Showing posts with label Atlanta Braves. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Atlanta Braves. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Nick Swisher released by Braves

Nick Swisher
The Atlanta Braves released veteran outfielder and first baseman Nick Swisher on Monday.

The 35-year-old former White Sox knucklehead hit just .195 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 46 games for Atlanta last season. Here's the funniest line from the AP story:

"There was no room for [Swisher] on the roster after the Braves signed Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur, Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio to contend for spots on the bench."

Yes, it's true, Swisher's career has bottomed out to the point that Beckham and Bonifacio are considered better uses for roster spots on a rebuilding Atlanta team than he is.

Swisher is set to make $15 million this year, but the Cleveland Indians are paying most of that bill after trading Swisher and outfielder Michael Bourn to the Braves last season in exchange for third baseman Chris Johnson. Any team can now sign Swisher for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

I was horrified this morning to see the Sox listed as one of six possible landing spots for Swisher, according to an article on cbssports.com. Other teams listed are the Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland.

Swisher has hit just .224/.315/.373 in the three years since he signed a four-year, $56 million contract with the Indians. He has stunk for a long time. He's coming off surgeries on both his knees. He's 35 years old. I'd say he's done.

I hope the Sox stay far, far away from this guy. When Swisher was with the Sox in 2008, his nickname was "Dirty 30," as he wore uniform No. 30. I called him "Dirty .230" because that's about all he could hit.

At this point, a .230 average from Swisher would qualify as wishful thinking for any team that signs him.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Weird injury department: Gavin Floyd breaks his elbow

I've heard a few White Sox fans suggest the team made a mistake by parting ways with veteran right-hander Gavin Floyd this past offseason.

Floyd's supporters correctly note the Sox have had a revolving door at the back end of their starting rotation. The Felipe Paulino experiment was a colossal failure. Rookie Erik Johnson couldn't find the plate and had to be sent back to Triple-A. After a two decent starts, Scott Carroll showed himself to be better suited for a long-relief role. Andre Rienzo and waiver pickup Hector Noesi have been hit or miss in their combined 19 starts. There is no question the Sox suffer from a lack of starting pitching depth.

Is Floyd better than the guys the Sox are trotting out there? When Floyd is healthy, sure, he's better, but he had Tommy John surgery last summer. He wasn't going to be ready for the start of this season, and the Sox felt they had better things to spend their money on than signing Floyd to a one-year reclamation deal. I couldn't disagree with that line of thinking.

The Atlanta Braves took a $4 million flier on Floyd, who returned to major leagues on May 6. He was pitching well for the Braves. Coming into Thursday's start against the Washington Nationals, he was 1-2 with a 2.98 ERA in eight starts.

In fact, he picked up his second win of the year Thursday after firing six innings of two-hit ball in the Braves' 3-0 win over Washington. Unfortunately for Floyd, he broke the olecranon -- the bony tip of the ulna that sticks out behind the elbow -- on his first pitch of the seventh inning.

Ouch.

This is a rare injury for pitchers, but it is similar to the one that ended Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya's career in 2010. At minimum, Floyd's season is over. For their $4 million, the Braves got nine pretty good starts. Maybe it was worth it to them, but it wouldn't be worth it to a rebuilding team such as the Sox.

Doctors are saying this injury is unrelated to the Tommy John surgery Floyd underwent, but one of the reasons I didn't want the Sox to re-sign Floyd was my concern that he would get hurt again.

Floyd missed some time late in 2012 with an arm problem, and then the torn elbow ligament limited him to five starts in 2013. This is a pitcher whose career is probably coming toward the end.

While Rienzo and Noesi are no great shakes, at least they are healthy and eating up innings while the Sox rebuild. Innings are something the oft-injured Floyd just can't provide right now, and the Sox do not miss him.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Injury-riddled Braves sign pitcher Ervin Santana

It's been a bad week for the Atlanta Braves and their starting pitchers.

Kris Medlen, Atlanta's best pitcher and projected Opening Day starter, left a spring training start on Sunday while holding his right elbow. Preliminary tests showed ligament damage, and it's possible Medlen will be looking at his second Tommy John surgery in less than four years.

Then on Monday, Brandon Beachy could not finish his spring training outing because of continuing problems with his surgically repaired right elbow. Beachy has started just 18 games over the last two seasons and his suffered multiple setbacks in his recovery after surgery in 2012.

I haven't even mentioned Mike Minor yet. The left-hander won 13 games for Atlanta last season, but he's yet to pitch this spring because of a shoulder problem.

The Braves are staring down the possibility that 60 percent of their starting rotation will be on the disabled list when the season opens. Julio Teheran, a 14-game winner last year, and fifth starter Alex Wood are the last two men standing. Former White Sox pitcher Freddy Garcia is in camp as a nonroster invitee. Another former Sox, Gavin Floyd, is on Atlanta's roster, but he is not expected to pitch until May as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

The situation is obviously getting a little worrisome in Atlanta, so the Braves acted Wednesday, signing Ervin Santana to a one-year contract worth $14.1 million. The right-hander, who went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA in 32 starts with Kansas City last year, was the last major free-agent pitcher available.

It's no secret I'm not a fan of Santana. As recently as two years ago, his ERA was over 5. His 2013 performance with the Royals was a career year, and I wouldn't expect him to repeat that. It seems a lot of GMs felt the same way, and that's why the 31-year-old right-hander went unsigned halfway into March.

Also, the Braves have to give Kansas City a first-round draft pick -- in this case the No. 26 selection -- as compensations for signing Santana. Atlanta is paying a hefty price here, not just the $14.1 million but the draft pick as well.

You might go so far as to say the Braves are panicking in the wake of their recent injuries. I can understand their thinking, though. They won their division last year, and they obviously feel they are a contender again this season. But the house may crumble if they enter April with the corpse of Freddy Garcia as their No. 3 starter. That would be a scary proposition indeed.

Atlanta is counting on Santana to ride to its rescue. That's not a comfortable position to be in, but it's probably better than relying on Garcia or throwing some untested rookies into the fire.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chris Sale's strong outing alleviates bogus 'concerns'

I had to laugh Monday when I read news stories about the White Sox naming Chris Sale their starting pitcher for Opening Day. As if there were another pitcher on the roster under consideration.

That decision might be the easiest one Sox manager Robin Ventura has to make all season. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Sale made his third start of the spring Monday against the Milwaukee Brewers and turned in 4.1 dominant innings. He retired 13 of the 15 hitters he faced and allowed just a pair of two-out singles. He struck out three and walked none.

I was relieved to hear Sale pitched well, not because I was worried about him, but because it was obnoxious to hear the bogus "concerns" other people had when Sale got knocked around in his second outing against the San Diego Padres last week.

In that game, Sale allowed six earned runs over 2.2 innings and struggled to get command of his breaking ball. Sale hadn't thrown his slider at all in his first outing of the spring, so it stands to reason he had difficulty with that pitch the first time he threw it in game situations this year.

It was yet another example of spring training being about getting ready for the season, as opposed to being about achieving optimal results. Established guys who already know they are coming north with the team don't need to concern themselves with statistics. A pitcher can work on a specific pitch during a given outing, and if he happens to get shelled, then so be it. It's a means to an end in terms of refining that pitch so it will be effective when the results begin to matter in three weeks.

A pitcher who will not be missed

Even as pitcher Zach Stewart languished through a miserable 6-14 season last year at Triple-A Charlotte, I was always somewhat (irrationally) fearful the White Sox would recall him and and give him a few starts at the big league level at the end of the season.

That fear is gone now after the Sox on Monday traded Stewart to the Atlanta Braves for cash considerations. Thank goodness that guy is gone -- hopefully for good.

Stewart went 3-7 with a 6.14 ERA in 28 appearances (9 starts) with the Sox over a two-year period. He was last seen in a White Sox uniform on June 18, 2012, when he gave up six runs, nine hits and four home runs in a 12-3 loss to a Cubs team that would go on to lose 101 games.

Six days later, Stewart and Brent Lillibridge were traded to the Boston Red Sox for third baseman Kevin Youkilis. Naturally, Stewart did nothing to impress in Boston. He was traded to Pittsburgh in November 2012, placed on waivers and later picked up by the Sox once more in January of 2013.

Ugh. I guess somebody had to pitch at Charlotte last year. At least Stewart never got back to the bigs in Chicago. This is one pitcher I hope we never see in the Sox organization again.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Braves smartly investing in young core

A tip for frugality that gets passed around from time to time is to shop in your pantry for dinner instead of buying all new ingredients for that night's meal. Find something you can use that you've already got, and work from there.

Andrelton Simmons tells reporters
how awesome it is to be rich.
The Braves have decided to do something similar this offseason. Instead of focusing on the free agent market, they've instead worked to sign some of their young players to big contract extensions to keep them in Atlanta for years to come.

The latest in the line of extensions was the seven-year, $58 million deal for young shortstop Andrelton Simmons. The Braves decided to go all-in on the 24-year-old after only one full season in the big leagues.

This move came after locking up closer Craig Kimbrel (4 years, $42 million, plus a team option), first baseman Freddie Freeman (8 years, $135 million) and starting pitcher Julio Teheran (6 years, $32.4 million, plus a team option).

These are all big investments in players already on the Braves' roster, and looking at each one individually, each also has its risks.

Simmons is pretty light on experience and hasn't even shown he's an average hitter yet. Freeman has posted only one monster season, his most recent, yet his contract was among the biggest given to a player with his service time. Teheran and Kimbrel are both pitchers who could get hurt. Teheran, like Simmons, also only has one full year of experience, and as good as Kimbrel has been, he's still only a closer expected to throw around 70 innings a year.

Atlanta is definitely agreeing to fork out more money the next few years than it would by going year-to-year, renewing the contracts and taking these players to arbitration when they accrue enough service time for that. 

But here's the way I look at these deals, and I'm sure how the Braves do, too:

Simmons is already an amazing defender and a nonzero with the bat. If he never gets any better, the Braves will get a good value out of this contract. If he makes adjustments and becomes an average or better hitter -- which his minor league track records suggests he can -- then this contract is a massive bargain.

Freeman's huge 2013 came after two good-but-not-great years for a first baseman. But it's hard to fault Freeman for being the best first baseman in the organization as a 21- and 22-year-old. Now just 24, he's already more accomplished than Mark Teixeira was at the same age. Unless something goes wrong, the Braves will be paying much less for the very best years of Freeman's career than the Yankees paid ($180 million) for Teixeira's last great year, three decent years, and what might be four awful, useless years.

The same goes for Kimbrel, who will cost less than other closers such as Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Cordero and ... hold your breath ... B.J. Ryan ... have cost teams on contracts signed over the last decade. Kimbrel could have even eclipsed this total by going to arbitration with his gaudy save and strikeout totals.

Having Teheran under control means not having to plug a rotation hole with an unproven or more expensive player.

And don't forget the pay scale in baseball is only going up right now.

The Braves do lose some flexibility with these deals. If any of these guys gets hurt, or just becomes awful, Atlanta can't just nontender them and walk away. But that's the case when teams choose to sign a player from outside the organization to a huge contract as a free agent. (Too keep it close to Atlanta here, don't you think the Braves wish they could flush Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton and the rest of their contracts down the memory hole?)

Even if the total dollars in these contracts seem eye-popping right now, they still pale in comparison to some of the deals given to players not under team control.

The Braves are climbing on the hook for some big paychecks here, but in return they're keeping the pantry stocked without paying free agent prices, which means they stand to put a good team on the field and save money in the long run.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Clayton Kershaw expected to make more than entire Atlanta pitching staff

I pulled this nugget out of the Jan. 27 edition of Sports Illustrated:

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will make an average of $30.7 million annually over the life of the seven-year contract he just signed.

By way of comparison, the Atlanta Braves' 12-man pitching staff is expected to make $27 million combined in 2014.

I know you've probably heard or read statistics like that before. People are quite fond of pointing out that Alex Rodriguez makes more than the entire Houston Astros' roster, for example.

But here's the thing: The Astros aren't even trying to win right now. They stink. They had the worst record in the league last year at  51-111. I tend to dismiss the Astros as a Triple-A team, so of course they are making Triple-A salaries.

The Braves, in contrast, won the NL East with 96 wins in 2013. Not only that, they led all of baseball with a 3.18 team ERA. Atlanta has a very good pitching staff that happens to be inexpensive as well.

It's hard to say Kershaw doesn't deserve his money. He's won two of the last three Cy Young Awards in the National League. He's the best left-handed starter in baseball.

But, the Braves example shows you don't necessarily have to throw around millions upon millions of dollars to build a successful pitching staff, or a successful team. Keep that in mind when people try to tell you the New York Yankees are a lock for the 2014 World Series after they spent almost half a billion dollars this offseason on free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka.

The Yankees have won the offseason for sure, but there is no special prize handed to the team that spends the most money or collects the most big-name players.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine elected to Hall of Fame

I'll admit it: I was nervous. I wasn't sure former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas would be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

I was worried the Baseball Writers Association of America would hold a grudge against Thomas because he played a majority of his career games as a designated hitter.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed. Thomas was elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday; his name appeared on 83.7 percent of the 571 ballots cast. He was comfortably about the 75 percent threshold needed for election.

Thomas finished his career with a .301 lifetime batting average, 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs, a .419 career on-base percentage and a .974 career OPS. He also won two MVP awards and finished in the top four of MVP voting on three other occasions. Nine times, he placed in the top 10 of the MVP balloting.

There's no question that is a Hall of Fame resume, and kudos to the voters for putting aside the silly anti-DH argument and giving Thomas his proper place in Cooperstown.

Thomas will be joined in the 2014 class by two other deserving honorees, pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

Maddux, the former Atlanta Braves and Cubs ace, earned the most votes from the electorate, appearing on over 97 percent of the ballots. He is eighth all-time on the wins list with 355. He won four consecutive Cy Young awards -- one with the Cubs and three with the Braves -- from 1992 to 1995. He also was the best fielding pitcher of his era, earning a record 18 Gold Glove awards.

Glavine, Maddux's former teammate with the Braves, totaled 305 career wins and won two Cy Young awards. The left-hander was also comfortably above the 75 percent threshold; his name appeared on just under 92 percent of the ballots.

The two former Atlanta pitchers will be joined by their former manager, Bobby Cox, at July's induction ceremony. Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa were elected to the Hall in December for their managerial successes. 

A couple of other interesting things about this vote: Craig Biggio just missed. His name was on 74.8 percent of the ballots. That means he was exactly two votes short of induction. More than likely, he'll get into the Hall in 2015, which will be his third year on the ballot. It's a little unusual for a player with 3,060 career hits to have to wait three years. I'm not sure what the reasoning was by those who did not vote for Biggio. He seems like a no-brainer to me.

It also was notable that both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens actually lost support. Bonds went from 36.2 percent to 34.7 percent, while Clemens dropped from 37.6 to 35.4.

What's interesting is the voters seem to draw a distinction between Bonds and Clemens and some of the other steroids guys like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. The latter three aren't getting near as many votes. Palmeiro, in fact, will fall off the ballot after only getting 4.4 percent of the vote this year. Sosa was at 7.2 percent, while McGwire got 11 percent.

Why are Bonds and Clemens different? Well, I think those two guys could have been Hall of Famers without using steroids. You look at their performances going back into the 1980s before all the steroid scandals started, and they seemed to be on the path to the Hall. In the case of these two men, the PEDs seemed to lengthen their careers and allowed them to put up unbelievable numbers into their late 30s and early 40s.

They aren't going to get into the Hall because that drug use taints their legacies, but there are some voters who are supporting them because their greatness is only partially attributed to steroids. Both Bonds and Clemens were elite players pre-steroids. They didn't really need to take that stuff, but for whatever reason, they chose to do so.

In the cases of Sosa, McGwire and Palmeiro, more than likely they would have just been ordinary players without the juice. At minimum, there's a perception their greatness was completely the result of steroids, and that's why they are getting little support from the electorate.

Lastly, I think it's time for the BBWAA to take a look at its own membership and review whether the guys who are voting on the Hall are qualified to do so. Right now, the standard is you have to have been a BBWAA member in good standing for 10 years in order to get a vote. Personally, I think the voters have made several errors in recent years. They've inducted some guys with marginal resumes, while making some guys who should be slam-dunk choices (like Biggio) wait.

You wonder how much baseball some of these voters actually watch. Are they really "baseball writers" anymore? Or are some of them former sports editors and former columnists who are no longer really in the industry? I wish I had a little more trust that these guys are all actually qualified to vote.

At least they got Maddux, Glavine and Thomas right. But you're allowed to vote for 10 guys each year, and it's not real hard to find other deserving players on that ballot who were left out again.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gavin Floyd turns down Orioles, signs with Braves

Amid the trade talk yesterday, we neglected to mention that former White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd has agreed to terms on a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the Atlanta Braves.

According to reports, Floyd will receive $4 million in 2014 with a chance of earning an additional $4.5 million in incentives.

The right-hander went 0-4 with a 5.18 ERA in five starts for the Sox in 2013. He underwent elbow surgery in May to repair tears in his ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon.

The Braves are hoping Floyd will return to the mound in May.

What's interesting about this deal is that Floyd, a Baltimore-area product, turned down a two-year offer from the Orioles that could have been worth as much as $20 million with incentives.

A report in The Baltimore Sun said the Orioles were not interested in giving Floyd a one-year deal because he will not pitch until May, and the club coveted his services for more than one year. Floyd declined the offer because he desires to go back on the free agent market next offseason, presumably believing he could earn a more lucrative contract if he proves he's healthy in 2013.

Give Floyd full marks for betting on himself. This is a gamble on his part. There aren't too many pitchers coming off major elbow surgery that would turn down a multiyear offer.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Monday quadrupleheader: Best day of the playoffs so far

I have been waiting for a day like Monday. All four divisional playoff series were in action, and this was a quadrupleheader of games that had it all: three one-run decisions, a near no-hitter by Michael Wacha, clutch home runs by Jose Lobaton and Juan Uribe and a bench-clearing incident in Detroit.

There is so much to talk about I could never mention it all in one blog post, but I'll try to touch on a talking point or two from each game.

Oakland 6, Detroit 3

The A's are a team that believes in statistical analysis, so I'm sure manager Bob Melvin was aware of the lefty/righty splits on Detroit pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

For the season, lefties hit .247 against Sanchez, while righties hit at a miserable .207 clip. Accordingly, Melvin loaded his lineup with seven left-handed bats Monday against Sanchez. Three left-handed hitters -- Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Seth Smith -- took the Detroit right-hander deep over the first five innings of Oakland's victory, which gave the A's a 2-1 series lead.

The game will be best remembered for a bench-clearing incident in the bottom of the ninth inning. Oakland closer Grant Balfour and Victor Martinez exchanged insults after a foul ball. Amusingly, the crowd mic on MLB Network picked up all the expletives. After order was restored, Balfour nailed down the save. The A's will look to close out the series Tuesday.

St. Louis 2, Pittsburgh 1

Wacha nearly no-hit the Washington Nationals in his last regular season start. In that game, he lost his bid on an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth inning. This time, with the Cardinals season hanging in the balance, Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before losing it in a slightly less cheap manner -- he gave up a 430-foot bomb to Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

But the St. Louis bullpen came on to close this one out for Wacha, and the Cardinals tied the series at 2-2 and forced a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday.

You have to wonder why it took the Cardinals four games to send Wacha to the mound. Adam Wainwright is their ace, but after him, Wacha has been St. Louis' next best pitcher. If the Cardinals are fortunate enough to advance to the NLCS, they need to make sure Wacha is in line to make two starts in that series. He really impressed me with his fastball-changeup combination. I think he's a better pitcher than both Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, at least at this moment.

There will be no debate over who gets the ball in Game 5 for St. Louis. It will be Wainwright. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle has chosen to start rookie Gerrit Cole instead of veteran A.J. Burnett. I like the move by Hurdle. Burnett was shelled in Game 1 of this series, while Cole was masterful in a Game 2 victory. In a winner-take-all situation, I believe you go with the guy who is pitching best, regardless of experience level.

Tampa Bay 5, Boston 4

The Rays have always been a resilient bunch, and they got off the deck in this game a couple times. The Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead halfway through, but Tampa Bay tied it on a three-run homer by Evan Longoria in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

When Longoria stepped to the plate, the Rays had runners on second and third with two outs. I'm sure some Boston fans are wondering why the Red Sox didn't just put Longoria on with first base open. Conventional wisdom says you don't give teams baserunners with a three-run lead. In this case, I agree with conventional wisdom. But, Longoria is far and away the most dangerous hitter in the Tampa Bay lineup. There's a case to be made that you don't let him beat you and take your chances with the rookie on deck, Wil Myers. The Red Sox pitched to Longoria, and his blast changed the complexion of the game.

Tampa Bay scratched across a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to go ahead 4-3. Boston answered with a run of its own in the top of the ninth off Rays' closer Fernando Rodney. No matter. The Rays got it right back when Lobaton hit a walk-off shot off Boston closer Koji Uehara, who gave up only five home runs all season. Go figure.

The Rays still trail the series, 2-1, but they have life. Game 4 is Tuesday.

Los Angeles 4, Atlanta 3

The day started with a curious decision by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. He scratched scheduled starter Ricky Nolasco and brought back ace Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest. Mind you, Kershaw threw 124 pitches in his Game 1 victory, and Los Angeles entered Monday's play with a 2-1 series lead. I can understand wanting to throw your ace one more time if you're facing elimination, but the Dodgers were not in that situation. I was really surprised they brought Kershaw back on short rest. It was a move that reeked of needless desperation.

But give Kershaw credit. He threw the ball well once again, allowing just two unearned runs over six innings. However, Braves veteran Freddy Garcia matched Kershaw pitch for pitch, and Atlanta took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. Facing elimination, if there was ever a time for the Braves to ask closer Craig Kimbrel for a six-out save, this was it. Instead, David Carpenter pitched the eighth inning for Atlanta. It took him two batters to blow the lead. Yasiel Puig doubled and scored moments late on the game-winning home run by Uribe.

Mattingly wanted Uribe to bunt on the pitches prior to the home run. That didn't work out so well, but the home run erased the stink. Suffice to say, I think the Los Angeles manager made a couple of questionable choices on Monday. He got away with them, and now his team is in the NLCS, awaiting the St. Louis-Pittsburgh winner.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Clayton Kershaw's performance highlights first day of NLDS

Both National League Division Series got underway Thursday, and unfortunately, both games were duds. None of the late-inning drama we associate with playoff baseball was present in either of these two contests.

The St. Louis Cardinals scored seven runs in the third inning and went on to an easy 9-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Los Angeles Dodgers also got out to an early lead and coasted to a 6-1 win over the Atlanta Braves. In each of these two games, you knew who was going to win by the fourth inning.

The highlight of the day was definitely the performance of Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. After Adrian Gonzalez hit a home run in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 4-0, you had a feeling Kershaw was going to shut the door. He's 36-0 lifetime when Los Angeles scores four or more runs for him. Shut the door he did, striking out 12 Atlanta hitters and allowing just three hits over seven innings. At one point, Kershaw fanned six consecutive batters.

If you're the Braves, this isn't what you wanted to see in Game 1. Atlanta has the reputation of an all-or-nothing offense. The Braves led the National League in home runs this year with 181. They also tied for the league lead in strikeouts with 1,384. All-or-nothing was nothing on this night, and the Braves won't have it easy in Game 2, either, as they must contend with Los Angeles right-hander Zack Greinke, who has a 1.85 ERA since the All-Star break.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, Carlos Beltran hit a three-run homer off Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett during that seven-run outburst, and that was your ballgame. Adam Wainwright pitched seven innings of one-run ball and remained unbeaten in his postseason career (3-0, 2.27 ERA). This one was a real snoozer unless you are a Cardinals fan.

We'll see if the action heats up on Friday, with four Division Series games on tap around the country.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Another unwritten rules violation, Carlos Gomez edition

Atlanta Braves left-hander Paul Maholm drilled Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez in the leg with an 88 mph fastball on June 23. Gomez took exception to it, believing it was intentional, and he hasn't forgotten about it.

So, Gomez went to the plate looking for revenge when the two men competed against each other again Wednesday night. There's no question Gomez was looking to take Maholm deep. He took a mighty cut and missed on the first pitch, almost falling down in the process. On the second pitch, he connected, sending one deep into the seats in left-center field.

Give Gomez credit for that. If you believe a pitcher has hit you intentionally, one of the best ways to deal with that is to hit a home run next time you face him. Perfectly acceptable. What happened after Gomez made contact wasn't so acceptable, as he stood there and admired his handiwork, then stared at Maholm and flipped the bat behind him before rounding the bases.

On his way around the bases, Gomez jawed with Maholm, Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman and catcher Brian McCann. Gomez actually never touched home plate, because McCann confronted him about 20 feet up the third-base line. The two men exchanged more heated words, and the benches emptied. You can watch video of the incident here

It's no secret I've never liked Gomez. I've disliked him since his days with the Minnesota Twins. He's a hot dog and a loose cannon. His actions on the field often cross the line into obnoxious territory, and this incident is just the latest example. He got tossed out of the game, and rightfully so. He's an idiot.

However, I can't put 100 percent of the blame on Gomez for this one. There are certain teams around baseball that fancy themselves as gatekeepers of the unwritten rules of the game. Atlanta is starting to become one of those teams. Not even a month ago, the Braves were involved in a similar incident when Miami Marlins rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez, a 21-year-old kid, got a little too excited about hitting his first major league home run. 

Is it really necessary to have an altercation when someone stands and admires a home run for a little too long? Have our feelings gotten that sensitive? For me, the Braves are living in a glass house. One of their own players, Justin Upton, has been known to pose after hitting a home run. Most teams probably have a guy or two who is guilty of hot-dogging it after taking the opposing pitcher deep. I know a lot of people don't like to see that stuff, but it's pretty common in today's game.

I can agree that Gomez was over the line with his antics. But I'll be honest, I don't know exactly where that line is. At one point does a home run pose become offensive to the other team? I'm not sure. Maybe someone should take these unwritten rules I hear about all the time and write 'em down so we all understand what is acceptable and what is not.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The pennant races with one week to play....

The 162-game marathon has come down to a six- or seven-game sprint for some clubs as we enter the final week of the regular season. Here's a rundown of the races, who has clinched, and who still has work to do:

AL East
The Boston Red Sox have clinched the division and own the best record in baseball (95-62). The Red Sox are two games ahead of the AL West-leading Oakland A's in their quest to secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

AL Central
The Detroit Tigers (91-65) possess a five-game division lead. Their magic number is down to two. They open a series Monday against the 90-loss Minnesota Twins. Detroit figures to clinch before it leaves Target Field. The second-place Indians (86-70) figure to be more concerned with securing a wild-card spot at this point.

AL West
The Oakland A's (93-63) have proven last season's division championship was no fluke. They have clinched the title for the second consecutive year, once again outplaying the big-spending clubs in Texas and Anaheim. The A's will need a red-hot final week to catch Boston for the top seed in the AL, but I doubt anyone in Oakland will be complaining if the A's finish with the second-best record in the league.

AL Wild Card
Six teams remain alive, but realistically, this race is between Tampa Bay (86-69), Cleveland (86-70) and Texas (84-71). The Rangers are 1.5 back of Cleveland and two back of Tampa Bay. Texas opens a three-game set Monday against 105-loss Houston, and it better sweep. The Rangers close with four in Anaheim. The Indians are in great shape. They have two games left with the 94-loss White Sox and four with the 90-loss Twins. They win five out of six, they're in. Four out of six will probably do it, too. Tampa Bay is concluding a four-game series with Baltimore on Monday, before a six-game closing road trip to New York and Toronto. That will not be easy, but the Rays have the advantage of that two-game cushion over the Rangers. Kansas City (82-73) is 3.5 out of the wild card. New York is four back, and Baltimore is 4.5 back. Each of those three teams is still alive, but realistically, they would need to win out while others choke.

NL East
The Atlanta Braves (92-63) have the best record in the National League and clinched their division title Sunday with a 5-2 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. It will be a fight to the finish for homefield advantage in the NL. The Braves are just 1.5 games ahead of St. Louis (91-65) and 2.5 ahead of Los Angeles (90-66). Does that even matter? You bet it does. Atlanta is 52-22 at Turner Field this season and just 40-41 on the road.

NL Central
St. Louis (91-65) is in good shape, two games ahead of both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Cardinals are at home for the final week, hosting Washington (84-72) for three and the 91-loss Cubs for three. You have to believe St. Louis will win the division with a .500 homestand, especially since Pittsburgh and Cincinnati close the season playing head-to-head. If either the Pirates or the Reds were to sweep that final series, maybe they could catch the Cardinals. But, the more likely scenario involves the Pirates and Reds beating up on each other, allowing St. Louis to put the division away.

NL West
Los Angeles (90-66) is the only team in baseball enjoying a double-digit lead in its division. The Dodgers have basically lapped the NL West. They could use a hot streak at the end to pass the Cardinals and or the Braves, so that they'll be able to open the playoffs at home.

NL Wild Card
Almost certainly, the NL wild-card game will feature Pittsburgh (89-67) and Cincinnati (89-67). Both clubs are five games ahead of Washington (84-72) with six games to play. Right now, it's a matter of which team will host that wild-card game. It's a dead heat entering Monday. The Pirates play at Chicago for three games before finishing with three in Cincinnati. The Reds welcome the New York Mets for three before playing the Pirates. Here's a possible dilemma for the season's last day: If the two teams are tied going into Game 162, do you throw your best pitcher or one of your best pitchers to try to get homefield for the wild-card game? Or do you rest everybody for the winner-take-all 163rd game? I think I'd save all my bullets for the wild-card game.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Do you suppose the Nationals regret shutting down Stephen Strasburg last year?

I had a thought this morning when I was looking at the updated Major League standings: Man, the Washington Nationals sure are a disappointment this year.

Washington got a lot of respect in the preseason predictions. I just pulled out my 2013 season preview from Sports Illustrated, and sure enough, the Nationals were their pick to win the World Series.

At that time, that didn't seem like a bad choice. How can you not like a 1-2-3 punch like Stephen Strasburg (pictured), Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann at the top of the rotation?

Bryce Harper is one of the best young talents in the game. Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche are proven run producers. A young middle infield featuring Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa appeared to be coming of age. Denard Span was added to the roster to fix a perceived hole in the leadoff spot. Another successful season was considered a given.

Instead, the Nationals are 50-54 entering play on July 27. They are 8.5 games back of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. They are in second place, with only Atlanta to catch, so they still have a puncher's chance in that division. But it's clear they will be falling well short of the 100-win success that was forecasted for them during spring training.

What went wrong?

Well, Harper has missed time with assorted injuries. Espinosa stunk it up so bad he got sent back to the minors. He's been a combination of injured and bad all year. LaRoche is hitting about 30 points lower than he did last season. Span's contributions have been modest at best. Dan Haren, the presumed No. 4 starter, has been a disaster. Relief pitcher Drew Storen, who had 43 saves two years ago, has an ERA of almost 6. There are a number of things that have gone wrong for that team.

Here's my point: When you have a chance to win, you have to go for it. The opportunity to win a championship is precious and very fleeting. Even when you have a good-looking roster, you're not promised anything. Guys get hurt. Guys have bad years. You just never know.

Last year, the Nationals were a 95-win team. They had the best record in the league. I thought they had a great chance to get to the World Series and win it. Instead, they shut down Strasburg, their ace, because they didn't want him to pitch too many innings in one season. They were trying to keep him healthy for the long haul because it was "the right thing to do for the franchise."

Ugh.

I hated the move at the time. Yes, Strasburg was coming off Tommy John surgery the previous year. But, the Nationals had a great team last season. Everybody was healthy. Everybody was playing well. When it's all going your way, you have to strike while the iron is hot, health consequences be damned. You can't be playing for next year, or the next five years, because the opportunity to compete for a championship in the future is not promised to you.

I'm sure if Nationals GM Mike Rizzo read this blog (and I'm sure he doesn't), he'd be indignant about what I'm about to write. But oh well.

Washington kicked away its best chance to win a World Series last year when it decided not to pitch its ace in the playoffs. The Nationals lost in the NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals, and it doesn't look like they are going to make it back to that level this season.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Random thought: Will the Braves trade Brian McCann?

Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann has missed the first month of the season while rehabbing a torn labrum in his right shoulder. But, the six-time All-Star is expected to return to the Atlanta lineup within the next week.

I noted McCann went 2-for-4 with a home run and a single for Class AAA Gwinnett Friday night. In six rehab games between Gwinnett and Class A Rome, McCann is batting .364 with four home runs, nine RBIs and five runs scored. Sounds to me like he's ready.

But here's the problem for the Braves: Rookie catcher Evan Gattis has played well in McCann's absence, belting seven home runs and winning National League Rookie of the Month honors in April.

McCann isn't coming back to the majors to sit on the bench, so what will the Braves do with Gattis? From everything I've read, they intend to use him as a bench bat, maybe giving him some starts in the outfield or at first base. Makes sense. You don't want to demote a guy who has been a productive player for you.

But here's my question: Has Gattis done enough to make the Braves believe he is their catcher of the future? And, if so, will they trade McCann, who is in the last year of a seven-year contract that will pay him $12 million this season?

Or, do they look at Gattis as nothing more than a former 23rd-round draft pick on a career hot streak? Will they look to resign McCann, who is hardly old? He's 29, but he is coming off his worst season in 2012 and a fairly significant injury.

If I were the Braves, I don't think I'd give McCann the $12 to $15 million per year he'll likely command in free agency. That's too much money in my mind for a catcher. That said, if I were the Braves, I would not trade McCann. I'd hang on to him, play for this year and hope he's healthy enough to be a critical piece in a drive toward an NL East championship. If he walks at the end of the year, so be it.

But what if they do decide to deal McCann? Which teams need a catcher?

Well, start with the Yankees, who have half their team on the disabled list and have Francisco Cervelli getting the majority of the starts behind the plate. Anytime a left-hander power hitter becomes available, you have to believe New York will be in the hunt.

Maybe Detroit? Doesn't it seem like Alex Avila always breaks down by the end of the year? Never underestimate Tigers owner Mike Ilitch. The octogenarian wants a World Series title before he dies and will spend any amount of money to get it.

I think Washington could use an upgrade behind the plate, but of course, there won't be any trades between the Nationals and the Braves. Those two teams will fight for the NL East lead all year.

Then, of course, there's the White Sox. I still don't understand why the Sox believe in Tyler Flowers. Through 28 games, Flowers is exactly who I thought he would be. He's hitting .186 with four home runs and 26 strikeouts in 70 ABs. About once a week, he hits a home run, and that's his sole contribution to the offense.

Can you tell I'm tired of the Flowers experiment? First week of May and I'm already looking around to see if there are any real catchers who might be available in a trade.