Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Off-Season In Upstate, NY

Braves pitchers and catchers report in just a couple weeks and the team opens up their 2011 season against the Nationals in a little more than 2 months. While I'm beginning to see a faint light at the end of the baseball off-season tunnel, Upstate, NY is still looking at 2 more months of winter. With the third snow storm this month hitting the area a few days ago and temperatures recently dipping below zero, baseball still seems like a long way away....

Since the sub-header of this blog mentions the thoughts of a Braves fan, specifically in Upstate, NY, I figured I might as well share some of those views. One thing I've noticed while following a number of ATL/GA/South Braves fans and media outlets on my Braves State of Mind twitter account is that the end of baseball season simply means COLLEGE FOOTBALL. I'm not sure (most of) us in the northeast can truly understand the college football passion in the south..and most other parts of the country, for that matter. I do consider myself a college football fan and have season ticket's to my alma mater's FCS team, but it's not a season that I spend each year desperately waiting for. The closest FBS team is Syracuse and they haven't exactly given fans much to cheer about since the Marvin Harrison, Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney days ended 10 years ago. There are a number of FCS teams in the northeast, but while the quality of play is still solid, it's not as exciting as having 100,000 fans in a stadium each Saturday afternoon.

In thinking about it a few days ago, I realized my sports focus are mainly on two things: baseball (Braves) and college basketball. This is my 5th season as a season ticket holder for UAlbany Great Danes basketball. The team plays in the America East conference with Vermont and Boston University, among others. I think the college basketball season helps me get through the (much too) long Upstate, NY winter as I wait for baseball season..especially on days like this past Thursday when my team destroys a conference-rival by 39 points.

The timing of the two seasons almost work out perfectly, too. For the most part, the Braves regular season runs from April through September. The Danes college basketball season begins in November and pushes into the first few days of March. In good years for my teams, I have almost no sports drop-off. A Braves run into the play-offs eats up enough of October while Great Danes victories past the conference tournament semi-finals keeps me busy into much of March.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that I'm done with the Upstate, NY snow and cold temperatures for this year and can't wait for another Braves season (and I wouldn't mind seeing my Danes go dancing into March Madness in a couple months, either).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Where Has All The Power Gone?

For the past 20 years, Braves baseball has meant solid, if not stellar, starting pitching. Whether it be Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz or Hudson, Hanson and Lowe, Atlanta's starting rotation is more often than not one of the best in the league. With a prospect pipeline that includes Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino, Brandon Beachy, etc, etc., that trend should continue. But while a strong rotation has been the hallmark of the franchise over the past two or three decades, the team's unprecedented division dominance from 1991-2005 also included some bats with power. Comparing those 15 years to the 2006-2010 seasons, we begin to see what's perhaps a notable factor as to why the Braves haven't tasted much divisional success recently.

From 1991-2005, the Braves had big poppers like David Justice, Fred McGriff, Ryan Klesko, Chipper Jones (in his prime) and Andruw Jones to anchor the middle of the order. Over the past 4 or 5 years, as Chipper's power has declined, much of that load has been placed on Brian McCann's shoulders. While Brian is certainly one of the best hitting catchers in the game (as evidenced by his 4 Silver Slugger awards), he's not the type of player who Braves fans can expect hit 30 HR a season. McCann has led the team in homers each of the last 3 seasons without hitting more than 23 (in 2008). A serious power bat would give the Braves a true one-swing walk-off type threat instead of continuing to rely on stringing together 2 or 3 hits in tight late-game situations.