My yearly opening day optimism is a bit tempered this year. Don’t misunderstand, I still think the opening day of baseball season is quite possibly one of the best days of the year, but the word rebuilding has lessened my enthusiasm. The Braves are rebuilding. They are rebuilding the farm system and rebuilding the team. Rebuilding doesn’t lend itself to a season with a winning record.
All is not dismal however. The pitching staff is still fairly good. Not outstanding but all things being equal it could hold it’s own with other teams. Starting rotation this year: Julio Teheran (14-13, 2.89, 2 shutouts), Alex Wood (11-11, 2.78), Shelby Miller (10-9, 3.74 with Cardinals), Eric Stults (8-17, 4.30 with Padres), Trevor Cahill (3-12, 5.61 in 32 games, 17 starts with Arizona). Mike Minor (6-12, 4.77) will start the season on the 15 day DL. Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel (0-3, 1.61, NL-leading 47/51 saves, 95 Ks in 61 2-3 IP), Jason Grilli (1-5, 4.00, 12/17 saves with Pirates and Angels), Jim Johnson (5-2, 7.09, 2 saves with Athletics and Tigers), Luis Avilan (4-1, 4.57), Andrew McKirahan, Josh Outman (on the 15 day DL), Juan Jaime, Cody Martin.
On the hitting side, it may be much more of a struggle. Catcher Christian Bethancourt (.248, 0, 9), 1B Freddie Freeman (.288, 18, 78, .386 OBP), 2B Jace Peterson (.113, 0, 0 in 27 games with Padres), SS Andrelton Simmons (.244, 7, 46, NL Gold Glove), 3B Chris Johnson (.263, 10, 58, 159 Ks), LF Jonny Gomes (.234, 6, 37 with Boston and Oakland), CF Eric Young Jr. (.229, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 30 SBs with Mets), RF Nick Markakis (.276, 14, 50, AL Gold Glove with Orioles). Melvin Young Jr (or the player formerly known as BJ Upton with a 75 million dollar contract will start the season on the 15 day DL. On the bench: Alberto Callaspo, INF (2B, 3B), Phil Gosselin, INF (2B, SS, 3B), Kelly Johnson, INF/OF (1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF), A.J. Pierzynski, C. Eric Young looks to be the leadoff hitter and one of the few (possibly only) hitter with any speed.
I am not convinced that the Braves will have the dismal season everyone is predicting. I do think they won’t give the Nationals any kind of run for their money in the East, but they might be able to hold off the Marlins for second and maybe an 85 win season, maybe. But it is sure to be painful along the way and hard to watch. The team is rebuilding – for 2017 when the new stadium opens. The next two years may be a bit of struggle for the fans, but opening day is still one of the best days of the year.
EDITED 4/5/15 6:40PM ET : The Braves have traded closer Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr to the Padres in exchange for pitching prospect Matt Wisler, minor league outfielder Jordan Paroubeck, outfielders Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin, and the 41st overall pick. While dealing Upton is a BIG positive, dealing Kimbrel is not, well not for this year anyway. So Braves fans should cinch up because this is going to be a very bad season. I retract my 85 wins prediction and will be surprised if the team wins 75 games this year.
Faith is not something I have in abundance in regards to baseball in general and the Braves in particular. It is also not something I believe I’m going to get a healthy dose of anytime soon. As sad as that may be, it remains true and it has really affected how I feel about baseball as a whole. It’s as if I have lost a very old friend and even if they come back, the relationship will never be the same.
I lost faith in baseball when it became clear that a lot of the players were using some kind of drugs. From steroids to amphetamines, the drug use is rampant. Not just in baseball I realize and not all of the athletes are using. Most are or have. Most would if they believed it would give them an edge, allow them to play longer, stronger, better, faster. They would. The suspensions, drug tests, publicity mean nothing. The fans still keep coming to games. They don’t care what a player is taking as long as he is playing well and the team is winning. The idea of a clean sport is something of an era gone by, for older fans like me to wish for, but it is never, ever coming back again and not many fans care one bit. This is why it will never be clean again and why I will never, ever love the sport as I once did. It’s heartbreaking.
The Braves most likely have players who are using. Have they been outed or suspended? No, but they are most likely there, law of averages and all. The Braves minors system has suspended multiple players this year for 50 games and more. But that’s not the main reason I’ve lost faith with the Braves. That faith was lost over their inability to play small ball and win games. The team fired the GM and I have had countless conversations about how this is good because it’s going to get someone in there who can get the right players to change the game on the field. That’s crap. The mindset of the Braves goes from the top of the front office to the bat boy. Good pitching, hit home runs. There’s nothing…absolutely nothing in between. The Braves wouldn’t know how to play small ball with diagrams. They wouldn’t know how to spell bunt or squeeze or stolen base. It’s not who they are and it’s not who they have been for years. It is why they have probably the highest RISP and LOB in the majors. It is why they lose games by 1 and 2 runs every other day and sometimes every day for weeks at a time. It is why they are not in the playoffs year after year. A new GM is not going to change that.
Watching the Royals in the playoffs has been like watching the most perfectly played baseball I have seen in years. They play small ball better than any team I have seen in the last 10 possibly 20 years. They will bunt with their #3 hitter. They will pinch run through the game to steal bases. They will contemplate a squeeze to home with 2 outs near the end of the game and their opponent knows it and has to adjust for that possibility. The Braves opponents know that when their 3-6 hitters come to bat they are ONLY trying to hit homeruns period regardless of how many runners are on base or in scoring position. Difficult to have faith when they do the same thing every game.
Faith..it is a difficult concept.
The Braves 2014 season has come to this, and then there were 10. Just 10 games left in a season that started out with such promise and now is very likely to end with the games 10 games back of the Nationals or more. There will very likely be no post season action for the Braves this year.
The season started out looking pretty good. The team was winning more than they were losing and they were leading the NL West by several games for a fairly long stretch. Braves fans had hope. The new season looked so very promising. Then, the injuries started. The pitching went down like so many bowling pins on a strike. One, then another, then another. It started a chain reaction it seemed and there would be no coming back from it.
Not because there still wasn’t decent pitching on the team, there was. The injuries were not the cause of the Braves downfall, they were just a side piece. The Braves downfall, on display even when they were winning and leading the division, is what it has been for the past several years and the injuries had nothing to do with it. As I have stated numerous times, the numbers back me up, the Braves are utterly incapable of playing small ball. They seem unable to learn this skill. The team plays hoping some home run or two will secure the game and they swing freely trying to get those home runs. It is all about power hitting.
Hundreds, and I am not exaggerating, hundreds of men left on base. Through hits or walks, hundreds get on base, any base. Many, many games lost by one or two runs and they could have, should have been won. Add to the men left on base, an utterly abysmal RISP. It seems if any runner gets near second or third base the ONLY thing the Braves know how to do is swing away trying to get home runs. Nobody understands the concept of moving men around….nobody. Not the coach, not the hitters. They are all in the “let’s hit a home run” mind set all the time. Squeeze plays, stolen bases, bunts, sacrifice flies…those are foreign concepts.
Yes, the pitching injuries were significant, but the pitching that remained was good enough to keep most of the games close enough that they could have been won. It was the abandonment of the fundamentals of the game that put the Braves in the position they are in right now. Sitting 11.5 games behind the Nationals in the division and 5.5 games back in the Wildcard race.
And then there were 10…and another season slips away.
Trade winds have been swirling throughout Major League Baseball for over a week getting stronger and more intense as the deadline approached. Some teams made wholesale changes like the Red Sox and some teams chose to make surgical trades like the Braves. It remains to be seen which teams prosper and which falter after the winds die down, but the Braves seem, at least at first glance, to have made a beneficial trade.
The Braves received infielder/utility player Emilio Bonifacio and left-handed reliever James Russell from the Cubs for cash considerations and minor league pitcher Victor Caratini. The Braves finally released the very expensive, but still dead weight Dan Uggla earlier in the season. Tommy LaStella has filled that spot admirably 42 complete games (56 games total) this season for the team with a .294 average and only 3 errors. Bonifacio has played 8 seasons total with a .264 batting average and over the 8 seasons he has played every position including DH except pitcher and catcher. He has 59 total errors over 8 seasons with a .969 fielding percentage. He also has 14 stolen bases this season for the Cubs. Bonifacio is the kind of player who can fill in at almost any position giving rest to players like the currently ailing Andrelton Simmons and the Braves lose little if anything on the field and at the plate.
James Russell has played all 5 seasons with the Cubs. He has pitched in 44 games this season. His career ERA is 3.87 with 203 strikeouts in 272 innings pitched. In 2014, he has held right-handed batters to a .103 average. Definitely a nice tool to have against right-handed hitters out of the bullpen.
The Braves are currently in 2nd place in the NL East 1.5 games back of the Nationals. They are 4-6 for their last 10 games having lost their last 3 in a row. Several of the 6 they have lost are once again by 1 or 2 runs. Once again, and I know it’s like beating a dead horse, the team is abysmal, ABYSMAL, on LOB, team LOB, and RISP. In double digits in almost every single game win or lose. They have not corrected this for the last few years and if they don’t correct it before playoffs, they won’t make it out of the first round, IF they make it into the first round at all. Baseball Prospectus has the Braves chances of making the post season at 50% right now.
The Braves have the Padres and Mariners before facing off on Friday August 8 with the division leading Nationals. A series that could greatly impact post season prospects. It will be interesting to see how these trade winds play out for the Braves. Let’s hope for fair winds and following seas…..
The Braves have won 9 games in a row as of today. Winning is good. Winning is always good. However, if you have read any of my Braves blogs you know I always look beyond the wins.
There are three reasons for the Braves recent win streak. In the last 7 days, hitting has come around for several players. This is mostly due to the very poor pitching of the teams they have faced. The second reason is that the Braves pitching has been outstanding limiting these admittedly lower ranked teams to very few hits. The third reason, the teams the Braves have faced are not playing top tier baseball this season so far. In fact, they are scraping the bottom of the standings barrel at the current time. Three of the teams faced in this 9 game winning streak are 2-8 for their last 10 games. The Astros are 3-7. They are overall playing poorly.
Now to the good things the Braves are doing. The pitching for the last 7 days has only 2 pitchers over a 3.00 ERA, Wood and Minor. Minor is struggling at 8.31. Wood is hanging in at 4.50. Remember this is the last 7 days only. Santana and Teheran are performing stellar pitching with 2.45 and 1.29 respectively. The rest of the Braves pitching roster for the last 7 days have a zero ERA. Relievers and closers are getting the job done and limiting these poorly performing teams to a close to zero sum production. It makes it a lot easier to win when your pitching is so dominant.
For the last 7 days, the hitting has been dominant as well from most of the team. Again, they are hitting against less than great pitching, but it is still worth mentioning as no matter what the circumstances a boost in confidence is always good and some of these hitters have certainly needed that with some less than great overall season numbers from some of them. Two pitchers are hitting .500, Minor and Teheran. Laird doing some catching duties and 8 at bats is also at .500. Simmons, La Stella, Freeman, BJ Upton, and Bethancourt are all hitting over .300 for the last 7 days. Justin Upton continues to struggle with 20 at bats and a .200 for the last 7. Heyward is .217 with 23 at bats.
You know I cannot write a Braves blog without mentioning the following, RISP and LOB. Unfortunately, even with this win streak, the team is still putting up abysmal numbers in both of these categories. When I list LOB here it is TEAM LOB. The overall LOB is much, much higher. Yesterday’s game, yes a win, yes a big win, but there were 22 LOB total. Against a better team, this would likely not have resulted in a win. Over the last 12 games, the team has 32-129 RISP and 82 team LOB (the actual LOB is much higher). The Braves average almost 7 players as their team LOB for the last 12 games. Against better teams this would result in a lot more losses than wins. Against teams where their pitching is lacking and the Braves pitching is overall great, leaving this many on base every game is not a detriment.
The Braves get the Mets for another series and then the Cubs before the All-Star break. Again, these teams are not playing anywhere near well. If the Braves pitching holds up, it shouldn’t be hard to get some more wins out of these two series. It doesn’t eliminate the fact that the team will face better teams at some point. That point is not in the near future though as it will be the middle of August before the Braves face a team that’s playing well in the Nationals.
When this will really matter will come in the playoffs. If the Braves continue to win against poor teams they will most likely make the playoffs again. This is where their inability to get the runners around the bases will come into play just as it did last year.
It’s all well and good to win during the regular season, but if you cannot get it done in the playoffs…you’re just a good regular season team without any titles.
In general, most stats say one thing about the Braves, close. They are close to winning or losing games generally with just a run or two either way. They are close to being in or out of 1st place with a game or two either way. Close is a big risk the longer the season gets.
Close allows other teams to beat you in games and close allows other teams to push you down the standings with just a couple of losses. As the season goes on close allows for no mistakes. Close makes playing small ball even more important. Close makes being 1-12 with runners in scoring position and losing a game by 1 run a very bad thing.
The Braves were in 1st place for quite a while but their margin of lead kept steadily shrinking with close game losses, a few blow outs, and the abysmal aforementioned RISP and men left on base. The next thing you know they are losing 6 games in a row and leaving 1st place in the rear view mirror. Being so close to the Marlins and Nationals in the standings and losing several games in a row allowed those teams to move up while the Braves were in free fall.
Of course being so close can work to your benefit as well if you find yourself falling down the standings but still with a game of the teams ahead of you. The Braves win a couple of games, the other two teams lose a couple and just like that they are back in 1st place but once again ahead 1 game of the Marlins and 1.5 games ahead of the Nationals. Any repeat of a run of losses and the tides could turn very quickly again.
For Braves fans, this is the normal way a baseball season goes for the last few years. The team does well enough to win close games and they stay just ahead of the next closest team but it’s always a razors edge. Up and down, close but no breathing room allowing for the inevitable losses that come with the inability to play small ball.
Close is a scary place to be for a Braves fan.
Unfortunately, for me, covering the Braves is like beating a dead horse. The same numbers occur week after week and the team is apparently incapable of making changes to change the numbers. This week, the numbers have resulted in the team moving backwards instead of forwards.
Yes, the team is still in 1st place in the NL East. However, this first place spot is now down to 1/2 a game ahead of the Nationals. The Braves have lost 5 games in a row. For their last 10 games they are 4-6. The numbers game proves why this trend has developed and unless they change how they play it will be the trend for the rest of the season.
In a Braves group on Facebook that I am a member of, I posted a lot of these same numbers I am about to post here. I was greeted with the usual responses. Those who compare these numbers to the rest of the league. I do not care about league comparisons. I am talking about the Braves period. Those who think being in 1st place is all that matters. These numbers show that it is not all that matters and the team is 1/2 a game away from not being in 1st place because of them. Those who resort to profanity and troll behavior. I couldn’t be forced to care at gunpoint. Those who agree with me. The minority to be sure. Regardless, the numbers are the numbers and they will never lie about the true state of your sports team. Not in comparison to anyone else…but inside your team and since it’s your team taking the field to play it is the numbers about them, only, that matters. Comparison is not relevant.
Now, here are the numbers. For the last 13 ONE RUN games (wins and losses do not matter, just games in which the outcome is separated by 1 run and one run games account for almost half the Braves season), the Braves are 14-83 RISP. Let that sink in for one moment. With 83 runners in scoring position the team has only been able to get runs in 14 times. The team does not play small ball, ever. They are only concerned with home runs. If they don’t get a home run, they are not working for anything else. The numbers make that obvious. You will lose more close games than win them if you miss 69 run scoring opportunities. To think otherwise is ridiculous.
Still staying with the 13 ONE RUN games, the team has left 89 men on base. Once again, let that sink in. In 13 games, 89 potential scoring opportunities have been left on base. In some of these games, as many as 12 men have been left on base in a single game. One run games, losses by a single run, with 12 men left on base. An absolute incapability of playing small ball has resulted in 13 one run games with just 11 short of 100 men being left on base. It is almost unbelievable except that the numbers are the numbers.
The Brave finish up the series with the Giants today and then have two games with the Cardinals. The Nationals finish up with the Phillies today and then get the Dodgers. The spread in the NL East behind the Braves is 1/2 a game for the Nats to 2.5 games for the Marlins and Phillies. That is very close and a couple more losses and the Braves could be looking at 3rd place in the blink of an eye.
Baseball is a numbers game and the Braves are on the wrong side of them.
A week has passed since my last blog and as far as the Braves are concerned the season is unchanged. The team continues along the same path and my views on that path are also unchanged.
First place, the only part of the past week that most fans will focus on because first place is all that matters, to most. The Braves are in first place by 3 games in the NL East. The Braves have the 2nd best record in baseball as a whole. The team has won their last 3 games. They are 7-3 for their last 10 games. They have won 8 games at home and 8 games on the road. They are +30 in runs scored/runs against. All fantastically wonderful.
The hitting is pretty much the same as it was last week this time. Jason Heyward, BJ Upton and Dan Uggla continue to under perform at the plate. Between the three of them they have had 75 strikeouts. In over 250 at bats, they have contributed 52 hits and 19 RBIs. Not exactly stellar and unchanged over the last week. Freeman, Justin Upton, Simmons, Gattis and Johnson continue to be run producers.
The pitching remains fairly unchanged as well with a couple of exceptions. Avilan has shaved his ERA to 8.10 and there are now only 2 Braves pitchers with ERA’s over 3, Schlosser and of course Avilan. Led by Harang at 0.85 the team ERA is a very good 2.14.
Fielding continues to be an issue with 17 errors now committed on the season. Uggla has tacked on another two errors leading all fielders with seven now. As we all know, errors = runs more often than not and especially since the Braves are masters of the 1 run game.
Speaking of 1 run games, almost every single game since my last blog has been won or lost by 1 run. What this means if you haven’t been following along, one error, one opportunity for small ball, one (or 10) left on base, and all the 0 for (insert any number here) RISP in a 1 run game can swing the game from a win to a loss. Luckily, the Braves have been on the winning side more than the losing this past week, but the odds over a very long season will not run so favorably. And they always seem to run the other way when the word playoff is involved.
Of course, the small ball continues. In just three games over the past week, the Braves were 0 for 25 RISP and 20 LOB. Yes, they won some of those games by 1 run, but you cannot ignore this repetitive stat and think that at some point it’s not going to come back and bite you when you least need it to. If the Braves continue their refusal to play small ball, winning another NL title or even going to the World Series is not something they will be able to do. You cannot have those numbers in RISP and LOB and find yourself deep into the playoffs.
Another week, unchanged….Keep chopping chopheads!
Baseball is back and so is this blog. It has been a long time since my last post but a full time job, family, full time college, and health issues have made it difficult to include a baseball blog in the mix. All of that is still true, but it is also still true that baseball is still a love for me and I will never let it go. I am back, hopefully more often than not, but back whenever I can be back. And so is baseball. And so are the Braves.
On the surface, the Braves season so far looks fairly impressive. They are #1 in the NL East with a record of 12-6. They are 7 and 3 for their last 10 games. The pitching isn’t nearly as awful as one might have thought given the decimation of the rotation and rest of the pitching staff. The home runs are still coming pretty regularly including a grand slam from one of the few truly maligned players on the roster, Dan Uggla. Looks good right? Most fans would say so. In fact, most other teams fans would say so. But what remains under the surface?
Taking a deeper look, the bullpen is at times shaky at times and some of the time it is in total disrepair. There are four pitchers with an ERA over 4. While some of the hitters are performing as expected Freeman and Justin Upton. Some are performing as expected in the other direction, BJ Upton, Dan Uggla most days. And then there’s Jason Heyward batting a frozen .171 in 70 at bats. The Braves have committed 13 errors, five of them were made by Uggla who should be made to field ground ball double plays until he can’t walk.
The Braves biggest problem under the surface is the problem they have had for the last few years. Firstly, their manager is all about the long ball. I don’t think the words small ball have ever occurred to him. This of course leads to the big problem – RISP and LOB. In a game the Braves won, 6-0 over the Mets, they were 1 for 11 in RISP and left 8 men on base. I know they won, but the recurring problem rears its head at the most inopportune moments, which then leads to losses, especially 1 run losses. When the pitching is working on both sides and games are close, it’s the guys you cannot or will not bat around and the guys you leave stranded. The Braves are masters at both and it is why they have so many 1 run losses throughout the season. You cannot leave men on base and not drop these games.
The reasons for this problem are multifaceted. No small ball and some really poor hitting. In a game the Braves lost 1-0 to the Phillies, they were 0 for 4 RISP and left 5 on base. Heyward and BJ Upton were both under .200 for average well under. Uggla at .212 and Laird at .200. And no small ball, no bunts, guys swinging away and striking out, caught stealing.
Yes, above the surface it looks pretty good. Under the surface, it is the same old story.
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……