Monday, September 5, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 9/6/11

This past week represented the final games of the 2011 minor league season for the Empire Staters. Only the rookie-level Danville Braves made it to the playoffs, dropping their three-game series. I will use the next few weeks to draft more in-depth posts on each player to summarize their seasons. Anthony Varvaro's will likely come last, once his time with Atlanta this year is complete. Here's how the group performed over the past week (8/30-9/5)....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett/MLB - Atlanta)
Varvaro's week came with some good news, as he earned one of the team's September call-ups. Unfortunately, his on-the-field performance this past week didn't quite match-up. He picked-up the loss in both of his late-inning appearances, one with Gwinnett and one with the big league club in Atlanta. The next three weeks will serve as his audition in his battle to make it on to the team's playoff roster. 

This Week (MiLB): 1 G (0-1), I IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 K, 1 BB
This Week (MLB): 1 G (0-1), 1 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 1 K, 1 BB
Season (MiLB): 38 G (2-8), 1 SV, 59 IP, 2.90 ERA, 69 K, 35 BB
Season (MLB): 8 G (0-1), 10 IP, 3.60 ERA, 16 K, 7 BB

Chris Cody, LHP (Double A - Mississippi)
Cody finished his last start of the season with his first complete game of the year. He continued his low strikeout and low walk numbers, notching just two K and one BB in a full nine innings.  

This Week: 1 G (1-0), 9 IP, 3 ER, 8 H, 2 K, 1 BB
This Season: 6 G (3-1), 39 IP, 3.46 ERA, 20 K, 8 BB

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Braves Status Report: 136 Games (81-55)

This is the first status report since mid-August, as I was busy celebrating the Braves win over the Cubs in Chicago this time last week. All the team did over the past two weeks was go 8-3 with series victories over the Diamondbacks, Cubs and Nats, with a Hurricane Irene shortened trip to Citi Field in Queens mixed in. The Braves did it in "mid-season" form, as well, with an average-at-best (and home run dependent) offense and impressive pitching.

As the calendar turned to September, Frank Wren began preparing the team for the playoffs. Atlanta owns a 8.5 game lead over the St. Louis in the Wild Card race with twenty-six games remaining (twenty-five for the Cardinals). Just to put it in perspective, if the Braves go 13-13 to close the season, the Cards would have to go 22-3 to overcome them. With that in mind, the Braves solidified their bench by acquiring both Matt Diaz (from PIT) and Jack Wilson (from SEA) on August 31st. Diaz will serve as an OF/bench bat against LHP, while Wilson becomes the main bench INF glove. The Wilson move also allows Fredi to pinch-hit for offensively-challenged Alex Gonzalez in close late game situations without having to worry about sacrificing much defense. Catcher JC Boscan and RHP Anthony Varvaro were called up from Gwinnett Thursday with roster expansion, giving the team more flexibility, and we can expect to see Peter Moylan, Julio Teheran, and Randall Delgado soon. Don't be surprised if Wilkin Ramirez and/or Brandon Hicks also get the call.

As Atlanta welcomes the Dodgers for the three-game series at Turner beginning Friday, followed by three games against the the Phillies and a double-header Thursday at the Mets, starting pitching remains the concern. Tommy Hanson was diagnosed with a small rotator cuff tear, which was then described as normal 'wear and tear.' The Braves hope he'll be back for the playoffs, but who knows. Jair Jurrjens was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his knee Thursday and prospects for his return looks slim. Atlanta has plenty of talented options to fill-in with Minor, Teheran and Delgado, but the three have made just fourteen starts this season (Minor having ten of them).

Now on to what you've all been waiting for (right?...right?), this past two week's 'cheers' and 'jeers'...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 8/30/11

As the 2011 minor league season enters it's final week, the Empire Staters offered some mixed results over the past seven days. While next week should bring the final regular update, I will plan on doing a 'Season Review' for each player shortly after that last post. But let's enjoy the few games that remain! Here's how the group performed over the past week (8/23-8/29)...

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
While Varvaro tends to be a near-lock for two appearances each week, the right-hander saw time in just one game over the past seven days. The reasoning could be game situational, but it's also possible that the team is keeping his appearances/innings down in preparation for an end of the season call up to Atlanta. The parent team is somewhat weak(er) from the right side of the pen, so Varvaro could serve as a valuable addition to that group come September.

Week: 1 G (0-0), 2 IP, 1 R (0 ER), 0 H, 2 K, 1 BB
Season (MiLB): 37 G (2-7), 1 SV, 58 IP, 2.79 ERA, 68 K, 34 BB
Season (MLB):7 G (0-0), 9 IP, 3.00 ERA, 16 K, 6 BB

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Braves at Cubs: Gameday Photos and Trip Recap

With Hurricane Irene causing the postponement of Saturday and Sunday's games at the Mets (and while I still have power), I thought it worthwhile to post a quick write-up and a few of the pictures from my trip to Wrigley Field for this past Wednesday and Thursday's games. The two games put me at a winning 5-4 for the nine games I was able to attend this season.

If you ever make the trip to Chicago for a Cubs game, I definitely recommend the Hard Rock Hotel. It's a unique place in a great location just a couple blocks from the Red Line to Wrigley. In addition to the games and a tour of Wrigley Field, I made stops at Millennium Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Navy Pier. For food, I enjoyed the Billy Goat Tavern, Gino's East and Ed Debevic's. All great places.

But on to the games... Wednesday's contest looked as if it was going to be a long night when Derek Lowe allowed three runs (two earned) before the end of the second inning. Little did I know that would be the last of the runs the Cubs would score, but it would the be Atlanta offense that wouldn't show up. A couple Braves solo homers (including Chipper's 449th of his career) would make it a close game late, but Chicago prevailed 3-2. The highlight of the game had to be Chip Caray's rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame."

Brandon Beachy took the hill for Thursday afternoon's game and did not disappoint. His eight strikeouts (against no walks) were fun to watch and where the offense was near non-existent Wednesday, I was reminded me what it could do: put up eight total runs against Matt Garza and the Chicago bullpen. The day was topped off by Michael Bourn's four hits and Brian McCann's two-home runs. The eight runs helped lead to the 8-3 victory and a series win over the Cubs.

It was a great trip and I hope you enjoy the pictures....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 8/23/11

The Empire Staters made a total of six appearances this past week, so plenty of updates to include. I'm definitely a fan of pitchers/pitching, but I wouldn't mind posting some hitting stats once in a while! In other news, as expected, Braves 2011 50th round pick Kevin McKague did not sign with the team by this past week's deadline. In addition to his Army commitment, McKague still has a year of eligibility left with West Point. Here's how the current group performed over the past seven days (8/16-8/22)...

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Varvaro made his obligatory two appearances this week and his performance made it clear he wishes he was still with the big league club. Reports came out Monday that the Braves would likely bring up seven players with the September call-ups (Teheran, Delgado, catcher and four others). I think Varvaro should have a pretty decent shot at being one of those guys, as Atlanta seems to have a preference for guys with a live arm and high strikeout numbers.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 3.2 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 5 K, 0 BB
Season (MiLB): 36 G (2-7), 1 SV, 56 IP, 2.89 ERA, 66 K, 33 BB
Season (MLB): 7 G (0-0), 9 IP, 3.00 ERA, 16 K, 6 BB

Chris Cody, LHP (Double A - Mississippi) 
Cody fit in two starts this past week, putting up solid numbers in both. Following his mid-season pick-up by the Braves, he's quietly showing encouraging results in his handful of starts. While his 5.6 K/9 isn't anything great, it looks better when sitting next to his 3.0 K/BB and 1.9 BB/9.

This Week: 2 G (1-0), 13 IP, 5 R (3 ER), 11 H, 1 HR, 8 K, 3 BB
Season: 4 G (2-0), 24 IP, 3.00 ERA, 15 K, 5 BB

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gwinnett at Syracuse, Teheran, Hoover: Gameday Photos

Gwinnett made their annual trip to Syracuse this past week, representing the closest opportunity (2.5 hours) for me to see the team play in person. I was fortunate enough to see Tommy Hanson's last minor league start here in 2009 (perhaps that may be another post sometime soon), but then the two games I was planning on attending last year were both rained out and made up at Gwinnett. Fortunately, this year's series saw some beautiful weather.

There was a chance the Triple A team would have Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino and Tyler Pastornicky all at the same time (I saw Mike Minor pitch with Atlanta in June), something I was getting very excited about. But Vizcaino was called up to the bigs to replace Scott Proctor and Pastornicky sprained his ankle the weekend before the series. While I wouldn't see those two, promising prospect JJ Hoover earned the call-up to Gwinnett in the meantime. Delgado was slated to start Tuesday, with Teheran scheduled for I bought tickets for both games. Well, you know what they say about plans of mice and men...Delgado was called up to Atlanta to fill-in for Hanson and promptly took a no-hitter into the 7th inning. So it was Steven Shell for Gwinnett on Tuesday.

Hoover did make a relief appearance on Tuesday, though, and did not disappoint. His 1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 2 K, 0 BB line provides some indication of what Braves fans could see within the next year or two at Turner Field. Wednesday was Julio Teheran's turn. After a rough first two or three innings, it looked like it might be a short night for baseball's top pitching prospect. While his curve ball was buckling knees with regularity, he was having issues commanding his fastball. The gun was showing just 91-92 and they were often hit hard when they found the plate. He settled in from the fourth on, sitting at 94-95 (topped out at 96) and breezing through the Syracuse line-up. By the time his night was over, he had earned his thirteenth win with a 7 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 3 K, 4 BB performance. Well worth the trip!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Braves Status Report: 125 Games (73-52)

Another week, another winning record for the Braves. After dropping two of three to the lowly Cubs, Atlanta stormed back to pick-up three of four against the defending World Series champion Giants (all by one run). While the Phillies division-lead is still likely untouchable (eight games, pending the PHI-ARI result Thursday night), the series victory over San Fran extended Atlanta's Wild Card lead to an encouraging six games.

Pitching was the story of the past week. Tommy Hanson was placed on the DL earlier in the week, needing more time to rest from his right shoulder tendonitis. He was slated to return next Tuesday, but it was announced that he would miss that start was well. Fortunately, Frank Wren made sure the Braves retained the 'Big 4,' so it was easy enough to call-up Randall Delgado for a spot start. All Delgado did was take a no-hitter into the 7th. Mike Minor, who put up a 6IP/0R/9K line on Thursday, will likely remain with Atlanta to make Hanson's start on Tuesday. Despite the rough patches the starting rotation has hit after the break, there are plenty of young arms to fill-in when necessary.

Following the Giants series, Atlanta begins another match-up with Wild Card implications as they face the Diamondbacks for three games beginning Friday. The team then heads out to Chicago for a four game re-match with the Zambrano-less Cubs. I will be making the trip out to the Windy City for the last two games of that series, so while I won't be posting a Braves Status Report next week, I should have a number of game pictures for your viewing pleasure. Now for this week's 'Cheers' and 'Jeers'....

Monday, August 15, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 8/16/11

This week's Empire State Braves update includes promotions, options and quality starts. As long as the rain holds off, I will be at Syracuse for the first two games of their series against Gwinnett Tuesday and Wednesday, so I may be able to see one of the Empire Staters in action. Here's how the group performed over the past week (8/9-8/15)....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (MLB - Atlanta/Triple A - Gwinnett)
It was a busy week for Varvaro, who saw time in four games for two different teams. With Scott Linebrink being activated from the DL for Atlanta on Sunday, Varvaro was optioned back to Gwinnett where he picked up the loss in his first game back with the team. He performed as expected for Atlanta, putting up huge strikeout numbers, worrisome walk rates and an impressive .206 BAA. He has a live arm and could realistically be brought up to Atlanta when rosters expand in September.

This Week (MiLB): 1 G (0-1), 1.2 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 1 K, 2 BB
This Week (MLB): 3 G (0-0), 2 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 2 HR, 3 K, 0 BB
Season (MiLB): 34 G (2-7), 1 SV, 53.1 IP, 3.10 ERA, 60 K, 32 BB
Season (MLB): 7 G (0-0), 9 IP, 3.00 ERA, 16 K, 6 BB

Chris Cody, RHP (Double A - Mississippi)
Cody made his second start of his Braves career this past week, with nothing too noteworthy to report.  His .333 BAA in two starts this season is high, despite solid enough peripheral stats, but I guess it's better to see him around the zone too often at this point than having issues with command.

This Week: 1 G (0-0), 5 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 2 K, 2 BB
Season 2 G (1-0), 11 IP, 4.09 ERA, 7 K, 2 BB

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Braves Status Report: 118 Games (69-49)

The Braves reversed their past couple weeks' performance over the last six games, going 5-1 in the two series against the Mets and the Marlins. While Atlanta performed well, they weren't able to make up any ground on the Phillies, who lead the NL East by eight and a half games going into Friday. Even though the division race doesn't look appealing, the successful week did help the team push their Wild Card lead out to five games over the Giants and still own the majors' fourth-best record.

While the team's pitching has propped up the offense nearly the entire season, roles were reversed this past week. Atlanta pitchers were tagged for an uncharacteristic 4.5 R/G (4.42 ERA), but the bats came through with 5.8 R/G and a .291/.363/.419 of the better weeks we've seen all season. The offensive prowess was highlighted by Dan Uggla, who is currently riding a 31 game hitting streak. The month-plus long performance is tied for the longest in Atlanta history and second longest in franchise history. The week also saw the end of Scott Proctor. Despite being a consensus "good guy," he simply no longer has a major-league caliber arm, especially for a potential playoff team. Proctor's release meant Arodys Vizcaino, the last of the 'Big 4' was tapped to begin his tenure with Atlanta. While his debut didn't go as planned (0.2 IP, K, 2 BB, HBP), he immediately improves the 'pen for the remainder of the season.

Atlanta heads back to Turner Field Friday for an extended home stand, beginning a three game series against the Cubs. The team will then take on the defending World Series champion Giants Tuesday for an important four-game match-up. Now for the 'cheers' and 'jeers' for the past week....

Monday, August 8, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 8/9/11

Lots of action this week for the Empire Staters. Anthony Varvaro's still with Atlanta and Chris Cody made his Braves organization debut. Let's see how the group did over the past seven days (8/2-8/8)....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (MLB - Atlanta)
Varvaro has stuck with Atlanta since his call-up in late July, seeing time in two games this past week. While his strong strikeout numbers and command issues continue, he experienced his first bit of real trouble with the major league club Saturday against the Mets at Citi Field. He won't be a late-inning bullpen candidate until he figures how to control his walks, but he's proven to be a useful arm in his limited appearances so far.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 3 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 5 K, 3 BB
Season (MLB): 4 G (0-0), 7 IP, 1.29 ERA, 13 K, 6 BB
Season (MiLB): 33 G (2-6), 1 SV, 50.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 59 K, 30 BB

Chris Cody, LHP (Double A - Mississippi)
Cody made his first start as a Brave and was comfortably effective in his outing. It will be interesting to see how he performs the rest of the season, but with the organization's relative lack of left-handed starting pitching depth in the high minors (outside of Mike Minor), he should certainly have the opportunity to advance going into next season.

This Week: 1 G (1-0), 6 IP, 2 ER, 9 H, 1 HR, 5 K, 0 BB
Season: 1 G (1-0), 6 IP, 0.00 ERA, 5 K, 0 BB

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Braves at Mets: Gameday Photos

I made the trip downstate for Saturday's Braves-Mets game, sitting 14 rows behind the bad guys' dugout. The game obviously didn't go as well as planned as Atlanta dropped the contest 11-7.

It was my seventh Braves game this season. The team is now 4-3 in those games. This was my second game at Citi Field this year, both resulting in losses. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Atlanta's 8-5 in the thirteen games I've been to, but are only 3-5 in away games. They're also 0-3 in the games I've seen Tommy Hanson start. I'm making the trip to Chicago for two games when the Braves visit Wrigley in late August, so hopefully the team has a bit more luck.

Here a few shots I was able to take in between the rain. I apologize for the quality of the first few pictures. I have a new phone, so I'm not sure what happened there.

Venters warming up with Martinez

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Braves Status Report: 112 Games (64-48)

The Braves finished the past week with a stagnant 3-3 record. The team won the series at home against the Marlins and then avoided the sweep at the Nationals with a series finale win on Wednesday. The Phillies have posted six win in a row, putting Atlanta at a nearly-unerasable eight games behind in the division. Going into play Thursday night, they do still hold a 2.5 G lead over Arizona (5.5 over STL) in the Wild Card race, though that margin has diminished significantly over the past two weeks.

The team made a big splash in the trade market this past weekend, picking up Michael Bourn from the Astros. While no move was made to acquire a right-hander to provide help in the 'pen, top-prospect Arodys Vizcaino was recently promoted to Gwinnett and looks to be a likely call-up by September. The team has gone 1-2 with Bourn in the line-up, though no fault to him (he's hit .308 with Atlanta). The team has been hitting the ball (.281 average), but that's been essentially the only way they were able to get on base. They walked just five times (!!!) over the six game span and, outside of Dan Uggla, saw very little power. In fact, the team went without walks from Ross, Gonzo, Prado, Bourn, Freeman, Constanza and Uggla. Martin Prado and Alex Gonzalez had rare slashes of .308/.308/.308 and .261/.261/.261, respectively. With both McCann and Chipper on the shelf, a mediocre pitching performance just isn't quite enough.

The team heads to Queens Friday for a three-game weekend set against the rival Mets. I'll be at Saturday's game, so hopefully I'll catch some decent pictures worth posting on the blog. They then head to Florida Monday for three games before Marlins' 873 fans. So without further ado, here are the 'cheers' and 'jeers' for the past week...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 8/2/11

Lots of news in this week's Empire State Braves Prospects edition! The Atlanta organization added a new Empire Stater in LHP Chris Cody and one 'graduated' (at least temporarily) to the major league Braves in Anthony Varvaro. Here's a review of how the group performed over the past week (7/26-8/1), including a brief bio on Cody.


Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett/MLB - Atlanta)
On July 28th, Varvaro got the call that he undoubtedly has been waiting on for at least the past four months. With Atlanta pitchers seeing plenty of work during the Pittsburgh series, the team optioned Wilkin Ramirez to Gwinnett and brought up Varvaro to serve as the club's thirteenth pitcher. In two appearances with the major league team, he pitched exactly as advertised...extremely unhittable, high strikeout totals and issues with command. Though in just two games, it's already pretty clear he's more effective than Scott Proctor.

This Week (Atlanta): 2 G (0-0), 4 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 8 K, 3 BB
Season (MLB): 2 G (0-0), 4 IP, 0.00 ERA, 8 K, 3 BB
Season (MiLB): 33 G (2-6), 1 SV, 50.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 59 K, 30 BB

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Braves Acquire Lead-Off Hitter Michael Bourn

My Sunday morning sleep-in was interrupted by my girlfriend barging in saying "the Braves got Michael Bourn!" My immediate response was "who did we give up?!" Her: "Schafer, Abreu and two other guys." Me: "Ummm, Delgado or Minor?" Her: "I don't think so?"

So, I get up and see the Braves got Michael Bourn from the Astros for Jordan Schafer, Gwinnett reliever Juan Abreu and two Double A starters in LHP Brett Oberholtzer and RHP Paul Clemens. For what it's worth (and that's probably not a lot), I had Oberholtzer, Clemens and Abreu ranked 8, 9 and 22 in the Atlanta minor league system, respectively. Yes - Atlanta was able to pick-up a Gold Glove/All-Star center fielder without giving up one of their 'Big 4' (or even Hoover or Gilmartin). Now that's not to say Oberholtzer and/or Clemens aren't solid prospects. Both could end up being middle of the rotation type starters and would be one of the top few pitching prospects for any organization outside of Atlanta.

I won't bother going into all the minutia of how great Michael Bourn is for the Braves. You can go here, here and here for that. But I'll leave you with these few nuggets: with Schafer now gone, Bourn has more steals than all Braves combined (39 vs. 27); Bourn's 2011 OBA is nearly 60 points higher than Atlanta lead-off hitters this season (.363 vs. .306); Bourn has 17 more hits than any Brave (130 vs. Freeman's 113); his dWAR is already 1.1, higher than any Brave (Gonzalez 1.0). Be happy Braves fans, be happy.

Welcome to Atlanta, Mr. Bourn!

EDIT: Bourn also comes with a bit of an Upstate, NY connection. He began his professional career in the Philadelphia system, playing Short Season Class A ball with the Batavia Muckdogs in 2003. He hit .280/.404/.296 with 23 steals in 35 games.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Braves Status Report: 106 Games (61-45)

With Thursday's loss to the Pirates, the Braves finished with a losing week, going 3-4 over the seven game span (CIN 1-2, PIT 2-2). The offense went from bad to anemic, managing just 2.86 R/G. Even that number is better than it looks as the team effectively played more than eight games inning-wise, with Tuesday's 19 inning affair. If your home run production is down and you're not hitting with runners in scoring position, it's kind of tough to score. Atlanta has now been treading water since the All-Star break, going 8-9 over their past seventeen games. Fortunately, the Phillies had a rougher than usual week, so the Braves still sit five games back in the NL East. The week did cause the team to lose some ground in the Wild Card race, though. They're three and a half games above the Diamondbacks with about two months to play.

While Tuesday's game was already tough enough, the night also saw All-Star catcher Brian McCann go down with an oblique strain. He was immediately placed on the DL, pushing David Ross into the starting role. Ross is easily the best back-up catcher in baseball, and would be the starter on a number of teams, but the loss of McCann certainly leaves a void in the Atlanta line-up. That leads to our next subject, more trade talk...

This past week saw Carlos Beltran dealt to the Giants, Colby Rasmus dealt to the Blue Jays and Jonny Gomes dealt to the Nationals. Rumors continue to swirl around a possible Hunter Pence deal with the Astros and talk about a move to acquire Carlos Quentin from the White Sox. Those might be better bats, when speaking generically, but don't necessarily fit into the specific situational needs for the Braves. I'd still prefer Wren to make a move for a high-ish OBA/plus defense type center fielder. Michael Bourn, BJ Upton and even Coco Crisp would work for me. Houston will be asking too much for Pence (and he'll cost A LOT over the next year or two) and Quentin leaves Schafer/McLouth in CF. They would help if Chipper's quad injury ends up being more than just day-to-day, but that could be a very expensive assumption to make. It would also be help to add a late-inning right-hander. If something is going to happen, we'll know about it soon. The trade deadline is Sunday at 4pm.

The Marlins visit Turner Field Friday to begin a three game series in Atlanta. From there, the Braves will make the trip up to the nation's capital to face the Nationals for another three game set. Here are this week's 'cheers' and 'jeers'....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 7/26/11

Here are your Empire Staters for this past week (7/19-7/25)...

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Another week, another couple effective outings for Varvaro. He's part of a solid relief core at Gwinnett, going along with Jairo Asencio, Juan Abreu and Jaye Chapman. All of Varvaro's season stats look great expect for the walk rate (5.3 BB/9) and even that's mitigated a bit by the high strikeout rate. Could he really be any worse than Scott Proctor?

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 2.2 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 HR, 2 K, 0 BB
Season: 33 G (2-6), 50.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 59 K, 30 BB

Cory Brownsten, C (Low A - Rome)
Brownsten remains on the DL with the fractured right thumb he suffered on July 16th. When he returns, he'll be stuck behind the reigning South Atlantic League Player of the Week Evan Gattis at the catcher's spot.

This Week: DL
Season (Rome and Lynchburg): 13 G, .163/.234/.209, 0 HR, 0 RBI

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Braves Status Report: 99 Games (58-41)

With Atlanta's victory over Colorado on Thursday, the team cliched a winning week, going 4-3 over the past seven games. The three losses allowed the Phillies to add to their division lead as the Braves now sit four games back. But the team's still on pace for nearly 95 wins and do own a 5.5 game lead in the Wild Card race.

While the week featured games against the Nationals and Rockies, you just could not escape all the trades rumors swirling around television analysts, bloggers, twitters, etc. First it was that the Braves were moments away from announcing a 3-1 deal for Hunter Pence, then it was likely that Atlanta would be acquiring Jonny Gomes from Cincinnati. Most recently, talk heated up that the Braves were close to bringing Carlos Beltran on board for a package that included Mike Minor. With only a week and a half left before the standard trade deadline on July 31, the 'sellers' are understandably holding out for the best deal. Although Atlanta does have the chips to make a blockbuster change, I still think a move for a 4th OF/bench-type right-handed bat and/or a right-handed late inning reliever is most likely. The team does have the fourth best record in baseball while still battling injuries (Chipper has yet to begin his post-knee surgery rehab assignment).

The Braves continue their twenty games in twenty days stretch as they make a trip to the launching pad that is the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Atlanta will play three games against the Reds before heading back home for a four game tilt with the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates at Turner Field. Here are this past week's 'cheers' and 'jeers' (7 games)....


Freddie Freeman - Boy does Freeman enjoy playing against the Rockies. After lighting up Colorado at Turner Field earlier this month, he again teed off on the team's pitching this past week. That performance helped lead to a 10-30, 3 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI week. It's quite sobering when you remember this guy is a twenty-one year old rookie hitting clean-up for one of the best teams in baseball.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 7/19/11

All four current Empire Staters saw action, while a former Empire Stater made his major league debut this week. Let's see how the current crop performed over the past seven days (7/12-7/18)...

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Varvaro again saw action in two games over the past week. But instead of throwing just an inning plus per appearance, he stayed in for multiple innings each game. As Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez realize their need for RHP help out of the pen, perhaps Varavro's auditioning his flexibility as a last-resort internal option? If he could someone manage his walks, he might have a slight chance.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 5 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 1 HR, 5 K, 3 BB
Season: 31 G (2-6), 1 SV, 48 IP, 2.63 ERA, 57 K, 30 BB

Cory Brownsten, C (Low A - Rome)
Brownsten made his obligatory two starts this week, going hitless in four AB. Unfortunately, that wasn't the worst of it. The Lockport, NY native fractured his right thumb during play on Saturday. That injury earned him a trip to the 7-day DL, effective July 18th. This is Brownsten's second DL stint this season, having missed nearly two months with an oblique strain earlier in the year.

This Week: 2 G, 0-4, 2 BB, 1 SB
Season (Rome and Lynchburg): 13 G, .163/.234/.209, 0 HR, 0 RBI

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Braves Status Report - All-Star Edition: 92 Games (54-38)

This week's Status Report post is an abbreviated one with the All-Star break having limited the Braves to just one series. Atlanta dropped that three-game set at Philadelphia one game to two. The good news was Brandon Beachy and Tommy Hanson went toe-to-toe with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, respectively. The bad news was that the Braves wasted a chance to pick up ground on the division-leading Phillies by getting blitzed 14-1 on Sunday. Spirits picked up Tuesday as the National League topped the American League 5-1 in the All-Star game, earning the senior circuit home field advantage in the World Series. Brian McCann started behind the plate and Jair Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel, and Jonny Venters made back-to-back-to-back appearances for a combined  2.2 scoreless innings.

All in all, the first half was extremely successful. The Braves went 54-38 and own the fourth-best record in baseball. While they're in second place in their division, they do have a relatively comfortable five game lead in the Wild Care race. All that was done with one of the league's worst-performing offenses and varying injures to a number of Atlanta's starters.

Heading into the final two and a half months of the regular season, the question is whether or not Frank Wren will make a move to improve the team. If so, will he make a big splash in the trade market or will he go the more modest route in hopes that a small tweak will make the difference needed to transform the Braves into a serious World Series-caliber team? A number of the 'Braves Reads' on the left side of this post provide details on specific potential trade targets, but it's clear the team has two main needs. One, a right-handed bat. Whether that's a starting CF type or a fourth outfielder to replace Schafer or McLouth will be dictated by the market. Two, a right-handed set-up type reliever. This RHP would ideally relieve some 7th/8th inning appearances from O'Flaherty and Venters. The news of Kris Medlen's set-back likely increases this already pressing need. A secondary concern would be some sort of back-up/utility infielder. Right now the team is shuffling between Julio Lugo, Brandon Hicks and Diory Hernandez. There's definitely room for improvement there.

Atlanta begins the second half with a three-game home series against the Nationals on Friday, then makes the trip out to Colorado on Monday to start a four-game match-up. While the Braves front office makes and fields potential trade calls over the next few weeks, here are the 'cheers' and 'jeers' from the series against the Phillies...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mid-Season Awards

As promised, here are my mid-season picks for the three main awards in each league - Most Valuable Player, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year.  I listed my choice for each award, followed by the 'Next 5.' As you might notice, the Next 5 are conveniently listed in alphabetical order instead of ranked order. Let me know who I left out or who I included that's not deserving....

AL MVP: Jose Bautista (TOR) - There are a lot of players having great seasons in the AL this year, but Bautista has been mind-boggling. The guy's a dangerous power hitter (leads the planet with 31 HR) but is still a near-impossible out with a .468 OBA. His 74 walks (against just 54 K) shows a patience at the plate not often seen with such sluggers. His current 1.170 OPS (217 OPS+) would be a monster month for even All-Star type players. He also provides some defensive versatility, having recently moved from RF to 3B.

Next 5 - Miguel Cabrera (DET), Adrian Gonzalez (BOS), Curtis Granderson (NYY), Paul Konerko (CHW), Kevin Youkilis (BOS)

NL MVP: Matt Kemp (LAD) - Kemp has recovered from a disappointing 2010 campaign to lead the way for the Dodgers in 2011. His .313/.398/.584, 22 HR, 68 RBI first-half has been about as quiet of a performance at that level as possible. Jose Reyes might be the trendy pick here (at least pre-injury), but even Kemp's speed/base running have been impressive. His 27 SB (against 3 CS - 90% success rate) compare favorably to Reyes' 30 SB/6 CS.

Next 5 - Lance Berkman (STL), Ryan Braun (MIL), Prince Fielder (MIL), Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Jose Reyes (NYM)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pre-Season Prediction Review

Less than 24 hours before the 2011 season began, I offered my predictions for how the upcoming year would play out across the major leagues. Since I'm sure everyone reading this readily recalls those offerings (Anyone? Bueller?), I thought it worthwhile to revisit that post to see how I'm doing.

Correct:  Giants leading the NL West, Brewers leading the NL Central (tied with STL), Rangers leading the AL West, Red Sox leading the AL East
Incorrect:  Braves leading the NL East (2nd place, 3.5 G back, WC lead), Phillies leading the Wild Card (leading NL East), Rays leading the Wild Card (5 G back), Tigers leading the AL Central (4th place, 6 G back)

NL East:
Atlanta - Prediction: 94-68 / On Pace: 95-67
Philadelphia - Prediction: 92-70 / On Pace: 101-61
Florida - Prediction: 82-80 / On Pace: 77-85
New York - Prediction: 75-87 / On Pace: 82-80
Washington - Prediction: 72-90 / On Pace: 81-81

AL MVP:  Evan Longoria isn't even on the MVP radar. At .239/.321/.456 with 11 HR and 42 RBI, his numbers are well below what most people (including myself) were expecting. His season has been limited to 61 games to due injury, but even a big second half will leave him well behind a number of players.

NL MVP:  At .268/.337/.488 with 17 HR and 57 RBI, my Troy Tulowitzki pick certainly looks better than my Longoria selection, but Tulo's also behind a stocked NL MVP candidate group. A production-charged second half (as Rockies are known for) could have him picking up some votes come the end of the season, but it's a pretty safe bet he'll be beat out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 7/12/11

As the parent club heads into its mid-season All-Star break, here's how the Empire Staters performed over the past week (7/5-7/11)....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Two more appearances for Varvaro this past week, which has been about par for the course. He did manage to pick up just his second win of the season, working to balance out a misleading 2-6 record. Varvaro continues to be one of the most called upon arms in the Gwinnett 'pen.

This Week: 2 G (1-0), 3 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 2 K, 2 BB
Season: 29 G (2-6), 1 SV, 43.0 IP, 2.72 ERA, 52 K, 27 BB

Cory Brownsten, C (Low A - Rome)
It looks like Brownsten has been only getting the start every fourth or fifth game since his return from the DL a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, he's not doing much with the infrequent opportunities he's given. This past week was no different.

This Week: 1 G, 0-3
Season (Rome and Lynchburg): 11 G, .179/.220/.231, 0 HR, 0 RBI

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Braves Status Report: 89 Games (53-36)

Well, that was a fun week! The Braves used a four-game sweep of the Rockies to finish off a 6-1 week and were a Scott Proctorization away from a perfect 7-0. The team finally made up some ground on the Phillies, now sitting 2.5 games behind the division leader. They make the trek up to the City of Brotherly Love to begin an exciting three-game series at Citizens Bank Park. If you don't enjoy math, I'll do it for you: an Atlanta sweep would mean the Braves head into the All-Star break with the NL East lead.

The past seven games represent the best of the Braves. The pitching staff excelled, surrendering less than two and a half runs per game. We also began to see glimpses of what this team's offense is capable of. A .281 AVG with 5.3 R/G is what Atlanta fans have been waiting for. While it's unrealistic to expect both the pitching and offense to continue to perform as well as they did over the past seven games, it's nice to see what the team can do when they're firing on all cylinders.

The other big news from the week was this past Sunday's All-Star selections. Brian McCann was indeed selected as the National League's starting catcher. No brainer. Jair Jurrjens was selected and is neck-and-neck with Roy Halladay to be named the NL's starter. Jonny Venters was picked in just his second major league season, defeating the 'set-up man' monicker. Chipper Jones was a bit of a surprise selection, but he's having a solid enough season and probably got some legacy votes from the players. The two clear snubs were/are Tommy Hanson and Craig Kimbrel. Hanson is among league leaders in nearly every major pitching category and is likely a top-five Cy Young candidate. Kimbrel has put up some insanely jaw-dropping numbers and is battling with Venters for the 'best reliever in the NL' title. Either or both may still get in if current All-Stars can't/don't play, but the fact that the best pitching staff in baseball only had two pitchers selected really leaves me dumbfounded.

Ok, on to the 'cheers' and jeers' for the past week (7 games)...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 7/5/11

A lot of playing time for the Empire Staters this past week. Looking at the picture below, you may notice (well, I guess if you read this series often enough) that there are now only four players listed. Brendan Rowland had been listed, but I haven't been able to confirm that he's still with the Atlanta organization. He's not listed on the Gulf Coast League team roster, nor is he listed with the team on his Baseball Reference page. I will add him back if I'm able to find that he is indeed with the team, but for now he's out.

On to the highlights over the past week (6/28-7/4)...


Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Varvaro's impressive month continued through this past week. In two games, he threw two scoreless innings while surrendering two hits. He struck out four against two walks. Over the past month (10 G, 12.2 IP), the Staten Island native has a 2.13 ERA and 20 K. While he's behind a number of quality bullpen arms in the Atlanta system, he might make a useful add-in when the Braves consider trade options over the next month.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 2 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 4 K, 2 BB
Season: 27 G (1-6), 1 SV, 40.0 IP, 2.70 ERA, 50 K, 25 BB

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Braves Status Report: 82 Games (47-35)

Any week where you can defeat Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez in consecutive games is something to be pleased with. Atlanta's sweep of the Mariners in Seattle gave the team a 4-2 week, after starting off by dropping two of three at San Diego. Despite the winning road trip and the major's fourth best record (PHI, NYY, BOS), the Braves find themselves exactly where they started one week ago: four games behind the Phillies. Their performance did give them a three game Wild Card lead entering play on Thursday, however.

While the past week saw some commendable starting pitching performance by Braves hurlers, the Atlanta offense continued to struggle (.209/.286/.342). Some timely home runs allowed for a 4.3 R/G average, but it's tough for the team to be consistently successful when hitters are getting on base in well less than a third of their plate appearances. As the calendar turns to July, the trade talk will begin to heat up even more (if that's possible). The Braves are likely to be looking for an OBP-minded outfielder, an infield bench option and possibly a dependable right-handed reliever. With a stocked minor league system, Frank Wren & Co. certainly have the chips to make some notable improvements, if desired.

Despite the challenges, the team sits at an impressive twelve games above .500. They begin a three-game series against the Orioles in Atlanta on Friday, immediately followed by a four-game battle with the Rockies. Here are the individual 'Cheers' and 'Jeers' over the past week...


Brian McCann - The 27-year-old catcher finished his impressive June on a torrid pace, collecting nine hits in twenty-one at-bats. The week also included one homer, four RBI and four runs. Fredi Gonzalez has moved McCann into the three-hole as Chipper's now often hitting clean-up. Perhaps the only thing that kept McCann from driving in more runs was Jordan Schafer's inability to consistently get on base. Baring the world ending before then, he will be named as a starter in next month's All-Star game this weekend.

Freddie Freeman - After a myriad of strikeouts over the past couple weeks, the rookie first baseman put up some impressive numbers at the plate over the past two series. His 7-22, 1.011 OPS performance included two HR and a team-high seven RBI. Perhaps most notably, Freeman struck out just twice. Outside of his strikeout total, my NL ROY pick put up a solid .287/.330/.487 slash with four HR and seventeen RBI over twenty-four games in June.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Braves All-Star Selection Predictions

With less than 36 hours before fan voting for the 2011 All-Star game closes and only a few days before the player Selection Show on Sunday, I decided to take a look at the Braves chances for All-Star nods. The percentages listed after each player are my prediction/guess/shot-in-the-dark on how likely it is the respective player makes the team, not necessarily how deserving I believe they are.

Brian McCann (100%) - Not much is needed to explain here. McCann leads catchers is nearly every relevant offensive category and has been on an absolute tear in the month of June. After Buster Posey's injury earlier this year, McCann's fan vote total has been growing, nearly assuring him the starting spot.

Jair Jurrjens (90%) - There are pitchers with much better peripheral and advanced stats across the league, but I think it will be extremely difficult to leave the league-leader in ERA (2.07) and wins (tied with 10) off the All-Star staff.

Tommy Hanson (75%) - Tommy's a bit of a difficult read as it's tough to tell exactly how he's perceived around the league. What's clear is that the numbers are certainly there. Entering today, he's 4th in ERA, T-4th in wins, 6th in WHIP and 9th in strikeouts. Hanson struggled a bit in his first couple starts of the season and doesn't (yet) carry the name recognition of a Halladay or a Lee, so I wouldn't be completely shocked if he didn't make it (though a bit surprised). Much of his chances may lie with what the 'one All-Star' teams' position options are. and how many other Braves make the team.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 6/28/11

Lots to report in this this edition of the Empire State Braves prospects blog entry. This covers two weeks (6/14-6/27) as I was busy with a little trip last week and wasn't able to post an update. One item, not included below, is that as of today, 2011 draftee Kevin McKague (West Point) has not signed with Atlanta. On to the action...


Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Varvaro's regular use for Gwinnett continues, as he saw time in five games over the past two weeks. I said it before, but I'll say it again: Varvaro is quietly putting together a solid season for Gwinnett. He owns an impressive 10.9 K/9 rate and is slowly but surely improving his walk rate (5.4 per 9, 2.0 K/BB). Varvaro's likely behind Cory Gearrin and Jairo Asencio (although, who knows about Asencio now) on the potential Atlanta RHP reliever depth chart, but he is on the 40-man roster, so I think there's a chance we see him in Atlanta if the team still needs right-handed help in the 'pen.

Past Two Weeks: 5 G (0-0), 7.1 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 12 K, 2 BB
Season: 25 G (1-6), 1 SV, 38 IP, 2.84 ERA, 46 K, 23 BB

Cory Brownsten, C (High A - Lynchburg/Low A - Rome)
After seeing time in just his second game for the Hillcats since returning from his two-month stint on the DL, Brownsten was dropped down to Rome on June 22nd when top-prospect Christian Bethancourt was promoted to Lynchburg. I'm sure it's never preferred to be 'demoted,' but at least it has allowed Brownsten to get some more playing time as he's already made two starts at catcher since arriving in Rome.

Past Two Weeks (Rome and Lynchburg): 3 G, 4-12, 1 R
Season: (Rome and Lynchburg): 7 G, .241/.267/.310, 0 HR, 0 RBI

Friday, June 24, 2011

Braves Status Report: 76 Games (43-33)

After starting out by dropping two games to the Rangers, Atlanta finished up a solid week with four consecutive wins, including an impressive sweep of the Blue Jays. That 4-2 performance helped the Braves gain some ground on Philadelphia in the NL East, as they now sit four games behind the division-leading Phillies. The six games were fairly representative of the team's overall season. Outside of 8 home runs, the offensive continued to struggle, tallying less than 3.7 runs per game. Fortunately, the pitching staff was up to the task. Braves hurlers allowed just 2.5 R/G over the past week, while allowing a total of just 2 runs against Toronto during their most-recent three-game series.

The week also included some notable personnel moves. Randall Delgado made the spot start in place of Tommy Hanson. While his line wasn't anything exciting (4 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 7 H, 2 K, 2 BB), he certainly looked poised out on the mound. Hanson is scheduled to return from the DL for his scheduled start next week. Brandon Beachy returned from the DL with a great performance on Wednesday. Diory Hernandez was sent back down to Gwinnett as veteran SS Julio Lugo was brought up to Atlanta. Nate McLouth was also activated from the DL this past week, which resulted in Joe Mather being placed on waivers (the team decided to keep Wilkin Ramirez on the roster). Mather has since cleared waivers, but opted for free agency instead of an assignment to Gwinnett. This would suggest that Jordan Schafer will remain with the team upon Martin Prado's eventual return from the DL. Schafer over Mather removes some defensive flexibility and means another LHB, but Mather was flat out not contributing to this team.

The Braves begin a three-game series Friday night in San Diego before making the trip north to Seattle for a three-game interleague tilt to finish out the month of June. Here are the team's 'cheers' and 'jeers' over the past week...


Tim Hudson - It really doesn't get much better than Huddy's start on Monday to open up the Toronto series. On the mound, the veteran was near dominant in picking up the win with a 8+ IP, 0 R, 2 H, 8 K, 1 BB line. When the offense failed to provide him any support (including a missed squeeze sign by Diory Hernandez), Hudson took matters into his own hands in the 7th inning with a two-run no-doubter over the left field fence. The night also included the RHP's 1,600th career strikeout. Not bad for a ground ball pitcher!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Braves vs. Blue Jays Series: Gameday Photos

What a great trip! The Braves rewarded me for my mini-vacation to Atlanta with a series sweep of Toronto. The three-game series included a dominant Tim Hudson outing (home run included), two Brian McCann HR, a Dan Uggla HR, a Brooks Conrad HR and two appearances by both Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. And because it ended up not make a difference, I didn't mind seeing Jose Bautista's major league-leading 22nd home run. But perhaps most importantly, I was lucky enough to meet the infamous Chip Caray, haha!

With this series, I've now been to 23 Braves games. The team's a solid 15-8 in those contests, 5-0 at Turner Field and 7-8 on the road. They're 4-2 in the games I've been to this season. I'm going to 2 games in Chicago in August and maybe another one or two at Citi Field towards the end of the season. Hopefully they can keep up their success!

As promised, here are a handful of the way too many pictures I took over the past few days. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Braves Status Report: 70 Games (39-31)

Wow. The week started off great with three wins in a row against the Astros in Houston (that seems like years ago already), shifted towards an awful week with a series-ending loss against the 'Stros and two losses against the Mets in Atlanta and ended on a high, confusing, crazy, fill-in-the-blank note with the 10 inning walk-off balk (yes, you ready that correctly) on Thursday. That roller coaster performance gave the Braves a 4-3 week. The week's seven games included both tremendous and poor pitching, both solid and abysmal hitting and inconsistent defense. The team had plenty of power (11 12 HR in 7 games) but still struggled to score consistently.

The week saw much news on the injury front, as well. Jason Heyward returned from the DL, while Brandon Beachy and Nate McLouth started rehab assignments at Gwinnett. Martin Prado was placed on the DL with a staph infection and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks. Freddie Freeman tweaked an oblique and missed a couple games before returning on Thursday. Tommy Hanson's suffering from tendonitis in his right shoulder and will miss his next start. Chipper Jones was also pulled late in Thursday's game after straining his adductor muscle. What's an adductor muscle, you ask? Look it up here, I certainly had to. I'm just ready for the team to be healthy again.

The Phillies simply continue to win, now sitting 5 games in front the Braves in the NL East. Atlanta dives into interleague play on Friday with back-to-back three-game series against the Rangers and Blue Jays, respectively. I'm heading down to Atlanta on Monday and will be there for the entire Toronto series, so I hope to have plenty of gameday photos for everyone's viewing pleasure. In the interim, here are the 'cheers' and 'jeers' over the past week (7 games)...


Tommy Hanson - The big right-hander continues to put together a stellar season. In his one start this past week, Hanson struck out 14 Astros, the highest total by a pitcher in a Braves uniform since John Smoltz tallied 15 in 2005. And the rest of his line that night was just as impressive. 7 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 2 BB and the win. At 8-4 with a 2.48 ERA on the season, Hanson's looking more and more likely to earn his first ever All-Star nod. As mentioned, Hanson will be held back from his scheduled start on Friday, due to right shoulder tendonitis (super-prospect Randall Delgado will start in his place). Hopefully it's just a one-start issue.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 6/14/11 (Draft Edition)

The MLB Draft played out this past week as each major league team looked for their next superstar. The draft saw 44 players with New York State high school or college connections chosen, including St. John's University product Joe Panik by the San Francisco Giants with the 29th overall pick. For a while it looked like the Braves would go New Yorker-less, but with their last pick in the 50th round, Atlanta selected Kevin McKague out of the United State Military Academy at West Point. The 6'5", 230lb McKague proved to be the last player with direct Empire State connections chosen in the 2011 draft.

Kevin McKague, a senior, served as both a right-handed closer and first baseman for Army. His 2011 season was derailed after just 12 games (3 pitching appearances) due to a back injury. Prior to that setback, he was actually a upper-round prospect. McKague features a mid-90s fastball with an above-average slider, sitting second on Army's all-time saves list. He also put up some strong numbers with the bat, posting 19 HR, 138 RBI and 39 doubles. Tim Hudson, anyone? McKague hasn't yet graduated and may play for Army again in 2012 after officially red-shirting following his injury this spring. Between that, and his military commitment, it will be interesting to see what happens with Kevin McKague and the Atlanta Braves.

Here's how the current Empire State Braves performed over the past week (6/7-6/13)...

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Varvaro experienced a small hiccup this past week, snapping his consecutive scoreless innings streak. He came in for the bottom of the 9th inning of a 0-0 game on Saturday and picked up the walk-off loss on three consecutive singles. Besides that game, Varvaro continues to see plenty of work. Along with Juan Abreu, he has thrown the most innings in relief for the Gwinnett staff this season.

This Week: 2 G (0-1), 1.1 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 2 K, 2 BB
Season: 20 G (1-6), 1 SV, 30.2 IP, 2.93 ERA, 34 K, 21 BB

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Braves Status Report: 63 Games (35-28)

Well, the Braves' first sweep of the Marlins in Florida since 1995 really made the series loss to the Mets a bit easier to swallow. The trifecta of one-run wins against the Marlins allowed Atlanta to finish the past week 4-2, shifting up into 2nd place behind the Phillies in the NL East. Philadelphia's 2.5 G ahead of the Braves, pending the result of Thursday night's game. But despite the relatively successful week, the team's same issue remains. Their 3.76 R/G this season is 4th worst in the league, but their MLB-leading 2.98 ERA (3.27 RA/G) has usually been effective enough to cover for the offense's deficiencies. An improved offense will be key in moving this team from above-average to a serious playoff contender.

While the Braves wait for Brandon Beachy, Nate McLouth and Jason Heyward to return from the DL over the next few weeks, Martin Prado's now day-to-day after a plunk to the knee on a stolen base attempt and Tim Hudson's recent struggles suggest he may still be battling back issues (though he says he's fine). Now even more pressure will be placed on the pitching staff's collective shoulders.

The team heads to Houston to begin a rare Friday-Monday 4-game series with the Astros tomorrow before returning home to face the Mets for 3 games on Tuesday. Houston and New York boast a combined .469 winning percentage, so it would be nice to see the Braves snag 4 or 5 wins. But now for the "cheers' and "jeers" from the past week (6 games). A lot more of the latter, unfortunately, despite the 4-2 record.


Derek Lowe - Derek's week included two starts (both no decisions) with a combined 12.2 IP, 3 ER, 9 H, 6 K, 3 BB line. Most notably, the veteran took a no-hitter into the 7th inning for the second time this season Wednesday night against the Marlins in Florida. When Lowe's sinker is working and he's keeping his other pitches down, he's extremely unhittable. I don't think he'll have top of the line stuff through the rest of the season (like he did the first 6 weeks of the year), but I'm confident he'll continue with more productive starts than not through October.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 6/7/11

As the 2011 Amateur Draft kicks off, the Braves picked a Californian from Florida State in Sean Gilmartin with their first round selection. Atlanta will make a couple dozen more picks over the next few days, so, for the sake of more content in these posts (that's not at all selfish, right?), let's hope to see some New Yorkers! In the meantime, there were a handful of notable developments with Atlanta's current crop of Empire State prospects. So let's take a look at the highlights over the past week (5/31-6/6)....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
The Staten Island-native continues to quietly put together an impressive season. After two more scoreless appearances this past week, Varvaro is now up to 9 consecutive innings without surrendering a run, a streak running his past 5 games. In fact, he hasn't even allowed a hit over his past 7 innings (4 games). His walk rate is really the only thing keeping him from being a solid major league-level reliever.

This Week: 2 G (1-0), 5 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 6 K, 3 BB
Season: 18 G (1-5), 1 SV, 29.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 32 K, 19 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP, (Low A - Rome)
The good news for Jurik: he was given another start this past Wednesday. The bad news for Jurik: he had his first real poor outing this season. He issued 4 walks in the start, a problem we haven't seen at all from him this season. That ineffective start turned into a trip down to Low A Rome for Dan, although it may not entirely be a demotion. With a starting spot opening up at Rome (see below), perhaps Braves officials would like to see Jurik start on a regular basis. If so, it makes sense to start him at Rome instead of High A Lynchburg, as he's mainly been used out of the bullpen this year. I fully expect him to handle those Low A hitters pretty well, resulting in a move back to High A before the season's over.

This Week: 1 G (0-0), 2.2 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 2K, 4 BB
Season (Rome and Lynchburg): 9 G (0-0), 1 SV, 20.1 IP, 2.66 ERA, 20 K, 10 BB

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Braves at Mets: Gameday Photos

My little trip down to Queens for yesterday's game went well, except for the whole 7th inning thing. That inning was all the Mets needed for their 5-0 victory over Jair Jurrjens and the Braves. As I tweeted earlier today, yesterday's game was the fifth Braves/Mets contest I've seen in Queens (Citi Field and Shea Stadium). Atlanta's 3-2 in those games, but both losses were by way of a 5-0 shutout. Not exactly fun.

I made sure to snap a few pictures, in addition to the ones I posted on twitter, for your viewing pleasure (more after the jump)...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Braves Status Report: 57 Games (31-26)

With a win over the Padres Wednesday night, the Braves salvaged what actually started out as a promising week. Atlanta kicked off the stretch with a series victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field, snagging 2 of 3 games. The Padres were next to visit. If any team has had more offensive struggles than the Braves, it's the Padres. Unfortunately, the Braves dropped the first two match-ups against San Diego, both by one run. Atlanta returned the favor in the series finale. Their 3-3 week managed to keep pace with the Phillies, who entered play on Thursday 3.5 G ahead of Atlanta.

The Braves' managed a meager 3.3 R/G over the past week, again struggling to support the team's solid pitching. While their run totals remained low, Atlanta's .273/.359/.400 slash was actually decent, especially compared to their season averages. So if the team was getting on base, why weren't they scoring? Were they not hitting with runners on? Well, their .294 average (15-51) with RISP suggests that wasn't the reasoning, either. I think the culprit was probably their extra base hits (or relative lack thereof). 16 XBH over the 6 games span (11 doubles and 5 homers) works out to less than 3 per game. Combine that was the team's overall lack of speed and there's your reasoning for the offense continuing to score so few runs.

After an off day on Thursday, the Braves begin a 3-game weekend series against the Mets at Citi Field in New York. I'll be making the 2.5 hour drive down I-87 to Queens for Saturday's contest. I haven't seen the team in person since opening weekend at DC. Following the tilt against the Mets, Atlanta heads down to Florida to kick off a 3 game series on Tuesday. In the meantime, here are the 'cheers' and 'jeers' for the past week (6 games)....


Brian McCann - Heading into last Friday's game at Turner Field against the Reds, McCann's batting average was sitting at .274, the lowest it had been all season. But as the recent series against the Padres finished up, that number now sits at an impressive .309. I guess that's what a 12-20 week will do for you! The 27-year-old catcher's hit parade included 5 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI to go along with 5 R and 3 BB. His .600/.652/1.150 slash over the past two series really shows just how hot his bat has been. With Buster Posey's season done, McCann's likely closing in on his first career All-Star game start after earning the MVP award in last year's contest.

More Posts, More Fun

For those who didn't see me mention it on twitter earlier this week, I've joined up with Joe & Co. over at Chop-N-Change. I'll still be posting my usual articles here at Braves State of Mind, but will now also be writing a couple stories (game recaps, etc.) a week at CNC.

So if you enjoy what you read here, I hope you stop by and check out Chop-N-Change, as well!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 5/31/11

The 2011 Amateur Draft kicks off in exactly one week. While no New Yorkers are projected to go in the first round, there are still a number of potential prospects who are likely to be drafted in later rounds (Nick Tropeano?)..hopefully Atlanta snags a few. But while the Braves put the final touches on their drafts plans, here's how the current Empire State Braves prospects performed over the past week (5/24-5/30)....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
After two scoreless appearances this past week, Varvaro is quietly putting together a pretty effective season out of the Gwinnett bullpen. The righty-reliever has slowly but consistently improved his walk rate this year and if he wasn't behind a number of quality arms in the Atlanta organization, he might be looking at some major league play some time later this season.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 2 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 2 K, 0 BB
Season: 16 G (0-5), 24.1 IP, 3.33 ERA, 26 K, 16 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP (High A - Lynchburg)
The Vestal, NY-native made his first start of the season this past week and made the most of it, surrendering just one run. That run was on a solo homer, the third Jurik has given up this year. Those three long balls happen to be the only runs he's been tagged for this season. Jurik's start was one half of the day's double-header, so it will be interesting to see if it was simply a spot start or if he'll now see some extended time in the Lynchburg rotation.

This Week: 1 G (0-0), 4 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 HR, 2 K, 3 BB
Season (Rome/Lynchburg): 8 G (0-0), 1 SV, 17.2 IP, 1.53 ERA, 18 K, 6 BB

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Braves Status Report: 51 Games (28-23)

With the two-game sweep of the Pirates at Pittsburgh, the Braves managed to go 3-2 over their 5 games during the past week. The pitching staff struggled during inter-league play against the Angels in Los Angeles and the offense had nowhere near the capability of getting the team back in the game when they fell behind early. The offense's .235/.276/.342 line was even below their season average and their HR frequency has dropped off some (3 in 5 games) since the first 6 weeks of the season. Considering the team's 2.4 R/G average, it's impressive they were able to win the majority of their games during that time frame (I feel like I type that a lot).

Despite the relatively successful end to the road trip, the emergence of the injury bug was the big story of the week. In addition to Brandon Beachy suffering an oblique strain earlier this month, Tim Hudson was diagnosed with a stiff back and was held out of his scheduled start on Wednesday. Mike Minor effectively filled in and will also make a spot start on May 31. Jason Heyward was also placed on the DL on Sunday, after the Braves spent much too long testing to see if his shoulder inflammation would heal itself with a day or two off at at time. Hopefully he comes back healthy and proves that the discomfort played a major part of his near-ineffectiveness at the plate so far this season. Jordan Schafer was called-up from Gwinnett to fill his spot, making his first return to Atlanta since May 2009. Nate McLouth also went down on Sunday, suffering an oblique strain while leading off the game against the Angels. Wilkin Ramirez was brought up to take McLouth's place. I liked what the former-Tigers prospect showed in Spring Training and I think he brings a unique skill set to the team, so hopefully makes the most of his time in Atlanta.

The Braves sit 3.5 G behind the Phillies in the NL East and will begin a three-game home series against the Reds on Friday, immediately followed by another three-game series at Turner Field against the Padres (who may actually be more offensively-challenged than the Braves). Now for the 'cheers' and 'jeers' from the past week (5 games)....


Joe Mather - With McLouth and Heyward both on the DL, Mather has certainly made the most out of his playing time. The OF went 7-17 with a double, a homer and 5 RBI. His .412/.44/.647 slash over the past 5 games is about as good as it gets and he almost single-handedly earned the Braves' only win over the Angels. While he's certainly been playing over his head for the past couple weeks, it will be important for him to continue to be productive until Heyward and/or McLouth return.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 5/24/11

Plenty of action by the Braves' Empire State prospects this past week (5/17-5/23). Let's take a look at how they performed....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Varvaro saw playing time in one game this past week, working in the 6th and 7th innings. With Jairo Asencio being called up to Atlanta on 5/19 (and Scott Proctor already being there), Varvaro's role will likely become a bit more important. But Gwinnett relievers haven't had a save opportunity recently yet since the 19th, so it remains to be seen if he'll be tapped for that closer role.

This Week: 1 G (0-0), 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2 K, 0 BB
Season: 14 G (0-5), 1 SV, 22.1 IP, 3.68 ERA, 24 K, 16 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP (High A - Lynchburg)
It looks like Jurik might be earning a bit more playing time, having made two appearances this past week. He gave up just his second run of the season, again on a solo home run to the first batter faced of an outing. High A level hitters have proven to be more of a challenge for him (.286 BAA), but he's still been plenty effective and it would have been difficult to continue the dominance (.067 BAA) he experienced at Rome.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 3.2 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 HR, 3 K, 1 BB
Season (Lynchburg/Rome): 7 G (0-0), 1 SV, 13.2 IP, 1.32 ERA, 16 K, 3 BB

Friday, May 20, 2011

Braves Status Report: 46 Games (25-21)

With the mini-series sweep the Braves suffered at the hands of the Diamondbacks, a week that began with promise ended on a bit of a sour note. Atlanta started the past week going 4-1, including a series win against the Phillies and a two-game sweep of the Astros. But a shaky bullpen and the lack of offensive support resulted in a 4-3 record for the Braves over the past 7 games. Atlanta's now 2.5 G behind the Phillies in the NL East.

The team's making this blog sound like a broken record, as the Braves' starting rotation battled to overcome a mediocre-at-best offense, fan-frustrating decisions by Fredi Gonzalez and a couple bullpen hiccups. Atlanta hitters got on base at a comparatively reasonable rate, but had no ability to convert with runners in scoring position, hitting .140 (8-57) over the 7 game span. During the two series against the the Astros and Dbacks, that number managed to drop even further to .107 (3-28). When those stats are considered, it's actually kind of impressive that the team was able to win the majority of those games.

The other persistent problem has been Fredi Gonzalez. While the offense has had trouble scoring runs, he's certainly not helping. The Braves' first-year manager bunts in nearly every situation conceivable. Now I admit - I was definitely more of a fan of the sac bunt in the past than I am now, but a quick look at this analysis should put those thoughts to rest for any objective fan. Playing devil's advocate, you might argue that it's difficult for the matrix to address specific in-game scenarios (which I can agree with), but for a team with little-to-no speed and an apparent difficulty hitting with runners in scoring position, giving up outs like Fredi does on a regular basis is only exacerbating the issue. In the interests of blog time/space, I won't really dig into Fredi's use of the bullpen, but will leave you with this one stat: Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel are all in the top 12 in the NL in appearances so far this season. Yikes.

As the Braves head off to Anaheim to begin a three-game interleague play series, followed by another brief two-game series at Pittsburgh, here are this past week's cheers and jeers....

Monday, May 16, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 5/17/11

Not many great performances by the Empire Staters over the past week (5/10-5/16). With the 2011 draft coming up in early June, hopefully the Braves add some more New Yorkers for me to track.


Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Each time it looks like Varvaro might snag some closing opportunities, another reliever jumps in. Over the past week, both Scott Proctor and Jairo Asencio finished games for Gwinnett. Varvaro's still being brought in late in games and may sneak in for a save opportunity or two soon with Proctor recently being called up to Atlanta. The Staten Island native would be a decent enough bullpen option for a pitching-deficient major league team, but he's stuck behind an awful lot of quality arms in the Braves organization.

This Week: 2 G (0-1), 3.1 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 5 K, 3 BB
Season: 13 G (0-5), 1 SV, 20.1 IP, 3.98 ERA, 20 22 K, 12 16 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP (High A - Lynchburg)
Jurik only saw action in one game this past week, surrendering his first run of the season (a HR to the first batter he saw). I'm still a bit surprised he hasn't been given at least a few more opportunities so far this season, but maybe the domino-effect caused by Brandon Beachy's trip to the DL in Atlanta and Jacob Thompson's retirement from Gwinnett will shake things up to Jurik's benefit.

This Week: 1 G, (0-0), 1 IP, 1 H, 1 HR, 1 K 0 BB
Season (Rome/Lynchburg): 5 G (0-0), 1 SV, 10 IP, 0.90 ERA, 13 K, 2 BB

Dave Filak, RHP ( Low A - Rome)
After alternating been effective and ineffective starts so far this season, Filak put up some serious duds in his two starts this week. If there's one positive thing to take away, he walked just one batter in his second start. The Upstate, NY product still has plenty of time to turn around his season (he's still just 21-years-old), but you'd like to see a three-year college pitcher take care of Low A hitters a little bit more.

This Week: 2 G (0-2), 7.2 IP, 11 R (10 ER), 10 H, 2 HR, 7 K, 6 BB
Season: 7 G (1-3), 28 IP, 6.75 ERA, 20 K, 22 BB

Cory Brownsten, C (Low A - Rome)
Brownsten's still on the DL and hasn't played since April 17th.

This Week: DNP
Season: 3 G, .182/.250/.273, 0 HR, 0 RBI

Brendan Rowland, C/OF (Gulf Coast League)
Rowland is indeed listed on the GCL Braves' roster, so it looks like he'll have another season to apply his craft with the Braves organization.

Season Has Not Yet Begun

Friday, May 13, 2011

Braves Status Report: 39 Games (21-18)

The Braves were just a handful of outs Thursday from finishing the past week with a massive dud. After completing what was one of the two most impressive series for the Braves this year (the other being the sweep of the Giants) with 2 wins at the Phillies this past weekend, the defense collapsed on Tuesday and the bullpen followed suit on Wednesday. Martin Prado’s grand slam in the 7th inning and Brain McCann’s walk-off single in the 10th on Thursday helped avoid the sweep at the hands of the pesky Nationals. The Braves went 3-3 over the past two series and now sit in 3rd place in the division, 4.5 games behind the Phillies.

After a solid series in Philadelphia, including the major league debut of top-prospect Julio Teheran, the Braves starting pitching regressed a bit against the Nationals (14 ER). The offense followed up a quality previous week with a slip back to mediocrity over the past 2 series. The team hit .243 and struck out an alarming 56 times. That included a 16 K performance by Cliff Lee, 9 K from Cole Hamels and an 11 K outing Thursday by Jordan Zimmerman. Braves hitters had more strikeouts than hits over the past 6 games, with nearly a third of all their outs coming by way of the K.

While the Braves’ set of starters are playing well-enough at this point, the three losses continued to expose the team’s weaknesses. Outside of Eric Hinske and David Ross, the bench options have proven themselves to be a real liability both offensively and defensively. The bullpen has some talented young arms, but the lack of confidence in two or three relievers limits Fredi Gonzalez’s options and is leading to high usage levels among some of the more effective pitchers. There are bullpen options in Gwinnett (and it looks like moves will be made soon) but the Triple A level doesn’t offer much to strengthen the bench. It’s probably a bit early now, but as May becomes June and June becomes July, I assume Frank Wren will be actively scanning the trade market for some quality back-ups.

As the Braves get ready for another weekend series against the Phillies, followed by a two short two game tilts against the Astros and D-Backs, here are the highlights of the past 6 games….

Monday, May 9, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 5/10/11

A number of strong performances over the past week (5/3-5/9) by the Empire Staters...

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
With top-performing prospect Stephen Marek on the DL and headed for Tommy John surgery, it looks like Varvaro may have (at least unofficially) taken over the closer role for Gwinnett. Since the news about Marek came out, Varvaro saw action in the 9th inning of a tie game and then came in for an old-fashioned three inning save a few games later. I may have jinxed him last week when I mentioned his shockingly impressive BAA, as he surrendered nearly twice as many hits over the past week as he previously had all season. Still another solid week for the St. John's University product.

This Week: 2 G (0-1), 1 SV, 3.1 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 4 K, 3 BB
Season: 11 G (0-4), 1 SV, 17 IP, 3.71 ERA, 17 K, 13 BB

Dan Jurik, RHP (High A - Lynchburg)
The 2010 draftee continues to impress in his limited opportunities. Jurik's managed to remain at the same level for an entire week for the first time all season. We shall see if his spot with Lynchburg is still temporary once various DL assignments get cleared up. Either way, he's certainly performed well enough to earn a permanent spot (well, at least until Mississippi comes calling).

This Week: 1 G (0-0), 3.1 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 5 K, 1 BB
Season (Rome/Lynchburg): 4 G (0-0), 1 SV, 9 IP, 0.00 ERA, 12 K, 2 BB

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Giants World Series Trophy Visits Upstate, NY

While this post isn't directly Braves-related (unless you'd like to relive what the team's 2010 season could have been), it remains as an informational post for baseball fans in Upstate, NY and fans of the history of baseball, in general.

Last week, the Giants 2010 World Series trophy visited Upstate, NY, making a stop at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY. Bruno Stadium serves as the home of the Tri-City ValleyCats, the Houston Astros' short-season Single A team. For those unfamiliar with the story, you might be asking yourself why the San Francisco Giants' World Series trophy would be in Upstate, NY.

Well, the visit was prompted after a local newspaper, the Troy Record, reported in-depth on the Giants' historical connections to the area. The Troy Trojans were a major league baseball team that played for four season in the area from 1879-1882. Following multiple years of poor attendance, the National League began negotiations with the Troy franchise to sign away the team (the same conversations were going on with the franchise in Worcester, MA). The history of those conversations remain a bit murky, but the story is that Troy agreed to effectively close the franchise with the understanding that league owners agreed to make Troy an 'honorary member' of the National League. The legality of such a move is still up in the air, as the NL charter said that only teams that did not complete their regular season schedule could be removed. Both Troy and Worcester fully completed their schedule.