• Jair Jurrjens

    Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor lifting Braves pitching

    By Andrew Hirsh

    With Tim Hudson on the disabled list and Jair Jurrjens pitching poorly enough to earn a demotion to Triple A Gwinnett, the lack of production from the Braves’ two most valuable starters could have spelled trouble in the early portion of the 2012 schedule. But here we are, 19 games into the season, and Atlanta finds itself near the top of the National League standings.

    In addition to the strong offense exhibited over the past several weeks, the dominance of Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor have been among the biggest contributors to the Braves’ recent success, giving Fredi Gonzalez the quality pitching necessary to preserve a winning record thus far.

    Beachy has been fantastic since his 2012 debut, maintaining an ERA slightly above 1.00 through his first four starts and going 2-1 in the process. His overall game has developed quite a bit since last October, and his maturity—particularly his mental maturity—has been palpable of late.

    After averaging an eye-popping 10.7 K/9 innings last year, Beachy has yet to strike out more than six batters in a given start in ’12, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By sacrificing strikeouts for a lower pitch count and higher efficiency, he’s been able to take the next step in his career and become a more accomplished player. With batters hitting a mere .191 against, the Indiana product has put himself on track to not only become one of the best pitchers in Atlanta, but perhaps one of the best in the game.

    No longer inexperienced nor particularly young, Beachy has started to look like a veteran capable of greatness, displayed both on the stat sheet and in his general demeanor on the mound. Give credit to Roger McDowell for much of the 25-year-old’s success, as he’s developed at an incredible pace since his first MLB start in 2010.

    Minor, who made some ill-advised comments in the offseason regarding his future with the Braves, has put past doubts to rest and provided reason to believe he could be a permanent member of this rotation. Setting aside a rough season opener, Minor has been been as good as Braves fans could’ve hoped this year, quickly becoming a valuable member of this Atlanta pitching staff.

    Since allowing six runs in five innings in his first appearance of the season, the former first round pick has conceded only four earned runs in his past three starts, including two masterful performances in which he allowed just one run in 15.1 combined innings.

    While neither Beachy nor Minor earned a decision in their respective starts in Los Angeles this week, their strong performances led to two wins against a Dodgers team that had not lost at home prior to the Braves’ arrival. The series win at Dodgers Stadium over arguably the strongest opponent they’ve faced so far sealed an impressive 5-2 road trip for Atlanta.

    After exploding offensively against the Brewers, Mets and Diamondbacks, the Braves found it more difficult to score against the upstart Dodgers. Top-notch pitching performances were required to leave LA with a series win, and Beachy & Minor provided just that, allowing three and two runs on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

    With Beachy and Minor impressing and Hudson set to make his first start of the season this weekend, the Braves’ staff figures to once again be among the very best in the league.

    Couple this dominance on the mound with the hitting we’ve seen, and you have yourself a very strong ball club.

    Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewhirsh

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    The rise and fall of Jair Jurrjens

    By Tara Rowe

    After an excruciating loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Braves announced late Tuesday night that Jair Jurrjens had been optioned to the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett.

    Jurrjens pitched 3 innings, giving up 9 hits, 1 walk and 5 earned runs against the Dodgers who held the best record in the National League as of Wednesday.

    When healthy, Jurrjens has put up extraordinary numbers over the past several seasons; numbers that compare favorably to some of the best arms in the National League. And he has done so while flying under the radar.

    In 2008, Jurrjens’ turned in an excellent rookie year performance with 13 wins and a 3.68 ERA. He finished 3rd in National League Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Geovany Soto and runner-up Joey Votto.

    His success carried over to his sophomore season, even competing for the NL Cy Young award in ’09. He won 14 games that year while posting the 3rd-best ERA in the league (2.60).

    After a 2010 season marred by injuries, Jurrjens was back on track in 2011. He earned his first all-star selection and was very nearly chosen to start the game for the Senior Circuit. Jurrjens pitched in relief of Roy Halladay that evening and logged 1.2 innings of scoreless baseball.

    At the All-Star Break last season, Jurrjens was 12-3 with an MLB-best 1.87 ERA. But then… the injury bug bit once again. He began experiencing severe discomfort in his right knee in mid-July and mustered only 1 win after the break with an unsightly 5.88 ERA.

    Unfortunately, his late-season ’11 struggles followed him into the young 2012 season.

    While Jurrjens insists that his knee is healthy, he has not appeared comfortable pitching with a knee brace and orthotics. These issues will certainly be addressed at Gwinnett.

    Jurrjens isn’t the only All-Star hurler, though, off to a nightmarish start this season. There may be parallels to be drawn between the struggles of Jurrjens and San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum. Lincecum, a power pitcher with phenomenal numbers since his debut, has struggled mightily in the early going. His ERA stands at 8.20 with a 1-3 record thus far. Will Lincecum turn his season around? I wouldn’t bet against the 2-time Cy Young winner.

    Jurrjens has all of tools needed to rebound as well. However, the Braves had minor league “options” remaining with Jair and determined they could not afford to let him work through his issues in Atlanta. The Giants, conversely, do not have the option of demoting their young ace.

    When on his game, Jair Jurrjens has the potential to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League. Many thought before the 2012 season began that Jurrjens’ success coupled with that of Tommy Hanson would lead the way for Atlanta. The Braves hoped “JJ” would return to form, which in contrast to his inability to perform late last year, would have been the equivalent of adding a big free agent starter.

    The team has not lost faith in their All-Star right-hander, and they remain hopeful that Jurrjens’ struggles and his stay in Gwinnett will both be temporary.

    The Braves announced Wednesday morning that Cory Gearrin, who has not allowed a run at Triple-A Gwinnett this season, would take Jurrjens’ place on the 25-man roster. Veteran righty Tim Hudson is expected to make his ’12 debut soon and will replace Jair in the Braves’ rotation.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Lack of offense concerning as Mets sweep Braves

    Theoretically, the Atlanta Braves’ 2012 season could’ve gotten off to a worse start. After all, no one was injured, right?

    That being said, a swift kick below the belt would’ve been less painful than being swept by the Mets on Opening Weekend.

    After blowing a 10 1/2-game wild card lead to the St. Louis Cardinals in September, the Braves began the new year with the same inept offense that led to a disappointing finish last fall, hitting .151 with seven runs and 14 hits this weekend.

    The pitching wasn’t a whole lot better, as both Jair Jurrjens and Mike Minor struggled in their season debuts. Jurrjens gave up three runs and seven hits on Saturday, lasting just 4 2/3 innings; Minor was shelled for six runs.

    “It’s the third game of the season,” Minor told MLB.com following his loss on Sunday. “There is plenty of season left and plenty of games left. It’s obviously disappointing. But now we go to Houston and we’ve got a chance to win some games there.”

    There weren’t many highlights for the Braves in this opening series, but shortstop Tyler Pastornicky will take at least positive memory away from it. His first big league hit (video below) was a triple to right-center field on opening day.

    It would be irrational to place much significance on the Braves poor start, but it’s hard not to make connections to the way they began this year and the way they finished last fall.

    Whether the players like it or not, it’s crucial for this team—comprised of nearly the same roster as in 2011—to prove that it isn’t destined to fail like they did last September; one could even make the argument that getting off to a fast start is more important for the Braves this year than any season in recent memory.

    And even though an 0-3 hole is one that can easily be climbed out of, the way in Atlanta was swept by New York is both concerning and familiar.

    There were very few moments throughout the weekend when it didn’t feel like the Mets were clearly the better team on the field, and the fact that the Braves were so easily manhandled has to be considered somewhat worrisome.

    It would be easy to nitpick everything that went wrong over the course of the weekend, but the overall lack of offensive production is the one negative that should garner attention from Braves fans.

    Freddie Freeman was the only member of the lineup to earn three hits, as it took Atlanta 13 innings to finally score a run. It wasn’t until the Braves were down 7-0 on Sunday that the bats woke up, and as you already know, that was too little too late.

    The good news is that the Braves get to travel to Houston and play a three game set against a team that is universally considered as one of the worst in baseball. But if Atlanta is unable to string together some wins against the lowly Astros, it will be hard not to grow apprehensive.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Braves progressing as season nears

    By Andrew Hirsh

    Catcher Brian McCann is 9 for 24 with 2 HR in his last 10 games.

    With April fast approaching, Spring Training is nearing its end. Organizations across the league are now in the process of finalizing their rosters, and players have begun to transition into the proper mindset for the start of a new MLB season.

    For the Atlanta Braves, a team that immediately plummeted into the basement of the Grapefruit League, this spring has been anything but smooth sailing.

    However, they’ve shown marked improvements of late, losing just three of their last 11.

    As we’ve discussed before, it’s illogical to put too much stock into the results of Spring Training games, both in the standings and in individual performances. That being said, it’s now time to look for the players to be ready for action, especially with opening day less than two weeks away.

    Fredi Gonzalez believes that Spring Training needs to be separated into three segments, each serving its own purpose.

    “I always divide Spring Training into thirds,” Gonzalez told MLB.com. “The first 10 games is just get your at-bats and get your timing down. … The second 10, you kind of let them look for signs like we’ve been doing. Then the next 10, you try to play it as close as you would during the season to a certain extent.”

    The Braves currently find themselves in Gonzalez’s final ‘third,’ and fans should look for the players be prepared for the grueling 162 game schedule on the horizon.

    With this in mind, we’ve reached the point in which it’s fair to start applying a certain level of significance to what we see on the field. With so little time between now and April 5, it’s important for the Braves to be properly adjusted both physically and mentally to ensure a strong start to the 2012 season.

    Contrary to the beginning of spring, many of Atlanta’a position players have been hitting well recently. Tylor Pastornicky, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman are all coming along nicely after slow starts out of the gate, and Martin Prado and Dan Uggla have produced all month.

    Pastornicky, who has no MLB experience, is currently riding a five game hitting streak and is starting to look like the legitimate big leaguer the Braves need him to be. His recent streak, which includes a four-hit performance against the Marlins, is a nice contrast to his start this spring in which he only accumulated three hits in his first 30 at bats.

    1B Freddie Freeman is 6 for 13 with 3 HR in his last 4 games.

    Freeman, who will attempt to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump this year, has hits in seven of his past nine; McCann started slow but has four hits and two homers in his last five appearances.

    Prado and Uggla are batting .362 and .313, respectively, so far in Grapefruit League action. After all the struggles they experienced in 2011, it’s encouraging to see them both hitting well on a regular basis. If anything, it will give them the confidence they will surely need to find success in the regular season.

    In addition to their hitting, the Braves have also seen improvements on the mound. Jair Jurrjens looked awful through most of the spring, but his last start on Sunday resembled the pitcher we saw during the first half of last year, as he tossed six innings, allowing one run and three hits. Tommy Hanson, who got a late start this spring after suffering a minor concussion, allowed one hit, one unearned run and one walk in four innings Wednesday against the Nationals.

    All in all, this year’s team appears to be coming together. For the most part, the players that the Braves need to succeed are doing so (or are at least on the right path). Again, while Spring Training results should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s important to see the team near its regular season form as the exhibition schedule comes to a close.

    By the way, we talked with BravesWire scribe, Bud Ellis, about Chipper’s retirement on our most recent Southern Fried Baseball podcast. You can hear it here.

    Also, before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Follow Andrew Hirsh on Twitter: @andrewhirsh … and BravesWire: @TheBravesWire

     

    Not One, but TWO Braves Rotations?

    By Kent Covington

    Earlier this week we pointed out that the Braves boast the deepest pitching staff in baseball (If you missed it, here it is). But the most vivid illustration of this occurred to me just this afternoon. The Braves are so ridiculously pitching rich that they could literally field TWO viable big league starting rotations…

    Braves RHP's Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens

    ROTATION #1
    Tim Hudson
    Brandon Beachy
    Kris Medlen
    Julio Teheran
    Arodys Vizcaino

    ROTATION #2
    Tommy Hanson
    Jair Jurrjens
    Mike Minor
    Randall Delgado
    JJ Hoover or Christhian Martinez

    RHP Tim Hudson is now the elder statesman of a very young staff.

    How’s THAT for depth?  And only one of the above starters is over the age of 26. Future look bright to you?

    On a separate note, Braves single game tickets go on sale March 5.  While the season opens April 5, we won’t see any action at Turner Field until the Braves’ April 13th contest against the Brewers.  Best start making your plans now, though. Home opener tickets sell quickly, especially when that opener falls on a Friday.

    Got tailgate plans? Check out our Turner Field tailgating tips.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

     

    Braves Boast Deepest Pitching Staff in Baseball

    By Kent Covington

    For a second consecutive season, the Braves head into spring training uncertain of who their fifth starter will be.  For some teams, this could be a problem. It could be an indication that a team possesses no more than 3 or 4 quality starters and must head to camp hoping some AAA journeyman or mid-level prospect will pleasantly surprise and lay claim to the job.

    Not so in Atlanta.

    RHP, Randall Delgado

    The Braves have the opposite problem, if that’s what you want to call it. They have no fewer than nine—that’s right, NINE—viable starting rotation options. Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy are locks for the ’12 rotation.  That leaves five deserving young arms for just one job opening, which was created when veteran, Derek Lowe, was traded to Cleveland over the winter.

    Here’s a look at their options for the 5th spot in the rotation:

    Kris Medlen was impressive in his 14 starts in 2010, going 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA before losing the remainder of the season to “Tommy John” surgery. Any team in Major League Baseball, including the Braves, would be happy to have a now healthy Medlen at the back of their rotation. But Kris has also proven valuable in relief, and with Atlanta’s glut of starting pitchers, Medlen figures start the season in the bullpen.

    Arodys Vizcaino, the top-rated prospect acquired from the Yankees in the Javier Vasquez trade a couple years back, has been a starting pitcher nearly his entire professional career. In four minor league seasons, the hard-throwing righty made only 15 bullpen appearances. His first big league opportunity, however, came in relief last year after an August promotion from AAA Gwinnett. Vizcaino struck out 17 batters and allowed 16 hits in 17 innings. His 4.67 ERA was skewed upward by one especially poor September outing. Overall, however, he impressed the Braves’ brass enough to figure into their ’12 plans. But like Medlen, while deserving of an opportunity to compete for a starting job, Atlanta’s pitching depth, coupled with his value to the ‘pen means he will almost certainly pitch in relief.

    Julio Teheran is widely considered the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Triple-A hitters would be hard pressed to argue with that evaluation after watching him post a 15-3 record with a 2.55 ERA in 24 starts for the “G-Braves” last year. His performance in five ’11 Major League starts wasn’t all that fans may have hoped for from the young phenom, but a few welcome-to-the-big-leagues moments from a 20 year-old getting his first taste of Major League Baseball won’t concern the Braves in the slightest. He is universally expected to take his place at the top of the Atlanta rotation in the not-too-distant future and will compete for the 5th starter job this spring.

    Randall Delgado had spent the better part of two years standing in the king sized shadow cast by Julio Teheran.  However, Delgado cemented his own blue chip status after posting a 2.83 ERA in seven big league starts last season. Most analysts consider Delgado to be the second-best young arm in the Braves organization, behind Teheran. But make no mistake, many other franchises would consider him their foremost pitching prospect. He too will compete for a place in the Braves’ rotation.

    LHP, Mike Minor

    Mike Minor, while well regarded, is not nearly as celebrated as Teheran or Delgado. He is, however, perhaps the most developed of the three and is the only lefty among all of Atlanta’s starting pitching candidates. Minor made his big league debut in 2010 and set the Braves franchise record for strikeouts in a game (12) in his third Major League start. He put up respectable numbers in 15 starts for the Braves last season (5-3, 4.14 ERA) and is thought to be a favorite to claim Derek Lowe’s old job.  Minor is in the hot seat. He’s reached a critical crossroads in his career where the Braves must determine whether or not he factors into their future plans. He must either take the job and run with it… or make way for all of the other young arms patiently waiting for their big chance. For this reason, Minor is widely believed to be at the front of the line.

    While the Braves will eventually be forced to choose just one starter from the trio of Teheran, Delgado and Minor, all three could go north with the big league club prior to opening day. With Hudson expected to open the season on the DL while making his way back from off-season back surgery, two of these three young hurlers could begin the season in the starting rotation. And Braves GM, Frank Wren, says both Teheran and Delgado will be considered candidates for a bullpen job if either or both fail to earn a place in the rotation.

    RHP, Julio Teheran

    Remarkably, Atlanta’s pitching depth doesn’t stop with the aforementioned arms. Sean Gilmartin, JJ Hoover and Zeke Spruill headline the next wave of Braves pitching prospects currently blazing a big league path.

    As for the already established talent in the Atlanta rotation… Prior to the all-star break last year, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson arguably outperformed every other trio in Major League Baseball. And Brandon Beachy turned heads with a remarkable rookie campaign (7-3, 3.68 ERA, with 169 strikeouts in 141 innings.

    Health is the only concern for this Atlanta rotation. While now reportedly 100% healthy, Jurrjens and Hanson missed nearly the entire second half of the ’11 season to injury. And again, Hudson will open the season on the DL (expected back in April or early May at the latest). The Braves are genuinely optimistic about all of their “big 3” starters, but they’re undoubtedly happy to have tremendous pitching depth, just in case.

    How ‘bout the bullpen?  Boasting the game’s most dominant relief trio of Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, Atlanta’s ‘pen is considered by many analysts to be baseball’s best. Setting the table for “The Untouchables” at the back end of the ‘pen is a solid cast, which could include Peter Moylan and Chisthian Martinez, as well as Medlen and Teheran or Delgado.

    This Atlanta pitching staff proved its metal throughout the first half of last season (before injuries to Jurrjens and Hanson), running a back-and-forth horserace with the acclaimed Philadelphia staff for the league’s top team ERA.  If healthy, the Braves could brandish MLB’s most stifling pitching staff in ’12.  Only time will tell.

    This may or may not be the best pitching staff in the game, but it is certainly the deepest.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

     

    3 Trades Braves Should Consider: Trade #1

    By Jim Pratt

    As the February 20 report date for pitchers and catchers approaches, trade rumors surrounding RHP Jair Jurrjens and LF/3B Martin Prado seem to have slowed to a halt. During previous trade talks, Jurrjens has garnered the most attention from other clubs while Atlanta Braves GM, Frank Wren, has focused on acquiring an outfield bat, preferably one with some power.

    Getting full value for both players has proved difficult considering Jurrjens is returning from injury and Prado is coming off a down season, offensively.  With value in mind, Wren has been reluctant to pull the trigger on any deal.

    Waiting until late June or early July to re-test the trade market seems like the ideal strategy for a couple reasons. First, it would allow Jurrjens about 15 starts to prove his right knee is healthy again. Prior to the injury last season, he was 12-3 and led the National League with a 1.87 ERA. If he could post numbers similar to that, his trade value would increase significantly.

    Rookie RHP Julio Teheran could replace Jair Jurrjens if he is traded.

    Waiting for the MLB Trade Deadline period would also allow the coveted arms of Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado more time to develop at AAA Gwinnett. Both highly touted prospects would benefit from some early season innings in the minors to refine their command.

    Teams interested in Martin Prado haven’t been willing to meet Atlanta’s asking price, so it seems he has more value to the Braves on the field than in a trade. With that said, he does not provide the offensive production needed from the left field position. A super utility role that gets Prado 400+ AB’s would fit his skill set better. To do that Atlanta will eventually need to find a trade partner for Jurrjens that nets them an outfield bat without the inclusion of Prado. Avoiding arbitration by signing Prado to a $4.75 million contract for 2012 could be an indication Frank Wren is leaning in that direction.

    Over the next few days, we’ll look at several deals that might interest the Braves in their pursuit of more offensive production. Take note that these trade scenarios speak more to the specific players involved in a deal and are less about the possible lower level prospects that sometimes clinch trades between teams.

    Deal #1) Toronto Blue Jays: Jair Jurrjens for Travis Snider and a prospect

    Since taking over the Toronto Blue Jays general manager reigns in 2009, Alex Anthopoulos has never been one to sit on his hands when he has a chance to upgrade a weakness on his roster. That weak spot right now is starting pitching; after Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow there isn’t much else the Blue Jays can count on to contend in the tough AL East.

    Toronto Blue Jays OF Travis Snider

    The Blue Jays go six deep in quality MLB outfielders, including RF Jose Bautista, CF Colby Rasmus and a current LF platoon of Travis Snider and Eric Thames. The strengths and weakness of both teams would seem to line up for a deal to be made.

    Travis Snider has the pedigree that the Braves are looking for in a left fielder. A former #6 prospect in the 2009 Baseball America Top 100 overall, Snider was projected as a player that could hit for average with plus power to all fields. Along with some nagging injuries early in his career, being shuttled from the Minors to the Majors as prevented him from having a real opportunity to be a regular at the big league level.

    Snider had 25 HR and 40 doubles in 612 AB’s prior to last season when he was demoted after only 95 plate appearances for the Blue Jays. He was promoted back to Toronto in early July after he hit .333 for AAA Las Vegas. Within his first 13 games of rejoining the MLB club, Snider had two games with 5 RBI and was hitting .357 with 2 HR, 9 doubles and 17 RBI. Only spending a month with Blue Jays, he was demoted again in August after his early hot streak turned cold. Off to another hot start at AAA Las Vegas, Snider’s season was over after he was diagnosed with wrist tendinitis at the end of August.

    As a member of the Braves, Snider would be given a full time job without the worries of being demoted after the slumps that come with a 162 game schedule. Getting him out of the American League East and into the National League in general would also factor into a probable bump in production. A full season projection would look something like a .255 AVG, 20-25 HR and 85+ RBI.

    A couple prospects the Braves would be interested in to even out the deal would likely be LHP Justin Nicolino and RHP Aaron Sanchez. It’s unlikely the Blue Jays would add a close to the Majors pitcher in Kyle Drabek or toolsy centerfield prospects Anthony Goseand Jake Marisnickunless the Braves up the ante from their side.

    We’ll discuss another viable trade tomorrow, which could give the Braves the extra RH power they need.

    P.S. Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Follow Jim Pratt on Twitter: @2OutSacBunt …and BravesWire: @TheBravesWire

     

    What if Braves Stand Pat? Can They Win?

    By Kent Covington

    As the opening day countdown clock ticks away, the candid truth is that the hopes of an off-season impact trade grow dimmer by the day.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution recently asked Braves General Manager, Frank Wren, about the likelihood of another trade before the start of the season.  Wren responded, “I think every day that goes by it’s probably less likely.  It doesn’t mean you stop trying.”

    Despite trade rumors, it appears Braves LF Martin Prado may be staying put

    Trade rumors have swirled for months around Braves RHP Jair Jurrjens and LF Martin Prado.  These rumors have included trade targets such as Baltimore’s Adam Jones and Colorado’s Seth Smith, but none of those trade negotiations progressed past the “preliminary” stage.

    In the end, the Braves may be relieved that none of the Jurrjens/Prado trade scenarios materialized (if in fact that remains the case). Either or both could prove to be critical cogs in Atlanta’s 2012 season.  Their ability to remain healthy is the biggest question, and only time will answer it.

    But while the possibility of a noteworthy trade is diminishing, that possibility certainly still exists.  The acquisition of a moderately priced free agent, such as Cody Ross, remains perfectly plausible as well.

    We’ll post our thoughts on trades/free agent deals that are still possible here within the next couple days.

    But let’s assume for a moment that the Braves are set to dance with their current cast. What if the Braves stand pat?  Can they challenge the Phillies and return to the postseason without major changes?

    I believe they can.

    Braves will need more offensive output from RF, Jason Heyward in 2012

    Recently, I shared my belief that the Braves offense has a chance to be among the NL’s best, even without an impact trade or free agent addition. I understand that this is difficult for many to accept, given the subpar performance of the lineup last year.  I won’t restate that case today, but here it is if you missed it.

    In a nutshell, here is the winning offensive equation for Atlanta’s offense:

    Higher team on-base percentage + health + a strong season from OF Jason Heyward = success.

    The Braves led the NL in on-base percentage in 2010.  If they can return to the patient approach we saw from this team two seasons ago, there’s no reason why they could not cure their 2011 empty-bases syndrome.

    And we all know Heyward is capable of far more than his disappointing ’11 output.

    As for pitching, the depth of this staff should ensure that pitching remains a strength of this Braves team.  But how great a strength depends upon the health of Jurrjens and fellow starter, Tommy Hanson, both of whom missed most of the season’s second half last year.  The first-half numbers of this duo underscores the impact of a healthy Jurrjens and Hanson. I pointed out the following in a recent blog:

    Much will hinge on the health of Hanson and Jurrjens

    Before the all star break last season, Jurrjens and Hanson combined to go 22-7 with a 2.14 ERA.  No other pair in baseball put up the kind of numbers “JJ” and Hanson boasted in the first half.  That duo, along with Tim Hudson, formed as effective a trio as there was anywhere in baseball.

    But hampered by shoulder and knee ailments, respectively, Hanson and Jurrjens were non-existent in the second half of the season. After the All-Star break they were a combined 2-6 with a 6.75 ERA.  So again…

    Jurrjens and Hanson:

    Before All-Star break – 22-7, 2.14 ERA

    After All-Star break – 2-6, 6.75 ERA

    If their “big-3” (Jurrjens, Hanson and Tim Hudson) can avoid lasting injuries, Atlanta’s rotation—coupled with a dominant bullpen—could once again form one of baseball’s most formidable pitching staffs.

    Bottom line: Even without substantial changes, the Braves’ offense has a chance to be very good, and their pitching has a chance to be great. The more talent you add, the greater the margin for error (underperformance) or injury, so upgrades are always welcome.  But without changing a thing, the Braves do in fact have the talent to compete.

    It comes down to a very simple formula: Stay healthy and play up to potential. If the Braves can do that, they’ll play October baseball. If they can’t, they won’t.

    P.S. Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.


    The Moves the Braves DIDN’T Make and Why

    By Jim Pratt

    Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren seems to run his ship by the philosophy that the best deal is sometimes the deal not made. With little financial flexibility and very few holes to fill, that strategy seems well suited to the Braves’ needs. Considering Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado are rumored to be Atlanta’s primary trade chips, Wren needs to maximize their return in any trade.

    Carlos Beltran signed a 2-year, 26 million dollar deal with the Cardinals.

    Left Field is the biggest, if not only, hole in the lineup that is a must fill. Carlos Quentin, Carlos Beltran, Josh Willingham and Yonder Alonso were all possible targets that have since either been dealt to or signed with another team.

    Here is a look at some of the off-season moves the Braves DIDN’T make.

    Obviously the prospect price tag wasn’t what kept former White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin from Turner Field. It cost the San Diego Padres nothing more than a potential mid-rotation starter in Simon Castro and a probable LH reliever in Pedro Hernandez to acquire him. The Braves were likely reluctant to give up much in the prospect area for Quentin due to his injury history and pending free agent eligibility next season. Quentin could have been the ideal power bat for the Braves order, but having averaged only 120 games played over the past four seasons, it was too much of a risk.

    Injury concerns were also at play when considering All-Star outfielder, Carlos Beltran, but more than that it was his rumored asking price that was going to be the deal breaker. He eventually signed a 2-year deal worth $26 million with the World Champion St.Louis Cardinals.

    Josh Willingham signed a 3-year, 21 million dollar deal with the Twins

    Atlanta’s chance to acquire free agent Josh Willingham exited stage left when he signed a 3-year $21 million contract with the Minnesota Twins in mid-December. Willingham is coming off a career year, offensively, with 29 HR and 98 RBI in 2011. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider they were put up in the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum. At age 32, his 136 games played were the most since 2007, but at $7 million per season it would seem a perfect fit for what the Braves need. Willingham’s desire for a 3-year deal and his substandard defensive play might have been what kept the Braves away.

    Before the Cincinnati Reds pulled the trigger on a deal for Padres’ RHP Mat Latos, there were rumors they were interested in Jurrjens. Since it seems unlikely the Reds would deal their young shortstop Zack Cozart, the only other logical fit would have been INF/OF Yonder Alonso. A natural first baseman, the same problem of being blocked at that position in Cincinnati would have occurred in Atlanta with Freddie Freeman entrenched at 1B. His potential .290/20+ HR bat would have been a plus in the Braves’ lineup, but a brief 16 game trial period in the outfieldlast season proved unsuccessful.

    Baltimore is looking for a king's ransom for center fielder Adam Jones.

    The Adam Jones rumors seem to have faded as the calendar turns to the New Year. Jones, who hit .280 with 25 HR for Baltimore last season, would have been a nice addition. He is under contract through 2014, and if a deal had been made, Jones could have moved from LF to CF after this season if Atlanta is unable to re-sign center fielder Michael Bourn. But the Baltimore Orioles think a lot of their young center fielder … with the emphasis on a LOT. Atlanta’s front office probably had trouble hiding their laughter after the Orioles reportedly asked for Jurrjens, Prado and two of the Braves top young pitchers.

    Since those non-moves are now in the rear view mirror, BravesWire will next take a look at some deals that could still be done to bolster an offense that ranked #22 in runs scored last season. Keep an eye out for that next week.

    Follow Jim Pratt on Twitter: @2OutSacBunt

    P.S. The Fried Baseball podcast will return spring 2012 with an entirely new feel. More guests, more interviews and more insanity. See ya then!

    If the Braves Reported to Camp Tomorrow…

    By Kent Covington

    Braves remain confident in their current roster, but are hoping for an upgrade.

    As us Braves fans, bloggers and commentators wait patiently impatiently for General Manager, Frank Wren, to upgrade the roster, let’s take a moment to reflect on what’s already here.  What if the Braves reported to camp right now?  What if spring training started tomorrow?

    Here’s the likely opening day roster if it remained mostly unaltered:

    STARTERS:

    T.Hudson

    T.Hanson

    J.Jurrjens

    B.Beachy

    Minor/Teheran/Delgado

     

    RELIEVERS:

    C.Kimbrel (R)

    K.Medlen (R)

    A.Vizcaino (R)

    C.Martinez (R)

    Venters (L)

    O’Flaherty (L)

     

    STARTERS:

    F.Freeman (1B)

    D.Uggla (2B)

    T.Pastornicky (SS)

    C.Jones (3B)

    B.McCann (C)

    M.Prado (LF)

    M.Bourn (CF)

    J.Heyward (RF)

     

    BENCH:

    E.Hinske (1B/LF)

    Ross (C)

    Constanza (OF)

    Diaz (OF)

    unnamed veteran SS/INF

     

    REMAINING QUESTIONS:

    • Will the Braves add another bat?

      RHP, Peter Moylan was non-tendered by the Braves, but could still return to the team.

    • If so, what kind of bat?  Could they broker a deal for a potential everyday impact player… or will they aim for a less costly target, such as Cody Ross?
    • Is Atlanta looking for a situational lefty to replace lhp, George Sherrill, who will depart as a free agent after one year with the club?
    • Will the club bring rhp, Peter Moylan, back?
    • Who will the Braves acquire to back up their rookie starter at shortstop?

    I am convinced that the Braves will find the veteran backup shortstop they seek, even if it happens after the team reports to camp.  I also believe it is more likely than not that the team will add a bat… but who?

    The success of the Braves pitching staff will hinge largely on health.  Before the all star break last season, Jurrjens and Hanson combined to go 22-7 with a 2.14 ERA.  No other pair in baseball put up the kind of numbers “JJ” and Hanson boasted in the first half.  That duo, along with Tim Hudson, formed as effective a trio as there was anywhere in baseball.

    But hampered by shoulder and knee ailments, respectively, Hanson and Jurrjens were non-existent in the second half of the season. After the All-Star break they were a combined 2-6 with a 6.75 ERA.  So again…

    Jurrjens and Hanson:

    Before All-Star break – 22-7, 2.14 ERA

    After All-Star break – 2-6, 6.75 ERA

    If both remain in Atlanta, much will hinge on the health of Hanson/Jurrjens

    Tim Hudson had surgery to address an ailment of his own (herniated disc) over the winter.  He is expected to be ready for spring training, and the Braves don’t seem concerned about him.  That said, he will turn 37 years old during the ’12 season.

    The development and performance of a few young arms will also affect the success of this staff. Can Brandon Beachy build on his impressive ’11 rookie season (7-3, 3.62 ERA, 169 K’s)?  What will the Braves get from their 5th starter (who will likely be the product of a spring competition between rookies Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran)?  And if Jurrjens is traded—he’s been the subject of multiple rumors this winter—the performance of young hurlers will play a tremendous role in the Braves’ 2012 fortunes.

    As for the offense, without a significant upgrade via trade, the Braves will rely heavily on the ability of Martin Prado and Jason Heyward to remain healthy and rebound from disappointing ’11 seasons. They’ll also have to hope Rookie of the Year runner up, Freddie Freeman, fares better in his sophomore campaign than Heyward did last season.  And it certainly wouldn’t hurt if some of rookie shortstop, Tyler Pastornicky’s, offensive success at the AAA level translates to the big leagues.

    Contrary to popular belief, Atlanta COULD compete with Philly in the East and earn another postseason berth without any noteworthy alterations.  The Braves were, after all, just 2.5 games behind the Phillies in July of last season, before injuries effectively sidelined their top two starters for the remainder of the season.  And that was with the horrendous first half of Dan Uggla and no leadoff hitter at the time.

    Consider also that Atlanta led the NL in on-base percentage in 2010 and was 6th in the league in runs scored. After the ’10 season, the Braves upgraded by effectively replacing Troy Glaus and Melky Cabrera in the lineup with Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla. Amazingly, despite a substantial upgrade, the offensive numbers actually went down, not up.

    Point being, this offense considerably underperformed in ’11.  That’s why Larry Parrish’s first year as Hitting Coach in Atlanta was his ONLY year as Hitting Coach in Atlanta (not that he shoulders all the blame).  This lineup is capable of much more than it showed last season.

    If the team reported to camp tomorrow, this would be a ballclub CAPABLE of competing at the highest level.  HOWEVER, if the roster remains largely as is, Atlanta’s chances will be qualified by a lot of “Ifs”.  IF the Braves’ “big 3” of Jurrjens, Hanson & Hudson can remain healthy. IF Prado stays healthy and returns to ’10 All-Star form.  IF Heyward can avoid injury an fulfill his potential of over the course of a full season.

    The Braves can compete with their current complement of talent. But, obviously, the more talent they add, the more margin for error (or injury) they’ll enjoy… and the less they’ll be forced to rely upon good fortune.

    Either way, IF Lady Luck smiles upon the Braves in ’12, they could be among the best teams in baseball next season. There is ample cause for concern, but there are also plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

    P.S. The Fried Baseball podcast will return in early 2012 with an entirely new feel. More guests, more interviews and more insanity. See ya then!