Tag Archives: MLB

Just Who is my Favorite Sports Team?

Someone asked me recently, of my favorite teams, which is actually my true favorite. My immediate answer was, “Chase Elliott”. But as I sit and think about this question, and how I’d answer if asked again, I think I might reconsider. As I thought, it got me thinking, just which teams ARE my favorite. Which teams would winning a championship mean more for me? And which ones is a championship so unfathomable that perhaps, it falls down the list simply because imagining it occurring is too far fetched for me to even attempt to wrap my arms around how I’d feel. So I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’ve come up with a list, in order, of the 25 things I’d most like to see occur in sports during my lifetime.

1. Atlanta Falcons win Super Bowl- I know I said Chase Elliott was my favorite team/driver, whatever you want to call it, and he is. However, I get to watch him 30 to 36 weekends a year. He’s also young, it’s his first year in major NASCAR racing. There’s going to be plenty of time for that.

The Atlanta Falcons however, are not young. The Falcons are nearing 50 years old, and still no championship. They were instilled as my favorite team growing up because they were my dad’s favorite team. It didn’t hurt that of the stick and ball sports, football is my favorite, and it’s not close. But not only that, the Atlanta Falcons are, besides the Elliotts, the only TRUE professional team based out of Georgia, and the only one based out of Atlanta, the Dream notwithstanding. Yes, the Braves and Hawks call Atlanta home now, but they didn’t originate here.

The Atlanta Falcons are Atlanta’s and Atlanta’s alone. We share no history (though at times, pawning some of this history off on another city wouldn’t exactly stink) with another city, no records, no uniforms, no logos, no anything. They’ve always been, the ATLANTA Falcons.

The day that this team brings a championship to Atlanta is one, that truthfully, I can’t even begin to describe the way I even think I’d feel. And I know what I’d ultimately actually feel would reach far, far beyond what I can conjure up in my mind.

2. Chase Elliott win a Sprint Cup Championship- As mentioned, Elliott is my “favorite”. If this question was posed 11 years ago, I would have put Bill Elliott winning a championship at 1, the Falcons winning a Super Bowl at 2. As much as I loved the Falcons as a kid, they didn’t compare to how much I loved “Awesome Bill”. And now that his son his here? I love the Falcons, but not like I root for this kid. The investment is deep. The history is deeper. The personal meaning, deeper than both together.

Through all the ups and downs of my relationship with my father, there is one constant. An Elliott in a racecar. There’s always an Elliott that we can come together over. Whether it was reminiscing about the good ole days of Bill’s hey day, or even his not so stellar moments, or it’s talking about the incredibly bright future of his son Chase, we will always have an Elliott. And for that, nothing can replace that. And that’s not saying the Falcons aren’t a “me and dad thing”, but it’s not close to our connection to the Elliotts, as I mentioned in a post nearly four full years ago.

So the day Chase Elliott hoists that championship trophy above his head, I’ll remember being there in 1988 at Atlanta International Raceway to watch his dad hoist one, and I hope, when it happens, I’m with my dad.

3. Georgia Tech College Football National Championship- This one is one I almost dropped lower, simply because of the improbability. Not to mention, I was alive for one of these, and despite being only five years old, I actually have vivid memories of Shawn Jones and William Bell running all through Nebraska’s defense in Orlando. However, it’s that improbability that ranks it so high on the list. Everyone knows I pull for Georgia when they don’t play Tech, and because I wasn’t alive for Georgia’s national title, and because there are so many other rabid SEC fans around here, I almost put them higher than Tech on this list. Then I thought, not only does a Tech title put it in the face of THOSE SEC fans, it does it to the Georgia fans I’ve heard nothing but ridicule from for almost the last quarter century. But alas, it’s not going to happen. But I can dream, right?

4. Georgia College Football National Championship- Like I mentioned above, I almost put this above Tech winning one, but it comes in a step below. I know some Tech fans may disown me for that thought, and some may even disown me for having them here, but that’s fine. I like all my home teams. When a team from Georgia plays a team from another state, I want the local boys to whip their ass. Every. Single. Time.

Beyond that though, I love Mark Richt. He’s everything right about college football and receives far, far, FAR more flak than he deserves. Whether it’s people incredulously going on about how he’s, “lost control of the program”, or the players, or to the even more asinine arguments about his lack of a national title, he receives unjust criticism.

The national title argument in particular irks me because it’s so stupid. Because the argument is so ignorant. I’m not here to get into details about that. But, if Richt could win one in Athens, it would shut those people up. And for that reason alone, them winning a national title makes the top four.

5. Chase Elliott Winning the Daytona 500- See above for the reasoning. The Daytona 500, in many ways, is almost the equivalent to a championship, so if Chase can pull that one off, it’s going to be one very, very special day.

6. Atlanta Braves World Series- Yes, we have one. And I was plenty old enough to enjoy and appreciate it. But not as much as I’d enjoy and appreciate it now. All the World Series losses as well that have added up over the years only add to the need for a championship. Hearing it from all these teams who over the past 25 years have made the playoffs, maybe 2 times, maybe three, or even five or six, but have two World Series rings, about how much greater an organization than the Braves they are (though currently employing Fredi Gonzalez gives these claims merit) gets old. A second trophy would shut them up.

7. Chase Elliott Nationwide Championship- It might seem high, seeing as how the Nationwide Series, or Xfinity Series, or whatever it will be next year, is basically the AAA minor leagues of NASCAR. However, unlike other minor leagues, they’re on major TV every week, they’re a multi million dollar sport, and, they’re the second most popular form of motorsports in America. So it’s not your typical minor league circuit. Throw in the fact that for Chase to win one, he’d have to do so at age 18 or 19…. It’d be pretty cool. Plus, with the way sports are around here in Georgia, it might be the closest we get to a championship in the next few years, well, until Chase goes and wins one at the Cup level.

8. Georgia Tech Basketball National Title- They’ve been closer than any other team in this state over the past 15 years when it comes to winning a title, though, you could argue that the 2012 Georgia football team was pretty dadgum close as well. They actually have played for a championship in this century. Nobody else say can say that. So there’s that. But, while I love my Jackets, and am an ardent follower and supporter, basketball just isn’t there with football, NASCAR, and even baseball. Notice, I still haven’t gotten to the Hawks yet. Being a Georgia Tech fan however is hard. We’re outnumbered, and the good times are becoming fewer and farther between. Something to cheer about, period, would be nice. But if Tech is going to win something, while I’d pick baseball first, the odds are much, much better in happens on the hardwood than on the Flats.

9. Kasey Kahne Sprint Cup Championship- Kasey Kahne is here because of Bill Elliott. When Elliott retired following the 2003 season, Kasey Kahne was tabbed to be his replacement in the no. 9 car, and immediately, I became a fan. At this point, there was no sign of a future Elliott coming into the sport, so I had to find a new guy to pull for. That Kasey was a contender off the bat, with so many agonizingly close runner-up finishes (much like Elliott) in his rookie year, pulling for him became easy, and difficult at the same time. Kahne is a guy with a lot of talent, that’s yet to put it all together. Watching him will his way into the chase (NASCAR’s version of the playoffs) this year with a gutty drive at Atlanta was pretty cool. Watching him finally put everything together and win a championship would be downright awesome. For ten years I’ve been a Kahne fan, but he better hurry. Once Chase Elliott arrives on the Sprint Cup circuit, he’s no longer going to be my top dog. Maybe he can pull it off this year, who knows?

10. Atlanta Hawks NBA Championship- I probably dropped them below Georgia State simply because of how infuriated and frustrated I am with the mess this organization is right now. And it’s probably because it’s been such a frustrating and infuriating disaster for so long, that they have fallen so far. Nevertheless, they’re still my team.

11. Georgia Tech Baseball College World Series

12. Kasey Kahne Winning the Daytona 500

13. North Carolina Basketball National Championship

14. Georgia Southern Football Being Ranked

15. Georgia State Basketball Final Four

16. Georgia Basketball National Championship

17. Atlanta Dream WNBA Championship

18. Georgia Tech Basketball ACC Tournament Championship

19. Georgia State Football Conference Championship

20. Kennesaw State Basketball NCAA Tournament Bid

21. Kansas City Royals World Series

22. Detroit Lions Super Bowl

23. North Carolina Football National Championship

24. Buffalo Bills Super Bowl

25. Cleveland Browns Super Bowl

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Filed under Baseball, Basketball, Braves, College Basketball, College Football, Daytona 500, Falcons, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawks, Motorsports, NASCAR, NFL, Personal, Playoffs, Sports

Dividing Line Among Braves Fans; Attendance, It’s Not as Bad as You Think

Chipper Jones tweet last night after the game against the Rockies created a local, well, to some extent, even national, firestorm in regards to the poor attendance at Braves games. And I say poor because that is the perception. While the Braves attendance certainly isn’t among Major League Baseball’s best, to say it is poor would be wrong. It’s right about average.

The Braves attendance ranking over the past five years has been 14th, 15th, 13th, 15th, and so far in 2012 16th. So as I said, it’s not near the top, but it’s also not near the bottom.

I’ll try to avoid the oft used, but entirely accurate, typical explanation about how Atlanta is full of people who aren’t actually from Atlanta. This one everyone should be aware of by now, and to deny it’s role in their attendance is absurd. So I’ll look at some other factors as we compare these horrible, lousy, worthless Braves fans to the rest of the country.

Take into consideration just this year, shall we?

The two last place teams in baseball in attendance are the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics. As the season stands now, the A’s would be in the playoffs, while the Rays (who played in a world series a short time ago and made the post season last year) sit merely 1 1/2 out of a playoff spot in the American League.

But I won’t stop there. Both the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox (who have been playing baseball in Chicago for 111 years) rank behind the Braves in attendance this season. This of course despite the fact that these two teams both lead their divisions, in September.

But we can keep going from there. The Arizona Diamondbacks, division winners a year ago, and amid the playoff race through late August this year, also rank behind the Braves. One of the feel good stories of the year, the Pittsburgh Pirates, they who are without a winning season in 20 years, but still a proud franchise that dates back to 1882 (which for you math experts isn’t even 20 years after the Civil War ended) are just two games out of a playoff spot, yet rank behind the Braves in attendance.

So can we stop with the bashing of how Atlanta is full of such horrible baseball fans that won’t come out to see a winner?

I’m curious however when it comes to other stadiums, if you polled all the fans in attendance, how many of those in the ballpark actually live in the city in which the stadium resides. And no, I don’t mean they live on a suburb just outside of town, but rather, in the city.

I’d bet the numbers are pretty high in a lot of the major market teams in baseball. Which brings me to my next point.

Of the 15 teams ahead of the Braves in attendance this year, only four, the Rangers, Cardinals, Reds, and Twins play baseball in a city that doesn’t have a larger population than Atlanta based on the 2010 census.

It must be noted however that while Arlington ranks behind Atlanta in population, and not by much I might add, there’s this other city that pretty much backs right up to Arlington, you might have heard of it. You know, Dallas!

After that, it also must be taken into consideration that two of those teams, the Reds and Cardinals have been around since 1882. They might have had just a wee bit of time to build up a more solid fan base. Throw in the fact that the Cardinals are the defending world champions and the Reds are tied for the most wins in baseball, this is perhaps a little bit better understood.

It should also be noted, that if you’ve ever been to Cincinnati, when it comes to a sports team, the city offers very little else. It’s not like the Bengals are out stirring up hope, nor is Cincinnati exactly a college football hot bed. Your best argument is Xavier and Cincinnati college hoops.

As far as St. Louis goes? That town IS the Cardinals. There’s a reason they’re widely known as the best fans in baseball.

You have to consider that Atlanta only has barely over two-thirds the population of Denver… So, it’s not like the Braves are on equal footing competing with these other cities.

Making matters worse, is MARTA. Hopefully you haven’t had to use it much, but if you have, you understand what I’m talking about. It’s reach outside of the city is limited, at best. And even within the city, it doesn’t make a lot of points readily accessible. The fact you have to walk all the way through underground, to then catch a bus, to take MARTA to a Braves game is just unacceptable and a horrible inconvenience.

So I’m curious, what would attendance in places like Philadelphia, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or Boston, or Baltimore be if the majority of their fans also lived outside the city. And I’m curious as to what those numbers would be if they were to still be allowed to maintain their current public transit systems. But imagine if they had ours? Do you really think they’d be selling out a Tuesday night game against a horrible Rockies team when the pitcher on the hill is one who inspires no confidence of winning?

Speaking of which, Chipper picked a bad game to choose to call out the fans for not showing up. Maybe he forgot it was the day after a holiday weekend. Maybe he forgot that all kids are pretty much back in school now. Maybe he forgot that anyone who dared go anywhere in Atlanta all weekend was probably sick of driving due to amount of traffic. Traffic that was far worse than ordinary because all you had going on within 90 minutes of Turner Field this weekend was two college football games among ACC and SEC schools, Georgia’s home opener, three Braves games, Dragon-Con, and the NASCAR race weekend down at Atlanta Motor Speedway. So maybe, JUST maybe, there had been a few other things going around to help detract from people coming for a Tuesday night game against a bad baseball team.

But you know, the worst part about this isn’t that the national media, or other fans are mocking Atlanta for it. No, it’s that there has been a dividing line drawn among Braves fans themselves. You have Braves fans calling out other Braves fans for not being at baseball games, and this to me, is entirely unacceptable.

It’s pretty well documented right now and well known that the economy is pretty much in shambles right now. If it hasn’t affected you, that is great, and I’m happy for you. But don’t you dare sit there and assume it hasn’t impacted the lives of other people.

Yes, tickets can be very inexpensive, and yes, MARTA itself doesn’t cost a lot of money. But if you think that’s the only cost that goes into a Braves game, then you probably lead a very, very fortunate life.

As mentioned earlier, a great deal of Braves fans do not live in the city, and the public transportation system is borderline useless. So being able to just on a whim decide you’ll go to a Braves game, right after work, or just up and decide to go to one, and be able to do so smoothly and be home at a decent hour, not nearly as feasible here as in other cities with professional baseball teams.

If you live north up 85, or are in the Cumming, Lawrenceville, Duluth or Buford area, why would you spend the gas money, take the time, buy the more expensive tickets for Atlanta Braves games constantly when you can just go to Gwinnett?

This of course is an awesome response to the ignorant comments that people who don’t go to Atlanta Braves games aren’t true fans because they aren’t helping pay the payroll. Well, last I checked, the Gwinnett Braves were a part of the Atlanta Braves organization. Maybe some people in their condescending ride on the high horse above the rest of the world didn’t notice that. I don’t know.

In addition, the number of reasons people can’t attend ball games may generally start with financial reasons, but there are countless others. Proximity to the stadium, work schedules, whether they have children or not, transportation, or even health related issues. To hear other fans publicly calling them out saying that they, “have no excuse” for not going, actually sickens me.

Who are these people to tell other people how to spend their money? Who are these people to tell other people what they have “no excuse” for either doing or not doing. Have they walked in their shoes? Do they even know the first thing about them? It’s quite appalling actually.

Claiming someone is less of a fan because they don’t attend games is actually probably hurtful to some people. To some, they brush it off, some get ticked off, others may laugh about it. But to imply that someone you don’t know, and you don’t know why they haven’t gone to a game, or as many games as you deem they should, can be hurtful, and mostly because it is coming from a fellow Braves fan.

Sure, the argument is people are speaking out in general about Braves fans and that nobody is being singled out. Tell that to the countless, COUNTLESS people who just felt real singled out. It’s not like Braves don’t hear it enough from the rest of the country, but when your own Braves family is doing it to you, that’s just not kosher.

I can’t expect ESPN, or Phillies fans, or other sports fans across the country to ever accept any of the reasons Braves attendance isn’t great (because I will not call it poor). But Braves should be more willing to accept and acknowledge the hurdles faced by the Braves in an effort to boost attendance.

When some 25 or 30 year old tells some 45 or 50 year old Braves lifer they aren’t a real Braves fan because they don’t go to games, that 45 or 50 year should simply slap them across the face repeatedly with a lineup card from just about every team from the 70s and 80s that they endured.

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Atlanta Braves First Half Report Card

So the season is just about halfway complete (Stats thru July 3 games) and it is time to examine just where the Braves stand individually, and collectively, with half a season left to make a push for the playoffs.

Starters

LF Martin Prado-  A

I know, right now it seems hard to give anybody on this team an A with the way they’ve been playing, but Prado is worthy of it. Offensively, he’s the perfect two hitter for this team, thanks to  suddenly recognizing the value of a walk. If you want any explanation as to why Prado is headed for a career year, that is it. He’s already drawn 32 walks, his previous career high was 40. The result is a stellar .383 on base percentage. He’s also quietly put himself in position to push for 20 stolen bases this year, while having been caught just once. Defensively, he’s been very solid and helps round out perhaps the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball. After what he gave us last year, Prado’s year has been nothing short of outstanding. He deserved more all star consideration than he got.

CF Michael Bourne- A+

Wait, really? The first two players receive As on a team we’re all this frustrated with right now? Well, things may change once we get out of the outfield. What has Bourn not done well? I tell you, those contract years can be awfully motivational. On the merits of his defense alone, at a position where stellar defensive player can be a huge difference maker, Bourn is having an above average season. He’s the best defensive outfielder in the national league, and should be well on his way to his second gold glove. Should the club stay in contention however, he should also find his name in the MVP conversation if he keeps up his offensive pace. All he’s done there is gone and managed to put himself third in hits and second in runs scored, while being third in the league in stolen bases. He’s already set a career high in home runs, and could push to do the same in doubles, triples, and walks. It’s a crying shame we’re hoping Braves fans can click a mouse enough times to get him in the all-star game.

RF Jason Heyward- A-

Some might argue Heyward deserves higher marks, but one can’t forget the slumps he’s prone to, and been through. Remember, before an absolutely torrid June, Heyward was the subject of a lot of venom from Braves fans, so we can’t act like this season has been a total bed of roses. Heyward’s defense has been exceptional, which is reason to keep him on the field as much as possible. Given more regular playing time, especially against lefties, Heyward started getting in a groove and producing. His RBI numbers may be down, but that’s what happens when you place arguably your most complete hitter at the bottom of the order. They should improve as long as he keeps hitting behind Bourn and Prado. We know he won’t have a repeat of June, but we should see something similar in production from him, and with his stellar defense, clearly, right field is not a problem spot.

3B Chipper Jones- B

He only gets a B because of the games he’s missed due to injury or needed time off. When in the lineup, he’s been fantastic, but when he’s out of the lineup, we suffer, and suffer big time. The drop off from him to Juan Francisco or Matt Diaz is steep and precipitous, and one we simply can’t afford. When on the field, it’s easily arguable Chipper has been the best offensive player on the team. His power numbers trail Heyward’s only slightly, and that can be attributed somewhat to the adjustment period coming back from injury. Chipper has only had 185 plate appearances, whereas Michael Bourn has had 338. That’s a big difference. For Chipper to get into the A range, he’s going to need 200 to 225 I believe in the second half, and I honestly can’t say at this point we can expect that from him. And that’s unfortunate, we need his bat.

SS Tyler Pastornicky- D

I won’t give him an F, simply because he was overmatched to begin with. You might also wonder why I’m not listing Andrelton Simmons here. Simple, Pastornicky played in almost twice as many games at shortstop as Simmons did in the first half, so when grading the Braves shortstop to this point, Pastornicky’s production gets weighted a little heavier. Offensively, he did have some big hits, but he struck out at a 4:1 ratio, and had an OBP of .281. Those can be tolerated at shortstop if good defense is played. Well, about that…..

2B Dan Uggla- C+

He’s been in a massive slump the past month, and that has probably dropped him a full letter grade. Defensively, he’s not been a liability. His errors seem to stand out to us because we expect so many from him, but he’s having the best defensive season of his career. Remember, there’s more to playing good defense than not making errors. Offensively, there’s still plenty of hope for him. His OPS stands right now at the exact number he finished 2011 with. So if we can get his usual second half surge, his end of the year numbers should again be more than okay. Cutting down on the strikeouts would be a big help, as Uggla’s BABIP is over .300, he just needs to put more in play. Furthermore, his home run to fly ball ratio is the lowest of his career, and by a pretty good margin. If that can come closer to the norm in the second half, we could see a 20 home run close to the season. One other reason to stay optimistic is his new found patience at the plate. He’s on pace to draw over 100 walks for the first time in his career. So while right now he’s not been anything too special, we can hope at the end of the year that’s turned around.

1B Freddie Freeman- C-

He was off to a good start, then suffered those eye problems that seem to be an issue only with the Braves. Why that is, I’ll never understand. At any rate, he’s had some spurts here in there, but collectively, the year has been a disappointment. He may be on pace for 100 RBI, but he benefited greatly from batting in the three spot, a spot hopefully he won’t be back in for the remainder of the year, at least not until his offensive game finds consistency. He’s walking a good deal less this year and that has contributed a bit to the decline in production at the plate. A turnaround from Freeman would be extremely helpful to this sputtering offense, because as of right now, he’s not much more than just an average first basemen.

C Brian McCann- F

Yes, here’s where the first F of the year gets doled out. This is due in large part to what’s expected of McCann, and ultimately, what this team needs, to be really good. If you think about it, if you put a typical Brian McCann year at the 3 or 4 spot in our lineup, we probably have 4 or 5 more wins right now, at least, and aren’t chasing the Nationals, we’re staring eye to eye with them. One has to think though that McCann will snap out of this. His OBP is .060 lower than his career mark, and his slugging is almost .100 lower. This sort of drop off is NOT expected from someone 28 years old, even at the grueling catcher position. Some of his drop off can absolutely be attributed to just bad luck, his BAbip is at a paltry .228. His career mark is .295. So this should eventually start to balance out. When it does, the Braves offense will look demonstratively better. But until it does, we’re going to continue to struggle at times to score runs.

Starting Lineup- B-

So just by looking through the typical starting lineup for the season, one should be able to see why we may be near the top of the league in runs score, yet we all feel so frustrated with the offense. When guys like Freeman, McCann and Uggla are hitting, and doing what we expect, this offense is as good and explosive as any baseball. However, when guys you count on the middle of your order to produce your power are slumping as bad as these guys are prone to, you’re offense is going to have a hard time putting together any sort of consistency. There are enough bright spots to still keep this team in contention, and give us hope, but we need more of the expected big boppers to start bopping.

Bench

Juan Francisco- D-

He’s had some nice moments filling in for Chipper Jones, but for the most part, he’s one of the reasons Braves pinch hitters have been among the least effective in the majors. Anybody who has 38 strikeouts compared to just 3 walks, there’s a problem there, a big one. The positive side is he’s shown a little power, and has produced some runs, but a .248 OBP is just unacceptable. Unfortunately, Chipper’s need for time off will ensure he sees more playing time in the second half.

Eric Hinske- F

If there was an F-, Hinske would get it. I don’t even know where to start with how terrible he has been this season. He’s of no value defensively, and offensively, his slugging percentage is lower than the on base percentage of every current starter on the team. A mere five extra base hits from your supposed power source off the bench? Randall Delgado has a comparable slugging percentage.

Andrelton Simmons- A

How can this be anything but an A? He’s simply come in and in one month in the league established himself as one of the finer defensive players, not just at shortstop, but in all of baseball. And at a key defensive position like shortstop, that can be more important any offense contributed. But it’s not like the 22 year old hasn’t held his own there either. He’s hitting .323, but more impressively for such a young player with such little seasoning, he’s walked seven times to just eleven strike outs. He’s shown decent power at the plate as well. The key will be how well he adjusts once everyone starts adjusting to him. For now though, he’s been spectacular for the Braves.

Matt Diaz- C-

Diaz personifies platoon player, or I should say, he personifies an average platoon player. He’s good against lefties, but not great. However, against right handers, he’s among the worst hitters I’ve ever seen. This includes pitchers. Using a roster spot for someone that one dimensional, and then letting that one dimensional player take away playing time from your best all around player, it’s baffling. But I can’t penalize Diaz for Fredi Gonzalez being a moron, can I? The Braves need to find a reserve outfield bat, and Hinske’s ability to play 1B probably makes his spot safe, even if his overall production is significantly down from just about everyone’s. The more I write, the more I want to lower the grade, but his serviceability against left handed pitching keeps it out of the D range.

David Ross- B+

Ross is another guy prone to slumping, although it’s usually when he’s called upon to start regularly, which is clearly not his forte. However, when it comes to the backup catcher position, not many teams can do much better than David Ross. Unfortunately, his struggles when playing everyday make subbing him more often for the slumping McCann an exercise in futility. He’s a solid defensive catcher, calls a good game, and and is a threat with the bat. From his position, there’s not a lot more that you can ask for.

Jack Wilson- C-

Wilson isn’t here for offense, he’s here for defense, so his offense shouldn’t weigh too heavily into the discussion. However, as a late inning defensive replacement and not much more, you really don’t get the chance to impact that many games that way, though he did perhaps save one by himself with his glove. So, what he does at the plate as a pinch hitter, it does make a difference. Being called on to pinch hit and then failing to execute a sacrifice bunt, yeah, you don’t get high marks for that. Wilson’s been worse than Hinske at the plate this year, and it’s actually not even close, that’s how bad he’s been. But he’s been solid at what his primary job is, so the rating comes in at just below average.

Jose Costanza- F

I seriously do not, for the life of me, understand the love affair with this guy. He doesn’t walk, he strikes out, had just one extra base hit, and he didn’t steal a base. Yet people clamor for more playing time from him. I’m going to start dismissing anyone who wants more playing time from Costanza (because that would mean less for, you know, three VERY good outfielders) as people who aren’t actual Braves fans because apparently they don’t pay a lick of attention.

Bench D-

Because at this point, technically Simmons is the starting shortstop, and was never used as an actual bench player, there is very little to like here. David Ross is a big bright spot, and Jack Wilson’s defense is solid enough. After that though? It’s atrocious. Even D- might be a bit generous. The bench needs upgrading in a big way. For all the woes of the offense, the inability to rest a slumping starter and hope one of your reserves comes in and breathes a little life into the offense makes snapping a team out of a funk all the more difficult. Most of our bench players, on other teams, even the worst in baseball, would still be lucky to be on the major league squad.

Starting Rotation

Tommy Hanson B-

Yes, he’s 9-5, I understand all of that. But a pitcher is about so much more, okay, pretty everything more, than wins. Hanson’s allowed 16 home runs, which is only two more than the much maligned Mike Minor. He’s also walked just one fewer hitter, even if in 14 more innings. Hanson’s record could, and should be better. Many times over the course of the season the Braves offense has given him a lead, only to see him come back in in the very next inning and surrender it. Great pitchers don’t do that. Originally Hanson was supposed to be an ace pitcher. We’re about to that point in his career, that if he’s going to be, it better happen soon. As it is stands, he’s a solid two or three. Unfortunately, this rotation calls on him to be the ace.

Mike Minor- D

Would you believe he’s thrown the second most innings on our staff. I guess if you want an explanation as to how this seemingly talented team can struggle like it does, the fact this is the pitcher you’ve relied the second heaviest on speaks volumes. Minor’s troubles don’t really need to be documented, do they? He walks too many, and can’t keep the ball in the ballpark. The result? Way too many innings where three or four runs get scored. I haven’t done the research, but I’d bet Minor is among the team leaders in percentages of innings thrown without giving up a run. Unfortunately, when he gives them up, he does so in a big way. His inconstancy and unreliability makes him a big weak link in this rotation.

Brandon Beachy- A+

Unfortunately, there’s no reason to go any further here, since it will be next year at this time, at least, before he pitches again. He was the ace this staff needed. Now, he’s the dominant starter turned cheerleader it did not need.

Randall Delgado C+

You might be surprised to see his grade nearly the same as Tommy Hanson’s. Consider though Delgado wasn’t supposed to even be part of this rotation, Hanson was supposed to be an ace caliber pitcher. Delgado has been beleaguered, but he’s simply gone through the struggles of a young pitcher. You have to remember he’s only 22, and after some rough starts early on, for the most part, he’s settled down. He still walks too many hitters, and that gets his pitch count high, among other things, but that can be worked on with experience in the majors. He does a good job of not allowing home runs, and he’s a solid strikeout pitcher. Fans wanting to give up on Delgado already, they just need to be quiet. Give the kid a chance.

Tim Hudson B+

His two terrible first innings against the Nationals stand out, as does the fact he’s been roughed up a few times this season in  Minoresque mode. However, he’s also been the dominant Tim Hudson of old at times as well. Unfortunately the bone spurs in his ankle leave him somewhat of a question mark every time it is his turn to pitch. However, aside from Beachy, he’s clearly been the best starter on the team. Unfortunately, with Beachy down, for this rotation to be befitting of an elite team, it needs someone like Beachy heading it, and right now, Hudson just isn’t that.

Jair Jurrjens- C-

Which Jurrjens are we grading? Pre AAA stint Jurrjens (F), or the one we’ve seen since (A-)? Amazingly, this team managed to win two of his first four starts, thanks to 24 total runs scored in two of his starts. So, Jurrjens didn’t hurt the team as badly as initially feared. Though, it would have been nice to have had him humming along so Delgado could have replaced Minor, and not Jurrjens. In any event, he’s been solid his last three outings, in fact, just three earned runs in three starts with 18.1 innings pitched. He’s only walked four hitters in that stretch and not allowed a home run after allowing 10 walks and five long balls in his first four starts while pitching just 16.1 innings. The turnaround is immense. If Jurrjens can continue that upward climb, he slots in nicely in the two or three role. More consistent performances by Hudson and Hanson would leave Jurrjens in a wonderful niche as three, possibly four starter pending trade, down the stretch.

Rotation- C

With Brandon Beachy, it’s a solid rotation. Without, there’s still too many questions. Minor isn’t as much a question anymore, as an explosive inning waiting too happen. Delgado is still prone to get rocked every now and then, and Hudson and Hanson have also lacked the consistency you want from top end starters. Throw in the fact that Jurrjens, despite his recent success, is still a wildcard, and you have a rotation that can ultimately be anything from upper third in the league, to bottom third. That’s too large of a variance. Frank Wren needs to find help, and by help, I don’t exactly mean Ben Sheets.

Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel- A+

Could he be anything else? No, he’s not perfect, but he’s arguably the most dominant closer in baseball today. In fact, he’s turning into one of the most dominant closers of recent memory. You want to strike out 50, walk just 10, and allow a lone home run in your 30 innings of work, with a WHIP of .767, you get an A+

Kris Medlen- B+

Medlen doesn’t really have the stuff to be dominant, and I’m not sure he’s got the stuff to be an elite set-up guy either. But he is still a very good pitcher, who with our problems in the rotation, may ultimately be an answer there. We shall see. In the meantime, he’s ideal for coming into games when one of the other starters has been roughed up early and giving us several innings of work. Of course, by then the game is already in hand. This asset would be more valuable in trying to protect dominant middle inning relief guys from pitching in long inning situations and getting burned out. Unfortunately, we don’t have those anymore.

Chad Durbin- C

Durbin was terrible early, and even I was ready to be rid of him. He’s since settled down, and right now has easily supplanted Jonny Venters as the 7th inning guy, and might even push O’Flaherty for the 8th inning role. The Durbin we’ve seen as of late could be a vital piece to a bullpen, that hopefully when all is said and done is still a team strength, just not with the pieces being who we envisioned at the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, his rocky start still has to factor in to his first half grade.

Jonny Venters- F

Much like McCann, this stems a lot as well from expectation. If you look at his numbers on the whole, he’s a guy many teams would probably still take on their roster. If you look at what we expected from him, and were counting on him, most Braves fans would gladly drive him either to Gwinnett, or to Dr. James Andrews office. Ever since Venters was given some time off for some soreness, he’s been extremely ineffective, and it’s almost become a foregone conclusion that if Venters pitches, the game is over, and not in favor of the Braves. An injury would certainly explain the sudden fall-off. And while nobody wants an injury, one would think, an injury might be easier to fix than totally screwed up mechanics, or a complete lack of confidence. You have to wonder if these relievers are like running backs. In the NFL, it’s a pretty proven fact, you hit a certain number of carries one year, expect a decline the next in production. I’ve got think there are similarities at play here.

Eric O’Flaherty- B-

Another case of the expectations not being matched, and thus, the grade reflecting it. It’s not that O’Flaherty has had a bad year, he hasn’t. But there have been memorable spots where he didn’t get the job done. Last year, there was hardly a time all season he failed to get the job done. Venters struggles have exasperated O’Flaherty’s decline. If Medlen could perhaps move into the 8th inning rule, O’Flaherty might get back to a more comfortable 7th inning role. Who knows. It’s suffice to say though, Eric O’Flaherty has not been the problem in our bullpen.

Cristhian Martinez- C+

Martinez is the case of where the expectations and role actually help his grade. He’s a mop-up, long relief guy, and that’s a role he’s more than capable of filling in a solid fashion. His only real fallacy is his trouble keeping the ball in the park, but other than that, he’s been a very serviceable mop-up pitcher. Is he anything special? No. But he’s not a weak link, and for his role, he’s been quite effective.

Livan Hernandez- C-

Like Pastornicky, because he appeared so often, his performance for the first half counts towards the entire teams. Hernandez had the same role as Martinez, only he didn’t perform as well in it. He wasn’t horrible, and he ate a lot of innings in games where we were hopelessly behind at times it seemed. But that said, Cristhian Martinez outperformed him….

Bullpen- B-

The presence of Craig Kimbrel alone keeps this bullpen above average. He’s that good. The massively disappointing season of Jonny Venters drags it back down, and the coming back to earth of Eric O’Flaherty (without falling OFF the earth) steadies it out as a slightly above average bullpen. Less Venters, a continued improved Durbin, and more Medlen though could turn this unit back into a real strength.

Managing

Fredi Gonzalez- F

I don’t really even want to spend the time dissecting the ways Fredi Gonzalez deserves an F. I think they’re all pretty well known and documented. I’d rather hear some reasons he doesn’t.

Overall Grade B-

We’re slumping now, obviously, but we’ve seen what this team can do when things are clicking. There are some pieces that have started to come back around in the bullpen, and in the rotation that could benefit the pitching in the second half of the year. Are we an elite, title contender right now? No, of course not. Can we be? Yes. Though, I’d feel more confident if the man in charge of making the adjustments, and of adapting to players themselves coming around, or falling off, wasn’t a complete and total idiot.

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A Brave Take Over in the All-Star Game?

For discussion purposes, which Braves do you think deserve to be in Kansas City, and which ones should be starting?

Honestly, I think only one Brave truly deserves to start, and that’s Michael Bourn. I absolutely believe he deserves to be the starting center fielder for the National League. I’ll argue that Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera should probably be flanking him.

Bourn has been everything we were hoping for when we traded for him last season. He’s been nothing short of outstanding with the glove, being arguably the best defensive outfielder in the league. Offensively he’s also more than held his own, being a top 15 player in the league with the bat. His value would probably even be increased were it not for a handful of shoddy calls on stolen base attempts during the course of the season.

While his numbers don’t have the sexiness of a Braun, or Joey Votto, his defense coupled with his offense make Bourn one of the league’s most valuable players and should have his name in the MVP discussion. It will be interesting to see what happens if this team does wind up contending for the division in September and how the voters treat Bourn.

Bourn however is just part of a phenomenal outfield, quite possibly the best outfield this franchise has ever fielded. It may not have the brute power and the pure offensive greatness of the 2003 unit, but defensively this trio of Bourn, Jason Heyward and Martin Prado may more than make up for that. Not to mention, offensively, they aren’t exactly chop liver. The question is, are the other two going to be all-stars?

I feel that Jason Heyward, with the run he’s gone on lately, has played himself into the All-Star game. Outfield in the National League is exceptionally crowded though, so it will be interesting to see if he gets in. What separates Heyward from the others isn’t necessarily something that usually gets a player into the All-Star game. Heyward’s exceptional on the base paths and in the field. While he trails guys like Carlos Beltran, Andrew McCutcheon and Matt Holiday in offensive production, he run circles around them defensively. Will it matter? It should. Especially now that the offensive numbers are coming around to the defense.

Heyward’s arguably the closest thing this team has to a national superstar outside of Chipper Jones, so if he keeps his performance up, and the team stays in contention, he may very well also have his name thrown into the MVP discussion.

Of course, many Braves fans will tell you Martin Prado is the team’s MVP, and his versatility might make them correct. Personally, I wouldn’t mind him playing some second base to give Uggla a spell some. But the love Braves fans have for one of the ultimate glue guys in the game isn’t enough to be an all-star.

However, with the game somewhat meaning something, though not necessarily to manager Tony LaRussa this year, Prado’s ability to play several positions might make it impossible to leave him off the squad. Of course, that’s not the only case Prado makes for being an all-star. He’s one of the better defensive outfielders in the league, in addition to his stellar .838 OPS. Overall, he, like the other two outfielders, is one of the more valuable players in the entire league. Throw in the versatility, and if all things are equal, the entire Atlanta Braves outfield will be in Kansas City.

What’s somewhat interesting is that with Melky Cabrera on his way, that’s four people who have manned the outfield for the Braves in the past 2 1/2 seasons that will be on the all-star team.

Dan Uggla is likely going to start at second base for the National League thanks to the fan vote. But, should he? I say no. Brandon Phillips, in my opinion SHOULD be the starting second basemen for the National League as I feel he is the most complete second basemen in the league. In fact, if Prado makes the team, it’s possible Uggla wouldn’t even be on the roster, and the National League would go with just the one second basemen and then use Prado as the backup.

That said, if you’re taking two second basemen, a strong case can be made for Uggla, as in the National League there are really only three all-star caliber second basemen in the league. Yes, Uggla strikes out a ton, and no his average that pops up on the screen isn’t exactly nice to look at, but looking deeper into things, he’s still a very good offensive player with his on base percentage thanks to newfound patience at the plate and his power. And at a position like 2nd base, that’s a nice, nice bonus to have. Defensively, he’s also not exactly been a problem, though it would be nice if he had more range to help offset Freddie Freeman’s lack of it.

Darwin Barney is phenomenal defensively, but his offensive game is still too lacking to be an all-star. Not only that, you gotta think Cardinal fans would be none too pleased if LaRussa decorated this all-star team with members of the Chicago Cubs.

However, there is one player out in the desert that makes a very, very good case for Aaron Hill, who since coming over from Toronto last year has been nothing but outstanding at the plate. Actually, now that I think about it, if Uggla weren’t to win the fan vote, I honestly don’t know that I’d put him on the squad. But that’s not something we have to worry about, as the fan vote will land him on the team, and starting.

Freddie Freeman currently sits second among first basemen in the fan voting, and that’s as close as he’ll get to the All-Star game. For some reason Fredi Gonzalez continues to bat him 3rd, despite the fact that right now he’s definitely not a three hitter. The power is nice, and when Freeman gets hot, he gets really hot. But he still makes way too many outs to be an all-star.

For what it’s worth, Andrelton Simmons and David Ross both have better oWAR numbers than Freeman does, and Randall Delgado is right there with him. That’s what happens when you make a lot of outs. He has 100 more plate appearances than Chipper Jones, yet he has the same number of walks. Until that changes, Freeman’s not going to be playing in any all-star games. Plus, Joey Votto plays his position, so the starting spot should be anchored down for years to come.

However, on the flip side of this coin is a dearth of big name guys to go. Consider that Lance Berkman has played in all of 13 games this year, yet he’s second in voting at first base. So who goes as Votto’s backup? Bryan LaHair probably should, but again, that whole Cubs thing may get in the way. Brandon Belt has quietly put together a solid year, but Freeman’s power numbers and RBIs might tilt the scales in his favor. However, when it comes to putting the sexy power numbers with a solid offensive game all around, former Brave Adam LaRoche may make his first appearance in the mid-summer classic.

At shortstop, Andrelton Simmons hasn’t played enough games to warrant all-star consideration, but, had he, one would think he’d be in the discussion. The National League isn’t exactly a hot bed for shortstops this year. When you think of the position, does anyone in the National League jump out at you as a sure-fire all-star game starter? Didn’t think so.

The race itself is a close one between Rafael Furcal and Troy Tulowitzki to get the fan vote, though Tulowitzki obviously is injured and won’t be playing in the game. Even if Furcal doesn’t get the vote, I expect LaRussa to nab his former shortstop and have him start. Starlin Castro has done enough offensively to go with his superior defensive skills to make his way on to the team as well, though Jed Lowrie certainly has done enough with the bat this year to keep his name in the conversation as well.

Brian McCann’s run of six straight all-star games will certainly come to an end this season. In fact, it can be argued McCann hasn’t been even a top five catcher in the National League this season. I expect LaRussa to take two backup catchers, and the three it should be are pretty clear-cut, in my opinion. Yadir Molina and Buster Posey are locked in a tight battle for the starting nod, and Carlos Ruiz should also be secure as an all-star.

Now comes the controversial topic of Chipper Jones. He’s made a late run, and is closing the gap on David Wright and Pablo Sandoval for a chance to start an all-star game in his swan song season. Performance wise, does he deserve to? Of course not. But sometimes the all-star game, and the selection process isn’t about performance, it’s about names, and sentimental favorites. Two things Chipper has going for him.

Another thing Chipper has going for him is, who else you gonna take? David Wright is the unquestionable rightful starter. In fact, as long as the Mets stay in contention, you have to consider him a heavy favorite to be the league’s MVP with the way he’s played thus far. But after him?

Yes, Pablo Sandoval has put together some solid numbers, but he really hasn’t been ALL that better than Chipper. If Chipper were marginally healthier in fact, the two would be much closer I believe in terms of production. In a surprise development, Chipper actually hasn’t been atrocious at third base defensively this year, he’s been solid. Sandoval though on the other hand has been absolutely pitiful. His terrible defense pretty much negates everything he does with the bat. So, you factor in the nostalgia, feel good, retirement aspect of Chipper, he’s probably got a spot reserved in Kansas City. And he may actually be deserving of it too.

Now, to the pitchers…

Going into the season we all thought this was a strength. Now, with the injury to Brandon Beachy, it’s pretty much all but assured only one Braves hurler will be in the all-star game.

Craig Kimbrel is as close to a lock as there is in the league, no sense even really discussing him. He’s become one of the most dominant closers in the entire league. The National League will do well to have him pitching the bottom of the 9th inning in Kansas City.

So, do any starters even warrant consideration? Maybe. Tim Hudson likely would if he’d been healthy to start the year and had more than five starts under his belt. He’s had his rough spots, but he’s been for the most part the typical Tim Hudson. Unfortunately, those bone spurs in his ankle aren’t going anywhere, so he’s somewhat of a question mark the rest of the year. He’s going to be a wildcard as we may have no idea what we’ll get out of him every time he takes the hill.

Tommy Hanson might get some consideration, but the National League is so deep in pitching, I just don’t see where there’s a spot for him. I can only see it if the rotations of other teams prevent some guys from playing in the game that otherwise would. Hanson hasn’t been bad this year at all, but he’s not been as good as we all expected when he first got called up. We were expecting an ace. What we have is a good number two, and very solid number three pitcher. That’s typically not an all-star. If Hanson could just learn to keep the ball in the park, it would help immensely. Consider he’s only allowed four fewer home runs than Mike Minor has. Ouch.

So there you have my evaluation of the chances of Braves players to make the all-star game. If I were betting, I’d say the locks are going to be Bourn, Uggla, Jones and Kimbrel, while Prado and Heyward SHOULD be joining them with Freddie Freeman having an outside chance to join them. If those who I think should make it, indeed do, that’s six all-stars, not bad.

However, what would make those six even more intriguing, consider the number of former Braves likely going. Adam LaRoche is a possibility at first base, while Rafael Furcal and Melky Cabrera are absolute locks. It’s conceivable that at any given time during the all-star game, every position but catcher will be manned by a Brave, or former Brave. Now wouldn’t that be wild?

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The Braves Are Like A Woman

The Braves are the girl who you know is bad news. They’re the relationship you need to get out of, but for whatever reason, just can’t. You won’t. You are intent on seeing it through till the end, the always, always, bitter end.

They consume your every thought, and have way too much control over your emotions. They drive you to drink.

The good moments, oh, they’re good, they’re so good.

But the bad? They’re terrible.

With a woman, the good nights are full of alcohol and celebration and end with smiles on your faces.

With a woman, the bad nights, well, they’re also full of alcohol and lamenting, only the don’t end with a smile on your face.

Sound familiar? Yeah, thought so.

You know better than to care. You know better than to let yourself be so wrapped up in them. Yet you do it anyway. You do it every year, and will for every year to come.

What you know doesn’t matter. What you feel does. The heart is deceitful. Your head knows the love affair you have isn’t good, it isn’t right, it’s not best for you. Your heart insists that you can make it work, that this time it will be THE time. The heart’s not right.

Every single season you think this could be THE season. It’s OUR year. Just like every new woman could be THE one.

We know how this works out.

Just when you think that you’ve had enough, and are ready to throw in the towel, Dan Uggla hits a home run in the first inning to reignite hope.

At the moment you’re ready to walk away, they always know just what to say to make you stop, to make you stay, to remind you why you cared to start with. They won’t let you leave.

And for what? So they can end it on THEIR terms of course. No, you don’t get to give up on the Braves. The Braves get to give up on you.

Oh, sure, with the Braves there’s “wait till next year”. With a woman it’s, “there are other fish in the sea”.

The problem is though, it’s difficult to get excited about the other fish in the sea, or next year. Not when you’re sure from the outset, having learned from history, that it’s going to end in heartbreak.

Do you want to invest six months time into a woman when you know at the end of the sixth month she’s going to break your heart? No, probably not.

Just the same, it’s hard to get excited and stoked about investing another six months into the Braves right now, knowing it will eventually be for naught.

But ya know what? Just like with a woman, we will.

 

 

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The Braves Can Win It All Because There Are Reasons Everyone Else Can’t (AL Version)

Yes, we know our beloved Braves have their many fallacies and faults. We also know that they have many strengths, and they have the potential to put together an offense, starting pitching staff, and bullpen on the field in October that can beat anyone in baseball.

Yet, it’s those faults, a woeful offense early, a recently struggling rotation, and an over-used bullpen, as well as countless injuries, that lead to a plethora of doubt as to the validity of the Braves World Series hopes. The good news is, the playoffs don’t last long, and EVERY team has their faults. Every team could lose a five or seven game series. And for that, the Braves absolutely can win the World Series.

Detroit Tigers- I have a hard time seeing either Cleveland or Chicago catching Detroit in this division. The Indians have injury issues and the White Sox seem to be mired in a rut of mediocrity they can’t get out of.  Either way, if one of those two sneak into the playoffs, nobody is going to look at them as a team to be deemed a favorite to hoist up a trophy at the conclusion of their final game.

As for Detroit, they’ve allowed more runs than they’ve scored. Yes, you read that correctly. We are in mid August and the Tigers have been outscored on the year. If that doesn’t indicate some serious flaws with this team, what exactly would?

The lineup is good enough to win a short series if Miguel Cabrera hits. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander alone could possibly get this team out of the first round. In the extended seven game format, there are still enough big bats that the thought of them advancing through the playoffs isn’t ludicrous.

The problem for Detroit is that Justin Verlander and Jose Valverde cannot pitch every inning in the playoffs. Aside from Verlander there’s not a pitcher on this roster I’d trust starting a playoff game. Considering the likely AL opponents in the playoffs are Texas, Boston and New York, yeah, good luck winning four out of seven against any of that trio.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- I said Texas is a likely playoff team, but that’s doing a dis-service to the surging Angels. They are 21-12 since the beginning of July. They were 51-46 on the morning of July 20th, five games back of the Texas Rangers. They’ve won 12 of their last 18 and pulled to within one game of the Rangers, suddenly interjecting themselves into this conversation.

However, for all their hotness as of late, the Angels would still enter the playoffs with a ton of question marks, most notably on offense. The offense is a very mediocre one. However, it’s mediocre throughout the lineup. In some ways, it’s not a bad thing. The problem is that there isn’t that one guy, or pair of hitters who could carry a team through a series.

Granted, the Giants lacked that last year as well, and rode Cody Ross and dominant pitching to the World Series.

The Angels have a good recipe for postseason success in their collection of arms. They boast three very quality starters, including Jered Weaver who is the type of pitcher who could win every postseason start he makes. Their bullpen is also solid, and one they could rely on in those close October games.

But it comes back to the offense for this club. They just don’t have anybody that scares you. If one or two guys even get it going in a playoff series, it will be too easy to pitch around them and make the other guys beat you.

With some playoff contenders boasting players in the midst of a down year, or dealing with injuries, thus leading to the thought they could still turn it around and deliver when it counts, the Angels lack anyone to expect that from. Nobody in their lineup is a player you can say, “Well, they’ll get it turned around, it’s going to happen”. Mark Trumbo is the best bet for them to find such a player, but that’s a huge onus to put upon a youngster.

Age seems to have caught up a bit with  Bobby Abreu, you can’t expect him to carry a team in October either. Tori Hunter is perhaps the one guy you look at and think, perhaps he’s the one who will turn it on and get hot. But a 35 year old former center fielder who played the way he did, age isn’t going to be kind, and we are seeing it.

The offense just doesn’t have that guy that can put a team on its back, and without a lineup 1-9 of good hitters, you need that to have a real shot in October. As such, winning in October will prove to be difficult.

Texas Rangers- We know the Rangers can score, and can score in bunches and score a lot. There are several potent bats throughout the lineup, enough that team wide slumps are rare. Enough that pitching around one or two of them often proves to be a futile act.

We also know the rotation is solid, so is the bullpen. Feliz has been injured, and has struggled at times, but he still presents a trustworthy option at the end of games. Trade deadline acquisitions such as Koji Uehara and Mike Adams only make the bullpen better, the point they could enter the American League playoffs with the best bullpen of everyone at the party.

However, they don’t have an ace starting pitcher. Winning a World Series almost always means having one,  usually more than one, ace caliber pitcher taking the hill for playoff games.

In the playoffs everybody’s good. And good pitching generally tops good hitting. So the Rangers offense, as good as it is, isn’t likely to carry this team all the way to the World Series. There will be nights in won’t get it done. And it’s on those nights they need a starting pitcher to keep them in the game.

The 5-13 combined record against Detroit and New York doesn’t do anything to squelch such concerns.

C.J. Wilson and Matt Harrison have been good, very good actually. And Alexi Ogando has been outstanding. But do you really trust either of those guys to go head to head with Verlander, or John Lester or Josh Beckett, or even C.C. Sabathia? I didn’t think so.

If you’re Texas and you absolutely face a must win situation, do you have the pitcher to trot out there trusting he can get it for you? No, you probably don’t. And without that, it can be tough to find those 11 wins necessary in playoff baseball.

New York Yankees- For as good as the Yankees are, they could enter the playoffs with as many questions as anyone else.

We’ll skip the obvious one for the moment, and look at a potential underlying issue.

Distractions.

The backbone of this Yankee dynasty has been Derek Jeter, with a lot of supporting help coming from Jorge Posada. The fact that the two of them have been arguably the most unproductive hitters on the club could be a huge matter of discussion as playoff rosters and lineups are set.

Do you really enter a playoff series without “The Captain” leading things off? Do you keep Posada relegated to bench duty? How do they handle something different? It may seem like nothing, but should they keep struggling, or should they struggle in the playoffs, how this gets handled could be interesting.

Beyond that though, who do they have pitch after C.C. Sabathia? And if they play Boston this question becomes even more pressing due to Sabathia’s consistent struggles with the rival Red Sox.

A.J. Burnett shouldn’t be trusted to win a game against high school kids at this point. You absolutely never know what you’ll get with him. He walks half as many as he strikes out, and he allows a home run for ever ten punch outs.

Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon have been solid thus far in the year. And of course, the response to that would be, “Who?”, and “Wait, it’s 2011, right?”

You don’t enter a playoff series with those three guys as your 2-3-4 starters and expect to win a World Series. Even if you somehow make it out of the American League playoffs, do you want them matching up with the big three out of San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, or Milwaukee? I think not.

Boston Red Sox- Aside from the distraction possibility, simply see above. The starting pitching without question is an enormous question mark in the playoffs for the Red Sox, especially if they were to face, say, the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander in a five game series.

If they were to somehow lose two games against Verlander, do they have enough confidence in the rest of their starting pitching to win the other three?

The one difference with the Red Sox starting rotation and the Yankees starters is the depth at the top. The Yankees can throw Sabathia, and then the questions mount.

For Boston, they can throw Beckett and follow that up with Lester, giving them a 1-2 punch that nobody else in the American League can really match, save perhaps the Angels.

But after that, if Clay Buchholz can’t get healthy and pitch the way he has this season, things get ugly, and in a hurry. Uglier than even the Yankees.

And this is another area in which Boston might differ from Texas and New York. While both those clubs would enter the playoffs with a trio of pitchers who have pitched well in the regular season, but leave doubt as to how much they can be counted on in the playoffs.

With Boston, they know going in, to win the starts of any of their middle to back end starters, they are going to have to outslug people to do it. While the Red Sox possess the offensive firepower to do just that, remember, it’s the playoffs. You don’t win many playoff games 9-7.

Now this was not to say none of these teams can win the World Series. Of course they all can, but for the sake of argument, these are merely reasons each team cannot win it, reminding even the most serious of Braves doubters that the Braves still have a chance. Because as long as everyone else can find a way to lose it, the Braves can still win it.

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Making Sense of Latest Trades, Phillies Overpay

Jason Marquis to Arizona– The Diamondbacks, much to the surprise of everyone, enter the trade deadline right in the middle of the playoff picture. While many wondered if the D-Backs would be able to keep pace through the summer to become a buyer at the deadline, they’ve done just that. A recent run of 8 wins in 11 tries was enough to convince the teams brass that they were indeed in position to stay in contention all year.

The addition of Marquis does two things. One, it bolsters the back end of the rotation that’s been surprisingly solid this year. Two, perhaps more importantly, it will strengthen the bullpen. Either Micah Owings or Josh Collmenter will be moved to the pen, where along with the return of a healthy J.J. Putz, they will look to strengthen what was perceived as their biggest weakness. Marquis wasn’t the biggest arm available, but he’s one who is the epitome of an under the radar name that in the right position can make a big impact. It’s still an up-hill climb for Arizona to make the playoffs, but they’ve managed to hang around this long, improving the staff all around should keep them around through September.

Derek Lee to Pittsburgh- No team was faced with a more difficult deadline decision than the Pirates. Nobody predicted back in April that this team would enter the deadline contemplating being buyers for the first time in nearly 20 years. Sure, everyone knew there was a lot of young talent, and more on the way, but 2011 wasn’t the year targeted to make the jump to contender status. With that in mind, surprisingly hanging on in the NL Central, the Pirates had to decide how much of that bright future they’re willing to part with for what would still be a very outside shot at winning something this year.

The Derek Lee for Aaron Baker deal is actually one that might work out as well possible. Baker is a big time power prospect, no question about that. However, still at A ball, Baker wasn’t exactly in line to break through to big club in the very near future, especially with Matt Hague and Matt Curry higher up in the system. As Braves fans found out last year, there’s not a whole lot Lee can offer a club. However, one thing he can offer is a veteran presence accustomed to pennant races, and on this youthful Pirates team, that alone can’t be too overlooked. I still don’t see Pittsburgh crashing the post-season party, and certainly don’t think that if they do they will make any noise. However, they managed to improve this year’s team without doing any damage to the exceptionally bright future this organization has. All told, it’s a decent move for the Pirates.

Orlando Cabrera to San Francisco- This is one that just boggles my mind. The Giants aren’t exactly loaded with top level outfield talent in their minor league system, and while Neal isn’t exactly a top level prospect, he’s easily the most likely to be ready to play at the big league level. This is critical for the Giants since newly acquired Carlos Beltran is a rental and will be a free agent next year as will Cody Ross and Pat Burrell. Beyond that, Aaron Rowand is about to turn 34, and next year is the last of his deal.

While the Giants aren’t blessed with great production out of the shortstop position, Orlando Cabrera has done his best this year to convince Braves fans that Alex Gonzalez is not the worst offensive shortstop in baseball. Parting with big time pitching prospects to get Beltran made sense, but this deal by the Giants goes beyond head scratching.

Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland– This is one of those, “talk to me next year”, type of trades when it comes to proper evaluation. The Indians, thanks to ridiculously hot start and struggles by the expected favorites in this division find themselves just 1.5 games out of first place. In a division where nobody has taken it and run with it, the Indians may as well be 1.5 up. There is no question the Tribe should be in the thick of the race for the remainder of the year, and adding pitching help is crucial to that.

Once you get past Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin, little by way of the Indians starters will scare anyone. Jimenez, even with his struggles this year, easily would be the Indians third best pitcher, and probably, with his upside, their number two. Yes, the Indians indeed gave up the farm to get Jimenez, as they sent their two best pitching prospects to Colorado. However, thanks to Jimenez being under team control through 2014, Jimenez offers them an opportunity to obtain the services of a potential true ace without having to ante up in free agency. With the Cleveland financial restraints what they are, it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.

Koji Uehara to Texas- There’s no secret the Rangers desperately felt their bullpen needed to be stronger if they wanted to make another run to the World Series. In fact, with the resurgent Angels, just to make the playoffs may very well call for an improvement. Well, they certainly got it. They give up a nice young pitcher in Tommy Holland, but they add a reliever who’s been as dominant as just about any in baseball this season. Being able to have confidence in the guys leading up to Neftali Feliz will be critical in the coming months and possible playoffs.

The Rangers had a goal to improve their bullpen, and when it comes to accomplishing what teams set out to do at the deadline, few hit the nail directly on the head like Texas did.

Hunter Pence to Philadelphia- Sure, this is the second sexiest trade flashing across your screens behind the Carlos Beltran deal, but this might be due in large part to a great deal of airbrushing. Hunter Pence is a good baseball player, there is no argument there. Yes, I would have loved if the Braves were able to obtain him. Well, I should amend that statement. I would have loved if the Braves were able to obtain Pence without giving away a slew of our most talented prospects. A good baseball player? Yes. A Carlos Beltran type difference maker? No. Hunter Pence will absolutely come and make a good team better, and be a strong presence in any lineup. However, he’s not a guy who can carry a team, and he’s not the end all be all difference maker some have made him out to be. To be worth forgoing the two best prospects in your system, a player needs to be these things.

As a Braves fan, part of me smiles at this deal. Every regular starter for Philadelphia, save Pence now, is 30 years old or older. This not a young team. Cliff Lee is 32, Roy Halladay is 34. Their bullpen is bolstered at the back end by guys in their 30s as well. In other words, the Phillies need to have young prospects at the ready. This even more true in their case as thanks to a ton of money thrown at long term contracts to their aging veterans. Thoughts that the Phillies will just continue to throw money at whatever problems or holes arise may be misguided.

This of course is just looking at it from what Philadelphia gave up. To be fair, we have to also look at what they received closely too. Pence, for his career, has a BAbip of .30 higher at home in Minute Paid Park than he does on the road. This is not a coincidence, it’s the product of playing a super hitter friendly park. The good news for Pence and the Phillies is that he’s going to another hitter friendly park in Philadelphia. The bad news, the Phillies will still be playing games on the road. Pence’s OPS was .115 higher in his home park in Houston than he was on the road. That’s a staggering difference. Away from the little band box in Houston, Pence boasts a very pedestrian .325 OBP and an also mediocre .767 OPS. In other words, you get Pence out of Houston, and he’s clearly not the type of impact bat that Carlos Beltran has been, and certainly not the type to command the type of ransom Houston got in return.

When it comes to overpaying at this years deadline, Philadelphia takes the cake. Yes, Pence improves their outfield and makes them better. And who knows, maybe his bat is the difference in winning another World Series this year and being put out early. With the pitching as good as it is in Atlanta and San Francisco, the playoffs promise to be full of low scoring, close contests. So it’s possible, Pence makes a big impact for the Phillies in October. But on that same token, it’s very possible the Phillies still win the World Series with little or no contribution from Pence. And for that, this was a terrible trade.

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