August 2008

Coming down the mountain…

Things have gone from bad to worse over the past two weeks in Bravesland. It just doesn’t seem like anything can go right for Atlanta, while nothing can wrong for the opposition. Friday’s shelling at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals punctuated what has been the roughest stretch of baseball for the Braves in recent memory.

The numbers don’t lie. For a team that was second in the National League and fifth in all of baseball with a 3.79 team ERA at the All-Star break, Atlanta’s hurlers have been battered around at a 6.27 clip in the second half. Over the past two weeks, the Braves have lost 11 of 12 games coming into Saturday and a primary reason for that has been that opponents will jump out to nice leads and never look back.

It would be somewhat unfair to not mention that Atlanta’s patchwork rotation was hardly what anyone thought would be taking the mound every fifth day. What if I told you in April that the only veteran in the Braves rotation by the last week in August will be Mike Hampton? Doubtful anyone would believe me. Heck, I have a hard time believing it myself.

Each game I come across an interesting little updated tidbit that is included in the Braves media notes. When Casey Kotchman missed Wednesday’s contest to return home and be with his ailing mother, he became the 20th different Brave to go on the DL or bereavement list. Total games lost combined? 1,018 (through Friday). Wow. Or “ouch” as the case may be.

Of course, the Braves really haven’t given anyone a reason to look over their shoulder late in the game lately either. Since the trade of Mark Teixeira, the Braves offense has seemed almost punch-less at times. Brian McCann and Chipper Jones have certainly done their part, but the 1-8 production simply has not been there this season.

The season-long struggles of Jeff Francouer underscore an outfield that has simply not turned in the kind of production that anyone in or around the organization has been accustomed to. With Andruw Jones and his decade-plus 30+ homers and 100 RBI’s now a thing of the past, the Braves have not been able to find a way to add some power production to their line-up. Matt Diaz has been out for three months; Mark Kotsay missed some time as well but has been a solid contributor for the most part.

Regardless, the Braves outfield has combined for just 25 homers, 163 RBI and a .252 batting average. By comparison, 2007’s numbers (.275-59-280) even had a career-worst year for Andruw factored in. Even with five more weeks, it’s doubtful that the gap will close between these two stat-lines. If you want to know a place where I would expect to see some money spent this off-season, then you could put the outfield right up there with the starting rotation.

I could go on and on, and on some more, about the loss of starters John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Tim Hudson to season-ending arm surgeries. I could, really. But at this point, you know this pat of the story. There’s no truckload of numbers that I could dump on your computer screen that would locate something that hasn’t been pointed out already…. Those losses hurt. And there is no team in baseball that could stand to lose three top-line starters and contend for any length of time. Unforeseen and unfortunate is all I can say for those injuries.

Jair Jurrjens has been a saving grace, without a doubt, but may start to show the effects of the largest workload of his career over his final starts. Just think of this season without the quality work of the studious Jurrjens, still honing his craft before being thrust to the front of a rotation in his just his first full season. He’s one to watch for the future.

The rest of the younger Braves hurlers took some serious lumps in rotation. Jo-Jo Reyes has been quality on the road (3.54 ERA in 48 innings), but has just a 1-4 record to show for it. Home has been another story. Turner Field has been a little shop of horrors for Reyes, who sports a 2-5 record and a 7.15 ERA in nine starts. There were high hopes that Reyes would be able to hold down a spot in the Atlanta rotation, but he may have been rushed through the system in 2007 and still feeling the effects this season. If Reyes ever gets command of his pitches and cuts down the walks, he could still be a big piece for Atlanta.

Righty starter Charlie Morton (3-8, 6.39 in 13 starts) has shown flashes of brilliance, followed up by forgettable shellings. Friday’s horrific start in St. Louis was wrought with walks (five in 1.1 innings), which seems to be a theme with some of the younger arms. Command has been at a premium, but like Reyes, Morton has the stuff to compete at the Major League level. The problem has been a penchant for walking hitters and dealing with too many base runners (1.64 WHIP) to be successful. Pitching in Turner Field has been hard on Morton as well, with an 0-6 record and an 8.18 ERA in seven starts.

We can talk about potential all day, and what players are capable of, but this season has not allowed the Braves to simply convert the numbers from predictions in the spring into success on the field. It never is quite that easy. Losing Teixeira, who rebuffed Atlanta’s contract extension offer earlier this year, cost the Braves a number of prospects who would be nice to have in the mix. But there is money to be spent on fixing some problem areas this off-season.

The free-agent crop isn’t exactly the world’s best, but there will be some players who could fill the voids left by age and injury in the Braves line-up and on the hill. Fodder for next time…

Till then,
G-Mc

Is this the end for Glavine?

Thursday’s start against the Chicago Cubs certainly isn’t the note the Tom Glavine would like his career to end on, but he may not have much of a say in the matter. After spending more than two months on the disabled list with an elbow injury, Glavine was placed right back on the shelf after allowing seven runs in just four innings. Effectively shut down for the season, Glavine will chart the course for the rest of his career with an MRI on the elbow on Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala.

Glavine_v_cubs.png
If it did come to a close tomorrow, Glavine will have a plenitude of other, much sweeter memories to
look back on from his 22-year career. A five time 20-game winner with
more than 300 career victories and a pair of Cy Young Awards makes for
a pretty impressive resume. Throw in a World Series MVP in 1995 and 10
All-Star game selections and that gives the lefty quite a few places to
hang his hat.

With surgery coming as soon as Thursday, it will be
up to noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews to determine the full extent of
the injuries to Glavine’s left elbow. An MRI back in June revealed a
partially torn flexor tendon. Doctors advised Glavine that he could
undergo a potentially season-ending surgical procedure or attempt to
let the slight tear heal with time and rehab, thus allowing him the
opportunity to pitch this season. Should Andrews find that Glavine
needs Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, the 42-year old
left-hander has already made it known that he would retire instead.

Glavine and the entire Braves organization was hoping for a story-book ending to his brilliant career when they inked him to a one-year $8 million deal prior to the season. The addition of Glavine gave the Braves a formidable starting rotation that could boast a quartet of former 20-game winners. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t in the cards. One of the most durable starters for more than two decades, never making a single trip to the DL in 21 seasons, Glavine has been sidelined three times this year alone. Hardly what anyone had in mind.

Breaking in with Atlanta late in the 1987 season, Glavine suffered through some trying years before enjoying the sweet success of the 1990s. Braves fans seemed to forget his five year stint with the Mets from 2003-2007, and welcomed one of the franchise’s true legends back with open arms. It was a true tragedy that Glavine and longtime friend John Smoltz would manage just 18 starts between them this season.

While there is still the possibility that Glavine would pitch next season, he has gone on record as saying that it would only be for the Braves. It remains to be seen if that will be a part of the 2009 strategy, however. You can put Smoltz in that same boat.

If I had to look back over the career of Glavine and pick a highlight that stands out for me, then I’d probably go with his masterful eight inning one-hit performance in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series. For the all the critics that said the Braves vaunted starters couldn’t get it done in the post-season, Glavine’s mastery of one of baseball’s all-time best offenses (the ’95 Indians hit .291 as a team) was sweet redemption. We may never see a trio like Glavine, Smoltz and Greg Maddux ever again.

With both Glavine and Smoltz possibly calling it a career this off-season, it will mark the end of a great chapter in Braves lore. The once pitching-laden Braves are going to have to try to a new formula – or re-load the cast of characters at least. It was a beautiful run though. Pull out a few old baseball cards (or hit up the internet if you aren’t into that whole vintage approach) and take a stroll through the numbers of those three one night. Those were the good old days.

Till next time,

G-Mc

So long, everybody…

Skip_Pete.jpgIt’s been a tough week for the Atlanta Braves and baseball fans everywhere, as we all lost a very dear friend who provided the nightly soundtrack for more than three decades of Braves baseball. Skip Caray passed away on August 3, leaving us devoid of the friend who brought Braves baseball into homes across the country and around the world.

Most of you probably don’t know that I have had the dream of being a Major League broadcaster for almost my entire life. Growing up in Georgia, born and raised on Braves baseball, Skip Caray was at the forefront of my desire to chase the dream that I still follow to this day.

Sometimes in this life, we have the opportunity to gain valuable insight and work along side or in conjunction with these figures – ones who first inspired us or fueled the desire to make it in this business. I was afforded that opportunity, and for the last four years it has been an incredible opportunity to learn, not only from Skip, but from an entire team of broadcasters who bring unique styles to the table.

Over the past week, I’ve had the pleasure of reliving some of the most memorable calls and the undeniable one-of-a-kind personality that was Skip Caray. It is a truly incredible body of work, beginning in 1975 and stretching on for 33 years into this very season. Those calls and memories will continue to be a part of Braves lore, capturing both the magic moments and the off-beat antics that made Skip a true original.

It’s amazing to me that following in the foot steps of another beloved “original” – in his father Harry Caray – that Skip blazed a decidedly different trail. With such a tough act to follow, I respect that way in which Skip blended his knowledge, passion, humor and honest story-telling ability into a style which will never be duplicated. It just wouldn’t do it justice for anyone to attempt it.

For my money, the one-two punch of Skip and longtime play-by-play partner Pete Van Wieren represents baseball the way it should be called. That was as clear to me at 10-years old as it is today.

There is a void though, without a doubt, as we move through the last few weeks of a trying season in Atlanta. I’ll definitely miss the laughs that helped ease the the pain of the doldrums and remind us of what was once good and can be again.

So long, Skip. And thank you.

G-Mc