The 2010 Atlanta Braves: more fun than a night on the town with Julio Franco and Eddie Perez.
The Braves got put through the ringer this weekend by the best team in the NL West during a jet-lagged three-game series at Turner Field. Colorado should have won the series – you should win every series in which you have a lead going into the ninth of one game and your ace hurls a freaking no-hitter in an entirely different game. And yet Atlanta avoided a potentially demoralizing nutkick to the confidence to notch a 2-1 series victory and improve to 7-5 on the young season. As Tony Kornheiser might say, that’s resiliency, holmes. You probably say I’m making too much of this. I say you can never make too much of meaningless late April baseball… Here’s where we stand after 12 games.
What I Like Uh, Jason Heyward – or simply, The Destroyer, as we here at Sports Casualties are inclined to tag the young Braves phenom who’s still months shy of legally purchasing his first beer. It’s been a monumental three weeks for the kid from Ridgewood. He goes long in his first Big League at bat, gets his mug commemorated on the Wall of Giant Heads over at “Pardon the Interruption,” and racks up enough clutch hits to stand second in the league in RBI. Of course, everybody’s losing their collective sh*t over Sunday’s opposite field walk-off single… and well they should. According to the Alias Sports Bureau, the Braves haven’t had a 2-out, 2-strike, down by a run, game-ending base hit since Franky Cabrera’s “Bream Special” in the 1992 NLCS. Somewhere, Sean McDonough’s voice is cracking.
After that game, Cabrera memorably said in his broken English, “My father told me to be a hero. And today, I am a hero.” I feel like this is where we’re going with Heyward. Improbably, he looks just as special, just as composed, just as supremely talented as everybody promised he’d be. And as evidenced by Sunday afternoon’s mob scene, the guy really loves baseball. This isn’t business as usual for a team that’s prided itself for the last 15 or so years on calm, cool and collected. You can tell already that the Heyward Buzz is rubbing off. Now if he could only cut down on the strikeouts…
I also like Jair Jurrjens’ 8-inning, 108-pitch outing Sunday. If you’re like me, you broke into cold sweats during spring training at the thought of losing the 24-year-old to the Dreaded Elbow Inflammation. The nausea returned last week when the Padres thumped him to the tune of 3 1/3 IP, 8 earned. His fastball topped out in the high 80s and his change was more ineffective than saying “no” to Ben Roethlisberger. Against Colorado, he looked like the Jurrjens from last year – the off-speed pitch was dancing, he kept the ball down (didn’t phase Ian Stewart), and his second to last pitch touched 94. He needs to stay healthy this year because, regardless of what Frank Wren tells you, Melky Cabrera can’t pitch.
What I Don’t Like Melky, obviously, but we’ll get to him in a second. The Braves backed up their sans-batting practice nine-run outburst Friday with – count them – zero hits on Saturday. The worst part about it: Ubaldo Jimenez walked six guys. I mean, it wasn’t even a particularly memorable no-no so much as a 9-inning exercise in impotence. When my team goes down, I want them to go down in flames (see: Johnson, Randy, 2004 at Atlanta. First televised perfect game in history. Now that’s my kinda beatdown). Something tells me there’s a correlation between first-ever-victim-of-Rockies-no-hitter and Nate McLouth/Melky Cabrera’s combined .130 batting average. Nine for 69, in case you’re curious. How’s that for a centerfield platoon? How’s that for a combo that cost you a frontline starting pitcher and half your farm system? And Mclouth… good lord. He’s like the guy in the “Alien” movies that volunteers to go first into the dark abyss. Just a lamb to slaughter. In fact, after Saturday, the Braves ranked dead last in the Majors in leadoff batting average (.065, 3 for 46). Professional raker Matt Diaz matched those three hits on Sunday. Matt, by the way, still does not have a full-time job despite a .314 BA (373 for 1188) since joining the team in ’06. Meanwhile, Cabrera sports a .388 OPS. Until this weekend, I didn’t even know there was such thing as a .388 OPS.
Suggested plan of action: Get rid of Nate McLouth. I don’t care if you trade him, sell him, knock him off in a back-alley. Just get rid of him. He’s always hurt, he doesn’t hit for average, and he struck out 99 times last year. No thanks. Give Diaz the starting job in left, bat him 1-2 with Martin Prado and sacrifice a burnt offering in hopes that Cabrera starts hitting. While we’re at it, move Heyward up to the fifth hole and start Hinske at first/clean-up until he cools off. As far as I can tell, The Ghost of Troy Glaus is no longer a productive Big Leauge player, and his 26 games of sub-.200, 1 HR, 8 RBI baseball since 2008 back me up on this.
What I’m Scratching My Head Over Pretty much every single one of Frank Wren’s decisions, but particularly the move to pass on 30-year-old Rafael Soriano and his $7.25 million salary for $10 million of Wagner/Saito. Combined years of life experience: 80. I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this bullpen. Takashi Saito’s been surprisingly fantastic in his setup role – 5 IP, 1 H – and Billy Wagner still takes to the mound like he’s got a vendetta against the radar gun. He imploded against San Diego 10 days ago, but the fastball routinely hits 98. Eric O’Flaherty’s getting lefties out, which is what Eric O’Flaherty does (besides drink Guinness). And I assume Cox and Wren will call up right-hander Craig Kimbrel come June, both because he’s dominating in Gwinnett and because I wrote about him in March… Okay, just because he’s dominating in Gwinnett.
I really want to talk about Heyward some more, but I’ll spare you. With 150 games left, I’m content to soak up a memorable weekend – a weekend that makes me think that this team is like a gamer toddler who smacks his head on a coffee table, picks himself up, dusts himself off and says with resolve, “Let’s do this.”