Posts Tagged ‘Tim Hudson

22
Feb
12

Hope springs eternal: The Braves are back to right wrongs

Pitchers and catchers are in camp and the Braves’ spring workouts have commenced.

This year in particular, players were itching to get to camp to erase the dubious end to their now infamous and tragic 2011 meltdown. What’s encouraging to note is that a majority of position players have arrived early to camp and have begun their workouts, poised and more determined than ever to start fresh in 2012.

Unlike the Boston Red Sox, who also suffered a monumental collapse to their season in 2011, the Braves chose to not play the blame game — for that, they should be applauded.

Whether you agree with General Manager Frank Wren’s decision to keep his roster almost entirely intact, you have to respect that a knee-jerk reaction did not take place in Atlanta.

Sure, the Braves embarrassed themselves to a lowly 8-18 record after September 1 and squandered a seemingly insurmountable 10 1/2 game lead in the NL Wild Card to the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

What’s unfair to the Braves is that they are being judged and evaluated solely on how they finished their season in shame. While it’s without question, inexcusable — they’ve been punished enough.

Let’s not forget that this same team that Frank Wren is returning in 2012 had the fourth-best record in the majors through the first week in September.

The Braves suffered the loss of two of their best starting pitchers Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson for most of the second half. Jason Heyward’s sophomore season was a colossal disappointment and Dan Uggla didn’t find his stroke until after the All-Star break.

They watched two of their perennially clutch performers, Brian McCann and Martin Prado, rush back from injuries in the late summer months but never quite hit their stride down the stretch.

Most alarming of all, the Braves’ greatest strength — O’Ventbrel — the triple threat of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Rookie of the Year closer Craig Kimbrel at the back end of the bullpen, faltered mightily down the stretch. The threesome posted a remarkable 60-3 record when leading after 7 innings from April-August before going 7-5 in September. They also saw their ERA rise from a collective 3.34 to an inflated 4.17 in the season’s final month, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez received a lot of criticism for the overuse of his bullpen after the Braves narrowly missed the playoffs on baseball’s final day. Jonny “Everyday” Venters earned his nickname, being called upon a Major League-high 85 times in 2011. Kimbrel’s 79 appearances were more than any other closer in baseball.

While the second-guessing is surely warranted, the Braves did partake in 55 one-run games, which was tied with the San Francisco Giants for most by any National League team with a winning record, Stark reported. They also played in 26 extra-inning games, which took an even greater toll on their relief corps.

It’s almost incredulous to reflect upon the Braves’ final month of the season — and how everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

This team didn’t have the character issues or the dissention in the locker room that the Red Sox had. In fact, it was the exact opposite. The Braves possess one of the most harmonious clubhouses in baseball. They are a tight-knit group that never pointed fingers and placed blame on each other. They took their lumps as one collective group and exuded tremendous class and dignity in defeat.

I don’t doubt Frank Wren wanted to improve his club, if the right deal came along. But I also think he was right not to panic because he has given his troops an invaluable gift — confidence.

It’s early but players have seemingly come into camp with a positive outlook and a renewed sense of hope and optimism. They also have something to prove to themselves and the rest of the league — that last year was an aberration and that they’ve learned from it.

Jason Heyward is reportedly in fantastic shape, having shed over 20 pounds this winter. He’s worked tirelessly with new hitting coach Greg Walker this offseason in an effort to revamp his swing. The early results have been lauded by his teammates, who claim Heyward has begun to regain his old form and power.

Jair Jurrjens was fitted for orthotics after a troublesome toe contributed to his knee discomfort. Now Jurrjens claims to feel better physically than he has in months and doesn’t appear to have any limitations this spring.

Tim Hudson underwent back surgery this offseason and his recovery is going smoothly. Hudson won’t be rushed back to the rotation and his projected timetable for return is May. The Braves will turn to one of their many talented young arms to pick up the slack in Hudson’s absence.

Tommy Hanson suffered a minor concussion after blowing his tires on the way to the Braves’ Spring Training facility. He shouldn’t fall behind the other pitchers, even taking a few days offs, since he began his throwing program early this offseason.

Hanson altered his delivery in an effort to take pressure off his balky shoulder and back and also to limit the number of stolen bases against him in 2012. Hanson allowed a major-league leading 30 steals in 22 starts before being shut down for the season.

The Braves attribute a lot of last season’s late struggles to an injury-depleted rotation, an overworked bullpen and atypical performances from their biggest sluggers. If their arms stay healthy, their bullpen rested and they see a resurgence from some players who had poor years, they’ll be able to contend with the rest of the very competitive National League East.

There are a lot of questions and ‘what if’s’ surrounding the Atlanta Braves this season, but there is no shortage of talent and potential.  They may be receiving criticism for not being proactive, but sometimes the answers really do lie within one’s own roster.

It’ll become apparent quite early if Wren’s decision to give this group another go together was best in the long-run. I believe the Braves deserve the chance to right their wrongs in 2012, and hopefully write a storybook ending in the process.

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01
Mar
11

Can the 2011 Braves surprise in the National League East?

Can David defeat Goliath in the battle for NL East supremacy?

The 2011 Atlanta Braves will seemingly be overlooked by most experts and pundits to best the Philadelphia Phillies for division bragging rights. How could last season’s NL Wild Card winners possibly hold their own against the Phillies’ vaunted starting rotation — who many have already deemed one of the best ever assembled?

Sure, they haven’t thrown one pitch in a meaningful game as a collective unit, but on paper, how could anyone argue that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels will not equate to a historic starting staff?

Perhaps it’s because a lot can happen over a taxing season. Players must still suit up and play the schedule — a full 162-game marathon. The injury bug so often rears its ugly head, throwing a wrench into any team’s — even the most talented’s — presumed destiny.

Big time egos don’t always mesh together — credit the manager who is able to cohesively mold a “team” together above all individual’s own personal goals and accolades. A club that puts the “I” before the “WE” can and WILL self-destruct. It’s happened before and will happen again.

It’s not to say that these Phillies — the projected favorites not only in the East but in the National League — won’t live up to expectations. It’s not to say that their “sexy” starting rotation won’t go down in history as the best ever. They very well could. But, the beauty of America’s favorite pastime is that baseball wins and division championships aren’t decided on paper or based on sheer talent, projection or expectation.

Any team can still beat you on any given day and the unlikely squad you didn’t see emerging out of camp — hello, 2010 San Francisco Giants — can still defeat the odds and be crowned champions of baseball. The 2010 Giants were the epitome of the “little team that could” — and they gave hope to many lower budget, up and coming clubs that they, too, could eclipse baseball’s perceived powerhouses.

One of those teams believing in such hope is the Atlanta Braves. With an acclaimed starting squad of their own — which they are returning in 2011 — the Braves’ rotation figures to once again be among the game’s elite. Anchored by Derek Lowe, who was dynamite down the stretch last season, and complimented by a resurgent Tim Hudson, emergent Tommy Hanson and a healthy Jair Jurrjens — Braves’ starters stand to give their share of fits to hitters in their quest for a second straight postseason appearance.

And while their rotation is strong in its own right, it’s Atlanta’s bullpen that could emerge as their ace in the hole. Equipped with two young fireballers who could both excel in the closer’s role — Craig Kimbrel and Jonny “Everyday” Venters — Atlanta’s relievers possess the skills to round out a dominant relief corps.

If you’ve come to expect one thing from the Braves over the years, it is a team that can and will consistently pitch well. The question marks have usually risen with the club’s offense and lack of power at its heart. But, this year’s lineup is deeper than ever — with the offseason addition of Dan Uggla as the right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat that the Braves had so desperately coveted. Uggla’s presence alongside fellow All-Stars Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Martin Prado and, if all goes according to plan, a healthy Chipper Jones — could pack a potent offensive punch.

Few would argue against this team’s legitimacy as a contender. But, to win the division and dethrone the big, bad Phillies — well, that just sounds asinine, right?

Wrong.

Despite the Phillies’ nasty rotation, the club has many other questions that make them appear to be vulnerable. ESPN‘s Buster Olney suggests the Phils never addressed their biggest offseason need — a right-handed power bat to replace slugger Jayson Werth — who departed for the Washington Nationals via free agency.

Philadelphia lacks balance and experience in their lineup, placing a heavy offensive burden on talented but unproven youngsters Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown. The defending NL East Champs are also an aging bunch who saw a significant portion of their squad — they had 170 games lost to injuries in just the infield alone in 2010 — on the disabled list last season.

Jimmy Rollins’ OPS has dropped for three consecutive seasons now, and the franchise’s golden boy Chase Utley’s own OPS has sputtered the last two. Ryan Howard’s postseason struggles were well-documented last season and could be attributed to an increase in off-speed pitches away he saw from opposing pitchers that he never was quite able to adjust to.

Even Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who was at Phillies’ camp as an instructor, called out Rollins, Shane Victorino and other offensive stars for their lackluster production last season. The Phillies are not without flaws — which the Braves or any team in the league can hope to exploit — they just expect their superior starters to carry the load and mask the holes in their bullpen and lineup.

Can they? Sure. Will they? That’s why they play the games.

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20
Apr
10

It’s early but it’s big… Braves and Phils set to collide

For 14 years, opponents knew they had to go through Atlanta to get to the playoffs—and, to the World Series.

For the past three years, they go through Philly.

It may only be April 20 and the first of many meetings between these two divisional foes, but for the Braves it is never too early to make a good impression.

After all, first place is up for grabs.

The Phillies hold a one-game lead over the third-place Braves in the NL East standings coming into tonight’s series opener at Turner Field.

Atlanta spent over a decade at the top of the National League East, but in recent years they have taken their lumps in an effort to regain the level of excellence they had come to expect.

The Braves haven’t tasted October since 2005, but last season after a strong, albeit late push for the NL Wild Card, they got one step closer to returning to the playoffs.

This year, they are billed as the Phillies chief competition in the NL East.

While an April series isn’t make-or-break for either club, the buzz surrounding this series is unmistakable.

Last year, the Braves knew they waited too long before making their playoff run and just ran out of games.

It is these pesky games early in the season that often count just as large as the ones in September, but are long forgotten when a team comes up a game or two short of the postseason.

Still, don’t expect these Braves to put too much stock in this series outcome.

Atlanta won’t wave the red flag if they lose the series and they surely won’t become complacent if they win it.

But, what a series win would do for the Braves is send a message to the Phillies that the preseason hype surrounding this club was legit.

And, let’s not forget that last season, Atlanta handled Philly with relative ease in the early going.

The Braves were winners of seven of the first nine meetings between the teams, including a series sweep just before the fourth of July.

Then, Ryan Howard happened.

Howard torched the Braves over the final nine games between the clubs, of which his team won six, blasting eight home runs.

However, Atlanta still won the season series 10-8, but still fell short of the playoffs.

The Braves know at the very least, a series win is expected again this year if they hope to reach the postseason.

And, if they hope to make a legitimate run at the World Series, they figure they will see these Phillies again in the NLCS.

The hope and buzz surrounding this year’s squad lends credence to the belief that the Braves can compete with any team in the league even the big, bad Phillies.

With Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe lined up to pitch in this series, the Braves expect their starters to go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia’s.

No surprise there.

The Braves have always won with pitching, and their staff has rivaled if not exceeded the Phillies starters over recent years.

But what the Bravos have this year, that they haven’t had in the past, is their very own one-man wreaking crew.

His name is Jason Heyward.

While the comparisons between Heyward and Howard have begun, it is far too early in the youngster’s career to pit him against Philly’s RBI machine.

But for those of you looking to add to the fodder, in the season’s first two weeks, Heyward does have one more RBI.

The Phillies are about to get their first glimpse at the beast that is the “J-Hey Kid,” and pardon me if they don’t feel a little deja vu.

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05
Apr
10

Atlanta Braves: 2010 Season Preview

It’s that time of year again… Major League Baseball Opening Day.

Today, hope springs eternal for all baseball enthusiasts as every team starts with a fresh slate as the 162-game marathon officially gets underway.

For Braves fans, this is the first year since the team’s past four October-less seasons, where there is a true sense of optimism surrounding Atlanta’s chances of returning to the postseason.

Last year, the Braves made an improbable late run at the National League Wild Card and stayed in contention for the spot until the final few games.

The remarkable turn of events had fans and the media buzzing about the “return” of the Atlanta Braves.

After an offseason in which the club decided to re-sign Tim Hudson and trade Javier Vazquez, add Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to the back end of the bullpen, sign Troy Glaus to serve as the team’s new first baseman while penciling in No. 1 prospect Jason Heyward in right field, the pre-season hype about the Braves seems legitimate.

Many preseason national pundits have predicted the Braves to indeed make the playoffs in 2010, offering a sense of excitement around the team’s loyalists.

It is no secret that this team has something to play for.

Iconic manager Bobby Cox is in his final year at the helm, and his players desperately want to send their skipper out on a high note.

However, the “win one for Bobby” mantra will only get this group so far.

And, they know it.

While, the players have added incentive and extra motivation to win which may serve them well in the dog days of summer, the talent also appears to be in place for Atlanta to once again taste October glory.

Chipper Jones believes this Braves club could win 90 games, if they stay healthy.

And, it is easy to see why.

Despite the loss of Javier Vazquez, Atlanta’s returning starting rotation comprised of Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Kenshin Kawakami still figures to be one of baseball’s best.

Lowe looks to rebound from one of his most disappointing seasons in 2009.

Yet, despite an uncharacteristically high 4.67 ERA, D-Lowe still won 15 games for the Braves last year, which tied him with Vazquez for the team lead in wins.

Jurrjens has established himself as one of baseball’s best young hurlers, finishing last season with a 2.60 ERA, third-best among National League starters.

Hanson made his highly anticipated rookie debut in June and went on to win 11 games last year, which was good enough for a third-place finish in the 2009 Rookie of the Year balloting.

Atlanta’s top pitching prospect is more seasoned and mature heading into Opening Day, and the Braves rotation stands to benefit greatly from getting a full year out of Hanson in 2010.

Japanese standout Kawakami won 7 games in his rookie season in the U.S. for Atlanta last year, but proved he could go up against any elite starter, besting some of baseball’s top aces last season, including countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Kawakami figures to improve upon those numbers this season, as he has now grown increasingly comfortable with the pitching style in the states and has made the necessary adjustments this spring.

The Braves also boast an improved bullpen this season.

Atlanta added one of the game’s best closers in Billy Wagner to replace last season’s dual closers Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.

Takashi Saito was also brought in as a set-up man to Wagner, but his wealth of prior closing experience gives the Braves great depth late in games this season.

Atlanta’s offense, which undoubtedly derailed the team’s postseason aspirations last year, seems to have at least been marginally improved.

The Braves’ additions of Troy Glaus, Melky Cabrera and Eric Hinske this off-season along with the emergence of Jason Heyward gives Atlanta a more well-rounded and deep batting corps than last year’s group.

The team still lacks a prototypical “big bopper” on paper, but with Glaus serving as the team’s clean-up hitter, protecting both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, the pieces are in place for a solid middle of the order unit.

That is, of course, if all prove to stay healthy.

The key to Atlanta’s success will be if Glaus, Jones and McCann, who are all overcoming past health concerns, can stay on the field and out of the trainer’s room.

Jones, a future Hall of Famer, is expected to rebound from his career-worst season at the plate in 2009.

McCann, who was slowed early last season by vision problems, should benefit from his second Lasik eye procedure this winter.

The wild card for the success of the Braves offense is whether Jason Heyward can make an immediate and profound impact at the Major League level.

There is no doubt J-Hey is the real deal.

The question is: Can he can serve as a consistent force in the Braves lineup and help power what last season was an often punchless offense?

With the additions of the switch-hitting Melky Cabrera and super utility man Eric Hinske, the Braves are afforded a great deal of versatility this season.

Cabrera will likely serve as the team’s leadoff hitter when he plays and can man left or center field, depending on the pitching matchup and Cox’s preference of playing Matt Diaz or Nate McLouth at the other spot.

I believe Chipper said it best, in terms of assessing the team’s lineup in 2010.

This offense is not “sexy,” but it is balanced top to bottom.

There are no easy outs, and if a player does go down, there are veterans with experience and depth who can step right in and contribute immediately and effectively.

Moreover, the Braves are a more confident and a much more cohesive unit then they’ve been in years.

The club has always enjoyed a great deal of chemistry over the years, especially during their run of 14 consecutive division titles, but never before have the personalities meshed quite like this year’s troops.

Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson credit the closeness and camaraderie among this bunch as a significant intangible that can’t be overlooked.

They’re right.

How often do you see a team stacked with superstars top to bottom but the egos couldn’t play together and the success on paper never quite translated to the field?

To build a winning roster, you need a group that is talented, versatile and that can compliment each other well.

That’s the makings of a true “team.”

The Braves are far from the most talented group assembled on paper in the Majors, and they aren’t even the cream of the crop in their own division.

However, funny things happen over the course of a marathon season.

Legends are made, heroes emerges and storylines develop.

I can’t help but think that Jason Heyward could be that legend and that any number of heroes could stand up to help cement the greatest storyline of the year sending Bobby Cox out as a winner.

Oh, the beauty of Opening Day…where no dream is too big.

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02
Feb
10

Can Braves rotation withstand the loss of Vazquez?

It’s day two of the Braves’ voluntary two-week, pre-spring training pitching camp at Turner Field, a program created and designed by former pitching coach Leo Mazzone to help the team’s pitchers get back on the mound early to alleviate the off-season rust.

The program, which was formerly known as “Camp Leo”, is now run by Roger McDowell but still preaches the same formula for success that has helped the Atlanta Braves build a pitching dynasty over the years.

This year’s camp opened yesterday with the club’s starting staff already facing a bounty of questions about how they plan to duplicate last season’s numbers.

Braves starters led the majors with a 3.52 ERA while compiling the second most innings (986), proving to be a steady and durable force in 2009.

Entering Spring Training this year, Atlanta is trying to maintain that level of excellence minus one very critical piece — their workhorse ace Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA) was traded to the Yankees in December after the Braves found themselves with one starter too many.

Many baseball pundits question whether this year’s staff can withstand the loss of Vazquez?

If the Braves rotation hopes to replicate last season’s success, the majority of the load that was carried by Vazquez now shifts to 34-year-old Tim Hudson.

The Braves opted to re-sign Hudson to a three-year, $28-million dollar extension in November after the former 20-game winner made a successful return from Tommy John surgery late last year.

In seven starts after re-joining the Braves rotation, Hudson went 2-1 with a solid 3.61 ERA.

Hudson joins a staff comprised of Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami.

Jurrjens and Hanson are the team’s rising young stars and should serve as the backbone of this rotation for the foreseeable future.

Atlanta should also benefit from getting a full season out of Tommy Hanson, who finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting this winter.

The Braves called up their rookie sensation in June and watched Hanson soar to an 11-4 record with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts.

Atlanta is hoping Lowe bounces back and enjoys a resurgent season after the veteran righty struggled in his first year with the Braves.

While still netting 15 wins for the club, Lowe also posted a 4.67 ERA, second-highest of his career.

Kawakami is expected to improve in his second season in the U.S.

The Japanese standout was a 33-year-old rookie last season and ended the year with an impressive 3.86 ERA despite a 7-12 record.

Despite losing Vazquez, Atlanta’s rotation is still stacked with a plethora of talent and a good mix of youth and experience.

Whether the talent on paper translates to wins on the field rests largely on not just the starters but the entire staff’s ability to stay healthy.

Atlanta’s additions of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito at the back end of their bullpen should benefit the rotation by giving the team security late in games.

But, with Wagner’s history of injuries and the age of these hurlers, it is critical that both relievers don’t get overworked in an effort to preserve them for the duration of the season.

The good news is the always pitching rich Braves have the pieces in place yet again to put up impressive numbers while contending for a playoff spot.

It is not often a team could lose a Cy Young candidate, like the Braves did in Vazquez, and still have a chance to have arguably one of the deepest rotations in baseball.

All these years later, the importance of a pre-spring training pitching camp is not lost on the Braves or the pitchers who jump at the opportunity to participate in it.

10
Nov
09

To trade Vazquez or not to trade… that is the question?

Javier Vazquez

What in the world will the Atlanta Braves decide to do with Javier Vazquez?

That is the burning question surrounding Braves Nation on the MLB Hot Stove this week at the GM meetings.

Vazquez, 33, is coming off a career year and posted one of the best seasons of any major league pitcher in 2009.

His 15-10 record is misleading as he could have won at least 18 games with better run support from the Braves’ often inconsistent offense. The eye popping stats to take note of for Javy were his 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts with only 44 walks in 219-1/3 innings pitched.

Vazquez has also proven to be a durable horse, pitching more than 200 innings in nine of the past ten seasons.

So, why on earth would a Braves team who came thisclose to playing October baseball consider trading arguably its best starting pitcher?

I’ll break it down:

Atlanta is blessed with a wealth of starting pitching depth.

As it stands, their rotation is set to return Jair Jurrjens, rookie sensation Tommy Hanson, veteran Derek Lowe, Japanese standout Kenshin Kawakami, and Vazquez, who has one year, $11.5 million remaining on his contract.

Add Tim Hudson to the mix, who the Braves have agreed to terms on a new three-year contract, which is set to be finalized after the veteran hurler’s MRI on his elbow is completed later this week, and Atlanta will have six starting pitchers with only five slots to fill.

It is no secret that Atlanta is looking to add a power, right-handed bat to its lineup.

This year’s crop of free agent hitters appears underwhelming, which makes the likelihood of the Braves finding a bat on the trade market that much higher.

While the club would much rather trade Derek Lowe or would even prefer to move Kawakami over Vazquez, it seems Javy is the prized piece that could net the Braves the greatest return.

Kawakami is still owed $13.3 million over the next two years, but the Braves should be able to find suitors for him, if they decide to go that route.

Lowe’s remaining three-year, $45 million dollar contract stands to be much tougher to move, without the team taking on a portion of the salary to unload him, which I can’t see the cost conscious Braves agreeing to do.

Despite Lowe’s disappointing first season in Atlanta, the veteran righty posted a 15-10 record with an inflated 4.67 ERA, his career track record makes him a strong candidate for a rebound season.

And, with the dearth of starting pitching talent on the free agent market, some teams desperately seeking an added boost to their staff, may opt to engage in trade talks with the Braves regarding Lowe.

However, in the event that the Braves did move Kawakami or Lowe, they likely aren’t going to get the young power hitter they covet in return.

That may only happen if the team makes Vazquez available.

But, even though Atlanta knows that Javy is a hot commodity and that he may not duplicate the success he enjoyed last season, it still seems unlikely the team will move him.

He has a no-trade clause to teams in the NL West and AL West, but that doesn’t seem to be the barrier stopping a potential deal from being struck, as there are plenty of other trade partners the Braves could find a match with.

It is not just Vazquez’s numbers alone but the outpouring of support in the clubhouse for his return that has played a key role in the Braves’ decision to now consider offering a contract extension to the right-hander, in lieu of a trade.

Many players and team officials have credited Vazquez as being a mentor to the young Jair Jurrjens, helping him ascend to record heights this season.

Since Vazquez has openly expressed his desire to remain in Atlanta this season and beyond, it is not unreasonable to think an extension could be worked out between the two sides this offseason.

It seems to be the Braves’ first priority and desire to retain Vazquez’s services at this point, however, if the club does approach Vazquez about an extension and the two can’t come to terms on a deal, it is then that I think the team will more seriously explore potential trade scenarios.

The Braves know Vazquez’s value if they make him available, but the tipping point may be if the team feels they could lose him at the end of next season to free agency.

If that is the case, then Atlanta may want to sell high on Vazquez and cash in while they still can.

In the meantime, let the speculation continue…..

02
Oct
09

Braves fall short in bid for playoffs…..

Tommy Hanson helped lead the Braves back into contentionThe Braves knew the odds were stacked against them in their quest to win the NL Wild Card … but, that didn’t stop them from making a valiant effort to overtake the Colorado Rockies and sneak into the playoffs.

Unfortunately, three straight losses (and four consecutive Colorado wins) with no margin for error ended their dramatic bid for the postseason.

Atlanta will now look towards 2010, but with a newfound sense of anticipation — and, hope.

Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins, the Braves had won 15 of their previous 17 games and were trailing the Rockies by just two games in the Wild Card race.

The confidence the club gained in their attempt to chase down Colorado has team brass, players, and fans encouraged by the swift transformation from just a year ago when the Braves suffered a 90-loss season.

Credit the team’s quick turnaround in large part to their rebuilt and resurgent starting rotation.

The Braves are stocked with a young staff and two potential aces in Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson and with Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, and the option to bring back Tim Hudson at a reduced rate, the team has the luxury of entertaining offers for Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez, who is coming off a career year, is also under contract for next season but may be the team’s most attractive bargaining chip.

What the Braves choose to do with Vazquez will be the most hotly contested topic of the winter, as the club looks to acquire a power hitter to solve their offensive woes.

With an underwhelming free agent class of hitters available, the club may feel their best chance to land a power bat may come via the trade market.

However, while it can be argued that it may be in the Braves’ best interest to trade Vazquez when his stock is at its highest, the team may be better off by keeping their streaking right-hander, who has arguably been the club’s ace down the stretch this season.

Regardless of what Atlanta opts to do about their crowded but overtly talented rotation, one thing is certain — The forecast for the 2010 Braves remains bright.

In what will be manager Bobby Cox’s last season at the helm, the Braves feel they have the pieces in place to be a playoff team next year with the hope of sending their skipper off into the sunset on a high note.

As I watched the 2009 Braves scratch and claw their way back into the playoff hunt when they were a sub-.500 team back in June and a lofty 8 1/2 games back of the Wild Card lead just a few weeks ago, I find myself surprisingly content with the season’s end result.

For so many years, I was spoiled, as so many Braves fans were by watching a team that was consistently playoff bound.

But yet, I always felt in my gut that something was missing.

Still, it was hard to not get excited about another playoff appearance, but it was also hard not to admit (at least to one’s self) that precipitating feeling of doom.

It got to the point that I just knew the team was going to fall short.

It didn’t matter on the surface how promising the picture looked… the talent was there, every single year, but the heart wasn’t.

It’s not like the Braves didn’t want to win, it is just they had come to expect it.

But, no longer.

Three years removed from the playoffs, the 2009 Braves played loose with a chip on their shoulder and nothing to lose.

Sure, they fell short… but, their never-say-die attitude, the fire in their bellies, and the gumption that they showed in the face of adversity, were all things this team had lacked for so many years.

It’s those characteristics that breed a champion.

And, it is those very traits that made watching Braves baseball fun again.

Disappointment can be measured in many different ways.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping against all logic and reason that this team would pull off the impossible and win the Wild Card, but am I disappointed that they didn’t?

No, not in the least.

That is because this team showed to me and to the baseball world that they are relevant again.

They showed that they are a threat — hungry, talented, and fearless.

The Braves are back… and, it is seemingly only a matter of time before they re-claim their spot back on top.




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