Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Dodgers


Busy Braves add veteran Saito to rebuilt bullpen

Takashi Saito during his Dodger days

Frank Wren sure moves quick.

Just one day after signing Billy Wagner to be the team’s closer, the Braves announced they’ve come to terms with free agent reliever Takashi Saito to further strength their bullpen.

Saito agreed to a one-year, $3.2 million contract to serve as Atlanta’s primary set-up man and back-up closer.

Last season with the Boston Red Sox, the 39-year-old veteran posted a 2.43 ERA in 56 games.

Prior to his stint with Boston, Saito had a 1.95 ERA with 81 saves and 245 strikeouts in three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Saito, who will turn 40 in February, did have a career-low 52 strikeouts last season but should still prove to be a valuable addition to the back end of the Braves’ new-look bullpen.

Wren confirmed that Saito will mainly pitch the 8th inning for Atlanta next season but with his experience as a closer will provide insurance and relief for Billy Wagner.

The combination of Saito and Wagner brings the same depth to the new Braves bullpen that Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano afforded the team last year.

The rebuilt bullpen stands to be equally as good as last season’s if not stronger with Saito and Wagner’s proven ability to shorten the game while also providing veteran experience and leadership to the staff’s younger members.

It is believed Saito chose Atlanta over seven other potential suitors.

He joins starter Kenshin Kawakami as the team’s second Japanese acquisition in consecutive offseasons.


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.


D-Lowe poised for LA return as Braves finish off Pads…

Braves pitcher Derek Lowe

Braves pitcher Derek Lowe

Atlanta Braves ace Derek Lowe is set to oppose his former mates on Thursday in Los Angeles as the Braves open a four-game set against the NL West leading Dodgers.

Lowe spent the previous four seasons with the Dodgers before opting to sign with Atlanta as a free agent this past winter. He is currently 11-7 on the year with a 4.21 ERA for the Braves.

In his last start in Atlanta, which was also against his former team, Lowe pitched six innings allowing three runs on five hits. In 66 career starts at Dodgers Stadium, Lowe is 33-23 with a 3.21 ERA.

As Atlanta waits for the challenge of facing the mighty Dodgers, they can savor their series win against the Padres, which was capped with a 6-2 victory Wednesday afternoon.

Rookie Tommy Hanson continued to make a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors with another solid outing in the Braves win.

Hanson allowed two runs on five hits in six innings with five strikeouts. The 22-year old rookie improved to 6-2 on the year.

The Braves hope to end their west coast swing on a high note by putting forth their best effort against the Dodgers.

If Atlanta can win the series, their chances of playing October baseball become that much greater.


Frank Wren… good for the Braves?

Braves General Manager Frank Wren

Braves General Manager Frank Wren

If there’s one thing for certain that Frank Wren has done for the Braves, it is he has gotten fans talking again.

Braves fans have often gained the reputation, fairly or unfairly, of being indifferent and not vocal.

Chalk it up to the unprecedented success that the team enjoyed in the 1990’s, or to the fact that the fans had grown accustomed to former General Manager John Schuerholz’s operations over the years.

Saavy. Professional. Tight-lipped.


So, whether you are pro or anti-Wren and his personnel decisions, there is no question that the man had impossible shoes to fill.

Legendary shoes.

John Schuerholz was a visionary. A true architect who knew exactly the type of team he wanted to assemble.

He originated and then solidified the Atlanta Braves blueprint that turned a fumbling franchise into an iconic one.

Schuerholz targeted the same type of personalities and looked for a certain make-up in every player. He would never sign or trade for a player who he didn’t feel could fit into Bobby Cox’s clubhouse.

No egos. No attitudes. No drama.

The Atlanta Braves became a well-oiled machine, run with the utmost class and professionalism

Schuerholz’s model worked with precision. Under him, the Braves won fourteen consecutive division titles and a World Championship.

He stressed the importance of developing a strong farm system and as a result the Braves saw many homegrown products come up within the organization and become superstars.

So, the day Schuerholz announced he was leaving his duties as Braves General Manager and taking the reigns as president of the club, many were worried about who would be his successor, and how he would fare.

Enter Frank Wren.

Wren served as Assistant General Manager to John Schuerholz for almost eight years.

Fans had hoped for a seamless transition, assuming Schuerholz’s style and technique would carry over to Wren.

However, Wren’s early tenure as Braves GM has been met with very mixed reviews, and often a great deal of criticism.

Wren lost out on some prominent free agents this past off-season.

He failed to complete a trade for then-Padres ace Jake Peavy and then let A.J. Burnett slip through his fingers and sign with the New York Yankees.

Shortly thereafter, it was reported that Wren had come to terms with former Brave and fan favorite, Rafael Furcal. It turned ugly fast when Furcal apparently reneged on the deal and ended up re-signing with Los Angeles.

The Furcal saga humiliated the organization and Wren felt the brunt of the heat.

But, it didn’t end there.

Wren was then vilified in the media for his decision to let Braves icon John Smoltz leave the organization and sign with Boston and for releasing 300-game winner and 1995 World Series MVP Tom Glavine.

Two Braves legends were shown the door and both accused the Braves of handling the situation poorly and for being unprofessional.

Unprofessional and the Braves? These were two words that were never synonymous with each other.

So, the whispers began… John Schuerholz would never let this happen on his watch.

The witch hunt for Wren began to gain steam.

The Braves were all over the media, and getting negative publicity. Even Braves players, specifically Chipper Jones, were also critical of the organization’s handling of these personnel matters.

Wren appeared to be a marked man.

Yet, despite the controversy that surrounded these moves, Wren had quietly assembled a contending team on the field.

After losing out on Peavy and Burnett, he spent the off-season feverishly rebuilding a starting rotation that was plagued with injuries in 2008.

And, his acquisitions of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami have thus far paid dividends.

Wren addressed the team’s offensive woes by aggressively pursuing a bat –Nate McLouth– and acquiring him earlier then many expected this season.

He wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a Jeff Francoeur trade, signaling the end of the underachieving but talented right fielder’s time with Atlanta.

Then, on deadline day, he added another bat in Adam LaRoche, attempting to improve the team’s power at first base heading into the stretch drive.

As a result, Wren has rebuilt a team that had lost 90 games last season and has put them back on the map and in a position to make a run at a playoff berth.

How can one not be impressed by his tireless effort, dedication and desire to make the Braves relevant again — and to bring them back on top?

Right or wrong, the debate about Frank Wren will surely rage on as the season winds down.

Regardless of what side of the fence you stand on, I think there’s one thing about Wren all Braves fans have to learn to accept.

He is not John Schuerholz.

He never will be.

And, it is not fair to compare him to a man that has done and could do no wrong in the eyes of Braves Nation.

Wren is a different personality.

Fiery. Risky. Vocal.

And, not quite nostalgic.

The team has a different leader now, with a different voice and a different style.

Whether he’s the popular choice or not, and more importantly, his longevity with the team, will ultimately be determined by how his team fares in the end.

If the Braves become winners again… Wren will become the toast of the town.


The state of the Braves… post trade deadline.

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone leaving many in Braves Nation wondering, does this team have the horses to be legitimate contenders for a playoff spot heading down the stretch?

Before Monday night’s game against the San Diego Padres, the Braves find themselves in third place in the National League East, seven games behind first place Philadelphia. While the division remains a lofty goal for Atlanta, it is certainly not out of reach.

The Braves have dominated the defending champions this season winning seven of nine games against them. The Bravos overwhelming success against the Fightin’ Phils coupled with the fact that the two rivals are still scheduled to meet nine more times before the season concludes, offers a definite sense of hope.

Still, Philadelphia has been riding a hot streak since the All-Star Break and with the addition of a bona fide ace to their rotation in Cliff Lee, the division does appear to be a long shot.

That means Atlanta’s best chance of playing October baseball will likely be if the team nabs the National League Wild Card.

The Braves are only five games out of the Wild Card spot but are chasing four teams, including the Florida Marlins, another divisional foe.

So, are the Braves contenders or pretenders?

With a starting rotation that ranked third in the National League heading into Sunday night’s game against the Dodgers, and a revamped line-up which has improved on the dearth of power that has plagued the team all season long, the Braves seem poised to make a run.

In July, the Braves manufactured an NL-best .828 OPS and ranked third in both runs (139) and home runs (32). That production is a stark contrast from an inconsistent and often shoddy offensive showing from the team in the season’s first three months.

The Braves also feel their mid-season acquisitions of Nate McLouth and Adam LaRoche give the club a more potent offensive punch going forward.

McLouth has been a stabilizing force in the lead-off spot, allowing the rest of the line-up to gel and settle into their roles.

LaRoche, who played for Atlanta through the 2006 season, knows the organization well and has statistically performed big in the second half of the season.

While LaRoche’s career .252 batting average leaves something to be desired, his .295 average after the All-Star break combined with his impending free agency, are reasons why the Braves decided to re-acquire their former slick fielding first baseman.

The improved offense stands to benefit what has been a solid, but often under-appreciated Braves pitching staff.

A rotation comprised of Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, and rookie sensation Tommy Hanson could go up against any rotation in baseball.

And, in the coming weeks, the Braves staff looks to get that much stronger and deeper with the return of Tim Hudson from Tommy John surgery.

The Braves bullpen boasts three relievers in the top six in appearances in Peter Moylan (58), Mike Gonzalez (53) and Eric O’Flaherty (43).

While the back of the bullpen has held up thus far, the team wouldn’t mind adding another arm to the mix for the stretch run.

Any reliever acquired would have to pass through waivers, sometimes making it harder for a team to complete a deal, although the Braves are still exploring any and all options.

If the Braves could indeed bolster their bullpen, that fresh arm could provide added security to what could otherwise become an overexposed relief corps.

So, again, the question looms… contenders or pretenders?

The Braves have given every indication, on the field and off, that they are poised, confident and ready to compete for a playoff spot.

It was the team’s consistently strong starting pitching that has kept them afloat early in the season and it will be the team’s starting pitching that will give them their best shot at October.

One can never have enough pitching. Good pitching beats good hitting. These age old adages have been proven true time and time again and are the main reason why the Braves were able to win fourteen consecutive division titles.

With that being said… do the Braves still have holes?


But, so does every team.

And, this team’s holes have become increasingly less glaring.

So, buckle up Braves fans. It’s going to be a wild ride to the finish.



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