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Let’s admit Brandon Phillips has been a revelation at third base

Let’s admit Brandon Phillips has been a revelation at third base

 

DENVER – Brandon Phillips hasn’t been a serviceable third baseman since he was asked at the beginning of the month to move to that position, which he had played for one game in Double-A in 2001 and never since. He’s not been serviceable; he’s been far more than that.

Brandon Phillips remains at good hitter at age 36, and this month he’s shown he’s made a seamless transition to third base after a career as a four-time Gold Glove second baseman. (Getty Images)

In fact, everyone I’ve talked to about it seems to be in agreement that he’s been a damn good defensive third baseman for these past 12 Braves games since making the move he wasn’t thrilled about making, but had little choice in the matter once the Braves decided to call up second-base prospect Ozzie Albies. It was either play third base or don’t play, since the Braves made it clear to Phillips that they wanted to, needed to and were going to get a good look at Albies.

So Phillips, a 36-year-old former four-time Gold Glove-winning, three-time All-Star second baseman thought about it briefly, told manager Brian Snitker he’d do it, and worked out at third base before batting practice the next day (Aug. 2) before starting that night’s game at a position he’d not played in a game of any kind in 16 years. And he handled the position flawlessly from the jump, because Phillips might be relatively old by baseball standards, but the dude – Dat Dude – is still in great shape despite some aches and pains, and more important because he retains some seriously strong skills and sharp reflexes.

What Brandon himself thinks about the initial move to third base and subsequent results isn’t clear, as he’s thus far declined to discuss anything third-base related. And that’s certainly his prerogative. If his pride was initially hurt or he was just ticked off at being asked to move, who can blame him? Even if it was made clear by the Braves – at least to us, and through us to the public – the Braves said all along after trading for Phillips just before spring training that when Albies was ready, he would not be blocked by Phillips. And even though Phillips surpassed most expectations this season at the plate, when the Braves decided it was time to look at Albies the rest of the season to plan for next season, they did it.

That doesn’t mean Phillips, who was raised in metro Atlanta (Stone Mountain) and has really enjoyed playing at home in front of friends and family this season, had to agree or like the decision to have Albies supplant him.

But he made the move, and he’s excelled at third base. In fact, I’ll say publicly what I mentioned to someone in the press box last night: At this stage of his career, I think Phillips is a better third baseman than second baseman. Really.

And if Phillips thinks about it, which I’m sure he probably has now that it’s been a couple of weeks since the move, him playing third base and showing he can play it well is the best thing that could’ve happened to him going forward if he wants to continue playing, which he does. I mean, think about it: How many teams would be looking to sign a 36-year-old free agent who plays second base and second base alone? And who’s had some nagging injuries and isn’t the top-of-the-charts defender he once was at the position?

Not many teams, if any, would’ve been interested in signing him to anything more than perhaps a one-year, low-salary deal, if a guaranteed deal at all.

But if teams believe he can play both second base and third base? Well, Phillips could get interest as a legit backup and a guy who could start at either of two positions for an extended period if a team had an injury.

Bench players need to play more than one position these days unless they really have a particular tool that makes them exceptional enough to spend a 25-man roster spot on despite the lack of defensive flexibility. If they’re a big-time power hitter, for instance, then some teams are willing to carry such a player for the home-run threat off the bench. But for a guy like Phillips, being able to play a couple of infield positions instead of just one might mean the difference in getting some degree of free-agent interest. Who knows, maybe even the Braves might want to consider keeping him. Crazier things have happened (like, for instance, asking a 36-year-old second baseman to move to third base in the middle of a season).

And if he can play third – which he’s shown he clearly can, and play it well – then teams will probably assume he can play a sound first base, too.

Phillips got a big welcome back when the Braves played this season at Cincinnati, where he spent 11 seasons before he was traded to Atlanta just before spring training. (AP photo)

As he showed again in Tuesday night’s game, Phillips can handle line drives as well as just about anyone; the reflexes appear undiminished. And where his range wasn’t what it once was at second base, that’s not really an issue at third, where fielding most of the balls he gets there is a matter of a quick first step to get to a grounder or lightning-fast reaction to snare a liner. It’s not called the hot corner for nothing, ya know?

As for his arm, it’s not going to get rated high on any scouting scale at this stage of his career, but Phillips has shown on several occasions that he’s got more than enough left to make the throws he needs to make from third base. As Snitker said last night after Phillips fielded a Trevor Story grounder and threw him out for the final out of the Braves’ 4-3 win over the Rockies, Phillips has a little more he can reach back and get when he needs to make a strong throw.

When the Braves called up Albies unexpectedly Aug. 1 and Snitker told us that day that he’d asked Phillips to play third base, my immediate reaction was, no way. Move makes no sense, and there’s no way Phillips would agree to do it, I thought.

I was wrong on both counts. Entirely wrong. And each game has been a reminder that Brandon Phillips is a ballplayer in every sense, a guy who had some great natural skills and instincts to play this game at a high level, and who honed those over decades to such a degree that moving across the diamond isn’t nearly as difficult for him as it would be for 99.9 percent of the folks on this planet.

Well done, Mr. Phillips.

• I would close this with one of BP’s walk-up songs, Fetty Wap’s “My Way,” but the lyrics, well, might be deemed unsuitable for the family newspaper, and I might get in trouble. So I’ll go with this rockin’ song from DBT about another Mr. Phillips, especially since this is the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death and Elvis and the other Sun Records guys are what this song’s about.

“CARL PERKINS’ CADILLAC” by Drive-By Truckers

Drive-By Truckers

Life ain’t nothing but a blending up of all the ups and downs
Dammit Elvis, don’t you know
You made your Mama so proud
Before you ever made that record, before there ever was a Sun
Before you ever lost that Cadillac that Carl Perkins wonMr. Phillips found old Johnny Cash and he was high
High before he ever took those pills and he’s still too proud to die
Mr. Phillips never said anything behind nobody’s back
Like “Dammit Elvis, don’t he know, he ain’t no Johnny Cash”

If Mr. Phillips was the only man that Jerry Lee still would call sir
Then I guess Mr. Phillips did all of y’all about as good as you deserve
He did just what he said he was gonna do and the money came in sacks
New contracts and Carl Perkins’ Cadillac

I got friends in Nashville, or at least they’re folks I know
Nashville is where you go to see if what they said is so
Carl drove his brand new Cadillac to Nashville and he went downtown
This time they promised him a Grammy
He turned his Cadillac around

Mr. Phillips never blew enough hot air to need a little gold-plated paperweight
He promised him a Cadillac and put the wind in Carl’s face
He did just what he said he was gonna do and the money came in sacks
New contracts and Carl Perkins’ Cadillac

Dammit Elvis, I swear son I think it’s time you came around
Making money you can’t spend ain’t what being dead’s about
You gave me all but one good reason not to do all the things you did
Now Cadillacs are fiberglass, if you were me you’d call it quits

 



Full article @ Let’s admit Brandon Phillips has been a revelation at third base

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



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Blackmon reminds Braves what happens to mistake pitches at Coors

Blackmon reminds Braves what happens to mistake pitches at Coors

DENVER – On Sunday in Denver, Rex Brothers was asked about the coming return to Coors Field, where he was once a successful Rockies closer, and what it took to be successful at the unique hitter-friendly ballpark with its mile-high altitude and vast outfield.

When Rex Brothers was a closer for the Rockies in 2013, he didn’t have many nights like the one he had Monday in his first game pitching at Coors Field for the visiting team. He gave up a leadoff triple in the eighth to start a three-run inning in what had been a scoreless game. (AP file photo)

“That’s a place where you’ve really got to execute,” Brothers said. “And if not you might see the touchdowns on the scoreboard. … That outfield is so big, doubles turn into triples, singles turn into doubles. That’s what I call the merry-go-round — whenever you see the dang merry-go-round take off you know there’s probably been some instance in an inning where a single’s turned into a double, a double’s turned into a triple, those sorts of things. It just gets going and it feels like it doesn’t stop.

“It’s a big yard, you definitely want to keep the ball on the ground, keep it on the infield as best you can.”

A day later, late Monday night, Brothers got his first chance to pitch at Coors Field since 2015, and his first time as an opposing pitcher. He did not keep the ball on the ground. The first batter he faced, Charlie Blackmon, hit a leadoff triple to start the eighth inning, the game-changing inning when the Rockies scored three times to turn a scoreless game into a 3-0 Braves loss.

“When I had the count in my favor I didn’t execute, it’s as simple as that,” said Brothers, who was ahead in the count and meant to throw Blackmon a slider low, but threw him a hanging pitch belt-high over the middle of the plate and, “At this level you see what happens.”

In Brothers’ impressive 2013 season, the best of his career, he had a miniscule 1.16 ERA, .574 opponents’ OPS and nine saves in 34 road appearances, and a similarly superb (given the Coors Field factor) 2.23 ERA, .654 opponents’ OPS and 10 saves in 38 home appearances. He didn’t give up a triple all season, home or road.

He didn’t leave many pitches up that season, particularly against hitters like the 2017 version of Charlie Blackmon.

Blackmon, a leadoff hitter who ranks third in the majors in batting average (.335) and slugging percentage (.615) – yes, he has a higher slugger percentage than both Bryce Harper (.614) and Aaron Judge (.608) – might as well have had that pitch put on a tee. He hit it to the left-center gap – those gaps where doubles turn to triples at Coors — for his majors-leading 14th triple, which is five more than anyone else in the majors.

Thirteen of his 14 triples have comes at Coors Field, which is as many as the combined total of the home triples for the next two on the major league leaders list – Billy Hamilton’s seven triples at Cincinnati and Nicholas Castellanos’ six triples at Detroit.

Blackmon, a North Gwinnett High School graduate who played at Georgia Tech and Young Harris College, has the power, speed and hitting ability to thrive at Coors Field, and this season he’s mastered it. He’s hitting .395 with an .814 slugging percentage and 1.279 OPS in 55 games at Coors Field compared to .285 with a .452 slugging percentage and .783 OPS in 61 road games.

A good hitter on the road, a formidable hitting machine at Coors Field. Blackmon is a leadoff hitter, but the only players who’ve hit more homers in their home ballparks this season are sluggers Aaron Judge (24), Giancarlo Stanton (21), Cody Bellinger (18) and Khris Davis (18).

Ender Inciarte was thrown out at the plate when he tried to turn a triple into an inside-the-park home run leading off the first inning of Monday’s 3-0 Braves loss at Colorado. (AP photo)

Brothers knew Blackmon was dangerous, having been Rockies teammates with him from 2011-15, though Blackmon wasn’t nearly the hitter then that he is now. Everyone knows how good Blackmon is now, and all pitchers who’ve worked at Coors Field know how dangerous it is to make mistakes in that ballpark, with those who’ve pitched for the Rockies even more familiar with the circumstances than others.

But every pitcher also makes mistakes, and those are more likely to be exploited at Coors Field than anywhere else except perhaps Cincinnati. Especially when those mistakes are made to hitters like Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez, who had a two-run single four batters later in the eighth inning off Braves reliever Jason Motte, coincidentally another former Rockies pitcher (though he only spent one season with them in 2016).

All three runs in the inning were charged to Brothers, who faced two batters after Blackmon, walking DJ LaMahieu intentionally to put runners on the corners before inducing a grounder from Gerardo Parra that skipped under the glove of shortstop Dansby Swanson and was initially ruled an error but later changed to a hit.

The eighth-inning came undone quickly on two Braves relievers, after Julio Teheran had pitched seven scoreless innings in one of his best and most encouraging performances in an overall disappointing season for the two-tie former All-Star.

Teheran allowed just four hits and three walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings and 110 pitches, the last of those pitches used to work out of a tight spot in the seventh when, with two runners on base and none out, he struck out Pag Valaika, got major league RBI leader Nolan Arenado to pop out and struck out Alexi Amarista.

“You hate not to get that one for (Teheran),” Brothers said. “Props to him, he really pitched well and kept us right there where we needed to be to win it.”

The Braves haven’t won at Coors in more than three years, a staggering 11 consecutive losses at the downtown Denver ballpark and 15 losses against the Rockies in their last 17 games against them home and away.

Tonight, the Bravos turn to rookie Sean Newcomb, who really needs to avoid issuing walks – he had seven walks two starts ago but only one in his last start – if he hopes to succeed at a ballpark where free passes have been known start that merry-go-round that Brothers referenced.

“Exactly,” Newcomb said when a reporter mentioned the importance of avoiding walks at Coors Field. “Just because of how it plays here — obviously the home runs, but anything low in the gaps tends to carry a little further for extra bases. But at the end of the day I’ve just got to pitch my game. Like I said from the last outing, pound the zone, keep it down and just try to get contact, hopefully weak contact.”

Let’s close with one from the great Jimmie Dale Gilmore. This is a live version of “Another Coloreado” with Dave Alvin helping him out.

“ANOTHER COLORADO” by Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Down by the banks of the Colorado
My true love and I one night did lie
And we laughed and played and made fun
Of the entire world spinning ’round the sun
Down by the banks of the Colorado

Up from the banks of the Colorado
Nightwatchmen stood guard ’round the wagon yard
And I took a pillar for a sign
That the salt of the earth was surely mine
Up from the banks of the Colorado

There is another Colorado
Wise have told me, wise women too
That I may find sweet El Dorado
Down by the banks of one sweet Colorado

Down by the banks of the Colorado
The years flowed softly before my eyes
And the circus joined me in my quest
And stayed with me throughout my test
Down by the banks of the Colorado

There is another Colorado
Wise men have told me, wise women too
That I may find my sweet El Dorado
Down by the banks of one sweet Colorado



Full article @ Blackmon reminds Braves what happens to mistake pitches at Coors

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



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Young players auditioning make these Braves dog days interesting

Young players auditioning make these Braves dog days interesting

DENVER – The Braves were a long shot to win a wild-card berth even after getting their record to a high-water mark of 45-45, but 18 losses in the next 24 games pretty much turned those chances from slim to none. Still, that doesn’t mean they have nothing to play for. Quite the contrary.

The Braves are getting an extended look at second-base prospect Ozzie Albies, who’s had a couple of three-run homers and some solid defensive plays in his first two weeks in the big leagues. (AP photo)

Falling out of the race probably made it easier for the Braves to make decisions to bring up prospects and give them regular playing time, as they’ve already done for nearly two weeks with second baseman Ozzie Albies and still could do now or in September with at least one other major prospect, outfielder Ronald Acuna.

And for prospects and/or rookies already up with the big-league club, the rest of the season provides an opportunity for them to show they are worthy of being penciled into the plans for next season, either in the lineup, on the bench, in the bullpen or in the starting rotation. It’s an audition of sorts.

“This is a very important time for front-office people to look down and see, okay, we can count on this guy for next year, we can count on that guy, etc.,” veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey said. “Everybody’s pitching for something. We may be out of it on paper a little bit, but everybody in here is pitching for something and that’s important.

“I’m not saying this is a tryout for next year but it’s certainly going to play into and impact the decisions that those guys make for what this club will look like in 2018. This was always looked at, it seems, as a bridge year for the years upcoming for these young guys to get up here. You’ve seen a little of that this year already, for what you have to look forward to, but there’s still a long way to go and it’s important for these young guys to do what people expect of them and to be professional, and to be around guys who are professional and learn what that looks like and how they can be consistent in the roles that they’re called up here to perform in.”

An atmosphere like the Braves have now can create competition and exciting performances, which is why this team might be more enjoyable to watch for the final 47 games of the season than a team that’s 11 games under .500 (52-63) would otherwise be expected to be. This is usually the dog days of a season and teams out of contention can appear to be going through the motions, playing out the schedule.

For many of the Braves, that shouldn’t be the case. Too much could be riding on performances, and surely they know it.

Ronald Acuna is only 19, but the dynamic top-rated Braves outfield prospect could be called up before the end of the season as the team gets a look at some players expected to compete for spots in 2018 spring training. (Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights)

The Braves are getting a look at a top left-handed prospect, Max Fried, who has a terrific curveball and figures to be a big part of their future rotation. But for now is getting big-league experience as a reliever, where the Braves can control his innings the rest of the season and work him into more pressured situations. Fried was called up a week ago and has made two appearances, allowing two hits and three walks (one intentional) with two strikeouts in three scoreless innings.

Fried allowed one walk and no hits with one strikeout in a scoreless inning against the Cardinals on Saturday in his second appearance.

“I think his first outing he was a little amped up, which is to be expected,” veteran reliever Jim Johnson said. “Kind of was overthrowing a little bit. The other thing is, people don’t realize he has never pitched out of the bullpen; he was close to getting in the game early (Saturday) and then sat, and then ended up pitching in the eighth (inning). But there’s that transition from getting hot, getting ready, and then that complete crash (when you don’t get in the game), then have to get back up. It’s not easy to do, especially for a young guy. I thought he’s handled it well.”

Reliever Jose Ramirez isn’t a kid – he’s 27 – but this is his first full season in the majors and he’s made major strides and begun to come into his own as a setup man or possibly even a future closer for this or another team.

“Look at like the transformation that Jose’s gone through this season from last season,” Johnson said. “He’s not just a thrower anymore. Some of it’s trial by fire, these guys get put in situations where they kind of have to learn on the fly.”

Although Acuna’s not on the 40-man roster and doesn’t have to be added this winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft – not enough time has passed since he first signed to require he be protected – and although the Braves could face a roster crunch in November when they have to add other prospects to the 40-man roster who are Rule 5-eligible, Acuna has been so good and so exciting at every level (now at Triple-A) that the Braves might bring him up this season.

Not just to give Acuna a taste of the big leagues before he competes for a job in spring training, but also to show their fans what awaits and what could be in the lineup next season. Hey, they’re trying to finish the season strong, trying to keep a good vibe going at SunTrust Park to capitalize on larger crowds they’ve gotten lately and to keep those folks coming back on a regular basis next season as season-ticket holders.

Don’t get me wrong — if Acuna didn’t seem ready or close to it, they wouldn’t bring up a 19-year-old who’s not yet on the 40-man roster just to appease fans. But he does appear ready, at least if you judge by performance against Triple-A players, most of whom are at least 3-4 years older than him and plenty who are 10 or more year older.

The Braves have a couple of rookies in their starting rotation currently, Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims, and they’ve taken their lumps as all rookies do. But they’re learning and team officials see plenty of reason to believe each is going to be better for the experience.

Sims is 0-3 with a 5.71 ERA in his first three big-league starts and gave up 10 hits and five runs (four earned) in 5 1/3 innings Saturday at St. Louis, but even in that rough outing he showed something important when he struck out the last two batters of a three-run fourth inning with two runners on base. Things could have spiraled completely on him with Paul DeJong and Dexter Fowler due up and only one out, the large crowd making a lot of noise and looking for DeJong to blow the game open. But Sims struck both of them out. Damage control.

“You can always look for something positive with these young guys,” manager Brian Snitker said after that 6-5 loss Saturday. “I mean we’re experiencing a lot of things for the first time. The one thing that Lucas does is he never stops competing. He never stops competing, getting after it. He’s had a couple of big innings, and he’ll figure that out. The more we keep running him out there, the more he’ll figure it out.

“The only way to figure it out is to go out there, because you don’t just show up here and all of a sudden everything is golden and you never have to fight through any adversity. I mean, that’s the whole idea of running these kids out there. Young pitchers, until they experience all that and what it’s like, and know how to correct it and how to get better through it – the only thing we can do is give them experience. When you’re a competitive like he is and you take pride in it, he’ll figure it out.”

Rebuilding projects aren’t easy. This is part of the process if you’re going to go all the way through with them. And the next 6-7 weeks could offer plenty of exciting glimpses of the future in addition to the inevitable frustrations as inexperience guys find their way.

• I’ll close with this one from the late, great Merle Haggard.

“COLORADO” by Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard

There’s a place where mother nature’s got it all together
She knows just when to let wild flowers bloom
Some-how she always seems to know exactly what she’s doin’
And The Lord saw fit to furnish elbow room.Have you ever been down to Colorado
I spend a lot of time there in my mind.
And if God doesn’t live in Colorado
I’ll bet that’s where He spends most of his time.I’d love to be there watching early in the morning
The sun comes up and crowns the mountain king
If by chance you dare to be there high upon the mountain
I swear that you can hear the angels sing.

Have you ever been down to Colorado
I spend a lot of time there in my mind.
And if God doesn’t live in Colorado
I’ll bet that’s where He spends most of his time.



Full article @ Young players auditioning make these Braves dog days interesting

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



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Braves’ Acuna is the future, and future could arrive soon

Braves’ Acuna is the future, and future could arrive soon

 

ST. LOUIS — If Braves uber prospect Ronald Acuna is called up to the majors at some point in the next seven weeks, his debut could become the most memorable event of the season for the team. The 19-year-old outfielder is that good and that entertaining to watch.

For the Braves, this is what the future looks like: Uber outfield prospect Ronald Acuna, 19, who could make his major league debut before the end of the season. (Mark Brown/Getty Images)

A combination of speed, power and an overall abundance of baseball skills, Acuna created a buzz at the All-Star Futures Game last month in Miami, like he has at every ballpark he’s played in across three leagues this season from high Single-A to Triple-A.

Acuna was rated in Baseball America’s midseason managers survey as the most exciting prospect in both the high-A Florida State League and Double-A Southern League, and might have earned that same distinction in the Triple-A International League if he’d been called up to Gwinnett a little sooner.

He’s been in Triple-A four weeks, the youngest player in any league at that level, and Acuna has impressed everyone, including veteran major leaguers who aren’t prone to lavishing praise on prospects, but don’t mind making an exception when it comes to talking about him.

“Dude, there are guys everywhere with skills,” said veteran pitcher Kris Medlen, who is trying to make it back to the majors with the Braves and has played with Acuna this season in Double-A and currently at Gwinnett. “Someone with a ton of pop, but they’re striking out a ton. Someone who can hit, but doesn’t have a position because they can’t play (defense). But this dude has everything! He’s incredible to watch in person day in and day out.”

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Acuna’s eye-opening stats is how they have improved with each bump up to a higher level this season: In 28 games at Gwinnett before Friday, he hit a sizzling .342 (38-for-111) with 14 extra-base hits (four homers), 13 walks, 25 strikeouts and a .416 OBP and .559 slugging percentage (.975 OPS).

He hit a homer for Gwinnett that was measured at 114 mph off the bat, higher than the exit velocity of any homer hit by a Braves major leaguer this season.

To repeat: He’s the youngest player in Triple-A. Easily. And he’ll be among the youngest in the Arizona Fall League this year if he’s among the Braves to be assigned to that prospect-laden league, as is expected,

Acuna has hit .320 overall this season with a .375 OBP and .519 slugging percentage for an .894 OPS in 113 games at three levels, with 25 doubles, eight triples, 16 homers, 62 RBIs and 36 stolen bases. Kid can stuff a stat sheet. And defensively? Well, there are some who think the cannon-armed Venezuelan might be as good in the field as he is at the plate.

Speaking of offense, Medlen said don’t assume as some do that Acuna’s been up there just hacking away, because of his 121 strikeouts in 447 at-bats with only 39 walks (a ratio that’s improved markedly in Triple-A).

“Just when you think he’s this big free swinger with no approach because he swung at the first pitch in his first at-bat and got out, he makes adjustments throughout the game and sits on (takes) really good pitches with two strikes,” Medlen said. “Real advanced for his age.”

Dansby Swanson just spent two weeks playing with Acuna after Swanson was demoted to Gwinnett in late July. Swanson returned to the majors Wednesday, and I asked him what he thought of Acuna.

 “He’s good, man,” Swanson said. “I think talent-wise he’s pretty unbelievable. Still a young kid so he’s still got a lot of – it’s not bad thing, it just is what it is – he’s still got a lot of things to learn mentally and emotionally and all those kinds of things. But definitely a special, true talent, and it’s exciting to be able to watch him. Kind of unfair to be able to watch him too, at the same time. But yeah, he’s good. No surprise there, he’s good.”

In early July, Baseball America named Acuna the No. 1 prospect in the Braves’ rich minor league system and No. 10 overall in its midseason Top 100, up from No. 62 in BA’s preseason list. And a couple of weeks ago, Baseball America named him the top power-speed prospect still in the minors, after Yoan Moncada graduated to the major leagues.

“The speed with which Acuna has adapted to higher levels of play is startling,” Baseball America said in ranking him No. 1 among minor league power-speed prospects. “He spent just 40 games at low Class A last season in an injury-truncated year, but that didn’t stop him from rocketing to Triple-A this year in mid-July. Acuna fits the five-tool paradigm and has star potential.”

Acuna hit a home run last month for Gwinnett that had an exit velocity of 114 mph, higher than that of any homer hit by a Braves major leaguer this season. (Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights)

Will he complete the rise from high-A to majors within the same season? It won’t be surprising if the Braves call him up, even though they don’t have to protect Acuna in this December’s Rule 5 Draft and do have to protect a few others, making 40-man roster spots valuable.

Acuna is so good, the Braves might just add him to the 40-man roster anyway this season and call him up, let him get a taste of the majors as a teen – he turns 20 in December — and let their fans see the dynamic kid who could be manning an outfield spot as soon as next spring.

I asked Braves icon Chipper Jones about Acuna in mid-July, right after he’d been called up to Triple-A. Chipper pulled out the big gun when it came to comparisons – Andruw Jones, Chipper’s longtime former teammate and the man who hits two homers in a World Series game as a 19-year-old rookie.

“He reminds me of Andruw at 19,” Chipper said. “They don’t do everything alike. I think athleticism-wise at 19 or 20 I give a slight edge to Andruw. I give a slight edge to Acuna in arm strength over Andruw. I think that Andruw was more power-oriented, certainly had the capability of hitting .300 because he did it. But the older Andruw got, he became strictly power-oriented.

“With Acuna, his bat stays in the zone a long time. I think he’s going to end up being kind of the happy-medium guy, a guy that’s going to hit .300 but is going to hit you 25-30 (home runs) a year. Whereas Andruw, the older he got he dipped down and in the .230s, 240s, .250s, but he hit a ton of homers. I think Acuna is going to be the all-around guy who hits for average and power because his bat stays in zone so long.

“Obviously with Inciarte in the picture for a long time, Acuna is going to play a corner spot, but he’s certainly capable of playing center field at a high level.”

Again, this was before Acuna had begun to dominate Triple-A even more than he had Double-A, and here’s what Jones had to say about him a few days after his promotion to Gwinnett:

“It’s really amazing what he’s done – he’s jumped two levels this year and could conceivably get a cup of coffee in September. And I certainly see him pushing for a (opening-day roster) spot in spring training.”

Even before the minor league season began, Acuna already had impressed many by his performance in Grapefruit League games when he was brought over from minor league camp to play in 13 major league spring training games, a rarity for a player so young and with only low-minors experience at the time.

“You could see it in spring training, the level of competition doesn’t faze him,” Chipper said. “He’s very confident in his ability to pay the game of baseball, doesn’t matter who’s out there. They throw it over the plate, he whacks it. They hit it, he goes and catches it. The game comes pretty easy to him.”

• If I were a teen again, I’d probably have this Tom Waits attitude toward growing up.

“I DON’T WANT TO GROW UP” by Tom Waits

Tom Waits

When I’m lyin’ in my bed at night
I don’t wanna grow up
Nothin’ ever seems to turn out right
I don’t wanna grow up
How do you move in a world of fog
That’s always changing things
Makes me wish that I could be a dog
When I see the price that you pay
I don’t wanna grow up
I don’t ever wanna be that way
I don’t wanna grow upSeems like folks turn into things
that they’d never want
The only thing to live for
Is today…
I’m gonna put a hole in my TV set
I don’t wanna grow up
Open up the medicine chest
And I don’t wanna grow up
I don’t wanna have to shout it out
I don’t want my hair to fall out
I don’t wanna be filled with doubt
I don’t wanna be a good boy scout
I don’t wanna have to learn to count
I don’t wanna have the biggest amount
I don’t wanna grow upWell when I see my parents fight
I don’t wanna grow up
They all go out and drinking all night
And I don’t wanna grow up
I’d rather stay here in my room
Nothin’ out there but sad and gloom
I don’t wanna live in a big old tomb
On Grand StreetWhen I see the 5 o’clock news
I don’t wanna grow up
Comb their hair and shine their shoes
I don’t wanna grow up
Stay around in my old hometown
I don’t wanna put no money down
I don’t wanna get me a big old loan
Work them fingers to the bone
I don’t wanna float a broom
Fall in love and get married then boom
How the hell did it get here so soon
I don’t wanna grow up

 



Full article @ Braves’ Acuna is the future, and future could arrive soon

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



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Braves evaluating how Camargo, other infielders fit best

Braves evaluating how Camargo, other infielders fit best

 

It’s safe to say that 110 games into this Braves season, no one anticipated they’d have Johan Camargo at shortstop, Brandon Phillips at third base, Ozzie Albies at second base and Dansby Swanson in Triple-A, playing primarily shortstop but also some second base.

Johan Camargo’s emergence is one reason the Braves are now evaluating how the pieces best for for the big picture with their young infielders. (Chad Rhym/AJC)

But things change, as everyone must realize by now. Especially with a rebuilding team, things are fluid. Extremely.

So here’s my answer to all of those who’ve asked some variation of the question, “what is going on with the Braves infield?”

After the extended struggles that buried Swanson statistically and eventually got him sent to Triple-A, and after Camargo’s resounding first couple of months in the big leagues made it clear he might be even better than the Braves thought when they added him to the 40-man roster last fall, the Braves are now evaluating the pieces they have – specifically the three rookies Albies, Swanson and Camargo – and trying to get them as many at-bats as possible during this period, providing them the best opportunity to play every day as team officials consider the big picture.

While plenty of those outside the organization already made decisions on this guy being a utility guy or that one being the long-term shortstop or that one being untouchable, and on and on, the Braves have not made those decisions. They know things change and there’s no reason to lock themselves into a plan when that plan might no longer be what’s most beneficial one for the team. Maybe it is, but maybe it’s not. They’ll determine that now and during the offseason.

So that’s where we’re at with that.

Now, let’s briefly dive deeper into the Camargo situation. As in the curious case of so many being reluctant to climb on his bandwagon when he came barreling out of the blocks in his first couple of months in the big leagues, despite the fact he’s a dynamic talent who plays hard, has above-average speed, line-drive power, above-average defensive skills at three infield positions, an absolute cannon for an arm – I mean, what’s not to like? The dude is fun to watch and he makes things happen.

Unless it’s just the fact that for now, he’s taken Dansby’s position. Hey, this is a business, and the Braves had to do what they thought best for Dansby and the team, and at a certain point Dansby’s struggles had reached a point where they thought it counterproductive to continuing playing him every day, then saw no reason to keep him in big leagues if he wasn’t playing every day.

To blame Camargo, 23, or to be unfairly critical of him simply because he played so well while Dansby was struggling is, frankly, ridiculous.

But look at Camargo’s past month, folks on Twitter tell me. Look at his BABIP, they tell me. It’s unsustainable, they say, using the word that’s as fashionable with some in baseball circles now as “score the ball” was with basketball insiders. And I understand the argument for his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) being unlikely to remain as high as it was early on.

But the other argument, about him never having power in the minors so he can’t have it now? That’s not so relevant, if you’re aware of how much this guy has changed his body in the past two years. He’s put on 20 pounds and most of it appears to be solid muscle. To say he can’t have pretty good power as a 185-pound guy in his early 20s because he didn’t have it as a 160-pounder before he was 21 isn’t a sound argument.

Things change. Young players change.

Maybe Camargo is “just” a utility player as many initially projected. But maybe he’s utility player the way Martin Prado or Omar Infante was a utility player. Or, maybe Camargo could become the starter at shortstop or third base. Nothing is set in stone at this point, nor does it need to be.

This kid is a really talented player. Chipper Jones saw it two spring trainings ago, and I trust Chipper’s judgment in evaluating players as much as I do anyone’s. From what I’ve seen since this spring training, he was right about Camargo and about Ronald Acuna (the other guy Chipper was blown away by two spring trainings ago on the backfields at Dark Star.)

Camargo in the past month? In exactly the past month (since 7/8) he has this slash line: .295/.347/.489 (.836) with eight doubles, three home runs.

Now, yes, you can subtract his first five games in that period and make it since July 17, and then you have a last-20-games slash of .230/.278/.378 (.657).

But you could also add a few games to that initial one-month span, go back to July 5, and get this slash for his past 28 games: .309/.356/.505 (.861), with 10 doubles and three homers. Point is, you can kind of make the stats help say anything you want them to.

Some can’t seem to see the forest for the trees, or appreciate what’s in front of them because perhaps they’re stuck on what they thought Camargo was or what they heard he should be. Here’s the facts: In his first 63 games (197 plate appearances) in the big leagues he’s hit .292 with 22 extra-base hits (three home runs) and a .781 OPS that is tied for seventh among National League rookies who have at least 175 plate appearances.

He’s tied with Padres center fielder Manuel Margot for fourth in WAR among NL rookies at 1.0, behind only Cody Bellinger (3.3), 30-year-old Manny Pina (2.4) and Josh Bell (1.3).

After roaring out of the blocks, Rafael Furcal struggled for a 25-game period in his 2000 Rookie of the Year season. (AP file photo)

The other argument I’m hearing from some Camargo detractors: He’s struggling against right-handers. Let’s examine that.

He’s a switch-hitter who has hit a stunning .404 (23-for-57) against lefties with 11 extra-base hits (two homers), a .424 OBP and .684 slugging percentage – yes, .684 slugging – for a 1.108 OPS, compared with just .242 (31-for-128) vs. righties with 11 extra-base hits (one homer), a .285 OBP and .352 slugging (.636 OPS).

But this is not that uncommon for a young switch-hitter. Well, the 1.108 OPS vs. lefties is uncommonly high, but the .636 OPS vs. righties is not unusually low, not for a rookie switch-hitter in his first few months in the big leagues.

Remember Rafael Furcal? As a rookie switch-hitter in 2000 had an impressive slash in 359 at-bats vs. righties: .306/.404/.409 (.813 OPS) with 25 extra-base hits (four triples, four homers). But in 96 at-bats vs lefties he did this: .250/.357/.281 (.638 OPS) with three extra-base hits (all doubles).

Oh, and he won the NL Rookie of the Year award.

I’m not saying Camargo is Furcal, and he certainly isn’t going to win the NL ROY award – that’s been Bellinger’s for some time — but to repeat, Camargo has a .404 average and 1.108 OPS vs. lefties and a .242 average and .636 OPS vs. righties.

Furcal as a rookie had a .250 average and .638 OPS vs. lefties and a .306 average and .813 OPS vs. righties.

For his career, Furcal ended up with entirely different splits: .289 average and .787 OPS in 1,801 plate appearances vs. lefties, and a .278 average and .735 OPS in 5,436 PAs vs. righties.

The point being, give it time.

It’s tough enough for any young hitter to develop consistency at the big-league level, but even more for a rookie switch-hitter. And, I might add, Camargo also is a switch-hitter who’s played multiple defensive positions in his first months in the big leagues. Which is atypical and also impressive.

Sticking with Furcal for a moment, consider this:

In Furcal’s first 35 games as a rookie in 2000, he hit .340 (36-for-106) with 10 stolen bases and an .818 OPS.

In his next 25 games he hit .225 (16-for-71) with three stolen bases and a .675 OPS.

In Camargo’s first 42 MLB games (26 starts) he hit .333 (37-for-111) with a .359 OBP and .505 slugging percentage (.863 OPS).

In 21 games (20 starts) since then Camargo has hit .230 (17-for-74) with a .278 OBP and .378 slugging (.657 OPS).

Just FYI, Brian Snitker is a protégé of Bobby Cox, one of his good friends. They talk often.

Cox kept playing Furcal – good thing there was no Twitter in 2000 – and Furcal went on to finish the season with a .295 average, .394 OBP, .382 slugging percentage (.776 OPS), 40 stolen bases and, as mentioned, was NL Rookie of the Year.

• Let’s close with this one from the great Dwight Yoakam

“THINGS CHANGE” by Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam

She said “baby things change”. 
I said “But I feel the same”
She said “well let me explain, baby how things can change”
I said “but that doesn’t show, how a love that could grow,
would become so estranged”
She said “well baby things change”

She said “Na na na na na na na, now baby dont try, 
To figure this out or ask questions ’bout why 
Forever’s a promise no love can survive,
And trust with hearts, just don’t apply”
She said “Cause baby things change”

Na na na na na na na, so baby I quit tryin, 
To figure things out about all your hearts lyin’.
Forever’s a promise we couldn’t survive,
Yeah, I may be slow, but I ain’t blind

She said “I still love you so” 
I said “I don’t care to know”
She said “You once cried my name” 
I said “Well baby things change
Let’s don’t go placing no blame, 
Cause you know things can change”

na na na na na na, na na na na na na
She said “You once cried my name” 
I said “Well baby things change”
na na na na na na, na na na na na na
Let’s don’t go placing no blame, 
Cause you know things can change”
na na na na na na….

 

 



Full article @ Braves evaluating how Camargo, other infielders fit best

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



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How to explain Braves’ success vs. sizzling Dodgers?

How to explain Braves’ success vs. sizzling Dodgers?

 

How to explain the Braves beating the Dodgers, the best and hottest team in baseball, three times in the past two weeks, but getting swept in four games last week by the Phillies, who have the worst record in baseball?

Tyler Flowers’ two-run pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning gave the Braves a 5-3 win over the red-hot Dodgers on Wednesday. (AP photo)

How to explain the Dodgers being 3-3 against the Braves and 17-0 against everyone else since July 4?

How to explain the Braves losing nine out of their past 10 games before Wednesday, when they twice trailed before coming back to beat the Dodgers, a team that had gone longer than any team in history without losing a game in which it led at any point in said game?

How to explain the Braves winning Wednesday, 5-3 on a two-run pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning from Tyler Flowers, who in his career previously was 1-for-17 with 10 strikeouts as a pinch-hitter?

How to explain the Braves beating the Dodgers at SunTrust Park in a game started by Julio Teheran, when the Braves had lost eight of the previous nine home games he had started?

How to explain the Braves beating the Dodgers with Teheran starting, period? The Braves had lost all seven games Teheran started against the Dodgers before Wednesday, and Teheran himself remains winless (0-6) with a 5.33 ERA in his career against the Dodgers after getting no decision Wednesday, when he gave up three runs in five innings and exited with cramping in a quadriceps muscle.

With a 5-3 win Wednesday, the Braves snapped their six-game losing streak, and the Dodgers ended a nine-game winning streak.

The Dodgers lost for just the third time in 23 games – again, all three losses were against the Braves – and for the seventh time in 47 games. That is not a typo.

The Dodgers entered Wednesday with a 75-31 record that was six games better than the majors’ next-best (Astros) and the best record by a National League team through 106 games since the 1944 Cardinals (78-28). The Dodgers were 44 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 26, 1962.

Then they lost to the Braves. Again.

The Braves won for only the second time in 11 games and fourth time in 16 games, with three of those four wins coming against Los Dodgers, a team that entered Wednesday on the hottest 46-game stretch (40-6) that any team had been on in more than three-quarters of a freakin’ century (1941 Yankees, also 40-6).

The Braves also ended the Dodgers’ remarkable streak of 53 consecutive wins in games in which they led at any point. Yes, they had won 53 consecutive times in any game in which they held a lead of any size at any point in the game. The Dodgers led twice Wednesday.

How to explain any of this?

Well, don’t try. There’s no explanation. As Livan Hernandez, Brian Snitker and about million other people have said a thousand times apiece: That’s baseball.

But just for the record, for the sake of you, dear reader (and for my own edification), I had to ask. So I tried late Wednesday to get an explanation.

How in the (bleep) have the Braves beaten the Dodgers three times in two weeks when no one else has beaten them since July 4 and when the Braves couldn’t win a game in four at Philly?

I asked the big catcher whose pinch-hit homer was the decisive blow Wednesday.

“You’re not going to play great every day,” Flowers said. “It just so happens we’ve played good games against them, in particular. And we’ve played good games against a number of other teams that are in first place in their respective divisions. And we’ve played bad games against teams that are towards the bottom of their division, too. That’s just the game. Ups and downs. You just try to limit the downs, take advantage of momentum, minimize mistakes. When you do that you give yourself a good chance to win.”

So there you have it. Another Braves win against the Dodgers, a team that doesn’t lose to anyone else these days.

The Dodgers must be thankful they won’t face the Braves in the World Series.

The Braves will have to settle for a Game 7 tonight against the Dodgers, the series finale at SunTrust Park and the last of seven games between the teams this season.

That is, unless they meet in a division playoff series. Hey, crazier things have happened. Like the Braves handing the Dodgers their only three losses in their past 23 games, for instance.

Here’s one of my favorite L.A. tunes, by Simone Felice

Simone Felice

“IF YOU GO TO L.A.”

If you go to LA
And meet a girl there with a curious name
You look her dead in the eye
And tell her I’m getting by

If you go to LA
Be sure to ask her if she’s been sleeping ok
So many furious kinds of pills
Up in them bloody hills

Lie lie lie lie
Lie lie lie lie

If you go to LA
A terrible wave comes up
Boy to wash it away
You lead her out by the hand
Pale feet on paler sand

And if you go to LA
And meet a girl out walking
In the drizzling rain
You look her straight in the eye
And tell her I’m fine doing fine with a

Lie lie lie lie
Lie lie lie lie
Lie lie lie lie
Lie lie lie lie

Felt like page was turned Tuesday by the Braves

Felt like page was turned Tuesday by the Braves

Tuesday felt like a day when the page was turned for the Braves, not just literally with the

Ozzie Albies had a walk in three plate appearances in his major league debut Tuesday, and manager Brian Snitker said he would be the primary second baseman going forward. (AP file photo)

calendar turning to August, but figuratively with the return of Freddie Freeman to first base on a full-time basis – the third-base experiment is over, good riddance – plus the move of Matt Adams to left field in hopes he drives in plenty more than he lets in there, and most obviously with 20-year-old prospect Ozzie Albies replacing Brandon Phillips at second base.

Albies, who is about 5 feet 8 inches and 170 pounds of fast-twitch muscle fibers, shouldn’t be expected to do as well in his first two months in the majors as Phillips did over the past four months, but will face the unfair expectations of many that he do precisely that. By the way, Phillips was already a standout at Redan High in Stone Mountain when Albies was born in Curacao.

When I told Freeman that Albies was the first major leaguer born in 1997, Freddie smiled, thought about that for a second and said: “It’s not often that you make me feel old, but you just did.” As for Freeman, he was born in 1989, which is just one more thing that makes me feel old.

The Braves unceremoniously replaced a 36-year-old four-time former Gold Glove second baseman with the youngest player in the majors, and now everyone waits to see how this will end. They wonder whether Phillips will swallow pride and serve in a backup role the rest of the season at two or three positions – manager Brian Snitker asked him Tuesday to consider playing some third base, a position he played in one professional game 16 years ago in Double-A – or if he and/or the Braves will decide it best for Phillips to move on. Which isn’t fair, considering Phillips has hit .292 with 35 extra-base hits and a solid .771 OPS while playing serviceable and flashy (i.e. entertaining) defense. No one ever said pro sports is fair, though, particularly for a player nearing the end of a contract and/or a career.

“I talked to him, said in some point in time I kind of figured that this was going to happen, and we were going to bring Albies up because we look at him as potential long-term (Braves lineup regular),” Snitker said of his conversation Tuesday with Phillips, who declined through a team spokesman to discuss the situation publicly, but will surely be asked to again today or tomorrow, assuming he sticks around that long.

Snitker is a folksy baseball lifer who has a gentlemanly grandfather demeanor in casual conversation, and his Tuesday comments about Phillips, a player he’s appreciated and praised since the first day of spring training, served as a stark reminder that baseball is a business and sometimes business decisions are made above your pay grade and that personal feelings or “fairness,” as it were, usually aren’t overriding concerns.

“I think he could play third. He’s gifted enough, reactions are good, arm’s good, he’s quick. I don’t know, might be less wear and tear on him at third base than there is at second,” Snitker said of Phillips, later adding, “He’s been great. I told Brandon at one point, if Ozzie hadn’t of broke his arm last year we probably wouldn’t be sitting here having that conversation because there was a really good chance that we would’ve broke camp with Ozzie as our second baseman. But he was behind (after the injury). And then we got Sean (Rodriguez), and he got hurt.”

After Rodriguez required surgery for a shoulder injury following a Jan. 28 car crash, the Braves traded for Phillips, and the Reds agreed to pay $13 million of his $14 million salary this season in the final year of his contract because they had young players and were rebuilding and wanted to move on.

“It’s just weird how things have a way of working out,” Snitker said. “We got Brandon and he’s been really, really good. But it’s time to see the kid.”

Would the Braves have made this move if they had remained at .500 or above, which is where they were after sweeping the first three games following the All-Star break? Who knows, but I tend to think they would’ve waited at least a little longer to bring up Albies if they were still clicking offensively like they were then, with Phillips and the now-DL’d (again) Matt Kemp in the lineup and contributing, despite each dealing with nagging injuries.

But that hasn’t been the case. The Braves have lost 12 of 15 games since then and fallen out of realistic contention for any wild-card spot. Kemp had slumped for some time and is now nursing his third hamstring injury of the season. The Braves’ offense has been in a malaise, failing repeatedly in scoring opportunities lately and not getting much from anyone, with the exceptions of catcher Kurt Suzuki and rookie Johan Camargo, and even Camargo has slowed his roll.

So it was time. Time to turn the page. Time to bring up Albies and see what he can do not just in a full month of September when things can be a bit misleading with rosters expanded and out-of-contention teams trying out folks and all that, but with two full months beginning Aug. 1. And time to take a look at Lucas Sims to see if he can be counted on as a starting-rotation option for 2018.

Time to get Adams out of the infield, where his defensive shortcomings had become more noticeable in recent weeks, and get Freeman back to the position where we knew he’d be again by next season anyway. This opens third base and gives the Braves a chance to play Danny Santana and Sean Rodriguez – who was brought back too early in my opinion, but he’s back and needs to play – and Camargo when the Braves bring back Dansby Swanson later this season, if not in August then September.

Speaking of September, if the Braves decide to bring up uber-prospect Ronald Acuna in September, they might have the two youngest players in the majors. Acuna also born in 1997, too, but barely – his birthday is Dec. 18, making him little over 11 months younger than Albies (Jan. 7, 1997).

Albies carpooled to the game Tuesday with Camargo after leaving behind Albies’ Triple-A Gwinnett roommate Acuna, who got over the shock just fine with another three-hit night Tuesday at Gwinnett. Albies joked in the afternoon at SunTrust Park that he’d need to hire a babysitter for Acuna now that Albies was in the big leagues. Those crazy kids.

Lucas Sims pitched six solid innings in his major league debut Tuesday, a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers. (AP photo)

So now the page has been turned, and there are still 57 games left this season. The Braves’ 3-2 loss Tuesday dropped them to nine games under .500 at 48-57, tied for the most games they’ve been under .500 this season. The only other time was when they were 11-20 after losing both games of a two-game series against a Houston team that looked like baseball’s biggest juggernaut at the time.

The Astros still have the biggest division lead – 15 games – and the second-best record in the majors at 69-37, but the Dodgers have emerged as The Team to Beat in the view of most who’ve seen all the good teams play this season. The Dodgers are flat-out loaded, and their consecutive losses July 20-21 against the Braves become all the more perplexing by the day.

Those were the only two losses for L.A. since July 4. They had an 11-game winning streak before those two defeats at Dodger Stadium, and they have an nine-game winning streak since. Right now, the Braves can only look at them and hope that’s where they get someday when this painful rebuilding process is finally over.

The Braves seemed to exhaust themselves getting back to .500, which they did by going 16-8 on a one-month stretch from June 17 through July 16. They had an unimpressive 4.47 ERA in that 24-game span with 209 strikeouts and 89 walks in 219 1/3 innings, but Braves hitters excelled in that period, or at least in getting enough timely hits. Atlanta hit .261 with 27 homers and a .734 OPS in that 24-game stretch while averaging 5.1 runs per game.

Also, the Braves made just 10 errors in those 24 games, including three in one loss against the Giants.

But in the 15 games that have followed since they reached .500, the Braves have gone 3-12 while posting an unsightly 5.50 ERA and allowing 26 homers, an .857 opponents’ OPS and 61 walks with 127 strikeouts in 131 innings. All bad. And at the same time, Atlanta’s offense has slipped significantly, the Braves hitting just .236 with 18 homers and a .693 OPS while averaging 3.9 runs per game and scoring three runs or fewer in 10 of 15 games.

Even the defense declined of late as the Braves made 13 errors in the past 15 games including four multi-error games.

Meanwhile, the runaway train that is the Dodgers is 40-6 with a 2.94 ERA, .219 opponents’ batting average and .636 opponents’ OPS in its past 46 games, with 426 strikeouts and 110 walks in 413 1/3 innings. Only twice in that stretch have L.A. pitchers allowed more than seven earned runs – 12 in a June 15 loss at Cleveland and 10 in a July 21 loss to the Braves in L.A. Tuesday marked the 25th time in the 40-6 run tear that the Dodgers allowed two or fewer earned runs.

Their hitters, meanwhile, have a .273 batting average, 86 home runs and .868 OPS over 46 games while averaging 5.5 runs in that torrid stretch.

The Dodgers are 75-31 and Tuesday they notched their 75th win earlier than all but two teams in major league history – the 2001 Mariners, who did it on July 28, and the 1998 Yankees, who got their 75th win on July 30.

Here’s one from the vastly underrated Jesse Malin off his “New York Before the War” album

“ADDICTED” by Jesse Malin

Jesse Malin

I’ve been running from the outskirts
Got some money on the wrong horse
I just had no where else to go
Now they’re closing down the book store
And they’re putting up a condo
We’re gonna watch this whole thing blow

And I’ve lived here all my life
I’m addicted to the sadness
And the sound of jubilation
We never got to say goodbye
Well they wanted his apartment
And they tried to steal his paintings
They were counting up the days until he died

And the band played on and on
And the band played on and on
And the band played all the sadness of my youth
I’m addicted to hand jive
I’ve been living on the down stroke
Almost gone and almost grown

I’ve been feeling like a bastard
In the beauty of the moment
So alive and so alone
And the band played on and on
And the band played on and on
And the band played all the sadness of my youth

I’m addicted to the glory
Of a broken heart
Now they got you in the camera
And you’re feeling like a target
Another picture in a million dollar phone
I’m addicted to the moment
I will not be reconstructed
I’m gonna watch this whole thing blow

And the band played on and on
And the band played on and on
And the band played all the sadness of my youth
And the band played on and on
And the band played all the sadness of my youth
And I’ve lived here all my life



Full article @ Felt like page was turned Tuesday by the Braves

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


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Trip went on forever, Braves’ Suzuki never cooled off

Trip went on forever, Braves’ Suzuki never cooled off

 

How long was the Braves’ road trip? Longer than “the Mooch” lasted in the White House. Literally.

Kurt Suzuki hit seven home runs in just 40 plate appearances in July. (AP Photo)

Anthony Scaramucci was introduced as White House communications director at a July 21 press conference on the morning of the Braves’ second game at Dodger Stadium, the first stop on their three-city trip. Before the Braves completed the final game of the trip Monday at Philadelphia, Scaramucci had been removed as communications director and reportedly escorted off the White House grounds.

The Trip That Wouldn’t End lasted longer than Scaramucci — and featured almost as dramatic a downward trajectory for the Braves, with few exceptions. Most notable among those exceptions: Kurt Suzuki, who homered in the first game of the trip, homered Monday in the last game of the trip and homered three times in-between despite starting fewer than half the games on the trip and missing three of four games at L.A. to attend his grandmother’s funeral in his native Hawaii.

More on Suzuki and his remarkable July power surge in a moment.

The Bravos and their fans had grand thoughts after winning the first two games of the trip at Los Angeles, snapping the Dodgers’ 11-game winning streak, handing All-Star Alex Wood his first loss of the season in the worst performance of his career, and beating the Dodgers twice as many times in two nights as the team with the majors’ best record was beaten in its previous 19 home games (18-1) and half as many times as the Dodgers were beaten in the previous 35 games (31-4).

But then the Braves won just once more in the remaining nine games on the trip. A 3-8 trip that began 2-0.

They lost the last two games in L.A., lost two of three at Arizona, and got swept in a four-game series at Philadelphia by a Phillies team that’s played a lot better the last couple of weeks but still has the worst record in the majors.

The Braves, after batting .316 with four homers, 18 runs and a .900 OPS in the first two games at L.A., hit .238 with 32 runs and a .708 OPS in the remaining nine games on the trip, though they did have 10 homers in that 1-8 stretch.

They hit a decent number of home runs, but were awful with runners in scoring position after those first couple of games in L.A. They went from scoring 18 runs in the first two games at Dodger Stadium to scoring 32 runs in the remaining nine games on the trip. And while the Braves were averaging just 3.56 runs per game in that 1-8 stretch their pitchers posted a 6.31 ERA and gave up 18 homers and a .912 opponents’ OPS over nine games.

That’s a recipe for disaster, and the rest of the trip — after those promising first two days at L.A. – was pretty much just that. With the notable exception of Suzuki, who continued and capped one of the most productive months of the former All-Star’s 11-year major league career.

The 33-year-old catcher hit .356 with eight homers and 14 RBIs in just 45 plate appearances and 11 games (1o starts) in July, for a jaw-dropping .911 slugging percentage and 1.267 OPS. Half of his 16 hits in July were home runs, and Suzuki gave a lot of the credit to Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.

“I’ve been working with Seitz, trying to just be tension-free, not trying to do too much and just kind of let your hands do the work and be in-sych with everything,” he said. “Everything’s kind of clicking right now; it feels good.”

For the season, Suzuki has 12 homers in 180 plate appearances (158 at-bats), just three homers shy of the career-best 15 he hit in 614 plate appearances (also a career high) in 2009 with Oakland, when he was 25 and in his third MLB  season.

He has 12 in 180 PAs in 2017 after hitting eight homers in 373 PAs in 2016, five in 479 PAs in 2015 and three in 503 PAs in his 2014 All-Star season with Minnesota.

Suzuki didn’t walk at all in July but only struck out five times. Yes, he had more homers than strikeouts for the month, another stat you won’t see often these days. Eight homers in 45 at-bats in July from a guy who’s listed at 5 feet 11 and 205 pounds.

“He’s got some hand speed,” Seitzer said. “He’s got real good leverage and uses his legs — he stays closed and stays short and inside the ball, and I mean those hands just snap through. It’s real impressive. I’m real happy for him. I don’t know how many times he hit two homers in a game in his career before now.”

Kurt Suzuki hit this two-run homer at Dodger Stadium in the first game of the trip, and hit four more before the trip was over. He had five homers in five starts on the 11-game trip. (AP photo)

When I told that Suzuki’s pair of two-homer games in July matched his previous entire career total, Seitzer laughed. “That’s crazy. And what, he surpassed his home run total from last year in like 200 less at-bats or something?”

I then mentioned to Seitzer that Suzuki had as many homers as ex-Brave Evan Gattis has this season, in 75 fewer plate appearances than the thick, powerfully built Astros catcher/first baseman/DH. (Since the time I mentioned it last week, “Zuke” surpassed him by one homer.)

“Is that right?” Seitzer said, smiling and looking incredulous. “That’s crazy.”

Suzuki has a .266 batting average and .532 slugging percentage this season, which is 111 points higher than he’s ever slugged in a season. His .872 OPS this season is 137 points better than his career high as an Oakland rookie in 2007.

His OPS this season is also 145 points above what he posted in his All-Star season in 2014, when Suzuki hit .288 with 34 doubles, three homers and a career-best .345 OBP in 131 games. He has a .341 OBP now, albeit in a fraction of the PAs.

Suzuki shares duties with Tyler Flowers, though not evenly – Flowers’s 62 starts is nearly 50 percent more than Suzuki’s 41, and Suzuki hadn’t started consecutive games since mid-April until he started the last two games of the trip Sunday and Monday.

“Snit’s done a real good job of rotating the catching time to where they’re both staying fresh, not getting beat down in the heat,” Seitzer said. “They’re both doing a tremendous job. That’s a big thing, during a course of 162 usually one guy steps up more than the other and you end up tending to wearing him down just to get something offensively. But these guys have both been clicking all year, so it’s good.

“I couldn’t be more happy for him and Flow (Flowers), the seasons they’ve been putting together. When you bring offense with the catching position as well as game-calling, it’s good.

No one could have predicted this level of production from Suzuki, not before the season and certainly not nearly six weeks into the season. He played 19 games in that period and after a May 14 loss to Miami he was hitting .204 with one homer, a .286 slugging percentage and a .624 OPS in 49 at-bats.

In 30 games since, Suzuki has hit .294 with a whopping 11 home runs in 109 at-bats, with 25 RBIs, a .342 OBP, .642 slugging percentage and .984 OPS. Yes, a .984 OPS over 30 games in a 2 ½-month span from a veteran who was unsigned free agent before hooking up with the Braves on a one-year, $1.5 million deal just three weeks before spring training.

So what happened? Where did the huge midseason progress come from?

“Early on when he kind of hit a skid – I mean, this was early in the season, he kind of got off to a slow start – in spring training I saw him being a little bit long, and BP (batting practice) swings were a little different than his game swings,” Seitzer said. “And we talked about finishing with two hands as opposed to releasing with his top hand. So we started working on that, and he mentioned a few times how hot he got last year — was just crushing balls, homers and everything — and I said, well let’s go watch video and see what it looked like. So we just saw a couple of things, like getting tension out of his upper body and really loosening his arms and using his hands more, because he gets real violent (with his swing), real tight and violent because he’s a real aggressive guy.

“So we started focusing on getting him loosened up, and I mean it just – oh my gosh, he’s looked pretty much the rest of the season like he looked last year during that real hot stretch where he was hitting bombs and going crazy. So he’s in a really good place. It’s like when he misses a fastball we’re like, what the heck, that should have been in the seats.”

Here’s one from arguably the greatest “supergroup” ever assembled, The Highwaymen. Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Here doing a classic written by Robert Earl Keen.

The Highwaymen

“THE ROAD GOES ON FOREVER” by The Highwaymen

[Kristofferson:]
Sherry was a waitress,
At the only joint in town.
She had a reputation,
As a girl who’d been around.
Down Main Street after midnight,
With a brand new pack of cigs.
A fresh one hanging from her lips,
A beer between her legs.
She’d ride down to the river,
And meet with all her friends.
[Group:]
The road goes on forever
And the party never ends

[Nelson:]
Sonny was a loner,
Bolder than the rest.
He was goin’ in the Navy,
But he couldn’t pass the test.
So he hung around town,
And he sold a little pot.
The law got wind of Sonny,
And one day he got caught.
But he was back in business,
When they set him free again.
[Group:]
The road goes on forever.
And the party never ends.

[Jennings:]
Sonny’s playin’ eight ball,
At the joint where Sherry works.
Some drunken out-of-towner,
Put his hand up Sherry’s skirt.
Sonny took his pool cue,
Laid the drunk out on the floor.
Stuffed a dollar in her tip jar,
Walked out of the door.
She’s runnin’ right behind him,
Reachin’ for his hand.
[Group:]
The road goes on forever.
And the party never ends.

[Cash:]
They jumped into his pick-up,
Sonny jammed her down in gear.
Sonny looked at Sherry,
Said, “Let’s get on out of here.”
The stars were high above them.
The moon was in the east.
The sun was setting on them,
When they reached Miami Beach.
They got a motel by the water,
And a quart of Bombay Gin.
[Group:]
The road goes on forever.
And the party never ends.

[Kristofferson:]
They soon ran out of money.
But Sonny knew a man.
Who knew some Cuban refugees,
Who dealt in contraband.
Sonny met the Cuban,
In a house just off the route.
With a briefcase full of money,
And a pistol in his boot.
The cards were on the table,
When the law came bustin’ in.
[All 4:]
The road goes on forever.
And the party never ends.

[Nelson:]
The Cubans grabbed the goodies,
Sonny grabbed the jack.
He broke the bathroom window,
And climbed on out the back.
Sherry drove the pick-up,
Through the alley on the side.
Where the lawman tackled Sonny,
And was reading him his rights.
She stepped out in the alley,
With a single-shot four-ten.
[Group:]
The road goes on forever.
And the party never ends.

[Jennings:]
They left the lawman dyin’,
And they made their get away.
Got back to the motel,
Just before the break of day.
Sonny gave her all the money,
And he blew a little kiss.
If they ask you how this happened,
Say I forced you into this.
She watched him as his tail lights,
Disappeared around the bend.
[Group:]
The road goes on forever.
And the party never ends.

[Cash:]
There’s a main street after midnight.
Just like it was before.
Twenty-one months later,
At the local grocery store,
Sherry buys a paper,
And a cold six-pack of beer.
The headlines read that Sonny,
Is going to the chair.
She pulls back onto main street,
In her new Mercedes-Benz.

[Group:]
The road goes on forever.
And the party never ends.

 

 

 

 



Full article @ Trip went on forever, Braves’ Suzuki never cooled off

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


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‘Folty’ has developed into Braves’ best, most consistent pitcher

‘Folty’ has developed into Braves’ best, most consistent pitcher

PHOENIX — Pull up a chair and let’s discuss the case of Mike Foltynewicz. For in these past few months weve seen the emergence of a frontline-caliber starting pitcher, the kind of pitcher the Braves thought he would be when they traded for him in January 2015 but which seemed far from a certainty at various times in the two years that followed that deal.

The Braves have won 11 of Mike Foltynewicz’s past 13 starts entering his matchup against the power-laden Arizona lineup Tuesday in Phoenix. (AP photo)

Like when Foltynewicz again and again allowed his emotions to get the best of him in the middle of an inning, one mistake pitch or questionable umpire’s decision causing him to lose his focus, leading to another mistake and the loss of composure and … boom, a three-, four- or more-run inning and a game swirling down the drain.

Or after the frightening health he had scare near the end of the 2015 season, when his pitching arm swelled grotesquely overnight from a blood clot and Foltynewicz was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, requiring surgery to remove part of a rib and necessitating rest for almost an entire offseason.

He came to camp in 2016 looking frail after that difficult winter, needed a couple of months to begin catching up and posted a 4.31 ERA in 22 major league starts.

Now look at him. After a normal offseason and a full and productive spring training, Foltynewicz has made major strides mentally and physically in his first full, healthy season in the big leagues, becoming not just a solid contributor but arguably the best and most consistent on the Braves’ staff.

This after beginning the season as the No. 5 starter and the guy whose turn was skipped so the other four starters could stay on a normal schedule.

The power-armed 25-year-old is 8-5 with a 3.87 ERA in 19 games (18 starts), and in his past 13 starts Foltynewicz is 8-1 with a 3.60 ERA, 65 strikeouts and 25 walks in 75 innings. Eight of the 30 earned runs he allowed in that period – and three of 11 homers – came in one start at Washington in which he lasted 3 1/3 innings and the Braves won, 11-10.

Foltynewicz has a 2.76 ERA in the other dozen of his past 13 starts.

“That’s what the goal was coming out of spring training, not only be consistent but kind of establish yourself on the staff a little bit,” said Foltynewicz, who now speaks of what a “fun” challenge it’ll be to face the power-laden Diamondbacks lineup Tuesday night at hitter-friendly Chase Field, where they have the majors’ second-best home record.

“Kind of been a rollercoaster the last few years — have a few starts good, few starts bad, getting sent up and down (to and from minors) and all that kind of stuff. The goal this year was to be consistent and go from there,” he said. “I think I’m putting together a lot of good quality starts back to back, giving the team a good chance to win, having a little winning streak when I’m out there. So it’s all fun, and that was the plan coming out of spring training, keep pushing and keep attacking hitters. Keep going out there and pitching the way I am.”

Did we mention the Braves are 11-2 in Foltynewicz’s past 13 starts?

“I really feel like Folty’s starting to trust himself and believe in himself,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s pitching with some confidence and conviction and belief that he can withstand some adversity of the course of a game now. More just kind of trusting his stuff and believing in himself is the big thing.”

The Braves lost in each of Foltynewicz’s first five starts this season despite his pitching well in most of those, allowing two or fewer earned runs in the first four of those games. He got almost no run support – one or zero runs – while in the game in four of those five starts, but didn’t let the frustration boil over this time as it had so often in the past. Instead, he kept doing his thing, kept turning in good work during the odd early season schedule and lack of normal routine.

“It’s been huge for me,” he said of maintaining composure. “There’s been a  couple of games where I kind of lost it and showed my emotions, my competitiveness, in some games when we were trying to get back to .500. But other than that, I’ve done a really good job, talking with (pitching coach Chuck Hernandez) and a bunch of coaches about  how I did, they said, ‘You’ve taken some big steps. We just don’t want you to take three steps backward.’

“Couple of games that I might have, but the next game or the game after that we were right back with some quality starts and getting some team wins.”

After his first bad start of the season, a May 5 loss to the Cardinals when he gave up seven runs and two homers in four innings and Atlanta scored no runs, Foltynewicz enjoyed three consecutive starts in which the Braves scored eight, eight and five runs while he was in the game. He won all three of those to begin the 8-1 stretch he’s been on ever since as he prepares to face the Diamondbacks, who blitzed R.A. Dickey and the Braves bullpen in a 10-2 rout in Monday’s series opener that improved Arizona’s home record to 35-17.

Foltynewicz has allowed more than three earned runs just twice in his past 13 starts and issued more than two walks in only two games in that period.

“Now we get Arizona and they plug J.D. Martinez in there, too, in that already-hot lineup,” Foltynewicz said on Sunday as he looked ahead to the matchup. “That’s going to be a fun test, but we’re playing great baseball now, we’re right in there with teams…. (The Diamondbacks) have great pitching, they plug J.D. Martinez in, hitter’s ballpark too, so just got to go out there and keep pitching the way I am, knowing I can’t blow a fastball by everyone, just use pitching — inside, outside, up, down, use the off-speed when needed, get a good game plan with whoever (catches) me.”

Let’s close with this one from Calexico, the great band from Tucson, Ariz.

Calexico

Through the gardens and fields ‘neath the tall green grass
You were walking ‘neath the moon while covering your tracks
Working your fingers down to the skin and stone
One hand on the hammer, one foot by the door
Pushed by the wind, fed by the need for moving on,
Moving on to nowhere
When division runs deep and down into the well
All the coins you dove after lost all their spell
Covered in moss walking for silver and blood
Out in the cafe, working in the grove
Guarding the port of the future you sold
Holding on, holding on to no one
Holding on, holding on to no one
One eye in the mirror, the other on the screen
Sewn in the pockets and down into the dream
Caught up in the mortar, bricks and heavy load
Wait in the shadows down the living road
Moving on, moving on to no one
Holding on, holding on to no one



Full article @ ‘Folty’ has developed into Braves’ best, most consistent pitcher

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


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Rodriguez feels healthy, confident he’ll help Braves

Rodriguez feels healthy, confident he’ll help Braves

 

PHOENIX – When Sean Rodriguez came off the disabled list just five months after major shoulder surgery on his non-throwing arm, a lot of folks wondered if the veteran and first-year Brave was pushing it a bit and coming back too soon, especially given that he went 3-for-29 with 12 strikeouts in 11 injury-rehab games at four minor league levels.

The emergence of rookie Johan Camargo and activation from the DL of Sean Rodriguez (right) gives the Braves two versatile pieces who could see extensive playing time the rest of the way, and with Danny Santana give the Braves more true multi-position performers than they’ve had in some time. (AP photo)

So the response has been predictable on social media while Rodriguez has gone 1-for-14 with four walks and eight strikeouts in his first six games (four starts) off the disabled list. There have been a lot of comments on Twitter and Facebook along the lines of “I knew he came back too soon” and “He needs to spend more time in the minors.”

Rodriguez understands the reaction but isn’t surprised that he’s struggled initially – something that probably wasn’t going to change if he spent another week or two in Triple-A.

“I mean, naturally, when you’re talking about jumping into what is, quote-unquote, my opening day after the All-Star break and (other) guys are in midseason form,” said Rodriguez, 32, who was injured along with his wife and two of their children in a Jan. 28 automobile accident when the SUV he was driving was struck by the driver of a stolen police cruiser who ran through a red light (the driver of the stolen car died after the car burst into flames).

I asked him in Los Angeles this weekend if he would’ve felt a bit apprehensive regardless of whether he came back when he did or a few weeks later.

“I feel like at any level that’s going to be tough (jumping back in at midseason). So I don’t want to say I was apprehensive,” Rodriguez said. “I just basically said, you know what, I’m going to take it in stride. Obviously I can probably catch on a lot quicker than most people might expect and still feel like I can benefit and help the team win.”

He had his first hit in most recent start Saturday against the Dodgers, after getting two walks and scoring two runs in Friday’s 12-3 win at L.A. He’s had three starts at third base and one at second base, just a couple of the seven positions Rodriguez played last year in his career-best season with the Pirates (all but catcher and pitcher).

He has just one hit but does have a .316 OBP including a hit-by-pitch and the four walks, one of which loaded the bases with two out in the ninth inning in a one-run game against the Cubs (the Braves didn’t capitalize and lost 4-3).

He botched the second ground ball hit to him in his first game back, but otherwise has been solid in the field. And even though the offense could take a while to come around, Rodriguez said he feels good, that he’s healthy, and that’s the most important thing for him and for the Braves, who activated him because they believe he can help them in their hopeful push for a wild-card spot.

Keep in mind, this is a guy who last season set career highs in batting average (.270), home runs (18), RBIs (56), OBP (.349), slugging percentage (.510) and games played (140), among other statistics.

After signing a two-year, $11.5 million contract, Rodriguez could easily have sat out the entire season recovering from Feb. 14 surgery to repair his torn rotator cuff, damaged labrum and biceps tendon. Everyone in the Braves organization would have understood if he needed the entire year to recover, since initially no one expected him back before  September even in a best-cast scenario.

That he busted his tail working out and going through countless hours of rehab every day to make it back so soon was commendable, regardless of the early results since he was activated. Teammates saw him every day during homestands and appreciated his attitude and desire to get back as soon as possible.

We shouldn’t be surprised if Rodriguez puts it together before much longer. After all, he already defied all predictions about how long it would take for him to make it back.

And depending upon what happens with second baseman Brandon Phillips and first baseman Matt Adams this week with the non-waiver trade deadline approaching (July 31), it might be particularly beneficial having Rodriguez back sooner than expected, especially with shortstop Dansby Swanson continuing to struggle mightily.

The Braves also like how Rodriguez has spent time talking to Swanson during the rookie’s difficult first full season and also set a good example for ascendant rookie Johan Camargo, whose locker was beside Rodriguez’s during the four-game series at Dodger Stadium.

Bottom line, of course, Rodriguez needs to perform. And he’s confident that he will.

“I’m feeling healthy,” he said. “Shoulder gets a little sore, but I mean it’s more like normal sore that you might get after a workout, or what the body feels after maybe a tough road trip,” he said during the Dodgers series. “So it’s not a major thing that affects any kind of range of motion or movement. Which is good.

“I feel like things are starting to come together. The swing feels good, just a matter of trusting what I’m working on. I know what my approach has to be and what I want it to be, and it’ll be there consistently once I get that feeling of trust behind what I want to do and it just starts to flow a little better.”

• I’ll close with the great Glen Campbell‘s version of this Jimmie Webb-penned classic.

Glen Campbell

“BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX” by Glen Campbell

By the time I get to Phoenix
She’ll be rising
She’ll find the note I left hanging on her door
She’ll laugh, when she reads the part that says I’m leaving
Cause I’ve left that girl, so many times before
By the time I make Albuquerque
She’ll be working
She’ll probably stop at lunch,
And give me a call
But she’ll just hear that phone keep on ringing
Off the wall, that’s all
By the time I make Oklahoma
She’ll be sleeping
She’ll turn softly and call my name out low
And she’ll cry, just to think, I’d really leave her
Though time and time I’ve tried to tell her so
She just didn’t know,
I would really go

 

 

 

 



Full article @ Rodriguez feels healthy, confident he’ll help Braves

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


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