Archive for August, 2010

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)