Friday, April 29, 2016

Series Preview: Braves v Cubs April 29 - May1, 2016

Let's do this quick since these are all day games, and I'm under the gun to get to the lake this weekend. No recaps until Sunday when I do them all at once. I'm gonna be relaxing on a dock.

Game 1 - Blair v. Lester
Game 2 - Teheran v. Lackey
Game 3 - Wisler v. Hammel

If we get the Aaron Blair we saw in his 3-run debut, even though that ended in a loss, I'm okay with it. Same thing with the Julio I saw in the last effort where he lost in a 1-0 effort. When you get those types of performances, you give yourself a chance to win if the offense is remotely functional. It's the 4+ run efforts that bury you as a team, and that's what buried Wisler in his last game. I'm hoping he can bounce back in his anchor position of the day games against the Cubs.

The Cubs are hot, I can't lie about that. 16-5 on the year, second in the league in scoring, 8th in homers, 5th in OPS, 2nd in team ERA. They are doing almost everything right, and it's showing up in the win column.

Here's the good news. The Braves dodge Jake Arrieta who is unbeatable right now. Here's the bad news. Jason Hammel has an ERA of 0.75 and hasn't lost a game, and Lester has a 1.98 ERA and is absolutely dealing. The getable guy in this series is Lackey with a 4.97 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP as he takes on Julio in the second game.

But the thing about that game is Julio has been bad on the road historically. In Washington he gave up 6 runs in 7 innings. Over the last 3 years, Julio's ERA jumps from 2.66 at home to 4.13 on the road. He's not great sleeping in hotels, I guess. Meanwhile, Lackey is coming off a shelling by Cincinnati where he gave up 6 runs, so he'll likely be looking to right the ship against a Braves lineup that isn't scoring well. He'll also try to dodge Nick Markakis who has raked against him in his career at an .871 OPS in 68 ABs.

The other two games? Good luck. Lester's given up exactly 1 homer to the Braves lineup in 218 ABs. That was of course to Freddie Freeman. AJ has had some success against Lester, as has Nick, but that's a tough row to hoe for the rest of the lineup. Blair will have to be really on his game to keep it close in the friendly confines of Wrigley. Better hope the wind is blowing IN, not OUT.

Wisler might have a shot against Hammel if you believe Hammel is due for an implosion. He's a career 4.43 ERA guy, so having him at sub-1.00 right now is WAY out over his skis. That won't last forever. And the Braves are the perfect team to give it to him. SIX starters for the Braves have an OPS over .900 against Hammel, so go get him boys!

CPA Predictions:

CPA split the 4-gamer with the Sox by going 2-2. It's now 12-8 on the year.

Game 1 - Cubs by 3
Game 2 - Cubs by 1
Game 3 - Cubs by 3

Clean sweep according to the CPA. Can't really blame it. Maybe we catch a break and steal one.

GO BRAVES!

Game 4: Braves v Red Sox 4/28/16

We won! Light the signal fires and tell them all the way along the Great Wall of Braves Country, the Braves are victorious! Let there be a grand clubhouse feast! Bring me the finest meats and cheeses in all the surrounding baronies!

OK with that out of the way, I had a feeling we might win last night with Chacin on the mound. Call me crazy, but he's one of the few starters I trust out there. He wasn't stellar as he only went for 5 IP with 2 earned runs, but that's better than we're getting from most of our guys out there lately. What was stellar was the bullpen going 4 IP of scoreless ball, which almost NEVER happens. EOF was even good out there for an inning. Do you believe in miracles? YES!

Remember my two rules for a Braves victory. Good bullpen and good Freddie Freeman. Guess what we got in this game? Both. Freeman went 3-4 with a walk, keeping the line moving, but he wasn't the hero. The hero was Nick Markakis with his 4 hits and 3 RBIs. It was actually the bottom of the order that did the run scoring with Jace Peterson getting 3 walks and 2 runs, Aybar getting a hit and 2 runs, and Mallex Smith getting 3 hits, a run, and 2 RBIs.

Great hitting by the bottom of the order is a cool thing to see, especially when it's from guys that had really been on the shnide. They took advantage of a struggling Clay Buchholz in Boston, as he gave up 8 hits, 5 runs, and 4 walks.

Still, there were defensive mistakes. The Braves committed 2 errors in the game, one by Freeman and the other by AJ Pierzynski. Seriously, I'm begging for somebody to realize that AJ is no longer able to make 60% of the starts because of his defense. He's awful out there. Last night he had TWO passed balls and he dropped an easy pop fly in foul ground. Flowers ain't a lot better, but we need to find a decent catcher soon. I would kill for a David Ross right now, and he's planning on retiring this year. Go find somebody that can catch, Braves.

Still, we won. That puts the streak at one win. I'll take it.

Braves win 5-2.

GO BRAVES!


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Game 2-3: Braves v Red Sox April 26-27, 2016

Bud Norris is done. If the Braves let him make his next scheduled start, they are fools. Bud didn't even make it through 2 innings last night on his way to giving up 6 runs with a grand slam. His ERA is nearing 9.00. Repeat, he is done. I don't want to see him anymore. Cut him, trade him, send him out into the ocean with a canoe and a paddle. I don't care. He has to go.

There are too many young pitchers with talent for this team to put up with a Bud Norris ruining games. Mainly, there's Mike Foltynewicz who should get the next start in place of Bud if the Braves can swing it. And they should do everything in their power to make that happen.

What can I say about a team that got beat in these last two games 20-8? Hey at least we scored 8? The good news is that the homerless streak is dead thanks to Freddie Freeman so we don't have to talk about that anymore. AJ Pierzynski got his 2,000th hit of his career, so that's nice. Drew Stubbs also got a couple of starts in these games and went 3/7 with 2 runs and a walk. That's great to see from somebody in the lineup.

And the good news ends there. Wisler got torched for 5 in his start of game 2. At the end of game 2, if you were watching it, you saw Ryan Weber get lit up like the grill he's named after. Weber gave up 5 runs in 2 innings of work, and it was a doubles parade with 2 outs as we all wondered if the 9th inning would ever stop. It's like that scene from the Simpsons where Krusty attacks the Hamburgler and just keeps kicking him while one of the kids cries, "Stop! Stop! He's already dead!" This current version of the Braves are already dead, we just have to watch the corpse jangle about before it gets resurrected by the young talent hanging out in the minor leagues. Too morbid? We gave up 20 runs in 2 days. I'm not exactly brimming with pride right now.

Game 3 wasn't any better even though we were sort of scoring runs, but Bud Norris dug such a hole that it was 6-1 before the Braves could bat in the 3rd. The Braves struck out 24 times in these two games. You only get 27 outs, so you can do the math on that one. I can guarantee you one thing, no matter where you fall on the "Do Strikeouts Matter" debate, everyone agrees that at a certain point if you're striking out THAT much it's bad. Especially when you have no power.

Did I mention I want Bud Norris gone? Good, why is he still on the team as I'm writing this? Let me know when he's been cut immediately.

Braves set a record for the most losses in April with 17. Get ready because we're going to break a lot more records for terrible this season the way this is going. The cavalry can't get here soon enough.

Braves lose 11-4
Braves lose 9-4

God have mercy on us all.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Game 1: Braves v Red Sox 4/25/16

Julio Teheran pitched a gem last night and it didn't matter. Because the immutable rule of baseball is that you must actually score a run to win, and the Braves failed to scratch across a solitary point. It's one thing to lose a game when you don't pitch well or don't play defense. It's another thing to get shutout 1-0 like you're playing in the English Premiere League.

First, props need to go out to Julio as he went 7 IP, 6 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, and 8 Ks. I'll take that line from him any time he wants to show up. He'll go to the All-Star game with that line. We should win games with that line. But alas, this is a new year and we're finding new ways to lose.

Okay with that being said, let's focus on the moment in the game that made me absolutely lose my mind. I thought I'd been teleported to some dimension where there were no replay challenges, or at the very least where our manager has lost the ability to speak and ask for one. To set the stage, the Braves are down 1-0, it's the bottom of the 7th inning, Frenchy is on second and Freeman is on first. There's one out. A hit would score the tying run here.

So what happens? Fredi Gonzalez PH Drew Stubbs for Jace Peterson. Jace is a .250 hitter with RISP this year, and Stubbs is hitting .333, so I get that move. Jace hasn't been hitting well either, so I'm on board at this point. But Stubbs hits one to the second baseman, who bobbles the ball and then flips to second to get the close out. However, on further inspection Freddie actually hit the bag first, then came off the bag, then came back on it before he was tagged. The play should have been reviewed. But for some reason the Braves let it go, and Freddie was out. Runners at the corners and Mallex Smith coming up.

EXCEPT WAIT, Freddie Gonzalez pinch hit for Mallex with Eric Aybar. For those of you who don't remember who Aybar is, he hasn't had a hit since April 21st. He's hitting .136 at the time. Granted Mallex has been struggling as well, but you had other bench options. You had Kelly Johnson or Flowers at that point. Or you could have just rolled the dice with Mallex. But no, Fredi went with one of the worst hitters on the team with the game on the line. Guess why? Go ahead, guess. Because Mallex is a lefty, and Boston brought in a lefty reliever. So Fredi went with Aybar because he's a switch hitter. Yep, once again it's matchups. Insane matchups. Along with failing to challenge, it cost us the game.

Here's the terrible thing, Mallex is just as bad against lefties as Aybar. Mallex has a .067 average, Aybar has a .043 average this year. You know what Kelly Johnson is hitting off lefties? .400 in 2016. BUT KELLY IS A LEFTY CAN'T USE HIM THERE! I absolutely hate hate hate the way Fredi takes what hand you use over how good you are when making changes. I'm going to show up in the park and tell them I'm left-handed so I can pinch hit in the 8th inning.

Braves lose 1-0, they've lost 6 in a row again. I'm counting the days until Fredi Gonzalez is fired. I'm over it.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Series Preview: Braves v Red Sox April 25-28, 2016

There's a two game series home and away against Boston this week, but since it's the same team going back to back I figure it's just easier to cover the series as a whole with four games total. Let's look at the matchups:

Game 1 - Teheran v. Porcello
Game 2 - Wisler v. Price
Game 3 - Norris v. Wright
Game 4 - Chacin v. Buchholz

The pitching is well below average for the Braves lately, but it's not really the reason they are dumping games. The real reason is that the Braves haven't scored more than 3 runs in this entire losing streak. And I'll tell you something right now, when you don't have a single true Ace on the staff, hoping to win games 3-2 is a fool's errand.

Of Teheran, Wisler, Norris, and Chacin, only Wisler and Chacin are having a good start to the season. Which is funny to me because Chacin is probably relieved he's not pitching in the high altitude of Colorado, and Wisler simply doesn't have enough experience to know any better. Right now if I'm ranking the best chances to win, Teheran and Norris are last. Which again is funny because coming into the season the Braves had them ranked as 1 and 2 in the rotation. They are anything but right now. Frankly, I'll be shocked if Bud Norris is still on the team in May/June.

Of the Boston starters, Stephen Wright has been absolutely dominant with a 1.40 ERA through 3 starts, but amazingly Boston only won one of those games. Meanwhile, Porcello is 3-0 through his 3 starts with a 4.66 ERA because the Red Sox decided to hit that day. It doesn't mean I fear Porcello more than Wright in this series, because that would be crazy, and also wins for pitchers are stupid. Boston can absolutely hit our staff, and the way Norris and Wright are pitching, that matchup could be a 13-1 shelling.

The weirdest part of Boston's starting rotation is that David Price and Clay Buchholz are complete disasters early. In 4 games each, they've give up a combined 32 runs, and 47 hits. They are flat getting shelled, and their numbers reflect it. But Atlanta has been the tonic that cures every pitcher's ills this season, so can the Braves actually take advantage of their struggles?

This hitting stats for Atlanta would say no. Castro, Frenchy, Markakis, and Garcia are hitting well right now. Everybody else is a sub-.235 greasefire. I am at a loss every time I see AJ take the plate ahead of Tyler Flowers, who is hitting .346 in 8 games with a .414 OBP. Every time, I see Freddie uppercut the ball to the warning track, I die a little inside. Nobody can hit a homer, and it's driving everyone on the team to various acts of worship reserved only for ancient pagan trials and island voodoo. JOBU NEEDS HIS RUM!

Want the good news? Gordon Beckham has actually seen one of these Red Sox starters a good bit with some decent success. He's .469 off Porcello in 32 ABs with a homer and 6 doubles. There's absolutely zero reason he shouldn't start that game unless he's not healthy. UPDATE: Oh wait he's on the DL so screw that idea. Go figure. Also, Markakis and Frenchy are hitting .390+ off Porcello, so you would hope they can chip in as well. Stubbs, Kelly, and Freddie are all .300+ off Porcello too. The question should be, "How will they find a way NOT to hit this guy, because he's a mess right now." Julio Teheran just needs to hold the Red Sox lineup at bay.

Want the bad news? Of the guys with 10 or more ABs, nobody hits Price well on this team. And only AJ has had any success against Buchholz. Oh and the Braves have never seen Wright before, so that's awesome considering he's hotter than pressing a freshly fired pistol against your thigh. Which is oddly what watching the Braves past the 6th inning feels like emotionally.

CPA Predictions:

The CPA actually thought we'd win a game against the Mets. Haha, stupid computer. We're finding NEW ways to fail that your circuits can't possibly comprehend. The CPA is 10-6 on the year.

Game 1 - Braves by 1
Game 2 - Boston by 2
Game 3 - Boston by 6
Game 4 - Boston by 1

CPA thinks we win the opener against Porcello and drop the rest like Jeff Teague dropped the ball with 15 seconds to go last night. Did you watch that? Vintage Atlanta sports right there. Just when you think you're numb enough to put up with anything Atlanta Fail-Kicks you right in the jimmy. Maybe the Braves pull off a miracle this week and split the series though. I'm more optimistic the more young talent I see.

GO BRAVES!

Game 2-3 Recap: Braves v Mets April 23-24, 2016

Both games were losses so the overall score here isn't much of a concern for me in these games. The details of the pitching were a much bigger factor, especially in game 3 as we got to see Aaron Blair for the first time. I'm really excited about this season if we can continue to call up the young players that may form the building blocks of this franchise for the next 5 years. I'm less excited about writing blogs on Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson, Bud Norris, AJ Pierzynski, Eric Aybar, Tyler Flowers, Gordon Beckham, and the rest of the fading vets that won't be part of this rebuild after 2016 or 2017. Every day that goes by where we see old players instead of the new prospects is a waste of time for the fans.

Chacin pitched game 2, and he did a very mediocre job. In 5.2 innings he had 4 runs, 3 earned, 7 hits, 2 walks, and 5 Ks. Ho-hum, that kind of line is going to lose for this team 95% of the time. On another team? Maybe not so bad because the offense could bail him out. But not this version of the run-starved Braves.

Game 3 featured Aaron Blair, and I think the future is bright for that kid. He's got good command of the ball in the lower half of the zone, he throws a lot of strikes, and he's not afraid to challenge hitters into contact. That kind of confidence is big for a young pitcher making his debut. Did it go well? Meh, it went as well as I expected. I thought about 5.2 innings, 3 runs, a ND, with 4 Ks, and a walk. He pitched 5.1 innings, 3 runs, a loss, 1 K, and 2 walks. That's actually a good outing for a young guy making his first start in the major leagues. The Braves just couldn't push across more than two runs all day.

The hitting is probably the most confusing part of this team, because it's bad in a bunch of really strange ways. I think you can call it the POWER-OUTAGE lineup. Let's take a look at why:

Bad Braves Hitting Fact #1 - The Braves actually have a higher on-base percentage (.304) than slugging percentage (.289)

Bad Braves Hitting Fact #2 - The Braves are 30th, dead last, in OPS (.593) which is 56 points behind the 28th team in the league (oddly the Chicago Cubs).

Bad Braves Hitting Fact #3 - The Braves average 203 ABs per homer. That's obviously dead last. The next team down the list only has 61 ABs per homer. It's a gap of 142 ABs, which is insane.

Bad Braves Hitting Fact #4 - The Braves grounder/fly ball rate is 1.12, tied for second to dead last in MLB. You know what ground balls never do? Leave the ball park.

Bad Braves Hitting Fact #5 - The Braves PH batting average is .071, worst in the NL, 28th in the MLB. And that's only because two AL teams don't really PH at all. They should be dead last. You know what pinch hitters are supposed to do? Get hits late in games to score runs.

That's enough for now. There will be more as we go, but good grief Braves. You need to get it together so we can have some hope for this team.

Braves lost 8-2 on Saturday, and lost 3-2 on Sunday. They've lost 5 in a row now.

GO BRAVES!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Game 1 Recap: Braves v Mets 4/22/16

Bud Norris isn't long for this team. Not that we thought he was going to be an answer anyway coming off spring training, but his home run totals are killing any chance the Braves have to win games when he starts. This particular game was decided early by a Curtis Grandson grand slam in the second inning, and the Braves never recovered. That's all on Norris not being able to put his pitches where he wants, and that lack of control and movement means (like Williams Perez) that the balls get crushed into the stratosphere.

Once again a Braves starter didn't make it past the 5th inning. If you look at the games we've played and lost so far, that lack of innings is being a major issue because it's burning down an already struggling bullpen. The Braves had to bring up Casey Kelly from AAA to eat innings in his debut, and he did an admirable job of 3 innings with only 1 run conceded. Grilli and EOF filled out the gaps with the bullpen taking 5 innings of 1 run ball, while the starter only took 4 with 4 runs. The Braves can't live like that all season, or we'll need to carry a pitching staff of 15 guys (which isn't realistic).

Adonis Garcia and AJ Pierzynski both had 3 hits each last night, reminding us all why they still have jobs on this team, because they are both defensive nightmares right now. At what point does a guy's defensive liability outplay his offensive statistics? We're going to find out this year, because I don't have a good answer to that question. Maybe never with this ragtag group of misfits! At the very least neither one of them committed an error in this game. However, Norris had a throwing error, so the Braves didn't escape defensively either.

The Freddie Freeman watch continues. He went 1-5 in this game with a single, no runs or RBIs. He's about as big a non-factor in this lineup as he's ever been in his career while playing. I joked last night on Twitter that Freddie is wandering in the woods, eating bugs, drinking rainwater, and looking for his swing. And God-willing he'll find it soon because I'm going to hammer my Braves winning mantra over and over again. Freddie has to produce and the bullpen has to lock it up. If it's 50-50, which it was yesterday, you better hope the starter was good. He wasn't.

Tonight we get the best chance to win against the Mets in my mind with Chacin on the mound. The Braves need to take the second game because otherwise it's deGrom on Sunday against a TBD (likely Aaron Blair from AAA) and that's not a big advantage for us.

Braves lost 6-3, they've dropped 3 in a row now.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Weekend Series Preview: Braves v Mets April 22-24, 2016

Dropping two out of three to the Dodgers didn't make anybody happy. But now the Braves catch a break against the Mets rotation, since they only have to face deGrom late and not Noah Syndergaard. On to the matchups!

Game 1 - Norris v. Harvey
Game 2 - Chacin v. Matz
Game 3 - TBD v. deGrom

Let's break this down game by game since this will probably be one of the more interesting pitching series the Braves see this month. Norris has been slightly above what we expected, mostly because after spring training I think the fans expected him to explode into a puddle of goo. He hasn't done that, but he hasn't been good either. With a 6.23 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP, he's got every fan gripping the table with both hands when he takes the mound. The concerning thing for me on Norris is he's giving up progressively more homers, which will eventually sink him if he doesn't get the ball down in the zone with his high WHIP. You can survive solo shots, you can't survive the homer after you walked two guys.

Matt Harvey WAS one of the Mets best pitchers last year. He had a 3.02 ERA in the postseason for all his starts, and a 2.71 ERA for the season in 2015. Now? He's a complete mess on the mound. Three starts, three Mets losses, and an ERA of 5.71 with a WHIP of 1.56. He's only struck out 9 batters all year. That's pretty low for a guy that had 188 punchouts last season. So what's wrong? Simply put, he's facing more runners and working out of the stretch more often. He isn't as comfortable out of the stretch and as a result the runners are coming home to roost. If the Braves can get him into the stretch early, their chances of winning go way up.

Jhoulys Chacin is the surprise story of the pitching staff this year. With 14 Ks in just 2 starts, his swing and miss rate is WAY up, and his first outing of the year he had a shutout going until the manager decided to yank him with 69 pitches for Jace Peterson to PH. I'll NEVER forget that move because it's exactly what drives me insane about Fredi. But I digress. If I had to rank the staff right now, I think Chacin is #2 behind Wisler in terms of strength. He'll face off against Steven Matz, a 24 year old lefty rook who has had two wildly different starts to this year. In his first game he gave up 7 runs to the Marlins in 2 innings and got yanked. In his second start, he went for 7 innings of shutout ball against Cleveland. Which guy shows up? I'm hoping it's an evens and odds thing, because if it's odds we'll show him what the back side of a toolshed looks like.

Is it a bad thing when we don't even know who's going against Jacob deGrom? Those of you might remember deGrom as that-guy-who-looks-like-a-pirate-and-also-strikes-out-everybody-on-the-Braves. Apparently he just had a son, so he's taken some time off for that, and the Braves will be his first game back. Either he'll be well-rested or rusty, and I'm hoping his hinges squeak a little. Freddie Freeman has hit a homer off deGrom once, so I'm hoping we can find any history that gets Freddie going. I think the last homer we had was in 2008 it feels so long ago. I can't even remember. All the bad hitting is starting to run together like a spillguard in a dive bar.

CPA Predictions:

The CPA predicted a sweep by the Dodgers, but they only took 2 of those games. Take THAT computer! The CPA is 8-5 on the year. So it's sort of right so far.

Game 1 - Mets by 1
Game 2 - Braves by 2
Game 3 - Mets by 2

The CPA doesn't really have a feel for the last game other than the fact deGrom is good. That's usually enough. We'll see if the Braves can't steal a game, but I personally agree with the CPA that the second game is the best shot. Let's get that one.

GO BRAVES!

Game 3 Recap: Braves v Dodgers 4/21/16

Matt Wisler pitched his butt off and deserved a win last night, but frying pan hands Adonis Garcia committed one of the more horrific errors at third base that let a runner get to first, and that runner eventually scored to make it 1-0 Dodgers. The Braves tied the game, and the bullpen did a great job of pitching, but without that error, the Braves win 1-0 against Clayton Freaking Kershaw.

I'm done with Garcia in the field. Fredi Gonzalez actually came out today and said, "He's not a third baseman, his position is hitter." ARE YOU FREAKING SERIOUS? We don't have a DH in the NL, guys. You can't have a guy play hitter. He has to field something, and you know where I wouldn't try to hide a guy? THE HOT CORNER. But no, Adonis Garcia now leads the league in errors with six, and there are guys in the league who won't commit six errors in a year. He's played 14 games. Unreal.

Gordon Beckham can play 3B, he did it last year, and he won't embarrass the team while doing it. That's a better option than Garcia because his hitting isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard. It's one thing if he's hitting bombs, but he's not, and the Braves only have 3 homers on the year. From what I understand it's the lowest home run total for a Braves team since the 1930s at this point. Lord help us give the balls wings, because they ain't flying out of the ballpark any other way.

Man, I feel bad for Wisler. So bad. He's doing a great job and actually outpitched a Cy Young winner for one day, and it didn't matter because of hitting and defense. 6.2 innings with no earned runs? The kid is coming of age in front of us, and you have to really like that as a fan. Now support him. Please Braves.

Also, Daniel Castro is pressing to be part of the everyday lineup. Not only is he actually hitting, but he's fielding the ball better than either Aybar or Jace Peterson. I'd put him in there over either of those two guys on a daily basis, but Fredi has been confusing with his lineup decisions this year so far. Frankly, if I never saw Jace Peterson again on this team, I'd shed zero tears. He's a career .227 hitter. Jace isn't good. We need to accept that and move on with our younger guys. Can Jace be a utility guy in the interim? Sure, but the second someone decent comes along he's getting cut.

The Braves should have won that series. Maybe they can take some of that into the series with the Mets, but Freddie Freeman's bat needs to wake up fast if we hope to have a chance.

Braves lose 2-1 in extras, lose the series.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Game 2 Recap: Braves v Dodgers 4/20/16

A few days back I wrote a post that said the Braves needed to do two things to win games. And if they didn't do those two things they were destined to lose 90% of the time. Well last night they failed to do those two things. What are they again? Freddie Freeman needs to hit, and the bullpen needs to lock it up. Both fell apart against the Dodgers after the 4th inning.

The Braves are actually doing a great job of jumping out to leads. So far the Braves are in 3rd place in MLB in average runs scored in the 1st 4 innings. With 2.64 runs per game in the first four innings, the Braves are establishing themselves with early leads. The other 4 teams in the top 5 of that list are the Cardinals, the Cubs, the Yankees, and the Rockies. With the exception of the Yankees, all those other teams have winning records right now. It's a good stat to lead the league in.

Here's the downside. You know where the Braves rank in runs scored for the LAST 4 innings in the game (6th to 9th)? They are 29th with 1.00, second to dead last. The only team worse is, laughably again, the Yankees. It sort of explains why both the Braves and the Yankees don't have winning records. Late in the game they simple don't know how to put runs on the board, which means the bullpen has to be firing on all cylinders.

Last night that just didn't happen. The bullpen gave up 3 runs in 4.2 innings, which will almost never work in the Braves favor. Couple that with Freddie Freeman coming just one strikeout short of the platinum sombrero, and his 0-5 night certainly didn't help. The Dodgers did a full shift on Freddie and while he's struggling I'm still wondering why he isn't going the other way. If you're in full on bash mode and seeing the ball well? Pull it to your hearts content and blast homers over the shift. When you're grinding? I like to see good hitters make the defense pay like Brian McCann used to do.

Daniel Castro and AJ Pierzynski also had great days at the plate, accounting for 4 hits, 3 RBIs, and a run scored. They were basically the offense. The rest of the team struggled to even get 3 hits off the Dodgers pitching staff. And things don't get any easier tomorrow with Kershaw on the mound. Frankly with the way Julio was hanging pitches, we're luck the game was tied going into the late innings. Corey Seagar was again just an eyelash from a 2-run homer down the right field line, but it went mercifully foul and kept the game in check.

Braves lost 5-3 in extras, and they try again today at noon to best Clayton Kershaw with Matt Wisler. Good luck! They'll need it.

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Game 1 Recap: Braves v. Dodgers 4/19/16

The Braves have won 4 in a row and they are the hottest team in baseball. Let that soak in for a minute. Rub it all over yourself like some SPF 20, because it's sunny out there and you need to protect that skin. Feel good? It feels good doesn't it? Did we really start 0-9 at the beginning of the season? I can't remember, brah. I'm just out here on Kicking Butt and Taking Names Island soaking up the rays.

Ok that analogy got weird. Anyway, the Braves had a spectacular hitting day yesterday on their way to 8 runs. The two heroes were Jeff Francoeur with his 2 hits, 2 RBIs, and 2 runs scored, and also Tyler Flowers with 4 hits, 3 RBIs, and a run. Basically, those two guys were more than half of the Braves offense that night, which was a huge deal against Alex Wood.

The repercussions of such an outpouring of hits may fall more on Flowers than Frenchy. With AJ Pierzynski old and missing balls at the plate, not to mention having issues throwing out a single runner that's tried to steal this season, if Tyler Flowers can provide a solid stick at the plate he will get the starting nod. And that's a huge benefit for the Braves because they need a productive catcher that can call a good game for this young staff. I question if AJ has lost that ability, leaving the door wide open for Flowers.

The other big story was Williams Perez and Ryan Weber combining for 7 innings of 1-run baseball in their split start. Julio came down with the flu so Perez and Weber were each going to take around 3 innings for a "combined" start. Somewhere Cy Young is rolling over in his grave. I grew up in an era where Nolan Ryan would pitch 9 innings and then punch guys in the face. Now we can't even rely on a guy who is supposed to be a starter pitching 5 innings. It's ridiculous. Alex Wood got so roughed up he didn't make it past the 4th inning, and while I don't wish him bad luck overall I'm glad we got to him inside the TED. Braves hitters were 5-12 with RISP which is almost always going to be a winning combination.

Although I will get on Williams Perez because although he didn't get dinged up on the stat-sheet, if you watched the game you were NEVER comfortable with him pitching. His pitches are meatballs that tail back to the high middle part of the plate, begging to be crushed into next week. I'm shocked the Dodgers didn't make him pay. When the game was 2-0 Braves, I'm pretty sure it was Howie Kendrick that blasted a shot to right field (UPDATE: And one of my Twitter followers @d8braves tells me it was Corey Seager so I'm a dumb dumb), and if the wind didn't blow it slightly foul the game was going to be tied. Several warning track shots happened as well, but Perez never gave up a run. That won't last. I want to see less of Perez and more of the younger guys in AAA who are lighting it up right now.

Braves win 8-1, and win their 4th in a row. Julio Teheran goes tonight.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Series Preview: Braves v Dodgers April 19-21, 2016

I'm really excited about this series for the Braves for many reasons. The first is that they get to come home after a sweep of the Marlins, and we will see if the sweep was just a fluke. Also, they can prove that the TED isn't really cursed. Oh, and a guy named Alex Wood is going to pitch for the Dodgers. You may have heard of him. On to the matchups.

UPDATED: (Julio had the flu and flip-flopped with Perez)

Game 1 - Perez v. Wood
Game 2 - Teheran v. Stripling
Game 3 - Wisler v. Kershaw

The first game is the most interesting to me, mainly because we'll get to see Alex Wood back in Atlanta, but this time in a Dodger uniform. If I'm Alex, I'm looking to cram the baseball up the rear end of the Braves. Why? For trading me when it was obvious they needed pitching. To Alex, even though it's a business, that move had to seem personal since he was one of the few pitchers actually performing on the staff. He'll face Williams Perez since Julio had the flu, and was moved to Game 2.

Williams Perez starts on this team simply because we don't have a ton of better options right now. With an ERA of 7.00 and a WHIP of 1.70, it's a miracle the Braves actually won one of his two starts. But the worst part of Perez is that he can't even make it out of the 5th inning, and with the Braves bullpen issues that's a huge problem. You can't rely on 4+ bullpen innings producing anything but edge of your seat.

Alex hasn't been a whole lot better with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. But the big difference for Alex is while his first game was a 5-run disaster, his most recent game was a 7-inning, 1 run, winning effort. Whereas Julio is trending down in his starts, Alex is trending up. That may be a big deal for a Dodgers team that hasn't really started the way they expected, given what they've paid for talent.

In the second game, Ross Stripling for the Dodgers is a young gun righty who has only given up 3 runs in his first two starts. Oh and his WHIP is 0.75, which is absurd for a rookie. It can't last, right? Maybe we give him a welcome to the big leagues moment? Or maybe we curl up into a weeping ball in the 6th when the bullpen has the bases loaded with the game on the line? He'll be facing the Braves "Ace" in name only right now, because Julio Teheran has been anything but Ace-like this season. As I said in my last recap of his game, I still question if he can pitch effectively after the decline from last year. Julio has an early ERA of 6.35 with a WHIP of 1.47, which is wretched after 3 games. He's given up 4 homers, and 17 hits, while walking 8 batters. 25 runners in 3 games is a great way to lose unless you have your dancing shoes on.

The third game is Kershaw. Three starts, 1.65 ERA, a ZERO POINT FIVE FIVE (0.55) WHIP, and the Dodgers have won all his games. The sacrificial lamb for this one is Matt Wisler, who will have to pull a miracle out of his butt to outpitch Kershaw. Absolutely nobody in this lineup hits Kershaw well except a small sample size of Nick Markakis. The rest of the lineup is just an Arabian menagerie of swings and misses. Do we have a chance here? Sure, Kershaw might get bored and hit up one of Atlanta's fine dancing establishments the night before and come down with the Buckhead flu. Otherwise, nah.

CPA Predictions:

Well we won all three games on the weekend, which the CPA didn't predict. Mostly because only an insane person would have predicted that. But we're living in the land of the insane now. Up is down, good is bad, and Wisler is facing Kershaw. Anything can happen. CPA is 6-4 now on the year.

Game 1 - Dodgers by 1
Game 2 - Dodgers by 2
Game 3 - Dodgers by 4

The CPA is not convinced my friends! It laughs at the sweep and predicts doom at the TED! Will it be right? Man I hope not.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Weekend Series Recap: Braves v. Marlins April 15-17, 2016

Ok, so I go away for a weekend and the Braves decide to not only win a game, but sweep a series. Maybe I'm bad luck. Maybe I need to go to Athens every weekend. After who I saw walking around at G-Day, that's probably not a bad idea. Because there's beautiful people everywhere in Athens this time of year. I digress.

I have no idea what happened that lit a fire under the team, or if it's just that the Marlins are THAT inept, but whatever it was it worked in spades. The first win is always the toughest during a long slide, and the Braves did try to give the game away on Friday as fans agonized over the bullpen struggling to hold on. I was watching the play-by-play on my phone as I was already in Athens, and desperately tweeting out LOCK IT UP references to Wedding Crashers.

So what did I take away from all the games this weekend as the Braves earned their first sweep (hopefully of many) on the season? Well, two things that seemed to change, and the first was that Freddie Freeman started hitting. There were many that argued with me that Freddie wasn't the reason the Braves were losing, but I contend that Freddie is very much a mental and statistical lynch-pin to this team's success. Let's take a look.

Freddie Freeman in the 0-9 skid: 2/25 (.080 average), 1 homer, 2 runs, 2 RBIs.
Freddie Freeman in the 3 wins: 4/11 (.370 average), 1 double, 3 runs, 2 RBIs.

So basically in the span of 3 games, Freddie put up twice as many hits, more runs, and the same amount of RBIs as he had in the other 9 games. Also with 3 runs and 2 RBIs, Freddie had a hand in 5 of the 18 runs scored that weekend. That's a big increase. But even more than that, it's a big help for the guys in the lineup that mentally you're keeping the line moving. When the #3 best hitter in the lineup can't get a hit, it really weighs down the rest of the order. Freddie was a big part of the success in Miami, and it showed up in everyone else's bats as well.

The other big success was the bullpen obviously. The pen had 4.2 scoreless innings on Friday, 3.2 scoreless on Saturday, and then 2 runs in 4.2 innings on Sunday. That's an ERA of around 1.44 for the bullpen on the weekend. Compare that to the ERA of over 8.00+ during the losing streak, and it's not hard to see why the Braves suddenly held onto leads late.

Those two elements are going to be key for the Braves all year. You can ask yourself the following two questions in most games: 1 - Did Freddie have a good day at the plate? 2 - Did the bullpen hold up well? If both those are yes, it's a solid chance the Braves won. If both of those are no, there's almost no chance the Braves won. If it's 50/50 you better hope the starter had a heck of a day.

And there's the other big stories from this series sweep, like Jace Peterson coming through yet again with the bases loaded for 3 RBIs, or the fact that Nick Markakis is leading the NL in doubles and slugging his butt off, or that AJ Pierzynski actually stole a base, or that Kelly Johnson is now getting more time and capitalizing on it, or that we've shifted Mallex Smith into a meaningful role, or that the Braves won all 3 games despite the starters being sub-par. 

But the biggest thing from this weekend was that the Braves avoided some seriously bad history, and they looked like a real baseball team for the first time this year. That's all I've wanted all year. Look like you know what the heck you're doing, and surprise us with the young talent we know we'll see in the years to come. I'm in for a rebuild; I'm not in for a decimation. The team has to try and win our hearts even if it can't win tons of games.

If they keep this up, they'll win plenty of hearts in 2016.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Series Preview: Braves v. Marlins April 15-17, 2016

If not now, when? If not this weekend, will the Braves ever win in April? We shall find out.

Game 1 - Perez v. Chen
Game 2 - Norris v. Koehler
Game 3 - Chacin v. Cosart

Ok, so there's good news and there's bad news for these games with the Marlins. He's the good news: Chen and Cosart both had terrible first starts, ERA's over 5.00, and didn't make it past the 5th inning. The Marlins are also only 3-4 on the year and 21st in runs scored. They are without a doubt the worst team we're faced so far this season with these favorable matchups.

Here's the bad news. Norris and Perez have ERA's over 6.00 on the year. The Braves are 27th in runs scored. Eight of our position players are hitting .200 or worse. Oh and we haven't won a game yet with an 0-9 record, so it's not exactly like we're lighting up the world with confidence.

Not a ton of stats yet, but the ones that are here are ugly. Eric Aybar is the only guy with any success against Chen, so look for him to get a start at the top of the order on Friday most likely. AJ will likely get the start against Koehler since he's 7/15 off him with 2 homers in his career. And Freddie Freeman is 3/9 with a homer off Cosart, so I'm hoping he'll be a game-changer there in the final match.

CPA Predictions:

CPA got all 4 right because we lost all 4. So it's 5-2 on the year. Here's the rest.

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

CPA thinks the first win is coming on Sunday. So it's 0-11 until then and we set the record. Good luck everybody!

GO BRAVES!

Game 4: Braves v. Nationals 4/14/16

Bryce Harper hit a grand slam.

That's really all you need to know about that game, because the rest of it was simply academic. Once Bryce took Julio yard, the ballgame was effectively over. The Braves aren't going to score 5+ runs often, and they certainly aren't going to do it off Stephen Strasburg.

There's only one takeaway I have from this game, and it's about Julio Teheran. I'm not sure he can really pitch anymore. And that's a horrible place to be for a guy that's supposed to be the staff Ace. But he's not. He's not even close. Allow me to elaborate.

In 2014, Julio was an All-Star with a 2.89 ERA and 221 innings pitched. He was going deeper into games, he was dominating lineups, and his WHIP was a crisp 1.081 on the season. All fantastic stats for a 23 year old starter, and the future was bright.

Then 2015 happened. Julio got injured and never really looked right. He said he was fine, but the velocity on his fastball suddenly fell from the middle 90s down to the high 80s MAYBE 91-92. There was a noticeable difference in his confidence. And as a result his stats suffered. A 4.04 ERA and 1.306 WHIP highlighted the issues. But the bigger issue to me was his delivery and speed. Suddenly Julio was throwing batting practice balls over the middle of the plate.

And now in 2016 it's even worse. Just looking at Julio's last 10 starts of 2015, and his first starts of this season? Julio's given up 13 homers in 13 games. He's given up 32 runs in that stretch, and his ERA in that run is a 3.69 over 79.2 innings. The thing was, his stats were improving towards the end of last season, and now he's fallen off again. But the thing that's obviously changed is his WHIP and his homers. That many extra baserunners add up in a bad way, and a leadoff walk was what set up the Bryce Grando yesterday.

It's funny to me (funny depressing not haha) that the 3 guys left from the 2013 roster, Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, and Eric O'Flaherty, are all complete crap at the beginning of this season. It's as if all the things I'd grown to love about the Braves over the last 10 years have fallen apart. Nothing is left that's functional, and the other pieces have been scattered to the 4 winds or retired.

We need a win. We need it like oxygen. Or we're going to set a record for the worst start in franchise history this weekend.

Braves lost 6-2, drop to 0-9 on the season.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Game 3: Braves v. Nationals 4/13/16

I won't spend much time on this one because the game was over in about 2 hours. The Braves were absolutely hapless in this matchup, when it came to hitting. They had 5 hits, 3 walks, 0-3 with RISP, grounded into 2 double plays, and stranded 7 runners. The pitching was actually pretty good from Wisler despite the 2 homers, he only gave up 3 runs in 6 innings (technically a quality start), and the bullpen gave up 0 runs in 2 innings which is some sort of miracle.

But when you can't score nothing matters. Freddie Freeman went 0-4 and is now hitting .080 on the season. AJ Pierzynski actually hit pretty well with 2 knocks, raising him above the Mendoza line. The problem was the top 1-5 of the order went combined 0-19 with 2 walks. Those are SUPPOSED to be your best hitters. That wasn't the case last night.

Not much else to say except it was quick and painless; the game took 2 hours 12 minutes. Braves get their first shutout loss of the year, drop to 0-8 on the season, and they face Strasburg tonight since he was supposed to pitch this game but was bumped due to illness.

Braves lose 3-0

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

April will decide Fredi Gonzalez's fate with the Braves

I've heard several people both on Twitter and in real conversations say that Fredi Gonzalez shouldn't be held accountable for this mess. That no manager could produce anything from this rag-tag band of misfits that the GM put on the field. That the front office really didn't believe that this team had a chance to be better than 2015 or compete on the field, so why worry about who is managing the team.

All well and good if you fully believe that the Front Office expected a terrible product in this rebuilding year, and they are just place-holding until they open the stadium in 2017. I can tell you from everyone I've heard, everyone I've spoken to, all the people in the sales office, and the people in the front office, nobody expected this start. Nobody expected the Braves to be way worse than 2015, because they aren't just trying to get people to the TED for its last year, they are trying to sell the rest of their season ticket packages for 2017.

What many decisions from a business level come down to is Public Relations. It may be very fair to say that Fredi shouldn't hold all the blame for this team's woes, and I'd agree with you. The front office holds some blame as do the players. However, they aren't going to change the front office, or wholesale try to change out players against right on the cusp of a new ballpark. What they are looking for is growth and hope, because both of those things sell tickets.

What doesn't sell tickets is having your worst season in 30 years, and then telling the fans that the same guy managing the team will be there to do it again in your fancy new digs. That doesn't wash from a PR standpoint, and it has nothing to do with baseball. When you hit a new low, heads have to roll especially following a horrible season the year before.

With that in mind, let me dispel a couple of myths that people keep saying about this roster. AJ Pierzynski was an above average player last season, and suddenly now he can't catch. Nick Markakis is a good player, Freddie Freeman is an outstanding player, Eric Aybar had a 6.0+ WAR over the last two seasons, Adonis Garcia is hitting over .300 on the year, Kelly Johnson is an average player but not bad, plus Ender Inciarte and Mallex Smith have shown flashes of being great. The way this was assembled there was no reason to believe these guys couldn't form an AVERAGE lineup that would compete night to night. Not win the division, not win the pennant, not even come in with more than 75 wins. The front office expected them to compete and they aren't doing that right now.

Yes, Hector Olivera is struggling and apparently just got arrested for a domestic violence incident. Yes, AJ can't see for some reason early on and Freddie Freeman can't either. Yes, Ender Inciarte got injured as did Dan Winkler the best pitcher. Yes, the bullpen has major issues, and the starters have been off and on. But when you get performances like we're getting from Chacin, Norris, and Teheran in a couple of games where they hold teams to under 2 runs, you have to pull out some wins.

The Braves are in their own way defensively and mentally. And that comes from leadership both in the clubhouse and on the field. Defense has to be a priority from top down, and something you practice daily when it's not going well. Players have to work with management to improve when they are slumping and take up leadership roles. Fredi Gonzalez is not getting enough from these players, especially the ones that had better seasons before they got here. Hell, even BJ Upton is suddenly hitting now that he left Atlanta. At the very least, I expect a manager not to hurt me, but as I detailed in the last game Fredi's bullpen management style has hurt this team. And besides setting the lineup, that's his only real job on gameday.

I've never wanted Fredi fired over the last year because I knew when we traded everything away the season was over. But this year with new pieces and a chance for new beginnings? The Braves can't afford to let this thing get to 0-10. The last team to do that was the 1988 Braves, and the manager Chuck Tanner got fired when the team was 12-27. I don't think this scenario is any different. In fact, with the new ballpark I would say even more is on the line now than in 1988. And the fans aren't going to accept the same-old-same-old just because the building is shiny. There's collateral damage to this type of losing, and the PR team at Turner Field knows it well.

For the sake of Fredi's job, the Braves need to start winning this week. And they need to start looking like a team that knows what they are doing on the field. Because making errors like a AA squad, and throwing away games over and over in the 7th inning and beyond won't wash with the powers that be.

GO BRAVES!

Game 2: Braves v. Nationals 4/12/16

That was a winnable game. I thought the Braves had a legitimate shot at pulling out a victory given the pitching matchup and the prior success that several hitters had against Gio Gonzalez. Alas, none of that came to pass. And it hangs on two people, both of which were named Fred.

One Freddie many of you love and can do almost no wrong. The other Fredi many of you despise and want him fired yesterday. Both of them played into this loss, and both of them need to get it together quickly or this losing streak will continue well into next week.

Why was Freddie Freeman a problem? Freeman was 0-3 with a walk in the game. The score was 0-0 when Freddie came to the plate in the top of the 8th with no outs. There were runners on 1st and 2nd, and the lead runner was Mallex Smith. Now in this case, I don't need a hit out of Freddie. I need something either to right field, a slow roller grounder that doesn't result in a double play, or heaven forbid a bunt, or basically some contact that's not sharply hit right to a fielder. What I got was a strikeout. From our "best" hitter with a game on the line who is currently hitting .095 on the season. No runners advance, nobody behind him can get a hit, and we got nothing that inning. If it's just one AB, it's one thing. But Freddie hasn't hit at all in this 0-7 streak, and until he does we might never see another win.

Why was Fredi Gonzalez a problem? Several reasons. First, when the Braves got a runner on 2nd with two outs in the top of the 7th, Fredi pulled Chacin and pinch hit Jace Peterson to try and get the run in for the win. The problem with that line of thinking is after the game he said he might not have done it were it not for the losing streak. Chacin only had 69 pitches and wasn't just great, he was shutdown phenomenal. Add in the fact the every Braves fan in the world knows the bullpen can't cover 3 innings right now, and you end up with a rock and hard place decision to go for the win.

However, I could have forgiven that move if Fredi put in a pinch hitter with a decent record. Jace is a .167 pinch hitter with only 15 appearances. He's a .182 hitter with 2 outs and RISP. Under no circumstances is Jace the guy to hit in that scenario, unless you believe in Fredi's philosophy that Lefty/Righty matchups outweigh all other statistics. Because Jace is a lefty he went into that slot against a RH reliever, and struck out.

But wait, you'd say as a smart fan. Wasn't Kelly Johnson available? A lefty hitter with much more PH experience and a longer career? A guy that has a .243 average with 2 outs and RISP? A guy that hits lefties at a .273 clip and a PH average of .205? There's literally no case where Jace was a better choice in that slot than Kelly Johnson. But Fredi waited until later in the game to put in Kelly, who knocked in the only run of the game well after it stopped mattering.

There's more though. With two outs and runners on 1st and 2nd in the bottom of the 8th, Fredi made two more key errors. One, he decided to go with Eric O'Flaherty as a lefty reliever to face Bryce Harper, even though EOF has an ERA over 13 on the season and 2 credited losses. Two, he decided to pitch to Harper at all, a .300 hitter with .750 slugging this season and the 2015 MVP. With the game on the line and a base open. You easily can walk him and take your chances with Zimmerman, or you can go with Vizciano who is a better pitcher. But no, Fredi is OBSESSED with lefty matchups over all else. So instead of the better RH Vizciano, he went with the infinitely worse lefty EOF against the best hitter in the league. And shocker of shockers, Bryce Harper won the game for the Nationals with a hit.

Playing the percentages doesn't work if your talent isn't the same. That's what drives me nuts about Fredi's pitching management. He makes what he considers the right matchup call, but he doesn't weigh in the factor that one pitcher is simply WAY better than another, or one batter will smack around a guy no matter what arm he uses. By Fredi's logic pulling a AAA guy who is a lefty out of the pen is a better option that our RH closer because Bryce Harper is left handed, and that's patently insane. I'm tired of it.

We need both Fred's to wake up and get this thing pointed in the right direction. Because I guarantee you one thing, the front office won't sit on it's collective hands while the team sets futility records as they prepare to head into a new ballpark.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Game 1: Braves v. Nationals 4/11/16

As long as the losing streak continues from this point, I'm going to put it in perspective. So here's what happened last year in regards to losing streaks. The Braves lost 6+ games 3 times last season. They lost 7+ games twice. The longest losing streak in 2015 was 12 games, so we're not there yet. Still, HALFWAY HOME!

Last night was a carbon copy of the other Nats games we played at the TED. Braves start out hitting and get a lead. Braves immediately give lead back. Braves get lead again, but get it tied up heading to the late innings. Then Braves lose the lead late and lose the game. Set your washer to the cold cycle for like colors and repeat as needed.

Three things stood out to me from last night:

First, Mallex Smith is still impressive. So impressive that he managed to get on base, and score one of the early runs on a Markakis double, making it from first. He's fast, he's lithe, and he sort of reminds me of a young Otis Nixon before the chemically induced unpleasantness. He's also so fast he ran out from under his own helmet trying to steal second, and subsequently busted his face open like he was a prize fighter. Blood was everywhere. Luckily a couple of stitches and a helmet that actually fits should solve the problem.

Second, Markakis and Garcia can hit. That's a good thing because when Freddie Freeman finally wakes up this lineup will have some formidable sticks in it. If we keep Mallex at the top, then Markakis, Freeman, and Garcia? That's a 1-4 that will produce night after night. Which is what the Braves will really need if their pitching continues to look like a crack in the Holland Dyke.

Third, I would gladly put $10 in the collection plate, and so would every other Braves fan if we could get some bullpen pitchers that don't walk people. Seriously, the walks are murdering any chance we have to win games. It's the worst part of what the Braves pitching staff does, because so often they come back to haunt us, along with errors. With 5 walks and an error, you gave up at least 6 free bases to the Nats, and that's at best 1 run minimum. More likely 2 runs in most cases. And we simply can't have that.

Even though we lost, I'm more optimistic about the team than I was before, simply because I can feel the offense starting to gel a little. Not a lot, because that will take Freddie getting in the game, and right now he's hitting .111 on the season. Which...I mean we'd have already strung up Dan Uggla by now for that. So hopefully he turns the corner soon.

GO BRAVES!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Series Preview: Braves v. Nationals April 11-14, 2016

The Braves are playing poorly right now, so there's not much to say about this matchup except we better not lose them all on the road. If they start the season 0-9, you might see people completely give up on the team before April is out.

Let's look at the matchups:

Game 1 - Norris v. Scherzer
Game 2 - Chacin v. Gonzalez
Game 3 - Wisler v. Strasburg
Game 4 - Teheran v. Roark

Not a ton of data to work with yet, so I'll speak in broad strokes about the two staffs. Bud Norris is currently the best starter on the Braves by ERA, and that's not a good thing. Scherzer and Strasburg both took it to the Braves in Turner field, and they both have ERA's under 2.60 to show for their efforts. Nobody on the Braves staff even approaches that.

The interesting matchup to me will be Chacin and Gonzalez since they haven't had a start yet, and if you watched any spring training games Chacin was one of the guys who made a name for himself with a 3.18 ERA in 11 innings. HOWEVER, he did give up 15 hits in that stretch so his WHIP is a major issue. I'm praying he can keep the hits down in this game or it won't matter if the Braves are scoring that day.

The biggest thing for me so far is the walks. The Braves pitching staff right now has given up 27 walks in 5 games. That's 4th worst in the majors and a recipe for disaster every single night you take the mound. We have to stop walking people or the holes will just keep getting bigger and bigger. Not to mention the errors that give teams extra outs.

CPA Predictions

The CPA went 1-2 on the Nats series because it thought the Braves might win a couple games. HA! It knows better now. Let's see what it predicts.

Game 1 - Nationals by 4
Game 2 - Nationals by 2
Game 3 - Nationals by 3
Game 4 - Nationals by 1

Yeah it's predicting a clean sweep and further misery. I can only hope it's dead wrong but with an 0-5 it probably won't predict a win again until we put one up on the scoreboard. Maybe we pull one out in Washington.

GO BRAVES!

Braves v. Cardinals Weekend Reflections: April 9-10, 2016

Yeah here's my reflections on the weekend. Holy crap. I mean really what in the world did I just witness? The Cardinals laid 24 runs on the Braves in two games back-to-back, and the worst part was the Braves probably should have WON the second game again. Yet, they blew it in horrific fashion with some bad umpiring calls and horrendous bullpen pitching.

The defense is even worse than I ever expected, and I was expecting bottom third of the league. Oh we're bottom third all right. We're 27th in the MLB in errors, and that's only because of some home cooking that kept another 3 errors off the board. I actually witnessed Nick Markakis flounder for a pop fly in right center, and then make what I can only describe as a dolphin dive miss that cost us a run. I watched AJ Pierzynski miss ball after ball after ball that eventually cost us another run. I watched Garcia commit a throwing error that cost the Braves another run. It just kept getting more and more laughable as the game went on Saturday.

And you know what the worst thing is? The Cardinals were making just as many if not more errors out there. Yet they swept us because they have hitters, and they have a bullpen. The Braves hitting is certainly better, but the bullpen is still just as bad, and now with the loss of Dan Winkler to a broken elbow, I'm not sure we have anything in the pen worth their salt except for Vizciano. And I fully expect him to get hit by a meteor at some point in the season given our luck.

Am I panicking? No, I would only panic if I thought something was on the line. This is more about whether or not we fall into an abyss of despair that even tubs of Ben & Jerry's ice cream couldn't dent. Because I think Joe Simpson said something very important in the Sunday broadcast, "You never look as bad as when you're terrible defensively." Well, that's where we are right now with the Braves, they are terrible defensively, and it takes away from the fact that other things that are going pretty well.

What if I told you that the Braves have a .305 OBP as a team? That's actually middle of the pack, and not too bad. What if I told you Nick Markakis is hitting .300 on the season, or that Drew Stubbs had a surprise homer, or that Bud Norris was actually holding things together as our best starter by ERA right now?

The problem is that the Braves are slugging .290 as a team which is 28th in the majors, ahead of only the Angels and the Mets. The hitting is bad, but the pitching is worse. The bullpen ERA is 8.66 in the first 5 games. Only Colorado is worse, and if you don't understand why then you're never been at altitude before.

I have two takeaways from the weekend:
  1. AJ Pierzynski cannot play anymore if he's going to catch like this. He's an absolute 100% liability behind the plate right now, and until he fixes that he simply can't start. It's not going to work.
  2. We have 7 position players hitting under .200 right now. That's not going to last, mostly because if that does go on for another 2 weeks, people are getting cut. This is the major leagues, and we have too many good prospects to watch journeyman veterans flail away.
Braves lost 12-2
Braves lost 12-7

Lord have mercy on us as we go to a 4-game road series with the Nationals.

GO BRAVES!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Braves & Cardinals Game 1 Reflections 4/8/16

There's a scene in the movie Major League where a fan approaches a young Ricky Vaughn, asking for his autograph. Rick is surprised, given how badly he just played, but he agrees to sign for the guy saying that nobody has asked for his autograph before. The fan says thanks, and then remarks about the terrible record he just set saying, "You made their Hall of Shame! Thanks man."

That was the Braves last night. We set an MLB record by allowing 3 pinch hitters for the Cardinals to hit 3 homers in the same game. Now, it's not often I can say that the Braves are finding RECORD SETTING ways to lose, but here we are.

So what's the upside for a team that's 0-3 and gave away leads in all three games? Well, if we focus on the fact that the Braves did in fact score 4 runs in the game, and they had a lead in all of the games, that should give any fan pause. Because a lot of the more ridiculous fans are already jumping to the "we're going to lose 100 games" narrative. I doubt that for a lot of reasons, mainly because 100 loss teams don't score and don't get leads. Blowing leads is something that will improve over time in my mind. Never having leads at all doesn't.

What's the downside? It's freaking hard to watch your team take a lead and then wonder if it will hold up every single night. Well guess what, buttercup? You better grab some Icy-Hot for that soreness because this kind of butthurt is going to exist all year. This team isn't good enough to win consistently yet, but it is good enough to give you the kind of hope that it might win night-to-night. And that can honestly be more frustrating than just sucking outright.

To make matters worse, Ender Inciarte pulled a hamstring on the first AB of the game, and I don't know when he's coming back. If it's minor, he'll be fine. If not, a bad hammy can take weeks. And that would be a shame for a guy like Ender who is on the short list of Braves players that are fun to watch.

I also know Freddie Freeman is dealing with some kind of illness, which apparently has infected his bat as well because he's hitting .100 on season. While I have no illusions that Freddie will hit sub-.200 this year long term, it also couldn't have come at a worse time when the team is desperate for some positive offensive news.

But on the positive side, there were no errors in this game in the field. Just errors on the pitching staff by serving up gopher balls. I liked Tyler Flowers in the game over AJ because he had a hit, an RBI, and he called a decent game for Wisler who really only struggled in one inning for his 6.2 IP start. Could he be better? Absolutely, and I think he will. However, it was a decent starting point for Wisler who got a no-decision on the night because it was 4-4 when he left the game.

Braves lost 7-4, they play again tonight with Teheran on the mound.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Braves & Cardinals Series Preview 4/8/16 thru 4/10/16

The Series Preview is back! That means we look at pitching matchups and make some predictions! Who doesn't love that? Old stick in the mud people, that's who. So let's take a look at the two teams facing off on the diamond this weekend.

The Braves: 0-2 after dropping two leads late to the Nationals.
The Cardinals: 0-3 after getting swept by the...Pirates? What? Ok then.

TWO TEAMS ENTER! ONE TEAM HAS TO GET A VICTORY BY DEFAULT!

Pitching Matchups:

Game 1 - Garcia v. Wisler
Game 2 - Martinez v. Teheran
Game 3 - Wainwright v. Perez

The good news for the Braves in these matchups is that we get the back end of the Cardinals rotation for the most part. Sunday against Wainwright will probably get ugly, but Garcia and Martinez are very hittable. Also, I like the matchups of Wisler and Teheran against them, mostly because I think Wisler had a great spring and Teheran already has one good outing under his belt. Perez will likely get shelled in the rubber game just to prove a point, and I'm hoping the Braves can get at least a run off Wainwright to avoid the shutout.

Except for the middle game, the Cardinals aren't exactly hitting well. They scored just one run in two of their losses, and then lost in 11 innings with 5 runs in the middle game. If the Braves pitching can continue what they did against the Nationals, I don't think this Cardinals teams will slug them into oblivion. That is assuming, of course, that we don't boot the ball around the infield like a bunch of sugar-addled third graders. Fingers crossed.

CPA Predictions:

It's back and it's just as silly as ever. I throw a bunch of numbers in a spreadsheet and it spits out horrible betting predictions. If you enjoy losing money, here's a great way to set it on fire!

Game 1 - Braves by 1
Game 2 - Braves by 2
Game 3 - Cardinals by 3

There you have it, the CPA thinks the Braves win the series. Given the lack of data, I'm not sure it has any more idea than a coin flip, but I like its optimism.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Braves and Nationals Game 2 Reflections

If you're like me, and many of you are when it comes to your Braves fandom, you're seriously wondering if AJ Pierzynski can see the baseball. Because if he can see, then I wonder how in the hell he missed the ball blatantly that cost us yet another game against the Nationals on a play at the plate. Freddie Freeman made a strike throw to home that would have ended the inning, but AJ missed it on the fly. Not a bounce, not a carom, not some weird hop. It was flying through the air. I've never seen anything like it. The only thing I can compare it to is that Vine on Twitter where one guy is tossing his dog to his friend in the ocean, and the dog just goes right past him into the drink. It was like that, with baseballs.

I'll be honest, if this is the kind of baseball we have to look forward to defensively for the rest of the year, 1 - I'm going to be all too correct about how bad our defense is in my Bold Predictions, and 2 - Most of you will find better things to do with your time this summer. Like binge drinking or macramé.

So what do I take away from this game? Well, on the positive side I really like what Ender Inciarte is doing out there. He made a spectacular diving catch on a ball hit into the gap with Bryce Harper on first, and then had the presence of mind to pop up and throw a strike to first base for the double play. It as easily the play of the game and had several Braves fans swooning. But it didn't stop there. He ran down several more great catches in center and had me thinking of the old adage, "Two-thirds of the world is covered by water, the rest is covered by Ender Inciarte."

The bad? I'm not sure what we're going to do with AJ if he continues to play like this. He's not hitting especially well yet, although he did knock in the only run of the game. But right on that same play he ran himself out at second trying to advance on a base running mistake. Couple that with the other Braves players like Adonis Garcia and Jace Peterson running themselves out at second, and I was demanding we hold a base running seminar for dummies. As in, HEY DUMMY, stop running at first when it's an obvious single. Don't try to stretch out doubles if it's not there. Oh, and if the guy boots the ball, be fast enough to make it to second or don't try. All good pointers.

Also, Gordon Beckham doesn't deserve to be on this team. I have no idea what he's providing so far except for bad defense and no hitting. I can do that. You can do that. I'm going to mark that signing as a failure and hope they use the time to bring up Dansby Swanson so he can get some time on the roster. Because that's the point of this season: getting the younger guys time at the MLB level before we open the new park. Let's do that instead of pretending we're competing for anything.

Braves lost 3-1, and AJ is public enemy #1 until he gets his act together.

GO BRAVES!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Reflections on Braves Opening Day

The shine of the season wore off fast yesterday at the Braves found themselves 3 outs from victory, only to be foiled by their own ability to catch or throw the baseball. And you'd figure for pure athletes it wouldn't be so difficult, but the two errors to lose the game were among the most frustrating back-to-back gaffes I've seen in a while.

This year instead of doing recaps where I tell you what happening in a game, I'm going to do reflections on the game itself. Why? Because for most of my readers, I know you already watched the game yesterday. A recap would tell you what you already know, and I have no desire to rehash the same information you can get anywhere. Instead, I'll pick out 2-3 things from each game and talk about them in depth. So let's try that here.

First, Julio looked simultaneously good and bad out there on the mound. He had moments where he looked in command, and the changeup was working well. Then he had moments were he left pitches up in the zone that got planted in the bleachers (and some that luckily didn't). In a game where mistakes matter, he only make two that counted as runs with two solo homers, and that's a better outing than most. I don't believe in the Quality Start statistic (6 innings with 3 runs or less) because that's an ERA of 4.50 on the year, and that sucks. However, I do believe that any time you can hold a team to 2 runs and hand the ball to the bullpen you did your job as a starter, and Julio did that.

Second, the defense was bad all game. There were two actual errors in the game, but there were several more plays and mental errors that just really showed me we're going to have an issue all year in the field. Two throwing errors by two different shortstops really cost the Braves, and AJ Pierzynski not being able to hold on to what would have been the final out at the plate was a complete disaster. That doesn't count as an error, but it was. Oh, and Markakis cost the Braves on the basepaths by oversliding second and getting called out on the Chase Utley slide rule. For those of you who don't know what that means, Chase Utley busted a guy's kneecap on a takeout slide last year, so this year we're wrapping everyone in freaking bubble wrap and chanting about our Shakras before you slide into second base, or you're called out.

Not really, the actual rule is that you actually have to hold onto the bag when you go into second, but I'm pissed about the rule. Like when someone broke Buster Posey in half at home plate, we now have to overreact in baseball and make up rules about contact in a supremely low contact sport. Nevermind the fact it took them decades to put replay in place after it was commonly accepted in every other profressional sport, SLIDING IS DANGEROUS AND IT MUST BE STOPPED! MAN YOUR PEARL CLUTCHING STATIONS, FULL SPEED AHEAD!

So the Braves lost the game because they couldn't hold onto a lead, which by the way you better get used to this year. I have no illusions as I said in my Bold Predictions piece that this team will hold leads. I do think they'll score runs and be in games, but the defense is a very real issue (along with some pitching problems) that will rear its ugly head over and over again. You'll just have to find a zen place in your life to stuff your sorrows in a sack when Gordon Beckham beanbags a guy in the first row of the dugout section.

0-1, Braves play the Nats again tomorrow after a day off. I'll be at my TV asking for more.

GO BRAVES!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Braves Bold Predictions 2016

This is the last weekend with no Braves baseball that we'll have until hopefully October, assuming you don't count the All-Star blizz-blazz they do in July. Personally, that fills me with the sort of happy anticipation that usually only really good vacations or really cute ladies can occupy. But Braves baseball? It's easily my favorite sport by far, and I would trade any other sport I watch for the daily ritual that is the ball and bat.

That being said, every year on the blog I put out a column where I make some bold predictions about the season. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are hilariously wrong. The percentages are actually pretty close to 50-50 over the years, and if I was a batter that kind of average would put me in the hall of fame. So obviously I'm awesome at this. But not really. But kinda. I'm like an unbiased flip of a coin when you get down to it, and I'm way more entertaining than that anyway.

So this year I'll do 10 more bold predictions for the Braves, in addition to a total number of wins for the team, and where I think the NL East will finish in terms of every team's final win totals. Shall we start? Let's start.

  1. The Braves will finish with more than 100 Home Runs - Last season, the Braves only hit 100 homers on the nose. That was dead last in the majors. It was also due to the fact that the Braves unloaded almost every power player they had. But this season I'm banking on 4 things that will increase those totals. Freddie Freeman's wrist is healthier, Nick Markakis isn't coming off neck surgery, Adonis Garcia is going to start, and Hector Olivera has found his stroke. If all four of those players do what they're supposed to do, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Braves hit closer to 130 homers this season. 
  2. The Bullpen will be better than 2015's greasefire - Granted, that's not a huge stretch considering that last year's pen was a mismash of craziness that included Matt Marksberry, a not ready for primetime rookie, as a main fixture. But from the quotes that Fredi Gonzalez has been throwing out there, he's actually planning to learn from his bullpen mismanagement of the past. I think the front office finally sat him down and forced him to read "Bullpen for dummies." Rule #1 is don't throw your greenest asset into a tie game in a RISP position just because you think you need to save your closer for the 9th inning. When the game's on the line, it's on the line now. Not later.
  3. Jason Grilli won't be on the team in the second half of the season - I think this for two reasons. One, I think the Braves are likely sellers at the deadline again, which would make sense given that nobody really believes this is a playoff year for a rebuilding team. Two, because Grilli is an actual pitching asset with some life left, he's going to have value assuming he comes off his injury healthy. Plus his contract is very team-friendly at 3.5M for the season. However, given his age if Grilli really struggled, I think the Braves wouldn't shy away from cutting him and moving up a younger prospect in the second half to test the waters. Either way, I'll be surprised if Grilli is here beyond July.
  4. Hector Olivera will lead the team in batting average - Let's assume 200 ABs to qualify, but I think Hector Olivera will be this year's best pure hitter on the team. Everything I watch about his swing looks like he's retooled it to be purer, more compact, less moving parts, and less about pure unchecked power. That's a good thing for a hitter because when you focus on the basics of a good swing, it doesn't slump as easy. Compare to a guy with an all or nothing swing like Dan Uggla or BJ Upton, and you know exactly what I mean.
  5. Defense will be a major problem for this Braves team - I fully expect errors this year. We've removed Andrelton Simmons from the middle, shifted around the majority of the outfield with Olivera likely playing left (a position he's never played), and we're likely playing a rotation of guys at 2nd and 3rd base. The Braves defense was middle of the road last season, and I expect a lot worse this year. If we finish above 20th, I'll be floored. Especially given how many times Simba bailed us out of trouble.
  6. Julio Teheran will have his best season so far - Last season was such a disaster for Julio both physically and mentally, and fans kept questioning if he'd lost it. I still maintain that he was hurt in his lower body and would never admit it publicly, and I'll stick to that no matter what anybody else told me. Guys lie about injuries, and the Braves are no exactly wide-open with the media about them either. But with that said, Julio has had time to recover this off-season, and he's going to be the undisputed Ace of the young staff. That kind of responsibility really makes some players shine, and I think Julio is one of them.
  7. The Braves will have their first no-hitter since 1994 - Go with me on this one. Kent Mercker is the last guy to get one for the Braves, but they've been dazzlingly close since then. Shelby Miller should have had one, but it was wrecked on the last out in the 9th. This season, with very few expectations? Call me crazy, but I think it's the perfect storm for somebody out there to beat the odds and throw the first Braves no-no in over 20 years.
  8. Much fewer shutout losses in 2016 - I think the Braves will score runs this year, and though I'm unsure about their ability to hold leads with the makeshift pitching staff, I don't think we'll have to suffer as a fanbase through 17 shutout losses like we did in 2015. So I'm going to put the number at 10% or less shutout losses in 2016.
  9. Three All-Stars for the Braves in 2016 - The team as whole may struggle, but I think a few guys will really step up and get All-Star nods in 2016. Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, and Hector Olivera are my choices for Braves All-Star this season.
  10. The team will have it's highest OPS since 2010 - Remember OPS is slugging and on-base percentages added together, and the best the Braves have done in that category since the 2010 season is .723 in 2013. I think this year's hitting will be better, mostly due to an bigger focus on on-base with speed, and more gap to gap power in the outfield positions.
Which leaves us with the win total. Personally, I'm not as crazy about this year's team winning a ton of games simply because the pitching will be a problem day to day. But I think with good offense you can overcome some of that, and with young talent that doesn't know better they'll slightly overperform the Vegas over/under of 66.5 wins. So my prediction for the Braves record is 72 wins this season. And he's how the NL East will shake out.

Mets 92 wins
Miami 86 wins
Nationals 85 wins
Braves 72 wins
Phillies 64 wins

The Braves will finish 4th in my estimation. Ahead of the Phillies who will be awful, but still entertaining enough to watch where we're thinking the rebuild is headed in the right direction. I think the surprise team will be Miami this year, and the Nationals will continue to disappoint everybody because that's what they do.

And that's that. Let's go forth and enjoy another season of Braves baseball!

GO BRAVES!