• Evan Gattis

    IT’S GAMEDAY: Embrace This Moment, Braves Country; You’ve Earned It

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – The oddsmakers have weighed in, the pundits and talking heads and bloggers and the rest of the world have offered their take on the National League Division Series, how one team is loaded with playoff experience – many of it gleaned from reaching the seventh game of the World Series last season – while the other team has shocked so many by just gracing the October stage.

    But baseball has a funny way of evening even the most lopsided playing fields, especially in the most pivotal month of the marathon season that begins amid the palm trees and desert sands in February and ends around Halloween with the crowning of a champion.

    Brian Snitker, the lifelong Brave who finds himself on the eve of managing his first major-league postseason game, humorously corrected a reporter’s question during a Wednesday evening press conference at Dodger Stadium after the reporter said the Braves might not have as much playoff experience as the Dodgers, Atlanta’s opponent in Game 1 of the NLDS on Thursday.

    “They don’t have as much; not even might about it,” Snitker said with a humble giggle in discussing his team.

    My, how far this franchise has come.

    The Atlanta Braves are going to play a playoff game in less than 24 hours, an honest-to-goodness, real-life, hot-dang-this-really-is-October-baseball playoff game. It will unfold in the same venue where the Braves played their last postseason contest, but even if we don’t want to think about what transpired that Monday night in October 2013, it doesn’t matter at all.

    Because of what’s transpired since.

    Do you remember the Braves trading so much of their controllable talent, the pain you felt when Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis were shipped away for prospects? What about the evening before the season opener in 2015, when Atlanta found the solution to rid itself of B.J. Upton and his albatross of a contract at the expense of Craig Kimbrel being included in the deal, mere hours before the first pitch of the season?

    How about the awful final two months of 2015 (18-37 before winning three of four to end the season), a stretch in which the Braves gave up 20 runs in a game and employed the lovable Jonny Gomes for an inning of relief in an 11-run defeat that, arguably, may have been the highlight of that season? Those two things happened two days apart! Or, losing the first nine games in 2016 en route to a 9-28 start that sent Fredi Gonzalez, a dead manager walking entering that spring, into unemployment, complete with a Delta flight notification sent to him before he was given the news?

    There are about five zillion other examples that I could cite, but the bottom line is this. When your feet hit the floor Thursday morning, you begin an Atlanta Braves Playoff Gameday. How does that sound, Braves Country? It’s something we took for granted for oh, so long, as the Braves of yesteryear piled up division titles like they were Beanie Babies (remember them?), but a half-decade away wading through the vast underbelly of the National League makes one appreciative when you find the light again.

    The smart money, the experts, those in the know, are going to tell you the Braves have little chance of winning this series. Los Angeles has more talent, more experience, owns the advantage in everything from matchups to home field, and is just better. I’m not going to dispute any of that, because it’s true. The Dodgers are a better team 1-through-25. They can deploy a starting-lineup worthy bench at all times and have a lineup built to face lefties and another one geared toward righties.

    That’s all well and good. It should not diminish your enthusiasm, your hopes, your spirits one iota entering this series. And here’s why.

    Baseball’s postseason history is littered with the burned-out remains of cars destined for ticker tape and champagne, all crashed out by a lesser team that had little-to-no chance at the start of the series, only to trip up the prohibitive favorite. Baseball’s postseason, while not one-and-done after you advance past the wild-card stage, is the closest approximation we have in pro sports to March Madness. Especially in the division series, where with a five-game series the underdog merely has to win once in the opening two road games to have a chance to win the series at home in four games.

    What makes baseball’s postseason so compelling is often, the best team does not win the championship. We haven’t had a repeat world champion since 2000. As mentioned in this space this week, think of all the franchises that have won a World Series since the Dodgers last captured the title in 1988. The drama of October is a stark contrast to the six-month grind that compresses 162 games into 187 days. The finality is sudden and jarring. Success is euphoric and exhilarating. Catching lightning in a bottle isn’t just a trite saying, it’s a true strategy that more than one team has used to fuel a run deep into the year’s 10th month.

    That’s why these Braves aren’t just a nice turn-around story, one where we all should be happy just to be here. Yes, even if Atlanta loses three straight, there is no dulling the shine of what’s transpired in 2018. But don’t be fooled. The Braves are not just happy to be here, and privately there are plenty of people around baseball who will tell you they want no part of this bunch in a series, especially when three wins and not four is the ticket to advance.

    The feeling here is these Braves, with their blend of calming veteran leadership and youthful emotion, will fare just fine in their first foray into the madness of October. They might not win the series, but it won’t be easy for Los Angeles. This will not be a runaway by any stretch of the imagination. Atlanta has the talent and the tools to push the Dodgers to the very brink. If L.A. wins this series, they will have to earn it.

    And there’s no guarantee it won’t be the Braves heading to Milwaukee or Denver for the NL Championship Series. That youthful ignorance, confidence and swagger of a team that defied all the predictions of a 75-to-80 win season to capture 90 victories (20 coming in their final at-bat), win the NL East, earn the NL’s best road record and respond to every stumble or wobble, gives this correspondent every reason to believe we’re about to embark on quite a series.

    It’s a series that has been a long time coming for everybody in Braves Country. Buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

    You deserve this.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    Gattis traded to Astros, exodus out of ATL continues

    If any question remained what Atanta’s offseason plan was, it was made perfectly clear Wednesday when the Braves traded fan favorite Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros for a package of three prospects. The Braves are undoubtedly rebuilding for the 2017 debut of their new stadium, Sun Trust Park.

    Evan Gattis will move to a hitter friendly park in a pitching dominant AL West in his new role as a designated hitter.

    Evan Gattis will move to a hitter friendly park in a pitching dominant AL West in his new role as a designated hitter.

    The Braves’ trade of Gattis continues a busy offseason with trades of big names and big bats including Justin Upton to the Padres, Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, Jordan Walden also to the Cardinals, David Carpenter to the Yankees, Tommy La Stella to the Cubs and Anthony Varvaro to the Red Sox. Nearly all of the trades resulted in no big league ready players returning to the club. Additionally, the Braves parted ways with Ramiro Pena, Tyler Pastornicky, Gerald Laird, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Jonny Venters, Gavin Floyd, Erwin Santana, Ryan Doumit, Aaron Harang, Emilio Bonafacio and Cory Gearrin, most to free agency. Atlanta’s trades and departures have accounted for holes in two of the three starting rotation spots, a lack of backup catcher or starting catcher, depending on the status and maturity of Christian Bethancourt, loss of right fielder, left fielder and second baseman and a completely depleted bench. They have filled some of the holes in the return for trades and via free agency, but there is no question than an exodus has happened out of Atlanta.

    Evan Gattis had been projected to play left field for the Braves in 2015 with the loss of Justin Upton, but those around the Braves knew if the price was right the Braves would trade him for the right prospects. That right price seemed to come together with the Houston Astros, pending a physical, when the Astros offered prospects Rio Ruiz (3B), Andrew Thurman (RHP) and Mike Foltynewicz (RHP).

    The Astros will have Evan Gattis for 4 years of control and will likely use him as a DH. Gattis has always been a player with great potential in the American League. He has potential to be 30-HR hitter in the AL, especially at Minute Maid Park, a middle of the pack park in terms of hitter friendliness with the wall in right field being 315 feet from home plate. In 3 career games at Minute Maid Park, Gattis has hit .250/.250/.500, his 3 hits all doubles.

    Gattis, in addition to falling into a new role as DH with an American League team, will be going home. El Oso Blanco was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in that part of the state where he became an elite high school baseball player prior to walking away from a baseball scholarship at Texas A&M.

    We here at BravesWire wish Evan nothing but luck with his new team. He has been a thrill to watch with the Braves and every indication is that he is a truly nice young man. Gattis homering in his first hit off of Doc Halladay will not soon be forgotten in Atlanta.

    BRAVES CONTINUE TO COMPILE HIGH QUALITY PROSPECTS…

    John Hart and the Atlanta front office have brought in top prospects in nearly every trade they have conducted this winter. While only a couple of the prospects are nearing what would be considered big league ready, notably Max Fried though he is currently coming back from Tommy John surgery (acquired in the Justin Upton trade), they are positioning themselves well for being competitive in 2017 and beyond. That trend continued with the Evan Gattis trade.

    The big name in the Gattis trade returning to the Braves is Mike Foltynewicz. MLB.com ranks Folty as #57 among prospects in baseball. He is listed as the #3 prospect in the Astros’ system by Baseball America where they say he has “crazy arm strength . . . if he can’t harness delivery, hard-throwing reliever.” He touts a triple-digit fastball, a respectable changeup and has been working hard on his curveball.

    Third base prospect Rio Ruiz comes to the Braves having hit .293/.387/.436 with 11 homers and 77 RBIs in high-A in 2014. Given the recent trade of Kyle Kubitza, Atlanta’s top 3B prospect to the Angels for pitching prospects Nate Hyatt and Ricardo Sanchez, the Braves desperately needed depth at 3B and may look to groom Ruiz for the future without Chris Johnson.

    Both less known and less appreciated, Andrew Thurman (RHP) was a 2nd round pick for the Astros in 2013. He spent the 2014 season in single-A Quad Cities where he put up a 5.38 ERA in 20 starts (115 1/3 innings) with 107 strikeouts, a 1.405 WHIP and a 7-9 record. Both Thurman and Foltynewicz are solid arms that could both break into the rotation, with Folty having the fallback option of relief work.

    With this trade, the Braves have certainly restocked the farm, but how they will compete in 2015 remains a question mark. Braves fans may need to prepare themselves to finish fourth in the NL East behind the Nationals, Marlins and Mets as they look to 2017 and beyond.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch

     

    J. Upton, Northcraft traded to Friars for 4 prospects

    In a much anticipated move, the Braves traded away slugger Justin Upton for a package of prospects. Friday the front office completed a 6-player trade with the San Diego Padres. Joining Upton in the trade to San Diego is Aaron Northcraft, minor league RHP prospect. In return from the Padres, the Braves receive much-touted prospect Max Fried (LHP), Jace Peterson (INF), Dustin Peterson (INF), and Mallex Smith (OF).

    northcraft

    Aaron Northcraft was ranked 14th among Braves’ prospects prior to the trade and won’t be in the top 20 prospects of the Padres’ organization.

    The headliner headed to San Diego is Justin Upton, of course. But the Padres also receive 24-year-old pitching prospect Aaron Northcraft. Northcraft had a rough 2014 season when he went from a pitcher with a 7-3 record and 2.88 ERA while at Double-A to an 0-7 pitcher with an elevated 6.54 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett. He never had the speed or power to be a piece of the Braves’ bullpen and given his struggles in AAA, he wasn’t projected to be a possibility for the rotation. While he could add depth eventually to the Padres’ young rotation, his loss isn’t one the Braves can’t absorb.

    In 2 seasons with the Braves, the 27-year-old Upton hit 27 and 29 home runs, some would say at the cost of 160+ strikeouts per year. His .263 and .270 averages came up short of the marks he tallied the previous 4 seasons in Arizona. His defense seemed to be down while in Atlanta, though that could arguably be due to the shadow of the greatest defensive right fielder in the league–Jason Heyward–to compare him to. While playing with his big brother B.J. didn’t seem to hurt or help his game, the opposite was true for B.J. There is always the possibility that B.J. might play better without his brother on the roster with him. Time will tell.

    Upton’s bat will be replaced in the lineup by the full-time bat of Evan Gattis, presumably. Gattis will man LF while rookie Bethancourt takes on the responsibility of being behind the plate full-time.

    BRAVES MOVE AHEAD IN PUSH FOR 2017 STADIUM OPENING…

    For fans who don’t quite grasp what the Braves are doing with their offseason moves, it is helpful to understand that in 2017 the Cobb County stadium (SunTrust Park) will open. This isn’t the type of fire sale that would see the team sell off their highest valued pieces for a load of young prospects to restock the farm. This is simply letting go of players that they would otherwise only have control of for a year before they left for free agency, the case with both Heyward and Upton. In return, the Braves may not be receiving pieces that are big-league ready (which is the case with all but Max Fried in the Padres trade), but they will be by 2017 when the team hopes to have a club that can not only only compete, but can win it all.

    That said, don’t count Atlanta out. Adding Shelby Miller makes for a young, talented rotation with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Alex Wood and possibly David Hale. Adding Nick Markakis gives the Braves’ lineup some pop, pop that will come with less strikeouts than the Braves’ OF has brought to the equation in the last 2 years. With the signing of Callaspo, the Braves add a sure hand that can provide leadership for the up and coming young players like Pastornicky, Gosselin and Perraza.

    Trading with the Padres brought 4 prospects to the club that will help in various ways with the current plan to build for a great 2017 run. Max Fried, the prospect most likely to break into the big leagues first, had Tommy John surgery near the end of the 2014 season. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing for Atlanta, however. Fried was the No. 7-overall pick in the 2012 draft by San Diego and with the TJ surgery behind him, he could prove to be similar to Alex Wood in his availability once healed. At 20-years-old, Fried had a successful 147 innings in Class A rookie ball this year before being shutdown with elbow soreness. He posted a 3.61 ERA in 38 appearances.

    With Fried come 3 fielders. Jace and Dustin Peterson, of no relation, are both infield prospects. Jace played 27 games with the Padres last season and Dustin was the second round pick of the Friars in 2013. Mallex Smith is the 3rd position player in the group and was drafted in 2012. He hit .327 in 55 games in A-ball in 2014. All 3 of the fielders are 24 or under.

    Going forward John Hart hasn’t ruled out additional trades, but he has suggested that they’ll “circle back” on free agents. For now and likely for the 2015 season, Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson will remain with the club.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    What the future holds for Braves’ offense

    When the non-tender deadline passes today, teams around baseball will know exactly where their rosters stand. Like the twenty-nine other teams around the league, the Braves have been aware since the season ended what their biggest holes. For Atlanta, as Kent Covington pointed out, the most glaring problems have been with pitching. An ongoing crisis of arms that began with the fall of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens continues today as the Braves decide which of Kris Medlen or Brandon Beachy to tender. However, the offense is not without its problems and its hole, too.

    Yesterday the Seattle Mariners signed slugger Nelson Cruz to a 4-year deal. The deal itself seems likely to blow up for Seattle somewhere between seasons two and three. Seattle had been one of the teams that seemed the most likely fit for a guy like Justin Upton. Though the Braves contend they haven’t been shopping Upton around, they have been getting plenty of calls about he and fellow slugger Evan Gattis. Prior to the Cruz signing, it would have seemed that Upton and Gattis together could answer all of the Mariners offensive woes (protection for highest-paid player Robinson Cano, backup for everyday catcher Mike Zunino) while giving the Braves what they need most: starting pitching. This didn’t work out and as of this writing the Braves still have both Upton and Gattis.

    Tommy La Stella was sent to the Chicago Cubs in November for former Brave Arodys Vizcaino.

    Tommy La Stella was sent to the Chicago Cubs in November for former Brave Arodys Vizcaino.

    With the possible trade partner of Seattle, the Braves were all but assured a starting pitcher. Whether that be Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, that would have answered the pitching need that saw the Braves trade away Jason Heyward to the Cardinals for starter Shelby Miller and Tommy La Stella to the Cubs to reacquire Arodys Vizcaino. The Mariners, unlike the Braves, have a flexible and growing budget. It was a better organizational decision to seek out a free agent. The Braves, despite the growth in their budget in the last two years, do not have this luxury.

    Where does this leave Atlanta with possible trades? They have spoken for nearly a year with the Astros about Evan Gattis. Their requirement of Houston seems a bridge too far, though. The Braves would require the Astros to pick up the remainder of the B.J. Upton deal in addition to swapping Gattis for Dexter Fowler. This, of course, wouldn’t answer the question of what to do in rightfield with the departure of Heyward. Fowler could potentially be a lead off man, but not exactly the prototypical lead off man it seems Atlanta has been looking for over the past four to five years.

    A small market for outfielders means the prices will be high for free agents. This would include aging and health-plagued bats like Torii Hunter and Nick Markakis. Other OF options out there are Alex Rios and Matt Kemp. The chances of the Braves taking on the money and potential health risks of Kemp are slim. Rios looks to be more likely to stay in the American League.

    Let’s take a step back for a moment and assume the Braves don’t make a deal to send Justin Upton elsewhere. Upton is due to make $14.5 million in 2015. He will then leave as a FA, assuming he is too expensive for the Braves to hang on to. If they make a qualifying offer after the 2015 season and he chooses to walk, they are assured a draft pick. For a guy who still hit 29 homers and posted 102 RBIs in 2014, that’s not a terrible bat to keep around despite the strikeouts. Unlike his brother, there is a still a huge upside to keeping Upton.

    As far as Evan Gattis, he is more expendable for Atlanta (yes, it breaks my heart to say that). Young and cheap for the team, he isn’t breaking the bank sticking around, but he is a semi-valuable trade chip. If they could come to terms with Houston in a deal that would bring either a hitter like Fowler or even a starting pitcher like Feldman to the club, it would be worth it to the front office to do so. Gattis has the potential to be a very good American League hitter–given the ability to DH regularly–and would still be able to catch either in a starting or backup role. Let’s face it: He’s not a great option in left field for any club.

    While on the topic of backup catchers, let’s discuss our old friend David Ross. Ross left two years ago to go win a World Series with the Boston Red Sox and now his contract is up. Because his battery mate Jon Lester is also looking for a team, the probability that they end up in the same place is good given their chemistry and Lester’s improved numbers with Ross behind the dish. But if Lester were to sign with Atlanta, a club he has talked to, or Ross were to sign away from Lester, Ross would be a great guy to have back with the club in a backup role. The front office has been looking for a veteran guy to fill the backup role behind either Gattis or Bethancourt and Ross fits that bill on top of already having amazing chemistry with the other guys on the roster. A few other options for Atlanta to consider: Retaining Gerald Laird, signing A.J. Pierzynski, approaching John Buck or continuing their offseason trade partnership with the Yankees to get Austin Romine. Of those options none add much to the offense above and beyond what Laird has the last two years. In fact, Laird, despite not having much power, is the better bet at getting on base. But if the Braves are looking for a guy who can lead the staff every few days, you can’t go wrong with John Buck.

    On a final note let’s return to the issue of who will fill the lead off hitter void that Jason Heyward leaves. Heyward was never meant to be a lead off hitter. It just so happened he was the Braves’ best option. Andrelton Simmons isn’t meant to be a lead off hitter and B.J. Upton’s lead off days went the way of the dodo when his strikeout rate went through the roof. With Ramiro Pena and Tommy La Stella gone, the options are few. If the Braves ever give Jose Constanza a true shot in the big leagues he could presumably lead off. And the latest Yankee to join the club, Zoilo Almonte, is too much of a wild card. That leaves the possibility of signing Fowler and asking him to step into that role or doing something else entirely.

    Here’s a thought: Say the Mariners are still interested in Justin Upton or Evan Gattis. They do still need a right fielder and maybe a backup catcher. They have a backlog of outfielders in Triple-A (guys like Julio Morban and Stefen Romero) and players they have been hanging onto despite talks during the trade deadline last year. What about Dustin Ackley? He, too, isn’t a prototypical lead off man. But he brings speed, good base running and exceptional baseball IQ to his game. After wanting to bring up Nick Franklin and then Chris Taylor followed by signing premiere second baseman Robinson Cano, Dustin Ackley was tried in the outfield and turned into a decent left fielder. His speed would be an asset in the large expanse of Turner Field as well as on the base paths. He’s a grinder and one any club would love to have. Are you reading this John Hart? A trade for Ackley, depending on the circumstances, could also bring with him a reliever from one of the best rated and least talked about bullpens in either league.

    Perhaps it’s merely wishful thinking on my part to see the Mariners and Braves become trade partners. Never rule out the wild card in baseball: Billy Beane. It’s said that the A’s also have interest in Gattis, Upton or both. If that’s the case, who knows what will happen.

    With the non-tender deadline today and winter meetings to begin soon, it looks like we’ll have answers soon.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

    Harang avoids sweep, Braves fight for postseason berth

    In one of the most unusual seasons we have seen from the Braves in the last dozen years, the Braves continue to hang on to hopes of a postseason berth. At this writing, sitting 1 1/2 games out of the 2nd wild card slot. They are 8 games behind the rival Nats, a gap they did little to close in this week’s series against them. Despite one more series against the Nats this season, the calendar may run out without leaving the Braves enough time to catch up. That is unless the Nats suffer a collapse similar to the way the A’s have in their last 14 games in the American League.

    Freeman is 3 hits away from passing Matty Alou for the most hits in a single season against the Nats/Expos.

    Freeman is 3 hits away from passing Matty Alou for the most hits in a single season against the Nats/Expos.

    If there are bright spots to be found in the series loss to the Nats, the performances of Aaron Harang and Freddie Freeman are to be noted.

    Freddie Freeman may not hit against the Miami Marlins, but he hits and hits and hits some more against the Washington Nationals. In 2014, Freddie has hit .476 (30-for-63) against Washington with a whopping .778 slugging percentage. In his career, Freddie is a .329 hitter against the Nats. Freeman needs 3 more hits to match Matty Alou (1969) for the most in a single season against the Nationals franchise (what was the Expos). Freddie can certainly pass that mark with the final series against the Nats beginning on Monday.

    While Freddie’s numbers are down slightly from the career highs of the 2013 season, he has been one of the most dependable hitters on the club. Additionally, Freeman has made the case for his first gold glove.

    When the Braves faced the possibility of a sweep at the hands of the rival Nats, no player stepped up in a bigger way than veteran starter Aaron Harang. 7 innings, 1 unearned run with only 6 hits allowed and 9 strikeouts is exactly what the Braves needed from Aaron Harang who had struggled in his previous several starts.

    Of course, it didn’t hurt the Braves chances in the finale of the series to be facing Stephen Strasburg. The Braves have had Strasburg’s number all season. In 2014, Strasburg has made 4 starts against Atlanta. In those 4 starts he has posted a 7.17 ERA with 17 earned runs in 21 1/3 innings pitched. He allowed 3 runs to the Braves in 6 innings pitched before turning the game over to Jerry Blevins who also allowed 3 runs.

    The Nats have not announced the probables for the series at Turner Field when the boys return from Texas, but chances are very good that they’ll face Strasburg one last time this season.

    BRAVES MAKE RARE TRIP TO ARLINGTON…

    Presumably the Braves will have the services of Evan Gattis and Andrelton Simmons in Texas. Gattis, a Dallas native, has been out for several games with strep throat. Simmons was benched after his frustration at the plate was further dragging his numbers down and preventing him from helping the team in tough spots. In September, Simmons is hitting .129 with 7 strikeouts in 32 plate appearances. For a player that has previously been tough to strike out, Simmons’ strikeout numbers rising is cause for concern for the Braves.

    Evan Gattis is hitting .270 on the season, up from the .243 he hit in 2013 as a rookie in nearly as many games, but his numbers are down in the second half. Since August 1st, Gattis has hit .231 and is slugging only .423. He hit only .235 in his last 5 games before coming down with strep throat.

    Wood (10-10, 2.90) will take the mound vs. Holland (1-0, 0.64) in the series opener at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Saturday’s matinee will pit Teheran (13-11, 3.00) vs. Baker (3-4, 5.52). Minor (6-10, 4.58) will wrap the series vs. Lewis (9-13, 5.29).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves part ways with Uggla, welcome back Gattis from DL

    It was only a matter of time before the Atlanta Braves could no longer afford to play with a 24-man roster due to the abject failure of Dan Uggla. While Frank Wren had shopped Uggla to numerous teams in the month prior to the all-star break, no teams were willing to trade with the Braves for a second baseman who seems to have lost what once made him a formidable bat in the National League.

    The Braves were not only facing a continued short bench, a 24-man roster, if you will, they were facing the possibility that if the Braves didn’t find a trade partner for Uggla, they would eat a large chunk of money. Unfortunately for the Braves, the lack of trade partner will cost them the remainder of Uggla’s $13 million salary for 2014 as well as the $13 million he is owed for 2015.

    Think back to July of 2010 when the Braves learned that utility man Omar Infante had been selected to the All Star Game. It was a highly unusual selection by Charlie Manuel and much talked about. Infante was a sure hand in the field, filling in for the veteran Chipper Jones and stepping up at second base. His bat, of course, was a huge part of his value. Infante finished the 2010 campaign with a .321 batting average with 15 doubles, 3 triples, 8 homers and 47 RBIs in 134 games. It was Infante’s finest season and upped his value considerably. It wasn’t surprising that when power-hitting Dan Uggla was available, the Braves pounced on the chance to trade with the Marlins to bring Uggla to Atlanta for Infante. But like so many trades have in over the long history of baseball, it turned out to be a bust for Atlanta.

    While Infante continued to put up respectable numbers as the everyday second baseman for the Marlins before being traded to the Detroit Tigers, Dan Uggla’s numbers have been headache-inducing for the Braves’ front office, coaching staff and fan base. Like Infante, 2010 was Dan Uggla’s strongest year. He put together a .287 average with 33 homers and 105 RBIs (average and RBIs were a career high). His value was highest when he joined the Braves. From there it spiraled downward. In his first season with Atlanta he posted a .233 average with a career high 36 homers. His bulked up frame seemed to hurt his overall ability at the plate, but his defense remained solid. As his batting average plummeted (.220 in 2012, .179 in 2013, .162 in 2014), his defense alone couldn’t continue to secure him a spot in the lineup. In 2014, we’ve seen the Braves cut Uggla’s playing time and call up rookie La Stella.

    Uggla was released by the Braves on Monday and this morning the latest on Dan was that the Giants had signed him to a minor league contract. He’ll join their Triple A affiliate in Fresno. He has an August 1st opt-out clause if he isn’t called up to the big league club, a club really hurting for a younger, healthier second baseman. If he makes it to the big leagues, the Giants will be responsible for the league minimum salary while the Braves continue to be on the hook for his 2014 contract salary.

    Nobody wanted to see Dan Uggla fail, including Dan Uggla himself. He handled the situation as best he could and was always respectful to the club and its fans. This is how the game of baseball works–good or bad. There is no denying that Dan Uggla had some amazing games for the Braves. While he struggled mightily with the team, let’s not forget that he also had some amazing runs. When Dan Uggla’s bat was hot, there was nobody more feared by pitchers. It was a pleasure watching Uggla step to the plate to face dominant pitchers like Strasburg and leave them in awe and frustration. Let’s choose to remember those times and wish Uggla well.

    THE RETURN OF EL OSO BLANCO…

    Evan Gattis was hitting .290 before landing on the disabled list at the end of June.

    Evan Gattis was hitting .290 before landing on the disabled list at the end of June.

    In all the all-star talk about Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Justin Upton, the first half of Evan Gattis mostly was forgotten. His rhomboid injury, eventually learned to be a bulging disc, put an end to an incredible run for Gattis. When he landed on the disabled list, he was hitting .290 with 16 homers and 39 RBIs. His at-bats were electric and powered the Braves back from the brink in many games. His clutch hits are renowned in the league in this his second season. But even the 6’4″ Gattis is not invincible.

    After a long stint on the DL, Gattis is back for Monday night’s game. His Triple-A rehab assignment went without incident and he has been cleared to both hit and call the game behind the plate.

    With Gattis returning, it goes without saying that the Braves have to evaluate how they want to proceed. In the absence of Gattis, veteran Gerald Laird stepped up not only behind the plate, but as a leader and mentor for young Christian Bethancourt. Bethancourt has hit .240 in 13 games since being called up. Coincidentally, Gerald Laird is also hitting .240 on the season.

    Fredi Gonzalez can certainly say that the kids are alright. With Bethancourt proving he can call games behind the plate and get hits, his time in the minor leagues may be limited going forward. Additionally, Tommy La Stella has been a gift from the baseball gods. Since being called up at the end of May, La Stella is hitting .297 with 11 doubles and 21 RBIs in 165 at-bats. His defense is proving better than advertised and the Braves are no longer sending Ramiro Pena in as a defensive replacement late in games due to La Stella’s clutch hitting. That La Stella has been such a marvel to watch on the field has taken some of the sting out of the failure of Dan Uggla.

    One other young gun worth noting is Shae Simmons. Simmons recently broke a 2-year streak of not having given up a homer. Since joining the ‘pen on the last day of May, Simmons has put together a 1-1 record with 8 holds, a 2.18 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. With the bad run of David Carpenter and the floundering Luis Avilan who has been demoted to Gwinnett, the dominance of Shae Simmons has been much needed in Atlanta’s ‘pen. Simmons, like Bethancourt and La Stella, seems to have a bright future ahead.

    With Gattis back in the lineup, the Braves get underway tonight against the Miami Marlins. Monday night’s game will feature Koehler (6-7, 3.99) vs. Teheran (9-6, 2.71). Tuesday night will pit Turner (2-6, 6.22) vs. Minor (3-5, 4.86). Wednesday’s game will send out Eovaldi (5-5, 4.08) vs. Santana (8-6, 4.03). And the series finale will see Harang (9-6, 3.36) take the mound against an unnamed starter for Miami who definitely isn’t Jose Fernandez.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves sending 3 to ASG, J-Up part of final vote

    The Braves learned Sunday that Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel would represent the team at the upcoming All Star Game at Target Field in Minnesota. They, like the rest of us, were also thrilled that Justin Upton is one of 5 players vying for the final roster spot. The Final Vote closes at 4 p.m. (ET) on Thursday.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton is one of 5 vying for a final roster spot representing the NL in Minnesota.

    Justin Upton has put up exceptional numbers despite deep slumps in the first half of the season. He has a .275/.350/.505 slash with a club-leading 17 homers and 50 RBIs. He has hit .318 at home this season, notching 11 homers and 31 of his RBIs at the Ted.

    Fans can vote at MLB.com or by tweeting #VoteJUp. Upton is up against Justin Morneau of the Rockies, Anthony Rendon of the Nationals, Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs and Casey McGehee of the Marlins.

    Freddie Freeman will now have two All Star appearances in his young career. This year he was selected by the NL players. As you will remember, Braves Country put Freddie in the game last year with the Final Vote. Freddie’s numbers are by far the best offensive numbers on the club in the first half. He has a .299/.390/.507 line with 26 doubles, 13 homers and 47 RBIs. Freddie already has a career high 3 triples on the season. His best numbers have come in clutch situations. He has hit .345 when the game is tied, .297 with 14 RBIs in the 7th inning or later and a ridiculous .313 with 16 RBIs in at-bats when there are 2 outs. And his .344 average when the Braves win is, of course, a huge reason for their success.

    Julio Teheran has been the ace that the Braves needed this season with the loss of Beachy and Medlen at the beginning of the season and Floyd recently. While his 8-5 record doesn’t quite reflect just how good Teheran has been, his 2.29 ERA does. In 126 innings pitched before the all-star break, Teheran has struck out 108 batters while walking 26. He has thrown 2 complete game shutouts this season to add to his clear dominance.

    The Braves have already said that Teheran will attend the All Star Game in Minnesota. However, it is unlike that Teheran will pitch in the game.

    It’s no surprise to the baseball world that Craig Kimbrel is making his 4th ASG appearance in as many seasons. Kimbrel has a lights-out 2.04 ERA and is tied above the NL leader board with 27 saves. In 35 1/3 innings, Kimbrel has 60 strikeouts. In addition to putting up shining numbers, Kimbrel surpassed future hall-of-famer John Smoltz to take the franchise record in saves this season.

    A player that wasn’t selected to the All Star Game and could have been had he not been injured is Evan Gattis.

    Prior to going on the disabled list with a right rhomboid spasm that they eventually learned was a bulging disc, Gattis was putting up exceptional numbers. In 63 games as the everyday catcher for the Braves, he put together a .290/.342/.558 line. Prior to the injury, his 16 home runs led all MLB catchers. He had 10 doubles, a triple and 39 RBIs.

    With Gattis behind the plate, the Braves pitching staff has a 49-40 record with a 3.22 ERA (third best in the National League). Against other NL teams, the Braves have a 3.08 ERA, good for second in the league behind their rivals the Washington Nationals. In teams won by the club, the pitching staff has a 2.02 ERA.

    Gattis has morphed into a great all-around catcher. His footwork behind the plate has improved immensely, much of it thanks to the tutelage of veteran Gerald Laird, and he is calling consistently good game behind the dish. It is only a matter of time before we can say Evan Gattis, all star catcher.

    All Star Game festivities include the All-Star Futures Game and the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, the Gillette Home Run Derby Monday night and the 85th MLB All Star Game on Tuesday.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

     

     

    Braves sweep Phils, back to the Ted for Mets

    Going into Philadelphia, the Braves knew that the rival Nationals had dropped 3 straight games and opened the door to put Atlanta back within a half game of the National League East lead. By the end of the 4-game weekend series, the Braves had a half game lead in the division. For a team that squandered the opportunity to retake the division lead when they visited the Nationals in D.C., the weekend series proved that this team can win when the pieces work together. The problem for the Braves has been that none of the pieces are ever hot at the same time and many of them have suffered injury.

    Bethancourt-1 (thumb-headshot)

    Bethancourt has hit .273 in 63 games at Gwinnett this season with 3 doubles, a triple, 3 homers and 32 RBIs.

    As the first game of the series got underway, the Braves watched Evan Gattis injure his right rhomboid muscle on a swing at the plate. The injury would sideline him for the rest of the series and may still see Gattis spend time on the disabled list. In his absence, Gerald Laird stepped in to catch and presumably could have caught both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader. However, the veteran backup catcher had only done this once in his big league career, years earlier. The Braves made the move to call up touted prospect Christian Bethancourt from Triple-A Gwinnett and threw him into the fire, catching the second game of the doubleheader Saturday. Bethancourt caught a good game and recorded his first MLB hit.

    Until a decision is made on Gattis and until he is healthy, Bethancourt will backup Laird and offer Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren the opportunity to see just what the slugging catcher has. In the 3 games Laird has caught in the absence of Gattis, he has hit .300 with 2 doubles and an RBI.

    A question that arose after the injury to Gattis is what exactly Ryan Doumit brings to the Braves. When signed he had been DHing with the Minnesota Twins and was sold as a catching/outfield bench bat. Unfortunately, Doumit hasn’t hit much at all. Though he did take the outfield in the second game of the doubleheader, it’s curious that he has not been an option for Fredi behind the plate. In 87 at-bats this season, Doumit has hit .218/.242/.345 with 2 doubles, 3 homers and 12 RBIs. His defensive flexibility is clearly questioned by the team or he would have been an option instead of Bethancourt.

    While the catching situation became an issue during the 4-game series, the pitching was anything but questionable. Stepping in to pitch the second game of the doubleheader, David Hale reminded us why he was 2-2 with a 2.31 ERA in his 4 starts in April before going to the ‘pen. He pitched 5 innings without the benefit of having been stretched out like Alex Wood was. In his 5 innings he allowed only 4 hits, 1 earned run and 3 while recording the win. With the loss of Gavin Floyd for the season, it is clear that if the team needs him to step into the rotation David Hale is a reliable option.

    BRAVES RETURN HOME TO FACE METS…

    Freddie Freeman has a .320 career average against the Mets with 19 doubles, 13 homers and 50 RBIs.  Against the Mets this season, Freddie has raked. In 6 games started in 2014 against the Mets, Freeman has put up a .423/.464/.692 line with 4 doubles, a homer and 7 RBIs. In his 15 plate appearances against Zack Wheeler he has a double, a homer and 6 RBIs (.545/.667/.909). After a bit of a slump in the first few weeks of June, Freddie is on fire once again. Since June 15, Freddie is hitting .371/.435/.597 with 6 doubles, a triple, 2 homers and 5 RBIs.

    The Braves await news from the team doctor as Evan Gattis undergoes an MRI on his ailing rhomboid muscle. If placed on the DL, the Braves can clearly cope with the loss. However, it could put the potential of an All Star Game invite in peril should one materialize.

    David Wright, captain of the visiting Mets, might miss time while in Atlanta due to shoulder soreness. He is listed as day-to-day. This may prove quite lucky for lefties Wood and Minor as Wright holds the league-best .403 batting average against lefties.

    In bullpen news, the Braves have released Kameron Loe. In his 12 appearances with Gwinnett this time around, Loe was 1-2 with an 8.83 ERA. Lefty Ian Thomas was placed on Gwinnett’s DL with shoulder tendinitis, making him unavailable should the Braves need bullpen help in the coming week. David Carpenter will rejoin the ‘pen on Wednesday after his rehab at Gwinnett. Carpenter saw his ERA balloon in a stretch of terrible luck through May and the first weeks of June, going from a 1.69 ERA on May 11th to a 4.23 ERA on June 16th when he was placed on the disabled list. His return will strengthen a ‘pen that has been relying heavily on arms that that of Anthony Varvaro.

    The Mets/Braves series gets underway tonight with Wheeler (3-8, 4.45) vs. Wood (6-6, 3.07). Tuesday’s game will feature Matsuzaka (3-2, 3.23) vs. Minor (2-5, 4.50). And the finale will pit deGrom (1-4, 3.62) against all-star hopeful Teheran (7-5, 2.34). The Braves will then have an off day before the Diamondbacks and returning Martin Prado come to town.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves gain in division, lose Floyd for season

    As the game got underway in Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park tonight, the Braves knew that the rival Nationals had dropped 3 straight games. This brought Atlanta within a half game of Washington in the National League East. By game’s end, the Braves were tied once again for first place in the division. Hoping to reclaim the lead, the Braves knew that it wouldn’t be an easy feat given the news yesterday that they had lost Gavin Floyd for the season after he underwent surgery to repair his fractured elbow. The team was then dealt a smaller scare when in the first inning in Philly, slugger Evan Gattis appeared to tweak something on a swing at the plate. It was announced quickly after that he had a spasm of the right rhomboid in his upper back. Needless to say, the Braves could really use a few wins against the Phillies.

    Gavin Floyd pitched 6 shutout innings, giving up only 2 hits before leaving what was likely his final start with the Braves.

    Gavin Floyd pitched 6 shutout innings, giving up only 2 hits before leaving what was likely his final start with the Braves.

    When the Braves went out and signed Gavin Floyd for $4 million for his services in the 2014 season, they took a huge chance on a veteran pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery. They couldn’t have been more pleased when Floyd joined the rotation and went 2-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 9 starts. His record doesn’t reflect how well he pitched. The boys averaged 3.25 runs in support of Floyd with them scoring 5 or more runs in only 3 of his games started. 3 of Floyd’s starts the offense scored 2 or fewer runs behind him. Floyd’s surgery is the end of the season and whether he can return from this and pitch is unknown.

    Floyd had been a huge pickup for the Braves once they learned they would be without Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen for the season. Now it would appear that the biggest signing of the offseason and early spring training was that of veteran Aaron Harang.

    In Floyd’s absence, Alex Wood will step into the rotation. If Wood’s start Wednesday is any indication, it appears it will be a seamless transition. Wood pitched 7 shutout innings against Houston, allowing only 3 hits and striking out 4 batters.

    With 1 game and 1 win behind them, the Braves will face off for 3 more games against the Phillies. Saturday will feature a doubleheader. The second game of the doubleheader will see David Hale step back into a starting role, a role he feels is the best fit for him. Because Hale isn’t stretched out like Wood had been when he stepped in to fill the rotation spot of Floyd’s, Hale will need a piggyback reliever and the Braves used their 26th man allowance for doubleheaders to call up Gus Schlosser. Gus is 4-3 with a 4.39 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett this season (55 1/3 innings). In his limited appearance with the big club earlier this season he 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings pitched.

    The remainder of the series at Citizens Bank Park, including the Saturday doubleheader will match up as follows: Saturday, game 1 will feature Santana (5-5, 4.15) vs. Hernandez (3-6, 4.41); Saturday, game 2 will feature Hale (2-2, 3.14) vs. O’Sullivan; and the series finale Sunday will pit Harang (6-6, 3.78) vs. Buchmann (4-3, 4.79).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.

    Braves hold ground, miss chance at first place

    In a 162-game season there are plenty of opportunities to take and lose the division lead, however none present themselves quite like a face off with the rival Washington Nationals in a 4-game series. The Braves entered the series 1 1/2 games behind Washington in the National League East. The Nats entered with a 2-game winning streak while Atlanta had just lost 3 straight to the Phillies. Despite having won 19 of 26 of their last meetings, the Braves spit the series 2-2 with the Nats, rolling through the first 2 games and then scoring only 1 run in the final 2 games.

    Floyd pitched 6 strong innings, giving up only 2 hits and 0 runs before leaving the game with a fractured elbow.

    Floyd pitched 6 strong innings, giving up only 2 hits and 0 runs before leaving the game with a fractured elbow.

    The pitching curse of 2014 once again reared its ugly head in D.C. when veteran Gavin Floyd took the mound. Despite recording the win on 6 innings of work where he gave up only 2 hits and didn’t allow a run, Floyd left the game with what appeared to be a nasty fluid sac on his pitching elbow. After the game Floyd was examined by the Nats’ doctors and it was announced that he had a fractured elbow. The Braves took a chance on Floyd in the offseason while he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery. In 9 starts, Floyd put together a 2-2 record with a 2.65 ERA in 54 1/3 innings pitched. He held opponents to a .266 average, allowed 16 total runs and 45 strikeouts.

    Atlanta announced today that Floyd would undergo surgery on his fractured elbow Wednesday. After being pulled from the start in D.C., Floyd was placed on the 15-day DL and Ryan Butcher was called up from Gwinnett. The Braves have scheduled Alex Wood to rejoin the club and take Floyd’s spot in the rotation Wednesday. There is no timetable on Floyd’s recovery due to the unusual nature of his injury and the speed in which the bone heals.

    Evan Gattis saw his 20-game hit streak come to an end in the final game of the series. Over that span, he hit .372 (32-for-86) with 3 doubles, 8 homers & 21 RBIs. His 20-game hit streak matched the streak of Jason Kendall in 2004 with the Pirates–the longest by a catcher who caught every game during the streak. Gattis has improved on defense this season, too. His hitting is not the only part of his game. During his 20-game hit streak he also went errorless behind the plate with 13 assists.

    ATLANTA CONTINUES ROAD TRIP IN HOUSTON…

    Atlanta continues their road trip following a day off with a 3-game series in Houston before heading to Philly for the weekend. Houston sits at the bottom of the AL East, but has put together a much better pitching staff than last year. The Astros are 33-and-44 and 14 1/2 games back in the division. The Braves enter the series 38-and-37.

    As Alex Wood joins the rotation on Wednesday, look for either Beato or Butcher to be sent back down to Gwinnett to make room on the roster. Also look to see Justin Upton in the lineup going forward as he appears to be on the mend from the sinus problems that caused dizziness and his equilibrium to be off over the last week.

    The Braves will open the series in Houston with Harang (5-6, 3.83) vs. Feldman (3-4, 3.95). Wednesday’s game with feature the returning Wood (5-6, 3.43) vs. McHugh (4-5, 2.76). The final game against the Astros will pit Minor (2-4, 4.20) vs. Cosart (7-5, 3.78).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.