Braves 2015: Who are these guys?

To say a lot has happened to our Braves in the offseason is a massive understatement. I know many Braves fans are wondering–what is management thinking? Most people want to blame Frank Wren and all of his terrible signings (Uggla, Lowe, Kawakami, B.J. Upton, etc). While that is true, it goes deeper than that. Under his watch, the farm system became completely depleted. So when the Braves finally let Wren go and hired interim GM John Hart, Hart was tasked with rebuilding our farm system. He was to do this with the end goal of having a good organization by the time the Braves open their new stadium in 2017. He has been making moves to stockpile prospects at all levels while trying to eliminate bad contracts and trade players that he didn’t feel we would be able to re-sign (most notably Heyward and J. Upton). However, understanding what the Braves are doing really isn’t going to make watching the 2015 Braves any easier. Unfortunately, the same can probably be said for the 2016 Braves as well. But watch we will–so who exactly will we be watching?

Starting Pitching–Our starting pitching is fair. Julio Teheran is going to have to take the next step and become our ace. He has shown flashes of that in the past and hopefully he is ready to take on that role. Lefty Alex Wood is also going to have a lot more expected of him now that fellow lefty Mike Minor is once again on the DL with shoulder problems. Wood will need to work deeper in games to really help the Braves now that their bullpen is questionable. Newly acquired RHP Shelby Miller (from Cardinals) should ably fill the 3rd slot. This is where it gets scary–4th and 5th starters. We need a healthy, productive Mike Minor but unfortunately he is starting the season on the 15 day DL with shoulder pain. He seems to be having recurring issues so I am not sure how much the Braves can count on him. This leaves us with LHP Eric Stults and RHP Trevor Cahill (both new acquisitions). Stults pitched well in spring training but has never pitched that well in the majors. Cahill was once very promising but has struggled the past two years. If they falter too much, the Braves have promising rookie RHP Mike Foltynewicz or veteran RHP Chien-Ming Wong that they could call up from AAA.

Outfield–Outfield is again just fair. The Braves acquired Nick Markakis to play right. I think we will like him. He is just a good solid fielder and hitter, nothing flashy, not much power, but a pretty dependable everyday player. Now having said that, he did just have offseason neck surgery but the Braves seem to feel he has fully recovered. Center is probably going to Cameron Maybin. He is a good fielder but never seemed to reach his potential in San Diego as far as hitting goes. It is also possible that the Braves go with Eric Young,Jr to play center and have him lead off to give our line up some speed. Either player is a massive upgrade from B.J. Upton! Left field goes to veteran Jonny Gomes. He plays hard but his best days are probably behind him. I think the Braves are just hoping he has 1 or 2 more good years in him.

Infield–Our infield is good! Last I checked we still have proven commodities Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons at first and short. A lot will be asked of Freeman this year and he will have to deal with constantly being pitched around. And I imagine teams will be asking the Braves all year if they will be willing to trade either of these two (hopefully not, but after the Kimbrel trade it feels like no one is safe). It would be nice to see Simmons hit for a higher average this year and really come into his own as a hitter not just an awesome fielder. Chris Johnson returns at third. He needs to have a rebound year and I think he is capable of doing so. At second, we have another new player–Jace Peterson, a prospect acquired from San Diego. I am most excited about him. He beat out the Braves prospect Jose Peraza, who will begin the season at AAA. I think Braves fans are really going to like Peterson’s hustle. And finally, we will have Christian Bethancourt at catcher. Yes, I miss Gattis too. But Bethancourt is definitely an upgrade defensively and he has been hitting the ball well in spring training. It is time for him to no longer be a prospect and become a player. Besides, Gattis and Teheran were never on the same page.

Bullpen–It is time for a moment of silence for all Braves fans. I have been mourning the loss of Craig Kimbrel ever since I heard the news. This one hit us hard! I have to admit that his entrance into the game has been my favorite moment at Braves games for the last 4 years. The first chords of “Welcome to the Jungle” and all the stadium boards full of flames would give me chills. But all the hoopla doesn’t mean anything if you don’t get the job done and he always did! So what does it say to Braves fans that the team traded the game’s best closer? It says that they don’t expect to have enough leads to justify holding on to him. It says that by 2017 when the Braves think they will be decent again, Kimbrel will have 6 years of power pitching behind him and the Braves don’t think he will still be the premiere closer by then. So they decided to move on and it helped that they were able to dump B.J.Upton’s contract in San Diego’s lap. We are still paying Dan Uggla’s contract (to play for rival Nationals) and they didn’t want to be paying B.J.’s too–for more non-performance. So there you go. I hate it but I wish Kimbrel well. He was our team’s one sure thing and we will miss him. Tear.

So now our bullpen is fair to poor. We have two has-been former closers in Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli that will probably close for us. Most likely Grilli will be our closer and Johnson will be eighth inning guy. LHP Luis Avilan is back and we sorely need him to have a rebound year after he pitched so poorly last year. We just picked up LHP Andrew McKirahan from Miami but he hasn’t pitched above AA ball. He was signed to replace the debacle of James Russell who the Braves finally released. Then there are RHPs Brandon Cunniff, Cody Martin, and Juan Jaime. These are unproven guys that are to be our middle relief. Jaime could be good if he finds control. He has a pretty over powering fastball and might be our closer of the future. Or not. If our starters don’t go deep in the game, it could get really ugly.

Bench–Once again the Braves have no depth and a poor bench. Alberto Callaspo may get some time at third. A.J. Pierzynski at catcher has been over the hill for the last 2 seasons–he was basically signed to hold rookie Bethancourt’s hand while he adjusts to being a regular. Kelly Johnson, Phil Gosselin, and Pedro Ciriaco round out the group. Not much there. Now they have signed Cameron Maybin, I guess one of these guys will have to go. Probably Johnson or Ciriaco but I am not sure it matters.

Prediction–It’s going to be a long year! We are in a tough division. I think this is probably the Nationals’ year, their pitching is just going to be too good. They are a lot like the Braves of the 90s, not much offense but great pitching. I think the Marlins will hang in there all year but ultimately finish second. An improved Mets team will finish third. That leaves the Braves and Phillies to battle for last place. If the Phillies’ old veterans have one more good year in them then they will finish fourth, otherwise the Braves will. Hopefully, I am wrong about that and the Braves will compete and finish at .500. But I think it is more likely that the Braves will wind up with between 70 and 75 wins.

Game today: RHP Julio Teheran goes for the Braves today at Miami at 4:10 on SportSouth.

Go Braves!

Posted in Atlanta Braves Baseball, B.J. Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Dan Uggla, Evan Gattis, Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Braves Call Up La Stella

The Braves made headlines today by calling up AAA second baseman Tommy La Stella to their major league team and sending Tyler Pastornicky back down to AAA Gwinnett. La Stella has been hitting over .300 in the minor leagues. He does not hit for power, but he also rarely strikes out. He bats left handed and is a good fielder. The combination of Dan Uggla, Ramiro Pena, and Pastornicky at second base has just not been working this year. The Braves have finally lost patience with Uggla as his average has remained under .200, he strikes out every 3rd at-bat, he is not hitting HRs or even getting walks this year. Atlanta does not want to pay his massive contract to do nothing so he will remain on the team but it appears his role will be greatly reduced. I guess he will get a rare start at 2nd to give guys a day off and maybe occasionally come off bench late as pinch-hitter. Neither Pena nor Pastornicky have been impressive at the plate this year. Pena is more versatile in that he can play more positions than Pastornicky so Tyler was the odd man out. I have never been impressed with Pastornicky’s fielding abilities–he was terrible at short and I’ve seen him misplay several balls this week at second (two last night that were scored hits, but…)

So to all the Braves fans that were screaming for them to bring up La Stella, you have gotten your wish! It is probably a good move but just because you hit in the minors does not mean you will hit in the majors (Brad Komminsk, anyone? There is a reason that I am not sure I am spelling his name right!) La Stella sounds like he would be perfect as a number 2 hitter–hits for average, doesn’t strike out. Not so fast, my friend! I never thought I would say this, but B.J. Upton is actually hitting well in the 2 hole. Since Freddie Gonzalez put B.J. at number 2, he has been getting hits, walks, hitting the ball hard and has dramatically cut down on his strikeouts. I don’t know if it will last but he actually looks like he has got it figured out. So I say leave B.J. there for now. If he starts striking out as much as he was before, then look into putting La Stella at number 2.

Tonight’s lineup: 1)Heyward RF  2)B.J. Upton CF  3)Freeman 1B  4)J.Upton LF  5)Johnson 3B  6)Doumit DH  7)La Stella 2B  8)Laird C  9)Pena SS

Andrelton Simmons is not starting due to a tweaked ankle that is hopefully not serious, day-to-day. Evan Gattis is still out after injuring his wrist while taking batting practice the other night. That one worries me a bit more as it is hard to hit with a bad wrist. I hope that the Braves are just being cautious and he will be back in lineup soon.

Pitching matchup: Braves RH Gavin Floyd vs Red Sox RH John Lackey

Standings: Braves remain in 1st place at 28-23 (.549) with Marlins 1.5 games back, Nats 3.0 games back, Mets 4.5 games back, and Phillies 5.0 games back.

Go Braves!                                                                                                                                                                   ,


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Braves Blow Out Phillies

The Braves continued with their power surge, stroking 3 homeruns for the second game in a row, as they defeated the Phillies 9-2. Paul Maholm gets the win, going 5 2/3 innings allowing no runs and striking out six.

Justin Upton hit a 2 run homer in the first inning off of Roy Halladay. After Freeman and Uggla walked, Juan Francisco picked up a nice 2 out RBI single to make it 3-0. Then in the 4th, Evan Gattis picked up his first major league hit, a homerun to left. A Simmons single, Heyward and J Upton walked, then Freddie Freeman stroked a bases clearing double to make it 7-0. Jason Heyward finished the scoring in the 8th, hitting a 2 run homer off of Papelbon.

Cory Guerrin, Luis Avilan, and Anthony Varvaro were strong in relief of Maholm.

So many positives tonight, but there were a few negatives. B.J. Upton went 0-4 with 4 strikeouts. He is still without a hit this year. Cristhian Martinez came on in the 7th and allowed 3 hits and 2 runs in 1/3 of an inning. The Braves hitters struck out alot but, hey, they also hit 3 HRs and scored 9 so it’s all good.

Thursday’s Game: Phillies @ Braves at 7:10 on SportSouth. LH Cliff Lee vs RH Kris Medlin. Hopefully the rain will have moved through and they can get the game in. I am very anxious to see Medlin pitch as he looked awful in spring training. Maybe he got all of his bad outings out of the way during spring training. Let’s hope.

Posted in Atlanta Braves Baseball, B.J. Upton, Evan Gattis, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Paul Maholm | Leave a comment

Gattis to start tonight

Something to watch for tonight is the first chance for Braves fans to see the Braves’ 26 year old rookie, Evan Gattis, start at catcher. After suffering a knee injury in 2006 while at junior college, Gattis decided to quit playing baseball. He then went on a personal journey to find himself, working odd jobs and going through rehab along the way. After 4 years, he realized that he missed baseball. So he headed back to junior college, worked his way into the Braves’ farm system and made the team this year (aided by the injury to Brian McCann).  He is a big fellow at 6 foot 4 and 235 pounds. While playing winter ball in Venezuela, the fans started calling him “El Oso Blanco” or the white bear. He earned that name for his size but also because he was hitting the cover off the ball. He has a wide stance and, like Brooks Conrad, he is a raw dog (no batting gloves). He will probably strike out a few times but when he makes contact, look out!

I watched Arizona defeat the Cardinals on Monday. Martin Prado hit 2 doubles, had a RBI, and scored 2 runs. He was one of my favorite Braves so I wish him well, except when they play the Braves of course.

I also stayed up last night and saw Yu Darvish get within 1 out of pitching a perfect game against the Astros. Poor Houston, they are going to have a long, long year.

Sorry that I buried the lead in my article yesterday. I realize that I forgot to give the score. Braves win, 7-5!

Bobby Cox was at opening night and received a huge ovation from Braves fans.

I love that the Braves have added Dale Murphy to the TV booth to go with Chip and Joe. I don’t know if it is temporary or not, but I love me some Murph!

Tonight’s Game: Phillies @ Braves at 7:10 on FoxSportSouth. RH Roy Halladay vs LH Paul Maholm. There has been a lot of talk that Halladay has lost velocity and may be on the downhill slide. I will believe that when I see it; I feel like he is still going to be awfully tough.

Go Braves!

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Venters Update/ Opening Night

The Braves announced today that Jonny Venters met with Dr. James Andrews this morning and received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his ailing left elbow. He will be shut down for 4 weeks then will begin a throwing program. So the Braves will be without him for a while.

There were lots of positives from opening night. A standing room only crowd of over 51,000 got their money’s worth. Chipper Jones kicked things off by zipping in the ceremonial first pitch to catcher Brian McCann. Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, and new Brave Justin Upton each stroked homeruns. Andrelton Simmons had a double and scored a run. Chris Johnson had 2 hits, scored a run, and made a nice play at third-charging the ball and firing to first to just nip the runner. Uggla robbed Ryan Howard of a hit with a diving stop of a ball in shallow right center (playing the shift). Lefty Luis Avilan came on in the fifth and got out of a 2 on, 1 out jam without allowing a run (and earned the win). Craig Kimbrel came on in the ninth and sat down the meat of the Phillies’ order 1-2-3.

A few negatives. Tim Hudson had a four run lead but could not finish the deal. He pitched 4 1/3 innings, with the Phillies 3 run fifth ending his night. He left with runners on 2nd and 3rd, luckily Avilan bailed him out. Eric O’Flaherty and Jordan Walden each came on and surrendered runs. Walden seemed a little like Wild Thing Mitch Williams, getting himself in and out of trouble by allowing a double, 2 wild pitches, and a run before getting out of it by striking out Ben Revere with gas in the high 90s. Braves pitchers could not seem to get Chase Utley out; he finished a double short of hitting for the cycle. Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton went 0 for 7 with a walk.

Over all, a pretty good night. The Braves are off tonight. Next game will be Wednesday night at 7:10 on FoxSportSouth, Phillies RH Roy Halladay vs LH Paul Maholm. Juan Francisco should get his first start at third for the Braves.

Go Braves!

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Braves Season Begins Tonight

The Braves 2013 season begins tonight with their home opener vs the Philadelphia Phillies at 7:00 on FoxSportSouth (or ESPN2). Right hander Tim Hudson will be facing the Phillies’ lefty ace, Cole Hamels.

The lineup tonight will be: Simmons SS, Heyward RF, J.Upton LF, Freeman 1B, B.J. Upton CF, Uggla 2B, C. Johnson 3B, Laird C, Hudson P. Chris Johnson gets the start at 3rd over Juan Francisco because we are facing a lefty and Fredi Gonzalez has decided to go straight platoon for now (Johnson starts when we face lefty and Francisco starts when we face righty).

Brian McCann and Jonny Venters begin the season on the DL. I am guessing McCann will not be ready until end of April or first of May as he continues to rehab his shoulder. Venters visited Dr. James Andrews this morning with a left elbow “strain”. Hopefully, he got good news and will just have to rest his elbow and not have to have season ending Tommy John surgery (that could be career ending for him because he has already had that surgery performed on this elbow in 2005). Fingers crossed for Venters.

If you have been watching the Braves this spring, then you know our team has really changed from last year. Positives from spring training have been many. The Uptons have looked really good-Justin especially smacked some towering homeruns. I think Andrelton Simmons is really going to excel as our new leadoff man (he was fantastic in that role for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic).  Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco both had great springs hitting the ball. Julio Teheran was really impressive in his outings as our new fifth starter. Evan Gattis made the team as the backup catcher for Gerald Laird (while McCann is on DL). Gattis could provide some late inning pop off the bench as he showed some right handed power this spring.

Of course there were also some negatives this spring. Our pitching was a little scary. It took Hudson a while to get going but he seemed to pull it together by the end of spring training. Not so for Kris Medlen and Mike Minor. They were both atrocious, especially Medlin. My hope is that they will come around and that possibly they were trying pitches in spring that they won’t in real games. Mr. Dependable, Craig Kimbrel, did not have a good spring either. Hopefully his spring training struggles with location will not carry over into the season. And, as always it seems, Dan Uggla struggled at the bat, hitting in the low .200s for the spring. I have been hoping for 2 years that he would snap out of it–maybe this will be the year. He has lost weight but he is still not hitting. If he has another year of hitting .230 or lower then I think it will be time for the Braves to pull the plug on him. But I am rooting for him to turn it around because a good Uggla would really make our lineup awesome.

Go Braves!

Posted in Atlanta Braves Baseball, Brian McCann, Craig Kimbrel, Dan Uggla, Jonny Venters, Justin Upton, Mike Minor, Tim Hudson | Tagged , | Leave a comment