Tagged: Venters

Retrospection and Projection – Part 1 Looking back

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After the moods swings we’ve experienced in the last week I
thought it best to let everything settle down before I wrote. The elation felt
when Rick hit that huge splash homer in San Francisco was gone when Brooks let
that grounder go through his legs in the ninth inning. The next day the playoffs
were gone and Bobby was saying goodbye. Wednesday the Braves confirmed what
everyone had long suspected, that Fredi Gonzales would be the manager in 2011.
Yes sir, quite a 10 day period for the Atlanta faithful. As we settle in to
root our surrogate team into the World Series there’s time for reflection and
projection. So I’ll do my imitation of Janus and try to get a clear view of
where we’ve been and where we might be headed.

Retrospective: Last spring the Braves broke camp with a
patchwork roster put together on a shoestring thanks to the soulless corporate
entity that is Liberty media.  While we
had 3 returning starting infielders, an all-star catcher and a potential rookie
of the year, we were very short elsewhere. The outfield was going to be a mix
and match shuffle with Matt Diaz and Nate McClouth joining the newly acquired Melky
Cabrerra
and Eric Hinske in never ending rotation. First base was to be manned
by a theoretically healthy Troy Glaus converting from 3rd where he had
played his whole career. Troy was once a premier fielder, hitter and power threat.
That was before multiple shoulder surgeries sapped his throwing arm of its
strength and accuracy and his knees made a once feared power stroke a memory.
Add those concerns to learning the fancy footwork and new angles required to
play first base and Troy had a gigantic task ahead of him.

Our pitching however was strong. Huddy was back, Tommy
seemed ready for prime time and JJ was maturing into an ace in waiting, Derek
was still there to get his 200+ innings and Kawakami would slot into the 5th
starter role to eat innings and hopefully finish at least 500. The bullpen no
longer had the mercurial relief duo of Soriano and Gonzalez but we did have
Billy Wagner in his self declared final year and Takashi Saito. Moylan and O’Flaherty
were back along with Jo Jo Reyes and a couple of new faces.

Without detailing the ups and downs of the season ad nauseam
suffice it to say that our start was slow. Bobby juggled the lineup playing matchups
where he could and a win in Milwaukee in May started a scorching 6 week period
that saw us take the lead in the East on the backs of Martin Prado and a
streaking Glaus.  The Phillies physical
therapy staff was busy trying to keep 9 healthy bodies on the field. They
stayed in the hunt but were 7 games back at the break. Almost unnoticed around the
middle of June, Troy had cooled down and the Braves were no longer “HOT.”
Chipper struggled to find his stroke and his power was spotty at best.  KK wasn’t winning at all. The Braves provided
little run support for anyone after the 1st of July but KK and Lowe suffered
most. JJ was hurt off and of as well opening the door for Kris Medlen to earn a
spot in the rotation he gave only to Tommy John surgery.

After the break the Braves offense continued to sputter and
their road record was abysmal. Jason injured a ligament in his thumb early in
the year on one of those ridiculous head first slide and tried unsuccessful to
play through it. Gutting it out did his rookie of the year chances no good –
though it hasn’t been announced yet I Posey to win and his role in taking the
Giants to the NLCS might have beaten Jason anyway – and caused his batting average
to sink along with his power numbers.  Nate
and KK went to Gwinette to find themselves. Last I checked they were still
looking. Gregor Blanco was ripping up the league with a 310 average which made
it a surprise when he was traded to KC. Equally surprising was what we got in
return. Instead of a power bat we got a light hitting former pitcher. The trade
also saw Jesse Chavez depart (no loss) and Kyle Farnsworth return (no gain.)
That was the extent of Braves deadline moves. Whether this was the result of
Liberty Media‘s tight purse strings or Frank Wren‘s willingness to believe anything
an opposing GM tells him is a matter of debate. 
Suffice to say that Ankiel was earned 1 million more this year than
Scott Podsednick who was available from the same place at the same time and
Jose Guillen who was later given to the Giants for free.

As August progressed things deteriorated. The lineup that we
left spring training with was a distant memory. Our lead shrank then vanished.
Kris was lost for the rest of the year and finally Chipper went down with a
torn ACL just as he was heating up. Bright spots emerged however in the form of
Omar Infante playing like the All Star he was named this year and the arrival
of Derrek Lee from the Cubs on a waiver wire deal.  Our bench delivered as it had all year though
the frequency of such wins diminished as it almost had to. We had so much magic
early on maintaining it would have been a miracle resembling the 69 Mets.  While Derek Lowe found bone chips in his
elbow that caused him to miss a start he returned after cortisone shots in the
balky elbow to be the big game pitcher we all should remember from his days in
Boston. In September and October he was 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA and a 1.o76
WHIP.  Yet as September faded so did our
hopes for the division title. Martin Prado moved to 3rd after
Chipper got hurt and had played very well. He was now carrying a groin injury as
well as playing with a recently broken pinkie finger when he tore an oblique
and got a hip pointer making a diving stop. 
Brooks Conrad who had a superb season fielding took over there although
his experience was mostly at second base. The nightmare he went as a fielder is
well known and doesn’t need to be repeated now; the pain is still too much.  Although Nate McClouth returned and started like
a house on fire getting robbed of two home runs – one a grand slam – in his
first two game, those flames quickly turned to embers and he was used sparingly
down  the stretch. We learned Thursday
that though Derrek Lee hit 304 with 3 homers down the stretch and played gold glove
first base, he was doing it with a torn ligament in his right thumb.  (Note to all those couch potato mangers who
questioned his acquisition; You should send him a letter of apology.  He played when many would have said they
weren’t able and played without excuses at an extremely high level.)

Well, that’s a brief review of the year and how we got to
the wild card where we lost to the Giants. There are varying opinions about why
we didn’t go further. You can blame Bobby for making bad decisions or Frank
Wren for providing a roster inadequate for the job.  For my part I place most of the blame at the
feet of the GM. He made consistently bad deals and decisions over the last 2
years that resulted in a roster that had to be what Bobby called “the hardest
working team I’ve ever had.”  They had to
be hard working because they were desperately short on talent. As he said in
his farewell interview, they weren’t the best team. In fact no one expected
them to be anywhere close at the end. . I believe the way Bobby dealt the cards
throughout the season is the reason
we held the division lead and eventually got to the playoffs. Bobby had so few quality
weapons in his arsenal it’s hard to see what he could have done about the
offense. Folks screamed to play Glaus at third but anyone watching him unable
to bend over and snag a ground ball, fall fielding a bunt or throw a ball into
the camera well during warm-ups knows why that was an unsound suggestion. His
hitting wasn’t much after his return either. Everyone wanted to play Matt every
day but Matt consistently failed to hit right handers throughout the year. No
one wanted Melky to play because . . .well because Melky played badly. However
alternatives were few. Eric plays well when he doesn’t have to play every day.
He is however SLOW and not a
natural outfielder. So, Bobby had little choice but to play match-ups and hope
for the best.  I do believe he had Jason in
the wrong spot in the batting order (2nd vs 6th ) thus forcing
him to try and be the guy that moves people along instead of drives runs in. I
have no idea what the difference would have been but I’d have done it. I also agree
with those who say he overworked the bullpen (as usual), particularly the
amazing rookie Jonny Venters.  Having said
that I haven’t won 2503 games, been to 15 post seasons as manager and had 15 – 90+
win seasons so maybe my ideas wouldn’t have worked.

Next week; Projection and Prediction

 

 

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