have won 8 of their last 10 games. However, the Pirates have a road record under .500, so they've had some problems getting runs away from Pittsburgh.

Game 1 - Perez v. Morton
Game 2 - Teheran v. Locke
Game 3 - Wood v. Cole

Perez has been the surprise of the early season so far. Coming from obscurity to suddenly emerging as a part of the rotation in 3 starts, and doing a great job. Perez has only allowed 2 earned runs in his 3 starts over a combined 18 innings. He'll face Charlie Morton, coming off a hip injury last year which delayed his opening as a starter for the Pirates. Morton has a 2-0 record in 2 starts with a 1.93 ERA, but he's been giving up a lot of balls in play which is good for the Braves hitters.

Teheran is coming off a Braves win in San Francisco (despite his two homers given up and a no-decision), which continues his theme of up and down starts this season. What I'm hoping is that while we've all noticed the velocity issues with Julio, he'll get back to what's really important. And that's his placement of the ball. It doesn't matter how fast you throw the ball if you're leaving it middle-up out over the plate to MLB hitters. And Julio has been doing that. It has to stop. On the other side the Braves get Jeff Locke, a struggling starter for the Pirates with a 5.34 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP. Locke gave up 14 runs in his 3 losses, while giving up nothing in a win against Miami. But one would hope we're better than Miami, and could rough up Locke.

Alex Wood has three wins in a row with one earned run in each game. Gerrit Cole has 8 wins (no, that's not a typo, look it up, it's crazy), and he's won his last 3 games with 2 runs total. This is quite possibly the best pitching matchup we'll see all month. Cole is having an almost Cy Young type season, while Alex has suddenly figured out how to keep the ball down and get through tough outings. Neither set of lineups has had particular success against the opposing pitcher, so I wouldn't expect a huge amount of runs in this game. Then again, the baseball gods tend to frown on supposed "best matchups" and we might see a flurry of runs we haven't seen in weeks.

CPA Predictions:

Hey it won a game! Going 1-2 on the series and now 17-31 on the season, I don't really see the point in keeping up with units anymore because, well it's bad. If you bet the CPA you're wearing a barrel at this point. Don't bet on it, just enjoy me trying to scramble back some form of winning streak.

Game 1 - Pirates by 1
Game 2 - Braves by 1
Game 3 - Pirates by 1

Welp, these games are really close, but I think if the bullpen can turn it around, some of those predicted losses will be wins. We just need to keep the games in check after the starter leaves.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bullpen Execution: I'm in favor of it



The Braves dropped two of three games to the Diamondbacks this week when they easily could have swept them if not for the bullpen woes. What's the common theme this year? Bullpen woes. Who is to blame for the Braves problems? That'd be the bullpen, Alex. When asked about his team's execution in a game, football coach John McKay once quipped, "I'm all for it." That's the titular joke, and wholeheartedly explains my feelings toward the pen right now.

To recap the series, since this is a combo recap and discussion of the pen, the Braves actually scored a ton of runs in the series. Atlanta put up 22 runs of offense, but dropped two games because the bullpen allowed a combined 7 runs in two games, and blew both leads late. Who was at fault? Jim Johnson, Cody Martin, Nick Masset, and Brandon Cunniff. Basically everyone except Luis Avilan, Jason Grilli, and Trevor Cahill.

Alex Wood was great in his start, allowing only 1 earned run in 8 innings on 7 hits. That was the lone win. Shelby Miller wasn't good at all in his start, allowing 4 runs in 4.1 innings, but you're allowed a clunker every now and then when your ERA was sub 2.00 coming in. Besides the game was in hand, and the bullpen allowed 3 more runs for the loss. Lastly, Folty was very sub-par in his outing with 5 runs, 4 earned, in 5.2 innings with 8 hits and 2 walks. That's just too many runners. I say it all the time, but you're rolling the dice whenever you put more than 1.5 runners on an inning.

The offense was gangbusters, but Freddie Freeman was the real story. Freddie hit not 1, not 2, but 3 homers in this series. He's suddenly busting out of his long slump, and he's hitting the ball like it is the size of a cantaloupe. If he can stay hot, he'll move up in the All-Star chase and might get into the last-minute voting again. That's where Braves Twitter can really shine. They do a good job of rigging a Twitter vote.

But the question remains, how do we fix this pen? Let's analyze a little where we stand:

Luis Avilan                 21 IP   2.53 ERA   1.08 WHIP
Jim Johnson                25 IP   3.28 ERA   1.34 WHIP
Jason Grilli                 17 IP   4.15 ERA   1.38 WHIP
Cody Martin               21 IP   4.79 ERA   1.31 WHIP
Brandon Cunniff        18 IP   4.91 ERA   1.15 WHIP
Trevor Cahill              11 IP   6.55 ERA   1.64 WHIP
Nick Masset                 6 IP   7.94 ERA   1.94 WHIP

OK, so just looking at the list of stats, I can tell you right now that Avilan, Johnson, and Grilli are staying. Cody Martin is extremely questionable, but he's been used a ton so I send him back down anyway. Cunniff probably needs more outings, his problem is he got scortched lately by Arizona and SF in two games. Otherwise, he's had some really good outings and his WHIP is way lower than his ERA indicates. I'd keep him in there. Trevor Cahill is a mop-up guy and we're paying him too much to outright release him. I'd never see him in a key situation anyway. He's only coming in the game up by 5 or down by 4 late. Nick Masset is brand new in a trade, and he deserves time in AAA, he's not ready yet. I'd send him down.

So let's assume you can fix some of this by sending down Martin and Masset. Here are your options in AAA for possible call-ups. David Carpenter (not the one who just got DFA'd by the Yankees) is a young Righty in Gwinnett with a 0.82 ERA in 16 games and 22 innings. I mean this should be a no-brainer unless the Braves are holding back on him for financial reasons. Another guy to consider is Aaron Kurcz, a Righty with a 3.20 ERA and 22 games of relief. He's 24 years old and probably a little young to throw into this spot, but we're desperate. If you want another option, you have an aging vet in the pen named Carlos Fisher, who is essentially another Donnie Veal type option with the exception that you hope he doesn't suck like Veal at the top level. He's had 98 innings in the majors but none of them were much better than Martin's, so I'm not sure you'd want to make that move.

Looking at the free agent market, there's one major option. David Carpenter from the Yankees got DFA'd because he had a 4.82 ERA, but really 6 of his 10 earned runs on the season came against Baltimore and Toronto on the road. Toronto is the #1 offensive team in baseball, and the Orioles at home have a 17-13 record despite the fact they are in last in the AL East. So I consider those to be pretty big outlier situations. I think the Braves would be stupid not to consider signing Carpenter to another minimum level deal after the time expires.

So my solution right now is to make a combo of moves. Send down Martin and Masset, and bring up a mix of Kurcz, Carpenter, and sign another Carpenter. We could have two relievers named David Carpenter on the roster. Imagine the insanity!

Either way, we need to fix this fast, because the Braves could be leading the division if not for the pen right now.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Braves miracle comeback splits with Giants, take on D-Backs next

I'm going to start combining the recaps and the previews together when the Braves finish a series with no break in between, because honestly there's no reason to put two articles out on the same day when I'm doing the typing anyway. So enjoy a new combined version of BRAVES AREN'T THAT TERRIBLE ON THIS ROAD TRIP WHEEEEEEEEEE!

First two games in SF? Total offensive garbage. Miller pitched great in Game 1, but the offense awarded him with no runs, and we're all dumber for having watched the bullpen give up 6 runs in the 8th inning. May God have mercy on our souls if that continues all year. Game 2 was closer, but again the offense put up a grand total of 1 run against a struggling Tim Hudson, and the bullpen imploded in the 8th inning for 2 runs.

Second two games in SF? Total offensive miracles. In the third game, Williams Perez threw a freaking 7 inning shutout, which is absurd for a guy that just got up here, and the Braves tacked on 8 runs courtesy of 14 hits. Peterson, Maybin, Uribe, and Simmons all had multi-hit games. Uribe hit a homer and a double. Peterson hit a triple and a double, not to be confused with a basketball triple-double. The team was 6-17 with RISP, so it could have been even uglier.

Then the final game happened. You can usually count the memorable games in a season on one hand when it comes to MLB regular season games. The MLB regular season is the fun background noise to your summer life. It's there, and you love it for the time you watch it, but you almost immediately forget it a week later. Only the exceptionally bad and the exceptionally good stand out when you look backwards. This final game will stand the test of time as one of the defining games in this Braves season, I have no doubt.

Julio Teheran looked awful. He was giving up bomber shots to right field, and already down 2-0 in the 2nd with velocity in the high 80s, and a confused look on his face. But somehow Julio stopped the bleeding and went on to pitch 6 innings giving up only 3 runs. Meanwhile, the offense was going nowhere until the 5th inning when they broke through on a Chris Johnson single that scored Jonny Gomes. Then the real fun began. Juan Uribe jacked a no-doubter home run to left field off MadBum, and the Giants found themselves down 3-2. But remember, the bullpen is terrible and Fredi G inexplicably went to Donnie Veal in the 7th, who gave up 3 runs and made it 5-3 Giants. I was pissed. There was no reason to give the game away like that.

But lo, the impossible happened. The Braves rallied in the 9th inning. It started with a 1-out homer by Freddie Freeman who came in off the bench. That would make it 5-4 Giants. Then, Simmons walked. C-Beth hit into a for-sure-inning-ending-double-play, but Brandon Belt booted the ball, and all hands were safe. That would prove enormous since AJ came up with a bloop single to load the bases. With everything on the line, it was young Jace Peterson that laced a liner right past the center fielder, clearing the bases with a triple, and giving the Braves a 7-5 win after Grilli got the save. It was an epic finish against the defending World Champs and one of the hottest teams in baseball.

I'll skip 3 Things this week since it's a split and just tell you I loved the Braves moxy of never give up in the fourth game, and I love how Jace Peterson and Juan Uribe are playing right now. Keep it up, guys!

Now on to the next series, where the Braves play the Diamondbacks for 3 games in Arizona. Let's take a gander at the matchups.

Game 1 - Wood v. Bradley
Game 2 - Miller v. Collmenter
Game 3 - Foltynewicz v. De La Rosa

I like this stretch of the rotation a lot, and I like them even more against an easier opponent in Arizona than the prior two West Coast teams we faced. Wood is coming off 2 wins in a row, Miller hasn't given up more than 2 runs since the end of April, and Folty's ERA in his last two starts is 1.89. All these guys are hot, and what better place for hot guys to play than Arizona in June?

They'll face Bradley, Collmenter, and De La Rosa, who are the exact opposite of hot. In their last 3 starts, Bradley has given up 16 runs, Collmenter has given up 8 runs, and DLR has given up 10 runs. The Braves are swinging hot bats coming off 15 runs in the last 2 games. So what's the bad news? The Braves have never seen Bradley before at all, and they've had very limited exposure to DLR. The only bright spot is that they've owned Collmenter, and he's never notched a win against the Braves in the last three years.

The players that need to make the Diamondbacks pay are Uribe, Simmons, Peterson, and Freeman. All were key players in the last series, and all of them have been swinging well over the last week. Uribe is blistering hot right now with a 1.139 OPS for the last 5 games. That's completely insane, but he did notch two homers in that stretch. I'd say the trade for Callaspo has already yielded results.

CPA Predictions:

A friend of mine suggested that since the CPA is such a greasefire this year, I might as well do like Jimmy Fallon and let puppies make my picks. Probably more adorable, but I'm not giving up yet. I did manage to get the fact right that the Braves split. I just got all the games backwards so the CPA went 0-4 in a 4 game series. Bad, I know. But did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! (Animal House reference for those of you born in the 90s or later).

The CPA is now 16-29 with -19.40 units. I mean if you're betting against it right now, you're buying a new car. I couldn't be this bad if I was trying to lose. On to the picks.

Game 1 - Arizona by 1
Game 2 - Braves by 1
Game 3 - Arizona by 1

The CPA thinks this will be some close games with the bullpens being the edge. That's not really great for us. But if the Braves can score early, they might be able to turn the tide.

GO BRAVES!