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Braves May Not Recover From Collapse


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The Atlanta Braves made no significant changes to their roster during the offseason, and I understand why: They won 89 games. If Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson had pitched in September … if Brian McCann had slugged better than .384 in the second half … if relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters hadn’t used up their best pitches in July … then the Braves, not the Cardinals, would have won the National League wild card. (And we wouldn’t know that much about David Freese.)

Outside of Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson, the Braves’ core consists of players enjoying (or entering) their prime years. The circumstances weren’t right for general manager Frank Wren to overhaul the roster. I get that.

But as I watched the Braves lose to the Tigers Wednesday — their fourth defeat in five spring games — I mulled over an unsettling question for Atlanta fans.

What if last year’s first half was the aberration?

The Braves entered the 2011 break at 54-38, second only to the Phillies in the National League. They went 35-35 thereafter, in a way that revealed them to be “good” and not “elite.”

Atlanta’s starters posted a 3.73 ERA last year — second-best in the division but well behind Philadelphia. It’s hard to argue that the Braves will have a better rotation this year, with the 36-year-old Hudson set to miss the first month of the regular season after back surgery.

Meanwhile, the competition improved considerably.

The Nationals added Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez, while the Marlins signed Mark Buehrle and acquired the volatile-yet-talented Carlos Zambrano.

So it will be harder to generate offense in divisional games — something the Braves found challenging enough in 2011, when they ranked in the bottom half of the NL in runs scored. The low output contributed to their appearance in a major-league-leading 26 extra-inning games. That, in turn, cranked up pressure on the still-young Kimbrel and Venters.

The rotation was complicit, too. Rather than ease the workload of Kimbrel, Venters and fellow stalwart Eric O’Flaherty by pitching deep into games, the starters logged only 957 1/3 innings — the fewest of any NL team that finished with a winning record.

The Braves would love to reverse that trend in 2012, but I doubt they will succeed. Hudson was their only 200-inning pitcher last year, and his lost April will make it almost impossible to hit the benchmark in 2012. Derek Lowe finished second on the staff in innings pitched, and he was dealt to Cleveland for salary relief.

So, at least until Hudson returns, the younger starters — Jurrjens, 26; Hanson, 25; Brandon Beachy, 25 — must lead the staff. And it’s unclear if they’re ready for that responsibility.

Hanson, who didn’t pitch after Aug. 6 last year because of shoulder woes, has been delayed this spring by a concussion sustained in a car accident but should be ready for the regular season.

Jurrjens, 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA after the All-Star break last year, must demonstrate that he’s moved past the right knee trouble that affected him in the second half. Beachy surrendered four runs in two innings Wednesday, largely because he was unable to finish hitters.

Meanwhile, the moment is drawing near for Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran to turn from prospects into trusted contributors.

“It’s time for guys to step up,” catcher Brian McCann said Wednesday. “Guys go down, it’s an opportunity for somebody. What they do with that opportunity is yet to be seen, but we’re all excited about the arms we do have. We’ve got a lot of pitching depth.”

The top of the batting order is intriguing, because the Braves are getting their first opportunity to see Michael Bourn and a completely healthy Martin Prado hit 1-2 on a regular basis. But there aren’t many sure bets in the everyday lineup — even if we can agree Dan Uggla will hit better than .185 in the first half this year.

McCann acknowledged he “wasn’t very good” in the second half last year and has adjusted his workout routine to better withstand the rigors of catching.

Not-long-ago sensation Jason Heyward, limited by an injured right shoulder last year, must prove himself again. (When asked if the shoulder is healthy, Heyward replied, “I’m not going to be on the field if it’s not.”) Chipper Jones, almost 40, is sore and hasn’t appeared in a game for several days. Infield defense could become a concern, with Uggla at second and rookie Tyler Pastornicky at shortstop.

It may take some time this year to understand the Braves’ performance last year. Perhaps those 89 wins weren’t a choke at all — but rather the best a flawed team could do.

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I don't see anything wrong with the article. He made accurate points, IMO. We've got a lot of question marks with this team and there's no sense in sugar coating things. Our in division competition improved over the off season and we're pretty much the same team (not that that's a bad thing). We just have more question marks than I'm comfortable with. If our guys bounce back, stay healthy, and out bullpen gets the breaks that it needs, we'll be fine and should be right in the thick of the playoff race. If our guys don't bounce back, re plagued with injuries, and our bullpen is over used again, then it could be a long year to be a Brave's fan.

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I don't see anything wrong with the article. He made accurate points, IMO. We've got a lot of question marks with this team and there's no sense in sugar coating things. Our in division competition improved over the off season and we're pretty much the same team (not that that's a bad thing). We just have more question marks than I'm comfortable with. If our guys bounce back, stay healthy, and out bullpen gets the breaks that it needs, we'll be fine and should be right in the thick of the playoff race. If our guys don't bounce back, re plagued with injuries, and our bullpen is over used again, then it could be a long year to be a Brave's fan.

He basically said the first half of last season [54-38] was a fluke and the real Braves are the team that went 35-35 in the 2nd half last year. Basically he said to expect the Braves to only be a .500 team this year. If that's not a bash I don't know what is.

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As long as Fredi Gonzalez is managing the team, and "Sitting on my hands" Frank Wren is running the show coupled with Liberty Media ownership then we can't compete with the GM savvier clubs or the ones that outspend us or out coach us. The Atlanta Braves major league team won't get another cent of my money until all the riff raff is ran out of town. Now the Braves farm teams are a different story and will be glad when they get going.

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He basically said the first half of last season [54-38] was a fluke and the real Braves are the team that went 35-35 in the 2nd half last year. Basically he said to expect the Braves to only be a .500 team this year. If that's not a bash I don't know what is.

Well we each read into it what we want. I see it as a question that he's proposing since he's asking "What if?" Do I think the 1st half was an aberration? Not at all. We were reasonably healthy and playing well. Once the injuries, over used bull pen, and lack of hitting caught up with us, we were a .500 team. If we have a repeat in those areas, then yes....it's not too inconceivable to think we could be a .500 team with the improvements of the Marlins and Nationals.

Our #1 SP is out for the 1st month of the season. Our #2 SP is coming of a season of shoulder problems and entered ST with a concussion. Our #3 SP is constantly fighting knee injuries. This could leave us with a very young and vulnerable pitching staff should any/all of the top 3 miss significant time this year. Our starting 3B is good for 100 games and forces our starting LF into the infield likely leaving us with a platoon of Constanza/Diaz/Hinske for 1/3 of the season. We assume that we'll have bounce back years from Uggla, Heyward, and Prado, but what if we don't?

I'd love for everything to fall into place and not have to worry about injuries outside of Chipper and Hudson. I'd love to see our starters make it out of the 5th inning more than once every 6 games. IMO, some very valid concerns and questions marks about this team were brought up and to wear blinders because they get called out is ridiculous. It's time for this team to step up to the plate and prove that we should be considered an elite team. The talent is there, but someone needs to bring it out....

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As long as Fredi Gonzalez is managing the team, and "Sitting on my hands" Frank Wren is running the show coupled with Liberty Media ownership then we can't compete with the GM savvier clubs or the ones that outspend us or out coach us. The Atlanta Braves major league team won't get another cent of my money until all the riff raff is ran out of town. Now the Braves farm teams are a different story and will be glad when they get going.

I don't agree with the notion that Frank Wren is a "sitting on my hands" GM. He's made plenty of moves on the course of time that he has been here. What moves was he suppose to do with the lack of money? I mean there were all the talks about trading Jurrjens and Prado but apparently he didn't get an offer worthy of trading either player so "sitting on his hands" was the best he could do this off-season.

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Well we each read into it what we want. I see it as a question that he's proposing since he's asking "What if?" Do I think the 1st half was an aberration? Not at all. We were reasonably healthy and playing well. Once the injuries, over used bull pen, and lack of hitting caught up with us, we were a .500 team. If we have a repeat in those areas, then yes....it's not too inconceivable to think we could be a .500 team with the improvements of the Marlins and Nationals.

Our #1 SP is out for the 1st month of the season. Our #2 SP is coming of a season of shoulder problems and entered ST with a concussion. Our #3 SP is constantly fighting knee injuries. This could leave us with a very young and vulnerable pitching staff should any/all of the top 3 miss significant time this year. Our starting 3B is good for 100 games and forces our starting LF into the infield likely leaving us with a platoon of Constanza/Diaz/Hinske for 1/3 of the season. We assume that we'll have bounce back years from Uggla, Heyward, and Prado, but what if we don't?

I'd love for everything to fall into place and not have to worry about injuries outside of Chipper and Hudson. I'd love to see our starters make it out of the 5th inning more than once every 6 games. IMO, some very valid concerns and questions marks about this team were brought up and to wear blinders because they get called out is ridiculous. It's time for this team to step up to the plate and prove that we should be considered an elite team. The talent is there, but someone needs to bring it out....

Those are all very valid points you make. But what reasons do we have for not expecting solid seasons from Prado, Heyward and Uggla? Uggla finished last season hitting over .300 over the final 80 or so games of the season. Prado's had 3 solid seasons and 1 bad one. Heyward is the only 1 of those 3 I'm concerned about.

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It would not surprise me at all to see this team take a step back. Sure they were hit hard with injuries, but this team had a huge lead in the last month of the season. Yet they seemed totally resigned to their fate. I dont recall a single clutch performance from anyone last september. There wasn't a heart nor a set of nuts to be found in the clubhouse.

And in case you haven't noticed, I'm still angry about it. Especially after watching the Cardinals come through in the clutch time and again to win it all, basically showing the huevos that the Braves sorely lacked.

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It would not surprise me at all to see this team take a step back. Sure they were hit hard with injuries, but this team had a huge lead in the last month of the season. Yet they seemed totally resigned to their fate. I dont recall a single clutch performance from anyone last september. There wasn't a heart nor a set of nuts to be found in the clubhouse.

And in case you haven't noticed, I'm still angry about it. Especially after watching the Cardinals come through in the clutch time and again to win it all, basically showing the huevos that the Braves sorely lacked.

Cannot argue that. I did not get over it unrtil around Decembr but it is still there. I think with the team showing up to ST early that maks a statement but we will see.

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Well, while I do not think that the Braves are .500 team, I am not as positive about the season as 567 seems to be.

I don't put a lot of emphasis on spring games, but they are playing terrible. They are the worst team in spring right now and even if they are working on things, so are the rest of teams in the league who are having more success right now.

The article is not really bashing the Braves, but pointing out the obvious question marks. Heyward is doing terrible in spring. Hudson is going to be out for at least a month to start the season. One of our best hitters in spring is likely not going to be a starter or even start with the big league club come opening day. Plus now Chipper is saying he doesn't even know if he can finish the season.

I hate to say it 567, but this team may take a step back this year with stiffer competition this season. They may be mostly hype but the Nats and the Marlins are better teams this year than they were last year thus bringing ina harder year and a year when the Braves didn't really improve their team, but held their hand in hopes that certain players will play better this season and the pitching staff can replicate what it did last year which.....I don't think it will, th staff was ridiculous last year and that is going to be a tough thing to do again.

It is possible that the Braves have a great year, but by no means should the fans in Atlanta act like we are a for sure playoff contender until this team shows us ANYTHING.

They have not showed that yet.

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