August 2007

Department of redundancy department…

September is just around the corner, which means there are pennants to be clinched and Wild Cards to be had in the hunt for not-so-red October.

The Braves have been battling to find the consistency needed to start winning games in bunches, while avoiding the prolonged losing streaks that have plagued them all season. Win three, lose three – Win two-out-of-three, lose two-out-of-three. Since starting the season 6-1, Atlanta has battled to string together a run that would make up ground in the battle for the NL East.

Mark Teixeira has proven to be every bit as good as advertised in his time with Atlanta. Though the Braves hold just a 10-10 record since acquiring the switch-hitting powerhouse. ‘Big Tex’ has scorched NL pitching, hitting .289 with nine homers and 26 RBI. Those nine homers give him the league lead for the month of August. Certainly a good first impression for his teammates and fans alike.

Losing Edgar Renteria was a blow to the team, perhaps larger than realized by the casual fan. Sure, Yunel Escobar is a wonderful option to have – and he has filled in admirably in Renteria’s stead. But the veteran presence and polished play of Renteria may be one of the most often overlooked aspects of the club over the past two season.

Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann ushered in the new generation of future stars, while Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones have joined John Smoltz as the long-time faces of the franchise. Even Teixeira’s arrival has generated more attention that the steadily underrated play of Renteria. Atlanta is dealing with a lack of depth coming off the bench, with Escobar forced into everyday play.

And, so here is where the redundancy part comes in:

It is not the offense or the thin corps of reserves that routinely plagues the Braves. Starting pitching after Smoltz and Tim Hudson has become a real problem. Chuck James has found himself on the 15-day DL, and it appears that Buddy Carlyle may be turning back into a pumpkin sooner than later. The fifth starters spot has been particularly troublesome. Lance Cormier and Jo-Jo Reyes (recently recalled from Richmond) don’t exactly strike fear in the heart of the opposition with a combined record of 0-5 and a 9.30 ERA.

There is still some time for Atlanta to search for another starter, but the market is pretty much barren. All other options must clear waivers for a deal to happen, which is when the general manager’s game of chess comes into play. David Wells was an option, before reportedly agreeing to a deal with the L.A. Dodgers on Thursday. There Braves face a clear dilemma.

Until the rotation solidifies and starts handing the bullpen a six inning performance, then the relievers are going to continue to be over-worked. Having the pen routinely pitch 4+ innings is the fast-track to having worn out arms losing some of their effectiveness down the stretch. Something has to give somewhere.

Atlanta has remained around five games in back of the New York Mets and within a game of the Wild-card leading Padres. That is cause for hope. But the club is going to have to string the wins together soon if they hope to stay in the race in September.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Dare I say, “Down the stretch we come…”

What a weekend…

You had a few things that were of particular note, in what was a milestone weekend for baseball. Alex Rodriguez belted his 500th career homer (off ex-Brave Kyle Davies nonetheless). Barry Bonds has etched his name alongside Henry Aaron as baseball’s all-time homerun king with 755. Finally, Tom Glavine finally notched career win number 300. We may never see that many records and milestones reached in 72-hours again.

Meanwhile, the pennant races heat up… and that is where this blog is going…

The trade deadline has now passed (at least the non-waiver variety) and now it’s time to make that stretch run over the final two months.

Atlanta goes into a very important road trip against the first place New York Mets and division rival Phillies in back-to-back 3-game series. While it’s hard to call these games must-wins, it is easy to see that Atlanta needs to down their arch-rivals in order to gain immediate ground in the standings. Atlanta goes out on the road trailing by five games to New York.

Mark Teixeira has seemingly energized the Braves line-up that had already shown an ability to put up runs in bunches. Of course, in the way that baseball works, when you add Teixeira, you lose Edgar Renteria to the 15-day DL and Andruw Jones to a cortizone shot in his left elbow. Jones should be back during the roadtrip, but Renteria could be out longer with a high-ankle sprain.

Atlanta had every right to say they boast the best line-up in the NL East with Teixeira on-board. Now rookie phenom Yunel Escobar, whom the Braves chose to hang on to during the trading frenzy, gets a chance to play everyday. Escobar is fast impressing his teammates with big hits and high-energy play.

Jeff Francoeur is red-hot, hitting .395 over his last 10 games and pushing his average up to .304 on the season following this most recent homestand. The production on the whole has far out-weighed the drop in homers from Jeff this season. The Atlanta right-fielder is on his way to his second consecutive 100+ RBI season, all by the age of 23-years old.

The only real question that Braves fans may be asking, is just how exactly the Braves rotation is going to fair over these final weeks. Tim Hudson has shown he is in top form, while John Smoltz contends that his shoulder irritation subsided in his past start against Colorado. The results weren’t pretty (9-2 loss in which Smoltz allowed 7 runs), but that is a promising report to know that Smoltz may be closer to 100%.

There is still a chance the Braves could deal for an arm during the waiver trade deadline. All players must be placed on waivers to be dealt, a 72-hour period in which any other team can claim him. At that point, the club that placed the player on waivers can either work a trade with the claiming club, allow the claiming club to have the player and assume the contract or they can pull him back off waivers – meaning he cannot again be placed there.

Atlanta is sure to monitor the wire and see what is out there – and at what cost. The Braves have parted ways with a lot of young talent to bring in Teixeira, Mahay, Dotel and Royce Ring. Giving up anymore will beg a long and thought out look at what they’ll get in return. Make no mistake, the Braves are in win-now-mode.

Till Next time,

G-Mc