From the third week of May to the All-Star Break, when the Atlanta Braves were rolling, Billy Wagner was one of the best closers in baseball.

Over that approximate two month stretch, the 39-year-old southpaw was 16-for-17 in save opportunities while collecting one win in a total of 23 appearances.

However, since the dawn of the second half, Wagner has blown four saves in 13 chances (and given up a go-ahead, solo homer in a non-save situation–a game the Braves would lose).

But, hey everybody goes through rough stretches, right?

Well, there is reason to believe that might not be the case here.

from espncdn.com

When you consider the fact that Wagner blew a grand total three saves in the season’s first three-and-a-half months, you have to wonder if fatigue could be catching up with him.

And when you consider further that all of his, if you will, chokes have come either pitching on either zero or only one day’s rest (and the one day came after a high-stress BS in Florida), fatigue definitely looks as if it could be the culprit in this sudden drop-off.

Now, when the Braves assembled the 2010 club, the solution to this problem was simple: give Wags the day off and let Takashi Saito close out the game

But, now that option is, essentially, out the window.

After suffering a hamstring injury in Los Angeles earlier in the season, the Braves have used the 40-year-old Japanese righty sparingly, at best, and almost never in back-to-back contests.

And if the issue with Wagner is going to be going to be going in back-to-back games, it simply doesn’t make sense to run Wagner-Saito-Wagner-Saito when save situations, hypothetically, in four straight games (or maybe that’s just me–I just am not fond of a straight-up closer rotation since you’d basically be losing one reliever every night).

So, I am proposing a sort-of John Axford-like solution with 25-year-old phenom lefty Jonny Venters.

If you don’t know who that is, I’ll offer this explanation: he’s the dude that essentially took Trevor Hoffman’s job in Milwaukee.

Venters, who has a 1.09 ERA and 17 holds in 57.2 innings out of the Braves’ ‘pen (and only one homer allowed, to boot), has been one of the best relievers in baseball against both lefties (.183 BAA) and righties (.163 BAA) as he has worked batters over his 96 mph sinker and late-breaking slider in late-and-(usually) close situations to the tune of 65 strikeouts (to 25 BB).

While he lacks closing experience, his arsenal definitely reeks of closer stuff.

And even though Venters (who has gone back-to-back games too many times to count) has been a key cog in the middle-relief role in Atlanta, until Wagner (who has sang Venters’ praises–that’s why I think he’d be at least somewhat cool with this sort of set-up) shows the ability to become a consistent threat to slam the door on nightly basis, Venters needs to get chances in the ninth.

By sliding Wagner down into seventh- and eighth-inning roles (when the game won’t be put out of reach if he gets shaken up) to work on his ability to go back-to-back/rest up and giving Venters the near-every night job of shutting the door, the Braves, in my eyes, are giving themselves a better shot at finishing games unscathed.

That doesn’t mean Wagner gets completely kicked to the curb, though.

He would get to spell Venters occasionally and would be given the opportunity to get his job back if he performs well in set-up work (which should be the case if he gets fired up over this sort of demotion).

And if he does win the closing job back, his batteries should be re-charged from what would almost surely be a reduced workload.

Granted, the lack of “adrenaline” could make Wagner a liability any earlier than the ninth.

But even that doesn’t seem to be doing the trick for ol’ No. 13 right now.

For me, it’s an experiment worth taking a stab at–you really lose nothing by inserting a younger, equally dynamic arm into the ninth inning fold.

And if Wagner gets pissy, hey, he’s retiring after this season, anyway, right?
(joke)

Shifting the load at the back of the ‘pen, on paper, makes the Braves a better team–simple as that

 

THIS ARTICLE IS SPONSORED BY: Karen Custom Cleaner (contact Cameron Britt for more information)

“I don’t know which is more discouraging, [the Braves’ defense] or Chickens.” –EB White

from the NY Post

Okay.

Maybe I took some creative liberties with that EB White quote (he was really talking about literature).

And maybe that wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be when I googled “discouraging quotes.”

And maybe I am just too lazy to get rid of what is becoming an introduction full of incessant rambling.

But one thing that is definitely not a “maybe” is that the Braves’ defense has entrenched itself in a deeper rut than their sometimes anemic offense has ever found itself in 2010.

With the boot-fest that was the opening game of a three-game set against the Astros, I decided to take the initiative to check out the box scores of the Braves’ month of August (nine games). What I found wasn’t pretty.

In those games the Braves have committed no errors only twice and have seen the following totals from the other games: one, two, one, two, two, two, and three errors.

Add that up, and it’s 13 errors in nine August contests.

Overall, the boys from Hotlanta are–in newspaper-box-score-style–(5-4) for the month.

In games with no errors, they are (2-0)–I’m continuing this theme throughout for the sake of “prettiness.”

With one error, they are (0-2).

And with two or more, miraculously, the Braves are (3-2).

Now, that might indicate that the Braves are alright with this shotty, at best, defense.

But, eventually, as with what happened in a 10-to-4 route at the hands of the Astros, the E’s are going to start catching up with the playoff-hopeful Braves.

Those one-run decisions are going to start swaying in favor of opponents more and more (for the record, the Braves are (16-17) in those types of games).

And these now-familiar comeback-kids will have fewer and fewer opportunities to work their magic.

There’s no one individual to point at, either. Troy Glaus has made his share of blunders.

Alex Gonzalez, despite quite a few spectacular efforts, has booted a grounder here and there.

Brian McCann has thrown a ball or two away.

And Chipper has mishandled a few hops at the hot corner.

And the other four regulars on the field haven’t exactly been flawless, themselves.

Now, that’s not to say it’s time to leap off the Braves’ bandwagon just yet (even with the surging Phils lurking).

After all, they have found a way to win a majority of these games–no matter how tiny that majority may be.

But some work has to be done with the leather if the Braves hope to win the “close ones” and surge at least somewhat comfortably into the postseason.

 

THIS ARTICLE IS SPONSORED BY: Karen Custom Cleaner (contact Cameron Britt for more information)

“I don’t know what’s going on there. Bob Watson ought to take a look at it. Braun hits a home run, they drill him. He hits a home run, his next at-bat they drill him. That’s evidence enough for me for some guys to get suspended for quite a bit.”

Those were the words of Ken Macha, manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, following Saturday night’s game in Atlanta in which Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder was pegged by Braves lefty Jonny Venters in the eighth inning–a game the Brewers won by a final tally of six to three.

And you know what?

He’s off base.

The issues between the two sides stems from mutual unsportsmanlike banter–not Bobby Cox placing bounties on other teams’ player’s heads.

While Fielder was, in fact, grazed by a pitch on Friday following a Ryan Braun two-run homer delivered from Tommy Hanson (a guy who has plunked 11 batters–the highest total in the majors)–what Fielder did after making contact on a two run double later in the game is what lead to this situation boiling up a little more.

Prince, as we know, hasn’t exactly made friends of many of his opponents (see trying to invade the Dodgers’ dug-out and his orchestrating of a home plate celebration that lead to an eventual Spring Training plunking from Giants lefty Barry Zito).

From his somewhat entertaining boxing banter with teammate Ryan Braun (I kinda like that) to his “pimping” of swings (no one has enough of an uppercut to spring 270 (according to his player profile on MLB.com) pounds of man six inches (a bit of an exaggeration) off of the ground, the son of Cecil isn’t looking to let the egos of his enemies down easily.

And it was those “pimpings” on Friday night on his finish that likely got some rumblings going through the Braves’ clubhouse.

And when Fielder felt the urge to further punctuate his game-tying homer in Saturday night’s affair (at the start of a five-run Milwaukee inning) by not only leaping in the air, but also slamming his Louisville Slugger to the ground before rounding the bases (excusable in a walk-off, this one, once again, tied the game in the seventh)–he might as well have been taping a sign on his chest reading “hit me.”

After all, retribution for being “shown up,” like it or not, has been in the game of baseball since the first players started fooling around in sand lots.

So, when Jonny Venters buzzed Fielder’s dome (as had been done to Alex Gonzalez and Brian McCann on Friday, might I add) before driving a 92 mph two-seamer between Fielder’s two and eight (no way, even with Venters’ occasional wildness, that was an accident), the outrage over the score being settled (not upped once more) came as a surprise.

And, even of it wasn’t “even,” I’m not sure I get post-game tirades like the one from Macha (here are some more) are warranted after Fielder went out of his way to try and take out Alex Gonzalez’s legs on a double play.

But, one thing if for sure: this isn’t over.

The level of animosity following tonight’s (Saturday) game is simply too high for it to be finished.

Tomorrow (Sunday), somebody’s getting plunked.

Somebody’s getting ejected (especially with “Cowboy” Joe West in there).

And someone might feel the urge to throw some punches.

And, to answer the title (as if that hasn’t already been done), no.

Bobby Cox, after over 30 years in the game, is not telling his pitchers to go out there and mow down guys just for the hell of it.

The time comes when the players need to handle things amongst themselves–and this is one of those times.

No one’s trying to kill anybody–messages are just being sent between the two teams.

 

THIS ARTICLE IS SPONSORED BY: Karen Custom Cleaner (contact Cameron Britt for more information)

from blog.taragana.com

from Zimbio.com

I’ve been on record as saying that I’m a Yunel sympathizer.

I’ve lauded his talent and said that his occasional lapses are just part of an incredible, high-upside, (overall) well-rounded Major League shortstop.

But you know what?

When I got this text from my friend: “Did you see that trade?”, and shimmied my way over to MLB Trade Rumors to be greeted by “Blue Jays Acquire Yunel Escobar…” I wasn’t nearly as torn up and angry as I would I have anticipated myself being when I started bracing for this news about a month ago.

And I think that’s because I’m as fed up with the Cuban import as some of his teammates are.
By selling low on the 27-year-old ball of talent, Frank Wren and the Braves got a guy in Alex Gonzalez that has an OBP of .296 in a career year (I’m being pessimistic with the stats for dramatic effect; his 17 homers and 25 doubles are pretty legit), a 5’7″, 20-year-old left-hander that’s striking out dudes at an incredible rate (15.3 K/9), and a burner from the middle of the infield that has a last name that’s almost impossible to spell (P-A-S-T-O-R-N-I-C-K-Y).

Oh, and in addition by subtraction, the Blue Jays (begrudgingly, I’d imagine) took on the dude that Jonny Venters ran out of town (Jo-Jo Reyes).

Honestly, considering the attitude and attempt to rip Troy Glaus’ hand off, that’s a pretty good haul for a guy that Bobby Cox hates (especially the whole Reyes part…that makes me giggle like a school girl).

Sure, Yunel has been unsustainably cold this year (posting a BABIP 46 points below his career mark of .316) and has shown that he is, when he’s clicking on all cylinders, one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball.

But, even though other Braves need some “adjustments” at times (see Brian McCann’s audible F-bombs after each strikeout), his place in an organization that prides itself on class both on and off the diamond seemed to be nonexistent.

Given time to reflect on his antics (now that he’s an “enemy”), it seems that it was less of Yunel “hating to lose ” (it’s one of two from July 10) and more of him being “hardheaded.”

The time came where his .812 OPS from 2009 (when he was the Braves’ MVP) simply couldn’t outweigh his protruding bottom lip when something didn’t exactly fall his way.

So long Yunel…I still love ya (in a man-crush manner) and wish you the best of luck with Cito Gaston’s Jays.

I’m just sort of glad now that your antics (which were once enjoyable) have moved on to another franchise.
Your a helluva talent…let’s just hope this wake-up call gets your career back to the All-Star status it once promised.

 

THIS ARTICLE IS SPONSORED BY: Karen Custom Cleaner (contact Cameron Britt for more information)

from sbnation.com

I know, I know.

The Braves are a first place team with good vibrations all around.

They’ve been one of the best teams in the game since the beginning of May and really lack any substantial holes in their line-up.

But…I like to think ahead.

And, right now, I’m thinking about how Frank Wren and Company can improve the National League’s top run-scoring offense.

There are a couple of different routes the Braves could pursue to achieve this.

They could go with a speed guy (a dimension lacking in the line-up), but there really isn’t anyone readily available that fills that description (unless you’re thinking of Juan Pierre and his .248/.318/.278 line or Co-Co Crisp and his and injury-prone nature)–and Martin Prado has been on an absolute tear since taking over the lead-off spot and has, pretty much, eliminated the need for a “stereotypical” lead-off hitter.

An extra power bat, specifically from the right side, could also be of benefit to the Braves.

But, there aren’t a lot of options that the Braves could pursue for this venture since teams aren’t going to just trade away a legitimate power threat if they’re even remotely close to being in a playoff race

The other thing the Braves could look at could just be an everyday center field option that just, if only barely, out-performs the guys that they’ve been throwing out (Melky Cabrera and Nate McLouth and their combined sub-.550 OPS) at the plate while playing at least average defense in the field.

And, of course, versatility anywhere would be a plus.

And with the infield set-up with Jones-Escobar-Prado-Glaus from left to right…the outfield seems to be the most viable option for an upgrade.

So, all things considered, here are two guys the Braves should be pursuing at the trade deadline.
Luke Scott

The Baltimore Orioles outfielder, who still has two more years of team control remaining on his contract, has posted a .276/.347/.505 through 219 plate appearances from the left side of the plate (although that is acceptable considering his .852 OPS) thus far in 2010.

Now, his splits aren’t pretty (.905 OPS vs. RHP to .696 vs. LHP), and his 13 games in the outfield might make him a liability from a defensive standpoint.

And (this is why he’s No. 3–there are a few downsides with Scott) his line looks a little poor compared to current left-handed “platooning” outfielder Eric Hinske‘s .311/.377/.548 slash (his splits are a little more drastic with .946 to .633 OPSs versus right- and left-handers, respectively).

But, I think it’s reasonable to expect, even once Matt Diaz returns and Hinske continues in his platoon purgatory, Hinske’s numbers to move more and more towards his career marks of .256/.338/.442.

And that’s why I like Scott–his career line is .265/.349/.496 which is much closer to the numbers he has posted en route to his ten homers and 24 RBIs in what has proven to be a rather anemic Orioles offense (in other words, even if in only a platoon, he’s more likely to sustain his production).

Considering their 19-51 record and recent firing of their manager, you have to figure that Baltimore will be “blowing it up” and building for thee future–so MLB-ready talent probably won’t be a “must” in a deal.

But, close-to-primo prospects will be.

And with a lack of top-flight depth in the outfield down on the farm and the old mantra of “you can’t have too much pitching” likely coming in the negotiation process, this would be my package if I’m the Braves…

Potential Deal: Cody Johnson (OF), Randall Delgado (RHP), and Scott Diamond(LHP) for Luke Scott (OF) and Pedro Viola (LHP)/Jim Johnson (RHP).
David DeJesus

Remember the “barely-better-than-the-current-options” guy?

Here he kinda is (I say “kinda” because he’s actually significantly better than the other options without being a total top-flight offensive threat).

But, for the sake of comparison, pick one of these lines blindly (with career lines)…

.260/.319/.337 (.269/.330/.380)
.323/.395/.485 (.289/.361/.429)
.176/.295/.282 (.253/.339/.439)

Obviously, you pick the dude in the middle who is, not surprisingly, David DeJesus.

He’s one of the top players on the Kansas City Royals and has, as evidenced by his career line above, always been the sort of player he has been this year–one that gets on base while hitting with a little pop (i.e. an ideal No. 1 or No. 2 hitter).

His five homers and three steals don’t expire much in the “flashy” categories, but he’s been getting the job done to the tune of 22 doubles (tied for third most with many others in the AL) three triples from the top of KC’s line-up.

You plug that sort of production, even if he is left-handed, into the top of Atlanta’s line-up between Martin Prado and Chipper Jones and you’ve got a pretty good set-up (especially of Heyward gets to move down to a run-producing spot where he was more comfortable at the beginning of the year).

Now, to the deal.

Kansas City has some holes at various spots around its minor league system and DeJesus has an option on his contract (the Braves would be trading for a year-and-a-half of the center fielder)–so a deal with a “eclectic” feel would likely work.

Potential Deal(s): Kris Medlen (RHP), Melky Cabrera (OF), Zeke Spruill (RHP) ORArodys Vizcaino (RHP), Adam Milligan (OF), Cole Rohrbough (LHP) for David DeJesus (OF)–preferably the latter package.

Oh, and I will admit to being generous in my deals with talent being given up from the Braves’ perspective–I sometimes think too much though into the “talent-for-talent” theory and surrender too much in certain packages.

(from blueworkhorse.com)

It sounds funny, doesn’t it?

Chase Utley being challenged for the starting job at second base for the National League All Star team?

Up until this year, that was a preposterous thought…but, seemingly out of the woodwork, there has emerged a legitimate contender from the Atlanta Braves in the form of lead-off hitter Martin Prado–who is currently standing in second (though he is far from “nipping at the heels” of the leader) place in voting behind the venerable Utley.

Since Utley (for future reference, the No. 3 batter in the Phillies’ line-up) is, by far, the sexier name here, we’ll use a sort of “blind” system by which to judge the two (though, the stats will make it pretty obvious who is who).

Player A has a slash line of .333/.375/.464 (with that .333 being good enough for second in the National League behind the barely-qualified-for-consideration AndreEthier) with six home runs, 29 RBIs, 47 runs scored, and 31 multi-hit games (13 of three hits or more).

Player A has also collected 18 doubles and a single swipe (to three caught stealings) while putting up a 9.0 UZR/150 in 65 games at second base.

Player B’s slash line looks like this: .260/.376/.461.

B has also collected the third most home runs by a full-time second basemen with 10, 26 RBIs, 41 runs scored, two steals (to one caught stealing), and 12 doubles.

On the defensive side of the ball, UZR/150 gives this player a rating of 16.3 through the 61 games he has played at second base.

By throwing out on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and stolen bases, we can see how these players separate themselves from one another a bit (even though RBI and RS are close, I think they are each still relevant considering where each of these guys bat in their respective line-ups) …

Player A: .333 AVG/6 HR/29 RBI/47 RS/9.0 UZR/150
Player B: .260 AVG/10 HR/26 RBI/41 RS/16.3 UZR/150

Now…make your pick (preferably, in the poll for the sake of comparison).

Now, the unveiling (though I’m sure Braves and Phillies fans have already figured out who is who).

Player A is Martin Prado.

Player B is leading vote-getter Chase Utley.

Now, my opinion lies a bit on the subjective side since I get to watch Prado play (and collect his 95 current hits) everyday…but I don’t see how Chase Utley can get the nod when name recognition (which is, almost a bit regrettably, a pretty big factor in All Star voting) is thrown out the window.

The way Prado has energized what was an anemic Braves offense before he took over the lead-off spot also throws out the “value to a team’s success” factor that cones into play in some ballots cast.

I’ll grant Utley the fact that he’s been playing hurt…but voting should be based on results (oh, and to potential results…Prado’s BABIP is .366 to Utley’s .264, so Prado has had quite a bit more luck when it comes to “hitting ‘em where they ain’t”) on the field.

And, to me (and I feel the stats back me up a bit), Prado has had more of those.

So…what do you think (ignoring the fact that Utley’s more than likely getting the starting nod from the fans)?

Should Utley get the nod for his longevity as one of the premier second basemen in the game?

Or should Prado be the man for the impressive numbers he’s posted thus far in 2010.

(from thesportsidiot.com)

While nothing is written is stone just yet, there is a pretty good chance that the Atlanta Braves will find themselves sans-Chipper Jones when the team reports to Spring Training in 2011.

(Oh, and, yeah, I know that the Braves are a first place team with a lot going right for them.)

Well, that is provided that Chipper maintains his blisteringly cold .228/.375/.341 line that he carried into Tuesday night over the remainder of the season (the OBP is good, I’ll give him that, but his job, as the No. 3 hitter, is more about driving in runs than getting on–and with only 22 RBIs (batting .267 with runners on) with Jason Heyward and Martin Prado in front of him, there is simply too much pressure being put on Glaus/McCann to pick up what Jones is leaving behind).

As it stands today, the former perennial threat for 30 or more homers and a .300 or better batting average is a defensive liability at the hot corner, is 8-for-his last 35 ABs, and can’t keep a clean bill of health to save his life (from fingers, to obliques, to his back).

What’s more, the now-38-year-old Jones is being outplayed by all of his potential replacements on the bench.

Brooks Conrad is only six extra-base hits behind the sure-fire Hall of Famer in about a third of the plate appearances.

Omar Infante (who has only 30 fewer ABs than Hoss) holds a .314/.351/.387 line.

And Eric Hinske, who has appeared in one more game than Chipper (although with 50 fewer ABs), and his .316/.386/.556 line makes one wonder why Chipper is even getting chances at all (well, I say that…but I do know the reason–too much loyalty (if you get my drift) on the part of the manager and a $14 MM paycheck this season will do that).

In my humble opinion, the best interests of all parties involved would be for ol’ Larry to ride quietly off into the sunset in a Ken Griffey Jr.-esq fashion–he just doesn’t seem to have “it” anymore (and I’d love to be proven wrong).

But, we all know that’s not going to happen.

The fact of the matter is this: Chipper is fading…and has been fading rapidly since winning his lone batting title back in 2008.

His nostalgic presence in the Braves locker room is doing more than linking this club to pitching-dominant ways of the Braves teams headed by Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine…and that’s not helping the team win games.

It’s been tough to let go of the image of Chipper as a MVP candidate…but seeing what is as close as futility as you’ll see on a Major League diamond night-in and night-out has really let that image escape my mind.

It’ll be tough to replace the name-value that came along with Chipper over at third (although “Brooks” is a pretty cool name…just saying is all)–but if that three year, $42 MM extension (that’s Carl Crawford money, right there…wink wink, nudge nudge) does indeed fall off of the table…that’ll be a pretty easy pill to swallow.