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Camp Underway!!! Predictions for 2011 MLB Season.

February 24, 2011 2 comments

 

Welcome Back Baseball. You have been missed.

 

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With rearranged pieces, health abound and a 0-0 mark that looks as good as any other in Major League Baseball, 30 MLB squads have broken ground in recent weeks, with dreams of capturing the 2011 World Series Title.

Ah, hope truly springs eternal in mid-February.

Count the healing, newly polished and reloading Atlanta Braves among the optimistic crowd – The Braves, circa 2011, are nearing the end of a second full week of camp and enter March with expectations of building on a playoff run one season ago.

With a new manager – for the first time since the James Madison administration I believe (1809-1817) – the Braves enter camp with upgraded pieces and a team that, for now, is healthy and capable of unseating an arch-rival.

That rival: The Philadelphia Phillies have dethroned the Braves as supreme power in the National League East in recent years – and like a bigger, stronger brother, held them in a head-lock since. The Phils increased their ‘Yankees-of-the-N.L’ reputation with the $120 million signing of coveted starting pitcher Cliff Lee in the offseason.

The addition inserts an ace and all-star into a formidable rotation already possessing three others – Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.

(for the sake of time and space, other N.L. East teams will not be mentioned. Let’s face it, no others have a shot…. I know, I know… Hope springs eternal. Well, that only applies to fans of those teams. Which, I am not. Sorry Young Marlins.)

 

Without further adieu, I list my “What to Watch For” with the 2011 Atlanta Braves, and include a complete prediction (biased? Perhaps.) for the season.

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What to Watch For


1. Healthy, productive Chipper Jones (and Jair Jurrjens)??

Larry Wayne has turned into an habitual ‘what to watch for.’ The 38-year-old (soon to be 39) MVP third-baseman has battled injuries with some frequency in recent years, and will attempt to return from an August surgery to repair a torn anterior crucial ligament in his left knee – the same injury he suffered in 1994. Jones, who contemplated early retirement after at horrid first 40 games last season, returned to form, batting .296 with eight homers, 32 RBIs and a .487 slugging percentage in his last 55 games before the injury. He also had a .384 on-base percentage in that 55-game stretch. The veteran is confident he can again produce and expects to be in the Braves opening-day lineup March 31 at Washington.

Jurrjens, who is returning from knee surgery, entered camp 14 pounds slimmer this year and looks to rebound from an injury-ridden season that saw his numbers take a dramatic dip. The 25-year-old right-hander went 7-6 with a 4.74 ERA in 20 starts between injuries last year, after posting a 2.60 ERA in 34 starts in 2009.

 

2. New 2B / New LF (Sort of)

For years, Braves management has expressed an interest, and need, to fill a major void in the team’s lineup: Right-handed power. With the off-season acquisition of 30 year old, all star and silver slugger winner Dan Uggla, the mission was accomplished. Uggla has averaged nearly 31 home runs and 93 RBIs in five seasons, including career-highs of 33 homers and 105 RBIs last season. Uggla set career-highs in 2010 for batting average (.287), on-base percentage (.369) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.877). He would’ve led the Braves in homers, RBIs, slugging and OPS. Braves are hoping the Tennessee native can continue to produce the gaudy numbers that prompted management to sign him to a 5-year, $62 million contract extension. They are hoping too, that fielding trouble doesn’t follow Uggla to Atlanta.

Acquiring the All-Star second baseman means moving another. Martin Prado, who was selected to the National League All Star team in his first full season as a lineup regular, will be asked to move to left field in 2011 and anchor a position that has been a revolving door in recent seasons. Teammates rave about Prado – both his ability and drive. The Braves new outfielder hit .307 with career-highs of 40 doubles and 15 homers in 140 games last year. He is returning from a season-ending hip pointer injury incurred on September 27. Prado, who will also play third base in Chipper’s absence, has played outfield only sparingly in the majors and winter ball.

 

3. Will the Black Hole be closed?

Since the June 2009 trade bringing Nate McLouth, a 2008 All-Star and Gold Glove winner who produced  a national league-high 46 doubles, 26 homers and 94 RBIs that year, to Atlanta, the centerfield position has become abysmal (to be quite positive about it).  McLouth, 29, had a .298 on-base percentage, 24 RBIs and career-low .322 slugging percentage in 242 at-bats last season. The Michigan native has struggled to regain his swing and confidence, and even faced demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett a year ago. The Braves are hoping the once-promising talent can return to form in Atlanta. After being recalled Aug. 31, in his fourth game back, he began a 10-game tear that saw him go 11-for-30 (.367) with three doubles, a triple, three homers and 10 RBIs, with two other would-be homers taken away by catches above the fence.

If McLouth cannot regain what was once had, 24-year-old Jordan Schafer lies in wait as the Braves best hope. The youngster who impressed enough in 2009 to begin the season as Atlanta’s opening day centerfielder homered in his first and third major league games, and was 8-for-19 with four extra-base hits, three walks and six runs after five games. Then, the black hole sucked him up. A sore left hand, stemming from a swing he took in his home debut, would lead to Schafer hitting just .176 with no homers, five RBIs and 59 strikeouts in 148 at-bats over the next 45 games. Schafer has not played in the majors since. Two years later, after struggling through 2010, Schafer has regained strength in his hand, and by all accounts, returned to form in pre-season practices.


4. Towering Youngsters manning the Right Side

In the arms of two of the majors youngest talents can be found enormous power. The Braves are hoping that power translates to on-field production for their star youngsters Jason Heyward, RF, and Freddie Freeman, 1B. The towering roommates – Heyward, 21, stands at 6’5 and weighs in at 240 pounds; Freeman, 21, is also 6’5 and weighs 225 – are expected live up to enormous expectations as futures of a franchise.

The baseball world marveled at Heyward’s prodigious power and uncanny ability to get on base as a rookie in 2010. Heyward hit .277 with five triples, 18 homers, 72 RBIs and a .393 on-base percentage in 142 games last season. A thumb injury in May hampered the Henry County native’s production late in the year. With a healed thumb, the 2010 Rookie of the Year runner-up, and number one rated prospect according to Baseball America last year, could be in line for a monster season.

Young Freddie Freeman, though having never played a full season at the Major League level, stands to be Atlanta’s opening day first-baseman in 2011. The slick-fielding big-man hit .319 with 18 homers, 87 RBIs and a .378 OBP in 124 games last year at the Triple-A level. He was one of the youngest players in the International League, and was selected its rookie of the year. Freeman finds himself at No. 17 on Baseball America’s list of Top 100 Prospects in baseball for 2011. He netted four hits in 24 at-bats, including a homerun off Phillies’ Roy Halladay after a September call-up in 2010.

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This is dragging on SO….

PREDICTIONS!


National League:

East…………Phillies  (So want to put Atlanta here. But amazing pitching, still solid lineup)

Central…… Brewers (St. Louis lost their Ace… Give it to the Crew.)

West………..Dodgers (Not again San Fran.)

Wild Card.. Braves   (I really like this team when healthy)

 

— Phillies advance to NLCS by defeating the Dodgers

— Braves advance to NLCS by defeating the Brewers

BRAVES defeat Phillies in seven (Told you… Biased).

 

American League:

East…………Red Sox (A lot of things to like here. i.e. Adrian Gonzalez)

Central…… Twins     (Healthy Justin Morneau)

West………..Rangers  (Pitching has to hold up, to hold off the Angels)

Wild Card.. Yankees (Good enough for a Wild Card)

 

— Red Sox advance to ALCS by defeating the Rangers

— Twins advance to ALCS by defeating the Yankees

 

RED SOX defeat Twins in five.

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******* BRAVES win World Series ****************

(in my defense, this is a Braves blog)

 

 

Hopefully a scene similar occurs in 2011

 

 

2011 Season set to begin

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

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A new season beckons. I will attempt to keep the blog updated routinely this year.

 

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CONGRATULATIONS!!

As a proper conclusion to the 2010 season, I would like to congratulate the 2010 Atlanta Braves on a winning season and playoff appearance!

 

Braves send Bobby out a winner

 

 

Categories: All, Atlanta Braves, Sports

Braves fall 3-2, will play for survival Monday

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment

 

 

Braves Falter

 

A Brief Summary of Game 3 NLDS;  San Francisco Giants @ Atlanta Braves

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Down by a run, with four outs remaining in the season’s most important game, the Atlanta Braves did what they have done more than any other team in baseball: Snatched victory from an opponent’s ever-tightening grip.

Leading by a slim one-run margin, with three outs standing between the Braves and a 2-1 series lead in the playoff’s opening round, the team did the unthinkable: Handed victory back.

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An eighth inning homerun off the bat of pinch-hitter Eric Hinske lifted Braves players from their dugout seats, and the team to a 2-1 lead over visiting San Francisco Sunday night in Atlanta.

Hinske’s line-drive-shot cleared the right field wall, rattled off the foul pole, and, for a brief moment, erased all memories of botched plays at second base and futile swings at the plate.

The drama would carry over to the final inning; the momentum would not.

A Billy Wagner-less ‘pen walked the first Giants batter, allowed a two-out hit to another, and watched as Brooks Conrad committed his third error in the game, allowing the go-ahead run to score.

“We had this one won,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox. “We gave up a walk, a base hit and a base hit. … We’re not the best team in baseball, okay, but we can win games and we can compete against anybody. But we can’t afford to make mistakes.”

Serving as a prelude to Sunday’s late inning drama, were outstanding performances by the game’s starting pitchers.

Tim Hudson limited the Giants to four hits and one unearned run over seven innings of work. The Braves ace retired 14 of the final 16 batters that he faced.

Jonathan Sanchez allowed just two hits through 7 1/3 innings, punching out 11 en route to a no decision.

Game 3 Keys:

  • Brooks Conrad’s three (yes, three) errors. Two of which led directly to a Giants run
  • The Braves again looked overmatched at the plate – whiffing 12 times. Sanchez’ 11 strikeouts is second only to Tim Lincecum (He struck out 14 in Game 1 of this series) in a Giants postseason game.

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Hinske did all he could...

 

Braves may lose Billy the Kid, add Saito

October 10, 2010 1 comment

Have we seen the final stand of Billy the Kid?

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SAVANNAH, GA – Braves closer Billy Wagner anticipated throwing the final pitch of his 16-year career at some point in the 2010 season – He did not, however, expect it to happen after throwing three pitches and recording no outs in his first Braves postseason appearance.

Wagner, whose 422 saves rank him fifth all-time among Major League relievers, has remained steadfast in a decision to retire at year’s end.  An oblique injury in the 10th inning of the Braves’ 5-4 victory over San Francisco Friday night may have caused the 38-year-old hurler to exit the mound for a final time.

“If I can’t pitch, that’s it,” Wagner said. “It stinks. But I just thank God for the opportunity to get out there in the first place. You just have to deal with the good and bad. It’s been great. Our team’s not done, so I’ll be here to help them in whatever little way possible and just enjoy the ride.”

The injury occurred when Giants pinch-hitter Edgar Renteria dropped an unexpected bunt down the third-base line on Wagner’s second delivery from the hill.

Neither a charging Wagner, nor third baseman Troy Glaus could convert the out – Worst yet, the Braves 2010 saves leader grimaced, and clutched his ailing side when returning to the mound.  

One pitch later – and another bunt later – Wagner grabbed his side and dropped to his knees after a throw to first.

“After I made the pitch and tried to go toward the plate, I couldn’t move,” Wagner said. “Thank God he bunted it just hard enough to get back to me to make a play at all. I couldn’t move. I don’t really know how I got it to first.”

The Braves closer will not pitch again in the National League Division Series. Atlanta is awaiting an evaluation Sunday to determine whether the “gunslinger” from Virginia can pitch in the NLCS.

If Wagner is placed on the disabled list, allowing Atlanta to activate a pitcher to fill the void, Wagner would be ruled ineligible to participate in the championship series.

“We’ve got a tough decision to make,” said manager Bobby Cox said. “We’ve got a lot of talking to do.”

If the team places Wagner on the disabled list, the Braves will likely look to Takashi Saito to take an active role in the ‘pen.

 Saito, who has served as the primary set-up man to Wagner in 2010, is recovering from shoulder tendinitis that sidelined him for three weeks – The reliever did have a successful outing in a Braves instructional league game Friday, striking out two batters in one inning of work.

While Braves players wait to receive word on Wagner, they prepare for the possibility of riding off into the sunset without The Kid.

“We’ve been a team all year that just rolls with the punches,” said ace Tim Hudson, who will start Sunday. “We still have to go out there and play. Injuries are part of the game and adversity is part of the game. We’re not the most talented club, but I feel like we have the most heart and a lot of guts.”

Why the Braves will advance to the NLCS

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment
The Hall of Fame waits

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The following are my top 5 reasons why the Atlanta Braves will advance to face the Phillies (sorry Reds) in the National League Championship Series…

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5…. The Giant Offense

Quite frankly, if there is lineup in the 2010 Playoffs that is less talented, or less productive, than the fellas from the A.T.L, it is San Francisco. The offense, though capable of some pop, will strike fear in the hearts of no one.  Atlanta batted .258 as a team and scored 738 runs in 2010. The Giants scored just 697 and batted a point lower.

4…. Tim Hudson

Going into the series, the Braves having Tim Hudson was trivial because San Francisco boasts a number one with a pair of Cy Young awards under his belt (Tim Lincecum). Now that the Braves have managed a series tie going into Atlanta, there is little reason to believe the Ace of the staff will not swing the series in Atlanta’s favor – Leaving just one win to manage.

3…. Resiliency

Yeah, Yeah… It’s an intangible – Immeasurable, unreliable, and possibly just coincidence.  But something has to be said about the Braves’ perseverance and ability to find wins. The Braves led the league in last at-bat and come-from-behind wins in 2010, which is a testament to the attitude of the players on this team. When a team always believes a win to be possible, half of the battle is already won.

2…. Turner Field

The Braves tied a franchise record by winning 56 times at home in 2010 and had a MLB-best home record: 56-25. Turner Field has been quite the haven for the Braves, and been the site of many of the season’s great moments (Conrad’s Grand Slam, Heyward’s first walk-off, the instant-replay GW HR by McCann). Having the series all square when Hudson and the Braves take the field in front of 50,000 “friendlies” Sunday and Monday may be the difference.

1…. Bobby Cox

The future first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee has been the primary storyline for all 164 games in 2010 and a large reason why the Braves are playing in October. Cox, who has been in the Braves dugout for 23 seasons – including an unmatched run of 14 consecutive division titles – ranks fourth all-time in managerial wins.  The 25 men in Braves uniforms will want nothing more than to provide Bobby with 10 more wins and a second world title in Atlanta.

Today’s Brave Hero: Rick Ankiel

October 9, 2010 1 comment

Ankiel's blast restores Braves' hope, sends series to Atlanta tied 1-1

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MY DESK, SAVANNAH – One mighty, slashing swing, by an outfielder with a .230 average, rocked two cities to the core, stirred up the echoes of memorable post-seasons past, and set in motion a series of events that would culminate in the 2010 Atlanta Braves becoming perhaps the most improbable World Series Champion in baseball’s long and storied history…

…Thanks to Rick Ankiel, hopes of factually typing that sentence remain alive and well.

Ankiel, who nearly witnessed the end of his career in a postseason game one decade ago, reached the pinnacle of baseball life Friday night ( Saturday morning on the right coast), when the 31 year-old outfielder launched Ramon Ramirez’ 2-2 fastball into McCovey Cove in the 11th inning of a 5-4 Braves playoff victory.

The former pitcher raised an arm to the band of brothers standing in the visiting team’s dugout, as he watched the no-doubt blast soar deep into the night sky.

“The biggest homer of my career by far,” said Ankiel. “To be honest with you, I wanted to go from the batter’s box to the dugout and be with the guys, and not run the bases. What a cool thing to do and what a cool way to win.”

The extra-inning shot capped an improbable Atlanta comeback, tying the series at one game apiece, and sent the major’s most successful home-team back to the friendly confines of Turner Field with renewed hopes of advancing to the National League’s Championship Series.

“We were looking at going home down 2-0,” said first baseman Derrek Lee. “I don’t know how many times that has ever been overcome. So this was pretty much a must-win game. We talked about it before. We came through.”

“Coming through”, and defying adversity, has become a staple of this year’s version of the Braves – The Bravos led the National League in come-from-behind and last at-bat victories, and managed with high profile injuries on the infield (All-Stars Martin Prado and Chipper Jones).

“Whoever’s writing this script, just keep doing it,” said reliever Peter Moylan.

The Ankiel blast, along with clutch contributions from shortstop Alex Gonzalez and the entire bullpen (Kyle Farnsworth’s effort is particularly noteworthy), will have the Braves playing for a series lead in Atlanta Sunday – Their starter, because he was used to clinch a postseason appearance on the season’s final day: The ace, Tim Hudson.

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Tim Hudson will take the mound Sunday, looking to give the Braves a series lead

Blogging will commence…

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment

It has been quite a while since I actually blogged on the site… Senior year of college and a job hindered my production. But today, I begin again.

Categories: All, Atlanta Braves, Sports
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