Posts Tagged ‘Colorado Rockies

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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18
Nov
11

Braves’ offseason full of questions… what’s next?

Will Prado return to the Braves in 2012?

The Braves franchise is known as an illustrious one — rich with accolades, adornment and achievement.

Surely, adding a colossal, historic collapse to their resume of excellence wasn’t part of their master plan. Before the 2011 season, a team who had an eight-game lead for a postseason berth in early September has never missed the playoffs. Luckily for Atlanta, Boston suffered the same unfortunate fate this year and shared a good portion of the criticism and ridicule by fans and media alike.

Needless to say, the Braves’ failure to secure a playoff spot left a black mark on their legacy and a sour, bitter taste in the mouths of management, players, coaches and fans.

So, what’s next for Atlanta?

How does this team respond after such a traumatic, abrupt end to their 2011 season?

They fire their hitting coach, of course.

But all joking aside, that was 100% the right move — the only move — for the Braves to make whether the team made the playoffs or not.

Larry Parrish was not the right voice for these Braves hitters. While widely respected around the league for being a great baseball man, Parrish and his players suffered from a disconnect and lack of communication that couldn’t be bridged.

The popular sentiment around the league was that the Braves would turn to Triple-A Gwinnett hitting coach Jamie Dismuke to take over the reigns next season.

The majority of Braves sluggers, including Chipper Jones, endorsed Dismuke but the organization went an unconventional route.

Frank Wren hired not one but two men to tackle the job that Parrish had failed to master.

Wren tapped former White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, as well as a former Colorado Rockies infield coordinator Scott Fletcher, in a newly created hybrid role of assistant hitting coach. The Braves believe this tandem will compliment each other well in an effort to improve the overall hitting philosophy within the team.

Walker comes highly recommend by slugger Paul Konerko for helping him to evolve into the hitter he is today.

Fletcher, meanwhile, will provide another set of eyes for Walker and is expected to work closely with Jason Heyward. While searching for their new hitting coach, the Braves emphasized the importance of finding a voice that could reach the struggling Heyward.

The “J-Hey Kid” is coming off a brutal sophomore slump of a season, but has surprising ties to his new assistant hitting coach. Fletcher has watched Heyward play since he was 12 years old — his son Brian, now in the Royals system, played youth ball with the Braves’ right fielder.

If Walker and Fletcher can serve as mentors to Heyward and help the fallen young star rediscover his stroke, the Braves’ offense will be substantially better in 2012.

Despite the team’s decision to fire Larry Parrish, the powers-that-be have made it clear that they are not panicking. There will be no fire sale this offseason. Management firmly believes they have the key pieces in place already to compete for a playoff spot next year.

It is important to remember that a big part of Atlanta’s struggles came down the stretch when the team’s exceptional pitching staff became unhinged. Officials are confident that Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens will return healthy next season.

The questions surrounding Jurrjens are not related to his health, however, but rather whether he will return to the Braves or not?

Speculation around the league and media fodder suggest that Jurrjens could be traded this offseason in an effort to improve Atlanta’s shoddy offense — they are seeking a power-hitting outfielder in any deal.

But, it would surely take an enticing package for the Braves to pull the trigger on a deal for Jurrjens because despite his injury-laden past, the right-hander is still young at age 25 and two years away from free agency. He would be quite valuable to many pitching hungry clubs.

While I’m sure the Braves would love to keep an arm like Jurrjens’ in the fold for the long-term, the reality of that is unlikely. Super agent Scott Boras, whose relationship with the Braves is acrimonious, represents Jurrjens and he will demand a hefty salary that the Braves will not pay.

And why should they?

Atlanta has never had a shortage of arms and this upcoming year is no different. The Braves tout a new crop of young, prized pitchers who could easily fill Jurrjens’ shoes, if the club does deem him expendable.

Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado and Mike Minor have all gained experience at the Big League level due to the team’s rash of injuries last season — the lone upside during the Braves’ September slide. Kris Medlen also returned from Tommy John surgery late in the year and was effective in some high pressure situations.

The Braves felt so confident those guys will figure into the mix in 2012 that they dealt 38-year-old veteran hurler Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians.

This move was also a pure salary dump for Atlanta, who many believed would be stuck with Lowe’s entire contract in 2012. The Tribe absorbed $5 million of Lowe’s exorbitant $15 million dollar contract, giving the Braves some financial relief to sign a shortstop and pursue an outfielder.

For the second year in a row, Frank Wren entered the trade market early by dealing Derek Lowe. Last year, he acquired second baseman Dan Uggla from the Florida Marlins before the hot stove was even boiling.

The question that remains now is will the Braves stay relatively quiet for the duration of the offseason, like they did after trading for Uggla last year. Or, will they make a splash and deal Jurrjens and/or infielder turned left fielder Martin Prado?

Prado is the epitome of a super utility star. When the Braves gave him a chance to play everyday at second base in 2010, he thrived. But last season when the team moved him to left field to accommodate the Uggla trade, Prado and his production suffered.

At season’s end, a lot was made of Prado’s staph infection affecting his stroke and also rigorous Spring Training and early season pre-game workouts that might have burnt him out before the stretch run.

Will he get a chance to rebound in Atlanta or will it be elsewhere?

I think there’s a fairly good chance that Prado will get moved — a far greater likelihood than the team dealing Jurrjens, in my opinion.

However, I wouldn’t put too much stock into the Prado-for-Delmon Young rumors. The Braves don’t appear interested in Detroit’s Young and I don’t see Wren pulling the trigger on that deal straight-up. The Colorado Rockies are the newest team to express interest in Prado, but surely won’t be the last.

Still, Wren has expressed a willingness to listen to all offers this offseason — and who can blame him.

After last season’s heartbreaking conclusion, the Braves’ GM is exploring any and all ways he can ensure his team is never on the wrong side of history again.

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21
Apr
10

Braves stun Phils with improbable comeback win

Just call him Nate McClutch.

The Braves center fielder, who was hitting a mere .138 with just one RBI all season, sure picked a good time to break out of his slump.

McLouth hit a leadoff 10th-inning solo blast against Jose Contreras to cap Atlanta’s stunning comeback 4-3 win over division rival Philadelphia.

The Braves have now won five of their last six games and find themselves in a first-place tie with the Phillies atop the National League East standings.

For McLouth, his heroics couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

This is the first walk-off home run he’s recorded at any level of ball he’s played in, from Little League up to the Majors.

McLouth got a chance to be a hero in the 10th thanks to back-to-back two out homers from Troy Glaus and Jason Heyward in the bottom of the ninth.

The Braves may have enjoyed other improbable comeback wins in the past, but this stunning turnaround is one of the most unpredictable and character building victories in team history.

For 8 2/3 innings, Atlanta only managed four hits and was an out away from being shutout.

Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick, who was sporting an ugly 17.47 ERA this season, put the Braves offense on the defensive.

This isn’t the first time struggling pitchers have faced the Braves lineup and left the game looking like Cy Young.

The difference now is that this team didn’t fold.

Kendrick handed the ball to Ryan Madson in the ninth, who is filling in for the injured Brad Lidge at closer, and suddenly the Braves found new life.

Madson walked Chipper Jones with one out and then retired Brian McCann, which brought Troy Glaus to the plate.

The Braves fans’ new whipping boy, who again was the target of the hometown faithful’s wrath after committing a costly error earlier in the game, couldn’t possibly come through with two outs—could he?

He did.

Glaus smashed a two-run blast, sending a jolt through Turner Field and giving the Braves a sliver of hope.

While still down a run, the Braves turned to their No. 6 hitter in the lineup to keep the game alive.

On a normal night, that would be Yunel Escobar.

But, not on this night.

No, on this night, Bobby Cox adhered to the ongoing chatter of moving rookie stud Jason Heyward up from the seventh spot in the lineup.

So, there he was, “Joltin’ Jason” as some are now calling him—with a chance to tie the game, again.

If you remember, Heyward was the hero in Sunday’s come-from-behind win over the Rockies with a two-out, bases loaded single in the ninth.

No way he does it again, does he?

He does.

Heyward’s shot heard ’round the world tied the game and made Cox look like a managerial genius again.

From there, pandemonium ensued.

Jason Heyward found himself in the middle of two unlikely heroes.

Who would have thought Troy Glaus and Nate McLouth would deliver late-inning home runs, when they’ve been the subject of boos and ridicule all season long?

And, with each passing day, the legend that is the “J-Hey Kid” grows even larger.

For two straight games, the 20-year-old sensation has helped usher the Braves to back-to-back comeback victories.

He leads all major league rookies in home runs (four) and RBIs (16) by a large margin.

But, Heyward’s impact on the Braves is not just all in the numbers.

The electricity that he’s brought to the table has lit a fire under the entire team and has them playing their most inspired and exciting baseball since, well, 1991.

Yes, the year the Braves went from worst-to-first in their division and came within one win of being crowned World Champions.

That year began the rich, glory days of excellence that Atlanta had then enjoyed for 14 consecutive seasons.

But, that competitiveness and winning attitude that has been missing since 2006, appears to finally be resurfacing.

As I said yesterday, the Phillies know all too well what a young, rising superstar can bring to the clubhouse.

What Howard did for the Phillies when he came on the scene in 2005 is what Heyward is doing for the Braves in 2010.

Howard began a new era of winning baseball in Philadelphia.

And, now it seems Heyward is bringing that mantra back to Atlanta.

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27
Sep
09

Living on a prayer… Surging Braves cling to slim Wild Card hopes.

Braves pitcher Javier Vazquez

Braves pitcher Javier Vazquez

The Atlanta Braves have sure picked an opportune time to get hot; problem is, it just might be too late.

No longer in control of their own fate, the Braves are surging, completing a three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals this weekend to stay two-and-a-half games behind NL Wild Card-leading Colorado with seven games left to play.

Atlanta’s latest sweep caps a 6-0 road trip for the club, which also extended their road winning streak to 10 games, their first stretch of as many games since 1994 and just fifth in franchise history.

The Braves play division rival Florida for three before finishing up with four more games against Washington at Turner Field to end the season.

The Rockies will play the Brewers for three at home before finishing the season on the road in LA with three games against the playoff-bound Dodgers.

Atlanta, which has the National League’s best record since June 28 (51-30), is baseball’s hottest team right now.

They rebounded from a 1-6 stretch to start the month of September, which put them eight-and-a-half games behind Colorado, and at the time seemingly ended the team’s postseason aspirations.

Since then, the Braves have reeled off 14 wins in their past 16 games to stay hot on the heels of the Rockies in a last ditch effort to make the playoffs.

But, they may have waited too long to put together their best streak of baseball of the season.

While the odds are still stacked against them, Atlanta’s awe-inspiring final push for the playoffs has made for a compelling Wild Card race.

The Braves’ latest stretch of play has players and fans excited about the future of the club heading into the 2010 season.

Atlanta’s never say die attitude is a stark contrast from the team’s often stoic mentality that was present during their run of 14 consecutive division titles.

During their last four playoff appearances spanning from 2002-2005, the Braves coasted into postseason play, only to get bounced by a streaking Wild Card team in the first round of the playoffs to end their season.

This time around, if Atlanta finds a way to sneak in, roles would be reversed and the Braves may be able to wreak the kind of misfortune on a division winner that was bestowed upon them for so many years.

However, their ultimate destiny is out of their hands.

The Braves know one or two more losses likely end their season.

And, without some help from the Brewers and Dodgers, it will be a moot point anyway.

All they can do is keep winning–and hope.

23
Sep
09

Cox set to retire as Braves manager after 2010 season.

Bobby Cox

Bobby Cox

It’s official.

Bobby Cox will retire as manager of the Atlanta Braves at the end of the 2010 season.

There has been much speculation in recent days about Cox’s future with the team, and today he finally went public with his decision.

The iconic Braves manager inked a one-year extension with Atlanta, ensuring he will remain in his current role with the club for the 2010 season before relinquishing his managerial duties.

At the conclusion of the 2010 season, Cox will step aside and begin the first year in a five-year consulting agreement where he will serve in an advisory role with the Braves.

Reports have surfaced as of late that the relationship between Cox and Braves general manager Frank Wren has been strained.

Gordon Edes of Yahoo! Sports reported that Cox was so upset with Wren for not being included in personnel talks and at the way John Smoltz’s departure from the team was handled this spring that he threatened to leave spring training before being talked out of it by a fellow coach.

Wren and Cox have both since denied the report, while Edes is sticking by his claims.

Whether there is any truth stemming from this report or not, it has gotten the baseball world buzzing that if indeed there was friction between the Braves GM and manager, Cox might decide to call it quits after this season.

That has not proven to be the case with today’s announcement, which I am sure both Wren and Cox are hoping will quell talk of a feud between them.

Cox, 68, will go down in history as one of baseball’s most esteemed and accomplished managers.

He has been a part of the Atlanta Braves organization for nearly 30 years. His tenure with Atlanta began in 1978 before he left to manage the Toronto Blue Jays in 1982. He later re-joined the Braves in 1985, where he served as general manager of the club until 1990, when he moved back into the dugout to resume his role as the team’s skipper.

While serving as GM, Cox was instrumental in the drafting of Atlanta’s legendary third baseman Chipper Jones with the first overall pick in the 1990 draft. Cox is the only manager Jones has ever played for, and the two have forged quite a strong bond over the years.

When Cox started his second run as Braves manager, he helped lead the team to an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants, and a World Championship in 1995.

Cox has won the Manager of the Year Award four times (1985, 1991, 2004, and 2005) and is one of only four managers to have won the prestigious award in both the National and American League.

He is also the winningest manager in franchise history, and his 2,408 career wins currently rank him fourth on baseball’s all-time managerial wins list and second among active managers.

Finding Cox’s replacement will be a daunting task for the Braves, but having the luxury of time will surely help the team ease the players and fans into the transition.

While the future of the Atlanta Braves remains up in the air, one thing is certain: The Braves’ beloved manager hopes to go out on a high note.

Atlanta has rebounded from a 90-loss season in 2008 and has put itself in the thick of the National League Wild Card race with only a few weeks left to play.

The Braves find themselves only five games back of the Wild Card-leading Rockies, but they are no longer in control of their own fate. They will need to pretty much run the table from here on out and hope for a Colorado collapse if they are to make it into the postseason.

While that scenario remains unlikely, the Braves’ surprising turnaround is sure to have been a strong factor in Cox’s decision to return.

The affable player’s manager is sure to have his troops playing hard for him in 2010 in an effort to get Cox back to the playoffs and give him the chance at one more taste of championship glory.

01
Sep
09

Braves hope Hudson holds key to Wild Card berth…

Braves right-hander Tim Hudson

Braves right-hander Tim Hudson

One day after his 2009 season debut was delayed, Tim Hudson is finally ready to re-join the Atlanta Braves rotation.

Originally slated to take the mound in the opening game of the series for Atlanta, Hudson’s start was pushed back to Tuesday, September 1, the day when Major League rosters expand. The Braves’ decision to wait on activating Hudson was due largely to the fact that the team has been struggling with injuries to their outfield, and now won’t have to make a move to clear a spot for their hurler.

Hudson, who has missed over a year of action due to Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, is set to make his first start of the season in ironically the same ballpark (Land Shark Stadium) against the same opponent (the Florida Marlins) where he made his last ill-fated start on July 23, 2008, when elbow discomfort forced him to exit the game.

Less than a week later, Hudson saw his season end, as he went under the knife to repair the extensive damage in his elbow.

But, don’t expect Hudson to get caught up in any feelings of deja vu.

Too much is at stake for Hudson’s Braves, who find themselves just three games behind the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants in the hotly contested National League Wild Card race.

And, making this four-game series with the Marlins even more critical for the Braves is the fact that Florida is right on Atlanta’s heels, only four games back in Wild Card hunt.

Atlanta won the opener 5-2 last night in impressive fashion, rallying for three runs in the 7th inning against Marlins ace Josh Johnson, who had held the Braves hitless for the previous 5 2/3 innings.

Omar Infante’s clutch two-run triple aided Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami’s six strong innings of one run baseball en route to what could be touted as the biggest victory of the season for Atlanta thus far.

Hudson has enjoyed great success against Florida in his career.

The Braves right-hander is 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 13 career starts against the Marlins, including a 5-1 record and 2.59 ERA in eight career starts at Land Shark Stadium.

And, before being forced to exit his last start against them over a year ago, he had allowed only three hits over six scoreless innings.

Tonight, Hudson will oppose Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez, in hopes of making it two in a row for the Braves against the Fish in this make-or-break series.

The 34-year-old Hudson’s future with Atlanta beyond this year remains uncertain. His contract includes a $12 million dollar team option with a $1 million dollar buyout for 2010.

Beyond his desire of helping to contribute to the Braves’ hopes of playing October baseball, Hudson is also pitching to show the club that he can still be a valuable member of their rotation plans going forward.

His long journey back to the Majors is finally here.

The Braves and their fans can only wait with baited breath to see if the old Tim Hudson has returned for good.

11
Aug
09

Watch out NL East… these Braves are for real!

Watch out NL East … the Atlanta Braves aren’t going anywhere.

What a difference a week makes.

The Braves knew they had to make a statement and perform big against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past weekend, who came into their four-game set against Atlanta with baseball’s best record, to keep their playoff hopes alive.

And, they did.

If it wasn’t for the walk-off home run ball Rafael Soriano served up to Andre Either and the consequential blown save in Thursday night’s opener, Atlanta would have swept the mighty Dodgers.

Still, winning three out of four against the best in the business is not too shabby

The Braves series win against Los Angeles coupled with the Florida Marlins sweep of Philadelphia has lifted the Braves to within only 4 1/2 games of the division lead.

After Monday’s off day, Atlanta also finds themselves just four games behind the NL Wild Card-leading Colorado Rockies.

More impressively to note, the Braves won the last three against LA without Chipper Jones in the line-up.

Jones is nursing a strained left oblique, but is likely to return to the line-up tonight when the Braves open a two-game series against the Washington Nationals.

While the Braves are riding high — they have the league’s best record (24-14) since June 28th — surprisingly, the Nationals are the NL’s hottest team.

After dropping 15 of 18 through July 20, Washington has since gone on a tear, winning 14 of 20 games.

The Nationals have owned the Braves this season, winning five of nine head-to-head against them this season.

It is critical for the Braves to continue to build off the momentum from their successful trip to Southern California.

They cannot afford to overlook the Nats this week, as the National League East-leading Phillies are next up for Atlanta this weekend.

In contrast to their struggles against Washington, Atlanta has won seven of nine against Philadelphia this season. They have to hope that trend continues if they want to make a legitimate run for the division crown.

The Braves’ pitching has been solid all season long, keeping them in the hunt when a mediocre or lesser staff would have had them dead and buried by now.

Atlanta’s starters, who often fell victim to an inconsistent and anemic offense, are finally being rewarded for their efforts, thanks to the offensive turnaround the team has enjoyed as of late.

The prognosis for the Braves looks good, as the past few weeks have gradually shown that Atlanta’s offensive turnaround is not an aberration.

Even Kelly Johnson, who has struggled mightily all season long and was even demoted to the minor leagues, has contributed as of late.

Johnson came up with timely heroics against the Dodgers in not one but two of the crucial games in the series.

In Friday’s game, Johnson helped aid a three-run Braves deficit, smashing a two-run home run to assist in the comeback.

Then, fast forward to Saturday night’s contest, where Johnson came into a scoreless game in the 8th inning and ended up being the difference maker, hitting a two-run, 10th inning blast, leading Atlanta to a 2-1 victory.

Johnson’s always been known to be a streaky hitter, often frustrating the Braves brass and fans, who have seen glimpses of the great potential their young second baseman possesses.

When K.J. is swinging the bat well, he’s often unstoppable. Johnson went on a tear in the last 24 games of the 2008 season, hitting a whopping .404.

But, when he’s cold, he can’t buy himself a hit, as witnessed when he hit an abysmal .191 before his demotion early this season.

As evidenced, if Johnson’s back, the Braves offense is in for quite the boost.

But, as last week proved, it can take only a few games for a team to rise or fall.

And, with the dog days of summer rapidly approaching, the Braves realize that this week could indeed make or break their season.

Although, the same thing applied last weekend against the Dodgers and the Braves silenced their critics and embraced the challenge.

This next test proves to be harder, and only the strong survive.

Next week at this time, we should all have a clearer picture about the character and make-up of this Braves team and if they indeed have what it takes to play in October.

But, from the looks of it, these Braves are for real.




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