• Martin Prado

    What Could’ve, Should’ve, Would’ve Been

    The Top 10 of the 2010s, Part 2

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – It’s time for part two of my top 10 most memorable moments of Braves baseball I watched in person in the 2010s, looking at baseball’s epic final day of the 2011 regular season that found Atlanta land outside the postseason party after a painful late-season swoon, then taking a stroll through two games in which Braves starters nearly pitched no-hitters (and a nod to the lone no-hitter, at any level of baseball, I’ve witnessed in person across 40 years that also contains an interesting perspective on a tragic night in my hometown’s history).

    As a reminder, you can check out the introductory piece of the series below:

    Part 1: A Big Bang … Then A Choke

    The Long, Painful Death of a Season: Sept. 28, 2011

    Epic Late-Season Stumble Costs Braves Playoff Berth

    As late August 2011 arrived, it felt like only an act of God could keep the Braves from a second-straight NL playoff appearance. The Phillies were running away with the NL East but the Braves had found their footing, winning 16 times in 21 games to enter the final weekend of the month with the second-best record in the Senior Circuit and a 9 ½ game lead over the Giants for the NL’s lone wild-card spot.

    The Cardinals? Pfft, 10 ½ games behind the 79-53 Braves at 68-63.

    Atlanta flew to New York after taking three of four in Chicago, but Hurricane Irene was heading toward the nation’s largest city, too. The opening game of the Mets series was played in front of less than 23,000 at Citi Field and journeyman Chris Capuano destroyed the Braves, striking out 13 during a two-hit complete-game shutout. The final two games of the series would be cancelled and, with a Monday off day, the Braves suddenly had a three-day break as they were playing their best baseball of the season.

    They never recovered.

    The weirdness of that weekend in the Big Apple began the unraveling. It concluded at Turner Field on Sept. 28, the final day of the regular season. It would go down as one of the wildest, craziest days in baseball history (the Red Sox simultaneously were giving away the AL wild card), and the Braves entered that Wednesday night matchup with the division-champion Phillies having lost four in a row to fall to 10-19 since flying into New York.

    The Braves and Cardinals were tied at 89-72 as I walked into Turner Field alone for what I hoped would not be the final time that season. My sons were home with the next day being a school day, but downstairs in my filing cabinet were tickets to the first two home NL Division Series games. The sheer thought of those tickets being refunded was ridiculous just four weeks earlier, but as the losses piled up in September my sense of dread grew, and I don’t know if I’ve ever walked into a ballpark with so much doom-and-gloom as I headed to my seat in the lower level, midway between first base and the right-field corner.

    For six innings, everything was fine, and I started growing more confident. The Braves took a 3-1 lead on a Dan Uggla homer in the third and Tim Hudson cruised into the seventh inning. But with one out came two hits and an error by Jack Wilson at shortstop to score a run, and I started thinking again about how my heart was going to be shattered. After all, I sat in this stadium nearly a year before and watched the Braves fall apart in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the NL Division Series. I remember looking around and seeing people who must’ve been thinking the same thing, the wheels spinning in our heads with that, “here we go again” refrain.

    Was the seventh the start of the train careening off the tracks?

    Perhaps not. Craig Kimbrel made his first All-Star team, led the National League with 46 saves and won NL rookie of the year in 2011. Save No. 47 would at worst send the Braves into a one-game playoff with St. Louis. But Kimbrel proceeded to give up a single, get a strikeout, then walk two hitters before Chase Utley’s game-tying sacrifice fly. And as extra innings began to march on, I couldn’t help but think of all the opportunities the Braves had squandered over the past month to avoid being in this situation.

    I saw the Braves win the World Series in person in 1995. Three years earlier, I saw the Braves score three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the 1992 NL pennant in person. I’m generally an optimistic person. But that night I found myself fighting that feeling of “not again” over and over. It only grew after Chipper Jones flew out to deep left-center with a runner on to end the 10th, and it grew even more when Jason Heyward reached third on a wild pitch before Martin Prado struck out to close the 12th.

    Of course, the Phillies scored in the top of the 13th on Hunter Pence’s single that barely cleared the infield dirt. Of course, the Braves would get a runner on with one out in the bottom half, only to see Freddie Freeman – the runner-up to Kimbrel for rookie of the year – ground into a 3-6-3 double play. We knew the Cardinals already had won some 30 minutes earlier, that 8-0 result glaring on the out-of-town scoreboard in the ballpark, and when Freeman slammed his batting helmet into the ground behind first base as the season died, the deflation nearly was overwhelming.

    Other than Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, I don’t think I’ve ever sat in a ballpark after a loss as long as I did that night. But the worst part didn’t come on Sept. 28. It came the morning after, when I had to wake up two little boys for school and tell them their favorite baseball team’s season was over.

    Oh, So Close, But No No-No: June 5, 2013 and July 29, 2018

    Julio, Newk Flirt with Every Pitcher’s Dream

    In all the baseball games these nearly 47-year-old eyes have watched through the years – from playing to coaching my kids to my sports writing days and countless games as a fan – I’ve witnessed exactly one no-hitter. It came the night after the bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics, in an American Legion playoff game on July 27, 1996, in Gainesville, Ga. Andy Hussion, who would help pitch Gainesville High to a state title the following spring, twirled the gem with his dad, former Furman play-by-play man Chuck Hussion, working the PA at Ivey-Watson Field along the shores of Lake Lanier.

    The bombing was the topic of conversation everywhere, including at the ballpark. I was interning as The Times in Gainesville that Olympic summer. We were owned by The Gannett Corp. (which owned USA Today) at the time, and there were veteran newspaper people with decades of experience onsite. When the bomb went off, the presses actually stopped (just like in the movies, but never in real life). Page 1A was redone and our morning edition had the news, while other newspapers that served our area did not. I lost track of how many people in our circulation area awoke on that fourth Saturday of July 1996 with no idea what had happened downtown until they grabbed our paper from their driveways.

    Why do I share this, something that occurred so long ago? I watched two Braves take no-hit bids beyond the seventh inning in the past 40 years. Both occurred this decade. Both hold significant meaning to me, so I cheated a bit to combine both as one entry.

    June 5, 2013: The Braves had won four in a row entering a Wednesday get-away date with the Pirates at Turner Field. Both my kids were with me, ages 10 and 9 and soaking in the initial days of summer vacation. We sat in the upper deck and watched Julio Teheran dazzle the Pittsburgh lineup. Teheran at the time still sat mid-90s with his fastball, and he had everything working. We got to the top of the eighth, everybody was standing, and I was telling my kids repeatedly not to say what all of us were thinking – fortunately, they both were old enough to understand what was happening.

    Two outs in the inning, four outs away. Brandon Inge came on as a pinch-hitter, worked a 1-1 count, then lined a single to left. Teheran retired Starling Marte to end the eighth, David Carpenter worked a perfect ninth to finish the one-hitter, and my sons and I were stunned as how close we had come to seeing a MLB no-hitter in person.

    Not too long after, something happened that made my life just about completely collapse. In some of those darkest days that followed over the next two to three years, in a season of my life where hope was almost nonexistent, that Wednesday afternoon in the sunshine at Turner Field with my boys was a bright memory and a sign of better days to come.

    It just didn’t result in a no-hitter. And that wasn’t the only close call, either.

    July 29, 2018: By the grace of God, I was in such a better place as that final Sunday of July unfolded. It was the day of Chipper Jones’ induction into the Hall of Fame. My oldest son and I gathered with friends in a hotel suite near SunTrust Park to break bread and catch up, then it was on to the ballpark for the series finale with the defending NL champion Dodgers. The Braves were working to avoid a sweep after being outscored 9-2 in the first two games, as many of our thoughts were some 965 miles northeast in interior New York.

    Sean Newcomb took the mound for his 40th major-league start. He got two runs of support in the first inning and two more in the third, and the Massachusetts lefty took it from there, walking Yasiel Puig in the sixth but allowing nothing else entering the ninth. The ballpark, already an emotional mess as many of us had strained to stream Chipper’s acceptance speech during the third inning, was teeming as Newcomb took the mound to start the ninth.

    I had no doubt Newk was going to do this. Zero. Everybody was standing. I couldn’t breathe. My oldest son was pacing like I’d never seen, and he would admit later he thought it was done, too. After two flyouts. Newcomb was one hitter away. Chris Taylor worked the count to 2-2, including a somewhat questionable pitch he took for a ball, then lined a single to left field as third baseman Johan Camargo dove to his left in vain. The Braves would win 4-1, Newcomb would throw 129 pitches on the day, and the two teams would meet 2 ½ months later in the NL Division Series.

    Oh man, talk about the ultimate “what if.” I chatted with my kid while writing this and he said to this day, he was 100 percent certain Newcomb had it. His stuff was that good. I know there’s been ups and downs with Newcomb at times, but that day in July 2018 shows his potential to dominate a great lineup.

    It also shows that no-hitters are so hard to complete, and seeing one is such a rare treat. And, every day you walk into the ballpark, there’s a chance it happens. Perhaps one sweet day, Andy Hussion will have some company on my list.

    —30—

    On Deck: Saying Goodbye to The Skipper, and The Ted

    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.

    Braves Go Cyber Monday Shopping, Bolster Lineup

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – There were plenty of people who did their research, scoped out the best buys, figured out their budget and set their sights on Cyber Monday, one of those holiday events where many of us upgrade our wardrobe, electronics or household.

    Who knew Alex Anthopoulos also had that day circled on his calendar?


    Now granted, the Braves general manager probably did not set out specifically to make the first two moves of this pivotal offseason on the same day you were saving 30 percent on a pair of jeans and a flat-screen TV. But when you slip on those new jeans and fire up that TV come April, you’re going to see a familiar face and a hugely impactful face wearing Atlanta Braves jerseys.

    Atlanta welcomed home longtime catcher, Duluth (Ga.) native and eternal fan favorite Brian McCann on Monday, signing the veteran catcher to a one-year, $2 million deal. Injuries and decreased offensive production diminished his impact the past two seasons in Houston, but one of the better framing catchers in the game did help the Astros win the 2017 World Series. Reportedly, the soon-to-be 35-year-old turned down more lucrative offers for the chance to play in front of family and friends in his hometown.

    Certainly, this move did not move the needle holistically as much as it did for sentimental reasons. This correspondent even tweeted that this move did not look great at the moment, but likely would in a month or two given the moves that would come, taking care of the catching position, not spending but a mere pittance (in baseball terms) to get it done. After all, this is not the same player who made seven All-Star appearance wearing an Atlanta uniform earlier in his career.

    Then came news – merely minutes after McCann’s signing was announced by the club – that made adding a catcher who hit .212 in 63 games last season much more tolerable, sentiments be darned.

    The Braves inked slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal late Monday, reuniting the former Blue Jay with Anthopoulos, the general manager who acquired the Auburn University product after the 2014 season to help Toronto reach back-to-back AL championship series.

    That’s a lot of money for a guy who, like McCann, has dealt with injuries the past two seasons. But any return to form for Donaldson, who will be motivated to parlay this one-year deal into a huge free-agent contract come next winter, would pay tremendous dividends for an Atlanta lineup that – for all its sizzle and shine a season ago – lacked the right-handed power threat to slot behind Freddie Freeman in the cleanup spot.

    There’s a lot to like about these deals together, from an inward and an outward perspective.

    Inward, the Braves are a better team now than they were at sunrise. McCann will provide tremendous leadership behind the plate for Atlanta’s youthful staff, the catcher certainly benefitting from working with the likes of CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander since he left the Braves after the 2013 season. He gained valuable experience playing in the postseason with the Yankees (who he signed with after leaving Atlanta) and Houston, including the 2017 World Series title.

    Likewise, Donaldson has his share of playoff experience, including the aforementioned two years with Anthopoulos north of the border. The soon-to-be 33-year-old only played 52 games a season ago, but slugged 33 homers with a .944 OPS in 113 games the year before, and only is three years removed from a MVP campaign in which he blasted 41 homers and drove in 123 runs. Anything approaching those numbers in 2019 gives the Braves one of the absolute most dangerous lineups in the NL, hands down.

    And what of Johan Camargo, the young fan favorite whose anchoring of third base the final four months of 2018 is hailed as one of the reasons the rebuilding Braves transitioned into the playoff-clinching Braves? Folks, I can’t see Camargo going anywhere. He has experience playing three infield positions, will get some work at first base and corner outfield in camp, and profiles exactly as the type of player Martin Prado was at one time and Marwin Gonzalez (McCann’s former Houston teammate) is at this time.

    Those guys are incredibly valuable. Baseball today has changed. Used to be, the best eight guys played every day. Not anymore. Remember the NLDS, where the Braves fell in four games to Los Angeles? Atlanta’s bench was piecemeal, while the Dodgers routinely brought guys off the bench who could’ve started for the majority of teams in the majors.

    Camargo will see time on the bench, sure, but also will get plenty of starts spelling Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Donaldson (the beauty is Donaldson does not have to play 150 games for this deal to be a winner for the Braves), a few starts in a corner outfield spot. Social media lit up immediately after the Donaldson news broke with questions of whether Camargo or Swanson would be moved.

    My feeling is neither. Anthopoulos and Brian Snitker – ironically, the man who as a minor-league manager told a 21-year-old McCann at Double-A Mississippi in 2005 that he was going to the majors for the first time – realize depth is a need if this franchise is going to play deeper into October in 2019. Donaldson’s addition allows that to happen. Consider that on a particular night, you could have Camargo (or Swanson, or Albies, or Donaldson) as your top option off the bench, with McCann as the second catcher on days Tyler Flowers starts, along with the ever-versatile Charlie Culberson?

    Beats Ryan Flaherty and Danny Santana.

    It’d be foolish to think the Braves are done, either. Certainly, Anthopoulos will take some of the remaining payroll flexibility and save that dry powder for spring training or the trade deadline, but Atlanta still has money to spend (even more so if it can find a taker for Julio Teheran, knowing it likely will have to eat some of his $11 million owed for 2019). Were Donaldson an everyday player last season, there is no way he takes a one-year deal. McCann three years ago would not have come home for $2 million.

    But here they are, and there still is room for the Braves to work.

    Not to mention Atlanta has dealt exactly zero prospects from its overflowing pantry of young talent. The capabilities are there to make a major move on the trade front, and I think that’s where the Braves will strike next. Could Cleveland’s Corey Kluber be had for a high prospect price, giving Atlanta three years of control of a perennial Cy Young candidate who is a bona fide ace? Could Seattle be enticed to deal outfielder Mitch Haniger and/or closer Edwin Diaz for a big package, allowing the Braves to address corner outfield and closer with long-term controllable pieces?

    Anthopoulos filled two needs on Cyber Monday. Time will tell if he got the most bang for his buck. And with the Winter Meetings looming and plenty of options on the table, today’s spending spree likely is only the beginning.

    —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.

    Braves swept by M’s, meet D-backs in desert

    Hot off a sweep of the Tigers and a makeup game with the Yankees, the Mariners flew into Atlanta and swept the Braves in the 2-game interleague set. Seattle improved to 24-15 record since April 22nd. The Braves did their best to keep pace with the M’s on both sides of the ball. The difference in the series came down to runs allowed by the Braves’ ‘pen in game 1 and no run support for Mike Minor’s brilliant effort in game 2.

    As was a concern coming into the series, the Braves’ ‘pen seems to be on a bit of a slide of late, allowing runs rather than coming in and shutting down the opponent’s offense. The Mariners’ ‘pen was the opposite, now having gone 13 innings without allowing a run. One reason that might have contributed to the 2 runs given up by Alex Wood in relief of Gavin Floyd is that he had been up getting warm twice prior to actually being called on in the ‘pen. Wood has yet to truly fall into a rhythm of any kind as a reliever. Like Wood, David Hale is in an unusual situation given that he is supposedly the long man and hasn’t been called into high-pressure situations like other relievers. What the roles of Wood and Hale will be going forward is uncertain. What is certain is that Jordan Walden is nearing his return to the club. Walden, who was sent to the DL with a hamstring strain, is currently making rehab starts with Triple-A Gwinnett. We could see him in the upcoming series in Arizona.

    Because the Braves never made it into a save situation, Craig Kimbrel remains at 154 career saves and will likely earn his next save on the road. His 155th save will make him the sole record holder in franchise saves. He currently shares the top spot with John Smoltz.

    Mike Minor lead the category of things that went incredibly well for the Braves over the 2-game set. Minor went 7 innings of 1-run baseball, giving up 6 hits and striking out 10th strikeout a season-high 10 batters. It was the third double-digit strikeout of his career and his first since May of last season against the Mets. Unfortunately, Minor was bested by Iwakuma who threw 8 innings of shutout ball, striking out 7 before handing over the game to closer Fernando Rodney for the save.

    The first game of the set is much less easy to explain. While the Braves got to starter Erasmo Ramirez early, chasing him after he pitched 4 innings, the M’s bullpen was lights out and the Braves ‘pen faltered. Gavin Floyd once again missed securing his first win in a Braves uniform. He went 5 innings, game up 3 earned runs and now holds a 2.80 ERA. Floyd, for his part, has been great for the Braves. He simply seems to be the hard luck pitcher of the season for the Braves. We’ll see Floyd again in the Arizona series and hopefully he can secure that elusive first win then.

    BRAVES MEET DIAMONDBACKS IN THE DESERT…

    Entering the series in Arizona, the Braves are 31-27 and tied with the surprising Miami Marlins for first place in the National League East. The Diamondbacks who struggled mightily in the first two months of the season have won 3 games straight to improve to 26-36, still last in the National League West.

    The Braves will take the hot-hitting Justin Upton to the desert where he once played to face off the team with the newly minted Martin Prado bobblehead. Justin is hitting .294 on the season with 12 doubles, a triple, 13 homers and 33 RBIs. Thus far he is living up to his billing when he joined the Braves. The position player that headlined the trade for Upton, Martin Prado, got off to a slow start this season but has improved to a .275 batting average with 10 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers and 26 RBIs. Prado has really kicked it into gear for the D-Backs in the last 18 games, going 22-for-63 (.349) with both of his homers coming over that period. While Prado and Upton were never meant to be a bat-for-bat trade, both are turning out to be what each team hoped they’d get when the trade was made.

    Another key piece of the Upton trade, Randall Delgado, fell out of favor and was demoted to the bullpen. He has an 0-1 record with a 7.24 ERA in 27 1/3 innings this season. The oft-called “throw in” piece of the Upton trade was Chris Johnson. After a season that marked career highs in multiple categories and nearly a batting title, Johnson has struggled this season. He has seemed lost at the plate in recent weeks. Johnson is 14-for-70 (.200) with 1 homer, 20 strikeouts, 0 walks and a disappointing .197 OBP over the last 18 games. As is always the case with a lineup, it ebbs and flows. Luckily for the Braves, Johnson’s struggles have been mostly covered up by the resurgence of Jason Heyward and the on-base percentage of B.J. Upton.

    Jason Heyward continues his streak of being Atlanta’s hottest hitter. J-Hey has a .330 (29-for-88) average with 3 homers, 9 RBIs and a .404 on-base percentage in his past 22 games. He and B.J. Upton are getting on base, the problem seems to fall with inconsistent contact rates among the 3 through 6 hole hitters. An additional improvement with Heyward and Upton is speed. They have each stolen 9 bases this season. Keeping their running game hot will help the Braves keep atop the standings.

    The Braves will send Teheran (5-3, 1.83) to the mound against McCarthy (1-7, 5.20) in the series opener. Santana (5-2, 4.10) will take the bump against Miley (3-6, 4.85) on Saturday. And pitted against one another in the series finale will be Harang (4-4, 3.24) and Anderson (4-0, 3.32).

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

     

    Braves retire no. 10, kick off series against Arizona

    On any other night, the fact that Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were facing off would be the headline. On any other night, it would have been big news that former Braves Delgado, Martin Prado and Eric Hinske were returning to Atlanta to face their old team. On any other night, it would have been a storyline that the Braves were five games up in the National League East and sailing, despite being viewed as the second-best team in the division all postseason, into the season and still even now by some. But last night was not any other night. Last night was Chipper’s night.

    Yesterday the Atlanta Braves inducted Chipper Jones into the franchise hall of fame. In a ceremony that included franchise greats like Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones was rewarded for his two decades of dedication to the Atlanta Braves and to baseball. Like ceremonies before it, Chipper was spoken of as one of the greats in baseball. Much was made of him having more hits than Lou Gehrig, a higher career average than Pete Rose and more RBIs than any third baseman in the history of the game. The accolades were many.

    The hall of fame induction luncheon and the number retirement ceremony before last night’s game are something Atlanta’s fans have become accustomed to in recent years. Since 2009, the Braves have retired the numbers of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, John Smoltz and now Chipper Jones. The regularity of the hall of fame induction and number retirement ceremonies in recent years reflect how dominate the Braves were in the 90s. And it is likely that Braves Country will be treated to another regular occurrence in the near future–the induction of Atlanta’s 90s dynasty into Cooperstown.

    If you ask any Braves fan, there is nothing surprising about the way crowds react to Chipper Jones. On the night he was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame and had his number retired, the crowd was electric. Now, if you ask that same Braves fan about the second loudest ovation of the night, that, too, wasn’t a surprise. With a shout out from Chipper Jones as he spoke as his number ten was retired and displayed on the facade (next to the likes of Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Bobby Cox and Greg Maddux), the one and only Martin Prado received the second-loudest ovation of the night.

    Martin Prado, sent to the Diamondbacks in the trade for Justin Upton, was a fan favorite. His versatility was highly valued by both the club and its fans. But what you hear most about Prado is what a great guy he is, what a great teammate he is and how great he is in the clubhouse. Braves fans were understandably shocked, some livid, when Frank Wren sent Prado to Arizona. Martin, too, was stunned. However, as is often said, baseball is a business and you often lose someone great to gain someone great. In the Upton trade, the Braves picked up the consistent hitter Chris Johnson as a bonus. That turned out to be an important throw-in and allowed the Braves to trade the strikeout-prone Juan Francisco to Milwaukee. Prado is widely respected in Atlanta and that was on full display last night. When Chipper Jones circled the field in a white convertible, the only time the car stopped was so Martin Prado, who was warming up on the field, could approach the car and give Chipper a hug. Prado stepped to the plate for the first time, receiving a prolonged standing ovation as well as a hug from catcher Brian McCann. You don’t see an opposing catcher hugging the batter coming to the plate very often, if at all. Prado tipped his cap to the crowd and the game went on. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Prado in a Braves uniform someday down the road, similar to how the Braves have brought back other veteran players (Glavine, Diaz, Franco).

    In Chipper’s speech, he mentioned he wished the Diamondbacks luck “four games from now” with that trademark smirk. He, like everyone else, was anxious to see the pitching matchup of Teheran and Delgado. The Upton trade could have gone another way–sending Teheran to Arizona rather than Delgado. Teheran’s evolution as a young man coming into his own has been what the Braves had hoped for both he and Delgado. Unfortunately, Delgado’s improvement has been slow going. He had spent the majority of the season in Triple-A for the Diamondbacks. Neither pitcher disappointed in what was a duel for much of the game. Teheran pitched another scoreless gem in his 6 innings of work. And the only criticism of Delgado’s game is that he isn’t as polished under pressure as Teheran has become. That’s truly the difference between Teheran this season and last. He has been able to work out of a pinch and limit damage.

    Unfortunately, the third former Brave that everyone was looking forward to seeing was Eric Hinske. Hinske had been suspended for the fracas between the D-backs and the Dodgers, but returned from serving his suspension just in time to be designated for assignment by Arizona. That announcement was made just before the game and it is unclear if Chipper even knew of it before he gave “Ski” a shout out in his speech.

    While it seemed a bit odd that the guy representing Chipper’s former teammates was Dan Uggla, Uggla does have an interesting perspective on Chipper as a guy who grew up in the south watching the Braves on television then becoming their opponent and eventually a Brave himself. Uggla spoke about Chipper during the on-field ceremony, received the first pitch from Chipper and then had himself a game. Uggla had 2 hits and scored a run. His performance upstaged only by young Andrelton Simmons who hit his 6th homer of the season off Delgado.

    It seemed rather fitting that in the final inning on the night the Braves honored Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel came in and was guided by Brian McCann behind the dish for the save. Chipper had the privilege of watching Kimbrel’s Rookie of the Year campaign as well as Brian McCann’s early years in the big leagues. While the Braves’ roster is getting younger, there were few men on the field last night that hadn’t been teammates with Chipper or in some way influenced by his career. In fact, there were few people in the stands, watching on television or listening on the radio who weren’t touched by Chipper’s career in some way. There will never be another Chipper Jones.

    The series against the Diamondbacks resumes today with veterans Kennedy (3-4, 5.21) vs. Hudson (4-7, 4.10). The season finale features Cahill (3-9, 4.29) vs. Maholm (8-6, 3.75). The Braves will then welcome the Marlins for a 3-game set at the Ted before beginning a road trip in Philly.

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

    Braves drop series by the Bay, Upton’s return to Arizona

    Atlanta has gone through a terrible stretch of baseball having lost 4 of their last 6 games on the road. With just 3 more games on the road before a travel day and a return to Turner Field for a 6-game home stand, the Braves need to salvage as many of the the remaining 3 road games as possible. Taking 2 of the 3 games in Arizona would give the Braves a winning percentage for the 10-game road trip.

    Before a preview of Justin Upton’s return to Chase Field as the Braves square off against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a wrap-up of the series in San Francisco:

    Game 1:

    Starting the series off on the right note was important in Cincinnati and the Braves looked to repeat that in the first game of the series against the Giants against Ryan Vogelsong. The Braves had hit Vogelsong well in their prior match-ups, but the Vogelsong on the mound for the Giants Thursday night was hardly the Vogelsong of games past. He has had only 1 quality start in 2013. Vogelsong was unable to locate his pitches, allowing 6 runs on 7 hits in 4 1/3 innings. The Braves were able to close the door on Vogelsong and the game in the 4-run 5th inning.

    The Braves’ bullpen (with appearances by O’Flaherty and Kimbrel) was solid, allowing 1 hit and 0 runs between them. With the 7 innings Teheran pitched, the ‘pen didn’t have to get far. There seems to be a trend with the ‘pen–when the starter goes deep, the less they have to accomplish, the sharper the bullpen is.

    Brian McCann homered in the 2nd inning off Vogelsong, his 1st of the season and since his return from the disabled list Monday in Cincinnati. McCann has looked healthy and effective, both at the plate and behind it. In his 5 games since returning, he now has 5 hits, 7 RBIs, and 2 HRs including the one he hit in game 1 of the series.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 2 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 6 11 0
    Giants 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 8 1

    W: Teheran (2-0) L: Vogelsong (1-3) SV: Kimbrel (11)

    Game 2:

    Tim Hudson had been nothing but dominant against the San Francisco Giants in recent outings. However, notching his 202nd career win against them was not in the cards. His opponent on the mound, Matt Cain, took a nasty line drive off his hip and still managed to pitch 8 innings of 2-run baseball. Hudson, on the other hand, lost control of the game in the 4th inning when the Giants scored 6 runs. Hudson was only able to pitch 3 2/3 innings before turning the game over the bullpen. Strangely enough, Hudson recorded 4 strikeouts, despite giving up 8 hits, 1 walk and those 6 earned runs.

    The Braves were unable to break the stranglehold Cain had on them until the 5th inning when they scored 2 runs. Those 2 runs would be the only of the entire game for Atlanta. Brian McCann’s 2-run homer off of Cain in the 5th accounted for both runs. His 2nd homer of the series looked even more like vintage McCann and may be the ultimate clean bill of health for the All Star catcher.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 2 3 0
    Giants 0 0 0 6 0 2 0 0 x 8 11 0

    W: Cain (2-2) L: Hudson (4-2)

    Game 3:

    Paul Maholm had another outing where he received no run support in the early innings and then lost control in the 5th inning. We have seen this trend with Maholm where he pitches great until the 4th or 5th inning and far too often has received little to no run support up until that point. Saturday’s game was no exception. Maholm pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up 8 hits, 3 walks and 6 earned runs. Gearrin and Avilan picked it up from there, not allowing any runs, but when Anthony Varvaro came in to relieve, he gave up an additional 3 runs.

    While it wasn’t the sharpest pitching the Braves have ever put on display, the hitting was nonexistent. This, too, is a trend with the Braves. It is feast or famine. The only RBI recorded in the game came at the hands of the pitcher, Paul Maholm. Gattis had a double, but that was not enough given the number of runs surrendered by the pitching staff. The Braves recorded 12 strikeouts.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 7 0
    Giants 1 0 0 1 4 0 0 4 x 10 14 0

    W: Bumgarner (4-1) L: Maholm (4-4)

    Game 4:

    Kris Medlen has had the worst luck in baseball so far this year. For as hot as he was last season after joining the rotation, he has been equally cold this season. It hasn’t helped that he has received an average of 2.66 runs of support in his outings. Compare that to the 4.94 average runs in support of Hudson’s outings, the 4.43 average in support of Minor, the 6.24 for Teheran and the 3.68 for Paul Maholm. The baseball gods must not be smiling on Medlen because the bats go cold when Medlen takes the hill.

    Medlen pitched 5 1/3 innings, gave up 8 hits and 5 runs (3 of them earned and 3 off the home run ball). The real struggle of the game was the strike zone. He walked 5 batters with his spotty command.

    In 2 of the 4 games in San Francisco, the hitting of Evan Gattis accounted for most, if not all, of the Braves’ scoring. Gattis recorded   a 2-out RBI double. The Braves struck out only 8 times against Lincecum and the Giants’ pitching staff, but it was clear they could not get a read on the improved stuff of Lincecum.

    Something unusual happened in the final game of the series: The Braves’ defense was terrible. Offensive struggles seemed to follow the team onto the field. Both Dan Uggla and Justin Upton received errors in the field.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 4 2
    Giants 0 1 1 1 2 0 0 0 x 5 10 1

    W: Lincecum (3-2) L: Medlen (1-5)

    JUSTIN UPTON RETURNS TO CHASE FIELD…

    When the Arizona Diamondbacks made their interest known to the league that they’d be entertaining offers for Justin Upton, the Braves knew that Justin Upton could be a star in Atlanta. However, like other teams, including the Seattle Mariners who had a deal ready to go until Upton blocked it, the Braves couldn’t understand why the D-backs had given up on a young man with such potential and so many tools. A change of scenery may have been just what Justin Upton needed, though. Since joining the Braves, he is hitting .269 with 35 hits, 12 homers and 21 RBIs. In the first 37 games of last season, Upton hit .234 with 30 hits, 4 homers and 13 RBIs.

    In comparison, two of the players that the Braves gave up to get Justin Upton haven’t exactly panned out for the D-backs. Martin Prado, the most versatile the Braves have had in years, has been versatile for the D-backs, but hasn’t produce the way he had for the Braves. Prado is currently hitting .223 with 35 hits and a mere 9 RBIs. Randall Delgado, part of Atlanta’s rotation last year, is not even a part of Arizona’s starting rotation. At Triple-A Reno, Delgado has a 9.09 ERA in 34.2 innings pitched.

    During the SF series, the Braves signed left-handed reliever Juan Cedeno. Cedeno’s minor league contract with the Braves could result in his call-up to the big club quickly given the struggles of Atlanta’s ‘pen in recent days. Cedeno, who is the same age as Varvaro (29), was part of the Yankees organization as a prospect. He pitched with their Triple-A affiliate in Scranton during the 2012 season and was released in 2013. In 11 innings at Scranton, Cedeno recorded an 0.82 ERA. He surrendered 8 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), 5 walks and 9 strikeouts. In his 2 years in Triple-A, Cedeno has a 2.52 record in 75 innings with 66 strike outs.

    Jason Heyward is close to returning to his spot on the roster. In his 3rd rehab game at Triple-A Gwinnett yesterday, Heyward had 2 hits and 3 RBIs. This was a vast improvement over the 1st game at Gwinnett when he went hitless in 5 at-bats (striking out 3 times). He then missed the Saturday game due to soreness around the site where his appendix was removed. As of now there is no exact date for Heyward’s return.

    In attempt to right the ship, the Braves will pit Minor (4-2, 2.96) vs. Miley (3-1, 2.93) in game 1 of the series. Tuesday’s game will feature Teheran (2-0, 4.84) vs. Corbin (5-0, 1.75). And the series finale features veterans Hudson (4-2, 4.70) vs. Kennedy (1-3, 4.83).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves acquire Justin Upton from D-Backs

    News hit the wires this morning that the Atlanta Braves had reached a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to acquire outfielder Justin Upton.

    The preliminary details of the deal are as follows: The Braves will acquire Upton (LF) and Chris Johnson (3B) for Randall Delgado (RHP), Martin Prado (LF/3B), Nick Ahmed (SS), Zeke Spruill (RHP), and presumably Brandon Drury (1B). Important to this deal is the fact that Atlanta’s general manager Frank Wren did not give up any of the organization’s top pitching prospects (Baseball America ranked Spruill 7th among the Braves’ pitching prospects).

    As was reported here earlier by Andrew Hirsh, the Braves became a more likely trade partner with the Diamondbacks for Upton when the outfielder vetoed a trade that was arrived at between the Diamondbacks and the Mariners. The Mariners, unlike the Braves, would have given up one of their top three pitching prospects as part of that deal. With that blocked deal and the Rangers announcing they were out of the running for the younger Upton, the door opened for Frank Wren. In addition to potential trade partners falling away, Kevin Towers, GM of the D-Backs, was dealing with a log jam of outfielders with the acquisition of Cody Ross. Towers had been seeking offers for either Upton or Jason Kubel.

    What the Braves get from the Diamondbacks

    1. Justin Upton (OF): .280/.355/.430 in 2012 with 155 hits, 17 home runs, 67 RBIs and 18 SB.

    2. Chris Johnson (3B): .286/.321/.503 in 2012 (44 games) with 42 hits, 7 home runs, and 35 RBIs.

    What the Braves give up to the Diamondbacks

    1. Randall Delgado (RHP): 4-9, 4.37 ERA, 1.414 WHIP, and 76 strikeouts (92.2 innings) in 2012.

    2. Martin Prado (LF/3B): .301/.359/.438 in 2012 with 186 hits, 10 HRs, 70 RBI and 17 SBs.

    3. Nick Ahmed (SS Class-A Advanced Lynchburg): .268/.337/.391 with 136 hits, 6 HRs and 49 RBIs in 2012.

    4. Zeke Spruill (RHP Class-AA Mississippi): 9-11, .367 ERA, 106 strikeouts (161.2 innings) in 2012.

    5. Brandon Drury (1B at Class-A Rome): .229/.270/.333 in 2012 with 102 hits, 6, home runs, and 51 RBIs.

    On paper this trade makes the Braves a very solid club with the potential lineup of 1-Simmons, 2-J.Upton, 3-JHey, 4-B.J.Upton, 5-Freeman, 6-Uggla, 7-McCann, 8-Johnson/Francisco. We can assume at this point that Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco will platoon at third base. Francisco has had a stellar winter in the Venezuelan League, but his inability to hit left-handed pitched remains an issue.

    With the trade of Delgado, we can assume that Julio Teheran will fall into the fifth rotation spot.

    While Braves Country will surely feel an emotional loss with Martin Prado, the Braves and Prado were heading to an arbitration hearing after not reaching an extension agreement. Prado will enter free agency at the end of 2013. It is widely believed that Prado will seek $11-12 million per year in a multi-year deal following the 2013 season. This would have been a number the Braves would not have been willing to pay for Prado. Prado’s versatility and clutch hitting will be missed by the Braves, but the ability to sign a player with the potential of Justin Upton for multiple years far outweighed the loss of Prado. The trade of Prado also frees up about $10 million in payroll should the Braves need an additional piece in 2013.

    Justin Upton will be joining his brother B.J., signed to a 5-year deal by Frank Wren this winter, and Jason Heyward in the Braves outfield. Atlanta’s outfield immediately becomes one of the most dynamic Major League Baseball.

    The Justin Upton deal is pending a physical.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#%21/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves’ remaining trade and free agent options

    With the loss of Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves were left with a major vacancy in their lineup—one they may not fully compensate for this winter alone. Replacing a future Hall-of-Famer, after all, is a difficult task. Gone too, presumably, is fleet-footed leadoff man Michael Bourn.

    Newly acquired slugger BJ Upton figures to take Chipper’s place somewhere in the middle of the Braves’ lineup. In inking Upton to a 5-year contract, Braves’ General Manager Frank Wren closed the deal with their top free agent target fairly quickly, filling the right-handed power hitter role. The hole atop the batting order, however, remains.

    If the Braves are able to score a capable leadoff hitter, it will make life easier on Braves’ Manager Fredi Gonzalez, but that quest is proving difficult. Wren and Co. do, however, have a plethora of ways to sort out their lineup for the 2012 campaign.

    Given Martin Prado’s ability to play a multitude of positions, we may see him slide over to third base and take Chipper’s spot on the field. This would give the Braves the opportunity to go after someone to play in left: a position that is much easier to fill than 3B.

    The Braves could patch up the empty LF position from within, which would be the simplest and most cost-efficient way to go about this. If Wren chooses to go with players already in the system, we’ll probably see some sort of a platoon like we did when Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske manned LF during the 2011 season. Not the most inspiring option, but an option it is.

    In a platoon, we could see Jose Constanza and Reed Johnson splitting time, as each bat from a different side of the plate. Prospect Evan Gattis is another possibility, and could see time in the big leagues this year regardless of what the starting lineup shapes up to be. Now 26 years old and no longer a kid by baseball standards, Gattis and his powerful swing could be ready to make the jump to Turner Field, and perhaps become a valuable player for the Braves off the bench. He currently has 13 home runs in the Winter League and is turning some heads.

    Of course, all this left field talk could be moot if Juan Francisco steps up and shows enough improvement to take over at 3B (which would keep Prado in left).  Francisco hit for a .234 average last season in 192 at-bats. At times, however, he did display the big-time power that attracted the Braves to him in the first place. Though Fransisco, like Gattis, is tearing up the Winter League, I wouldn’t bet rent money on his earning a starting role.

    Ideally, given the choices from within, the Braves will bring in a new starter from the outside. With the winter meetings done with, Frank Wren may have missed his best opportunity to land a new LF; however, that doesn’t mean his search is done.

    There are plenty of feasible options to choose from—both via free agency and the trade market.

    One player who could be had via trade is Emilio Bonifacio. While he was part of the blockbuster deal that sent most of Miami’s foundation to Toronto, the Blue Jays may be looking to free up some space in their budget after acquiring R.A. Dickey.

    Bonifacio hit just .258 but had a .330 on-base percentage in an injury-plagued 2012 season in which he played in just 64. In 2011, when he was healthy, he batted .296 and finished with a .360 OBP in 152 games. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, Bonifacio would be a significant upgrade in the lineup over the likes of Francisco and Johnson.

    Cody Ross, who batted .267 last year and hit 22 home runs, was on Atlanta’s radar. However, he has reportedly agreed to a deal with the DBacks.

    Someone else the Braves could go after, even if it may be a long shot, is Josh Willingham. The 33-year-old veteran is currently signed by the Twins, but the Braves might have the assets necessary to make a trade happen (if Minnesota is willing, of course).

    Willingham hit 35 home runs last season with a .260 average. Throw him into Atlanta’s lineup along with Heyward, Upton, McCann, Uggla and Freeman, and we’re looking at perhaps one of the best power-hitting teams in baseball.

    Other than the aforementioned players, there are other alternatives out there…

    Arizona’s Jason Kubel is a nice power bat, but he hits left handed, and if the Braves opt for adding more power (rather than a leadoff man), they would like to add it from the right side of the plate.

    Colorado’s Dexter Fowler is available for the right price, but the “right price”, as defined by the Rockies’ brass, borders on the absurd.

    Nick Swisher is still on the market, but has likely priced himself out of Atlanta’s plans.

    And there are likely other names about which the Braves have inquired, who we haven’t even thought about.

    If a deal can’t be struck before Spring Training, there’s always the trade deadline next summer. The Braves can get by with the playing they have now for the first two-thirds of the season; the playoffs, on the other hand, might be a different story.

     

    There will never be another Chipper Jones

    When Chipper Jones came on the scene in 1993, the Atlanta Braves were beginning one of the best runs in the history of Major League Baseball. The Braves had won the past 2 division titles, the first 2 of a storied run of 14-straight division titles. Chipper Jones was part of 12 of them. With the likes of Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux, McGriff, and Justice, Chipper joined a roster of some of the greatest Atlanta Braves as a baby-faced Septmeber call-up in 1993. As the first pick of the 1990 amateur draft, the expectations for Chipper were high. And in his 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves, he exceeded expectations and became not only the face of the franchise, but one of the most beloved players to ever wear an Atlanta uniform.

    It’s hard to imagine a time when Chipper Jones wasn’t the player to watch, mostly because all eyes always seemed to be on him. Whether it was as a rookie recovering from a devastating knee injury after his lost 1994 season, as a guy in his prime contending for and winning the 1999 MVP, or in his final year as he was greeted in cities all across this country by fans who have appreciated his baseball career, Chipper was never under the radar. Like Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones was not only the face of his team, he became an ambassador for the game of baseball.

    As Braves fans, we have had the pleasure of watching Chipper take the field each season. There were some who said he should have retired several years ago. There were some who tired of his many injuries. There were some who said his value as trade bait was far greater than his value on the actual roster. But then there were the rest of us. We waited out his injuries. We cheered for his batting title in 2008 and didn’t give up on him the following year when he hit .264. We cringed in 2010 when Chipper came down on his leg after a spectacular defensive play and tore his ACL. As he was helped off the field, we worried that we would be left with that final image of Chipper Jones and would not see him on a big league field again. In the last several years as his power numbers and home runs dropped off, we delighted in his clutch hits and his many walks. And finally, as “Crazy Train” played on PA speakers in stadiums around the country during the 2012 season and Chipper stepped to the plate, we all took that moment to marvel at the third baseman’s career and accept that those plate appearances were quickly running out.

    Though Chipper’s career came to an end on a strange night at Turner Field, a night that saw controversy and unprecedented fan reaction to a bad call, the beauty of a storied career is that even a bad night is just a blip on the timeline of greatness. Sure, Atlanta fans will be sore for some time over the infield fly call that ended a rally in a bizarre Wild Card playoff (or play-in) game, but their anger will soon fade and all they will remember is that was the night they saw the face of the franchise take the field one final time. Hopefully the fans that were at Turner Field participating in the melee will one day regret that they didn’t give Chipper Jones the send off following the game that they gave long-time manager Bobby Cox after his final game.

    With Chipper Jones’ retirement comes something else that he and Braves fans can be proud of: He never cheated the game or himself. Chipper Jones will enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot as an Atlanta Brave (perhaps one of the last single-team stars) and as a man who played in an era tainted by substances that he chose not to put in his body despite the possibility of them advancing his career. With time and as new generations of fans discover the game, the taint of the steroid era will no longer hang like a cloud over players of  Chipper’s generation and new generations of fans will appreciate the integrity of men like Chipper Jones.

    When Hall of Fame voters look at Chipper’s numbers, they will note that Jones is in elite company. Only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray have more switch-hit home runs in baseball history than Chipper. He trails only Murray in RBIs by a switch-hitter. And when career batting average, home runs, doubles, walks and on-base percentage and slugging percentage are compared to other players throughout baseball history, Chipper finds himself in the company of Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. Elite company is an understatement.

    Where do the Braves go in a post-Chipper era? There will be much discussion about who fills the hole at third base and who can hit in the third spot in the lineup, a spot Chipper has more or less occupied his entire big league career. There will be much discussion about veteran leadership in the clubhouse and who the new face of the franchise is. Can Martin Prado play everyday at third base? Of course. There are few things Prado can’t do and maybe all the position shuffling has simply been a tryout for him to take the position in Chipper’s absence. Can Brian McCann step up in the clubhouse and lead the young club, including the pitching staff, to the kind of greatness Chipper saw with the teams of the 90s? He can once he returns from shoulder surgery and as long as he stays in Atlanta after becoming a free agent.

    In all the post-Chipper discussion, what will become immediately apparent is there will never be another Chipper Jones for the Atlanta Braves. The shoes he has left to fill are simply never going to be filled by one man.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#%21/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Prado, Heyward Leading Braves’ Offensive Revival

    With the Braves’ pitching falling far short of expectations this season, it’s been up to the offense to pick up the considerable slack. Maintaining a 41-36 record despite one of the worst team ERAs in the National League, Atlanta’s hitting is biggest reason they’re still afloat—quite the change in dynamics from last year.

    This upswing has been a pleasant surprise for Braves fans, and there’s a fairly distinct correlation between this change from 2011 to 2012, and that falls on the improvements from Martin Prado and Jason Heyward.

    The Braves’ finished 22nd in runs in 2011 as Prado and Heyward—two of the team’s most important bats—were mired in prolonged slumps. With the reemergence of the two, all of the sudden Atlanta’s offense is dangerous once again.

    Heyward, who had come off a stellar rookie campaign, fell into the dreaded sophomore slump in ’11, hitting .227 and just 14 home runs. Prado, after moving from second base to left field, hit just .260 last year. To say he’s rebounded from that would be an understatement, as he’s on pace for the most productive season of his career.

    Prado, 28, seems to have finally adjusted to his change to the outfield after Dan Uggla’s arrival, and he’s been the Braves’ best hitter this season. His .316 batting average is among the best in the National League; his .822 OPS is high than any other year since his MLB debut in 2006.

    Prado believes that his inability to use the whole field and lack of confidence played a role in his struggles, issues that appears to have disappeared.

    “One of the things that got me [to the major leagues], I feel gifted to handle the ball the other way,” Prado said. “I guess last year, I forgot and I didn’t have that confidence to hit the ball the other way. I’m trying to get back at it and forget about pulling the ball too much. I’m concentrating more on going up the middle and right field.”

    Heyward got off to a rough start this year, but he’s been on fire of late. This includes a stretch in which he hit six extra base hits in five games. Injuries have been an issue for the 22-year-old, but now that he appears healthy, Heyward is playing up to his potential.

    “Well, being healthy, you can make adjustments. When you’re not healthy, with a shoulder problem or what have you, you’re not able to make this adjustments,” Heyward said recently. “If you can’t make adjustments, somebody is able to get you out the same way more than one time in a row. When you’re hurt, you can tell yourself that you want to make that adjustment, but you might not be able to.”

    Atlanta has now cracked the top 10 in the Majors in runs scored, currently sitting pretty at No. 9 overall with 342. The Braves’ .260 average is good for 11th, which isn’t spectacular, but up from last year’s unimpressive .243 number.

    As the All Star break nears, the Braves find themselves very much in the mix for both a wild card spot and the NL East crown. While it will take an improvement in the pitching department before we can consider this team a true contender, it’s important that the Braves have been able to receive the hitting they have from

    Because as we learned the hard way last fall, every game counts—whether it be in April, June or October.

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

    Andrew Hirsh is a freelance sportswriter. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewhirsh

    2012 Official Lineup Projections

    By Kent Covington

    Braves will benefit from a full year of CF Michael Bourn on the basepaths.

    With the 2012 season officially underway, we’re officially late in releasing our 2012 lineup projections. Better lat than never.

    The new lineup looks a lot like the old one. Many Braves fans find this fact distressing, given the poor performance of the ’11 lineup.  While its true that Tyler Pastornicky and a full season of Michael Bourn are the only changes to the everyday lineup as compared to last year, we believe the offense has an opportunity to be substantially better in 2012.

    NOTE: The following projections assume 500 at-bats from each hitter, with the exception of Chipper Jones, whose projections are based on 400 at-bats.

      AVG HR RBI 2B/3B OBP SB
    Bourn .278 2 60 39 .343 58
    Prado .296 14 66 36 .339 5
    Chipper .277 16 60 29 .368 3
    McCann .286 23 85 32 .361 4
    Uggla .268 38 108 31 .351 3
    Freeman .285 27 96 35 .350 3
    Heyward .280 24 87 33 .367 13
    Pastornicky .264 3 50 21 .322 24
                 
    TOTAL .279 147 612 256 .350 113

    Since our pre-spring projections, we have added to our projected power numbers for Freddie Freeman after he led the Grapefruit League in homeruns with 7. Sure, it’s only spring. But the kind of power he displayed to the opposite field in March cannot be discounted.

    Could a career-best homerun total be in store for Dan Uggla this year? We think so.

    We have also edged up the projected power numbers of Dan Uggla a bit. The notoriously slow starter appears poised to hit the ground running after a torrid spring.

    As for Heyward, if he bounces back—and most analysts predict that he will—I find it difficult to limit him to 20 or 21 homers. When he’s right, there’s simply too much power there to envision a homerun total not at least in the mid-20’s range.

    We expect the Braves lineup to rebound from its epic underachievement in ’11 to finish top-5 in the National League in runs scored, as they did two seasons ago.  The Braves led the NL in on-base percentage in 2010 and finished 5th in runs. This is a more talented lineup than that ’10 team featured, and even with stingier pitching in the NL East these days, this offense should be expected to get the job done.

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

    Did you miss our 2012 season preview podcast? We’ve posted it below (part-1).