Posts Tagged ‘Cardinals

02
Dec
11

Braves Winter Meetings Preview

Will Pastornicky be the Braves' starting shortstop in 2012?

When Braves’ General Manager Frank Wren arrives in Dallas on Monday for the start of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, the question on many excitable and anxious fans minds is if Christmas will indeed come early.

Will Wren double as Santa Claus this year and bring home a bounty of talent as well as a new look squad to Atlanta?

Or, will he leave empty-handed?

The Braves are one of the more talked about clubs heading into the Winter Meetings this year with Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens’ names dangling like prized bait.

Both players could be had if the price is right.

With Prado set to make in the neighborhood of $4.5 million in 2012 and Jurrjens in the ballpark of $5.5 million, the Braves could decide to use their allotment of salary to boost other weak areas of their club.

Wren has said repeatedly that he is not shopping either Prado or Jurrjens but that he will listen to any and all offers. It has been widely speculated that a power hitting outfielder and shortstop would whet Wren’s palette.

The Braves are not in the financial position to sign a big name free agent, so if they are going to improve their club they are going to have to do so via the trade market.

Hence why the price for Prado and JJ has been deemed so high.

Prado, who is coming off a career worse year, has intrigued multiple clubs early this offseason who believe his second half decline was an aberration. An early rumor that’s still been circulating entering the meetings involves the Colorado Rockies and outfielder Seth Smith.

While Smith mashes right-handed pitching, he is only considered to be a platoon left fielder for the Braves, if acquired. It appears that the key to any deal with the Rockies would have to include a near ready center-field prospect. The Braves are already shopping for an insurance policy for Michael Bourn, in the event that he departs via free agency next offseason.

The Braves are also set to bid farewell to their defensive wizard shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Gonzo has wielded interest from multiple teams already this offseason including the Giants, Cardinals and Brewers. It is believed he is seeking a two-year deal, at the very least. The Braves have made it known they are not looking to sign a veteran shortstop to a contract that exceeds the 2012 season.

And it is with good reason.

The Braves have a very talented young shortstop Tyler Pastornicky in their pipeline and he appears close to being Major League ready. While the Braves would ideally like to sign a veteran shortstop to a one-year deal to help bridge the gap to 2013 or have the 22-year-old split time at the position next season, they won’t hesitate to give the youngster the starting reigns if a better fit isn’t found before Opening Day.

Pastornicky doesn’t have any Major League experience under his belt but he hit for a .314 average with a .359 on-base percentage in 2011 for both AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett, quelling any of management’s lingering concerns about his ability to perform at the Big League level next season.

The Braves are sure to pop up in numerous other rumors, whether true or fictional, over the course of the next week. But, will they wheel and deal?

C’mon, Frank. No one likes a Grinch.

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15
May
11

Atlanta Braves’ Jair Jurrjens: The Unassuming Ace

How can you deem a pitcher touting a 5-0 record and a 1.66 ERA underrated?
If you’re Braves hurler Jair Jurrjens, you may have beef.

No pitcher in baseball is as red-hot as Jurrjens is right now. The righty from Curacao finds himself among the game’s elite in most major pitching categories and has matched or out-pitched the class of the league.

In his latest winning effort on Saturday, Jurrjens took a perfect game into the sixth inning against the division rival Phillies, enroute to a 5-3 victory—his second win of the season against the National League’s best club.

Jurrjens, or JJ, as coined by his Braves teammates, also became the first Braves pitcher since Tom Glavine in 2000 to start a season 5-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA. He also improved to 5-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 career starts against Philadelphia—the lowest of any active pitcher with 50-plus innings against the Phillies.

When determining excellence on the mound, Jurrjens has been the epitome of just that for Atlanta this season. He has proven to be clutch against the league’s best—out-dueling not just the Phillies’ aces but also Milwaukee’s young stud Yovani Gallardo in a splendid performance on May 2.

Yet the 6’1”, 200-pound Braves sensation remains underrated and often undetected by mass media outlets. Jurrjens has flown under the radar the season, barely receiving recognition, let alone the brilliant accolades he deserves for downright dealing throughout the early portion of the 2011 campaign.

When discussing the elite class of pitchers in the National League, the names oft mentioned are Phillies hurlers Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, Marlins fireballer Josh Johnson or the Giants’ Tim Lincecum.

Yet, it is Jair Jurrjens who ranks second among all Major League pitchers in ERA (only three points behind the leader Johnson) and along with Cardinals sophomore phenom Jaime Garcia, still boasts an undefeated record in the Senior Circuit.

So why is the unassuming and baby-faced 25-year-old Jurrjens masking as silent thunder?

Chalk it up to a 2010 season marred by injury that may have placed Jurrjens on baseball’s backburner. Between a lingering hamstring injury in the early portion of 2010 and a torn meniscus in his knee down the stretch, the Braves chugged along without Jurrjens to claim the NL Wild Card.

But baseball pundits should have known better. In 2009, JJ not only put himself on the map in Atlanta but some would argue he emerged as the team’s MVP, posting a 14-10 record and sparkling 2.60 ERA—third-best in the National League. It was clear then that Jurrjens had the stuff and makeup to become one of the game’s most formidable hurlers.

Healthy again in 2011, Jurrjens has not only regained his 2009 form but according to many—he’s exceeded it. The small sample size of what we’ve seen from JJ this season is just an inkling of what could come for the very impressive albeit mild-mannered ace.

As Jair Jurrjens goes, so go the Braves.

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28
Apr
10

Atlanta Braves in midst of downward spiral as losing streak reaches seven

Watching the Atlanta Braves these days is like pulling teeth…no pun intended.

As I recover from mouth surgery this week and try to figure out just what has happened to the Braves, I can’t help but remain flabbergasted by their sudden and shocking downward spiral.

After experiencing one of the most exhilarating wins in franchise history over the Phillies on April 20, the Braves now find themselves in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, in which their offense has plummeted to new, disturbing lows.

I wrote a blog a couple weeks back about seeing signs of concern, or cracks in the armor, in Atlanta’s batting corps.

While, I also discussed the importance of not panicking too soon in the early going, my fears have proven to be right, and this team is getting dangerously close to digging itself a hole that may be too deep to overcome later.

I’m less bothered by the consecutive losses (the Braves aren’t THIS bad folks), and they will find a way to stop the bleeding.

But, in what appears to be a competitive and improved division from top to bottom, the Braves don’t have much longer to fix what ails them.

So, just what and where has it all gone wrong for Atlanta?

I’m about to throw out some stats, but I caution, these numbers are not for the faint of heart.

* The Braves’ current seven-game skid is their longest since 2006.

* Their leadoff woes have reached record heights, or should I say, record lows: As recently as April 26, the Braves were hitting a Major League-worst .091 at the top of the order.

The major league average is .252.

YIKES.

Detroit, in the meantime, who beat out Atlanta for Johnny Damon’s services, was hitting .323 with Damon atop its order.

(Insert salt in wound.)

The Braves will wrestle with issues at the top of their order all season long unless they can trade for a prototypical leadoff hitter.

Where they will find him, I don’t know just yet, but hoping that Nate McLouth or Yunel Escobar (who Bobby Cox has recently experimented with atop the order) will be the answer is naive and without merit.

Neither is the answer, and sadly, neither is anyone else currently in a Braves uniform.

That’s the cold, hard truth, boys. It’s time to fix this longstanding issue now, out of house.

* Troy Glaus isn’t just bad—he’s detrimental to the team and to my health.

Speaking of sickly, that would be a fair assessment of Glaus’ numbers so far this season.

He is batting a miserable .200 on the season and an even worse .133 (4-for-30) with two RBI, four walks, and 12 strikeouts in nine home games at Turner Field.

Magnifying the problem is that, statistically, Glaus has his best months in April and May.

So, this may be as good as it gets for the Braves’ veteran first baseman.

(Insert sarcasm.)

* Rookie phenom Jason Heyward is battling his first slump of the season.

Granted, I’ve cautioned Braves fans over and over not to expect Heyward to be Superman all season long, and Atlanta’s ultimate saving grace.

He is no doubt a special kid and will figure prominently in the team’s success this season and beyond, but he is, after all, 20 years old.

And, there are going to be rough spots along the way and adjustments that he will need to make.

The scrutiny he is facing is unquestionably intensified because of the team’s overall struggles with the bat right now.

Still, Heyward has hit that first rough patch of his young career.

Since hitting .429 with two homers and seven RBI in a six-game stretch through April 16, Heyward was since batting just .103 with four RBI and 12 strikeouts before last night’s contest.

The cause?

Cox feels his young rookie is taking way too many pitches.

While Heyward has often been praised for displaying great plate discipline, it seems he may have taken it to an extreme.

The result?

He’s taking too many pitches for strikes and has since only seen one pitch an at-bat to swing at.

Not to worry, J-Hey will adhere to his manager’s advice and he will be just fine.

* To reiterate, just how bad is this offense as a whole?

Before dropping another game to the Cardinals last night, Atlanta entered Tuesday’s game with a lowly .229 average with nine runs and NO home runs during its six-game skid.

That skid has now been extended to seven, and it is unacceptable.

The Braves have also blown two early, multi-run leads in their past two games against St. Louis.

The lone positive in their otherwise disturbing tailspin is the fact that the club is still getting quality starts from its rotation on a nightly basis.

That fact is encouraging and makes you believe the Braves may not be a lost cause after all.

The bottom line, though, is that the offense’s inability to provide sufficient run support has ruined some beautifully pitched ball games and has zapped any confidence the team has exuded as a result of their starting staff.

While my issues with many holes in the Braves lineup remain, it is still safe to say that some of these players, like Yunel Escobar, for example, have yet to hit their stride.

With time, that will come.

My main concern is that this slump will become mental.

Atlanta looks as if they are battling through a case of the “yips” right now, and it is only a matter of time before that psychological issue can snowball on a team’s season.

If the Braves start expecting the worst, they will in turn play not to lose instead of playing to win.

The worst thing the Braves can do right now is to play conservatively. They must take an aggressive approach and literally hit, or hopefully smash, their way out of this rut.

But I digress.

It is now time for you to weigh in.

Can the Braves be saved—and, how would you fix them?

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05
Jul
09

McCann named to fourth straight All-Star game…

Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann

Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann

Atlanta catcher Brian McCann will be the only member of the Braves representing the team in St. Louis for the 2009 All Star game on July 14.

Despite a solid season from their starting pitchers, who rank third in the National League with a 3.75 ERA, not one was selected to join the National League’s pitching staff when rosters were announced today.

Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez both made strong bids to be All-Stars but ultimately fell short of making the team, due to poor offensive support from an often lackluster Braves offense.

Jurrjens is fifth in the National League with a 2.73 ERA, but only stands at 6-6 on the season.

Vazquez ranks in the NL’s top ten in strikeouts (130), innings pitched (112), ERA (3.05) and opponents’ batting average (.232), but only has a 5-7 record to show for his efforts.

As for McCann, making the All-Star game has become a yearly tradition for the Braves catcher.

He was named to his fourth consecutive All-Star game, the first catcher to do so since Mike Piazza.

B-Mac was voted in as a reserve by his peers on the player’s ballot after hometown favorite Yadier Molina of the Cardinals beat him out to start. Despite missing 13 of the Braves’ first 28 games with blurred vision and dryness in his left eye, McCann still led Molina in every major offensive category this season.

This year’s selection to the All-Star game has to be the sweetest for McCann, who was able to return from the disabled list on May 8 with new glasses and has hit .329 with six home runs and 21 RBIs since.




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