"Mmmmm...that's good Brave!"

Monday, July 31, 2006

From Buyers to Sellers

Just like that, the Mets (featuring the Amazing Beltran) slammed the door shut on any meager playoff hopes we might have had, and exposed our greatest weakness for all to see. Our starting rotation is the worst in the league right now, just getting hammered day after day. No end in sight, no help on the way -- it's so bad that we might be looking at a new era of mediocrity. All the money we've sunk into Hampton and Hudson, Smoltz will be 40 next year, two rookies who we insist have promise but who haven't delievered (James, Davies). And Horacio, always Horacio.

JS has one more day to see what parts we can assemble for spring training 2007. In descending order of likelihood, here are some of the prime candidates to be traded:

1) Wickman -- Hey, you know how it is when it comes time to tighten the belts. Last to arrive, first to leave. Proven bullpen arms are always being shopped this time of year, so let's flip the Wick. Possible destinations: Boston, Anaheim.

2) Baez -- see above. Possible destinations: Anaheim, Arizona.

3) Renteria -- Having a great year, he's also a 30-year-old SS whose trade value will never be higher. Possible destinations: Colorado, Minnesota.

4) Hudson -- He's the kind of guy that tends to move this time of year, but he's been so horrible that it's hard to see who would want him. Still, considering his history of success, someone might take a flyer. Possible destinations: Texas, St. Louis.

5) Giles -- Betemit's departure means it's far less likely Giles will be moved before the offseason, so we'd need a functional 2B in return. Possible destination: Anaheim.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Its Better to Burn Out

than fade away. And the Braves are going down in flames in a spectacularly unsatisfying fashion. As the Mets arrived in town, the Braves faced their moment of truth. They've failed utterly. Pitching has largely been the problem, allowing 6 first inning runs to the Mets in 2 games. Tim Hudson was smacked around again, surrendering 9 earned runs in less than 6 innings. But the hitting has been lackluster as well- Marcus Giles is the only Brave with more than one base hit in the series.

And now Chipper returns to the DL. And Betemit is gone to LA. Well, we have a fancy new set-up man, but I fear nothing will be in set-up condition. A week ago we were poinsed to march into the wild-card with our eyes firmly on the Mets. Now we watch as the Mets roll through Atlanta like Sherman. And we regress to trail 8 teams in the also-ran play-off race. Well, at least we should be able to grab some good seats at the Ted this August.

So how's your summer going?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Braves Win & Lose

I just thought something should get posted, but I don't have any real interesting angle in mind to delve into. The Braves had a very good come-form-behind win Wednesday night, but followed it up with a lackluster afternoon on Thursday, falling 6-1. The loss hurts because the Mets are off, so it was a free chance to pick up a half game. And the Nats and Philly both won today.

Wicky notched another save Wednesday. Chipper's hit streak ended and Bobby got another ejection towards manager immortality. And today, Sosa hurt himself doing the one thing he should not attempt- pitching. Shiell wasn't bad, but he's not ready to be a prime-time starter yet. Soon maybe, but not yet. It was 92 degrees at the Ted today. Global warming makes me watch on TV. No trade news yet, though Schuerholtz says he is still talking to the Padres about Linebrink. But, given that Chipper couldn't play again today, expect that the deal will not go through.

Ahead- A weekend at home with the Mets. Big, bigger, biggest. If the Braves are serious about post-season play- this series is our Rubicon.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Trade Deadline Rumors Abound

It's being said and sung on local sports talk radio that the Yankees are trying to pry Wilson Betemit ( Who some call- the best player in baseball without a starting job) from the Braves. The offer appears to have reliever Scott Proctor coming from the Big Apple to our bullpen.

I don't think we'll let Betemit go for anything less than a huge talent. But Death Ray's set-up effort has been less than spectacular of late. We'll see soon enough, as the trade deadline approaches quickly.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dirty Sanchez (Marlins 2, Braves 1)

Once again we fell victim to a rookie starter, as Anibal Sanchez baffled the batsmen for seven innings. Our only run came in the sixth when Giles singled in Langerhans, who had a heckuva game, getting two hits (his first since the All-Star break) and making two highlight reel catches -- he must have read my comment on yesterday's game. Cody Ross accounted for the Fish offense, hitting two solo HRs off Chuck James, who pitched very well otherwise.

So it's a bump in the road. We'll have to get a win tomorrow to give ourselves a chance at our seventh consecutive series victory. Smoltz vs. Josh Johnson -- if the bats tonight were any indication, it could be a quick game.

A Headline that

you'll never forget- Check this out.

You got a better one?

At Home on the Road (Braves 10- Phils 8)

The Braves win again. Doing it with the bats, on the road, against a division foe and without the Jones Boys again. A 7-2 roadtrip was unimaginable a month ago, when just winning a series seemed impossible. Now we've moved back into sole possession of second place, focused firmly on the pursuit of the Mets (11.5 games back) rather than the wildcard (4.5 gb), as Sam rightly recommended.

Cole Hamels was indeed 100 feet tall, though only 5 innings long, last night. A dozen k's in 24 batters faced. Timmy Hudson was mediocre yet again and owes the hitters some nice gifts for bringing him an undeserved W. Ken Ray and Tyler Yates reminded us why the Wickman acquisition is so important, surrendering 4 runs in 2 innings, just so as to provide Wicky with a save situation. And WICKY SAVES. Another 3-up, 3-down 9th.

4 more Braves homers. 2 from LaRoche. Adam looks solid at the plate- head steady, eyes fixed on the ball and a smooth, deceptively easy swing and follow through. Opposite this is Ryan Langerhans, who severely needs extended time in the batting cage. Ryan was 0-for-3 again and is now hitting a lowly.235. Ryan has not had A HIT since July 9th. His swing looks uncomfortable and awkward, like a right-handed batter trying to swing lefty for the first time. With Andruw returning tonight (I hope), Langerhans needs to be benched and spend the game working on the mechanics. Leave Thorman or Diaz in. Diaz is hitting at a .320 clip now and Thorman has only 2 fewer homers than Langerhans in 165 fewer at-bats.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Wickman Era Begins (Braves 5-Phil 1)

Prior to Bob Wickman's debut, the Braves led the NL in blown saves, with 20. Since the Wickman Era began- 0 blown saves.

The Braves sat on their hands all night and refused to score run more than one run until HoRam sat down. Finally, in the 9th, the Braves exploded for 4 runs and took away another big road win. HoRam was once again pitching from the stretch all night long, allowing at least one baserunner in every inning after the first. But time and again our Houdini of the diamond escaped virtually unscathed, allowing only one run- on a bases-loaded fielders choice. Wicky faced the minimum, striking out one and coaxing 2 harmless ground outs to close out the 9th.

This was a big win for the Braves, being on the road against a divisional foe and without the services of either Jones brother. Expect to see at least Andruw return tonight, as fallen-star Tim Hudson faces off against the 100-foot tall Cole Hamels. Prediction- Francoeur will either strike out or leave the yard in every at bat.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bob Wickman

We've waited for Scheurholz to make a move to shore up the bullpen, and considering what's available out there, this was about as good as he could do without giving up the store a la the Reds. Wickman has the Proven Closer label, but more importantly can draw on a simple history of success at the major league level that's completely absent from the remainder of the bullpen.

There are definite signs that he's not what he once was, though. Wickman's Baseball Reference page shows an aging pitcher who was league-average in 2003-4 before enjoying a renaissance last season. However, he's no longer the pitcher who would routinely strike out a man per inning, and he got a little lucky last year -- anyone who gives up 9 HR in 62 innings and Ks about 6 per 9 IP is fortunate to only give up 17 total runs.

So far this year he's kept the ball in the park, which he'll have to continue doing. I'd still like to see us import Linebrink or Williamson, but if we don't take a couple from the Phillies this weekend it may not matter much. The recent hot streak accentuated the hole that we've dug for ourselves -- we're still behind the same teams, and losing 4 of 5 will put us right back where we started.

Anyway, we welcome any contributions that Wickman can make. I have a suggestion for his entrance music -- what about "Fat Man" by Jethro Tull? Fear The Flute!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Scoring Ends. But help is on the way..

It finally happened. The Braves lost a game. And failed to score 45 runs in the game. Sad. A rough way for Shiell to make his Braves debut. Imagine starting during the biggest win streak of the season. Against Carpenter, the defending Cy Young winner. On the road. And you get a surprise 2-hour rain delay before taking the mound. Rough.

But still, Chipper's hit streak reaches 19 games. And McCann went deep yet again. So now it's on the Philly and let's win there. But the big news......

Braves acquire veteran closer- Bob Wickman- from Cleveland. How good is it? Hard to tell. Wickman's a veteran closer, so that's good. But this year his ERA is over 4, not good. For me, I'm excited about the move. I think its important to have a closer who's been there and done it before. And we'll recall that last season Wicky, as he'll come to be known, had 45 saves and a 2.47 ERA. Not a whole lot of k's for a closer, but solid location control.

I'll sit back and watch, and await the in-depth analysis of this new Brave's prior work from Sam or M. Norman. Probably Sam, since M. Norman is conspicuously absent of late.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

No Superlatives Left Behind

Holy Cow. Another incredible, dominating, stunning performance. A 20-hit, 15-run performance is followed by an 18-hit, 14-run performance. Andruw, 0-for-4 on Monday, is the Dominator of the Day with a 5-for-5, 2-HR, 6-rbi display. Just incredible.

Hudson gets a win despite surrendering 5 meaningless runs in under 6 innings. 5 runs? What the hell good is that nowadays? The Braves scored in all but 2 innings. I'm speechless. What a time for M. "Daddy" Norman to quit posting again.

Nothing left to say. Every starting position player except Francoeur had a multi-hit night. 4 of our first 5 in the batting order are hitting over .300. Only Andruw "lags". Scott Thorman is up to .273. Blah, blah, blah..... Beaneaters..... 1929 Yankees.....Paul Waner.... 4 games out of the wildcard. And tonight we offer up rookie Jason Shiell to see if pitching has ANY relevance.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Memo to Jeff Torborg...

...who sounds surprised that 1) Marquis didn't cover third on a single to right, and 2) he made a stupid first pitch to Renteria, busting him up and in with the bases loaded: Jason Marquis is a hothead and a me-first player. Always has been, always will be. Now let the slaughter continue....

No Individual Record-Breaker...

But one hell of a team performance, whipping a new division leader.

Chipper's streak ends with him still tied Paul Waner. But Chipper certainly did not have a down night, as he offered up 3 singles in the rout. The roster flooded the field with 20 base hits, this season's best thus far for the resurgent Braves. Sosa proved that he hits better than he pitches when he smacked his 3rd HR of the season, moving him into a tie with Brian Jordan. (And also Sean Casey) LaRoche was 4-for-4, Francoeur had 3 hits and Betemit added 4 to his totals. Among the starters, only Andruw and Thorman went hitless, and each of them left the game early, as a dozen position players were used by Cox.

Player of the Game has to be Brian McCann. His 3rd inning grand slam on the 9th pitch of an extraordinary at-bat was a thing of beauty. He just kept fouling off every pitch till he got one he wanted. And the "Wow!" At that point it was a scoreless game and Horacio was getting tired from the heat. After the slam, the wheels came off for the recently demoted Jeff Weaver.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Whompin' Stick

Another day, another double-digit offensive output. Nice of our boys to provide at least a glimmer of hope -- and it would have been even nicer had the Cubs been able to hold a 5-run lead vs. the Mets -- alas, their vaunted bullpen (virtually the only strong spot on the team) imploded Braves-style, so we remain 12 games in arrears.

But let's not dwell on that. Today we salute Chipper Jones, who tied Paul Waner's record of 14 straight games with an extra base hit. He goes for the record tonight against Jeff Weaver of the Cardinals. Not a bad straw to draw -- he'll get to bat lefthanded, his more powerful side, against a mediocre pitcher in a park that, while historically a home run graveyard, does yield a fair share of doubles. He's 5 for 15 against Weaver -- all singles.

A little later we'll meet the man with whom Chipper (for the time being) shares history.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Problem: How to Overcome 8 Teams

and win the Selig Spot in the Post-Season.

Answer: Win more games than anyone else in the National League.

And thats just what the Braves are doing. 8 wins in the past 10 games. No other NL has done it. We've gained ground on EVERY SINGLE TEAM in the league. 8-3 for the month of July. No other NL can match it. Averaging 7 runs per game. Stunning. Hitsville. The Big Blue Machine.

Is it for real? Or just a false positive? We'll know very soon. After this series against the NL West leader, we move on to challenge the Central-leading Cardinals. If we can win that series too, then I'd say the rest of the league better wake up and pay attention. Am I nuts? Or do you think this is the Braves' big summer streak of dominating the game that we've come to expect?

Notes: How many saves were earned in the majors on Saturday?

Answer-Zero. The first time since September of 1978 that such a thing has occurred. All 30 teams were in action. Not a single save registered. Bizarre.

Chpper's extra-base hit steak ended. He now has merely a 15-game hit streak. Renteria and Francoeur's hit streaks ended. Giles didn't play, so his streak awaits his return.

**UPDATE** Chipper DID extend his EBH streak with a sixth inning double, so he's now just one away from Paul Waner's 79-year-old record. How cool is that?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

All Aboarrrrrrrd!!!

Climb on board the Second Half Train (or bandwagon) everybody. Its already rolling and somebody's gonna get crushed under the wheels. I'd say the whole 'Matic Nation agrees that the Braves 2nd half will be a new kind of excitement for real Braves fans. We've cut the wheat from the chaff- and the chaff is all those clowns from Lilburn and Griffin who were sporting Boston jerseys at the stadium a few weeks ago. Today those last-place Braves sit in 2nd place after beating a division leader on the road Beat them 3 or 4 times in one game it seemed. In your face Trevor Hoffman. Wooooo-wooooooooooo. Here we come.

Your conductor will be Mr. Chipper Jones. He went yard early and often yesterday, securing his 12th straight game with an extra-base hit. The ML record is 14. Rentaria's hit streak is 15 games. Giles- 13 straight. FRANCOEUR (seriously. no joke.) has a 10-game streak. Suddenly we're looking like The Big Blue Machine out there.

Smoltz takes the mound tonight to keep the train rolling. You recall that Maddux got to pick his catchers in days gone by. I wonder if Cox will allow Smoltz to choose his relievers from here on in. If not, I imagine that Smoltz will simply chain himself to the mound after the 7th inning and refuse to move till Villarreal is in street clothes.

The Compleat Midseason Grades

First, thanks to everyone for their cards and letters concerning the Brave-O-Matic Midseason Grades. While a few were a tad churlish (bunch of slaves to the now, if you ask me), most confessed that the extended rollout of the MG served to heighten their anticipation, thus making the eventual payoff ever more sweet. This was our hope.

On to the bullpen -- and since there haven't been any consistently defined roles to create a pecking order, we'll go alphabetical:

Kevin Barry

This will double as an introduction. The newest member of the 'pen, and seems to have been slotted in Chuck James' April role -- multiple inning eater for an ineffective starter. His first three appearances were brilliant, last night not so much. He's not young (almost 28) -- after matriculating at Rider University (by the way, the Baseball Cube now has some college stats in addition to all minor league player stats -- it's really an invaluable tool), he's resolutely made his way up the ladder, usually as a setup guy/secondary closer, then converted to starter in 2005. Generally good ERA and K numbers, struggles with control at times.

Isn't that a strange career pattern? First, his slow ascent is more indicative of a high school pitcher than a college pitcher (I think). Second, there are probably 5 pitchers who begin as starters and then convert to relievers for every one that goes the other way, especially considering his success as a reliever. He's done well in both roles, and Piazza's HR last night may prove to be an aberration -- since 2000, Barry has given up a grand total of 19 HR in over 450 IP, which is fairly astounding. Sosa gave up 20 in the first half of this season, by way of comparison.

Grade: Inc.

Lance Cormier

Half of the Estrada Booty, he pitched well for a few weeks, then completely fell apart. He made a couple of emergency starts that resulted in emergency bullpen cattle calls, and sports a gaudy 13/25 K/BB ratio (yes, that's backwards). July 4 marked his Independence Day from the major league roster, as he was optioned to Richmond.

Grade: F

Macay McBride

Another guy whose K/BB is underwater (16/20), but he hasn't given up a gopher ball in 34 appearances. As the sole bullpen lefty, his job is secure, but he inspires neither confidence nor ire.

Grade: C-

Chad Paronto

I have an old friend who likes to tinker with cars, and one of his favorite pastimes is to go junking -- he'll find a salvage yard and poke around, looking for something he can use. Most everything there is garbage, but once in a while he'll come across a ditributor cap or headlight rim that happens to fit. In the salvage yard that is the Braves bullpen, Paronto is the headlight rim.

Grade: B

Ken Ray

Meet the distributor cap. We all know how slow Cox can be to adjust player roles, but maybe Sosa's blowing TWO leads last night will land Death Ray back into the closer role. Obviously, that's no guarantee of success, but I'm heartened by his recent return to dominance after a bit of a rough patch. His motion is fairly unstable -- he falls to the first base side of the mound, not unlike Reitsma, so McDowell should keep a close eye on his mechanics.

Grade: A

Chris Reitsma

Was reportedly hiding an injury -- though as A Brett reports, the nature of the injury and what to do about it isn't clear to anyone. He'll spend the remainder of the year scouring the New England Journal of Medicine for possible solutions. Maybe a copy of the DSM-IV would be helpful at getting his head straight while he's at it. Suggested off-season reading material for his agent: the Baseball GM phone book....

Grade: F

Oscar Villarreal

Still the staff leader in victories (by two, no less), the Vulture specializes in blowing leads for Smoltz, interspersed with occasional bouts of effectiveness. Oscar's season can be best described by examining the "hold" rule. From the MLB official site:

The hold is not an official statistic, but it was created as a way to credit middle relief pitchers for a job well done. Starting pitchers get wins, and closers -- the relief pitchers who come in at the end of the game -- get saves, but the guys who pitch in between the two rarely get either statistic. So what's the most important thing one of these middle relievers can do? "Hold" a lead. If a reliever comes into a game to protect a lead, gets at least one out and leaves without giving up that lead, he gets a hold.

Pretty basic, no? Not for the Vulture -- in 39 appearances thus far, he's managed to perform this minimal task exactly zero times.

Grade: D-

Tyler Yates

He's been okay, given his role. Since the Braves are 4-15 in games in which he appears, it's pretty clear what his role is.

Grade: C

The Detritus

You know the names, and you know what they've done. Stockman is the only guy who may reappear, and Devine appears to be trade bait.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Keeping Hope Alive

I keep hoping that one day major league baseball will come to its senses. For the good of the game, Bud Selig will be removed in favor of an actual Commissioner of Baseball. The DH will be relegated to slow-pitch softball leagues, where it belongs. Inter-league play will give way to a balanced INTRA-league schedule. Just like when Teddy Ballgame played the game. Clemens will be told to "Retire or Play". Just pick one for crap sakes. And then shut the f--- up!

Will order be restored to the baseball universe? You say NO, but I see a sign of the inpending anti-apocalypse:

According to a report in the New York Daily News, several sources within Major League Baseball expect a San Francisco grand jury to indict Giants slugger Barry Bonds, possibly even as early as next week.

Sure it's a report on Fox about a report in the New York Daily News, but still...... Could happen.

The Continuing Saga of the Midseason Grades

Starting pitchers:

John Smoltz

His NL rank in various stats:

IP - Sixth
Ks - Sixth
ERA - 12th
Wins - 25th

Is having as good a year as the highly publicized Glavine, and his K rate has actually increased over last year, despite going away from his splitter. He's a horse.

Grade: A-

Tim Hudson

He'll never be worth the contract he signed, and if he doesn't get more consistent the fans may begin blaming him for signing it. People are silly that way. It's strange, and frustrating, how Hudson seems to lose his command for weeks at a time, then puts it together and looks unbeatable. I give him about a 90% chance of pitching better in the second half, but for now...

Grade: C-

Horacio Ramirez

Has a worse ERA than Hudson (4.65 to 4.56), but there's no doubt that HoRam has been the better pitcher. The numbers are skewed by that ugly start against the Reds, but six of his nine starts have been stellar. Maybe he's doing it with mirrors, or maybe his discovery that the strike zone also has an INSIDE corner will make an enduring difference in his results. All I know is, he shut down the Yankees in New York, and looked like he knew he could do it.

Grade: B

John Thomson

Actually led the NL in ERA for a while, but only because he was blowing up after two-out errors. I've always felt he was underrated, and I still do -- only now, he's become an underrated reason that we suck. Rowland's Office rightly ridicules him for his penchant for goofy injuries. On the plus side, he sweats more than Mark Wohlers in the throes of performance anxiety.

Grade: D

Kyle Davies

Struggled badly in eight starts before going on the 60-day DL with a strained groin. Must be some strain. I'm hesitant to grade him too harshly -- he's still a baby, and I've got high hopes for him. But he was having a hell of a time getting out of just about any inning. But I'll give him a break (I'm sure he's relieved).

Grade: Inc.

Chuck James

So far, so good. He's going to give up his share of HRs, so he'll have to keep the walks to a minimum. Considering the relative merits of our outfield and infield defenses, inducing a large number of flyballs would seem a prudent strategy. He's fun to watch, and keeps things moving -- only Smoltz when he's on a roll pitches as quickly.

Grade: A

Jorge Sosa

All together now:

Grade: F

Monday, July 10, 2006

An Optimistic Mid-season Assessment

This is from Baseball Prospectus, a trusted source of baseball analysis and forecasting for many years. Let's not lose too much faith, Braves' fans!

As most of the baseball world begins to accept the idea that 2006 does, in fact, mark the end of an era, you won’t find much doom and gloom in this space today. Most everyone knows the Braves spent time in the cellar; in fact, they began the month of June by losing 18 of 20, and fell as deep as 16 games beneath the mighty Mets on June 26. If you’re keeping tabs on the Playoffs Odds Report, you may have noticed their chance of playing in October dip below one percent on June 25. If you want to see a Braves fan really cranky, tell him or her that Bobby Cox’s chances of raising his 15th straight “NL East Champs” flag are 250 to 1 as of Wednesday.
But really, what separates the 2006 Braves from the 2005 club? Apart from the exodus of Rafael Furcal and the subsequent Andy Marte/Edgar Renteria trade, it was a pretty quiet winter in Turnertown.
The ulcers caused by the bullpen are nothing new. Last year’s squad ranked 12th in the National League in bullpen ERA at 4.74, and this year’s ranks 11th at 4.68. Relief help might be the team’s greatest need approaching the deadline, but it doesn’t help explain the chasm between 2005 and 2006.
And despite the major drop-offs of Jeff Francoeur, Andruw Jones, and Marcus Giles, the offense has shown great resilience. It’s scoring nearly five runs per game, better than it was in 2005, good for fifth in the NL through Wednesday. Renteria’s hitting around his 90th percentile PECOTA projection (a level from which he's likely to show some regression over the second half). On the flip side, PECOTA was optimistic about Francoeur and Giles, who are both playing close to their 10th percentile projections. Perennial Team Health Report red light Chipper Jones was holding up until this week, and while Will Carroll’s most recent report doesn’t sound too serious, how fortunate are the Braves to have Wilson Betemit? Since the start of 2005, Betemit’s hit .293/.350/.449 while playing third base, shortstop, and second. If the Braves weren’t so loaded at those positions, his numbers might look quite a bit more like Bill Hall’s in Milwaukee.
Adam LaRoche’s top three comparable players are Tino Martinez, Todd Helton, and Jason Giambi, but you wouldn’t know it from his performance. With LaRoche maintaining his severe platoon splits, perhaps the Braves are missing Julio Franco more than they thought they would. Brian Jordan, LaRoche’s nominal platoon partner who is currently on the disabled list, has a 564 OPS while playing first base this season, primarily against southpaws. Since Jordan bruised his clavicle, lefthanded hitter Scott Thorman has been filling in.
The rotation is where the disparity becomes clearer. No one is pitching outrageously badly, but almost every starter has slipped. John Smoltz’s peripherals are vintage John Smoltz, but a slightly elevated BABIP might help explain the ERA bump. Tim Hudson’s 4.57 ERA is easily the worst of his career, and more than a run higher than his career mark. John Thomson missed some time due to injury and is having his worst campaign since his days as a young Rockie in 1999. Jorge Sosa, he of the ridiculous 2.55 ERA last year, is back to normal and got moved to the bullpen, due in part to his poor showing in the rotation and in part to the demise of Chris Reitsma.
Chuck James, summoned from Richmond to replace Sosa, could make a notable difference. Pegged by PECOTA for a 4.42 ERA and nearly eight punchouts per inning. James won his first three starts, and is keeping up his extreme flyball tendencies, a hot button for James’ future that has caused plenty of internal debate among BP staff. Among pitchers who have tossed at least as many innings as James this year, James has the second-lowest groundball rate:

Pitcher IP GB% SO9
Keith Foulke 32.0 20.0 6.5
Chuck James 31.1 26.6 5.7
Jered Weaver 33.1 27.0 8.4
Rafael Soriano 43.2 27.0 9.9
Chris Young 103.2 30.4 8.3

With a pair of big wins over the Reds the last two nights, the Braves pulled within ten games of .500, but they’ve only been outscored by 12 runs on the season. Their odds for title number 15 are still quite long, but hey, the Mets just put Pedro Martinez on the disabled list. Between James, the potential for bounceback from the rest of the rotation, the upsides of Francoeur, Andruw Jones, and Giles, and the distinguished track record of trader John Schuerholz, don’t stick in a fork in the Braves just yet. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this team over their string of titles, we should know that a 13.5 game deficit shouldn’t faze them.
--Dave Haller

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Little Mo' Before the Break

The Braves got back on their game Saturday after being pummeled on Friday. The 4-1 win made 6 in the last 9, leaving our Braves just 1 game out of 2nd place in the division. Chalk this one up to another superb effort from Smoltz, who reluctantly allowed a reliever to play after his 8 solid innings. Smoltzie notched 10 k's, allowed only one earned run and added two hits and a rbi.

The optimist wing of the Matic (ie-not M. Norman) is seeing alot to feel good about as the All-Star break draws nigh. (Didn't it intentionally coincide with July 4 previously?) Renteria extended his latest hit streak to 13 games. Marcus Giles somehow has an 11-game hit streak going. The semi-healthy Chipper Jones set a new Atlanta record with an extra base hit in his 10th straight game, part of his own 12-game hit streak. And Francoeur's 2-out, 2-run dinger in the 7th gave him the ML lead for 2-out rbi's, with 35. (Proof positive that if you swing the bat enough something will hit it from time to time.) Lastly, the Mets placed Pedro on the DL this week. Age may be a factor, as Pedro was injured "when he slipped in the bathroom and fell on his hip while changing his shirt". Not the most athletic way to reach the DL.
A Braves win, coupled with Philly and Florida losses today, would find us tied for second at the break. A remarkable place to be considering how low we swooned in June. We're gonna shock the world!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Midseason Grades (Part 3)

Continuing the longest-running midseason report in history:

Wilson Betemit

Heir to Mark DeRosa as the guy who hits well enough to start, but can't crack the lineup. He may have a better case than DeRosa, but only because of the current state of the team. In the days of yore, having a young supersub IF was acceptable, even necessary. Because we were winning, there was no organizational pressure to see what DeRosa could do as a regular -- he was injury insurance. We have to look at Betemit differently, because we're looking to the future now. We must find out if he can handle a starting job, so we must find a place for him. He's done all he can do in his present role.

Truth be told, he and DeRosa are a lot alike -- they can both hit .280 with some walks and doubles power. Both sport iron gloves, from all available evidence. Here's hoping that Betemit does more with his shot, once he gets it, than DeRosa did.

Grade: B+

Todd Pratt

Before last season ended I went on record hoping the Braves would acquire Pratt for 2006. Estrada was on his way out the door, McCann showed himself ready for a starting role, and I opined that Pratt would be a useful one-year veteran bench presence. John Schuerholz, evidently an avid reader of Brave-O-Matic, agreed and promptly signed him.

For all I know, he may indeed provide a "useful bench presence", but his field presence thus far can best be described as "washed up", as evidenced by his .189 batting average and poor defense (highlighted by a passed ball and error on a SB attempt last night, both of which led to runs). Seems like a good enough guy, but I'd much rather see Brayan Pena at this point.

Grade: D- (I know, should be an F, but since he was my idea and all...)

Pete Orr

Although he and Pratt have basically the same batting line (Pratt: .189/.245/.274, Orr:.213/.234/.307), Orr has actually been a valuable pinch-hitter this season:

As PH: .323/.344/.484
As starter: .136/.156/.182

He's also given us a good glove at 2B -- no errors, good range factor. At least he's giving us something -- not much else to say.

Grade: C

Brian Jordan

One of the Aged Three (along with Pratt and Remlinger -- how's that working out?) -- Jordan hit well in April and had a couple of nice moments, but has been useless since. At least his injury is legit -- I don't think you can fake a broken clavicle, but maybe we can conjure up some rehab issues to keep him out until the inevitable late-September swan song.

Grade: F

Other position players:

Scott Thorman was brought up to replace Jordan -- so far I can't really tell the difference. Brayan Pena was light-years better than in 2005 during his brief callup, and may have a future after all. Tony Pena, Jr. showed up to collect his first ML hit and to (hopefully) remind his employers of Rafael Belliard. And future batting champion Martin Prado stopped by to say hello.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Braves Theatre Presents-

Mr. Reitsma Goes Home. In one act.

Scene: John Schuerholtz's office. The GM is at his desk reading scouting reports. Chris Reitsma enters.

CR- You wanted to see me, Mr. Schuerholtz?
JS- (Doesn't look up) Yeah, yeah. Listen, it looks like you need surgery.
CR- Are you sure? The numbness in my hand kind of comes and goes lately.
JS. Oh yeah. (Looks at AJC. Big headlines about Chuck James and Ken Ray visible.) I'd say you need season-ending surgery.
CR- Well, I've had some tests and the doctors said they'll have the results by Saturday.
JS- (looks up) Uh, no son. You're having SEASON ENDING surgery. Right away.
CR- What needs to be done?
JS- Whatever. Have 'em open up your knee or put a metal piece in your wrist or reconstruct your left foot. Whatever. Who cares. You get to the doctor and I'll come up with something by then. See you in the spring. Here's a commemerative 1966 replica jersey with your name on it. Thanks for stopping by. Tell Mr. Jordan to come in on your way out.

Tonight's episode was inspired by this blurb in today's AJC:
Reliever Chris Reitsma will have surgery and miss the rest of the season.
Still undecided is which surgery and whether he'll miss part of next season, too.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Game Worth Watching (finally)

Didn't we used to do this every other week or so? It's 13-4 in the 6th right now, and we haven't scored this many runs since the first week of the season. Couple of notes:

-- By the end of the fourth inning, every Brave position player had at least one hit, one run, and one RBI. When was the last time that happened? Someone talk to Elias...

-- By far the best news in this game is the health and hitting of Chipper. Yeah, we've got Betemit if we need him, but we need C. Jones to play and play well.

-- Maybe I'm just in an expansive mood because of the score, but you can put me in the Jeff Torborg bandwagon. I'm still resentful about the absence of our beloved TBS crew, but I'll give credit where it's due -- Torborg is consistently insightful and pleasant to listen to. His prescient comments about James' pitching motion were some of the best analysis I've heard in a while.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Just Because Someone Pays You,

it doesn't mean you're an expert. Case in point-Mike Fitzpatrick, an "AP Baseball Writer". Associated Press pays him to write about baseball, so he must know something. Right? Well here's an exerpt from his July 1st All-Star forecast for the NL:
Catcher -- Take your pick. They're all the same -- not all that good. Chicago's Michael Barrett gets the start, despite that 10-game suspension for punching A.J. Pierzynski. Atlanta's Brian McCann also makes it.

Uhhhhhhh.... What???? Well, I presume a baseball expert would look at the player stats when making such asinine statements. But did he? McCann is batting .357, 50 points higher than Barrett, and has allowed only 21 stolen bases (440 innings) to Barrett's 54 (481 innings). McCann- 22 years-old. Barrett- 29. Both the same? Think the Braves would trade McCann for Barrett straight up? Would the Cubs? So the answer is- Clearly they are NOT "all the same".

And not good? How many starting players are batting over .350? 2 in each league, including Ichiro and Nomar. And of the entire group, McCann is the youngest. Yeah, I'd say McCann is in fact all that good.

Paid writers who suck really get my goat. Mr. Fitzpatrick, consider yourself a goat-getter.

Monday's Rookie of the Day- Ken "Death" Ray. 1 inning, 2 k's, a whip of zero.

While You Were Away

Good to see ya, Braves fans. How are things? Haven't seen you much lately. Did you notice what happened over the past few days? The Braves are no longer in last place. Sure we're just a half game ahead of the Nats, but it's a start. And we're no longer 15 games out. It's now 12.5, after we picked up 2 games on the Mets in the past 2 days and 3 games over the last 10. And we're only 2.5 behind second-place Philly, closing the gap there by 4 games in the past 10.

So call me crazy.... but maybe..... Perhaps its not too late. We're trimming some of the fat-ie Reitsma and Jordan- and bringing on the new crop of youngsters. Thorman has started slowly, but should come around. HoRam is winning games by sheer will. Chuck James has emerged as a powerhouse. So maybe if Hudson came back to form in the second half..... and Francoeur started making contact.....and our lead-off man got on base some..... then maybe????

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Cuisine Theory- Universally Applicable?????

Cuisine Theory soccer continues to impress. After baffling prognosticators with a .750 winning percentage in the Round of 16, the system matched that rate in the Round of 8, correctly predicting that favorites England and BRAZIL would both fall. The only error was Germany beating Argentina on penalty kicks. Either beer is in fact food, in which case I misread the system, or the system cannot account for overtime. ( The system's 2 other "errors" were the Swiss losing to Ukraine on penalty kicks and Mexico falling to Argentina in the extra period.)

Your Final Four picks are as follows- contact your bookie immediately:
Germany vs. Italy- Two former Axis powers meet up. Italy's food is not intimidated by playing on German soil and even the Beer is Food possibility is not enough to make up the difference. Italy wins.

France vs. Portugal- France is, as I've said before, reknown for its cuisine. So much so that they invented the word. And they beat Brazil. So it must be France to move on.

Finals- France vs. Italy- A foodie dream come true. All-world wines paired with stocks versus sauces, pastas versus breads, Proscuitto di Parma versus Bresse Chicken. In the end it'll be Italy that wins the cup.

Now back to Braves baseball. Who we got going to Pittsburgh for the All-Star fiasco? The roster will be announced tonight at 7pm. I haven't been so excited since ESPN-4 announced it would broadcast minor-league hockey preseason games next year!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Midseason Grades (Part 2)

More position players (until I give out -- to be continued):

Brian McCann

What a sweet swing the kid has. It was evident immediately upon his arrival last year, and I expected him to outpace his roommate in their soph seasons, but .353? I don't know what's more surprising -- that he's done it to this point, or that it looks like he could keep on doing it. I wouldn't put anything past the kid -- I think he can hit .340 one year, then come back the next year and hit 30 homers if he decides to do that.

Here's a question to ponder -- what impact do you think the catcher has on the effectiveness of the pitching staff?

Grade: A+

Andruw Jones

Finally, at long last, most of the bickering about Andruw seems to have ceased, and he's allowed to be what he is -- that is to say, "not Willie Mays". Maybe it was the big 2005, or maybe he's putting together another typical Andruw season without the wild fluctuations in his performance, but he seems to have reached the point in his career where you just pencil him in, forget about him, then see how well he does in the MVP voting.

Grade: A-

Jeff Francoeur

Unfortunately, Cox has also taken the "pencil him in and forget about him" approach with young master Francoeur, with decidedly less felicitous results. Yes, he's on pace to hit 30 HR and drive in 110 -- to the superficial observer, this will seem like a fine year. Prepare to be met with some eye-rolling as you attempt to explain to said superficial observer that Frenchy's RBI stats are largely a function of following four high-OBP guys in the lineup, and that a more telling stat might be that he's very nearly on a pace to break the major league record for most outs made in a season. His assist numbers have also taken a hit, but that's a function of opportunity as well -- nobody's testing his arm anymore, which means he gets credit for fewer extra bases taken.

Obviously, he could use some more seasoning, but obviously he's not going to get it. Despite his struggles, he's our best option -- I'd just like to hope he has a higher ceiling than Dave Kingman.

Grade: C

Ryan Langerhans

Ryan looks like a ballplayer, but was overextended as a starting LF. He plays great defense, but at the least important defensive position. He's got a nice-looking swing, but uses the same one seemingly regardless of pitch location. He's big and fast, but doesn't hit home runs or steal bases. He'll take a walk, but doesn't get nearly enough hits. So now he's in his born role of 4th/5th outfielder, where he'll be for a number of teams for several years and make a nice living.

Grade: D+

Matt Diaz

Although he's an outfielder, Diaz was basically replacing Julio Franco on the roster as designated lefty-masher, and has not disappointed. The pleasant surprise has been his performance against RHP:

2003-2005 2006
vs. LHP .333/.388/.486 .333/.369/.517
vs. RHP .128/.180/.255 .344/.377/.453

He's earned the additional playing time, and may get even more if Thorman's struggles continue. Since most of his offensive value is tied up in his ability to hit singles, as he neither walks much nor has great power, he'll need to hit over .300 to be a truly valuable player, but so far so good.

Grade: A