The Atlanta Braves had a great season in 2011 end on a sour note when an awful September collapse(led the Wild Card by 8.5 games on September 6th) saw their season come up a win short in the final day of the campaign. The team is set at several spots featuring a good mix of veterans as well young up and comers. A 2nd season with Dan Uggla at 2nd base should help the offense as well as 1b Freddie Freeman’s sophomore campaign. CF Michael Bourn, a midseason trade acquisition, should spark the top of the lineup and healthier seasons from 3B-OF Chipper Jones, C Brian McCann and INF-OF Martin Prado could make this offense scary good. Pitching wise, this an excellent group with depth and options. Lets look at the issues the team faces as the Braves enter spring training.
1- ROTATION- With the offseason trade of veteran Derek Lowe, the team cleared a rotation spot but still has several options to fill slots 4 and 5. Righthanders Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson(Only 22 starts in an injury plagued 2011 campaign) and Jair Jurrjens(23) are set in the first 3 spots but Hanson and Jurrjens both battled arm injuries in the 2nd half of 2011. Lefty Mike Minor(5-3,4.14 ERA in 15 starts in 2011) and RH Brandon Beachy(7-3,3.68, 25 starts) appear to be strong favorites for those slots. Rookie RHs Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado(2 of the top pitching prospects in the game) as well as veteran Kris Medlen(recovered from elbow surgery that cost him most of 2011) are the other candidates to start. Regardless of who wins these spots in camp, due to injuries and/or attrition, depth is never bad. This team should be in good shape rotation wise. Manager Fredi Gonzalez can rest easy when he thinks of his starters.
2- SHORTSTOP- The team let veteran Alex Gonzalez walk in the offseason hoping that promising rookie Tyler Pastornicky could win the job after he tore up Triple A in 2011(.365 in 27 games after hitting .299 in 90 AA contests). The youngster has hit for average and stole bases in the minors but has not appeared in the majors. The Braves signed veteran INF Jack Wilson as both an insurance policy and mentor. INF Brandon Hicks, who played in 17 games with the big club in 2011, is another option.
3- HEALTHY HEYWARD-2010 National League Rookie of the Year Jason Heyward was never right in 2011 due to a shoulder problem. After hitting .277 with 18 homers he fell to .227 with 14 in 2011, a 100% healthy Heyward would great improve the Braves defensively as well as offensively. In a very subtle yet underrated move, the team added former Atlanta Outfielder Matt Diaz(2006-2010) as a back up player. Diaz has hit 41 of his career 43 homers in a Braves uniform and murders left handed pitching(.329 average, .506 slugging percentage). He joins INF-OF Eric Hinske and OF Jose Constanza to give Gonzalez much better bench options in the outfield.
Julio Teheran was picked as the fourth best prospect in baseball by MLB.com. He’s in pretty select company because the only guys ahead of him were Matt Moore, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Teheran finished 15-3 at Triple-A but one of his problems is, he’s not a big strikeout guy. He had 122 strikeouts in 144 2/3 innings which is good, but not what you’d expect from a dominant major league starter.
Fly balls could be an issue as well although he only gave up five home runs in 144 2/3 innings, he gave up four home runs in 19 2/3 innings last year. At this point, he has nowhere really to go or prove himself other then the big league team so he should be getting a spot on the Braves rotation this year.
I’ve always been a Dale Murphy fan and his time is running short. With him getting less then 20% on the Hall of Fame ballot, it doesn’t look like he’s getting in but let’s look at why Murphy might be considered.
The case for Murphy is that he was one of the best hitters in the 1980s. He won two home run titles, two MVPs and he also had his own little iron man streak with four straight seasons of 162 games. He just missed 400 home runs (he finished with 398) and he has a career OPS of .815.
Of course the counter argument for Murphy is he flamed out fast. From 1998 to the end of his career, he was pretty bad and he never hit about .252. Even his last year with the Braves was a rough one where he finished with just a .667 OPS. So that hurts his case. Still, he has more then 1,200 career RBIs and almost 1,200 career runs and he had the peak HOF votes like to see.
The Braves didn’t offer contracts to Peter Moylan and Brooks Conrad and in effect, turned them into free agents. With Moylan, they would have had to sign him for around $2 million and it looks like they thought they can go lower then that and still compete with any other interested teams. Moylan missed most of 2011 after he had shoulder surgery and it’s expected that he’ll start working out for teams so the Braves will get a chance to see how he’s progressing.
Conrad was used as a pinch hitter most of the time and while he wasn’t great, he had his moments. He’s a switch hitter and he can play everywhere on the infield so he’ll probably get a look. He’s a lot better against left handed pitching though so he’s more of a right handed pinch hitter then anything.
The Braves still have some work to do. Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, Jair Jurrjens and Eric O’Flaherty are all arbitration eligible and we’ll see who gets deals before hand or who goes to the table.
It’s funny how one of the top picks for better teams in the Rule 5 drafts are left handed relief pitchers. That’s what the Braves used for their pick when they scooped up Robert Fish from the Angels. Fish has to play with the team the entire season or they give him back to the Angels but this guy put up some solid numbers in 2010.
With Double-A last year, he struck out 41 in 30 1/2 innings. This is actually Fish’s second go around because the Yankees picked him last year in the Rule 5 draft then he was put on waivers and the Royals picked him up. Because they didn’t put him on the 40 man, he was then shipped back to the Angels.
On the flip side, the Braves didn’t lose anyone in the Rule 5 draft. That’s neither at the MLB or MiLB draft.
Atlanta Braves top 10 prospects for 2011-2012 according to the latest issue(Dated November 14-27,2011) of baseballamerica.com.
1- Julio Teheran, RHP
Scouting grades based on 20-80 scale with 50 being a major league average
2- Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
3- Randall Delgado, RHP
4- Andrelton Simmons, SS
5- Sean Gilmartin, LHP
6- Edward Salcedo, 3B/SS
7- Tyler Pastornicky, SS
8- Zeke Spruill, RHP
9- Christian Bethancourt, C
10- Brandon Drury, 3B
In a move designed to clear both money and a rotation spot, the Atlanta Braves traded veteran RHSP Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians for minor league LHRP Chris Jones on October 31st,2011. In the 3rd year of a 4 year pact, Lowe was 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA in 34 starts in 2011. Over his 101 starts with the Braves, he went 40-39 with a 4.57 ERA. The 38 year old veteran was Atlanta’s opening day starter for the past 3 seasons. The Indians have agreed to pay $5 million of the $15 million Lowe is owed in the final year of his deal(2012). Jones pitched well in Class A, with a 3.36 ERA in 43 games while striking out 65 in 72 and a a third innings. He killed lefties- .143 batting average(12-83)- and could make the majors as a southpaw specialist. While the Braves slash the $5 million of their payroll, more importantly a slot in their starting rotation is now open and Atlanta has two prime candidates in LH Mike Minor and RH Julio Teheran, one of the top pitching prospects in the game, to compete for the role this spring. According to Braves General Manager Frank Wren, the team has around $10 million to spend in free agency. He hopes to find a starting shortstop, veteran outfielder and a utility man who can play both middle infield positions.
The 2011 Atlanta Braves will be remembered for blowing an 8.5 game wild card lead in September in the seasons final moments but this team won 89 games and returns in 2012 with very few holes. The pitching is deep and the lineup has only one open position(Shortstop) heading into the winter. The bullpen, in particular, is outstanding with closer RHP Craig Kimbrel(Rookie record 46 saves)backed by key setup men LHPs Jonny Venters(35 holds) and Eric O’Flaherty(32 holds) coming off dominant seasons. RHs Kris Medlen and Peter Moylan will be 100% healthy entering the new year and will supplant what should be the best bullpen in all of baseball.
One of the major reasons why this team is watching the postseason instead of playing is health. Injuries to key rotation members Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens in the 2nd half forced the team to overuse the relief corps and pitch youngsters in September. 2nd year major leaguers LH Mike Minor(5-3,4.14) and RH Brandon Beachy(7-3,3.68,199 strikeouts) figure to be in the rotation mix in 2012 and veteran Derek Lowe(9-17,5.05) might be on the outs. Rookies Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado are also on the cusp of becoming full time Braves. Tim Hudson(16-10,3.22) is the team’s ace and one of the top starters in all of baseball.
The injury bug also hit the lineup with RF Jason Heyward(.227,14,52) battling a shoulder issue all season. Atlanta GM Frank Wren did not guarantee the 2010 National League rookie of the year a starting position in 2012 after his tough sophomore campaign. LF-INF Martin Prado played in only 129 games after suffering a fluky staph infection after getting cut on a slide. Future Hall of Fame 3B Chipper Jones was banged up most of the year with leg injuries, playing 126 games with Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez giving him regular days off. The 39 year old needs a strong backup with Brooks Conrad and Prado in house options. C Brian McCann also broke down late in the year but has one of the better backups in all of the game in David Ross to spell him.
SS Alex Gonzalez is the one free agent starter from the 2011 team. He is an elite defensive player and made $2.5 million this season, so he is sure to have offers when he hits free agency. While he does not hit for average(.241,15 homers, 56 rbi), the .247 career hitter is a solid pro who deserves to play everyday. You could do worse than him in the 8 hole. The Braves should attempt to bring him back short term with prospect Tyler Pastornicky close to being major league ready. Lowe presents a bigger problem. The 14 year veteran is in the final year of his contract and is owed $15 million in 2012. However, Atlanta has several options in the rotation and the righty had a 8.75 ERA with 5 losses(5 starts) in September. Lowe is a good candidate to be a moved for another bad contract or begin the 2012 campaign as the game’s top spot starter-middle reliever.
The Atlanta Braves saw their worst nightmare unfold Wednesday August 28th as they lost 4-3 in 13 innings to the Philadelphia Phillies,opening the door for the hard charging St. Louis Cardinals, who destroyed the Houston Astros 8-0, to capture the National League Wild Card. Incredibly, the Braves entered the month of September with an 8.5 game lead over St. Louis but they lost 18 of their final 26 games including the last 5. Only an almost identical collapse on the same night by the Boston Red Sox was worse on a historic scale. Think about how well the Cardinals played: they made up 8.5 games with 23 game remaining!!! Just an awful, awful night for Braves fans.
Anyone who consistently reads my blog knows I have been concerned about the injuries to star RHSPs Jair Jurrhens(Knee) and Tommy Hanson(Shoulder) and the toll that took on the entire pitching staff. When you have injuries to key rotation members you usually replace them with either kids or spot starters. These type of starts do not produce quality or quantity and tax the bullpen. Rookie Closer Craig Kimbrel, who had a ZERO ERA in both August and July after a 1.93 June as well as 1 blown save in 27 chances, was 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA and 5 saves in 8 chances including his blown save in Wednesday’s contest. Kimbrel’s Robin to his Batman, LH Jonny Venters, also flamed out late in the season. After posting sub 1.00 ERAs in 4 of 5 months, he was hit hard in September going 0-1 with a 5.11 ERA. Braves skipper Fred Gonzalez talked about his use of his two stud relievers September 29th, saying “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of stuff that you sit back and evaluate yourself on,” Gonzalez said “And you go, “You know what? Maybe I could have done this a little different, done that different. If we don’t use those guys I don’t know if (we get) 89 wins, if we get to the situation we were in (Wednesday night). ” Gonzalez said.
I can see Fredi’s point and think this team overachieved to an extent. The Braves were an average offensive team and dealt with injuries to key players like RF Jason Heyward, 3B Chipper Jones and C Brian McCann throughout the season. 2B Dan Uggla was awful over the first half and we have touched on the two key rotation members. This team seemed to run out of gas and you have to give the Cardinals a ton of credit. That group went 23-9 while the Braves fell to 11-20 since August 25th . That is almost .750 ball. As bad as Atlanta played, St. Louis played that well. They deserved this. Saying that is going to hard for Braves fans but it is the truth.
The Atlanta Braves have finally given up the lead in the National League wild card race, as they were defeated by the NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies 7-1 at home while the St Louis Cardinals rallied to punish the Houston Astros 13-6 in Texas September 27th . The Braves look like a tired and worn out club and have played like it in September, losing 4 straight, 8 of 11 and 17 of 25. 3B Chipper Jones(knee) and C Brian McCann(Oblique) are noticeably hurting while RF Jason Heyward has played the entire 2011 campaign with 1 arm. The pitching has been taxed at both the front end with injuries to RHSPs Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens forcing the team to start youngsters in vital games. Meanwhile, ineffective outings from the starters has forced Atlanta Manager Fredi Gonzalez to throw his top 3 relievers in 77 or more games. How bad is this? Three members of the Braves bullpen are among the top 6 in the National League in games pitched! Meanwhile, starting SS Alex Gonzalez reinjured his right calf in the loss after returning to the lineup Monday after missing about a week. Barring a major miracle, do not expect him in the lineup Wednesday. Veteran Jack Wilson will more than likely get the start at short.
WEDNESDAY: Real simple for the Braves, who are currently tied with the Cardinals. They play vs Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies. Tim Hudson is starting that game for Atlanta. If they win, they worst they can do is play a single elimination game vs the Cardinals in St. Louis Thursday September 29th. Meanwhile, St. Louis is playing Houston an hour after the Braves game starts. Veteran RHSP Chris Carpenter(10-9,3.59) is on the mound for the Cardinals while RHSP Brett Myers(7-13,4.31) takes the ball for Houston. Do not be thrown of by Myers poor overall record and ERA, he is 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA in 4 September starts! Should be a very interesting night of baseball for fans in both Atlanta and St. Louis!
The Braves can rest easy- for one more night! The Houston Astros just scored on a leadoff double, bunt-error and another bunt single to win 5-4 vs the St. Louis Cardinals. Real simple, Atlanta leads the NL Wild Card by 1 game with two to go. They control their own destiny but face a tough Philadelphia Phillies club with their rotation all set while the Cardinals are playing an awful Astros team that has nothing to play for but pride. Next update within 24 hours!
With the season in its final days, the 2011 Atlanta Braves are in fight to the death with the surging St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Wild card spot. Entering play with a 1 game led on September 26th with 3 games remaining, Atlanta was defeated by the Philadelphia Phillies and ace lefty Cliff Lee at Turner Field. Meanwhile, the Cardinals and Houston Astros are tied 4-4 in the 9th in Texas. A win by St. Louis would tie the teams with two games to go. Future hall of fame 3B Chipper Jones, struggling with a bad right knee, homered in the first but that was not enough for Atlanta. Meanwhile, All Star C Brian McCann appears to be playing hurt and is hitting .174 since missing three weeks late in July thru August with strained left oblique muscle. During that span, no other qualified major leaguer has posted a number that low. Atlanta has now lost 16 of 24. With the Braves playoff berth and season in the balance, I will post nightly updates.
JURRJENS, HANSON NEWS: RHSP Jair Jurrjens(Right knee) will throw 4,5 innings in an instructional league game on Thursday September 29th and the team is hopeful after he threw three pain-free innings September 24th. If he is good to go, the Braves plan to pitch him in Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs. IF THEY MAKE IT!!!! Meanwhile fellow RHSP Tommy Hanson(Right shoulder) experienced soreness before a scheduled bullpen session September 24th and the team does not think he would be able to go in round 1 of the playoffs. Hanson is also battling the flu. Here are two very good reason why Atlanta is in the fight of their lives for a postseason berth.
The Atlanta Braves are quickly resembling the American League Boston franchise as a team that has had major injuries in their pitching staff and now sees a once assumed postseason berth in peril as the 2011 season enters its final days. With a demoralizing walk off 5-4 loss to the Marlins Monday September 19th, the wildcard lead is now at 2.5 games while the Braves have lost 3 of 4 games. Here is an amazing comparison between the Red Sox and Braves past 14 days.
Records on 9/5: Boston(84-56) Atlanta(82-58)
Lead on 9/5: 7 games 8.5 games
Record on 9/19: 88-66 87-67
Lead on 9/19: 2 games 2.5 games
The Braves team strength all year has been the pitching staff, led by a deep and talented bullpen powered by closer RHP Craig Kimbrel(45 saves) and set up men LHPs Jonny Venters(33 holds,1.69 ERA) and Eric O’Flaherty(30,1.02). However, injuries to key right handed rotation members Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, has forced manager Fredi Gonzalez to go to the pen more than he wanted. Atlanta has also had to fill the rotation with several rookies from the farm and while they are immensely talented, most of them are on pitch counts and frankly not ready to pitch in the major leagues in September. Throwing them into a pennant chase is a recipe for disaster. The next 10 days or so should be very interesting in Atlanta.
UPDATES ON JURRJENS, HANSON: First the good news. Hanson threw two pain-free innings at the Braves spring training complex in Florida September 19th. His right shoulder was fine and he plans to throw a bullpen Wednesday September 21. If that goes well, Hanson will complete 3 or 4 innings in an instructional league game Friday September 23rd. If he comes out of these two outings with no further setbacks he could start the regular season finale September 28th and be in the line to pitch game 3 of the NL Division series. Hanson has not pitched in a ML game since August 6th. Jurrjens has been ruled out of the Division series and is questionable for the NLCS with a troublesome right knee that has bothered him for 2 months. He did throw of the mound for the first time since his last start(August 30th) with a brace on September 19th and felt good. “It just let me know that I need to keep working and gaining strength,” Jurrjens said. ” I fell fine. I think that was the hardest I’ve throw since Spring Training.”
The 2011 Atlanta Braves have rolled thru the season and their record(84-64 as of September 12th) reflects it but their play has dropped off as of late. Losers of 4 straight and nine of 12 they lead the St. Louis Cardinals by 4.5 games in the wild-card race with 14 games left in the season. The club limped thru a 2-6 road trip and has had to revamp their starting rotation over the last 5-6 weeks with injuries to star RHSPs Tommy Hanson(DL-ed August 7th with a sore right shoulder, 11-7,3.60 ERA) and Jair Jurrjens(Bone bruise in right knee, has not pitched since August 30th,13-6,2.96). Veterans Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe remain but youngsters Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Brandon Beachy have been thrust into vital roles. Meanwhile, the organization’s top pitching prospect Julio Teheran has made three starts. Hanson appears closer than Jurrjens, who had offseason surgery on the knee last October, after experiencing “normal” soreness after throwing a bullpen Monday September 13th. The team has him set to throw another bullpen session Wednesday. Jurrjens does not sound confident he will be back in 2011, “I’m trying to stay positive, but sometimes you have to check on reality,too,” he said. “Until somebody tells me no, we are hoping,” said Manager Fredi Gonzalez.
BRAVES NOTES: SS Alex Gonzalez was back in the starting lineup after missing three games with a stiff lower back. Bad injury timing for both Gonzo and the Braves, as he was hitting .323 in September…. 2 Braves led the team in the 5 major offensive categories. Rookie 1B Freddie Freeman tops the club in batting average(.295), OBP(.355) and hits(154). Meanwhile, resurgent 2B Dan Uggla leads in home runs(33) and RBI(73).
2011 Atlanta Braves continue to play solid ball heading into the final month of September with 82-57 mark heading into action August 5th. As it has all season, the pitching leads the way and the stats do not lie. The team ranks among 30 major league teams: ERA(3rd), Quality starts(7th), WHIP(4th) and Batting average against(3rd). When you consider the health issues starters like RHs Tommy Hanson(Shoulder) and Jair Jurrjens(Knee) have belted in the 2nd half, those numbers become more impressive. Offensively, the team is middle of the road but the amazing 2nd half numbers put up by 2B Dan Uggla(.337, 17 homers, 36 rbi after .185,15,34 in the 1st half) has really made a noticeable difference. Adding CF Michael Bourn gives them a speed option atop the order and INF-OF Martin Prado’s(staph infection) return also stabilizes the lineup.
RECORD SETTING ROOKIE,DAY: Braves rookie closer Craig Kimbrel set the ML saves record for first year players with #41 August 31st. In the same game, future hall of fame INF Chipper Jones hit his 450th homer while 14 year major leaguer RHSP Derek Lowe hit his 1st.
CALL UPS: The team recently called up Double A OF Antoan Richardson and highly regarded prospects RHSPs Randall Delgado(0-1,3.60 in two starts) and Julio Teheran for the final month. Delgado started September 4th vs the Los Angeles Dodgers,allowing 4 hits and 3 runs in 45 innings while walking 3 and K-ing 4. He gave up a homer to Dodgers superstar CF Matt Kemp as well. Richardson is more of pinch runner, bench type player who will receive sporadic playing time. Teheran will take the mound September 8th in one of the games of a double header vs the Mets at Citi Field.
BRAVES NOTES: Jurrjens(Right knee) visited knee specialist Dr. Richard Steadman in Colorado this weekend and was replaced in the rotation by Delgado. The team is hoping skipping the start will help. Jurrjens was 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in 16 pre all star break starts while post injury and all star break he is 1-3 with a 5.88 in 7 starts…. The Braves strong pen received reinforcements when RHRP Pete Moylan(May back surgery) was activated September 4th. He joins the devastating trio of LHs Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Kimbrel to form a group built to succeed in the postseason.
Hurricane Irene caused the final two games of a series in New York vs the division rival Mets Saturday and Sunday August 27th and 28th , cooling off the red hot Atlanta Braves, winners of 7 of 9. The club stands at 79-54 thru Monday August 29th and after 3 days off The Braves return to action in Atlanta Tuesday August 30th vs the Washington Nationals. This unscheduled late season break allows Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez to rest his three top relievers- Closer Craig Kimrel(more on him below), LH 8th inning stud Jonny Venters and lefty specialist Eric O’Flaherty. The club is an amazing 18-1 when all three pitch in the same game since June 1st.
HANSON UPDATE: The Braves are optimistic that RHSP Tommy Hanson(11-7,3.60, 22 starts) will pitch again this season after an MRI Friday August 26th. He has a small tear in his right rotator cuff that is commonly found in pitchers shoulders while The labrum and rest of his shoulder appears structurally sound. Hanson will still visit arm injury expert Dr. James Andrews in Florida Monday August 29th. The righty has not pitched since August 6th and has been shut down twice this season with arm issues, receiving two separate cortisone injections.
RECORD FOR RELIEVER: Braves rookie closer Kimbrel tied the 1st year save record with #40 August 23rd. The talented righty has converted 40 of his 45 opportunities and has 31 and two third innings scoreless streak. Incredible job by the rookie and when you consider the fact that he pitches for a team bound for the postseason Kimbrel’s freshman season has to be one of the greatest of all time.
The 2011 Atlanta Braves continue to play incredible ball, led by their deep and talented pitching staff. With a strong 6-1 showing over the past 7 days, Atlanta(76-52) has opened a season high 8 game lead in the National League wild card standings after their 3 game sweep over the 2nd place Arizona Diamondbacks. This week offered a great illustration on why this team is so good as they won 2 1-0 games! As someone who grew up watching the silly (mis) management of the Boston Red Sox continuing to focus on hitting and offense while completely disregarding pitching and defense I truly appreciate this type of club. That slow pitch softball approach does not work(ask any Cleveland Indians fan from the 1990s) and the San Francisco Giants of 2010 reinforced that. Braves fans hope their 2011 group does the same.
JURRJENS, JONES BACK: The one starting pitcher who has struggled as of late is RH Jair Jurrjens(12-5,2.84) and he was hit hard in his return from the 15 day DL August 17th. In his first start after being sidelined by a strained right knee, he allowed 8 hits and 2 walks for 5 runs vs the light hitting Giants lineup. The righty is now 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA in 5 post all star outings. Good thing the Braves are deep in the rotation because Jurrjens does not appear to be healthy. On the positive side, franchise icon 3B Chipper Jones appears to be almost full recovered from two separate leg issues(knee, quad) and had some key hits in the big week for Atlanta. He claims to feel the best he has all year. Jones also ended speculation about his future by announcing he would return in 2012 to reporters in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution August 19th. As of August 20th, the former NL MVP is hitting.276 with 12 home runs and 57 rbi.
BRAVES NOTES: RHSP Tim Hudson has been a beast over the 2nd half, tossing at least 7 innings in each of his 8 starts. He sports a 1.88 EA and 0.90 WHIP as well! … Meanwhile, RHSP Tommy Hanson(Right shoulder tendinitis) will throw a bullpen session Monday August 22nd as he continues to attempt to return from the 15 day DL. He appears close to being able to make a rehab assignment, look for him to return sometime in early September. .. Rookie LHSP Mike Minor has been incredible in his last 4 starts, going 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA and 28 strikeouts.
Sad day all around for the Braves Sunday August 14 as the club not only lost 2 of 3 games to the hapless Chicago Cubs at home but 2B Dan Uggla saw his hitting streak end at 33 straight games . The former all star was acquired by Atlanta during the offseason and has struggled greatly(.173 as of July 5th) in his first season with the Braves . However, the streak raised his average to .231 while he hit an incredible 15 home runs and 32 rbi in those games. The hot spell was also vital to a team with post season hopes(lead the National League wild card standings by 4 games over San Francisco) that has had its better offensive players battling injuries all season.(3B Chipper Jones, C Brian McCann, RF Jason Heyward). Batting average aside, Uggla leads the team in home runs(27), rbi(62) and runs(66). He is an elite bat at a position that lacks them both recently and historically. The two time NL all star is the only 2nd Baseman in major league history to hit 30 home runs in 4 seasons. (and they are consecutive!) When he hits 3 more, that will be 5. My one regret about Dan Uggla? That my stupid fantasy team General manager released him! That fool? Me!
STARTING PITCHING CIRCUS: The Braves placed RHSP Tommy Hanson(Right shoulder tendinitis) on the 15 day DL August 14th. He is suffering some soreness and Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez is looking to get him some rest. The team is recalling RH Randall Delgado, one of the team’s top pitching prospects, to take Hanson’s rotation turn Tuesday August 16th in San Francisco vs the Giants. In his first ML start vs the powerful Texas Rangers in July, he allowed 7 hits and 3 earned runs over 4 innings while K-ing 2. RHSP Jair Jurrjens(Right knee strain) threw bullpen sessions on August 12th and 14th and remains on schedule to come off the DL and make his start Wednesday August 17th.
MCCANN BACK: 6 time all star C Brian McCann returned to lineup Sunday August 14th after suffering an oblique strain July 26th. He batted third and was hitless in 4 at bats, stranding 4 runners. The Braves went 10-6 without McCann, who has hit .303 with 18 home runs and 55 rbi in 92 games.
BRAVES NOTES: Look for Gonzalez to be very careful with 3B Chipper Jones(thigh, knee) for the remainder of the 2011 campaign. This is a deeper team than recent Atlanta squads and a surplus of OFs allows them to move a versatile piece like OF-INF Martin Prado around. The plan is too rest Jones on day games after night games, something they did Sunday August 14th, putting Prado at 3rd…. LF Jason Heyward(.219,12,30), who has battled a serious shoulder injury all season, is starting to lose playing time to rookie Jose “George” Constanza. The 2010 National League rookie of the year sat for 3 days before returning and going 1 for 3 in August 14th. Constanza is hitting .382 with 2 home runs, 8 rbi and 5 steals in 15 games(55 at bats) and has sparked the club.
The Atlanta Braves continue(66-49 as of August 8th) to play well but their problem is they play in the same division as the Philadelphia Phillies! (74-40, lead the Braves by 8.5) The Phils incredible depth in both the rotation and bullpen(they are on closer #4) make it almost impossible for the team to sustain any extended losing streak, so I do not think winning the NL East is a realistic goal. Atlanta does hold the lead in the NL Wild Card standings by 3.5 games over the Arizona Diamondbacks and the St. Louis Cardinals by 4. Anything can happen over a 7 game series and this Braves team with solid rotation plus deep and talented relief corps is built for post season success. A key is getting the team full healthy as we approach September. This team needs Chipper Jones’ bat in the lineup every day and he makes a huge difference.(ask any New York Mets fan!) The next 6-7 weeks should be very interesting.
STREAKING BRAVES: Red hot 2B Dan Uggla extended his hitting streak to 29 games August 29th. The previous day, Braves rookie 1B Freddie Freeman saw a 20 game streak ended.
JAIR DL-ED: Atlanta RHSP Jair Jurrjens was placed on the 15 day disabled list with a right knee strain on August 6th. He entered the all star break with a National League best 1.81 ERA but has been hit hard post break with players hitting .281 and posting a 6.26 ERA in 4 starts. Jurrjens missed the final two weeks of the 2010 season after he tore a meniscus in the same knee. He then underwent arthroscopic surgery in October and has not reported any issues previously in 2011.
MCLOUTH MENDING: LF Nate McLouth underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia in Philadelphia August 4th. That type of procedure usually carries a 6 week rehabilitation period, which would put a return around September 28th. The Braves luckily have an abundance of outfielders with the recent acquisition of CF Michael Bourn and return of LF Martin Prado to health.
BRAVES NOTES: OF Jose Constanza was recalled from the minors July 29th and has blended right in with the team. He hit safely in 8 of his first 9 games thru August 7th(13 for 26, .500 average) and collected his first career home run and stolen base in a win at the Mets Sunday…. Braves recalled LHSP Mike Minor to fill Jurrjens spot in the rotation. In his first start since June 21st, he allowed 4 earned runs and 7 hits over 5 and 2 third innings, K-ing 5 and walking 2 August 7th
The Atlanta Braves, a team that seems entrenched a top the National League wild card standings(63-46, 3.5 game lead as of July 31st) , added a much needed elite leadoff man, CF Michael Bourn, from the Houston Astros for OF Jordan Schafer(Currently on the DL with finger injury)and 3 minor league pitchers on trade deadline day, July 31st 2011. A key component in this transaction from an Atlanta stand point is that they did not have to include any of their elite pitching prospects(Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado to name a few) in the deal . Bourn, an excellent defensive player, is hitting .303 and leads the majors with 39 stolen bases. He is considered a major upgrade for a team that has injuries to 3 everyday players- C Brian McCann and OF Nate McLouth(Both placed on the DL) as well as 3B Chipper Jones- as well as down years from RF Jason Heyward and 2B Dan Uggla. Atlanta has struggled to replace former SS Rafael Furcal as a speed threat leading off since he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2005 season. Ironically, the Dodgers traded Furcal today pre-deadline as well! An outstanding day for Braves fans and players. Special side note: Bourn is on my fantasy team!
INJURY UPDATES: Jones continues to battle thru a strained right quadriceps and has been relegated to a pinch hitting role. He might not be able to play the field everyday for several weeks but could play 3B in spot duty. Manager Fredi Gonzalez says their are no plans to DL the future hall of famer. McLouth was placed on the DL Friday July 29th with a lower abdominal strain, that he has battled almost the entire season. He has played in pain but it become unbearable after a throw on July 27th. Gonzalez does not believe this injury is related to an oblique strain that placed Mclouth on the DL in May. No further update on McCann, who is battling the vaunted oblique strain as well. The team added defensive specialist C Will Nieves from the Brewers at Mid week.
UP UGGLA: Huge positives coming from Uggla, who has hit in 22 consecutive games, raising his average to .206. He has hit 8 homers while driving in 18 runs during the streak. Hate to say it but I told you so! Now if I could reverse that stupid mistake I made in fantasy when I cut him!
The Braves have placed two key components on the 15 day disabled list while their franchise icon is battling another leg injury.C Brian McCann(Strained left oblique) suffered his injury throwing in the 10th inning July 26th while CF Jordan Schafer(Chip fracture in left middle finger) attempted to play in pain for almost a week before the Atlanta medical shut him down. Both moves are effective July 27 and the team has recalled C J.C. Boscan and OF Wilkin Ramirez from Triple AAA Gwinnett to fill their roster spots. Look for veteran David Ross to be behind the plate most games while Nate McLouth will man center, his natural position.
If the news was not bad enough with the loss of both their Centerfielder and Catcher, future hall of fame 3B Chipper Jones is fighting another leg injury. After missing 12 games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery around the all star break, he now is battling a quad strain in the same leg(right). Chipper has significant swelling in a six inch area on his thigh and has treated it with ice and massage. Anyone who has ever experienced this type of injury knows it is both very painful and restrictive. He cannot play in the field(missed the July 26th game) but will be available to pinch hit. Tough, tough stretch for both the franchise AND the franchise icon.
The run to the post season continues for the 2011 Atlanta Braves as the team rides a strong top to bottom pitching staff and timely offense to a 59-44 record as of July 25th. The team has seen some positives in recent weeks with INF-OF Martin Prado back in the lineup and rookie 1B Freddie Freeman really stepping up. The pitching has been deep and dominant from day 1 and the Braves appear to have a surplus of starting pitching to deal from(More on this below). With the non waiver trade deadline July 31st at 4 pm, The next 6 days should be very interesting in Atlanta!
CHIPPER BACK: Future hall of Fame 3B Chipper Jones rejoined the team and played for the 1st time after undergoing July 9th knee surgery July 25th. Even more amazing was the fact that he homered for the Braves lone run of the contest,a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates!!!
TRADE RUMORS: Team could always use more offense and has been linked to NY Mets OF Carlos Beltran, who is an interesting name. I cover the Mets and he has not played CF at all this season. The Braves have two very good corner OFs in Prado and 2010 National League Rookie of the Year , RF Jason Heyward. I think the team should focus more on a OF who can play center as well, maybe a B.J. Upton from Tampa Bay as example? The team has been shopping some of their prospects from their elite farm system as bait. Ex Brave and current Kansas City Royal Melky Cabrera, anyone?
MEDICAL UPDATES ON SCHAFER, MOYLAN: CF Jordan Schafer jammed his left middle finger sliding into 2nd base on July 20th and was out til he pinch hit in the July 25th loss to Pittsburgh. He spark plug has a chip fracture in the finger but says he is feeling better and should be good in a couple of days. Meanwhile, RHRP Peter Moylan(Bulging disk in back) will throw off the mound sometime this week for the 1st time since undergoing surgery in May.
UGGLA UP: 2B Dan Uggla(.195,18 home runs, 40 rbi) appears to be coming out of his season long funk and has hit .268 in July with 6 homers and 12 rbi. He had the same power numbers in June but hit .179. This guy is an elite offensive player and will produce! I said that from day 1 and am sticking to my story!
The return of team spark plug INF-OF Martin Prado seemed to kick start the 2nd half as the Atlanta Braves continue to play inspired ball at 56-39 as of July 17th. Prado(Shin) DL-ed with a freak staph infection injury since June 7th made immediate impact in his first game back July 15th, going 2 for 5 with a home run,2 runs and 2 rbi in the 11-1 victory vs the Washington Nationals. With an abundance of OFs, the versatile 6th year man is now playing 3B due to injury. Prado’s bat is vital to a club that has struggled to score runs now that regular 3B Chipper Jones’(Knee surgery) stick is on the 15 day DL. Recent signs point to an offensive upturn with 1st year 1B Freddie Freeman on a tear and 2B Dan Uggla showing signs of life after being in a season long funk. The pitching has been outstanding throughout the year(Do not rank higher than 6th in all 4 major categories among the 30 ML teams: 2nd in ERA and Batting average against, 6th in quality starts, 3rd in WHIP) so any offensive improvement would be a key component to make a run at the post season.
MASSIVE MCCANN: Braves all star C Brian McCann is having an incredible season, leading the club in all 5 major categories!!! He is hitting .308 with 16 home runs, 53 rbi and 93 hits as well as a .379 OBP. This man has to draw major MVP consideration among National League players. Quite simply, this team would be done without him.
BRAVES NOTES: Freeman continued his strong freshman season with a game winning 9th inning single July 17th and is now hitting .273 with 13 homers and 47 rbi after hitting .231 in April. A great addition with plus defense as well, Freeman has to be a major candidate to win the 2011 National League Rookie of the Year award…. Jones(Knee) swung a bat Saturday July 16th and felt good. He hopes to begin a rehab assignment this Thursday(July 21st) and rejoin the club when he is eligible July 25th… Both RHRP’s Peter Moylan(Back surgery) and Kris Medlen(Tommy John Surgery) are progressing well in rehab and hope to return sometime in August….Atlanta became the 3rd franchise in major league history to win 10,000 games with the 11-1 win over the Nationals July 15th. The Braves joined the Giants and Cubs in achieving the feat.
Braves closer RH Craig Kimbrel(2-2,2.35,28 saves) was added to the National League All Star team Sunday night July 10th, replacing San Francisco Giants RHSP Matt Cain, who pitched in that evenings game. The rookie reliever joins C Brian McCann, RHSP Jair Jurrjens, 3B Chipper Jones(Pulled out due to knee surgery) and his set up man, LHP Jonny Venters in the July 12th Mid Summer Classic in Arizona.
Atlanta Braves future hall of fame Third Baseman Chipper Jones was placed on the 15 day disabled list July 9th with a torn meniscus in his right knee. The Atlanta icon has been playing with the tear since it was discovered May 15th and went thru two separate cortisone injections in an attempt to get thru the season without surgery. But after recently meeting with Braves team doctors and seeing little improvement with both treatment and rest , they advised having a procedure done. Atlanta physician Dr Marvin Royster performed the surgery Saturday afternoon July 9th in Georgia. With the all star break kicking of next week(3 o off days, July 11-13) and INF-OF Martin Prado(staph infection in right calf), the team hopes Prado’s return as well as outfield depth will help offset the loss of the Braves franchise player. When Prado comes off the DL(Should be on July 15th), he will start at 3B with OF Nate McLouth staying in left field and Jordan Schafer in center. Additionally, the club recalled Brandon Hicks from Triple AAA Gwinnett, where he was hitting .267 with 14 home runs and a .529 slugging percentage in 187 at bats. The 39 year old Jones was picked for his 7th all star game last Sunday(July 3rd) while hitting .259 with 8 home runs and 46 rbi in 290 at bats for Atlanta.
You would expect a team that is 49-36(As of July 2nd) to have several players bound for the all star game July 12th in Arizona and your Atlanta Braves have 4 players headed to the contest. C Brian McCann(.311,14 home runs, 47 rbi) won the fan vote and is participating in his 6th(1st start) straight summer classic while RHSP Jair Jurrjens, 3B Chipper Jones and LHRP Jonny Venters were all voted in by National League players . The 39 year old Jones, coming back from a late 2010 major knee injury, is hitting .257 with 7 home runs and 44 rbi(tops in the NL among 3b) and has been playing with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Jurrjens(11-3,1.89 in 15 starts) is a potential candidate to start the game for the National League and as well as the CY Young award. Venters has Nintendo like numbers, even after this weeks rough patch. Prior to the June 24th game vs the Padres, he had allowed 3 runs in 48 and a third innings. The slinging southpaw allowed four two out runs that night then allowed only his 2nd career home run 3 days later. These poor outings(LOL) have done little damage to the 2nd year man’s stats: 4-1,1.59 ERA, 54 Ks in 51 innings with 16 holds. You could also make a strong case for Venters’ flame throwing tag team partner closer Craig Kimbrel(2-2,2.57, 24 saves in 29 chances) as well as RHSP Tommy Hanson(9-4,2.62, 97 Ks in 15 starts, 89 and a third innings) to join the four but every year some deserving players do not make the team. 2011 is no different.
PRADO UPDATE: LF Martin Prado continues to progress well from his staph infection injury and will begin a rebab assignment this week after working out with his teammates this Friday July 1st and Saturday July 2nd. He took batting practice for the first time in 3 weeks Friday and did some cardio and leg strengthening exercises Saturday as he tries rejoin the big club this weekend in Philadelphia. He is sporting heavily tapped gauze over the previously infected area near his right calf but otherwise appears healthy and normal.
BRAVES NOTES: Jones might need another cortisone shot to deal with the pain in his right knee. He is trying to avoid arthroscopic surgery, which would sideline him for a couple of weeks. Chipper took some small dose shots in the joint on May 15th and could take another to stay out of the operating room. Many believed Jones would not be able take another shot(cortisone injections are very taxing on the bone and should be limited) but the dosage was so small he can afford another round…. Jurrjens allowed 1 hit July 1 vs the Orioles to complete the 9th 1 hit shutout in Braves history since 1966… Veteran RHSP Derek Lowe won for the first time since May 6th on June 29th when the Braves defeated the Mariners in Seattle,5-3. Lowe allowed 4 hits and 1 run over 6 innings to earn the victory, over his last 10 starts he is 1-3 with a4.89 ERA.
The Atlanta Braves(45-35 as of June 28th) continue to play solid ball overall in 2011 and are about to receive a big shot in the arm- literally and figuratively- with the return RHSP Tommy Hanson(8-4,2.48, 89 strike outs in 83.1 innings) Tuesday(June 28th) at the Seattle Mariners. Hanson experienced inflammation of the rotator cuff in his right throwing shoulder after striking out a career high 14 against the Astros June 12th. He was placed on the DL but built up strength in the joint without discomfort or a rehab assignment. Hanson is 7-1 with a 2.02 ERA in his last 10 starts.
BIG BEACHY: 2nd year RH SP Brandon Beachy has been good all season but lately he has really stepped up. In the month of June, he is 2-0 with 1.50 in 2 starts as well as 20 Ks in 12 innings! When you can get that type of production out of a 5th starter, you will win a ton of games and maybe even a pennant!
ANOTHER ROY?: A season after RF Jason Heyward won the NL rookie of the year, 1B Freddie Freeman appears a leading candidate to win consecutive trophies for the Braves organization . The 21 year old continues to play solid defense and is almost always in the middle of any Atlanta rallies. He is hitting .268 with 9 home runs and 32 rbi in 76 games. When you consider Freeman hit .225 in April, those stats become more impressive. Have some fun when you have a minute and look at how Boston Red Sox star 2B(and future MVP) Dustin Pedroia started out his 1st month in the majors! Patience is often required and needed in this game. The good ones have it.
BRAVES NOTES: Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez has received good medical reports on LF Martin Prado(Staph infection in cut on right calf) and is hopeful he will return before the All Star break(July 10-12th) . Prado has taken some swings of a tee and is now working out with medicine balls. Gonzalez is hopeful that his left fielder will be cleared to run and do more baseball related activities later this week… In move more about giving rookie OF Jordan Schafer a break(and rookie right handed hitter Wilkin Ramirez at bats) , Gonzalez placed Heyward in the lead off spot for the 1st time in his career Monday June 27th . Seattle started LH Erik Bedard and Schafer has batted just .118 vs. South paws in 34 at bats… LH RP Jonny Venters has to draw some serious consideration for the NL All Star team. He has 15 holds and leads NL relievers in innings with 49. His ERA is 1.29((4th among NL firemen) and he has limited batters to a .171 batting average while he tops the NL with a .195 slugging percentage allowed!
Atlanta Braves 3B Chipper Jones left Thursday’s(June 16th) game with a strained right adductor(groin) and will not return to the lineup until Sunday(6/19) or Monday(6/20). The 39 year old future hall of famer was sore when hitting in the batting cage this weekend and the team is being cautious with the veteran, who blew out his left knee late in the 2010 season. INF Brooks Conrad is receiving most of the playing time at the hot corner in Jones’ absence. Chipper has posted a .266 batting average with 7 home runs and 40 rbi in 63 games(233 at bats) in his 18th season with Atlanta.
MCLOUTH SET TO RETURN,PRADO UPDATE: Braves OF Nate McLouth(Right oblique strain) is set to come off the DL Sunday and will more than likely play left field with Jordan Schafer playing well in center and regular LF Martin Prado on the DL with strange staph infection injury in his right leg . Regular RF Jason Heyward recently rejoined the starting lineup after battling a shoulder problem all season. Prado has been confined to his home and the doctors office until returning to the Turner Field for treatment this weekend. The Braves are waiting for the wound to close and lessen the chance of infection before clearing Prado for baseball activities. It would wise to not count on seeing the Atlanta spark plug until the end of June.
The Atlanta Braves received a big boost June 15 with the return of the 2010 National League rookie of the year, RF Jason Heyward. Heyward has battled a right shoulder injury all season and went on the disabled list May 22nd. Batting 7th in the lineup, he went 0 for 2 with a walk in a 4-0 defeat. The good news is he experienced no new problems with the shoulder but in a funny side note, Heyward returned to the team on his own Bobblehead doll night!
1B Freddie Freeman(Mild right oblique strain) was held out of the lineup by Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez Wednesday(June 15th) after suffering the injury in batting practice Tuesday(June 14th). The Braves medical staff gave the rookie a sodium shot to ease the pain and he should return the lineup for the series finale vs the Mets, Thursday June 16th.
The 2011 Atlanta Braves have ridden an early season formula of outstanding pitching and just enough offense to a 38-28 mark while winning 6 straight games. The constant has been the pitching- in all areas- but when you can throw out a great starter almost nightly, things tend to take care of themselves. The Braves staff ranks among the 30 ML teams say it all: 1st in ERA, WHIP and Batting average against! They really slip hard to #2 in quality starts! The rotation features 4 starters with sub 4.20 ERAs, led by RH Jair Jurrjens(8-2,1.82 ERA, 11 Quality starts in 11 games) and Sunday’s hero with 14 strikeouts (June 12), RH Tommy Hanson(8-4,2.48, 7 QS in 14 games). Veterans Derek Lowe(3-4,3.73, 9 in 14) and Tim Hudson(5-5,4.06, 8 in 13) have also pitched well. Recently, the offense has started to come around with youngsters like 1B Freddie Freeman(.225 in April, .312 in May, .333 in June) and CF Jordan Schafer(.222 average but 7 steals on speed deprived team) contributing .
PRADO DL-ED: Not all tea and crumpets for the Braves though as the team lost both an offensive spark plug and team leader to the DL when LF Martin Prado(.277,8 home runs, 33 rbi) was put on the 15 day June 10th after a freak in game injury. Prado was hit in the right calf by a ball while stealing 2b Tuesday June 7th and developed an infection in the wound. The Atlanta medical people treated the injury but have no time table for Prado’s return. INF Brando Hicks was recalled to fill the roster spot.
BRAVES NOTES: Mild controversy created earlier this week(June 7th) when 3B Chipper Jones was quoted saying (to paraphrase) that RF Jason Heyward(Sore right shoulder) needs to understand that 80% of him is good enough to have an impact and he brings value to the club with his presence. Heyward did not respond and continues to rehab the injured wing at the Braves Spring Training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida… LHSP Mike Minor continues to fill in admirably for the injured RH Brandon Beachy, having thrown 2 straight quality starts(6 innings, 3 earned runs or less). Beachy and CF Nate McLouth(Both DL-ed with strained right obliques) are rehabbing together in Florid and appear close to returning. Heyward also is making progress, hitting balls of the a tee for the first time since going on the DL May 22nd. Manager Fredi Gonzalez is being cautious with the 2010 Rookie of the Year and will not bring the RF back until he is 100%… Atlanta took LHP Sean Gilmartin from Florida State with the 28th overall pick in the 1st rd of the MLB draft Monday June 6th. The staff ace for the Seminoles, Gilmartin was 12-1 with a 1.83 ERA in 17 games(16 starts).
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