• Oakland A’s

    It Will Be Weird, But Embrace It As Baseball Plans Its Return

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    SOMEWHERE IN NORTH GEORGIA – I was awake at midnight on March 11 as my 47th birthday began. Before heading to bed, I tweeted a clip of Tom Glavine in his No. 47 jersey. Twenty-one hours later, sports started shutting down. Not exactly the way I envisioned kicking off my next trip around the sun.

    It’s been 3 ½ months we never will forget, folks, and it hasn’t been easy for any of us. But Tuesday’s news that Major League Baseball plans to start its season July 23 or July 24 seems to have lifted the mood for quite a few people. I mean, I saw Braves lineup debates on social media today. I never thought I’d be so happy to see the Nick Markakis arguments return to my timeline.

    Sixty games, a July 1 spring training opening (“summer training?”), universal DH, no games with the Central or West, no fans in the stands, no tailgate parties, no spitting, no arguing – I can’t wait for Angel Hernandez to do his usual stellar work.

    Is it ideal? Of course not! A 60-game season would be unacceptable if it was a by-product of a lockout or strike. It’s a national emergency that shelved the sport in mid-March, and while we can argue the semantics of what’s happened between the league and players’ union the past four weeks, we’ll leave that topic for another day (because we may be writing about that – a lot – in the months and years to come).

    So cast aside any ill feelings labor-wise, at least for the short term. Buckle up and embrace the madness! After months of so much pain and sadness and despair and grief and hurt and anger, we have at least one bright light to help lift those of us who love baseball.

    Our game is coming back. Let’s go:

    Depth in Numbers: It’s going to be a frantic sprint from first pitch to October like the sport’s never seen. Gone is the marathon mentality. The teams possessing depth, especially pitching, are poised to do well in that setup. The Braves certainly are one of those teams. Starters are not going to be pitching deep into games, at least not initially, and the combination of Atlanta’s depth in starting pitching and a loaded bullpen could launch the Braves to a fast start. Speaking of which …

    Gotta Go Out of the Gate: There is zero room for a slow start for anybody who envisions reaching the postseason. There won’t be Washington going from a 19-31 start to lifting the trophy (not going to lie; that still stings to type). With only 37 percent of a full season being played, a 3-11 start effectively buries you. Conversely, an eight-game winning streak might clinch you a playoff spot. It will be fascinating to see if a playoff contender stumbles. What if somehow a team like the A’s or Astros or Cardinals dropped eight of their first 10?

    Don’t Sweat the Numbers: Chipper Jones hit .419 through the first 60 games of the 2008 season. I was writing for a defunct blog chronicling the season – Chipper literally was the lone reason I didn’t lose my mind writing every night about Atlanta’s first 90-loss team since 1990. If Mike Trout hits .407 through 60 games, that’d be cool. But I don’t think anybody is going to consider it on par with Ted Williams hitting .406 in 1941, even though Trout one day will join Teddy Ballgame in Cooperstown. And if some random journeyman has the 60-game stretch of his life and hits .400? Just embrace it and laugh. Nobody’s going to consider it legit.

    Don’t Sweat the Numbers, Part II: Imagine how many wins will lead the league? With starters likely not going five innings for maybe the first 20 games of the season (33 percent of the season!), if somebody wins six games, does that get it done? What about a vulture reliever who picks off eight wins in relief? Does he win the Cy Young? I know many don’t care about the win statistic for pitchers. That’s not the point. The weirdness of all this is. Speaking of which …

    Don’t Sweat the Awards: Let’s say that aforementioned journeyman does hit .400. Great! Give him the MVP trophy. Somebody with a 4.87 career ERA makes 11 starts and throws up a 1.24 ERA? Give him the Cy Young. See, we all know it’s weird. We all know it’s an outlier. So don’t get too worked up about it. A season like this has never happened before. I pray we never see another one like it. But it’s going to happen, so why not just enjoy the ride?

    The Ring Still is the Thing: So much of what we’re going to see is going to make us laugh, shake our head, maybe irritate us a little bit. Whether the season is 60 games, or around 110 games, or 144 games, it’s an environment of a particular season (games for 2020, 1981, and 1995 in order). But when this unprecedented season ends, the playoff format remains the same: 10 teams, three rounds, two wild-card games, one trophy to win. And whoever wins is a legit champion in my opinion. Can’t win it all if you don’t get there and then play your best in October.

    Baseball in 2020 is going to be weird. It’s going to be choppy at times. It’s going to be quiet with empty stadiums. And yes, we understand it could come to a screeching halt if the virus cannot be handled. That remains the most important thing in all of this, and until we have a vaccine, the virus is in control. But I’ll stay hopeful. And now, we have dates and a plan, so let’s go.

    Welcome back, old friend.

    Play ball.

    —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 sign Markakis, Johnson

    In a much anticipated move, the Atlanta Braves made a deal for a right fielder today with long-time Oriole Nick Markakis. It was the second move of the day for John Hart and the front office in Atlanta after signing former Oriole closer Jim Johnson. Markakis agreed to a 4-year, $44 million deal while his former Baltimore teammate signed for 1-year, $1.6 million.

    Markakis, a 9-year veteran of the AL, is coming home to Georgia with today's signing.

    Markakis, a 9-year veteran of the AL, is coming home to Georgia with today’s signing.

    While it was clear after the Braves traded Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins that they would be looking for a replacement for Heyward in right field, it wasn’t clear where they would look to fill that hole. The possibility of moving Justin Upton back to right field while utilizing Evan Gattis in left field was the only in-house scenario available. On the trade market, the free agents available included Markakis, Nori Aoki, Michael Morse, Melky Cabrera and Torii Hunter. With Hunter signing yesterday with the Twins, it was clear the pieces were going to begin falling. Enter the talks with Nick Markakis.

    Markakis, who attended high school and college in Georgia, has spent his entire big league career with the Baltimore Orioles. He has 9 years of service on his stat sheet with a career .290 average, .358 on-base percentage and .435 slugging. He has averaged 152 games per season, notching 155+ games in all but two of those seasons. He is coming off his second Gold Glove season in right field and a season where he batted .276.

    Atlanta has not had the best luck with long-term contracts in recent years, eating significant money on Derek Lowe and Dan Uggla as well as continuing to watch the B.J. Upton disaster play out. The structuring of Markakis’ deal could turn out to be a bargain during an offseason that finds nearly every team needing OF help. The signing of Markakis also leaves many wondering if this was merely setting up the club for a further move that would send Justin Upton elsewhere for pitching help and prospects. If this is to be the case, the Braves’ outfield would presumably be Gattis, the elder Upton and Markakis.

    Prior to the Markakis signing, the Braves announced that they had signed former Orioles and A’s closer Jim Johnson to a 1-year deal. Johnson, also a 9-year veteran of the league, spent 2006-13 with the Orioles before signing a big contract with the Oakland A’s that fizzled. He ended last season with the Detroit Tigers.

    Over his career, Johnson has posted a 3.57 ERA. Though he was unlikely to return to closing duties with any club after losing command of his sinker when he signed with Oakland, his services were needed by the Braves with the departure of Walden. He will likely serve as set-up man for Kimbrel. The hope is that Roger McDowell, who lived and died with an exceptional sinker in his big league career, will be able to straighten out Johnson and get him back on track.

    When his career went off the rails with the A’s, Johnson posted a 7.14 ERA with 2 saves in 38 appearances for the A’s. His time in Detroit, beginning in August, saw him appear in 16 games where he posted a 6.92 ERA. While both of those numbers are elevated, his ERA was inflated by a few games of no command when he was left in. Many baseball commentators contend that 2014 was an anomaly for Johnson.

    The two former Orioles round out several new additions or returning additions to the club and could still be joined by other new faces before the winter is over.

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

     

     

    Atlanta rebound from Dodgers’ visit, sweep A’s

    With a 6-run first inning in Pittsburgh tonight, it’s a good time to look back at the last two series and how the Braves fared against two visiting California clubs.

    As the end of the season inches closer and closer, the Braves continue to be one of the most frustrating and inconsistent clubs in the National League. Managing to win just one against the first place club in the NL West over a four-game set, they then turned around and swept the first place club of the AL West. Sitting 6 games back in the division and a game and a half back in the wild card race, it’s too early to count this team out. It may, however, be too late for the team to make a run at the surging rival Nats. Their 64-60 record in no way reflects the true potential and talent of this team.

    Since the Braves took the series from the Nationals at Turner Field the weekend of the 8th, they have won 4 of 7. Prior to that make or break series against Washington, the Braves went on an historically terrible road trip in which they 0-and-8.

    What we can say from the last 2 series:

    Mike Minor had a solid outing against the A's, going 7 innings with 2 runs allowed.

    Mike Minor had a solid outing against the A’s, going 7 innings with 2 runs allowed.

    • Mike Minor is beginning to look like the Mike Minor of old. While he continues to give up an unusual number of home runs, he tends to give up the solo variety. In his start against the visiting A’s, he pitched 7 innings with only 4 hits allowed and 2 runs surrendered. With 7 strikeouts, Minor seemed to have a feel for his pitches. Whatever was eating Minor seems to have let up for now. If Minor can be the Minor of old down the final push to the postseason, the Braves would have a tough 1-2-3 punch of Teheran, Santana and Minor.
    • Freddie Freeman is HOT. Over the last 14 games, there is no hotter hitter in baseball than the Braves first baseman. With a slash of .396/.475/.642, Freeman is 21-for-53 with 7 doubles, 2 homers and 9 RBIs. Freddie continues his clutch hitting, finally returning to his absolute dominance with runners in scoring position. Additionally, if Freeman doesn’t win a gold glove this season, I suggest some sort of angry Twitter drive against the powers that be. Freeman’s strength with the glove is impressive.
    • Julio Teheran has settled down and rebounded from two terrible starts against the Mariners and Dodgers. In his start against Oakland, Julio pitched 6 innings of 2-run baseball. This after giving up 5 and 6 runs in his previous 2 starts.
    • Inserting the rookies–Tommy La Stella and recently called up Phil Gosselin–has been a spark for the Braves. Since letting go of Dan Uggla to open up regular playing time for La Stella and now Gosselin. Since being called up, Tommy La Stella has hit .273/.352/.345 (including hitting .360 from the 7-hole). La Stella has hit .310 with RISP with 4 doubles, a triple and 26 RBIs. Phil Gosselin, in a more limited role of 15 games, has hit .310 including his first big league homer. Both have offered solid defense up the middle.

    BRAVES FACE PIRATES IN IMPORTANT SERIES…

    While every series seems important for the Braves at this late stage in the season, facing the Pittsburgh Pirates after sweeping the Oakland A’s sets the Braves up for an important test of consistency. Getting wins in back-to-back series is a feat the Braves have struggled with this season, especially in August.

    If the Braves are going to contend the keys will be getting the lead off and 2-hole hitters on base, something that seems doable with Gosselin in the lineup, and keeping Freeman and Justin Upton hot in the heart of the order. Chris Johnson’s recent resurgence will help the club immensely. And for Fredi Gonzalez to have a plan with B.J. Upton and Emilio Bonifacio in center field will prove important. Whether the Braves are willing to make a decision on Upton is yet to be seen. From a pitching standpoint, the Braves need consistency in the ‘pen from the setup men. For all his talent, Craig Kimbrel cannot do it all. Walden, Simmons, Carpenter, et al must step up. Julio Teheran needs to continue to lead the rotation as the young ace that he is. With Minor settling down and Santana solidly contributing, the Braves will need Wood to be the dominant pitcher he was at the beginning of the season before being sent down and they will Harang’s veteran leadership.

    A final note before the pitching match ups against Pittsburgh. Bullpen coach Eddie Perez recently became an American citizen. Perez spent parts of 9 seasons with the Braves as a catcher and has been a coach with the team since 2007. Perez, born in Venezuela, signed a minor league contract with Atlanta in 1987. Perez took the naturalization oath on August 13th. We here at BravesWire would like to commend and congratulation Eddie for this important event in his life. He continues to be a great mentor to the young Latin American young men that end up in the Braves farm system and with the team.

    Ervin Santana got the start tonight against the Pirates while Harang (9-7, 3.51) will take the hill Tuesday vs. Liriano (3-9, 3.78). Wood (9-9, 3.07) vs. Cole (7-4, 3.78) will get underway Wednesday to wrap the series.

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