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!