Thursday, April 02, 2009

Batter up: Atlanta Braves

It's that mystical, wonderful time of year where you commit to a baseball team who you know fully well won't win. This season, in honour of an popular Internet meme, we'll present 25 things about each team. At bat: The Atlanta Braves.
  1. The party line that the Braves are "hard to dismiss" is off the mark. They're pretty easy to dismiss.

  2. The dead giveaway is that rightfielder Jeff Francoeur was not traded after hitting .239/.294/.359 last season. That's bad for a middle infielder, never mind a corner outfielder.

  3. Don't call it a sophomore jinx, but Jair Jurrjens might have plateaued. He's only 23 and sometimes pitchers whose stock-in-trade is command and control don't continue to improve once the league have had a good look at them. Yes, sometimes those baseball announcer cliches have a ring of truth.

  4. The Braves were 43-38 at home and 29-52 on the road. It would be great to find out if there's a correlation between a team's home/road split and whether they are still tuned in to their manager, Bobby Cox.

  5. Minor-league pitching phenom Tommy Hanson's demeanour, dare we say, looks a little Halladayesque (it's either the reddish hair or the No. 32). Don't make the mistake of reading too much into Hanson starting the season in the minors. It's one of those roster-management dealies.

  6. Veteran righty Derek Lowe, who is the nominal ace, gave up close to five runs per game on the road last season. That's a concern.

  7. The Braves seem always be having pitchers develop arm trouble, but that could never have anything to do with how Cox uses his bullpen.

  8. Based on their run differential last season, they should have been 79-83 instead of 72-90, seven wins better. That's part of where all this talk the Braves are a playoff team is coming from.

  9. Catcher Brian McCann, the middle-infield set of shortstop Yunel Escobar and second baseman Kelly Johnson, and rookie centrefielder Jordan Schafer are pretty good Core of Four. Unlike the great Dean Smith, the Braves have trouble with the Four Corners offence. Their leftfielders hit .258/.330/.352 last season and Francouer had his problems, while Casey Kotchman is a bit of a Lyle Overbay clone over at first base.

  10. Veteran pickup Javier Vazquez threw a complete-game six-hitter, struck out 10 (including Mark McGwire three times) the last time I visited Olympic Stadium, as one of a crowd of 7,760 for a Cardinals-Expos game on Aug. 7, 2001. Of course, the Expos lost because the late Darryl Kile threw a four-hitter for St. Louis. There's just something weird about reflecting that a dead guy was the winning pitcher the last time you went to a stadium that's no longer used for baseball.

  11. A good friend participates in a NL-only keeper fantasy league, which for people with non-nerdish leanings, means it's only National League players and you keep the same players from season to season. (How hardcore are they? They can draft a player before he's even eligible for the MLB Draft.)

    Schafer was the only player among baseball's top 30 prospects last season who hadn't been claimed. Now he's Atlanta's starting centrefielder.

  12. GM Frank Wren giving noted travel writer Chipper Jones a three-year extension: Great move or his greatest move? Jones is 37 years old in a league that doesn't have a DH.

  13. Braves telecasts used to be a staple of summer in Canada in the days of the Superstation. Now we get Peachtree TV, which means missing out on Chip Caray. Damn.

  14. The opening scene of Eastbound & Down did show Kenny Powers striking out the final batter of the World Series while wearing an Atlanta uniform, so let's take the time to express hope the show gets a second a second season. The first was awesome.

  15. It is disappointing to hear the Braves' Triple-A team in Gwinnett, Georgia, will have the imaginative sobriquet "Braves" instead of "Crackers." Where's their sense of humour? Their new park is apparently a jewel. It includes a grassy berm in the outfield, which all minor-league parks should be required to have because it makes for some great meet-cutes.

  16. Long-time Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Mark Bradley not only blogs, but he responds to the comments. He's got to watch it, he's giving old media a good name.

  17. Greg Maddux's retirement means Tom Glavine (305-203 lifetime) is baseball's winning active pitcher. There's a sneaking suspicion that Glavine and Maddux were locked into a game of chicken when it came to who would retire first. Maddux did, so he wins.

  18. Cox's second stint with the Braves began in 1990, which means he's the first person to manage the same team for 20 straight seasons since Walter Alston with the Dodgers in the '50s, '60s and '70s. He could have been that guy in Toronto (probably not).

  19. The Braves, according to USA Today, have started a baseball camp in Tenerife in order to get into the virtually untapped reservoir of European and African baseball talent. That's pretty cool.

  20. The downside to the Braves' skein of playoff appearances being broken in 2006 was no longer being able to e-mail sportswriters and correct them for referring to it as a "streak of 14 straight NL East titles." Their first three came in the NL West, and everyone remembers 1994.

  21. Minor-league first baseman Freddie Freeman is supposed to be the real deal, so Kotchman is basically a seat-filler.

  22. One hopes Kala Ka'aihue makes it to the majors, just for the name alone (Yes, he's the brother of Royals prospect Kila Ka'aihue).

  23. Henry Aaron's 755 homers is the most of any player with a surname starting with the letter A. But did you know his former Braves teammate Darrell Evans with the all-time leader among players with an E surname, with 414?

  24. The Braves will need to be bad for 10 years before those Bring Baseball To Atlanta bumper stickers (or the Go Braves And Take The Falcons With You alternative) will be trendy again.

  25. Garret Anderson is probably not going to be the answer in left field. The L.A. Angels let him go for a reason.

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