Tim Hudson: NL Comeback Player of the Year

Written by Jonathan on October 26, 2010 – 1:13 pm

Yesterday, the Players Choice Awards named Tim Hudson the National League Comeback Player of the Year.  After missing all but the final month of the 2009 season, Hudson returned to form for the Braves in 2010, providing much-needed pitching stability down the stretch.  When the Braves were in a must-win situation, they turned to Hudson, who made 3 starts in the final 7 days of the regular season, to boost the Braves into the playoffs.

In 34 starts in the 2010 Jumping castles for sale season, Hudson compiled a 17-9 record with a 2.83 ERA and 139 strikeouts.  Personally, I’m pretty excited to have Hudson around for at least two more seasons (and a 3rd on club option) to help anchor our pitching staff.

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Braves Snag Five All-Star Spots

Written by Jonathan on July 4, 2010 – 2:14 pm

When all was said and done with All-Star voting, the Atlanta Braves walked away with five selections for the 81st All-Star game, held in Anaheim on July 13th.  Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, Tim Hudson, Omar Infante and Martin Prado will all represent the Braves in the Midsummer Classic.

Jason Heyward is the second youngest player to ever be selected to start in an All-Star Game.  Though on the disabled list, Heyward will be activated before the game.  He will travel to Anaheim but will likely not play in the game.

Martin Prado received his first All-Star selection after a dominant first half of the season where he lead the NL in batting average and MLB in total hits.  Prado placed second in voting to Chase Utley, who has been disabled with a thumb injury.  As a result, Prado will likely start the game for the National League.

This is also the first All-Star selection for Omar Infante, whose selection came as a surprise.  Charlie Manuel added Infante to the National League roster on account of the versatility he provides in a utility role for the Braves.

Tim Hudson received his third trip to the All-Star Game, but his first with the Braves.  He last represented the A’s in the 2004 game.  After returning from Tommy John surgery last sesason, Hudson has compiled an 8-3 record and posted a 2.37 ERA in 2010.

Brian McCann receives his fifth All-Star selection in his fifth full season in the majors.  Though his production is down from 2009, McCann still leads all NL catchers in batting average.

The Braves have a chance to send a 6th player to the Midsummer Classic in the form of Billy Wagner.  He has been selected as one of the five NL Final Vote competitors, where the fans have the opportunity to select the final player on the team roster.  Wagner is facing off against Joey Votto, Ryan Zimmerman, Carlos Gonzalez and Heath Bell.

There would be no better send-off in Wagner’s final season, where he has served as a dominant closer for the Braves, than an All-Star selection.  Vote now to get Wagner in the All-Star Game!

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State Of The Braves Heading Into July

Written by Thomas on July 1, 2010 – 4:00 pm

After the hottest of Mays, the Braves were forced to turn their calendars to June (despite consistent urging from Chip Carey) and have seemingly left their past struggles in the month behind. The Braves have gone 17-11 in the month despite having to deal with significant injuries, including the loss of their All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth who in 2008 batted…never mind. All joking aside, here are the reasons why I believe the Braves more than survived June as well as some concerns looking forward.

1) Martin Prado, Troy Glaus, and Kris Medlen

After a ridiculous April in which he reached base over 42% of his plate appearances, Martin Prado came back down to earth in May. At some point during the month Jerome Jurenovich suggested that he should be starting the All-Star game; I almost fell off the couch laughing. Of course at that point Chase Utley was on fire, and I could never have foreseen the power surge Prado has had. While posting an OPS of .947, Prado led all National League second basemen with 14 extra base hits in the month of June. He now boasts the highest OPS amongst all NL second baggers and almost unquestionably deserves to start the All-Star game. With Utley on the DL and Prado leading the majors in hits, this seems very likely.

Troy Glaus has been no slouch either. A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I would rather have a former Brave who sometimes forgets that he is playing baseball while in the field over TG. I no longer feel this way. After being named National League POTM in May, Glaus has continued to swing a hot bat in June. Although his OBP dipped, he still belted 8 doubles and 6 homeruns to tie Prado for the team lead in extra base hits for the month. He also came close to stopping a couple of balls hit to his left (wink wink).

While Tim Hudson’s numbers are spectacular, I would argue Kris Medlen has been better. According to Baseball Prospectus’s SIERA (Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average), which is basically a stat that shows how lucky Ubaldo Jimenez is, Medlen has out performed Huddy and ranks 33rd in the category amongst all Major League pitchers with at least 70 IP. Perhaps more importantly for the Braves, Medlen has been their saving grace in the absence of Jair Jurrjens and will now allow them to move Kenshin Kawakami to the bullpen.

2) J-Hey to the DL and Big Red struggles

On May 30th Jason Heyward’s OPS was 1.017, tops in the National League. Since then Heyward has struggled mightily, posting an OPS of .532 in June while striking out a whopping 32 times. While the Braves and Jason cite his injured left thumb as the reason for his struggles, I doubt this to be the sole reason. As Mark Bowman of MLB.com pointed out in a recent article, Heyward was on fire for the first fifteen games after jamming his thumb which hardly seemed to be bothering him then. While it apparently got worse, it seemingly became an issue only after he started struggling. Hopefully rest will allow Jason to regain his stroke and return to his spectacular form.

While Tommy Hanson has struggled in his past two starts, I see little reason for concern. His K/BB ratio is slightly better than it was a year ago as he is striking out a batter an inning, and his BABIP is a ridiculously high .347. This is simply a product of bad luck and will almost certainly come down. Two bad starts in a row is not a trend, it is merely an aberration. As long as his velocity remains constant (and according to pitch FX it has) there is nothing to worry about.

Despite their success so far this season, the Braves could easily finish third in the NL East. While I think they are still the favorites to win it at this point, anything can happen over the course of the next three months. Hopefully the return of Jurrjens and the recovery of Heyward will be more than enough for the team to distance themselves from the ailing Phillies and overachieving Mets in July.

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All Eyes On Jair Jurrjens… Hudson’s Dominance and Heyward’s Thumb

Written by Kent on June 30, 2010 – 12:34 pm

In his latest “Fried Baseball” audio blog, Kent Covington talks about the return of Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson’s dominance, and Jason Heyward’s thumb. Throw in your 2 cents in the comments area below… or leave a message with your questions or comments for a future commentary at 888-669-5368 (ext.701.)

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Atlanta Braves, Tim Hudson Tackle Stephen Strasburg 5-0

Written by Colin on June 29, 2010 – 7:01 am

The hype surrounding the Washington Nationals phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg is absolutely insane – and most of it is earned. But he’s hittable, and beatable.

The bottom line yesterday was Tim Hudson. Through seven innings of ball, Hudson struck out six, picked off one, walked three, and gave up a total of five hits. His extremely effective sinking two-seamer led to twelve groundouts – and only one fly out. Hudson showed that he’s back in ace form last night – as the nation watched expecting such a performance from the opposing pitcher.

Strasburg was almost as good. Through six innings he held the Braves’ offense scoreless. Nats manager Jim Riggleman almost pinch-hit for Strasburg when his spot in the order came up in the bottom of the sixth (someone came out on deck for Strasburg but was pulled back) and Strasburg came back out to pitch the seventh inning. Right now I’ll bet he wishes he hadn’t. Following a leadoff walk to Chipper (his 46th of the season), the Braves loaded the bases with no outs (thanks to an error) and tattooed WonderBoy for four runs (three earned). They then tacked on another unearned run.

Hustler of the night: Gregor Blanco, who surprised everybody with a bunt down the first base line that the pitcher couldn’t field cleanly for an RBI comes in second to Tim Hudson, who was absolutely ace-like last night.

Slacker of the evening: In the first inning, Melky Cabrera roped a double to left. Chipper then knocked a fly ball to deep left and Melky got caught somewhere between second and third. Had he tagged up, he could have scored when McCann singled to left. Instead, Melky’s slow self got caught trying to score from second to end the inning.

Strasburg Effect: 9601 walkup tickets were sold yesterday and a total of 21,608 tickets were sold since Strasburg’s previous start. The Braves’ franchise thanks Strasburg for coming to Atlanta, selling tickets, and then giving up the loss to improve the Bravos’ home record to 27-8.

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Braves Up Next On The Stephen Strasburg Show

Written by Jonathan on June 28, 2010 – 9:00 am

The Washington Nationals come into Atlanta tonight leading the season series over the Braves 2-1 and the most anticipated game of the upcoming series is the kickoff match this evening when rookie pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg takes the mound against Tim Hudson.  Strasburg is 4 starts into his major league career and comes to Atlanta with a 2-1 record (his loss was a 1-0 matchup his last time out).  In those 4 starts he has struck out 41 batters and allowed more than 1 earned run in a game only one time (his first outing he gave up 2 earned) and has an ERA of 1.78.

Tim Hudson’s coming off of one of his worst outings of the season where he gave up 4 earned runs in 7 innings of work to the White Sox.  Hudson is 7-3 on the season and averaging 6 2/3 innings of work per outing and has a 2.54 ERA.  He has struck out 45 and walked 37.

Strasburg isn’t unhittable; the Braves offense will just have to get going.  He’s issued 19 hits in his 4 starts this season (9 of which were in his last outing against the Royals) and has walked 5 (all in the same start).  The key to winning tonight for the Braves is to not get behind the 8-ball by not allowing the Nationals to create an insurmountable early run lead.

Just as a sidebar, and I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sick of all the “future Hall of Famer”, blah, blah, blah, etc, etc talk going on every time anyone mentions Strasburg’s name in the news.  He’s pitched 4 games, people!  Yes, he’s good, I’m not denying that at all.  He was 13-1 his last season of college, he was 7-2 in the minors and he’s 2-1 so far this season.  Those numbers speak for themselves, but for someone that has been in the majors for all of 20 days, I think it’s a little early to say he has a Hall of Fame career in progress.

This isn’t just how I feel because we’re going against the Nationals and they are in the Braves division.  I’ve said the same thing about Jason Heyward this season.  Let the kids go out there, play baseball and worry about if they had Hall of Fame careers in another 20 years or so.  That’s what this game’s all about……..well that, and beating the Nationals.  Go Braves!

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Braves’ Best Decisions of Past Year

Written by Colin on June 22, 2010 – 2:15 pm

Jon Heyman of SI.com wrote an article hailing the top 20 baseball decisions made this year. Three of ’em are the decisions of your very own Atlanta Braves. Let’s take a look and see if these are truly the top 3 decisions made by Frank Wren and team.

  • #10 – The decision to start Jason Heyward in Atlanta in 2010
  • #15 – The decision to get rid of Kelly Johnson and start Martin Prado
  • #17 – Resigning Tim Hudson

Now while I’ll agree that all three of these have been absolutely crucial to the Braves’s success in 2010, I’d add a couple more to the list.

  • Signing Troy Glaus. Without Glaus in the middle of the lineup to provide some additional protection for the top of the lineup, where would the Braves be? Would Heyward be doing as well if the lineup weren’t as potent behind him? Glaus has been the offensive key the Braves have been missing in past years, and his .400 batting average (and .600 slugging percentage) with 2 outs and runners in scoring position has him a near lock for the comeback player of the year.
  • Signing Billy Wagner. Wags (or The Sandman, if you prefer) has been absolutely dominant this year. If you haven’t seen him pitch in person this season, you’re missing out on how dominant he is. Having Wagner at the back of the Braves’ bullpen has certainly been one of the keys to success this season.

Those are the other decisions I’d put with Heyman’s three to round out the top five decisions of 2010. Ranking which decisions are most important to the Braves’ current success is difficult though. How would you rank ’em?

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Waking Up In First Place

Written by Ben on June 1, 2010 – 12:23 pm

The Atlanta Braves have not been in first place this late in the season since 2005, which is coincidentally — or maybe not — the last year the Braves won the division.

When this team was reeling in April with that unforgettable nine game losing streak, you would have been hard-pressed to find many who would believe that the Braves would be in first place by the start of June.

The Braves being in first place is a combination of superb play from the team themselves and a huge slump coming from the preseason favorite Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies closed out May with a 3-7 record over their past ten games whereas the Braves went 8-2, including the major’s longest winning streak with six straight victories.

Until San Diego’s blowout of the Mets, the Braves had the best run differential in the National League. Unfortunately, the Padres passed the Braves, but personally, I am not too upset that they pounded the Mets out as they surpassed us in terms of Pythagorean Record.

As they enter June, the Braves have a tough schedule in the coming weeks.

Atlanta plays Philadelphia for the remaining two games in this series tonight and tomorrow, then they fly out to Los Angeles for a four game set, then to Arizona for four, and close out the road trip in Minnesota for three. There are no off days from now until the end of that stretch. The Braves have struggled outside of Turner (12-16 in away games), so having a solid road trip will be a tough task that hopefully the Braves are up for.

Before they start the road trip, the Braves have a great opportunity to extend their NL East lead and put the Phillies in a bigger hole with Tim Hudson on the mound tonight and Derek Lowe facing off against Kyle Kendrick tomorrow.

Hudson has had solid numbers so far, but has been less effective than many believe. His 4.39 FIP compared to his 2.24 ERA says that he has gotten rather lucky, and if he wants to continue the success he has had this year, he will have to strike-out more and walk less.

Derek Lowe, on the other hand has had more success as of late (4.11 ERA in May), and has actually been a bit unlucky this year as his FIP stands at 4.47 while his ERA sits at 4.86. If Lowe pitches as he has, he should be in line for a lower ERA and more success in the general fan’s eyes in the near future.

Both of their performances will be key in extending the division league in the next two days, but regardless, this is not a must-win situation for either game. The Braves are in a great position and are playing very solid baseball as of late. Regardless of whether they win or lose both games, the Braves are playing well. And at the start of June, that means more than their current place in the standings.

This is a great time to be a Braves follower, and waking up in first place for the first time in June since 2005 at least shows that this is a better product than we have seen in the past few seasons. Hopefully, the Braves will be able start consecutive months in first place and bring the winning ways back to Atlanta. Those same winning ways we all grew accustom to for 14 straight seasons.

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Life After Death

Written by Thomas on May 13, 2010 – 7:20 am

Since losing nine straight games at the back end of April, the Bravos have won eight of their past twelve ballgames and outscored their opponents 68 to 39 in the process. With a record of 16-18 the Braves now head back to Atlanta for three games with the struggling D-Backs, and two with the Mets and Reds each. Here are four brilliant thoughts to mull over in the meantime.

1) Heyward moved up in the order

Finally. As Colin and I have called for in recent weeks, Jason batted third in the final two games against the Brewers. In his two games in the three hole, J Hey reached base safely seven times in eleven plate appearances while stealing two bases and scoring six runs. He is good, and his placement in the top third of the lineup appears to be permanent as he is likely to bat second when Chipper returns. A top three of Prado, Heyward, and Jones is infinitely better than any order with Melky or McLouth in the top spot. This also shows that Bobby still has a pulse. My reoccurring nightmare of waking up in August with Heyward still batting 6th seems to have finally gone away.

2) Eric Hinske should start in left, but don’t get too excited.

It was nice to watch two consecutive games without Melky Cabrera in left. Hinske filled in beautifully and now boasts a triple slash of .333/.409/.538 in 44 plate appearances on the season. While this is obviously unsustainable, his career OPS against right-handers is a serviceable .806 and platooning him with Diaz seems to be the Braves’ best bet (also, for what it’s worth, he has a positive career UZR in leftfield). Meanwhile, Melky can fight over playing time in center with McLouth. Here’s to hoping Jordan Schafer can contribute at some point this season (LOL, ROTFL, and FML).

3) Tim Hudson is getting really lucky

His 2.64 ERA is simply a statistical anomaly. In 44 plus innings pitched Huddy has only managed 17 strikeouts while issuing 18 walks. What is helping him is a batting average against balls in play that currently sits at .234 compared to his career mark of .288. He has an unsustainable strand rate of 86% (compared to his 73% career avg) as well as a remarkably high ground ball rate of 66%. The bottom line is that his K/BB ratio has got to improve, because his BABIP will only get higher. And if the latter happens before he starts missing more bats, the runs are going to come in bunches.

4) Defending Chipper Jones

Maybe this is because my fantasy team really needs him to turn things around, but I feel the urge to defend CJ 10. Sure he looks like catcher Jake Taylor at the plate, but his OBP this season is an impressive .407 (his career mark is .406), and his slugging percentage is going to come around. I would be shocked if it ends up lower than last year’s mark of .430, a career low. All things considered, the only two hitters I would rather have up at the plate, in almost every situation, are McCann and Heyward. Yeah, my fantasy team is screwed.

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Braves Spring Training Yields Pitching Answers

Written by Kent on April 1, 2010 – 10:05 am

Earlier this week, we addressed the questions facing the Braves lineup heading into the spring. But what about the pitching? Numerous questions/doubts were raised by fans and observers over the winter regarding the Atlanta rotation and bullpen. So what have we learned over the course of the Spring?

Q. Will Billy Wagner be healthy, and will he resemble the “Wags” of old?

A. I never fully understood this question, since I thought it was largely answered last year, when he struck out 26 batters in 15.2 innings, and posted a 1.72 ERA after his late-season return from the disabled list.

Yes, he had UCL reconstruction (“Tommy John”) surgery, but that was back in 2008, and he was ahead of schedule at every stage in his recovery. More than a year and a half have passed since that surgery, from which there is now a better than 90% FULL recovery rate. All things considered, I cannot explain why his recovery wasn’t obvious to so many after the way he pitched late last year.

But those fans who were nervously observing him this spring should now rest easier. He has thrown the ball quite will, routinely firing fastballs in the mid-90’s. One radar gun reading drew gasps from the spring training crowd when a Wagner heater was clocked at 101 mph.

Q. Is Hudson healthy and ready to regain top-of-rotation form?

A. As with the Billy Wagner question, it has been difficult for me to comprehend the doubts so many have had in Hudson’s ability to perform at a high level in 2010.

Hudson is also more than a year and half removed from TJ surgery, and he looked fantastic after returning for 7 starts at the end of last season, posting a 3.61 ERA in 42 innings. One Major League scout commented at the time that it looked as though Hudson “had never left” (never been injured). The Braves had certainly seen enough to convince them of Hudson’s health and ability when they resigned him to a 3-year deal over the winter. But for those who needed further proof this spring… here ya go:

In 5 spring starts, Hudson is 3-1 with 1.35 ERA. He has also KO’d 17 batters in his 20 innings of pre-season work. His arm feels as good as it ever has, and opposing hitters will tell you his pitches have never been more difficult to square up.

Q. Will Derek Lowe bounce back from a disappointing 2009 season?

A. If his spring performance is any indication, he can and most likely will bounce back with a strong 2010 season. In an effort to correct mechanical flaws that led to an underwhelming ’09 season, Lowe worked with Braves’ Pitching Coach, Roger McDowell, on returning to a windup and delivery he had used to great effect earlier in his career.

The results have been very encouraging. This spring, for the most part, Lowe has been successful in getting opposing hitters to either beat the ball into the ground or swing through it all together. If you remove one start that was severely hampered (and shortened) by a blister, he wrapped up the Grapefruit League season with a 3.42 ERA and fewer hits than innings pitched.

Q. Is Jair Jurrjens shoulder healthy?

A. In a word: Yes. A February MRI revealed no damage in his shoulder, and the prescribed rest seemed to do the trick. Jurrjens has been gaining strength in his shoulder throughout the month of March, and now reportedly no longer feels any pain or discomfort in the shoulder whatsoever. His last outing was his best yet (5 innings, 1 hit, 3 K’s, no runs allowed). He is on track to start game 2 of the regular season on April 7, at home against the Chicago Cubs.

Q. After the bullpen “locks” (Wagner, Saito, Moylan, O’Flaherty), how will the ‘pen shape up?

A. Kris Medlen is quite highly thought of within the Braves organization and is another virtual lock to retain his seat in the Atlanta bullpen.

JoJo Reyes has frustrated Braves officials, who recognize his potential, with his inability to make the most of multiple chances to crack the big league starting rotation. This spring, the powers that be decided to test him in a relief role. It’s a test he’s passed with flying colors, and it appears he’ll open the season as the third lefty in the Atlanta ‘pen.

After landing with the Braves via Tampa Bay in the Rafael Soriano trade, Jesse Chavez has had a rough spring. A VERY rough spring. Having said that, he was quite effective in his two most recent appearances. But more importantly, he has something on his resume that those competing against him for the final bullpen spot do not… big league success. Chavez was quite solid for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 73 relief appearance last year, and that will likely more than atone for his rocky spring.

But don’t forget about Scott Proctor, who the Braves signed to a minor league deal back in November. The former Yankees bullpen workhorse (and former Braves trade target) is wrapping up what has thus far been a very successful rehabilitation from the “Tommy John” surgery he underwent last May. The hard throwing righty will likely supplant one member of the Atlanta ‘pen by the end of April.

Wagner (LHP – Closer)
Saito (RHP – Setup Man)
Moylan (RHP)
Medlen (RHP)
Chavez (RHP)
O’Flaherty (LHP)
Reyes (LHP)

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Posted in Pitching, Speculation | 2 Comments »

Hudson Inching Towards Comeback

Written by Jonathan on July 28, 2009 – 12:16 pm

If all goes as planned, we could see Tim Hudson back in an Atlanta Braves jersey by mid-August.  Hudson has been sidelined for about a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  Last night, he took the start in Gwinnett, throwing 4 scoreless innings of 4-hit baseball.  27 of his 41 pitches were thrown for strikes, while he struck out 4 batters and didn’t walk anyone.

If all goes well with his next starts in Triple-A, we should fully expect to see Hudson heading back to Turner Field.  This leaves the question, however, who is the odd-man-out in the rotation?  Lowe, Jurrjens, Vazquez, Hanson, Kawakami and then Hudson would all be looking at starting pitcher spots.  Lowe, Jurrjens and Vazquez all are undeniably safe in their starting jobs.  As far as I see it, Kawakami would be the 6th man when the situation arises, barring a complete breakdown by Tommy Hanson.

It’s not a bad situation to have, with 6 capable starters on a squad.  Any injuries to a starter will be a much less scary prospect if we are carrying an extra starter as a long reliever.  It’s not an easy situation for a lot of starters when it comes to switching to the bullpen, but the front office is going to have to make a choice.  What do you think should happen?  My vote is for Kawakami to head to the bullpen if all stays as it is right now.

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Posted in Roster Moves, Speculation | 1 Comment »

Braves’ Pitching Abounds

Written by Colin on June 2, 2009 – 10:01 am

The Braves starting pitching continues to excel this season – and while Frank Wren searches for some more offense to back up the staff, the Braves are not lacking in starting pitching depth.

Derek Lowe is 6-3 with a 3.49 ERA (8 quality starts), Jair Jurrjens is 5-2 with a beautiful 2.59 ERA (7 quality starts), and Javier Vazquez is doing ok – he has an even 4-4 record with a 3.58 ERA (7 quality starts). Behind that, Kenshin Kawakami appears to be struggling at 3-6 with a 4.73 ERA, but you’d be having trouble too if you only got an average of 1.7 runs scored per game when you were pitching. With such lousy run support, it’s a wonder Kawakami has three wins.

Glavine is ready to come to Atlanta and start. Whether or not he’ll be good, we’ll see. He’s ready though. Kris Medlen had two rough starts but was great in his last start as he struck out nine in six innings of work. He may just have a chance to stick around and prove he has the stuff he needs to excel in the majors. And of course we have Tommy Hanson honing his skills in Gwinnett, waiting to make the 45 minute drive south and show us his stuff. Oh, and Tim Hudson is on track for a return in August or September.

So what happens now? We’ve got Tommy ready to pitch, Medlen to give some playing time to, Hanson to fit in, and 2 pitchers that are doing alright.

I think the odd man out, interestingly enough, is Javier Vazquez. He has a high strikeout rate, but the Braves give him the most run support while he’s on the mound (5.5 runs per game) and yet he’s only 4-4 – and the Braves are only .455 when he gets the ball. To give you an idea of how bad that is, the Braves are .400 with Jo-Jo Reyes starting. Kawakami needs more run support, but with that run support he’ll likely be much better. He could end up being the odd man out too.

Who’s the odd man out? What does our rotation/bullpen look like at the end of the year?

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