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 games..to 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 MLB.tv!). 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...