The Atlanta Braves will enter the 2011 season with a number of familiar faces taking the mound on a day-to-day basis. Four of the five rotation spots for the Braves are pretty much locked in (barring injuries during the preseason) before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next Monday. Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens will fill the front four holes in the starting rotation come Opening Day.
While we’ll highlight our front-four later in the preseason, the question becomes, who will fill the final spot of the rotation? Inevitably, we will likely see more than one of these candidates in Atlanta at one point or another throughout the season due to injuries, but hopefully we won’t run into major issues. I’d say there are four candidates for the spot, some with a better chance than others:
Mike Minor – Minor made his MLB debut last August after Kenshin Kawakami was removed from the starting rotation and made 8 starts, putting together a 3-2 record with a 5.98 ERA. After starting 3-0 in his first four starts, he was 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in the last four. With a fastball consistent around 90 and touching up to 95, Minor will be able to become far more effective as a pitcher if he can perfect his changeup. Minor holds the Braves rookie-record for strikeouts after striking out 12 in 6 innings against the Chicago Cubs last season (former record was 11 by Tommy Hanson).
Brandon Beachy – Beachy made his MLB debut last September after a knee injury sidelined Jair Jurrjens. In his three starts last season, he compiled an 0-2 record, but had an ERA of only 3.00. Beachy led all of the minors last season with a 1.73 ERA before being called up to Atlanta. In 73 innings of AA pitching in 2010, he struck out 100.
Rodrigo Lopez - Lopez was signed by the Braves at the end of January to a minor league contract. Pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Lopez compiled a 7-16 record and an ERA around 5.00. I don’t know too terribly much about him, but I would put his chance of starting the season anywhere other than the minors as fairly slim.
Kenshin Kawakami – It’s not like we haven’t given him a chance. We even spent time defending him. But finally, it had to end. Everyone knows Kawakami was 1-10 last season with a 5.15 ERA across 18 starts. Sure, he lost on lack of run support a number of times, but when it comes down to it, the Braves just weren’t winning games with him out there. With one year left on his contract, the Braves still owe him about $6.7 million, and will likely have to eat a good bit of that no matter what. Here’s hoping that Frank Wren can find someone to take him off our hands before the season. Either way, I don’t expect to see him on the lineup card in the first week of the season.
With that being said, I think Minor or Beachy are the most likely candidates to fill the role to start the season. I’m not sure which way I’m leaning yet, but those are the options. And who knows, Julio Teheran’s on his way to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. So who would you like to see in Atlanta for the start of the season?
Tags: Brandon Beachy, Kenshin Kawakami, Mike Minor, Rodrigo Lopez, Spring Training, Starting Pitching
Posted in Pitching | 5 Comments »
The addition of Cliff Lee definitely helps the Phillies’ chances. There’s no denying that fact. And I must tip my cap to the Philly front office for pulling a rabbit out of the proverbial hat by swiping Lee away from the Rangers and Yanks. BUT… many fans are vastly underselling an Atlanta rotation, which will STILL stand up respectably next to any other starting staff in baseball. And when bullpens are factored into the pitching equation, barring substantial misfortune, the Braves pitching simply will not be outclassed to any significant degree by ANYONE in 2011.
Today, we size up the two beasts of the NL East… and I’ll give you a few things to chew on that should make you feel better, if you’re a Braves fan.
I generally make my official season projections late in the spring. But if I had to guess right now, here the numbers I would project for both the Atlanta and Philly starting staffs. Rationale for these expectations explained in audio blog above.
PROJECTED ’11 BRAVES ROTATION:
PROJECTED ’11 PHILLIES ROTATION:
Tags: Audio, Cliff Lee, Fried Baseball, NL East Blogs, Philadelphia Phillies, Starting Pitching
Posted in Pitching | 18 Comments »
The Atlanta Braves have 3 series remaining until the All-Star break. That’s 9 games left to make one last first half statement to the rest of the league. Why are these games so important? They’re all against teams in the NL East. We kick off tonight for 3 games against the Marlins and then head to Philadelphia and New York for 3 games each against the Phillies and the Mets.
In the last 16 series, the Braves are 13-1-2 and currently sit with a 46-33 record on the season. The Marlins series won’t be an easy one however as we’re catching the dominant portion of the Florida pitching staff. On the bright side, however, the Braves are sending some top performers to the mound as well in the series. Tonight Josh Johnson (8-3, 1.83) faces off against Kris Medlen (5-1 (4-0 as a starter), 3.15). Kris’s first start as an official member of the starting rotation, now that Kenshin Kawakami has taken a role in the bullpen, will have to be a good one. Hopefully the offense can help him out and get Johnson, who is tied with Ubaldo Jiminez for the best ERA in MLB, out of the game before the 7th.
Saturday’s matchup will be Anibal Sanchez (7-4, 3.18) against Tommy Hanson (7-5, 4.50). Hanson has struggled as of late, getting knocked around pretty solidly in a few of his recent outings. Roger McDowell is confident Hanson will spring back, but all eyes will be on him to see if he can get back to dominant form. If not, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see Kawakami on for him in long relief. The final game of the series will bring Ricky Nolasco (7-6, 4.84) in to face off against Tim Hudson (8-3, 2.37). On paper, this game favors the Braves as Hudson has been unstoppable lately and Nolasco likes to give up the long ball (19 in 16 outings this season), but he has won his last two. Anything can happen.
I’m looking for the Braves to continue their dominance at Turner Field this weekend (their 28-9 home record is the best in MLB) and take care of business with the Marlins. I’ll be happy with 3 more series victories heading into the All-Star break which would give us a record of at least 52-36 before the break, but why stop there? I’ll settle for a sweep or two.
Tags: All-Star Break, Florida Marlins, Kris Medlen, Starting Pitching
Posted in General, Series Previews | No Comments »
Let’s be objective. The Braves, performing as they are now, are not a contending team.
A contending team’s offense can’t go from red-hot to ice-cold.
A contending team’s bullpen can’t blow leads more frequently than they use the restroom. Not to mention 8 run leads.
Sure, we’ve got a decent starting rotation. Sure, Kawakami, Lowe, Jurrjens and Vazquez have performed fairly well so far, but for heavens sake, we started Jo-Jo Reyes against Pittsburgh and expected to win the game?! Sure, our offense started off hot, but they’ve cooled to an exactly middle of the road .265 batting average.
There have been a few side stories that have contributed. Chipper missed some time on his hand (Chipper is always going to sit a little bit). McCann had some weird vision thing come up that has hopefully resolved itself. Tom Glavine busted his shoulder again (who are we kidding: we wanted him to be a reliable pitcher again?)
But a bullpen that blows a 7 run lead? An offense that can’t beat Pittsburgh given a good start? And a team that puts Jo-Jo Reyes on the mound? Seriously? It feels like this season is an extension of last season – where the baseball gods are laughing at us and poking us with sticks. We have to establish some good play before everyone gets in a funk and assumes we’re always going to blow leads – because that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are opportunities for us to get into the race. We have to stop blowing leads. The first step to that was getting rid of Blaine Boyer, which we have completed. Now the rest of the bullpen needs to live up to their potential. The offense needs to be more consistent – we win games when Chipper is in the lineup – and having BMac back will help. And people, write your senators and congressmen – it’s time to petition against Jo-Jo Reyes. If we get a law passed that he can’t pitch for the Braves, Frank Wren and Bobby Cox will have no choice but to send him packing. Sure – don’t bring Hanson up yet – let him season for a little bit – but enough with this Jo-Jo the No Show Blo-Blo bit. Let Escobar or Francoeur pitch if we have to.
We can still get into this year. We can become a contender. There are (most of) the pieces of the puzzle we need to contend this year, but the Braves have seriously got to step it up and start playing to expectations. I was emotionally battered enough last year and I don’t know if I can handle the pattern we appear to be getting ourselves into already this season. Buck up fans – let’s stick behind them and cheer for them louder than ever, because they need it. We can contend for the NL East, but a few little things have to change.
Tags: Brian McCann, Bullpen, Chipper Jones, Contender, Jo-Jo Reyes, Rant, Starting Pitching
Posted in General | 7 Comments »
Well, that sucked, didn’t it?! Sure, the Braves achieved their goal of winning the series in Philly. Still… that Wednesday loss stings. Badly. It was punch to the gut. No… that’s not strong enough. It was a kick to the groin. With a size-15 steel-toed boot.
This was a disgusting loss. Sickening. It was all I could do not to throw the remote through the living room window. Part of me feels that Blaine Boyer and Jorge Campillo should take turns beating the #$@%^ out of each other just to make peace with the universe after that pathetic display. (Moylan must be forgiven, under the circumstances. It was, after all, his very first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery).
That’s the bad news.
But despite the physical illness all Braves fans no doubt share after Wednesday’s bullpen meltdown, there is good news to report after this opening series. A LOT of good news, actually.
Here are some things Braves fans can take away from this opening series in Phili:
- Derek Lowe looks like he’s up for the challenge of being the new Atlanta “Ace”.
- Jair Jurrjens was very good in his start, and Javier Vazquez was solid against a tough lineup in a hitter’s park.
- Though he got off to shaky start, Mike Gonzalez settled in and closed the door in game one. He then breezed his way through hitters in game two. And Rafeal Soriano was excellent in his first appearance of the season on Tuesday. Back end of the pen looks solid.
- Brian McCann appears to be locked in, and could be headed toward a big season.
- Chipper Jones looks like he’s ready to make good on his promise to hit a few more into the seats this year (that is, when he’s in the lineup).
- How about that KID?!! There’s a long way to go, but Jordan Schafer has given us reason to think he might turn out to be a legitimate Rookie of the Year Award candidate.
- Yunel Escobar (who may have been robbed of a homerun on Tuesday) is showing some nice pop in his bat early.
- Jeff Francoeur’s game-one homer, and solid RBI single up the middle on Wednesday provide further evidence that he’s back on track.
The Braves’ offensive depth and balance was on display, proving that there are no coffee breaks in this lineup for opposing pitchers. Every single member of this lineup is a quality, professional hitter – with at least moderate power – who can hurt you. I’m not sure there’s another lineup in the league that can say the same.
And oh yeah… I suppose it is good news that the Braves did, after all, win the series on the road, even if they did throw away a sweep that was all but in their pocket.
And there’s more good news for the Braves… in the form of bad news for the Phillies. It is quite clear that the defending champs have starting pitching problems. There is a lack of depth in the Philadelphia rotation that will go from apparent to neon-lights if Cole Hamels misses any more time this season.
But the Phils aren’t alone. There is also some doubt surrounding the depth and quality of the New York Mets’ rotation, after Johan Santana. Doubts that Mets’ #2 starter, Mike Pelfrey, did nothing to alleviate Wednesday night with a lackluster performance in Cincinnati.
There are no perfect teams in the NL East. Each team has potential problems areas. Many expected offense to be a weak link in Atlanta’s game. But after getting a live look at this Braves lineup; after seeing the kinds of swings Jeff Francoeur is putting on the ball; after seeing the kind of talent (offensive and defensive) they now have roaming Center Field; and after seeing the depth and balance of this lineup… I’m not buying the notion that Atlanta is offensively challenged. I think this lineup is going to be a strength for the Braves. And decidedly so.
The offense looks good. The back end of the bullpen looks good. And unlike their two most talked about division rivals, the Braves appear rich – or at least reasonably well off – when it comes to starting pitching. That leaves middle-relief as the only apparent pothole on the post-season highway.
My point is this: If the Braves do indeed have a middle-relief problem… then they have a better problem than the one potentially facing the Mets and/or Phillies.
A middle-relief sized crack in the hull is a helluva lot easier to repair than a starting pitching sized gorge. And the Braves certainly have the trading chips, should they find it necessary to bolster the middle of their ‘pen. Also, it should be noted that, in addition to the Mets’ starting pitching challenges, they too have unanswered questions where their middle-relief is concerned.
In short, despite a game-three finish that drove me into a frenzied fit of profanity reminiscent of the furnace-fighting scene in A Christmas Story, I’ve seen enough to earnestly say… “I like the Braves chances this year.”
How about you? Good news? Bad news? Whaddya think of this team after watching them play the champs up in Philly?
Tags: Derek Lowe, Jordan Schafer, Middle Relief, Philadelphia Phillies, Starting Pitching
Posted in Game Analysis | 21 Comments »
Coming off of a forgetable 2008 season, the starting rotation for the Braves has been completely retooled and is ready for action in 2009. While injuries and lack of depth prevented the rotation from doing much of anything last year, the new signings of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami give a new look and new hopes for 2009.
Derek Lowe: The sinker-ball specialist has averaged 15 wins over his last 7 seasons, and boasts a 3.58 ERA over the past 4 years since moving to the National League. He steps up in big games and has a track record of post-season success. He is also quite durable and can be counted on for 200 innings as the ace of this rotation.
Jair Jurrjens: The rookie right-hander was the lone ray of light in the Braves rotation last year, recording 13 wins and a 3.68 ERA in 188 innings. And it wasn’t fool’s gold. Jurrjens is armed with 4 quality pitches, including a fastball he can run up into the mid-90′s, and an outstanding changeup. Teammates rave about his maturity and “pitch to contact”, ground-ball approach to pitching. Jurrjens also has excellent command. Baseball America named him the best control pitcher in the Detroit Tigers’ organization a couple of years ago. Many in baseball believe that Jurrjens is a young ace in the making, and it appears he may have the tools to prove them right.
Javier Vazquez: In 2007, Vazquez went 15-8 for the White Sox, with a 3.74 ERA and 213 strikeouts over 216 innings. These numbers were reminiscent of the success he enjoyed in Montreal before his move to the AL in 2004. Last year, though he again logged 200 innings and struck out 200 batters, his ERA spiked to 4.68. Vazquez should benefit from escaping the hitter’s paradise of U.S. Cellular Field (and the DH) in favor of a more pitcher-friendly, Turner Field. It has also been suggested that Vazquez may find a greater level of comfort in the NL, under the leadership of Bobby Cox. For these reasons, multiple scouts have stated a belief that Vazquez is poised for a big year in Atlanta.
Kenshin Kawakami: Winner of the Cy Young equivalent, Sawamura Award, Kawakami is a well established star in Japan. He has a career record of 112-72 through 11 seasons, with a 3.32 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and a ratio of 1328 Ks to 351 BBs in 1642.3 IP. His best pitches are a cut fast ball with low 90′s velocity and a knee-buckling slow curve. The Braves are confident that Kawakami will make a successful transition to Major League Baseball to help anchor the middle of their rotation.
Tom Glavine: Coming off of an injury-riddled season, at age (soon to be) 43, there are more questions surrounding Glavine than any other Braves starter. But if he is in fact healthy, there is plenty of reason to believe that he could still be effective. Before the arm trouble began very early last season, Glavine looked sharp. And despite an unimpressive ERA in 2007, he was actually quite good. Glavine finished the ‘07 season with 23 quality starts, which is territory usually reserved for aces in that category. It was no accident that he won 13 games that year. If his arm is sound, he could provide the Braves with another quality veteran starter. After all, Jamie Moyer (a soft-tossing lefty cut from the same mold as Glavine) is several years older, and still getting outs.
OUTLOOK: Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this Atlanta rotation is its depth. While it features noone of the stature of a Johan Santana or a Jake Peavy, the Braves rotation is 5-deep; loaded with quality arms. This rotation figures to be durable, and should eat a lot of innings, taking a great deal of pressure off of the bullpen. And if by chance a Braves starter should visit the disabled list this season, Tommy Hanson (perhaps the top pitching prospect in all of baseball) is waiting in the wings. The Braves also have other quality alternatives for the rotation, including Jorge Campillo, Charlie Morton and Jo-Jo Reyes.
With plenty of talent and depth, this rotation is a safe bet to be among the league’s best. What are you expecting out of the staff this season? Who will surprise and who won’t live up to expectations?
Tags: 2009 Rotation Preview, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, Pitching, Rotation, Starting Pitching, Starting Rotation, Tom Glavine
Posted in General | 4 Comments »
Chalk Charlie Morton up as the first pitching casuality of the season for the Braves, something that became all to familiar throughout the 2008 season. Morton was not likely to have a spot in Atlanta come Opening Day, but this is still a setback for the Braves’ pitchers. Morton had just completed a bullpen session yesterday that impressed Bobby Cox, but strained a muscle in his side during on of his first few pitches of throwing batting practice. The severity of the injury has not yet been determined.
Kenshin Kawakami continues to impress in Spring Training, throwing his second batting-practice session yesterday. After throw mostly fastballs in his first session, Kawakami brought a little more to the table this time around, working in the curveball and cutter. The amount of solid hitting against him saw a significant drop the second time around and Kawakami’s working to make it clear why he was a star in Japan. We’ll see him in action for the first time this preseason with his Friday start against the Pirates.
Along that line, Bobby Cox has laid out some of the projected starters for the upcoming Spring Training games. Here are the starters that have been announced so far:
2/25 – vs. Tigers – Jair Jurrjens
2/26 – vs. Astros – Jorge Campillo, Tommy Hanson
2/27 – vs. Pirates – Kenshin Kawakami
2/28 – vs. Blue Jays – Derek Lowe
3/01 – vs. Phillies – Charlie Morton (Questionable)
3/02 – Intrasquad – Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens
3/03 – vs. Panama – Tommy Hanson
3/04 – vs. Yankees – Kenshin Kawakami
So things are starting to shape up for the pitchers in Florida and we’re already through our first injury of the preseason. Let’s hope they are limited. Who are you excited to get a first look at for the season? I personally can’t wait to get a look at Tommy Hanson on the ESPN broadcast of the game on Thursday.
Tags: Charlie Morton, Kenshin Kawakami, Preseason, Spring Training, Starting Pitching, Tommy Hanson
Posted in General, Injuries | 6 Comments »
With just a few weeks left until the beginning of the 2009 spring training season, the Braves still have a few questions that need to be answered. The rotation is pretty much set (unless something crazy and unexpected happens in the next couple of weeks) and seven out of the eight fielding spots are set. We signed a back-up catcher in David Ross, who, with a .222 career batting average, is a huge upgrade over the backup catchers we’ve had the past few seasons.
Other signings obviously include Derek Lowe (Starting Pitcher), Kenshin Kawakami (SP), Omar Infante (2-year deal, IF util) and Greg Norton (PH). Omar Infante’s signing is very important because it gives us a legit utility guy that can play all eight positions and could probably pitch if you asked him to (….maybe not). Greg Norton gives us a great late game hitting threat and a guy that can play the outfield and first base in a spot start situation…he could probably pitch too…
Finally the signing of Derek Lowe, while ridiculous and criticized by many, gives us a light in one of the darkest off-seasons we have had. Lowe may not be the savior we were looking for in Jake Peavy, but there’s one major difference between the two: Lowe wants to be here. Yes, he is making 60 million over the next four years, but with the same money Peavy would not have been willing to be “the guy” and really did not want to be here even with the same money. Plus, I am of the mind that Peavy would have been more of a Mike Hampton than Lowe is with his elbow troubles. Lowe has pitched at least 30 times every year since his first year as a starter in 2002.
So with the rotation looking like it is, the Braves may have one of the better rotations in the league, far better than last year’s potential rotation of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton and Jair Jurrjens. This year’s looks like: Lowe, Kawakami, Javier Vazquez, Jurrjens and a slew of young talent headed by Morton, Reyes, Campillo and Hanson at the five spot.
Here’s the thing though, last season the Braves went into the season unsure about a lot on their pitching staff: Will Smoltz’s shoulder hold up throughout the season? Will Hampton actually throw an official pitch? Will Glavine have anything left after the meltdown in New York the prior season? Obviously the answer to the first question was no. Mike Hampton did throw a pitch, but too little too late. And Glavine barely made it into the summer before he landed on the DL for the first time for a pitching-related injury when he tore the flexor tendon in his left elbow. Tim Hudson, the most durable of the bunch, was not willing to disappoint the Braves by breaking the string of injuries to starting pitchers (seriously guys, I’m pretty sure ALL of the starters we used last year got hurt in some capacity, Smoltz, Glavine and Hampton are obvious, Jeff Bennett was out, Chuck James was shut down early as well and Jurrjens had that freak injury falling down the dugout steps in Chicago).
Should the Braves have the benefit of making the postseason this year, they will have one of the most dominant three or four man rotations with Lowe, Hudson, Jurrjens and Kawakami/Vazquez.
Here’s a numbers breakdown of the starters with respect to last season and their careers:
• Derek Lowe – 2008 – 34 starts, 14-11, 211 IP, 3.24 ERA, 147 Ks, Career – 255 starts, 533 appearances, 126-107, 85 saves, 1275 Ks, 3.75 ERA
• Kenshin Kawakami – spent 10 seasons in Japan, seven of which he pitched over 160 innings – 2008 – 16 starts, 20 appearances, 9-5, 117 IP, 2.30 ERA, 112 Ks, Career – 231 games, 106-62, 1201 Ks, 3.17 ERA
• Javier Vazquez – 2008 – 33 starts, 12-16, 208 IP, 4.67 ERA, 200 Ks, Career – 353 starts, 127-129, 2015 Ks, 4.32 ERA
• Jair Jurrjens – 2008 – 31 starts, 13-10, 188 IP, 3.68 ERA, 152 Ks.
Tags: Braves Rotation, Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Omar Infante, Starting Pitching, Starting Rotation
Posted in General | 2 Comments »
The Braves made an offer to free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett today, believed to be for four years and in the ballpark of $16 million a year. The offer is also believed to have a fifth year option if he stays healthy enough to pitch a certain number of innings.
Burnett won 18 games with the Jays last year and led the American League in strikeouts. Frank Wren confirmed the offer had been extended to Burnett – who is probably the best free agent pitcher on the market other than C.C. Sabathia, who the Braves are not making a move for.
The Yankees are expected to make an offer soon – but they were waiting to see how much cash the Braves were willing to throw his way first. He’s receiving plenty of attention, and I’m not sure whether or not the Braves have a chance at landing him. I’d guess that Wren put together an offer he feels will be competitive, as we’re not going to just magically land great pitching without giving something up in return. I’m not holding my breath, though, as we rarely win bidding wars with major free agents.
Come to Atlanta, A.J. We have Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones, and a giant cow standing over left field. Not to mention the Varsity, a big fish tank, and friendly fans that’ll show up for games on weekends.
What do you think will happen? Do we land Burnett or not?
Tags: A.J. Burnett, Atlanta Braves, Free Agent Offerings We'll Never Sign, Starting Pitching
Posted in General, Roster Moves | 9 Comments »