Forty

The Braves have 40 games left in the regular season and only two of the teams they play in those games are over .500.  I like those odds.  The Braves have got to like those odds a lot.  Currently still sitting at 14.5 games in first place in the NL East, it is surely a great schedule of games.

The team has been playing well of late excepting Saturday nights extra inning 1 run loss to the Nationals.  Previous to that, they were winning and winning a lot.  They are still living off the homerun ball and luckily for the team they are getting the long ball from the leadoff spot on down.  Dan Uggla and BJ Upton are still languishing below .200.  The rest of the lineup is performing admirably however and that is keeping the team on the winning side in most of their games.  Uggla recently underwent Lasik eye surgery to improve his vision and it remains to be seen if that helps him or not.  As a team this season, the Braves have hit 137 homeruns….that’s a lot of long ball baseball.

The Braves pitching is still holding up.  The extra inning games are not something they want to make a habit of as they wear on a bullpen and the Braves will need to keep those arms as fresh as possible after an entire regular season for the post season.  Braves starters are working the 3 to close to 4 ERA range at present.  The middle relievers are mostly in the 2 range.  Craig Kimbrel has converted 38 of 41 save opportunities.

The Braves finish up the series with the Nationals today.  A win would give them the season series win.  Coming up this week, it’s the Mets and the Cardinals.  The Cardinals are one of the two teams over .500 that the Braves will face in the next 40 games.  Another sweep of the Cards would just about be ideal.  In just over a month, the post season will be upon us and the Braves may be sitting in one of the best spots they’ve been in years to start.

I am still working on trying to temper my excitement and the counting of the chickens……

Sweep City

sweepAtlanta fans everywhere are wearing their brooms out with all the sweeps the Braves are putting up.  Broom makers everywhere are rejoicing.  Braves fans are as well and even some are starting to think the Braves have this season sewn up.  Given the recent play, it is hard to contain the excitement.

The team swept the Cardinals.  The same Cardinals who were leading the NL Central.  The same Cardinals sports media talking heads only a few short weeks ago were using the words “red hot” and “unbeatable” to describe them.  The Braves made short work of them and what’s more they made it look easy.

Next up, the under .500 Rockies who were swept so badly it was almost sad, almost.  The Braves were hitting home run after home run.   Players were having multi-hit games.  The pitching was simply amazing.  Mile High stadium is known for giving up the long ball, but the Braves were putting on a show, a baseball exhibition really.  In the last game versus the Rockies, the Braves totaled up 14 hits, 3 home runs, and only 3 strikeouts.  They also were 4 for 11 RISP and had a team LOB of just 8.  The strikeout number is the one most promising.  Getting this down is key for the Braves to keep winning, especially close games.  Braves pitching combined for only 2 earned runs, 14 strikeouts and only 9 hits on the game.

The Braves will take on the Phillies this weekend and it presents yet another opportunity for a sweep.  The Phillies are at the weakest they have been in a very long time.  They are 13.5 games back of the Braves in the NL East.  The more room the Braves can put between themselves and the Nats and Phillies the better.  There is no need to rest on the 7 wins in a row.  The Braves should continue to press on working on keeping down the strikeout, RISP and LOB numbers.  These are key for the looming post season and for close games that will require crucial hits to win.

The Braves are exciting.  The 7 wins in a row are exciting.  The sweeps are exciting.  There are about 2 months until the baseball post season begins.  The Braves have about 16 games out of the NL division, the rest of the remaining games are in the NL East.  Outside the division, it is the Cubs, Indians, Cardinals and Padres….games the team should win.  But until the next 2 months are over, I hope I can keep my excitement in check.

Happy To Be Here

This should be the Braves mantra considering how they have been playing the last month.  The team still remains 5 games up in the National League East.  The play over the last month however lends itself to a feeling of being thankful for still being here.

The team has suffered a rash of the infamous 1 run losses.  They are playing very badly on the road at 20-24.  Two in their lineup are batting below .200 and one of them is getting a team high salary that is going to keep increasing over the next 4 years.  The RISP is beyond abysmal.  And the shutouts just keep on coming.  How then are they still in the top spot?

The rest of the NL East with the exception of the Marlins is 6-4 over the last 10 games including the Braves.  This keeps things at the status quo as it were because everyone’s win-loss line is the same over the last 10 games.  The Braves however have lost 3 games in a row.  The latest game against the Phillies was another 1 run loss.  The failure to capitalize on RISP is costing the Braves game after game.

Back to the less than .200 high costing hitter.  BJ Upton is down to a .175.  When he comes to the plate in a game tying or winning situation, there are not many at this point who are holding out hope that he can get the job done.  He has 94 strikeouts and many of them coming in critical situations.  BJ and Dan Uggla are carrying the worst batting averages in the majors.  Uggla has seen a bit of an improvement but not so for BJ.

The Braves have managed to keep their heads above .500 on the season and to keep the team ahead of the other NL East teams including the Nationals who are the team now in 2nd place at 5 games back.  They should be happy to be here and should also be hoping they can stay there and find a way to improve their game.

Kings of K Street

The Braves have shown so far this season that they have plenty of power at the plate.  They are a league leading, not just National League, but the entire league, team in homeruns with 47.  With great power comes great…..strikeout totals.  Thought I was going to say something else didn’t you?

The Braves are second only to the Astros in total strikeouts so far this season.  The Braves have amassed 304 strikeouts as a team.  That’s a lot of bat swings.  Power hitters traditionally strike out more than other hitters because their first instinct is to try and hit the ball every single time out of the park.  Sometimes they do, and that’s why the Braves have so many homeruns, but many times they don’t.

It’s okay to be the kings of K street as long as you win the games.  The Braves have won games where they had a lot of strikeouts.  in the Interleague play so far, it hasn’t been a good thing for them.  Their strikeouts in those games may have been the difference in winning and losing.  And against the Nationals when they lost by small margins having 7 strikeouts from your power hitters had the team shut out.

Patience and power hitters are not two things that naturally fit together.  I don’t think that Uggla and the Upton brothers, three of the highest strikeout totals on the team, are going to all of a sudden grab hold of some patience at the plate.  If they did that too much or too often then their homerun totals would start decreasing as well.  Power hitters are aggressive free swingers.  They can’t let doubt or fear or worry about strikeouts creep in.

Too many times on the last national broadcast of the Braves on television the announcers brought up the Braves strikeout totals.  If the team’s power hitters are smart they aren’t listening to any of these talking heads or reading any negative commentary or maybe even any commentary on the team’s strikeout totals.  As I said, the only time it becomes an issue is when your team loses because of it.  If you’re winning it’s okay to be the kings.

Going Cold

cold baseball

Kind of like the weather here in Montana, the Braves bats have been going cold over the last 6 games.  The team was on a scorching hot streak winning 10 in a row and then the cold front seemed to dip down and engulf them.  Now some old habits have come back to haunt them.

The Braves took on Kansas City on the heels of one of the best starts they’ve ever had.  They won the first game and lost the second in a 1-0 pitching duel.  They then moved on to the Pirates for a 4 game series.  The team was able to get a win on the first night of the series but lost the next three games even getting shut out on Friday night 6-0.  It seemed like someone had dipped the bats into ice cold water.

On closer examination of the box scores, we find a familiar friend has stuck its head back into the game.  The dreaded RISP and team LOB.  This was a real problem for the team last year and contributed to many a loss.  It does not matter if you get men on base if you can’t get them around to home to score runs.  In the past 6 games the Braves have left 38 men on base….yes you read that right….38.  That’s an average of just over 6 per game.  Now let’s examine this, if you have an average of 6 men LOB per game and you’re only losing by 2 or 3 runs or less, guess what getting those 6 men across would have won you the game.

The other thing that has come back to haunt them is the dreaded RISP.  Just as bad as LOB but even a tiny bit worse since the LOB could be left on first base, but RISP are on 2nd or 3rd base.  Those are guys you have to get home to win games.  A total of 35 RISP over the last 6 games.

Granted, they have faced some very good pitching in some of these games.  In the game that they were shut out by the Pirates 6-0, the Braves managed 2 hits zero walks and 7 strikeouts.  That’s some very good pitching and some ice cold bats.  Just like Montana, the Braves need to hope for a nice high pressure system to bring some warmth and hopefully some renewed heat back into those bats!

How Sweep It Is

Here we are 12 games into the 2013 season and the Braves are 11-1.  I still have to hold my hope down a bit and my excitement.  It seems almost too good to be true and as we all know we Braves fans have been burned before.  But it’s just SO exciting!

The Braves are 5-1 at home and 6-0 on the road.  They have a 9 game win streak.  Sweeps have been the order of the day with the latest one coming against the Nationals and their best pitchers.  They have scored 62 runs.  Let me say that again, they have scored 62 runs in 12 games.  Justin Upton leads the National League in homers with 7.  Paul Maholm is tied for 1st in all of the league in pitching….his ERA is ZERO.  The Braves team ERA is 1.82.

The Braves have been mostly stellar through these 12 games.  Julio Tehran did not look so great his last outing, but despite his less than great effort, the Braves still won the game.  The Braves have Maholm, Minor and Medlen in the top 20 of NL pitching stats right now.  Tim Hudson sits right outside at #22.

Unbelievably, Justin Upton is on at #19 tied with Bryce Harper in the batting side of the NL stats.  The team is 8th overall in batting for the entire league with a .334 OBP and a .447 SLG.  The team has put up 20 homers through 12 games.

I really do try not to get too excited.  I’ve been down this rabbit hole before but they just look so good every time I see them play.  Brandon Beachy is rehabbing nicely and is still looking to return before the All-Star Break.  Brian McCann will return soon but Gattis is doing work as the everyday catcher.  You would think this would only make the team that much stronger.

The Braves get Kansas City and Pittsburgh this week and if they keep playing like they have been it could turn out to be a week of sweeps…..and how sweet would that be….

Two Weeks

And here we are again, about 2 weeks before Opening Day.  Once again, the hopes are high.  Once again, the excitement flows.  Once again, we begin the rollercoaster ride that is the Braves.

The Braves had quite a few changes in the off season.  There is for the first time in many Braves fans memories no Chipper Jones playing third base.  Martin Prado is no longer with the team.  There are 2 new brothers in the outfield, the Uptons.  Many things are new, many things remain the same.

The thing that strikes me most is how young the Braves are now.  The oldest player on the Active Roster was born in 1975, Tim Hudson.  He is 38.  Julio Tehran and Christian Bethancourt are the youngest at 21, both were born the same year as my oldest son, 1991.  Most players on the Active Roster were born in the 80s and most of those from 1985-1989.  Making the bulk of the Braves Active Roster in the early to mid 20s.  That’s young and promising.

This is a team that the Braves can work with for several years to come.  A team where the players and fans can count on seeing each other at games for a long time.  Barring injury, there are players who could BE the Braves franchise for the next 10 years or more.

I know the way baseball business works now that players don’t generally stay with teams like Chipper did.  They follow the money.  Things happen.  Teams mind sets change.  Sometimes players get hurt.  But let’s just say that some of these players and the team with them took the Chipper Jones route, we as fans could be rooting for them for a long time.

And so here we are again, almost Opening Day.  Spring is upon us.  Baseball is about to take to the green grass and beautiful sunshine.  Chop with me, chop with me….let’s go Braves…..

And So It Goes

It took me a long time to be able to write about the Braves after the playoff loss.  I understandably fell into a baseball depression and I have to admit I may still have it but the time has come to write about the disaster that was the one game playoff.

The Braves found themselves unable to get out of the position to have to play a one game playoff.  This was of course their first mistake.  Putting all your post season hopes in one basket, win or go home situation is not something the Braves are good at.

Drawing the Cardinals was also unfortunate.  The Cardinals are a team that finds ways to win.  They can win with almost any combination of players as they have demonstrated by winning with a team peopled with subs.

There was of course the call not to be believed.  Many a Braves fan blames the loss of the game on that call.  Many a Braves fan would be mistaken.  The call was ridiculous. It was something I have never seen before and may never see again.  If you look at the call in the “intent” of the rule you can make a case that it was over stepping by quite a bit.  However, it was not the wrong call.  It was just a bad break for the Braves in a game where they could not afford it.  But did it lose the game for them?  Absolutely not.

There was the storyline of the retiring Chipper Jones.  The very heart and soul of the team.  Chipper who had a really bad game committing an extremely costly error in the biggest game of the year.  Adding to other errors committed by one of the most error free defenses in baseball this season.  The fans were crushed to see Chipper Jones career end on this kind of sour note.

The same thing lost this game that lost many, many others during the year.  Leaving multiple runners in scoring position.  The Braves main cause of lost games including this one was RISP.  Plain and simple.  They get runners on base, in scoring position and they cannot move them across home plate.  It’s just that simple.  When you leave as many as 15 or more runners on base during a single game, you are not going to win.  I don’t care what kind of calls are made during the game, RISP will lose you games.  It lost the Braves this game and many others that put them into the position of having to play a 1 game playoff.

It is very disheartening for Braves fans to watch a team that seemingly has the talent to win putting up very good numbers in many categories but still they fall short.  They keep repeating the same mistakes over and over and the team and fans end up right where we are now.  Watching other teams, some nowhere near as good as the Braves are, play in the post season.

And so it goes….this is the life of a Braves fan.

And That Happened

Every once in a while something happens that just leaves you amazed in baseball.  The Braves had one of those moments last night and I’m still amazed by it this morning.

Early in last night’s game against the Phillies, there were posts all over the Internet and on Twitter that the game was over.  The Braves had lost another one to the Phillies.  And they had not only lost it, but lost it big.  The Braves were down 7-1 early on in the game and when I heard about it, I too thought, oh well here we go again.  Losing to the Braves Kryptonite team….and not even a very good Phillies team at that.

Fast forward to the end of the game and that happened.  Chipper Jones hits a walk off after the Braves have clawed their way to tie the game at 7 all and the Braves win.  With one swing of the bat, the game is now a W in the Braves column.  Chipper Jones is once again and perhaps for all time, THE man.  He is greeted after the winning hit by his teammates all lined up to congratulate him.  To show respect for the man who is STILL getting it done for the Braves even as his retirement looms large.

It is now September and Chipper is moving ever closer to the day when he will no longer be on the field in a Braves uniform taking that swing that puts the Braves into the win column.  A day where all Braves fans will weep with sadness and respect.  A day where most baseball fans will pause and say, he was what a baseball player should be.  The game will become less without him in it.

I have to wonder what the real impact will be when Chipper is no longer with the team.  He has been a leader and a cheerleader.  He has been an example and a teacher.  He has been the heart and the soul of this team for many years.  What impact will it have on team dynamics?  Team morale? Who will take over that mantle of leadership when Chipper is done?

In the meantime, I remain in amazement at what Chipper is to Atlanta baseball.  Last night’s feat was just another in a long, long list of amazing moments through the years.  After he is gone, I will reminisce on some of those big moments and we will all say with a smile and a tear, and that happened.

Silver Linings

I haven’t written for a while for a variety of reasons.  One of the main reasons is that not much has changed since I last wrote.  It seems to be status quo even when the Braves are winning they aren’t actually making any movement because the Nationals continue to win as well.  It doesn’t leave a lot to write about outside of the Braves remain in 2nd place in the NL East and tied with the Pirates in the Wildcard race.

However, there are some silver linings to be found if one looks a little deeper.  First, the Braves are winning more than they are losing.  Over the last 10 games, the team is 8-2.  That’s quite a good run and it is of course what has kept them close with the Nationals who have gone 7-3 over their last 10 games.  The Braves are currently 3 games back of the Nationals in the NL East.  The rest of the East has really fallen off the map.  The Mets are 13 games out and the Phillies and Marlins are both 17 games out now.

The Braves did not get Ryan Dempster and everyone should be rejoicing it seems.  His performance with the Rangers was abysmal.  It was only by the terrible performance of the Angels bullpen and the Rangers hitting that saved him from looking like a total failure, although he was pretty close to it.  The Braves are well off without him.  And look at what they do have performing well, Ben Sheets.  Someone many had written off.  Many had said that even if he came back he would never be a productive pitcher.  Really?! Wrong much?  He has been stellar for the Braves…and guess what he wanted to be on the team.

The wins are also helping the Braves separate themselves from the other NL teams in the Wildcard standings.  Yes, it would be better if we could take over the top spot in the East from the Nats, but unless something disastrous happens to them, that’s not a probable outcome.  So, the Wildcard is a main focus for the team.  Just a couple of weeks ago, there were as many as six teams tied atop the Wildcard standings for the NL.  That number has been whittled down to two, the Brave and the Pirates.  Continued wins are the only way the Braves are going to hold on to that spot.

The Braves have three more games in their series this week with the Phillies who are down for the count.  This weekend the Braves get to face the Mets.  Another team that is really struggling of late.  The Nats continue their series with the Astros and then get to take on the D-Backs over the weekend.  These are all games both teams can win.  If that holds true, then not much will change in the NL East standings.  The Pirates have the D-Backs and the Padres over this week.  They could win these games too.

The Braves have to play to win every game.  Losses can become critical at this stage of the season.  The Braves can ill afford to go on a losing streak.  For now, it is much better concentrate on the silver linings and keep on winning.

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