The Atlanta Braves' season came to a close last night with a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. While it was a great season for the Braves, to say I'm frustrated is a huge understatement. I'm proud of what the team accomplished, but October just isn't their month. Heck, September hasn't been too good to them either in the last few years.
Where do I start? Everyone knew that Dan Uggla has been struggling offensively for a good part of the season. Just in the last few weeks of the season he had Lasik surgery and had to play several games in the minors before re-joining the team. That didn't bother me too much as Evan Gattis was sent down to AAA right before the end of Gwinnett's season to hopefully get more at bats and work on his swing. However, to bench Uggla for the first playoff series in favor of Elliott Johnson? That's ludicrous Freddi! What were you thinking?
Yes, I get it. The Braves need offense and Uggla has been struggling, but you can never under estimate good defensive play. Just look at the Braves' performance in the field in game 1 against the Dodgers. It was horrible! While Elliott maybe the funny guy in the dugout, Uggla should have been in the starting line up. I'd rather have his glove in the field and hope he gets lucky with one at bat. Lord knows there are enough other bats in the line up to rely on.
I haven't been on Twitter much, but I couldn't help to send a few tweets during the playoffs. Man on man has Brian McCann been killed online. Yeah, I get it he caught a lot of flak when he was standing on the 3rd base line barking at that Marlins player who hit a home run in the last weeks of the season, but that jerk's jaw was moving faster than his legs were while rounding the bases. He apparently had some history w/ Braves pitcher Paul Maholm, but there was no need for him running his pie hole to every Braves infielder. Just drop your bat and tag the bases and be done with it. McCann was just coming to the defense of his pitcher and fellow players. Outside of that instance, I don't see why McCann has taken so much heat. Granted his play in the playoffs left a lot to be desired. A lot. McCann went 0-13, 4 strike outs alone in game 4 of the NLDS. He's a free agent after this season and reports state he should command anywhere between $15-18 million on the open market. The Braves already have two young catchers in the organization so I just don't see the Braves waiving that kind of cash in his face. It'll be weird not seeing McCann behind the plate for the Braves, after all he is a GA native and was drafted by the club back in 2002...however Evan Gattis isn't an outfielder and he belongs behind the plate.
And speaking of Mr. Gattis, El Oso Blanco came out of nowhere it seemed earlier this year and was on fire. I remember searching eBay to see if he had any cards earlier this year and his only release was from a minor league Topps Heritage set and man on man what that card trading for some crazy numbers! Thankfully Topps fit him into later releases, but the timing of that combined w/ my loss of interest in collecting like I used to means I only have a few RCs of his. Gattis has a good arm and a monstrous swing and good presence behind the plate. However he is abysmal in the outfield. I know Freddi Gonzalez wanted his bat in the line up and that is why he was trolling left field against the Dodgers (that and B.J. Upton's offense was no where to be found). Gattis may eventually win a gold glove behind the plate, but never in the outfield!
Pitching was also a major factor in the teams loss to the Dodgers. Kris Medlen was the game 1 starter last season against the Cardinals in the one game playoff. Watching game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers I swear was like deju vu. I love Medlen, that kid is a great pitcher...just not so much in the post season. Mike Minor pitched an excellent game 2 and I think he has a bright future on this ball club. Julio Teheran had a rough outing in game 3, but is a great young pitcher and will bounce back next season. When it was announced that long time veteran Freddy Garcia would be taking the mound for game 4 with the team's season on the line, I'm sure many of the fans (including myself) were really nervous. However he pitched a much better game than I thought he would. If only the bullpen wouldn't have "dropped the ball" there would be a game 5.
I knew the end of the season / post season would be tough on the club when several key pitchers started dropping like flies. Of course the big blow to the team was the loss of veteran pitcher Tim Hudson. I was glad to see him w/ the team celebrating after they clenched the division and in the dugout for the NLDS, but I so wish he could have taken the mound. Also loosing Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty in the bullpen didn't help Brandon Beachy made his return to the club in the 2nd half of the season, only to re-injure himself and be lost for the rest of the season. While other guys did step up at times and shine, there just wasn't much consistency in the bullpen outside of Craig Kimbrel. He was lights out just about every time he took the mound...he just couldn't get out there against the Dodgers enough!
This whole post isn't all doom and gloom however. Several Braves players stepped up to the proverbial plate and were consistent all year. Freddie Freeman, should be the National League's MVP, was fantastic. I can see him being the next guy to play his entire career w/ the Braves. Chris Johnson, the "throw in" to the Justin Upton trade last winter. Who would have figured he would be competing for the batting title at the end of the season. In fact Chris' bat was one of the few bright spots of the Braves offense against the Dodgers in the NLDS. Andrelton Simmons. This guys defensive talent is scary. Batting 7th or 8th most of the season, he surprised a lot of people w/ his at as well.
All season long the Braves were streaky. There were times they would be on fire and went on several double digit win streaks, only to follow them up w/ horrible losses to under .500 clubs. Just look at how they were swept by the Marlins in the final weeks of the season! However honorable mention goes to several key players who stepped in at various points in the season and helped the team.
Gerald Laird, who has one year left on his contract, could really help continue to mentor the likes of Evan Gattis. Reed Johnson, got some playing time in the outfield at times, but was mainly used as a great, reliable pinch hitter from the bench. Jordan Schafer was re-acquired from the Astros, the team they traded him away two in 2012, gave a nice spark to the team with his speed...both in the outfield and on the base paths. Injuries slowed him down a bit, but I would rather see him in centerfield than a certain other overpaid guy with initials that reference an off colored sexual act. Tyler Pastornicky is another young guy that migrated back and forth between Atlanta and AAA Gwinnett. Injuries took him out for the season as well, but I like him as a back up for Simmons moving forward. Jason Heyward may not be living up to some people's expectations, but I like what he did as the Braves lead off batter. He needs to stay in right field though...he just doesn't seem comfortable at center or in left. At the tail end of the season the team called up Joey Terdoslavich from AAA and he had some good success. I got to see him play in person a few times when Gwinnett came to town to face the Charlotte Knights so I was happy to see him get a chance to help out the club. I'll also throw Alex Wood on this list. Sure he had a rough outing against the Dodgers in game 3 after Teheran was pulled in the 3rd, but outside of that game Wood was impressive. I might be a little biased since Wood hails from my hometown of Charlotte, NC, but I think he surprised a lot of baseball fans this season.
In closing I will give the Dodgers some props...as much as it pains me. Clayton Kershaw. Wow. Now I know why everyone raves about this guy. Of course living on the east coast I don't follow the west coast teams much and rarely do I get to see certain players play. Unless they are playing my Braves (or sometimes Red Sox when I watch the AL) I don't follow their careers and progress. Clayton impressed me. I already respected him for being a devout Christian like myself, but his baseball skill has very much left an impression on me. The Braves just happened to run into a very good, and very hot Dodgers team in October. The Dodgers did the things necessary to win games that the Braves simply did not do. Both teams had their fair share of injured players so I'm not going down that path, I'll just leave it as it is. The Dodgers were the better team...in October. I'm proud of the Braves and I look forward to seeing what happens in the off season. Of course I'll be ready come spring next year as well.
Thanks for a great 2013 season. I guess the bright side to the Braves being out of the playoffs is this. I won't have to worry about missing any games the rest of this week or next week since I'll be at Walt Disney World! I will have to tune in though and root on the Pirates to take out the Cardinals and Dodgers. And for my wife, I'm hoping the Sox get back to the World Series as well...though I wouldn't be upset to see the A's there either. I like pulling for the small market teams.
Oh and one last thing. Yasiel Puig. Still don't like him and I still think he is overrated. That is all.