• Tyler Pastornicky

    Braves swept by Boston in split series, looking for consistency

    Despite quality outings from many of the Braves’ starters and a shakeup at second base, the Braves continue to lack consistency among the offense and shutdown innings from their bullpen. The Red Sox arrived at Turner Field with a 10-game losing streak and after 2 games at the Ted and 2 games back home at Fenway, they walked away from the 4-game series with a sweep. In 3 of the 4 games, the Braves handed a lead to their bullpen and watched it disappear including the walk-off in the finale. It was a tough series for Braves fan who not only watched the sweep, but also watched more Red Sox fans than ever before flood into the Ted to outnumber Braves Country.

    Tommy La Stella was called up during the series with the continued shakeup at 2B. He went 2-for-3 in his debut.

    Tommy La Stella was called up during the series with the continued shakeup at 2B. He went 2-for-3 in his debut.

    In another attempt to shake things up with the offense, Fredi Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren called up Tommy La Stella from Triple-A Gwinnett to man second base. Sending Tyler Pastornicky back down and leaving Dan Uggla on the bench (where he will likely stay until his time with Atlanta has closed), the Braves hoped the hot bat La Stella was swinging in Triple-A would carry over to the big leagues. La Stella brings his minor league .322/.407/.474 slash line to the club, numbers that more than replace those of Uggla (.177/.254/.257), Pena (.164/.243/.299) or Pastornicky (.200/.300/.257). Fredi hopes La Stella’s numbers will transfer as an everyday second baseman in the bigs. He also hopes that Pena and Uggla will offer flexibility off the bench and occasional match-up numbers that warrant a start.

    Heading into the finale with the Red Sox, In the last 11 innings for the Braves bullpen, they’ve given up 11 runs (10 earned) and walked 11 batters. The Braves seem to be hurting with Walden on the disabled list and have still not established a definitive timetable for the return of Jonny Venters. Avilan has not been the Avilan of 2013 when he was all but perfect. Varvaro has been the most consistent, aside from Kimbrel. However, the Braves really need Thomas to not be costly in high pressure situations. They also need to decide what they are going to with David Hale. They have said he would be their long man, but in situations of high pressure it would seem that he would be a better option than Thomas. That doesn’t seem to be the thinking of Fredi, however. Whatever the Braves do, they can’t rely on arms from Triple-A to fix the problem. The recent minor league signing of Kameron Loe is thankfully not for a big league spot. Whatever fix the Braves are going to do to the ‘pen will be done with the arms they have.

    While Braves fans are largely happy with the demotion of Dan Uggla from everyday second baseman, many continue to call for less playing time for B.J. Upton. This is problematic for the Braves because of his contract and fans should understand that. Also, B.J. Upton has been much improved in recent weeks. Hitting .222 at home may not seem like a great stat, but for B.J. that is a huge improvement and one that is showing up in the box score. His average on the season has improved to .208 (.284 on-base). In his last 8 games, B.J. is hitting .258 with 8 hits (4 of them extra-base hits) and only 6 strikeouts. Every little improvement from hitting with runners in scoring position to strikeouts is a step closer to the player the Braves they thought they were getting when they signed him to his $75 million contract.

    BRAVES RETURN TO MIAMI, SIGHT OF SIGN-STEALING SWEEP…

    The Braves will send three of their best to the mound in Miami against a rotation that is now without ace Jose Fernandez. Teheran (4-3, 1.77) takes his 15 inning scoreless streak into the opener vs. Koehler (4-4, 3.10). Santana (4-2, 4.06) hopes to get back on track in the pitcher-friendly lime green confines against Turner (1-2, 5.35). And veteran Harang (4-4, 3.29) will close out the series against Eovaldi (4-2, 3.36).

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

    Braves holding lead in East, look to bury Nats

    Uggla-1

    Dan Uggla (2B) will miss 3-4 weeks after undergoing Lasik surgery to correct his vision. Uggla is hitting .186 on the season with 21 home runs, 53 RBIs and 146 strikeouts in 388 at-bats.

    In the 3-game series between the Braves and visiting the Phillies, Atlanta experienced many losses. First, and most unfortunately, a fan was killed at Turner Field after falling from the fourth level of the stadium into the players’ parking lot. A situation no team is truly prepared to deal with, the Braves offered a moment of silence in the fan’s memory the following night.

    The team lost Dan Uggla to the disabled list as he and the team made the decision to send the second baseman for corrective eye surgery, hoping to have him back in time to help them in a playoff run. Uggla hopes to begin a rehab assignment 10 days after surgery. He and the Braves do not expect his time on the DL to last longer than 15 days. Also, Uggla’s replacement at second base, Tyler Pastornicky, went down with a knee injury after colliding with Jason Heyward in the outfield. Pastornicky’s time table for return, as determined by an MRI revealing a torn ACL, is by Spring Training. Should the Braves need a second baseman in addition to Paul Janish, the likely option is 24-year-old Tommy La Stella. La Stella is only 64 games into the season at Double-A.

    Despite a few question marks on the field, the Braves have a lot to be hopeful about. After going 8-11 with a 4.26 ERA during the period beginning on July 3rd and ending on July 25th, the Braves are now 17-2 with a staggering 2.26 ERA in their past 19 games. Pitching has received run support, yes, but they’ve also held their opponents to little to no runs. They have now held opposing teams to 2 or fewer runs in 46 games in 2013. The August record of the Braves is a far cry from that of their 2012 season. In 2012, they were 15-14 in August. With Wednesday’s win, they improved to 11-2 in August (5-2 home; 6-0 road). Atlanta has not lost back-to-back games since July 20th and 21st while in Chicago facing the White Sox. They haven’t lost back-to-back games at home since July 3rd and 4th against the Miami Marlins.

    Three players that have been so consistent this season to not warrant mentioning after each series are Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson and Craig Kimbrel. They are, of course, a huge part of the reason the Braves have the record they do. This season with the bases loaded, Freddie Freeman is hitting a whopping .750 (6-for-8), with 3 doubles & 14 RBIs. He has an other-worldly slugging percentage of 1.125. Craig Kimbrel has been lights out this season. Unlike his previous seasons of dominance in the National League, Kimbrel has had more consecutive saves in 2013. With his 38th save on the season, Craig Kimbrel passed Braves hall-of-famer John Smoltz for the franchise record in consecutive saves with 28 straight. Kimbrel has not blown a save since May 7th. And in 34 appearances since May 9th, Kimbrel has only allowed 16 hits. He is currently leading the NL in saves on the season. Kimbrel now has 127 saves in his young career. Chris Johnson, who continues to lead the league in hitting with a .337 average, has 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position and is hitting .333 in his past 4 games with 2 doubles, 1 homer and 8 RBIs.

    As of Thursday, the Braves have 9 players that are among the leading top 10 in 7 key categories in the National League: In batting, Chris Johnson (1st, .337) and Freddie Freeman (8th, .310); In home runs, Justin Upton (6th, 22) and Dan Uggla (7th, 21); In RBIs, Freddie Freeman (T-4th, 80); In wins, Mike Minor (T-5th, 12); In ERA, Mike Minor (10th, 2.87); In saves, Craig Kimbrel (1st, 38); and, in wins above replacement (WAR), Andrelton Simmons (8th, 4.7).

    Guys that haven’t been consistent enough throughout the season to be among league leaders, but who have turned around their seasons and have been consistent for the Braves of late are Jason Heyward and Kris Medlen.

    It’s important to remember how dominant Medlen has been in the league since he first came up. In his career starts when the Braves have given him a lead of at least a run, he is 23-3. Medlen has been 4-0 in his last 4 starts with a 3.46 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched. He has pitched 7 innings in each of his last 2 starts and 6 innings in his 2 starts before that.

    Jason Heyward is having a torrid summer. Heyward, in 59 games since June 2nd, is hitting .308 (70-for-227) with 25 extra-base hits (9 of those homers), .384 OBP, and a .502 slugging percentage. In Heyward’s past 17 games, the majority of which have been in the leadoff spot, he is hitting .400 (26-for-65) with 9 extra-base hits, .466 OBP, and a .631 slugging percentage.

    BRAVES HOPE TO END NATS’ PLAYOFF HOPES ONCE AND FOR ALL…

    Reliever Jordan Walden played catch Wednesday and again Thursday. He hopes to be available for the series opener against the Nationals. Starter Paul Maholm will throw 6 innings or 90 pitches Saturday in single-A Rome, likely his second to last rehab outings. Fredi Gonzalez has yet to decide where Paul Maholm will fit in the Braves pitching rotation. He still has about 9 days before he would be ready to pitch for the big league club. Both Walden and Maholm have been out with wrist/hand injuries.

    In the other dugout, the Washington Nationals come into the series with a bad case of Natitude. Gio Gonzalez and Jayson Werth had a bit of a spat in the dugout recently and it has been reported that Bryce Harper, the sophomore slugger, had to step up and tell his team to get it together and not give up on the season.

    The Braves are unsure what they will see on the mound given recent injuries to Gio Gonzalez (back) and Stephen Strasburg (groin). Strasburg also threw a bullpen Thursday and didn’t appear to have any groin issues while Gio’s back is reportedly better. In addition to the injured pitchers, battery mate Wilson Ramos re-injured his left hamstring for the 3rd time this season. Ramos has not returned to the offensive prominence that he exhibited prior to tearing his ACL and missing almost the entire 2012 season. Not because of injury, closer Rafael Soriano blew the save and recorded the loss against the Giants in their most recent series finale, leading a bullpen that has been terrible. The Nats are certainly not looking like the team everyone said was the team to beat when the season opened.

    Though the Braves have a 14 1/2 game lead on the Nats in the NL East, the Nats’ hopes of the 2nd Wild Card spot aren’t entirely out of the question. 9 1/2 games back from the 2nd Wild Card spot currently held by the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals could be put out of their misery by the Braves with a sweep or even 2-for-3 weekend in Atlanta’s favor. Without question, the Braves would love for the playoff hopes of the Nationals to be ended once and for all, by their own hand no less.

    The series opener will feature young pitchers Jordan (1-3, 4.14) vs. Wood (2-2, 2.78). Game 2, featured on the MLB Network, will pit Strasburg (6-9, 2.83) vs. Minor (12-5, 2.87). And assuming he is able to start as scheduled, Gonzalez (7-5, 3.42) vs. Teheran (9-6, 3.08) will wrap the series.

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

    Braves baffled by Met pitching, face Brew Crew

    RHP Kris Medlen was the only starting pitcher to notch a win in the 5-game set against the Mets.

    RHP Kris Medlen was the only starting pitcher to notch a win in the 5-game set against the Mets.

    The Braves at times seemed baffled by the pitching thrown at them by New York in the 5-game series at Turner Field. They faced Matt Harvey who didn’t allow a hit until the 7th inning of his outing and found themselves scuffling for hits until the final game of the series when they managed to put 13 hits on the board in the loss. The only starting pitcher for the Braves to walk away with a win in the 3-loss series was Medlen who scratched out a win with the 5 runs the Braves put on the board–3 or 4 runs more than he has become accustomed to getting in support of his outings.

    Line scores from the 5-game set against the Mets:

    Game 1:

    W: Carpenter (1-0) L: Gee (5-7)

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

    Game 2 (1st of doubleheader):

    W: Harvey (6-1) L: Wood (0-1) SV: Parnell (10)

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

    Game 3 (2nd of doubleheader):

    W: Wheeler (1-0) L: Maholm (7-6)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Mets 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 4 0 6 14 0
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 7 2

    Game 4:

    W: Medlen (4-7) L: Marcum (0-9) SV: Kimbrel (20)

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

    Game 5:

    W: Hawkins (2-0) L: Minor (8-3) SV: Parnell (11)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 r h e
    mets 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 4 9 1
    braves 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 13 3

    BRAVES IN MILWAUKEE TO FACE BREW CREW…

    The Braves announced during the New York series that Dan Uggla has been dealing with vision issues. He is now trying new contacts. Whether or not his vision has anything to do with his poor productivity is a question that can’t be answered right away. Uggla, of course, has been on an offensive slide since leaving the Florida Marlins. His productivity has not been what the Braves had hoped when they signed him, even though Uggla is a notoriously streaky hitter. As Uggla works through the vision issue, Tyler Pastornicky has stayed with the big league club (he was called back up when Evan Gattis went on the disabled list) and will be getting some playing time. Pastornicky has hit .309 in 57 games with Triple-A Gwinnett this season.

    No timetable has been set on when Brandon Beachy will be getting a shot at his first start since Tommy John surgery. The inflammation in his elbow remains a concern for the Braves.

    Friday night’s game against Milwaukee featured Teheran vs. Peralta. The second game of the series features Hudson (4-6, 4.17)vs. Hand (0-0, 3.38). The final game of the series features Maholm (7-6, 3.57) vs. Figaro (1-1, 3.88).

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

    Braves take mini-win streak on road, welcome Simmons to lineup

    SS prospect Andrelton Simmons makes his MLB debut in Wash this weekend

    Opening the 3-game series with St. Louis at Turner Field, the Atlanta Braves had lost 7 straight games. The monkey on their back was heavy. They’d been swept for the third time in 2012 by the Washington Nationals.

    The string of injuries, illness and terrible luck that began the 7-game skid continued into the St. Louis series when the Braves dropped the first game to the Cards. Freddie Freeman was again on the bench, frustrated by his ongoing vision problems and awaiting new sports glasses from Oakley and Under Armour.

    In addition to the offensive struggles of the Braves in game one, Tommy Hanson had a rough outing. Hanson gave up 6 runs in 3 1/3 innings, 3 of those runs courtesy of 2 HRs. Hanson also walked 3 batters.

    Game two of the St. Louis series began with the weight of an 8-game losing streak on the shoulders of the starting lineup and starter Randall Delgado. However, the game got underway and though the Cards out hit the Braves 2-1, the Braves were able to ride Dan Uggla’s 3-run blast to a much needed win. Michael Bourn brought pop, hitting his 5th home run of the season, and newly called up Jose Constanza introduced a spark with his speed that seemed to invigorate the entire team.

    Young Randall Delgado had a positive outing, giving up only 3 runs in 5 1/3 innings. Delgado needed a quality start. The bullpen, with the exception of Jonny Venters who continues to cause concern with his inability to shut down hitters, kept the game within reach.

    Game three of the series with St. Louis saw the return of Freddie Freeman who has been benched with eye issues. Freeman, who normally wears contacts, has been waiting for special sports glasses to arrive after trying a number of options. Freeman’s vision issues stem from his inability to make tears. His dry eyes made contacts impossible to wear and eventually led to him actually scratching his cornea. In his first at-bat with his new sports goggles, Freddie Freeman took Kyle Lohse deep. Freeman capped off the night with a 3-hit performance.

    Tim Hudson was perfect through 4 innings, but struggled mightily in the 6th inning. Prior to the 6th inning, Huddy gave up only 2 hits. The bullpen picked  Hudson up in a rather unconventional way. Venters pitched 1/3 of an inning to get the win. O’Flaherty and Durbin each notched a hold. And Craig Kimbrel got the save. Not the usual path to a win.

    The Braves took two out of three from the Cardinals.

    ROSTER CHANGES…

    J.C. Boscan was called up while Brian McCann was battling the flu and David Ross went down with a groin injury. Boscan will stay with the big league club until Ross is ready to catch. The presumption is that when Ross is healthy enough to catch, Boscan will be sent down and a reliever, perhaps Cory Gearrin, will be called up to replace Kris Medlen in the ‘pen.

    Boscan’s place on the roster was opened up by Chipper Jones’ stint on the DL with a leg contusion after taking a line drive off it in Tampa Bay. Chipper may come off the DL as early as June 8th after having fluid drained from his leg. This will present the question of who gets sent down upon his return.

    Tyler Pastornicky was sent down to Triple-A Gwinnett following the Braves’ Wednesday night win. Andrelton Simmons will join the big league club Friday in Pastornicky’s place. Simmons brings solid defense, something Pastornicky has struggled with, and might just be the spark the lineup needs to get back on track after their eight game skid. As Kent Covington notes, Simmons immediately steps in as the best defensive shortstop in the National League.

    With the struggles of Mike Minor, the Braves sent reliever Kris Medlen to Gwinnett to get in a few starts so he can join the starting rotation. He will likely need three starts with Gwinnett before rejoining the club.

    Medlen’s absence on the roster opened a spot that was taken by Jose Constanza who immediately brought a spark to the lineup with his obvious speed and what he calls his hot hands.

    NATIONALS REMATCH IN THE CAPITAL CITY…

    Friday: Minor (2-4, 6.98) vs. Strasburg (5-1, 2.64)

    Saturday: Beachy (5-3, 1.77) vs. Gonzalez (7-1, 2.04)

    Sunday: Hanson (5-4, 3.84) vs. Zimmermann (3-5, 2.80)

    Though Mike Minor’s fate seems sealed, his rematch with Strasburg may be Minor’s last chance to show Fredi Gonzalez that he deserves a place in the rotation.

    Beachy’s rematch with Gonzalez will be a good test for Beachy who didn’t pitch poorly against Gio in their last meeting, but didn’t get the win and didn’t go as deep into the game as he and the Braves would have liked. Starting pitchers have not put up as many innings as the team would like. Going forward, if the starters can go deeper into games, this will take stress off the bullpen and hopefully get the big three (O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel) back on track.

    The Nationals welcome the Braves to D.C. tomorrow night, getting underway at 7:05 (EST).

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

    Home series with the Bucs

    By Tara Rowe

    Having dominated the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Braves arrived in Los Angeles ready to face the team leading the National League in wins. They got off to a rough start behind now demoted Jair Jurrjens, but they salvaged two games of the series with the help of now 40-year-old third baseman Chipper Jones and continued pitching brilliance from Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy. The Braves left Chavez Ravine having taken 2 out of 3 from the red hot Dodgers. Not bad for a team that got off to an 0-4 start.

    The Braves had 24 hits in the 3-game series. Game 2 showcased a 3-for-3 night for rookie Tyler Pastornicky who had been on the bench for three games. And game 3 included a 2-for-3 night for the slow-starting Dan Uggla, including 2-out RBI. The offense may not have scored as many runs in L.A. as in Arizona, but they continued to get hits and often from the most unlikely of places.

    HEADING HOME FOR THE BUCS…

    Today the Braves start a seven-game homestand that includes four games with the Pittsburgh Pirates and three with division rivals the Philadelphia Phillies. The Pirates have gone 8-10 to start the season with a miserable 3-6 on the road.

    Friday: Burnett (1-0, 0.oo) vs. Hanson (2-2, 3.38)

    Saturday: Bedard (0-4, 2.63), vs. Delgado (2-1, 5.74)

    Sunday: Correia (1-0, 2.00) vs. Hudson (0-0, 0.00)

    Monday: TBD vs. Minor (2-1, 3.42)

    Keys to having a winning series at Turner Field with the Pirates include having a successful outing from Tim Hudson, one that doesn’t tax the bullpen too much to open the series; taking each opportunity the Pirates give with runners in scoring position; and, getting to Burnett and Correia early.

    In his 2 games at Triple-A Gwinnett, Hudson pitched 10.2 innings, with an 0.84 ERA, giving up 8 hits, 5 walks, and striking out 8. Hudson had a 2-0 record at Gwinnett. Hudson looked sharp and said that his surgically repaired back felt well. Sunday night will be his first test against major league hitters.

    The Braves begin the series tied with Houston for most runs scored in the National League. They’re also leading the league in RBIs. To continue this trend, the Braves will have to manufacture runs with speed, something Jason Heyward and Michael Bourn are doing exceptionally well at, and coming through with runners in scoring position (RISP). The Braves rank 16th in Major League Baseball in runners left on base (LOB) and 24th in runners left in scoring position.

    In his first outing since fracturing his orbital bone while attempting a bunt, Burnett is looking to continue his success at Turner Field. Burnett started in place of Kevin Correia who was a late scratch due to left side discomfort. Correia has had several solid outings, but has been the victim of poor run support. Correia remains the listed probable pitcher for Sunday afternoon’s game.

    The series gets underway tonight at Turner Field at 7:35 p.m. (EST).

    Chippers return lifts the Braves

    By Jim Pratt

    Not expected to return to the Atlanta Braves lineup until the home opener on April 13, Jones was able to convince the coaching staff over the past few days that he was healthy enough for game action.

    Chipper, who will play the majority of the season at 40 years old, was activated from the disabled list prior to Tuesday’s game against the Houston Astros after spending the last couple weeks recovering from arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

    Regardless of whether his early return was due to a quick recovery or the fact the Braves have struggled to a 0-4 start to the season, the return was welcomed not only in the lineup but also defensively at third base. Especially after his newly acquired replacement, Juan Francisco, committed a career-high three errors in Monday’s game.

    Chipper made his presence with the glove felt immediately with his classic barehanded pick-up of Jordan Schafer’s first inning bunt for the first out of the game. He later saved a run by taking advantage of a base running mistake by the Astros’ Carlos Lee on a tag play at home.

    It was originally thought that he would make at least one minor league rehab assignment, but he eventually decided to forego any such assignment and join the big league club immediately citing his only concern being his timing at the plate.

    Any concern was quickly laid to rest when he put the Braves ahead with a two-run bomb in his first at-bat of the season. A career .400 hitter in 39 games at Minute Maid Park, Chipper finished the night 2-4 with 2 RBI while batting sixth in the lineup.

    <a href='http://www.foxsportssouth.com/pages/video?videoid=89033164-1ff1-4fa4-b27b-1ed47e39073b&#038;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Jones, Gonzalez on win over Astros' >Video: Jones, Gonzalez on win over Astros</a>

    With Chipper leading the way for Atlanta’s first win of the season, it almost goes without saying that manager Fredi Gonzalez was his biggest fan of the night. Gonzalez told reporters after the game, “I’m glad we didn’t make [Jones] go on that rehab assignment. I think today, he won our game single-handedly — home run, base hit and a couple nice plays defensively. I think today he made a statement that Spring Training is too long. I think next year we’ll show up the 20th of March, play 10 games and then say, ‘Go get them.’ But the stuff he does, nobody else can do.” – Via MLB.com

    Overshadowed by the return of a future Hall of Famer, rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky hit his first career home run in the fourth inning to extend the Braves’ lead. Eric Hinske later put the finishing touches on the victory scoring Jason Heyward with a pinch-hit single to left field in the eighth inning.

    Although starter Tommy Hanson struck out eight batters on the night, he had to work his way out of trouble multiple times, throwing 101 pitches in only five innings of work.

    The combo of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel kept the “Stros at bay in the 8th and 9th innings. Venters faced five batters giving up a walk and a hit while striking out three. Kimbrel got himself into some early trouble allowing a single and a walk. He eventually escaped the inning unscathed with the help of a 6-4-3 double play ball and another nice play by Chipper to end the game.

    Randall Delgado will make his season debut tonight in the rubber match of the series, while the Braves offense will try to solve their woes versus left-handed pitching as they face the Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez.

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

    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).

    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

     

    Grading future Braves talent (part-2): Infield

    By Jim Pratt

    Editor’s note: In part-1 of his evaluation of future Atlanta Braves talent, BravesWire’s Jim Pratt graded the Braves’ young pitching talent. You can see part-1 here

    The strength of the infield is unevenly weighted on one side of the diamond. As you can see below, only one out of the top 10 infield prospects in the system is on the right side of shortstop. There are some strong up-the-middle defenders on their way to Atlanta in Christian Bethancourt and Andrelton Simmons. There are also plenty of options to replace Chipper Jones after his possible retirement at season’s end, but only one of those prospects will be close to MLB-ready by next year.

    C – Christian Bethancourt (Grade – A): There have been signs Bethancourt’s raw tools are beginning to mature. After posting solid, yet unspectacular numbers over two minor league levels last year, he had a coming out party of sorts in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) where he hit .306 with five homeruns in only 72 at-bats.

    His arm is in the elite category, and his “pop-time” has been recorded at 1.7 seconds. (Pop-time is the period of time from the instant the ball hits the catcher’s glove to the moment it touches the fielder’s glove on a throw down to second base.)  The average pop-time for a big league catcher is about 1.9 seconds, and 1.8 is considered excellent.  When you get down to 1.7 seconds, you’re in “Pudge” Rodriguez territory.

    He still needs to refine some of his actions behind the plate, but he has plus-ability as a defender. If he can carry his offensive success from the AFL to Double-A this season, he could be on track to arrive in Atlanta at about the same time Brian McCann’s contract expires.


     

    SS – Andrelton Simmons (A): Another plus-defender in the middle of the diamond, Simmons has spent the early part of Spring Training making enough of an impression that he has turned what was considered by most as an outside chance to fill the vacant shortstop opening into a position battle that will likely last until the end of camp. He is fundamentally sound with the glove, has terrific range and a rifle for a throwing arm. Scouts rate throwing arms on a scale from 1-80, and some scouts are calling him an “80-plus”. Not surprising for a guy originally drafted as a pitcher with a 98mph heater.

    Even though he won the Carolina League batting title with a .311 average, his bat is still considered the biggest question mark. If Simmons can be a competent eight-hole hitter in the major leagues, his defense is good enough to make him a possible All-Star at the position.

    3B – Joe Terdoslavich (B): Now on the Braves prospect radar, Terdoslavich hopes a strong spring camp will provide him the opportunity to get a call-up when Chipper Jones needs multiple days off during the season. His bat was hard not to notice last season as he hit .286 with 20 homeruns and 82 RBI for High-A Lynchburg, including a Carolina League-record 52 doubles. He has continued to swing a hot bat through the AFL (.321 AVG, 11 XBH) and Spring Training (5-18 with 2 doubles). Because his offense will likely advance him through the minors quickly, the Braves are attempting to transition Terdoslavich from first base to third base as a possible replacement for Chipper. His defense has previously been a liability, but early reports out of camp have been positive.

    3B – Edward Salcedo (B): Salcedo has the raw tools both offensively and defensively to be a major leaguer, but it is all projection at this point. Even though he is vulnerable to breaking balls and at times the outer half of the plate in general, he did show an improved approach at the plate in 2011. He still has some work to do as a third baseman, but the ability to play the position is there. Although, some scouts feel he will eventually be a corner outfielder. A breakout season is on the horizon, whether that is 2012 or not remains to be seen. He should start the season at High-A Lynchburg.

    SS – Tyler Pastornicky (B-): He has the ability to be a big league starter, but Pastornicky profiles more as a super-utility player for a playoff contending team than a starter. His best tool is his speed, which should result in at least 20-25 stolen bases once he is in the majors. He has above-average range defensively and can consistently make the routine play at shortstop. He makes enough contact to have a decent average, but that will come with empty power numbers. Solid skills across the board will make him a valuable contributor in the major leagues. He was penciled in as the Opening Day starter for Atlanta heading into the spring, but Simmons’ play has force the Braves to question those plans.

    SS – Nick Ahmed (C+): A second round pick in last year’s First-Year Player Draft, Ahmed is a solid defender with average range. His speed and arm qualify as above-average tools. He has shown gap power with the bat. His ability to stick on the left side of the field will go a long way in determining his value.

    3B – Brandon Drury (C+): After struggling in his first professional action in 2010 (.198/.248/.292 in 52 games), Drury made tremendous strides at the plate last season (.347/.367/.525 in 63 games). He has plus raw power that should develop as he matures physically. He also has the ability to make contact even though he is a free-swinger at the plate, walking only six times in 265 at-bats. He is solid enough at third to stick there, but it will be the development of his bat that decides his fate moving forward.

    C – Evan Gattis (C+): As promising as Gattis’ offensive game is, he hit .322 with 22 homeruns and 24 doubles at Class-A Rome last season, his defense behind the plate needs just as much work. His arm is strong enough to throw runners out consistently, but his actions behind the plate need to be quicker. After being out of baseball for four years, he just needs continuous repetitions to become adequate enough defensively that he can stick at catcher, where his bat will play up. Where he starts 2012 will depend on where Bethancourt lands. The Braves want Gattis to get regular playing time behind the plate.

    3B – Kyle Kubitza (C ):Kubitza profiles physically as a classic third baseman, but he has work to do defensively if he plans to remain there. He amassed 22 errors in 55 regular-season games at Texas State. Kubitza is a left-handed hitter and while he makes good contact, he currently lacks the power of a corner infielder.

    2B – Tommy La Stella (C): A bat-first prospect, La Stella had a terrific debut at Low-A Rome hitting .328/.401/.543 with nine homeruns in 232 at-bats. His bat profiles as plus if he can stay at second base, but his sub-par defense could send him to a corner outfield spot where his bat then becomes suspect. At 5’11 and 185 pounds, his size would also come into question as he moves up levels if he is converted to the outfield.

    Infield — Overall Grade: B

    By the way, if you haven’t heard our mid-spring 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.

     

     

    Meet Atlanta’s New Shortstop

    By Kent Covington

    As you’ve probably heard by now, 22 year old rookie, Tyler Pastonicky, has been awarded the starting shortstop position in Atlanta.  He recently reported to Braves spring training camp after a trip to California to work out with follow Braves infielder, Jack Wilson, who is embracing his new role as mentor to the young shortstop.

    Here’s a brief look at his bio and minor league stats (from milb.com):

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Pastornicky was chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 5th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.  He was traded to Atlanta with SS Alex Gonzalez and LHP Tim Collins from Toronto for SS Yunel Escobar and LHP JoJo Reyes in 2010.

    His greatest asset is his speed. The video below will give you a good idea of how quick he is on the basepaths.


     

     

    By the way, we’ve got a new Spring Preview Fried Baseball podcast up now. 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.