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Rotation? Solid. Offense, bullpen? Problems.

Rotation? Solid. Offense, bullpen? Problems.

NEW YORK – It wasn’t a unanimous opinion, but the consensus over the offseason was that if you ranked the Braves’ starting rotation, bullpen  and offense by level of concern, a rotation that added baseball’s two oldest pitchers and an injury-prone lefty was more worrisome than an offense that ranked among the National League’s most productive in the second half of the 2016 season and a bullpen that looked promising, if healthy.

But with exactly one-ninth of the season completed, the starters are currently the least of those concerns for a 6-12 team lugging a six-game losing streak into the Big Apple for a series with the also-struggling Mets, whose bad luck with injuries in 2016 continues unabated in a new season.

As for the Braves, the excitement over a highly praised new ballpark and a four-game sweep of the lowly Padres hasn’t been enough to offset the realization that rebuilding continues and a reminder that, yes, rebuilding stinks.

That rotation, with the additions of 43-year-old Bartolo Colon, 42-year-old R.A. Dickey and lefty Jaime Garcia to the incumbent duo of Julio Teheran and still-unproven Mike Foltynewicz, has held its own, ranking 10th in the majors in ERA (3.80), albeit with the majors’ fewest strikeouts per nine innings (6.41). Braves starters have just three wins in 18 games, tied with Toronto for the fewest in the majors, and the reason is two-fold: shaky bullpen and lack of run support.

Braves starters are 25th in the majors in run support at 3.63 per nine innings pitched, and the alarmingly inconsistent bullpen ranks 25th in ERA (5.19), 27th in opponents’ batting average (.272) and 26th in opponents’ OPS (.806).

Braves relievers have blown more saves (four) than they’ve converted (three). Ouch.

Offensively, the Braves rank 24th in the majors in runs per game (3.61) despite having baseball’s hottest hitter for much of the early season in Freddie Freeman, who has continued a remarkable hitting surge he began in early June. Freeman ranks third in the majors in average (.381), tied for second in home runs (seven) and third in OPS (1.303) behind Milwaukee’s Eric Thames (1.392) and Braves nemesis Bryce Harper (1.321).

But while Harper has 20 RBIs and Thames has 17, Freeman has just nine. None of the other 18 hitters with at least six homers has fewer than 10 RBIs and 15 of them have at least 13 RBIs.

Which brings me to a rather staggering statistic: The Braves have hit 20 home runs, but just three with runners on base, tied with the Giants for second-fewest homers with runners on base in the majors. Only the Royals (two) have hit fewer. The Braves’ .320 slugging percentage with runners on base is third-lowest in the majors, while the Nationals (.544) and Brewers (.500) lead the majors in that category. The Nats are hitting .321 with runners on base compared to the Braves’ .227.

The Braves’ 17 homers with nobody on base is tied for fourth-most in the majors, trailing only the Brewers (22),  Mets (21) and Astros (19). The Braves’ .438 slugging percentage with bases empty is fourth-highest in the majors (second in the NL) and a whopping 118 points above their slugging percentage with runners on base.

Ender Inciarte has two of the Braves’ three homers with runners on base, while Freddie Freeman has the other. Part of the problem is, their hottest hitter, Freeman has had only about half as many opportunities to hit with runners on base as several other Braves.

Again, Freeman has seven homers and nine RBIs, continuing a disturbing trend that’s gone on for a full year now.

Consider this: In Freeman’s past 162 games, going back to April 22, 2016, he has hit .322 (194-for-603) with 93 extra-base hits including 40 homers, 93 BB, a .416 OBP and .620 slugging percentage (1.036 OPS). As remarkable as those statistics are – and they are indeed remarkable – what’s also astonishing is Freeman’s RBI total in those 162 games: 96 RBIs. Yes, the man has 40 homers and almost as many extra-base hits as RBIs in 162 games.

Freeman had some stretches in that period where he didn’t hit great with runners in scoring position, but what the stat points to more than anything is just how inconsistent – and this season, consistently bad – the guys hitting in front of him have been in terms of getting on base.

This season, Braves leadoff hitters – Ender Inciarte has hit leadoff in all 18 games — rank 26th in OBP (.247) and Braves No. 2 hitters (primarily Dansby Swanson) are dead last in the majors in batting average (.179) and OBP (.200; next-lowest is .237).

As a result, Braves hitters with the most at-bats with runners on base are usual Nos. 5-6 hitters Nick Markakis and Brandon Phillips, with 33 at-bats and seven RBIs apiece in those situations, and Inciarte, with 31 ABs. Markakis is 9-for-33 (.273) with four doubles and a .368 OBP with runners on base, Phillips is 11-for-33 (.333) with a .371 OBP, and Inciarte is just 6-for-31 (.194) with a .242 OBP.

The next-most at-bats with runners on base belong to Adonis Garcia, who is 4-for-25 (.160), and Swanson, who’s just 2-for-23 (.087).

And No. 3 hitter Freeman? He has just 16 official at-bats (4-for-16) with runners on base, though he also has five walks and a .429 OBP.

Eighteen games and just 16 at-bats with runners on base. That’s a problem. The Braves have one of the majors’ best and hottest hitters, but his searing performance feels like it’s being largely wasted.

This classic ’70s pop tune seemed appropriate for some reason.

“HOW LONG” by Ace

Ace

How long has this been going on?
How long has this been going on?

Well, if friends with their fancy persuasion
Don’t admit that it’s part of a scheme
Then I can’t help but have my suspicions
‘Cause I ain’t quite as dumb as I seem
And you said you was never intending
To break up our scene in this way
But there ain’t any use in pretending
It could happen to us any day

How long has this been going on?
How long has this been going on?

Oh, your friends with their fancy persuasion
Don’t admit that it’s part of a scheme
But I can’t help but have my suspicions
‘Cause I ain’t quite as dumb as I seem
Oh, you said you was never intending
To break up our scene in this way
But there ain’t any use in pretending
It could happen to us any day

And how long has this been going on?
How long has this been going on?
How long?
How long has this been going on?
How long has this, how long has this been going on?
How long, how long has this been going on?
How long has this been going on?

 



Full article @ Rotation? Solid. Offense, bullpen? Problems.

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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Braves’ Seitzer on learning to coach Freddie Freeman

Braves’ Seitzer on learning to coach Freddie Freeman

 

Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ scorching-hot-hitting first baseman, is a modest sort who doesn’t like to talk much about his exploits and prefers to portray an “I just see the ball and hit it” sort of philosophy, even if teammates and coaches know he is much more technical than that. He works as hard as anyone in the batting cage and is notoriously hard on himself when he doesn’t feel like his swing is where it needs to be at any given time.

Freddie Freeman has been the majors’ best hitter since mid-June. (Curtis Compton/AJC file photo)

So on Wednesday afternoon, while Freeman’s group was taking batting practice at SunTrust Park and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer was standing on a step behind the netting of the batting cage, watching intently, I asked Seitzer about working with Freeman since Seitzer came to the Braves after the 2014 season, following one season as hitting coach for the power-hitting Blue Jays, who finished second in the American League in OPS when he was there, and four seasons with a youthful Royals team including Alex Gordon, who credited Seitzer with successfully overhauling his swing.

There was no overhauling of Freeman’s swing when Seitzer arrived. A two-time All-Star and .295 career hitter in 12 major league seasons, Seitzer led the American League in hits as a rookie with 207 in 1987, when he had Royals icon George Brett as a mentor late in Brett’s Hall of Fame career. Seitzer, who played multiple seasons with the Royals, Brewers and Indians, considers Brett and Paul Molitor as the best pure hitters he ever played with.

But wait till you see some of the praise Seitzer has for Braves slugger Freeman, who has been arguably baseball’s best hitter since mid-June. In 110 games dating to June 13, Freeman has hit .350 (143-for-409) with 73 extra-base hits including 30 home runs, a .448 on-base percentage and .689 slugging percentage, for a 1.137 OPS. Those are absurd numbers, folks. MVP numbers if he maintains anything close to that.

After his two-homer, two-double night Monday against the Padres, Freeman was 2-for-2 with two singles and two walks Tuesday against the Nationals. Extending his streak of reaching base successfully to 10 plate appearances, one shy of an Atlanta Braves record set by Jeff Burroughs in 1978.

“A couple of days ago I was fouling off  a lot of pitches,” Freeman said with a shrug. “I can’t tell you anything that’s happened; I’m hitting balls and they’re going through.”

Seitzer knows better.

Here’s what he had to say when I asked him about working with Freeman and whether Freeman reminded him of any other hitters he’d been around.

“Honestly it took a year and a half to figure out what buttons to push with him in order to keep him out of his long (cold) stretches,” Seitzer began. “I don’t even like to talk about it because he may go into a long stretch and those buttons — I might have to find news ones. But he’s been really, really disciplined to make the adjustments he needs to make in order to have a chance to do some serious damage in the games. But when he gets out of whack he can’t catch up to fastballs, he’s swinging at bad pitches, and we’ve seen a few stretches of that this season where the buttons have brought him back.

Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer is a two-time former All-Star player and .295 career hitter who led the American League in hits as a rookie. (Curtis Compton/AJC file photo)

“When I first came here and we started having our initial conversations I said, what do you do when you get in trouble? What adjustments do you make? He goes, ‘None, I just keep swinging until it goes away.’ And I said, well, we’ve got to find out what we can do sooner instead of having to wait until it goes away, because it could take a while to go away. He goes, ‘I know.’

“He’s just a – and George Brett was like this – just a very natural, God-given hitter that … they just did it. And they didn’t know what they did, they just did it. And so when you work with guys who haven’t ever thought about mechanics, the one thing he told me when I first got here, he goes, ‘I want to hit .300 and I’m going to try to take my base hits the other way’ (to the opposite field), and he goes, ‘and if you try to make me pull the ball because I’ve got power, we’re going to have problems.’ And I go, well you don’t have to worry about me. I like staying in the middle of the field, being aggressive that way, and if that’s your approach, with as quick a hands as you have, I said, you’re going to be in good shape.

“Helping him find adjustments was a long process. Because, as with any hitter, you can’t talk through reasoning of what’s going on with their swing and their brain, but if they don’t get quote-unquote immediate results, then they discard it. Even if it’s right, makes sense, they understand it, they agree with it, if they don’t get results they’re going to go look for something else and you’ve got to help them find something else. Freddie’s just been, since last June, we found some buttons and it’s been pretty cool. And we found a couple more this spring that helped him. Because he was just on fire in the second half last year, but it was like, I held my breath all the time because I don’t want it to go away. Because when it starts to go away, then we’ve got to get it back.”

Then I asked Seitzer a little more about Brett, since he’d mentioned the great Royals hitter.

“George, Paul Molitor – unbelievable. And Paulie (Molitor) had an unorthodox swing – no load, very still and very quick hands, explosive. He was more about pitch selection and being aggressive in a spot. Robin Yount was unbelievable, too. He wasn’t as gifted as a hitter; I mean, he was a well-rounded athlete/baseball player, great hitter too, but not like George and Molitor were. Freddie’s as good as anybody I’ve ever worked with. I won’t say he’s low-maintenance, but when he’s on fire he’s no-maintenance. And the key is just keeping him right where he needs to be, because he can get frustrated really fast, just with flips (underhand tosses in batting cage) and batting practice, if he doesn’t feel his swing working the way he wants he gets really, really mad.

“Trying to help him deal with that frustration and channel it to an adjustment has been challenging at times. But I think the relationship that we build over the last two years and the trust that’s been established, it’s been a lot, lot better. It’s been a lot smoother. Not that it was ever hard, you just want guys to be able to make those adjustments pretty quick.”



Full article @ Braves’ Seitzer on learning to coach Freddie Freeman

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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Sweet-swinging FreddieFree almost too good to be true

Sweet-swinging FreddieFree almost too good to be true

 

He has a gorgeous wife, the impossibly cute 7-month-old kid, the sweetest of swings, and by far the largest contract in Braves franchise history, one that will pay him between $20.5 million and $22 million annually from 2017 through 2021.

That sweet swing: Freddie Freeman connects on a two-run homer in the third inning Monday (AP photo)

What Freddie Freeman doesn’t have is many, if any, begrudgers. Because he’s just too nice a guy and too good a player and teammate for people to dislike. I mean, seriously, the guy might be the friendliest Braves superstar since Dale Murphy, and if he keeps doing what he’s been doing Freeman might have a good shot at becoming just the third Brave to win the National League MVP award since Murph and the first since Chipper in 1999.

It’s too early to predict he’ll win it this season – though Freeman’s current pace would make that a strong possibility – but if not this season then there should be plenty more opportunities for the first baseman who’s still just 27. By the way, Chipper won his MVP award in his age-27 season in 1999, and Murph won his back-to-back MVP awards in 1982-1983 at ages 26 and 27.

Terry Pendleton was the relative oldster of the bunch, winning his at age 30 in 1991, the Braves’ worst-to-first season.

Again, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. I’m not predicting Freeman wins the MVP award this year. Not yet, at least. But if he keeps doing what he’s done not just this season but since mid-June, he might just be the favorite to win.

Freeman had another stunning performance Monday night, going 4-for-4 with two doubles, two homers and three RBIs in a 5-4 win that gave the Braves a five-game winning streak and a four-game sweep of the Padres in the first series at SunTrust Park, which looks like it could be significantly more hitter-friendly than Turner Field, which was a decided pitcher’s park even if Freeman (and Chipper) made it seem otherwise at times.

Freeman’s four extra-base hits tied a franchise record and raised his average to .400 (18-for-45), tied for fourth in the majors, with a .481 OBP (sixth in the majors) and whopping .867 slugging percentage (second in the majors). He has four doubles and five home runs in 12 games after hitting over .500 for most of spring training.

“Hitting is really hard, and he makes it look easy,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Freeman’s Monday night display of power hitting to every part of SunTrust Park.

Padres catcher Austin Hedges said, “He’s a really good hitter, man. He puts good swings on balls. He’s tough to pitch to. You just tip your cap to him.”

Freeman ranks second in the majors in slugging percentage and OPS (1.347) behind Milwaukee’s hot-starting Eric Thames (1.000, 1.479), with Freeman and Thames the only big-leaguers OPS’ing over 1.218 through Sunday.

It’s worth noting again, before we dive a little deeper into some impressive stats, that Freeman is not just arguably one of the best five overall  hitters in baseball, he might be the nicest and easiest to pull for. This is a controversy-free guy who works hard, wants to play ever single day even if he’s got a nagging injury, never wants to go on the disabled list even when he should. He feels like he’s letting down his teammates and the organization if he doesn’t play and play at a high level, regardless of aches and pains.

There’s more: He doesn’t cuss because he knows his late mother wouldn’t like that — and he’s all about honoring his late mother, every day in several ways. He also brings family members from California across the country for games when they can plan family reunions on the road, and the Orange County native scrambles to come up with dozens of tickets for family and friends every time Braves are in Los Angeles or San Diego.

Freeman never has a cross word for a reporter or holds a grudge if someone writes something bad about, though granted there has been just about zero to criticize for some time now.

Which brings us to the longer-range stats. Going back to May 20, he has 33 home runs and four multi-homer games in his past 131 games.

And just consider these jaw-dropping stats for Freeman in his past 109 games going back to June 13: .346 average (141-for-407) with 73 extra-base hits including six triples and 30 home runs,. a 443 OBP, a .688 slugging percentage (1.131 OPS), 79 RBIs, and 86 runs. The Braves are 55-54 in those games and he has 23 go-ahead RBIs and 11 game-winning RBIs in that span.

For some context, consider what some other stars have done since June 13: National League MVP Kris Bryant has hit .288/.389/.550 (.939 OPS) with 54 extra-base hits (24 HR), 64 RBIs and 80 runs, and American League MVP Mike Trout has hit .321/.453/.565 (1.018 OPS) with 47 extra-base hits (19 HR), 66 RBIs and 86 runs.

Also since June 13, Rockies slugger Nolan Arenado has hit .302/.364/.571 (.934 OPS) with 59 extra-base hits (26 HR), 88 RBIs and 79 runs, and Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has hit .301/.399/.484 (.883 OPS) with 42 extra-base hits (15 HR), 62 RBIs and 80 runs.

And to think, just a year ago there were still some folks who insisted the Braves picked the wrong guy to give that huge contract to. No, they didn’t. They picked exactly the right guy in Freeman, who’ll be a bargain for the next six seasons if he keeps producing anywhere near his current level.

• Freddie Freeman remains an underrated star in the majors. “Green” remains one of R.E.M.’s most underrated albums. OK, it’s a stretch, but anyway, here’s a great tune from that album.

“TURN YOU INSIDE-OUT” by R.E.M.

R.E.M.

Divide your cultured pearls and paste
I’m looking for to lay to waste
Of all the things I cannot taste
And this not the racy raceThey spoke loud,
“I believe in what you do
I believe in watching you”
It’s what you do
“I believe in what you do
I believe in watching you”I could turn you inside-out
What I choose not to do
I could turn you inside-out
What I choose not to do

Given the choice
Given the heart
Given the tool
Given the word
Given the cheers

“I believe in what you do
I believe in watching you”
It’s what you do
“I believe in what you do
I believe in watching you”

I could I, I could turn you inside-out
What I choose not to do
I could turn you inside-out
What I choose not to do

Given the choice
Given the heart
Given the tool
Given the word
Given the cheers



Full article @ Sweet-swinging FreddieFree almost too good to be true

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ


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Gohara cruises through five for Fire Frogs

Gohara cruises through five for Fire Frogs

After going 1-for-3 with an RBI and run scored in the matinee for Triple-A Rochester, Daniel Palka exploded in the Red Wings’ second game against Syracuse. The right fielder was involved in the entirety of Rochester’s offense in the nightcap, driving in four runs and scoring three more of his own in the Red Wings’ 8-7 loss to the Chiefs.

Full article @ Gohara cruises through five for Fire Frogs

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Colon has fun in clubhouse, then on mound

Colon has fun in clubhouse, then on mound

As Jose Ramirez and Adonis Garcia were shooting pool in the middle of SunTrust Park’s home clubhouse Sunday morning, Bartolo Colon loosened the mood and startled everybody within earshot by loudly smacking a flexible foam roller against a leather chair, creating what sounded like a gunshot or small explosion.

Full article @ Colon has fun in clubhouse, then on mound

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Bats back Colon as Braves win fourth straight

Bats back Colon as Braves win fourth straight

Bartolo Colon surrendered one hit over seven dominant innings and the Braves erased Trevor Cahill’s no-hit bid with a middle-inning offensive flurry that propelled them to Sunday afternoon’s 9-2 win over the Padres at SunTrust Park.

Full article @ Bats back Colon as Braves win fourth straight

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Suzuki improving at catching Dickey's knuckler

Suzuki improving at catching Dickey's knuckler

As R.A. Dickey divvied out credit after helping the Braves claim a 4-2 win over the Padres on Saturday night at SunTrust Park, the veteran knuckleballer made a point to first compliment his catcher, Kurt Suzuki, who had just experienced a night that was less frustrating than the one he’d had exactly one week earlier.

Full article @ Suzuki improving at catching Dickey’s knuckler

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Atlanta youth play ball in Robinson's honor

Atlanta youth play ball in Robinson's honor

Some 150 youth from metro Atlanta spent the day pitching, hitting and running around the area’s four baseball fields, each sponsored by a former Brave (John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan and Mike Hampton) on Jackie Robinson Play Day.

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