Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Braves Delta SKY360 Club

Recently I had the chance to join the Braves for a night of food and frivolity at their new Delta SKY360 club which is located underneath the seats behind home plate. The club is about 15,000 square feet of space, lined with golden gloves and silver sluggers of Braves players from over the years, and centered with 2 bar stations and a slew of food stations at the far end. It looked like it could easily seat 200 people with little issue, and probably hold up to 500 in a pinch with standing room.

You enter the club through an elevator located on the third base entrance of the stadium, and you descend to a lower level walk around a concourse. When you follow this tunnel, you take a left into the club proper, and you're immediately greeted with the Silver Sluggers lining the wall as you turn. Here's a picture of the bar as you enter into the club, it's a full wraparound situation with 4 bartenders working, along with people helping to order drinks for the tables. If you see people blurred it was because they were running that fast to get their drinks!

As you look at the far end of the hall, you see the buffet setup. The first station is a Chef's Island where they are preparing handcrafted dishes like Kobe Beef Sliders, Shrimp and Grits, Pork Belly Tacos, and Chicken Caesar mini salads. I took a quick picture of the station where they had the Shrimp and Grits cooking in the back pans.

Next up, you have the cold foods buffet, where you could get items like hummus, grilled veggies, rolls, crackers, cheeses, cold cuts, various sausages, three different types of salads, and other assorted dressings and goodies. I took a long shot of that table here.

What really struck me with the food was the quality. It not only tasted good, but the professional layout of the different items had me thinking of the offerings from a four-star restaurant rather than the food I'd get at a ballpark. This has it's obvious pros and cons, as we come to the ballpark to watch a game, but with all the amenities you might find yourself more interested in the food and drink than sitting and watching the game. Decisions, decisions. It's a tough life. Here's the slider trays that I tried and the dessert buffet below.

All that being said, we're not just here for the club, we're here for a game, and as you walk outside to the seats you're immediately greeted by the ushers who are happy to point you to your section. I stood in the proximity of our seats to give you a shot of what the field looks like, and you can get a sense of the right field Chophouse in the background. The actual view of the park will seem very familiar to all fans when they see it. The differences will be apparent when you walk around. The seats are nicer, padded, and closer to the action in the Delta Club area. There are giant fans in the concourses to provide a breeze in the summer. The Chophouse now has several rails for standing rather than one giant overlooking rail from the top. The restaurants and areas are upgraded and serving top end fare. It's all one big attempt to improve the fan experience from top to bottom, while leaving the actual field and views very familiar.

All in all, I really enjoyed my trip to see the Delta SKY360 Club, and I'm excited about seeing in more in the future. Yes, it's for a limited group of fans (what I would really call SunTrust Club 2.0), but they've improved more than just that area. You can get a sense that the Braves organization really wanted to make this ballpark for the fans, so they'd have something to eat, drink, and do before every game. They wanted to have a surrounding battery of restaurants, bars, apartments, and shops so that fans wouldn't feel like they had to just show up at 7PM and leave at 10PM. We all know the downsides that the area around Turner Field had, and this ballpark is a direct answer to those concerns whether you were in favor of the move or not.

I've personally been unabashed in my support of the move. The people who are paying the most money in season tickets were VERY in favor of the move. And as we know with anything, the businesses will follow the money. That being said, I think this ballpark will have something for the fan spending $20 all the way to the fan spending $300 a ticket. I think it will also be a place where you can actually feel comfortable walking around the park, visiting the surrounding merchants, and spending a leisurely Saturday tailgating with friends.

Plus it will be a great day when the product on the field starts to match the quality of the stadium!


Monday, March 27, 2017

Braves Bold Predictions 2017

Hey we're starting baseball in exactly one week! Who is excited?! <Raises hand like that nerdy kid you probably hated in middle school> That's right, we're ready to watch 162 games of (hopefully, mercifully decent) baseball, and before we do that I get to make some bold predictions about the season. Let's find out how wrong I'll be there year! Can anything top me picking a guy to lead the team in average who was then subsequently kicked off the team for domestic violence? WE'LL SEE!
  1. The starting rotation will be bottom 10 in ERA in the majors - I don't like much about our rotation this year beyond Folty and Teheran. I'm also sort of waiting for Teheran to come back to reality after last year. Julio had the best year of his career in 2016, and I think it would be hard to repeat that performance mentally and physically in 2017. Folty is still learning the ropes but he's yet to post a MLB ERA under 4.00 for a season. Garcia has only had, from what I can tell, one stellar year in his entire career, and that was 2015. RA Dickey is always a bad knuckler from getting shelled, and Bartolo is (let's face it) fat and old (although entertaining).
  2. Dansby Swanson wins Rookie of the Year - Dansby kept his rookie status heading into 2017 which means he'll be in the prime slot for ROY honors if he plays well. I don't think the competition will be very stiff, but it will likely come from the Cardinals, Nationals, and Pirates with their prospects if it does. However, Dansby was a .302/.361/.442 guy last year in 38 games, so if he's on point with those numbers in 2017 he's a shoe in to win it.
  3. Freddie Freeman hits 40+ homers - Freddie was banging the ball last season, he's had a great spring seeing the ball, and everyone is marveling at how consistent he is at the plate. I really like his odds to kill the ball in the new park. He hit 34 last year, and I think he'll be in the home run race this season with over 40.
  4. The Offense will be top 10 in runs scored - At the end of 2016, the Braves finished 4th in runs in September, and 10th in runs in August. They really turned things around offensively, and if anything I think they are better prepared to score in 2017. Matt Kemp will be around full-time, Ender Inciarte now has his deal to play in the outfield long term, Nick Markakis is still consistent, Freeman is back to full strength, Adonis will be at third, Dansby will get starting time, Brandon Phillips is now the second baseman, and they added Kurt Suzuki to catch. It all adds up to more runs on paper. Now we just need them in the ballpark.
  5. The bullpen will be a train wreck we still haven't fixed - My fear is that no lead will be safe with the Braves in 2017. I don't really see many options beyond Vizzy, Johnson, and Krol. Even Johnson and Krol had some uh-ohs in 2016. Behind that is the likes of Paco Rodriguez, Mauricio Cabrera, and Jose Ramirez. Two of them have less than 50 innings in the majors. Rodriguez has barely 80 innings. That's not a ton of experience to hang your hat on with the pen.
  6. Somebody will pitch a no-hitter in SunTrust Park - I don't know if it will be for us or against us, but I have a feeling that no-no is getting out of the way earlier in the new digs.
  7. Brian Snitker will get another contract extension mid-year - The Braves won't want this to linger, and I think they like having Snit in the dugout. I suspect the Braves will be cruising around .500 and fairly watchable all year which is really all the front office wants in this transitional period. They may say they want to make the playoffs, but they aren't stupid enough to actually believe it with this pitching staff.
  8. Parking around the stadium will be fine by July - Everyone is panicking but it's just a matter of finding your niche around the new lots. Once people figure out where to go, and that the battery is actually open for dinner before games with stuff to do, I get the feeling you won't have the 7PM traffic crush every day. People will start showing up at 5PM and hitting up Antico on the way to the stadium.
  9. The Braves will change regular closers at least twice - I don't think Vizzy holds the job all year long. Something just tells me with this bullpen we're going to see a big shakeup, and it might by Vizzy, Johnson, and somebody else as the Braves try to solve the late-game issues and closer problems. I would like to hope I'm wrong, but I don't really love what I'm seeing on the pitching staff at all.
And finally #10 is the record. I think the Braves go 76-86. I think they'll have games where they look awesome offensively and win 8-4. Then they'll have a night where they struggle and the rotation implodes early for a 7-2 loss. It's going to be a rollercoaster with more downs than ups as they continue to look to get younger arms experience on the staff. After all, this is still part of the rebuild. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Braves Spring Training

I like doing Good, Bad, and Ugly articles because the reader response is typically higher, and most of you enjoy listing things and then arguing about the lists. So in that vein, here's the items I've deemed Good, Bad, and Ugly about Spring Training so far for the Atlanta Braves roster.

  1. Freddie Freeman is raking - In 28 ABs, Freddie is hitting .464 with an OPS of over 1.000
  2. Kurt Suzuki is your catcher - Kurt is hitting .391 in 23 ABs, and playing well enough that the Braves decided to send Anthony Recker down to AAA. It looks like the catching slot is settled for the beginning of the season.
  3. Dansby Swanson looks great - Dansby always looks great with the flowing hair, but an OPS of .940 in spring training doesn't hurt, and he's poised to be the SS of the future.
  4. Adonis Garcia is your third baseman - He's hitting well, he has the experience there, and it seems like the Braves are comfortable with him filling that position in the short term as prospects develop.
  5. Brandon Phillips is healthy - Brandon's old, but he's hitting almost .300 and he seems to have good energy with the club. That's what we need out of our new full time second baseman.
  6. Mike Foltynewicz looks ready - Folty has pitched very well in and out of trouble this spring, and it looks like he's prepared to take over a starting rotation slot, while putting to bed all questions of whether he belongs there as a regular starter.
  1. Matt Kemp has looked blah - Kemp showed up with a better weight, but his hitting in Spring Training has been very average. He's a power hitter, but hasn't really shown signs of power yet. That's fine in the short term, but we'd like him to turn it on quickly come opening day.
  2. WBC interrupted training for a few guys - Whether it's good or bad to see some "live bullets" in the WBC, I don't know. But I do know it cut down on some training ABs for guys like Ender Inciarte, so you hope that the WBC prepped them just as well.
  3. Jace Peterson had 3 errors in training - For a guy who doesn't hit amazingly well, he can't suddenly lose the ability with the glove. He's a utility player now since Brandon Phillips will likely take over at 2B full time. 
  1. Due to injuries, Bonifacio will make this team - Emilio Bonifacio in his entire career with the Braves hit .212 with a .535 OPS. He sucks. I have no idea why we can't find anyone better, but we can't so he's going to make the team.
  2. Chase D'Arnaud is terrible and should get cut - Chase was a stopgap guy in 2016, but he's hitting .111 in training and I don't see why they should waste a roster spot on him in 2017. He can go work on his music.
  3. The bullpen is still a problem - John Danks was supposed to be an option out of the pen, but he's been released after he sucked. Blaine Boyer has been awful with an ERA over 10, Jose Ramirez has an ERA over 6.00 and hasn't looked great allowing 3 homers in 8 innings, Ian Krol looks shakey, and the rest of the guys barely have enough innings to make judgements. Luckily O'Flaherty looks decent, Vizzy can still close, and Jim Johnson looks great. But remember last season's bullpen woes had these guys included. We were hoping for upgrades and I'm not seeing a ton.
  4. The rotation is old - Bartolo and Dickey may or may not pan out, but they are really old guys who we shouldn't expect better than 50/50 shot at winning each night. Folty and Teheran will lead the way as the young guns, with 30 year old Garcia getting regular starts in the middle. It's not a bad rotation, it's just an old rotation with a lot of downside if your elders don't perform.

So there you have it. I think the good outweighs the bad right now, but we have to hope for bigger and better things as the new stadium digs open.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Braves Spring Training: RA Dickey Uh-Ohs

So one of things I'm never going to do during Spring Training is panic. That's a given. Things change and pitchers develop as they go along through the process. However, we're essentially 2 weeks away from Spring Training ending, and the pitching situation isn't exactly gelling like I would have hoped.

Here's the intended starting rotation that I think everyone from the Braves organization wanted going into the season: Julio Teheran, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, RA Dickey, and SOME GUY. They honestly thought they had the first four veterans in the bag and that they would be ready to go. They also thought that somebody from the plethora of young arms would challenge for a final spot, or maybe two spots if a veteran guy struggled.

There's a problem right now. RA Dickey looks like a potential disaster out there in training. He's pitched in 3 starts for 9+ innings, given up 15 hits and 13 runs. The only reason his ERA isn't astronomical is that 5 of those 13 runs were unearned. They still count against you in the scorebook though. Bartolo Colon is also struggling, but only in one outing out of his four starts. He got lit up for 8 hits and 5 runs in 3 innings against the Pirates. However, I'm less concerned about Colon because he's going to have those types of screwups at this juncture. When he's on his fine, and about every 4th game you can expect an implosion.

What concerns me more about RA Dickey is I've had several older fans and old-time baseball people specifically tell me that he doesn't look good. These are people I know for a fact don't panic about stuff, so when they tell me bad news, it's legitimately bad and not an overreaction. 

The good news is that Garcia looks fine, and Teheran is your Ace so nobody is worried about him. Also, Mike Foltynewicz seems like he's positioned to be SOME GUY in the rotation. The issue is what happens if RA Dickey isn't the guy?

People thought it was going to be Aaron Blair, but he's been so bad at spring training he got demoted back down to the Minors level. As a result, Lucas Sims got the only other start in spring by a pitcher I haven't listed, and that was on March 10th. He gave up 2 runs on 4 hits in 3 innings, hardly an inspiring performance, but it's one start.

The part that unnerves me about the situation is that for all the talk about pitching prospects I honestly don't see a rush to step into that starting rotation role right now. Wisler has been getting crushed in training with an ERA over 8.00, Sean Newcomb has only pitched for 3 innings, and nobody else seems to be getting stretched out to start. We're basically betting right now on RA getting it together because the other young guys don't look ready. That's a problem for the long term because if they aren't ready yet, they better figure it out fast since we're on a lot of short term pitching deals in 2017.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Braves Spring Training: First 2 Weeks

We're 13 games into Spring Training, about two weeks into the process, and I figured it's a good time to step in right now and give you a few talking points as we head into the season. Also, I like to remind you of something very important so you don't turn into panicky idiots. And it's this: SPRING TRAINING RECORDS ARE MEANINGLESS!

If I hear another fan ask me about the fact we're 3-10 in Spring Training, and if it's a bad thing, I'm going to scream. No, it's not bad. The starters barely even play past the 4th inning in most of these early games and the rest of the rosters are filled out by AAA players and pitchers you'll not see in the majors any time soon.

The Cubs won the world series last year, and their spring training record was 11-19. The Nationals, Giants, Mets, and Dodgers also made the playoffs, and their combined spring training records last year were 53-58. Not even above .500 in total. It doesn't MATTER. What matters in spring training is how many ABs you're getting for the backups, how much time your starters are getting, and how everybody looks in your pitching staff in the last week or so leading up to the season. Oh, and if your guys are making decent contact. That's about it.

In that vein, who am I watching early on? Micah Johnson, Jace Peterson, and Johan Camargo are getting a lot of ABs so far, and they all fall into the second baseman category on the roster. Considering we have Brandon Phillips as the starting second baseman for the team, my guess is the Braves are looking at a couple of these guys as a potential backup and maybe utility guy for the infield/outfield.

Were I to pick one of those guys, I'd probably lean to Jace early on because he's got the experience with the team. However, Jace isn't having a great start to the spring with a .167 average and absolutely zero power. I think Camargo still has to spend some time at AAA before he gets called up which means Micah Johnson might get a shot if he can prove himself. He's got the experience at the MLB level and I don't want to see Emilio Bonifacio back here again.

Adonis Garcia also has 21 ABs in 7 games, which leads me to believe he's your #1 starter at third base unless something changes. He's also hitting the ball fairly well with a .333 average in that stretch and only one strikeout. I like to see that kind of contact early on in Spring Training because it lets me know he's seeing the ball clearly.

On the pitching side Josh Collmenter has yet to give up a run in 2 games and 5 innings of training, which is a good sign for him making the club as a possible 5th starter or long reliever. The Braves also gave a chance to John Danks to get some spring training innings, but he hasn't looked sharp and unless he puts together 3 good outings in a row, I think he's destined for AAA to figure things out after his injuries in prior years.

Folty and Teheran have both looked sharp in their outings, while RA Dickey and Aaron Blair have looked anything but sharp in their two attempts. Also, Wisler and Newcomb got rocked in their early outings, but like anything else it's early. I'm not drawing any conclusions on the starting rotation battles until we get to the end of spring and things look a little more settled. I'll just say that early on nobody outside of Folty and Teheran are really impressing me. At least Bartolo Colon looks like Bartolo Colon which makes me happy regardless of outcome.

So yeah, no panic from anybody because it's spring. But I do want to see a few bench guys step up and really make names for themselves so they can play a bigger role on this squad. Nothing on this team is set in stone as we walk into this new stadium, other than Freddie Freeman is our first baseman, and Nick Markakis will be your right fielder. Anything else? Totally in flux.