Friday, December 10, 2010

See Ya Scotty

Widely covered already, the Braves lost LHP Scott Diamond to the Minnesota Twins in yesterday's Rule 5 Draft. I probably wouldn't be holding true to my "Atlanta Braves fan from Upstate, NY" blog intent if I didn't specifically highlight this move.

Diamond wasn't a top-level prospect for the Braves (hence the reason why the team didn't protect him with their open 40-man roster spot), but he is a product of Upstate, NY. Despite being from Guelph, Ontario, Canada, Diamond pitched collegiately for the Division I Binghamton University Bearcats in Vestal, NY. Binghamton also happens to be in the same conference (America East), and serves as the main rival, of my alma mater, the University at Albany. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by Atlanta in 2007. While I wasn't tuned in enough to college baseball at the time Diamond pitched for the Bearcats to see him play, I enjoyed following him through the Braves minor league system over the past year or two due to his connection to Upstate, NY.

Diamond pitched well in 2010 between Double A Mississippi and Triple A Gwinnett, but he was caught in the middle of a stocked Atlanta pitching prospect group. His selection by the Twins gives him a pretty solid major league chance. Minnesota has bullpen needs that might allow him to fill a lefty specialist role and there are still some questions at the back end of their starting rotation.

But there's still a chance Diamond could return to the Braves system. As compensation for the pick, the Twins sent Atlanta $50,000. Rule 5 requires Minnesota to keep him on the team's 25-man roster for the entire 2011 season in order to guarantee his rights. If they don't, the team must offer Diamond back to the Braves for $25,000. I'd love to see him return as a Brave, but it would certainly be exciting to see him given a shot at the big leagues.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hinske, Linebrink and Sherrill...Oh My!

I can't imagine what Frank Wren's cell phone bill looks like. In the past week, the Atlanta Braves GM has added to the team's bench while addressing the few remaining bullpen needs. Let's take a look at these moves...

Last week Eric Hinske agreed to the Braves contract offer, bringing the playoff good luck charm back for the 2011 season. Hinske will earn $1.35 million next year with a $1.5 million club option for 2012 ($100k buyout). That's a pretty good deal if you ask me. Hinske turned down what was believed to be a comparable offer to join his home state Milwaukee Brewers. Assuming he performs similar to this past season, the 1B/OF will provide notable left-handed power off the Braves bench. Unfortunately, Hinske's signing sealed the departure of Matt Diaz. In addition to being a fan favorite, Diaz remains a career LHP killer. With Omar Infante and Melky Cabrera no longer on the team, the Braves didn't have the positional flexibility to keep both Hinske and Diaz. On the fortunate side, Diaz has already signed a 2yr/$4.25m contract with the Pirates. Great for him to pick up some stability. I wish him well!

With Hinske back, Wren turned his sights to the Braves bullpen. Prior to jumping down to Disney World for the MLB Winter Meetings, he swapped minor league pitcher Kyle Cofield for right reliever Scott Linebrink from the White Sox. Cofield hadn't made it past Double A after being drafted by Atlanta in 2005, so it's not much of a give up for Atlanta. The 34-year-old Linebrink has struggled a bit over the past couple years in Chicago, but has traditionally been a solid bullpen presence during his 11 career major league seasons. Should Roger McDowell be able to help him return to pre-2009 form, he will serve as a solid middle-to-late inning RHP option, replacing the Takashi Saito/Kyle Farsworth role last year. Perhaps most importantly, the Braves will also receive about $3.5m to help cover Linebrink's $5.5m 2011 salary.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

As The Winter Meetings Approach...

As the temperature begins to flirt with the freezing mark here in Upstate, NY, Frank Wren and the Atlanta Braves front office are preparing for the Winter Meetings next week in Orlando, Florida. After claiming 1B/OF Joe Mather and trading for Dan Uggla within the past month, Wren’s 25-man roster is progressing nicely.

Let’s take a look where the Braves are at as the calendar turns to December…

Starting Rotation:
Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe are set. Jair Jurrjens is also under team control for the 3rd/4th spot in the rotation, but he’s rumored to be available as a possible trade piece if his moving could help address other Braves needs (read outfield). While Atlanta has a number of feasible options for the 5th spot, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are the most likely possibilities. The two of them could also be used as trade pieces, but I’ll guess that Minor starts the 2011 season in that last spot. The highly-touted prospect had some impressive outings in his short time with the Braves and a left-hander in the rotation could be nice.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Braves Acquire Their Power-Hitter

WOW. The Braves acquired Dan Uggla from the Marlins early this evening in exchange for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn. Let me rephrase that: Atlanta got a 30 HR/100 RBI guy for a utility infielder and a left-handed reliever. Granted Infante was an All-Star this past year who finished the season with a .321 AVG and Dunn looks to be a promising bullpen asset, but the Braves addressed their pressing right-handed power bat need, though not through the OF position that most fans were expecting. Atlanta had the National League’s starting 2B in this year's All-Star game, yet they traded for a new 2B and actually got better. Pretty impressive.

First, the good. Dan Uggla immediately becomes the middle-of-the-order power threat that Atlanta lacked in 2010. As a RHB, he will help to balance out the lefty Heyward, McCann and Freeman. Uggla is the only 2B to hit 30+ HR in 4 consecutive seasons. In just 5 major league seasons, he’s already 13th on the all-time list for home runs by a 2B. He’s a 2x All-Star and won the Silver Slugger award in 2010. On top of all those positives, we ‘eliminate’ someone who has traditionally killed the Braves. In 45 career games as a Marlin at Turner Field, Uggla hit .354/.399/.652 with 12 HR and 36 RBI. Over 162 games, that projects to 43 HR and 130 RBI. Bill James projects his 2011 season to look like .263/.352/.483 with 31 HR and 94 RBI. Hopefully the friendly confines of Turner Field bumps those numbers up even higher.

On the other side of the trade, the Braves effectively sold high on a career .274/.319/.395 back-up while also giving up a 25 year old reliever who has thrown a total of 23 IP out of the bullpen. True, Omar Infante had a great season in 2010 and Dunn looks to have his best years in front of him after a 12.8 K/9 in a 19 IP campaign last year, but they weren’t key pieces of this team. Infante is only signed through 2011 and would probably earn a raise if he were to put up another season like he did this year. Dunn impressed those who saw him in his 25 appearances in 2010, but the Braves already have two strong left-handed relievers in Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. That was a surplus that Atlanta was able to deal from. Frank Wren managed to solve his biggest need without giving up a single serious prospect (Freeman, Kimbrel, Minor, Teheran, Delgado, Vizcaino, Beachy, etc.). Again, pretty impressive.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

2011 Braves Slowly Taking Shape

The Braves made a handful of moves over the past 10 days that have begun to shape what the team may look like in the 2011 season. I’ll take a look at these transactions and offer my thoughts on how they might impact the rest of the decisions Frank Wren will have to make this offseason.

First, least surprisingly, Atlanta picked up the options on both Alex Gonzalez and Omar Infante. The players will cost the Braves $2.5 million each in 2011. Gonzalez will again start at SS, following his mid-season acquisition from Toronto for Yunel Escobar. He doesn’t seem to fit into the team’s long-range plans, but it would be difficult for Wren to find another shortstop like Gonzo at his price, especially considering the team’s other pressing needs. As a productive ultra-utility player, Infante’s option was a no-brainer. The 2010 All-Star hit .321 this past season and can play 2B, 3B, SS, LF and RF. With Chipper and Gonzo aging and Chipper and Prado returning from injury, Infante figures to get a decent amount of playing time next year.

On the same day that Gonzalez and Infante’s options were picked up, the Braves agreed to terms with right-handed reliever Scott Proctor. He’ll earn $750k, plus incentives. To start, the one personal ‘interaction’ I had with Proctor was impressive. He certainly seems like a great guy. But from a baseball standpoint, this move was quite surprising. He was signed before the 2010 season after missing the entire 2009 season due to injury. The Braves picked him up as a bit ‘low-risk, high-reward’ move. He pitched in 37 games between Myrtle Beach and Gwinnett and did not do much to impress. While his 7.3 K/9 was decent enough, a 6.91 ERA, 1.68 WHIP and 2.00 K/BB aren’t exactly something you expect from a major league-quality reliever. Despite those numbers, he was brought up to Atlanta where he posted a 6.35 ERA with a 1.41 WHIP and a 1.50 K/BB in 6 games. While $750k isn’t a significant part of the overall payroll, there seemed to be better options than Proctor.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - CF, LF (Trades)

So, if none of the free agent options work, Frank Wren may look at the trade market. This will involve even more speculation on my part, mainly because the Braves front office has a history of making deals outside of the conventional rumor mill. But I’ll offer my thoughts.

First, the Braves have a heavy minor league/prospect pitching surplus to deal from. I think the team’s only ‘untouchables’ are Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran (and Craig Kimbrel, if you think he’d be in the discussion). I’d be hesitant to make Randall Delgado available, but if the price is right, who knows. The team has a number of at or near MLB-ready starting pitchers to work with, including Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Scott Diamond and Todd Redmond. That doesn’t include Kenshin Kawakami who the Braves would certainly like to trade, but would likely be done in a salary relief move. As has been discussed, perhaps Jair Jurrjens could also be offered. He wouldn’t bring too much salary relief, but he’s under team control through 2013 and at just 24 years old is already 37-27 with a 3.52 ERA. He would likely decrease some of the salary the Braves might have to eat up in a trade, leaving funds available to maybe sign Javier Vazquez to a one-year deal as a 4th starter?

Looking at position players, the team could also look to include Nate McLouth in a deal to free up some cash. If that were to happen, perhaps Gwinnett’s Matt Young could/would be given a chance to start? Young has experience in both LF and CF put up an impressive .300/.380/.407 line in 2010. He certainly wouldn’t be a power threat, but his 39 stolen bases this season could add a speed dimension to the 2011 Braves, similar to what Brett Gardner has done for the Yankees (another NY team reference, see what happens when you live here???).

So, in alphabetical order, who could the Braves target?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - CF, LF (Free Agency)

I had hoped to write just one entry focusing on CF and LF, but's it's clear that I had way too much to say. So this post will sum up free agency possibilities while the next will look at the trade market.

CF - Nate McLouth?
LF - X

You can basically write an entire book analyzing these two positions for the 2011 Braves. Let’s lay out the facts first and then go on to the speculation from there. First, all of Braves Country rejoiced earlier last week when Frank Wren non-tendered Melky Cabrera. The ‘should be’ 4th/5th outfielder started 115 games in the outfield for Atlanta, second only behind Jason Heyward’s 136. Trade-deadline acquisition Rick Ankiel has a $6m option for next season with a $500k buy out. Ankiel’s worth nowhere near that option figure, so the Braves will cough up the half million to get rid of him. So, working on the pretty solid assumption that Matt Diaz isn’t a starter, that creates one starting outfielder vacancy. Next, Nate McLouth is signed through 2011 (with a club option for ’12) at $6.5m (a $2m increase over his ’10 salary), so he will somehow play a part in the team’s plans for next year. Despite earning an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove just two years ago, McLouth’s rough 2010 season makes that $6.5m salary look pretty expensive. He’s still relatively young, so he could be shopped around as a trade possibility. That, combined with his ability to play both LF and CF, effectively put both starting positions into play for the Braves in 2011.

Now for the speculation. Atlanta has an obvious need for a power-type bat, preferably one who hits right-handed as Heyward, McCann and Freeman are all lefties. The two ‘big’ outfield free agents are Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford. Crawford is a lefty (and not exactly a ‘power’ bat) and both, barring any significant changes/unknowns, are prohibitively expensive. Because of the limited options, they will likely each earn a $100m+ contract. So, let’s take a wide-ranging look at the (possible) free agents who could be on the Braves’ radar. There are a number of factors, but I’m guessing the Braves will have $6m-$10m to ‘spend’ in 2011 on a new outfielder. The centerfield FA list is pretty meager (considering about a third of that list is either Melky or Ankiel), unless you think Coco Crisp is the savior to the team’s OF problems. There are a handful of non-CF outfield options, so, in alphabetical order:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, RF

I was originally planning on having this post focus on the entire starting line-up for the 2011 Braves. But after sketching out my thoughts, I realized that Atlanta's CF/LF situation really deserves a post of its own. So, here we'll take a look at the Braves starters for '11, outside of those two outfield positions.

Brian McCann
Chipper Jones
Jason Heyward
Martin Prado
Freddie Freeman
Alex Gonzalez?

Brian McCann is signed through 2012 (club option in ’13) and will make $6.5m in 2011 as the Braves catcher. Chipper Jones is also signed through 2012 (also with a club option in ’13) and is set to make $13m at 3B. Chipper will be coming back from a torn ACL, which obviously isn’t easy to do, but I think most of us hope/expect him to be ready to go at the start of the season. Jason Heyward will be the team’s right fielder as he begins his sophomore year in 2011. Martin Prado will be entering his first arbitration year. Although he battled injuries in the second half this season, he’ll be back at 2B for 2011. The All-Star will probably be signed at a small raise over his $440k ’10 salary.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - Bench

My next focus for the 2011 team is the bench. This was another strong part for the Braves this year. But while they proved to be solid pinch hit and fill-in options, the multitude of Atlanta injuries showed that they mostly aren’t everyday options. Let's take a look...

David Ross
Omar Infante
Brooks Conrad
Matt Diaz?
Eric Hinske?

David Ross will obviously be back after signing an extension through the 2012 season. I expect Omar Infante to be back in 2011. While I wouldn’t expect him to hit .321 and be named to the All-Star team again next year, his defensive utility (played 3B, SS, 2B, RF and LF in ’10) makes his $2.5m club option more than affordable. I think we’ll probably see Brooks Conrad again as well. After Martin Prado went down in late September, Conrad showed us all he’s not a regular starter. But his defense, while certainly nowhere near great, is better than the endless errors he committed over his last 8 or 10 games. He’s a switch hitter and showed some decent pop (.487 SLG) in a mainly pinch-hitting role. At less than $500k, I think he brings enough to the team to be brought back.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - Bullpen

Following up on yesterday's post on the 2011 starting rotation, we'll now take a look at the Braves bullpen situation. The 'pen was a definite strength of the team this season and despite the retirement of future-Hall of Fame closer Billy Wagner, there's much promise for another solid season from the relivers in 2011.

Craig Kimbrel
Jonny Venters
Eric O’Flaherty
Michael Dunn
Peter Moylan

Assuming these 5 pitchers (who are all still under team control) will be there, Atlanta has 2 spots left to fill. Based on the numbers, both should probably be righties. I think Cristhian Martinez performed well enough to earn a spot, though Stephen Marek had a tremendous season at Mississippi/Gwinnett, so I’d be more than comfortable with him as well. That decision could very well come down to Spring Training performance. I would expect/hope Scott Proctor not to be signed again. That leaves one spot left. Takashi Saito’s age and injuries probably rule him out. Kyle Farnsworth’s $5.25m club option for 2011 is way too much, so the Braves should buy him out at $250k. He could be a decent option at a couple million dollar price, but I don’t think the Braves go that route. So that likely means free agency. The team could use some sort of veteran late-inning/set-up presence, similar to Saito’s role this year. I would guess the Braves have about $3m to spend for this spot.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - Starting Rotation

While the Giants/Phillies and Rangers/Yankees are battling it out for a shot at the Fall Classic, the Braves 2011 season has started. Frank Wren has less than 6 months to set-up a roster that can improve on this year’s NL Wild Card campaign. Yes, there’s plenty of reason to suggest that the Braves could have gone deeper into the playoffs (and possibly even held off the Phillies for the NL East title) if injuries hadn’t devastated the team, especially in the second half of the season. A torn ACL limited Chipper Jones to 95 games, multiple injuries cost Martin Prado a month’s worth of the season, Tommy John surgery allowed Kris Medlen just 14 starts and the list can go on and on.

But while the return of those players should help benefit the club, based on their 2010 production, some moves obviously need to be made to improve the team’s offensive production and consistency. The defense was certainly an area for concern over the last few months, but I think the return of Jones and Prado and the addition of Freddie Freeman (Derrek Lee was great, but Troy Glaus was just tough to watch) will help make sure the defense is no longer a serious liability.

Over the next few days, I’ll take a look at the different options and possibilities for the 2011 Braves' 1) starting pitching, 2) bullpen, 3) starting fielders and 4) bench. Most of the statistic/contract information will come from Baseball-Reference and Cot's Baseball Contracts.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Goodbye 2010, Goodbye Bobby

Well that stung. The Braves dropped games 3 and 4 at Turner Field after their 11th inning win in game 2 to end their NLDS run, their 2010 season and Bobby Cox’s career. The countless injuries made it clear that the Braves team that battled in the playoffs was just a shell of the team that got them there. Even still, the team was this close to advancing past the San Francisco Giants. Yes, they dropped the series 3 games to 1, but each loss was by just 1 run and the team really had the pitching to win the World Series trophy.

Taking a look at the numbers, Atlanta pitchers posted a lethal 1.95 ERA and allowed the Giants to put up just 2.75 runs per game. Unfortunately, the offense managed an uninspiring .175 batting average while the defense committed a fatal 7 total errors. (As an aside, those stats are remarkably similar to the Phillies’ sweep of the Braves in PHI..2.33 ERA, 3 runs per game allowed, .178 batting average). In the 3 losses, Atlanta pitchers had miniscule 1.38 ERA. It’s really amazing that the team managed to drop those match-ups with a number like that, but that’s what so many errors will do to you. The series was exactly as advertised. Both teams had stellar pitching and both teams had little to no offense, but the Giants’ defense was much more reliable than the Braves’.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Instant Replay Can Work (Posey Edition)

The Braves dropped Game 1 of their NLDS match-up against the San Francisco Giants Thursday night by way of a 1-0 pitchers' duel. Another dominant performance by Atlanta hurlers wasted. As has already been talked about ad nauseum, the Giants’ lone run was scored by rookie Buster Posey following a controversial steal of second base. Replays clearly showed Brooks Conrad tagged Posey well before the Giant reached the bag. The now-necessary fourth out provided Cody Ross with the opportunity to drive in Posey with a groundball single that somehow got past Omar Infante at third.

To start, let me make my thoughts clear: the Braves offense lost this game, not the second base umpire. Atlanta hitters managed just two hits (both doubles) and one walk against Tim Lincecum while going 0-5 with RISP and striking out 14 times. You don’t win any baseball games when you score zero runs. Plain and simple. Yes, if Posey was correctly called out at second and everything else remained the same, the game would have gone to at least the bottom of the 9th (and possibly extra innings) tied 0-0. But what from Braves hitters made you think they were going to score at all? I felt as if the end result was a bit inevitable. Didn’t matter if it was Posey scoring the only run in the 4th or a walk-off home run in the 14th.

But what the game/call did do was push me enough to lay out my thoughts on instant replay. First, I’ve been for instant replay since it’s been seriously discussed for the past few years. Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski has a great article this morning about how ‘bad’ calls are now the main issue threatening the integrity of the game. From gambling, to race, to to blown calls. The debate has gotten louder over the past year with the numerous errors in last year’s playoffs, Jim Joyce’s blown call on Armando Galarraga’s should-be perfect game and now all the missed calls that we’ve already seen in the first few days of the 2010 postseason. There’s no easy solution to the issue. But when the 50,000 people in the stadium and the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people watching on TV around the world know that an important and decisive call was flat out wrong, then the status quo is simply no longer acceptable. It becomes difficult to believe in the game when millions of people can easily pin point umpiring errors that, in the end, had a significant impact on the outcome of the contest.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Braves vs. Giants: An NLDS Statistical Preview

With the Braves squeezing into the playoffs for the first time since 2005, there are plenty of websites, articles, blogs, etc. previewing the series. I'll give my quick two cents, but this post is mainly to provide a 'one stop shop' of statistical comparison (thanks to Baseball Reference!) between the 2010 NL West champion San Francisco Giants and the NL Wild Card winner Atlanta Braves.

These are two relatively similar teams. Both are built with great pitching and usually have just enough offense to win. The Atlanta offense is noticeably weaker than it could have been, with both Chipper Jones and Martin Prado done for the year. This will make the task even tougher against the three-headed monster of Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez. The Giants have a bit more offensive power and MUCH better defense, but the Braves get on base more often. Giants pitchers strike out more opponents, but the Braves hurlers give up less free passes. This will be a very tough match-up for the Braves. Runs will be hard to come by, so Atlanta pitchers will have to be at the top of their game. Defense has been suspect all year, so it would certainly be a boost to see a clean effort. In order for Atlanta to advance, the hitters will have to tag the Giants rotation for a few early runs, continue to receive near-dominant efforts from Lowe, Hanson and Hudson and then pass off the one or two run lead to our tradionally strong bullpen to finish it up.

PREDICTION:  Braves in 5 (hey, this is a Braves blog..what did you expect?!). If Atlanta falls, I think the Giants will advance in 4.

Friday, October 1, 2010

All Possible Wild Card Outcomes: UPDATED x5

As the Braves begin play in just about an hour, I have laid out every single possible final win-loss outcome between the Padres/Giants and Braves with the subsequent Wild Card results below. I will plan on updating this post after each ATL and SD/SF game.

SD sweeps, ATL wins 0 - Braves lose Wild Card
SD sweeps, ATL wins 1 - Braves tie for Wild Card (with both SF and SD)
SD sweeps, ATL wins 2 - Braves win Wild Card
SD sweeps, ATL wins 3 - Braves win Wild Card

SD wins 2/3, ATL wins 0 - Braves tie for Wild Card (with SD)
SD wins 2/3, ATL wins 1 - Braves win Wild Card
SD wins 2/3, ATL wins 2 - Braves win Wild Card
SD wins 2/3, ATL wins 3 - Braves win Wild Card

SF wins 2/3, ATL wins 0 - Braves win Wild Card
SF wins 2/3, ATL wins 1 - Braves win Wild Card
SF wins 2/3, ATL wins 2 - Braves win Wild Card
SF wins 2/3, ATL wins 3 - Braves win Wild Card

SF sweeps, ATL wins 0 - Braves win Wild Card
SF sweeps, ATL wins 1 - Braves win Wild Card
SF sweeps, ATL wins 2 - Braves win Wild Card
SF sweeps, ATL wins 3 - Braves win Wild Card

16 12 9 4 2 1 final outcomes:
Braves win Wild Card - 13/16 (81%) 9/12 (75%) 6/9 (67%) 1/4 (25%) 1/2 (50%) 1/1 (100%)
Braves tie for Wild Card - 2/16 (13%) 2/12 (17%) 2/9 (22%) 2/4 (50%) 1/2 (50%) 0/0 (0%)
Braves lose Wild Card - 1/16 (6%) 1/12 (8%) 1/9 (11%) 1/4 (25%) 0/2 (0%) 0/0 (0%)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Current Braves Playoff Scenarios

With the Padres' loss tonight at the hands of the Cubs (thank you Chicago!!), the Braves are in very good shape going into their 3-game series with the Phillies. The Padres are now 2 full games behind the Braves in the Wild Card race and Atlanta's magic number is just 2. With the Padres finishing up their season with 3 games at the Giants, there are only a limited number of final scenarios. Here's the situation:

Atlanta - 90-69
San Francisco - 91-68
San Diego - 88-71

Possible SD at SF outcomes:

SD sweeps = SD 91-71, SF 91-71
SD wins 2/3 = SD 90-72, SF 92-70
SF wins 2/3 = SD 89-73, 93-69
SF sweeps = SD 88-72, SF 94-68

If the Braves sweep the Phillies, Atlanta wins the Wild Card. If the Braves wins 2/3 vs. the Phillies, Atlanta wins the Wild Card. If the Braves win just 1/3 vs. Phillies and San Diego wins 2 games or less vs. Giants, Atlanta wins the Wild Card. If the Braves lose all 3 to the Phillies and San Diego wins 1 game or less vs. Giants, Atlanta wins the Wild Card. If the Braves lose all 3 to the Phillies and the Padres sweep the Giants, Atlanta LOSES the Wild Card.

There still remains a couple 'tie' scenarios for the Wild Card. The most intriguing is if the Braves win just 1 of 3 vs. the Phillies AND the Padres sweep the Giants. That would make all 3 teams 91-71. As has been described all over, SF and SD would match-up in a 1 game playoff for the NL West title..then the loser of that game would play a 1 game playoff against the Braves in Atlanta for the Wild Card.

The short of it: Any combination of 2 Braves wins and Padres losses sends Atlanta to the playoffs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

1/2 Game Up, 5 To Go

So, I returned to Upstate, NY late Monday night after a few days in Orlando for work. (By the way – to me, the beginning of fall means 60 degree temperatures and changing leaves..not 90 degree heat with 700% Anyway, I kept track of the Braves enough to know they dropped 2 of 3 to the lowly Nationals. Fortunately, I got back in front of a television soon enough to see Omar Infante take advantage of Tommy Hanson’s dominate pitching with a walk-off single in the 11th.

I didn’t watch any of the games, so my only analysis comes from the box scores and comments/stories. It seems pretty simple - the offense still isn’t producing nearly enough while the pitching (outside of Tim Hudson) has still been pretty solid. Braves hitters have a .243/.314/.350 line with just 14 HR and a 3.4 runs per game average in 25 September games. Meanwhile the pitchers have a 3.65 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP (while the bullpen has put up a 2.30 ERA and 1.07 WHIP). Those numbers are skewed a bit as Tim Hudson as been lit up this month at 1-4 with a 6.10 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. With Martin Prado going down on Monday (even though his production has been off while he was battling his finger and groin issues), there will be even more pressure on the pitching staff to limit their opponents.

After the Cubs's win over the Padres last night, Atlanta has a ½ game Wild Card lead with 5 games left (all at home) to play. There are 2 against the Marlins and the 3-game regular season finale against the Phillies. The Padres have 6 games left, the Giants (leading the NL West) have 6 games left and have a ½ game ‘lead’ on the Braves, while the Rockies have all but fallen out of the race at 4.5 games back. One big thing works to the Braves advantage, schedule-wise. The Padres and Giants will end the season playing each other in a 3-game series at San Francisco. So those two teams will face the same situation that the Braves faced last week at Philadelphia: wins help their division lead (essentially making the Wild Card moot), but loses hurt both the division race the Wild Card chances. Therefore, if I’m doing my math correctly, if the Braves go at least 3-2 over the final 5 games, that all but guarantees a tie for the Wild Card at 91-71. The only exception is if both SF and SD win their next 3 games and then SD takes 2 of 3 in SF, as that would make both of those teams 92-70. (Frighteningly, there’s still the possibility of a 3-way tie at 92-70 for ATL, SF and SD). So, the Braves just need to WIN.

Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe will finish up the series against the Nationals each on short rest. Huddy needs to dig deep to reverse the performances he’s put up over the past month or so while Lowe needs to continue what he’s done this month. Victories in these two match-ups would be HUGE. It’s looking less and less like Jair Jurrjens can come back from his knee injury before the regular season ends, so right now Brandon Beachy is listed as the probable starter for Friday. The off day on Thursday means that Hanson and Hudson would be able to pitch on Saturday and Sunday on ‘regular’ rest.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bats Are Failing The Braves

If I were to say Monday night that the Braves pitchers (including two rookies making starts) would come out of this week’s three-game series at Philadelphia with just a 2.33 ERA while allowing a measly 3 runs per game average to the vaunted Phillies offense, you might reply ‘YES! We’re back in this division!’ However, when I follow-up by mentioning the .178 batting average and 4 total runs the Atlanta offense put together, you probably get the same sinking feeling that all Braves fans across the country felt Wednesday night.

The Phillies’ sweep of the Braves could not have come at a worse time. Atlanta’s now 6 games back of PHI in the NL East race, essentially ending any shot at the division title. As I mentioned last week, this series was very high risk-high reward for the team. Wins would have put them right back in the NL East race. But losses would not only hurt their division chances, it would also threaten their Wild Card hopes. Well, that's exactly what happened. The Braves are on life support with a razor-thin ½ game lead over the Giants in the Wild Card race. The Padres lead the NL West and are effectively tied games wise with the Braves (ATL 86-67, SD 85-66), while consecutive loses on Tuesday and Wednesday put the always-dangerous Rockies 3 games behind Atlanta.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Braves at Mets - 9/18/10 Gameday Photos

Since there's been little to cheer about the Braves over the past couple days ( least Beachy looked good enough and Freeman hit a home run?), I thought I'd do something to bring back more enjoyable times: all of 4 days ago during the series-sweep against the Mets.

So here are some pictures from my trip down to Citi Field on September 18th for the Braves win over the Muts Mets. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Braves Sweep! (With In-Person Review)

A Derrek Lee grand slam on Sunday capped off a series sweep of the Mets at Citi Field. The Braves received strong pitching (3.00 ERA), tremendous defense (0 errors and some dazzling plays) and enough timely offense (5.3 r/g) to shut down their division rivals. While the Mets aren’t exactly a great team this year, they’re a .500 club and have played very well at Citi Field this year, so the sweep is certainly impressive.

Derrek Lee’s blast placed on exclamation point on the recent improvements he’s made at the plate. After a painfully slow start, Lee’s numbers are finally starting to come around. Following Sunday's 2-5 performance, he’s now hitting .267 with 2 HR and 16 RBI as a Brave. While his power numbers aren’t where most Braves fans were hoping they’d be, his run production has been solid and he’s hitting nearly 20 points higher than he was with the Cubs this year. His average and RBI total are nearing the totals I wrote that the Braves needed to see when Frank Wren made the trade for the slugger. The Braves will need his RH middle of the order production to continue through the next 2 weeks.

Lee’s improvement has been complimented by a resurgent Nate McLouth and streaking Alex Gonzalez (both offensively and defensively). Those 5-6-7 hitters have made up for a cooling Martin Prado and Brian McCann. Prado has 4 hits in his last 24 AB (with 1 RBI) while McCann is hitting .228 in September. Infante and Heyward have still been getting on base enough, so it’d be nice to see Prado and McCann start driving them in again. As I wrote last week, there have been too many peaks and valleys for this offense and individual players specifically. It would be great to have 1-9 hitters firing on all cylinders over for the final 12 games of the regular season.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Braves at Pirates - The Pictures..Finally

So it's been more than a week since my trip to see the Braves in Pittsburgh, but I'm finally posting some pictures from Monday and Tuesday's games against the Pirates. Today's an off-day for Atlanta and I'm sure every Braves fans, included myself, are feeling as low as possible about the hopefully some shots of Major League Baseball's best stadium (and not the game results) will lift some spirits. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ummm Hello, There's Only 15 Games Left!?!

The Braves’ awful September continues. After treading water with their series split against the Cardinals, Atlanta dropped two of three to the NL East-worst Nationals..AT TURNER FIELD. The series started off well-enough with Derek Lowe pitching a masterpiece on Monday in a 4-0 Braves win. But both the pitching and hitting completely failed in the final two games as the team seems to have fallen on hard luck (at best) or is quickly spiraling down the drain and away from the playoffs (at worst). The Braves are just 6-9 this month while the Phillies are 11-3 (and they’re leading the Marlins tonight as I type). This team is playing its worst baseball of the season when it needs to be playing its best.

Without addressing possible issues with desire, drive, heart, etc., this team’s problem is quite simple: the once-strong starting pitching is struggling mightily and the average-at-best offense just does not have the ability to consistently bail the staff out. The offense might be performing a bit worse than they have earlier in the season, but I really think the poor pitching is simply exposing this season-long weakness. For the past few months there have been a number of bloggers and reporters talking about the team’s strong run differential and solid runs per game average. However, those stats just do not represent the real picture. There is NO offensive consistency. We’ve obviously seen a number of games where the Braves have scored 10, 11 or 12 runs. But much too often we see a line similar to today’s game: 2 runs, 10 hits, 1-11 with RISP and 7 LOB. It’s simple to average 5 runs per game when you score 12, then 1, then 2..but you’re really only in one of those games. There just haven’t been enough games this season where the hitters have plated 5-8 runs. Not only has the overall offense been horribly inconsistent, but individual hitters have been, too. Heyward, Prado, McCann, Gonzalez, etc. have all had too many big slumps to break up their hot streaks. Too many peaks and valleys and not enough high plateaus.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Braves Split Vs. Cardinals (aka Albert Pujols)

The Braves split their 4-game series with the Cardinals, dropping the first and last match-ups. Jair Jurrjens and Tim Hudson both were roughed up in their starts as the Braves starting rotation has regressed a bit from their early season dominance. For some reason the Braves hitters continue to make awful pitchers look great. After not being able to touch two Pirates pitchers last week with ERAs near 7.00, Atlanta again made a 7.00+ ERA pitcher in Kyle Lohse look great on Sunday. At least Alex Gonzalez’s walk-off blast on Saturday made the series palatable. With Sunday’s loss, the Braves fell out of their NL East first place tie with the Phillies and now sit one game behind the lead. They’re ahead in the wild card race, but the Giants and Padres (tied for the NL West lead) are just one game back while the Rockies’ current 10-game winning streak has them just two and a half games behind.

One big positive about the Cardinals series (other than the explosive Craig Kimbrel) has been the apparent re-emergence of Nate McLouth. The former All-Star went 6-11 with 2 HR and 4 RBI hitting out of the 6 spot in the line-up against the Cardinals. We know Nate always brings a solid glove, so this could be a huge boost for the Braves headed into the last few weeks of the season..especially when the team’s other CF options are Rick Ankiel and Melky Cabrera. The last 18 games will be very telling for Nate in his battle to maintain a Braves roster spot next season. He’s set to make $6.5m in 2011, so it’s nice to see him start producing.

While McLouth has been improving, Melky Cabrera has quickly been regressing. Melky went 1-15 with 1 RBI in the series. For some reason, Bobby keeps sending him out there. I understand your other options aren’t too great (basically Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske), but between his slow (or pick) defense and lack of hitting, he continues to show why he shouldn’t be starting. Perhaps another LF option would be Omar Infante, with Brooks Conrad at 3B, but that’s probably a better conversation for next year (assuming Chipper’s able to comeback at 3B).

The Braves will stay at Turner Field this week for a three game series against the NL East basement Washington Nationals. Essentially every series at this point in the season is a near must-win, but playing a team with .420 winning percentage at home where you’re 51-21 really needs to bring two, if not three, wins. Lowe, Jurrjens and Minor will face Maya (7.20 ERA..oh boy), Hernandez and Lannan.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Went To Pittsburgh, Left In 2nd Place

The Braves went into Pittsburgh on Labor Day on the heels of a tough series loss at Florida hoping for a sweep but desperately needing at least a series win. Instead, they departed the Steel City just barely avoiding getting swept themselves and with a 2nd place standing. And I was there to see it all go down.

Monday’s match-up saw Tommy Hanson throw an effective 6 IP, 3 R (2 ER), 4 H, 4K, 2 BB. Unfortunately the offense didn’t show up to support him. Atlanta got its base runners with 8 hits and 3 walks, but going 0-6 with RISP and 11 LOB lead to just 1 run (on a sacrifice fly). If possible, Tuesday’s affair was even worse. Team ace Tim Hudson took a perfect game into the 5th inning, but then was tagged for 4 ER in a disastrous 7th inning. Braves bats managed just 5 hits (0-3 with RISP, 6 LOB) while getting shut out against the MLB’s worst team. The impotent offensive performance was capped off with a back-breaking Derrek Lee GIDP with the bases loaded on Tuesday. If you’re keeping track, that’s just 1 run over 2 games. To add insult to injury, that 1 total run came against two Pirates starting pitchers with ERAs of about 6.00. Kind of tough to accept if you’re a Braves fan.

Thanks Chipper!
The two losses meant that the most exciting part of the games for me was getting tossed a torn-up BP ball from Chipper and PNC Park’s “Beers of the Burgh” vendor station. I first attended a Braves vs. Pirates game in the 2006 season and PNC Park continues to live up to its billing as one of the best ballparks in all of baseball. It has a breathtaking view of the Pittsburgh skyline looking over the Alleghany River and some great food and drink options. While the amenities are definitely great, the best part of the park is probably the small crowds. Entering and exiting was as quick and easy as it gets and the vending lines were essentially non-existent. It’s much easier to enjoy a game when you have little to no people to contend with.

Perhaps the only negative was dealing with the ever-persistent autograph seeker/hawkers. Being 1,000+ miles away from Turner Field here in Upstate, NY means I don’t get to see too many Braves games in person (these were my 4th and 5th this year), so I like to get to the stadium as early as possible to watch batting practice. Unfortunately I have to ‘battle’ with those looking to get any autograph possible to add to their eBay store. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a quick picture or autograph when the opportunity presents itself, but it gets frustrating looking for a spot near home plate while nearly everyone else is pulling out their team rosters and binders full of baseball cards. I understand that’s part of going to games, but I still don’t like it.

The Braves ended the Pirates series with a 9-1 win (typical ATL offense..1 R, 0 R, 9 R) for Derek Lowe to go 2-4 on their 6 game road trip. The next 7 games will be home at Turner where the Braves are still an MLB-best 49-19. 4 wins are all but necessary, but 5+ wins would certainly be helpful. Jurrjens, Minor, Hanson and Hudson will face Wainwright, Carpenter, Westbrook and TBA, respectively.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Thank You Mets

Atlanta picked up another series win this week as they took 3 of 4 from the Mets at Turner Field. The first three games saw some of the most complete 9 innings the team has put forward this season, capped off by a Tommy Hanson one-hit (7 IP) performance on Wednesday. The Braves were in position for the sweep with Tim Hudson on the mound Thursday, but a 4-2 loss stymied that chance. Huddy was roughed up a bit, surrendering 4 R (3 ER) over 7 IP, but the defense (2 errors) and offense (just 7 hits, 1-3 with RISP) failed to pick-up the traditionally strong pitching staff.

Freddie Freeman made his MLB debut on Friday and while he went 0-3, he had two very well hit balls (the Mets scouted him perfectly) and played a solid 1B when he was tested. With Derrek Lee hitting just .214, 0 HR in 12 games with the Braves, we may see Freeman given increasing opportunities over the next month, especially against RHP.

The other player I have to write about is Melky Cabrera. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with him this season. He was swinging the bat well in June and July and has had a handful of clutch last at-bat/walk-off displays (though who on the team hasn’t?), but I just can’t stand his defense. He really might be the slowest starting outfielder (especially CF) in the game. His lack of speed turns too many singles into doubles and doubles into triples, as evidenced by Carlos Beltran’s 1st inning triple on Thursday. I understand Rick Ankiel doesn’t bring much to the plate (.232/.323/.341 with ATL), but his defense more than makes up for any advantage Melky brings with his bat. Ankiel covers MUCH more ground and certainly has a better arm (though Melky has made some decent throws). It’s somewhat manageable with Melky in LF and Ankiel in CF, but there’s just no benefit to having Melky in CF (yes, even with Ankiel hitting .181/.281/.200 vs. LHP..Melky’s not overwhelmingly better at .231/.310/.338). Man, I wish Nate McLouth could figure out how to hit again.

Despite the series win, Thursday’s poor performance sends the Braves to Florida for their three-game series against the Marlins on a bit of a low note. Coupled with the Phillies impressive (though annoying) comeback in their make-up game at Colorado, the Braves NL East lead has dropped to 2 games. Atlanta’s historically had a tough time in Florida, so this will likely be a difficult series. The Phillies playing a three-game series against the Brewers in PHI doesn’t help much either. The Braves will send up Kawakami (filling in for an ailing Lowe), Jurrjens and Minor to face Miller, Johnson (ugh) and Sanabia.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

September Call-Ups: Who's In, Who's Out

The Braves announced their September call-up list earlier today, highlighted by Triple A International League Rookie of the Year Freddie Freeman. Freeman’s only gotten hotter as his season at Gwinnett has progressed, so the promotion is certainly warranted. The rest of the list includes relievers Mike Dunn and Scott Proctor and catcher JC Boscan. Proctor and Dunn give them experienced arms in the ‘pen while Boscan is a 14-year minor-leaguer who will serve as the third-string catcher behind McCann and Ross. The Braves brought Nate McLouth back up to Atlanta for tonight’s game and Troy Glaus will officially return on Thursday.

Let’s take a quick look at how Freeman, Dunn, Proctor and Boscan have performed this year:

Freeman (1B) - .319/.378/.521, 35 2B, 18 HR, 87 RBI (AAA)
Proctor (RHP) - 5-3, 41.2 IP, 6.91 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 2.00 K/BB (A+, AAA)
Dunn (LHP) - 0-0, 8.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 0.81 K/BB (MLB), 2-0, 47.1 IP, 1.52 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 2.56 K/BB (AAA)
Boscan (C) - .250/.324/.368, 5 HR, 21 RBI

Like the All-Star game and NCAA March Madness, there will always be some players who are more than deserving but don’t get the call up. The two that stand out here are Stephen Marek and Barbaro Canizares. Marek has been a lights-out RHP out of the bullpen at Gwinnett while Canizares just continues to hit as a 1B/DH. Barbaro’s in line to win the IL (AAA) batting title and was just named an IL Postseason All-Star.

A look at Canizares and Marek’s numbers this season:

Marek (RHP) - 6-2, 60.2 IP, 1.19 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 3.55 K/BB (AA, AAA)
Canizares (1B/DH) - .339/.403/.499, 25 2B, 12 HR, 73 RBI (AAA)

The lack of a Canizares call-up can make sense when you realize the Braves now have 5 players (Lee, Hinske, Freeman, Glaus and Prado) who can play 1B. But he’s been too good at the AAA level for too long for him to just waste away in the minors. If the Braves aren’t going to give Barbaro the chance in Atlanta, why not get something out of him with a trade to an AL team who can use him in a productive 1B/DH role? Marek’s exclusion is a little bit more puzzling, especially when you compare his performance this year to Proctor’s. What more can he do?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

BMac Attack!

Boy did Brian McCann (and Matt Diaz) save that series! McCann’s walk-off home run on Sunday capped a tremendous 7-6 comeback win against the Marlins while proving to be the first ever walk-off home run that was decided by instant replay (it was originally ruled a double). I spent Friday and Saturday enjoying a weekend in Upstate, NY’s beautiful Adirondacks at the Dippikill Wilderness Retreat (check it out if you ever get the chance), so Sunday’s ulcer-inducing win was the only one of the series I was able to watch.

Derek Lowe started Sunday for the Braves and lasted all of 3 innings. His 5 ER runs (to go along with 6 H, 4 K, 3 BB and 1 HR) ended his afternoon early and continued his nearly two season long struggle with the Braves. Since Kris Medlen (and now Mike Minor) replaced Kenshin Kawakami in the rotation following Jair Jurrjens return from the DL, Lowe has been the weakest part of this rotation. At $15m/year, Derek Lowe is actually the highest paid player on the team. Over 61 starts with the Braves, Lowe has a 4.60 ERA to go along with a 1.47 WHIP and a 0.4 WAR. In case those numbers aren’t clear, he, ummm, hasn't been very good for the Braves. It’s well publicized that the team tried mightily to trade Lowe over the past off-season, but his age, performance and contract made that essentially impossible. Well, add another year with an ERA north of 4.00 (currently 4.53) and another year to his age (now 37) and it may not be much easier. Lowe will have 2yr/$30m left on his contract instead of 3yr/$45m, but any serious hope that last year was simply an aberration now seems lost. The Braves would likely have to eat a significant portion of his salary and not receive much in return, but I think Lowe needs to be unloaded some way somehow. After Hudson, Hanson and Jurrjens, Mike Minor looks like he’ll stick in the rotation. For the 5th spot, the team will still have Kawakami signed through the 2011 season and a few prospects at Gwinnett (Redmond, Beachy and Diamond) could make the competition interesting. Derek Lowe is simply not working, especially at $15m per year.

The other topic that made itself clear this weekend was the offense’s inconsistency. The team pushed across all of 1 run on Friday and then exploded for 12 runs on Saturday. Through the first 7 innings on Sunday, the Braves managed just 1 run and 4 hits. The final 2 innings saw 6 runs on 4 hits (which included 2 HR). Can you imagine how many wins the Braves would have if they could put together 9 complete innings of offense on a regular basis?! This offense is really a classic Jekyll and Hyde. For most of August (and in fact the majority of the season), we’ve seen near-dominating pitching from the Braves with just enough offense to win ball games. But over the past two series - at the Rockies and home against the Marlins - both the starters and the bullpen have had serious problems. If the offense didn’t put up a significant number of runs then the game was all but lost. Instead of 1 and 2 run games or 12 and 13 run games, this team needs to start putting up 5, 6 or 7 run games with a bit more regularity. Hopefully Sunday’s 7 run contest was a sample of things to come.

Atlanta will stay at Turner Field to begin a big four game series against the rival Mets on Monday. The Braves’ NL East lead sits at just 2 games following the Phillies’ impressive three game sweep of the NL-best San Diego Padres out in California, so winning at least three of the four games against the .500 Mets in Atlanta will be important. Jurrjens, Minor, Hanson and Hudson will match-up against Misch, Niese, Pelfrey and Santana, respectively. That series finale between Hudson and Santana should be a great one!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rocky Mountain LOW

The Braves departed Denver last night with exactly zero wins after being swept in their three games series. The team spent the first two games trying to figure out how to hit the ball. They didn't figure it out until Wednesday's first three innings when they tagged the Rockies for 10 runs. Unfortunately, the pitchers then forgot how to get outs as they blew a nine-run lead over the next 5 innings. Fortunately the Phillies have also lost their past 3 the Astros..IN Philadelphia (ATL and PHI have matched wins and losses on the same day since 8/14). So, unbelievably, the Braves' 2.5 game lead in the NL East remains.

When was the last time the Braves have shown quality pitching, hitting and defense in the same game? How about even two of those in the same game? Atlanta pitchers have been near-dominant all year, but Wednesday's implosion proved that they are indeed human. The defense has been suspect the entire season and it's gotten even worse since the all-star break. But, despite yesterday's 10 runs, it's been the offense's inconsistency that has hurt the team the most, especially this month.

Monday, August 23, 2010

See You Later Sweet Lou!

The Braves won a very important road series in Chicago this weekend with their 16-5 Sunday afternoon victory in what ended up being Lou Pinella’s last game as a manager. Jason Heyward and Omar Infante represented the offensive fire power with 2 home runs apiece. The series included just about every story line possible with the team’s 22nd last at bat win on Friday, more RISP struggles (2-11) on Saturday and a Mike Minor rookie strikeout record on Sunday.

Minor struck out 12 Cubs on Sunday with an unhittable change-up to break the Atlanta record (previously held by Tommy Hanson, who put up 11 last year) and tie the Braves’ franchise record. His name doesn’t begin with ‘Stras’ and he doesn’t have a 100mph fastball, but I wonder how much press his performance will garner. My guess is not that much (especially here in Upstate, NY). Minor’s 12 K went along with 6 IP, 3 ER, 7 H and 1 BB to earn him his second win of the season in only his third start. In those 3 starts, Minor has a 4.00 ERA but just a 1.17 WHIP, a .236 BAA and a stellar 5.5 K/BB. He definitely impressed in the minors this season, but I’m not sure many expected him to jump right into this rotation and put up those numbers in the middle of a heated pennant race. Minor’s obviously still a rookie, but if he can continue to perform like he has so far, he will provide Bobby with the option of throwing up a LHP against a line-up if/when the Braves head into the play-offs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On The Road Again

The Cardiac Braves continued to (mostly) live up to their nickname during a series win against the Nationals this week. Jason Heyward gave Atlanta their major league-leading 21st last at bat win with a two-out single in the bottom of the 9th on Wednesday. A day earlier, the Braves stormed back from a 2-0 deficit with 10 runs after the 5th inning. The team had managed just one hit through 5 innings before their three inning offensive explosion. Derek Lowe was roughed up on Thursday and despite 7 hits, the Braves again had problems driving runners in (1-9 with RISP), as the Nationals prevented the sweep with a 6-2 victory. Oh, and Matt Diaz’s boneheaded base running certainly didn’t help either.

Outside of Lowe being tagged for 4 earned runs over 7 innings on Thursday, the Braves stellar pitching continued. Mike Minor picked up his first career major league victory in his Turner Field debut on Tuesday with a solid 6 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 5 K, 2 BB performance while Tim Hudson held the Nats to 2 runs over 7 innings on Wednesday.

While the pitchers excel, Martin Prado has been on a tear since his return from the DL. The Braves second baseman went 6-12 with 2 2B, 3 RBI and 4 R while hitting third and playing third. If he's still feeling discomfort in his pinky, he's certainly not letting it affect his play on the field. On the opposite side spectrum, Eric Hinske continues his August slump and is now hitting .094 (3-32) this month. But, with perfect timing, Derrek Lee will slide into the first base position on Friday at Wrigley Field. Lee’s a career .308/.388/.577 hitter among the ivy, so here’s hoping he manages to leave Chicago with a bang.

The Braves will be facing the Cubs for the first time this season since opening week for a three-game series in Chicago. This will be an important week (they follow with 3 games on the road against the Rockies) as Atlanta holds just a 2.5 game lead over the Phillies, who will be playing their next 7 games at Citizens Bank Park. Jurrjens, Hanson and Minor will match-up against Dempster, Gorzelanny and Wells.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Braves Trade For Derrek Lee

Braves fans had to wait until August, but it looks like we finally got the power bat the team needed as Atlanta acquired 1B Derrek Lee (and cash) from the Cubs for three minor league pitchers. While Troy Glaus has been struggling since mid-June, Chipper Jones’ season ending knee injury solidified the need for the middle of the order hitter. Lee’s recovering from a cortisone shot he received earlier this week to help heal a bulging disc, so he’s expected to be in the line-up Friday at…Wrigley Field. The move has already been analyzed by everyone and their brother (here, here and here), so I might as well go ahead and add my two cents!

I’m excited to have Lee as part of this team for the stretch run. He’s put up abnormally low numbers so far this year with a .251/.335/.416 line to go along with 16 HR and 56 RBI, but those numbers were skewed by a terribly slow start where he hit just .205 over the first month of the season. He’s progressively heated up during the year and is now hitting .306/.381/.694 in August. With Lee, the Braves are able to keep a right-handed bat in the line-up and hopefully add some power. Outside of an injury shortened 2006 season, Lee’s hit at least 20 homers every year since 2000, including 35 last year. Since he’s replacing Glaus, Lee doesn’t have to do much to be an improvement. But if he can show something along the lines of .275 with 8-10 HR and 20-25 RBI for the rest of the season, he’ll be a significant, and important, addition. Lee’s set to make just shy of $3.5 million (which the Cubs will pick up a small portion of surprising $1.7m of ) through the rest of the year and his contract ends after 2010, so there’s no long term financial commitment and the first base spot will be open next year for Freddie Freeman should the team want him there to start the 2011 season. During Wednesday night’s SportsSouth broadcast, Frank Wren seemed to infer Lee might hit in the 3-hole. I think most Braves fans would like to see Lee hitting 5th, so if that’s the case, a line-up could look like this:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Better Late Than Never!

I may not be able to physically make it through the rest of the season at this pace..and I’m not even playing! The Cardiac Braves waited until the bottom of the 9th to claim the series victory against the Dodgers with their 20th last at-bat win of the season (as an aside, games like THAT are why I have!). With the exception of a 13-1 offensive explosion on Sunday, each game was low-scoring and decided by just one run. The starting pitching continues its torrid August as Hudson, Lowe, Jurrjens and Hanson put up an amazing 0.96 ERA (3 ER in 28 IP) during the four game series. Atlanta's now 2.5 games up on the Phillies in the NL East, a major league best 42-16 at home and are 1.5 games behind the Padres for the best record in the National League. But while the pitching has been flat out AMAZING and the wins are piling up, there is still plenty of room for improvement with this team.

Outside of the rare 13-run outburst in game three, the Braves averaged just 2 runs per game during the series. The team went 0-fer with RISP in the first two games and then waited until Melky’s walk-off hit to get their first base knock with runners in scoring position on Monday (they went 7-14 in those situations on Sunday, thanks in part to the ageless Vincente Padilla). The pitching has been strong enough recently to cover-up most of that ineffectiveness, but we have to assume the pitching will at least regress some. If the Braves make it to the play-offs, we’ll need to see more offense and better situational hitting. On average, the team would see stronger pitching and stronger offenses. Squeezing out walk-off wins after your starting pitcher gives up one earned through seven innings won’t always cut it. This week’s anticipated return of Martin Prado should help (where will he hit in the line-up?..lead-off, third?), but the current 3-4-5 string of Alex Gonzalez, Brian McCann and Troy Glaus isn’t the most frightening middle of the line-up for opposing pitchers.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chipper Jones: A Career Snaphot

The idea for this post came to mind a couple weeks ago as I noticed Chipper was creeping up on (or had just passed) some notable round statistical numbers. With the tear/partial tear/stretch of the ACL in his left knee, Chipper’s out for the season. Based on his age, previous injuries, recent retirement talk, etc., the injury may end up threatening his career. This post was going to take a look at Jones’ current career numbers and his potential numbers if he was to retire at the end of the season…but that time may (repeat, MAY) be now.

Larry ‘Chipper’ Jones is no longer the MVP-caliber player he was in 1999, or even 2007-08. But in early August at Turner Field he proved he still holds one important title… Met Killer. Despite hitting just 7 home runs in his 87 prior games this season, Chipper went deep twice in the three-game series victory. He hit .400 with a .571 OBP while adding 3 RBI, 4 BB and 4 R in the match-up against his NL East rivals. In 215 career games against the Metropolitans, Chipper has a .319/.417/.556 line with 40 HR and 138 RBI. Met Killer, indeed.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cardiac Braves!

Is there any better way to describe the team at this point?? The Braves took two of three from Houston despite a series with 8 (!) errors, an inning that would have made a little leaguer look bad and two blown late-inning leads. A clutch Brooks Conrad homer (aren’t they all?) on Tuesday and a Wednesday extra-inning comeback topped-off by Brian McCann’s 7th career grand slam gave Atlanta their third straight series win. The Braves received strong starting pitching between Mike Minor’s Monday debut (Braves fans should be quite excited about him), Jurrjens’ solid Tuesday outing and Hanson’s dominant Wednesday performance. Atlanta’s now 7-3 over their past 10 games.

Chipper Jones: Season-Ending Knee Injury

There are reports all over (originated from 790 the Zone) that Chipper Jones' MRI evaluation today has shown a tear of his ACL stretch (or partial tear?) of his ACL that would likely require surgery. If true (it's yet to be confirmed by the team), this would all but certainly finish Chipper's season. Such an injury could also end his storied career. He's 38, tore the same ligament in 1994 and has also reportedly already talked about retirement at the end of the season. IF so, he would go down as, along with Hank Aaron, arguably the greatest Brave in franchise history.

UPDATE: Chipper's agent, BB Abbott, is reporting that the injury is indeed a tear.

This could strike a major blow to the team this season. While not the same player he was 10 years ago, Chipper has held down the 3 hole in the line-up and had been swinging an extremely hot bat for the past month or two. While his range has suffered a bit as he's climbed up in age, he's played a very reliable third base for the year. With Martin Prado still on the DL, we can bet on seeing Brooks Conrad at the hot corner for the time being. When Prado returns, it would seem likely that an Infante/Prado combination would cover 2B and 3B (pending any possible moves in the trade/waiver market).

A new (post-Prado return) line-up could look like this:

Prado - 2B/3B
Infante - 2B/3B
Heyward - RF
McCann - C
Hinske/Diaz - LF
Glaus - 1B
Gonzalez - SS
Ankiel/Cabrera - CF

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Now That's More Like It!

It’s amazing how good things can happen when you drive runners in. The Braves won a big series against the Giants by claiming three of the four contests at Turner Field. The team hit .349 (8-23) with runners in scoring in position over the final two games of the series. Certainly much better than the sub-Mendoza line performance we’ve seen over the past few weeks. Not only are the Braves finally beginning to hit with RISP, but they’re also starting to display much more power. Chipper complimented his two shots last week against the Mets with another blast on Friday, while Ross (1), Infante (1), Gonzalez (2) and Hinske (1) all added homers of their own. An extra-inning home run off of Billy Wagner on Friday prevented the Braves from sweeping the playoff-contending Giants and a shocking blown foul call in Florida on Thursday prevented them from picking up an extra game on the Phillies, but the team still finished the week with a slim two game lead in the NL East. The Braves are 5-2 in their last 7 games. That’s more like how a first place team should be playing. As a fan from Upstate, NY, it was also nice to see Sunday's game on TBS. Brought me back to the good ol' days that turned me into a Braves fan in the first place.

There were certainly some notable performances during the series (including two spectacular double-play starters by Gonzo), but Tim Hudson’s dominant outing on Saturday likely topped them all. Huddy picked up his 13th win of the season with an impressive 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 6 K, 1 BB line. Even more notable was a 17-1 groundout to flyout stat..that sinker was WORKING. At 2/3 of the way through the season, nearly all the NL Cy Young talk has understandably involved Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay, but Tim Hudson is showing that he needs to be added to that discussion. As of Sunday evening, Hudson is:

• 3rd in ERA (2.24), ahead of Halladay and Jimenez
• 4th in Wins (13), ahead of Johnson
• 7th in WHIP (1.10), ahead of Jimenez
• T-2nd in Quality Start % (83%), ahead of Halladay and Jimenez

Monday will bring with it the much anticipated major league debut of 2009 first-round draft pick Mike Minor. He'll take the rotation spot of Kris Medlen, who was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and may need Tommy John surgery. Minor has gone 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA in since his mid-season call-up to Gwinnett while adding nearly 10K/9IP. The 7th overall pick will be starting for the Braves against the Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Despite trading away Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman within the past month, Houston’s been putting on an impressive offensive performance since the All-Star break. They’ve averaged more than 5 runs per game since the mid-summer classic and more than 7 runs per game over the past 10. We’ll see if Minor can quiet them up a bit. I’m excited for his debut.

In addition to the Minor debut, Jurrjens and Hanson will match-up against Norris, Happ and Rodriguez, respectively, during the three-game series against the ‘Stros.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Bittersweet Win

The Braves defeated the Mets Wednesday night to earn a series victory after dropping the previous three. Wednesday’s 8-3 win managed to erase some of the sting from Tuesday’s ex-Braves’ revenge.The two wins were certainly relieving, but the Braves continue to struggle mightily with runners in scoring position. In the three games at Turner Field, Atlanta went 4-33 to hit at a .121 clip. Some solid pitching, Mets errors and some rare home run power (including two from Met-killer Chipper Jones) allowed the team to get by that dreadful stat.

But Wednesday’s rubber match victory was bittersweet for Braves fans as starter Kris Medlen was pulled in the 5th inning after what looked like tightness in his right foreman. It was released shortly after that Medlen injured the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. (Tough time to lose Chris Resop to the Pirates, huh?) MRI results should be known sometime today later Friday, but any time one hears about a UCL injury, the first thing that comes to mind is Tommy John surgery. If Medlen’s injury is serve enough to require that procedure, we can expect him to be out 12-18 months. Not good news for one of the pleasant surprises of this team.

Monday, August 2, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

I feel as if I could sum up this series by simply copy and pasting last week’s RISP blog post. The Braves lost two out of three at Cincinnati to drop their third-consecutive series and finish 3-6 on the nine-game road trip. An extra-inning win to open the series on Friday gave the team a chance to reverse their recent fortunes, but a loss on Saturday followed by the waste of a spectacular Tommy Hanson start on Sunday ruined any hope of that. The Braves hit just .152 with RISP (5-33) during the series and left a crushing 32 runners on base. The continued troubles with RISP would be funny if it wasn’t so frustrating.

Sunday saw the debut of Rick Ankiel and while he went hitless in three at-bats (he did add a walk), at least he was able to throw the ball back to the infield each time he had to. We also saw Alex Gonzalez’s first home run as a Brave, followed by his error that allowed the eventual winning run to score. Tommy Hanson gave a second straight strong performance with a 7.1 IP, 2 R (1 ER), 5 K line, but the Atlanta offense stole any chance he had at a win.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Welcome to Atlanta, Rick and Kyle!

At Saturday’s 4pm deadline, the Braves announced they traded OF Gregor Blanco, RHP Jesse Chavez and LHP prospect Tim Collins to the Royals for OF Rick Ankiel and RHP Kyle Farnsworth. This wasn’t exactly the blockbuster deal I’m sure a lot of Braves fans were looking for and it still leave some holes, but Frank Wren managed to upgrade the team some for little cost. Let’s take a look at the deal...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Heeeeere's Jonny!

Major League Baseball came to its senses today and rescinded the entire 4-game suspension Jonny Venters had been given following the two-week-old Fielder-gate incident. Venter’s fine was also reduced. I’m a bit puzzled why MLB would erase the entire suspension but then still leave some of the fine. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

In addition to Jonny and Bobby Cox’s steadfast denial that the HBP was unintentional, let’s take a look at the numbers that the Braves might have used to plead Venters’ case. First, Prince Fielder has already been hit 17 times this season, including twice within only a week following Venters’ bean ball. Only Prince’s teammate Rickie Weeks (19) has been hit more in all of baseball. At nearly 300lb, Fielder is probably the largest batter’s box target in game. He stands close to the plate and his approach often leads him to ‘fall’ into the pitch as it’s sailing towards him. Venters also isn’t exactly immune to hitting batters this season. In his 44 appearances (50.1 IP) this season, he’s already hit 4 batters and walked 23. Those numbers don’t scream control.

The timing of this decision could not have been better as the reeling Braves head to the launching pad that is The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. The rookie Venters has quietly (to non-Braves fans, anyway) become a critical part of this team. He began to show dominance left-handed specialist and has since been increasingly used in an 8th inning set-up role. The reasons are obvious..Venters has been flat out GOOD.

Jonny Venters likely won't pick up a single Rookie of the Year vote at the end of the season. He’s not an everyday position player, he’s not a starting pitcher and he’s not even a closer (though he does have 1 save to lead all NL rookies). But he’s been an impressive pitcher out of the pen and his numbers stack up against the league’s rookies pretty well. He leads in ERA (1.07), games (44) and is eighth in strikeouts (51).

Venters’ numbers (through July 29, 2010):

  • G – 44
  • IP – 50.1
  • ERA – 1.07
  • WHIP – 1.03
  • K – 51
  • K/9IP – 9.12
  • BB/9IP – 4.11
  • K/BB – 2.22 

Glad to have him ‘back.’

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brought To You By The Letters R, I, S and P

Another poor start from Derek Lowe helped the Nationals take the series today in Washington by a 5-3 score. It was only thanks to a gem from Tim Hudson on Wednesday that saved the Braves from being swept by the last place Nats. The Braves went 2-4 and lost consecutive series to the 4th and 5th place teams in the NL East. The Braves are now just 9-15 in three-year-old Nationals Park and the loss drops them to 24-30 (.444) on the road this year. Something tells me the team is looking forward to returning to Turner Field on August 2nd.

Over the last 14 games (post All-Star break and last game of the 7/8-10 Mets series in New York), the Braves are a worrisome 6-8. That’s not exactly how a first place team should be playing deep into a pennant race, especially as the Phillies offense is quickly awakening from its two-month slumber. Add in the fact that our NL East rivals picked up Roy Oswalt in a lopsided trade with the Astros, you begin to see that the Braves need to right this ship…and fast.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fine, You Win

As a Braves fan from Upstate, NY, the series loss against the Marlins was even more frustrating than normal. Unless a game is picked up as a national broadcast or we’re playing the Mets (games are usually on SNY locally..ugh), MLB Gameday and Twitter serve as my only ways to follow games. Twitter’s helpful, but it’s obviously not the same as following a game real-time. And as I’m sure many users already know, MLB Gameday can be quite frustrating. For example, when Nate McLouth was at bat Saturday in the 8th with based loaded, Gameday showed he hit into a double play, leaving 2 outs and runners on second and third. Next thing I knew, my fellow Braves twitter-ers told me that Brooks Conrad had just hit a pinch-hit grand slam. But how was that possible with just two runners on?! After a long delay, Gameday updated to show that McLouth simply grounded out to the pitcher, followed by the Brooks blast.

Long story short (well, not really), I purchased Premium on Sunday for the rest of the season. Their free preview a couple weeks ago wasn’t exactly the greatest thing in the world, but if spending $60 is the only way for me to confidently know what’s going during a game from Upstate, NY, so be it. The online subscription started just in time for me to watch Jesse Chavez blow the game in the 11th. Joy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nate Who? Jesse Who?

A depressing series loss gets a depressing blog post. The Braves dropped two of three to the Marlins in a series that realistically could have been swept by the good guys. Billy Wagner blew his second save in as many chances on Friday and the Braves wasted numerous chances on Sunday to grab the lead (the Braves had just 1 RBI in 5 bases loaded plate appearances..that included two GIDP). A clutch pinch-hit grand slam by Brooks Conrad on Saturday allowed Atlanta to snag at least one game in Florida.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Another Series, Another Series Win

We’ve seen this movie before..and it’s one of my favorites. The Braves completed a pounding of the San Diego Padres yesterday with an impressive 8-0 shutout. Heading into the 9th inning of Wednesday’s game, Atlanta looked ready to earn other series victory, but a rare Billy Wagner blown save and a 12th inning loss later, the Braves were in danger of an even rarer series loss heading into yesterday afternoon’s contest. But Tim Hudson’s seven scoreless innings made sure that would not happen. Braves pitchers held Adrian Gonzalez, the key to the Padres’ offense, to a 1-12 with 6 K series performance. Not an easy task. The Braves success was complimented by the Mets somehow being swept by the NL West basement Diamondbacks and the Phillies dropping three of four to the Cardinals. Atlanta now owns the NL’s best record and their division lead continues to grow.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Braves Down The Brew

The Braves managed to salvage a series split against the Brewers on Sunday with an offensive-laden 11-6 win. Brian McCann had a huge day with a third-inning grand slam and an RBI walk. Matt Diaz added his own homer with a solo shot in the 5th and Omar Infante banged out four hits in place of the ailing Chipper Jones. Chipper sat out for the second consecutive day with a strained hamstring. Diaz continues to hammer left-handed pitching and his performance (3-4, 3 RBI) is beginning to lessen the need for an outfield bat from the trade market.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Thanks!...I Think?

The Braves opened up the second half of the 2010 season last night with a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers to begin a four game series. The win, coupled with Mets and Phillies losses, pushed Atlanta to 5 games up in the NL East. The game wasn't on television in Upstate, NY...BUT, I was able to watch it online thanks to The service is currently offering a 'reward' (read: promotion) for those who cast a ballot in the All-Star Game Final Vote. Voters have the chance to sign-up for a free 10-day (July 10-20) trial of's Premium online service. Hooking up the laptop to the TV meant I could watch a semi-decent HD quality Peachtree TV broadcast of the game. Good enough for me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Second Half: Where To Go From Here?

Now that the Braves have seemingly addressed an inefficiency, at least offensively, at the shortstop position with the trade for Alex Gonzalez, will there be any more moves by the Braves before the trade deadline? For at the past couple months there have been rumors that the team might be interested in a leftfielder or centerfielder, particularly one with some pop. Things might depend on how well Jason Heyward and Nate McLouth perform following their return from the DL. If a move is needed, a number of possible candidates are out there and while the Gonzalez acquisition has somewhat lessened the need for a power bat, the Braves have plenty enough minor league pitching depth should a potential deal make sense. Good players require good players in return, but I think the Braves should be hesitant to include Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor or Julio Teheran in any package. Freeman looks to be the first baseman of the future, Minor is the only near-ready Braves true lefty starter and Teheran might be the best pitching prospect in the game. Frank Wren was burned in the Mark Teixeira to Texas deal, so we can probably expect him to be a bit more careful this time.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Yunel Escobar Traded to Toronto for Alex Gonzalez

MLB Trade Rumors is reporting (now confirmed by Atlanta) that the Braves have sent Yunel and minor league LHP Jo-Jo Reyes to Toronto for SS Alex Gonzalez and minor leaguers LHP Tim Collins and SS Tyler Pastronicky.

It had been rumored recently that the Braves were listening to possible offers for Yunel in a season of significant offensive drop-off and critiques of his effort and attitude. The Braves are probably selling a bit low here, but it seems the team was likely tired of waiting for Yunel to reach his potential..both on and off the field.

Alex Gonzalez has been part of the home run boom in Toronto this season and is in the middle of what might be a career power year, having already hit 17 HRs (he now leads the Braves in that category) and driven in 50 RBIs. His OBP is seriously lacking, and has throughout his career (.294), but it's not exactly like Yunel was lighting it up in that department this year. Gonzalez comes with a $2.5m club option for next year, so there is still a bit of stability there if the Braves want/need it. If he shows similar power in the second half, then the trade could very likely pay-off for the Braves, who could really use a right-handed power bat. I don't consider Jo-Jo to be much of a loss as he's seemed to be the prototypical Quad A player, having been consistently hit pretty hard in his handful of major league appearances over the past few years.

Brian McCann, Your 2010 All-Star MVP

Braves catcher Brian McCann won the 2010 Ted Williams All-Star MVP award last night as the National League finally defeated the AL 3-1 in Anaheim. McCann's 3-run double in the 7th off a Matt Thornton 98mph fastball proved to be the only runs needed as the senior circuit held the home team to just one unearned run. McCann's rip down the right field line ended the NL's 13-year All-Star winless streak. Not surprisingly, there's been very little local media coverage of the game so far this morning. I'm going to really go out on a limb and suggest that if a Yankee or Met..or even or a Red Sox (Red Sock?)..won MVP, we'd be seeing a lot more coverage of the entire game. Shocker.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nothing Minor About 7,005!

On Sunday I made the short drive across the Hudson River to 'The Joe" in Troy, NY to catch the Tri-City ValleyCats game. The ValleyCats are the Short-Season Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros, competing in the NY-Penn League. I happened to be joined by another 7,004 fans! The game against the Jamestown Jammers (Florida Marlins affiliate) was 'Time Warner Fan Appreciate Night' and brought in nearly half as many fans as the Jammers' MLB parent club Marlins are averaging this season (16,664... *cough - ya right - cough*). The ValleyCats moved to Troy to start the 2002 season following a period of time in Pittsfield, MA and represent the 'tri-cities' of Albany, Schenectady and Troy. This summer's team features 2010 first round pick (33rd overall) Mike Kvasnicka while Ben Zobrist and Hunter Pence lead the list of ValleyCats MLB alumni. The Jammers defeated the ValleyCats 9-6.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Weekend of Baseball

The Braves are sitting pretty in 1st place heading into the All-Star break after taking 2 of 3 against the rival Mets at Citi Field. Each game was on a national broadcast (Fri - MLB Network, Sat - FOX, Sun - TBS), but all were blacked out here in upstate, NY and picked up by local SNY/CW broadcasts.

I took the 2.5hr trip down the NYS Thruway for Saturday's match-up. Tim Hudson lived up to his All-Star status with a dominant 7 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 3 K, 2 BB performance. The Braves finally cashed in on Mike Pelfrey's ineffectiveness with 4 runs in the 5th inning, including a Tim Hudson RBI double. The lefty bullpen tandem of Jonny Venters and Billy Wagner closed out the 8th and 9th to preserve a 4-0 shutout for Atlanta.

Here's a few shots of the game for your viewing pleasure...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Braves vs. Mets at Citi Field...ON TV!

The first place Braves take on the Mets this weekend for a three game series in Queens. A Braves vs. Mets game is always bittersweet for me. It means I'll be able to watch the game in my SNY viewing area, but I'll also have to suffer through listening to the Mets announcers. I'm sure listening to a rival team's broadcasts aren't fun for anyone, but SNY's Keith Hernandez and, to a lesser extent, Ron Darling especially irritate me. Tonight's game is also scheduled to be on MLB Network, but will be blacked out in local areas (aka: mine).