Braves Journal, The House That Mac Built

Scarred, but smarter.

20 Oct

Where Do We Go from Here? Introduction

So who am us, anyway?

Fredi Gonzalez’s 2016 Braves were one of the worst teams that we’ve ever seen in Atlanta. Brian Snitker’s 2016 Braves were a not-very-good team with a decent number of young players who might be able to improve, and a farm system full of promising talent.

Can we ignore April and May, and chalk it down to Jeff Francoeur and Erick Aybar and Fredi Gonzalez and A.J. Pierzynski, all of whom are gone? Well… maybe, kind of, mostly. The trouble is, as AtlCrackersFan noted, the Braves were actually worse at starting pitching at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year. So the improvement in offense helped to mask a decline on the other side of the ball. In other words, despite the team’s near-.500 record under Snitker, this is not actually a good baseball team.

As Mark Bowman writes (in response to a question I tweeted at him), the Braves essentially fired Roger McDowell as a way of expressing their belief that a different pitching coach could turn Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair into bona fide major league starters.

Naturally, new pitching coach Chuck Hernandez will be tasked with many of the most important answers to the question of “Where do we go from here?” The Johns chose to focus the rebuild around young pitching, the area of the game that the Braves franchise still believes it does better than other teams. We’ll see if they’re right.

There are a lot more open questions around the lineup: can Ozzie Albies come back and be Ozzie Albies? If so, we’ve got a second baseman. If not, we’ve got a tough row to hoe. Catcher and third base are even further from being settled. And in the outfield corners there are two veteran placeholders and a speedy fourth outfielder.

So, does all this add up to a good team in 2019? Are these bums going to turn into the Braves of the 1990s, a collection of young guys who all turn into aces at the same moment? Or the Braves of the 1980s, a couple of stars surrounded by a bunch of busts? Or the Braves of the 2000s, a decent team that has a couple of bright moments but never managed a breakthrough?

What do you think?

17 Oct

Brian Snitker and the History of Partial Season Managers (by AtlCrackersFan)

When Fredi Gonzalez got fired, the Atlanta Braves record stood at 9-28, a lowly .243 winning percentage that would have ranked the team with some of the worst in franchise history. The Braves history of midseason replacement managers provides some interesting guidance about expectations.

Before 2016, and including the 19th-century Boston teams, the franchise had made 18 midseason managerial changes.

Only eleven of those changes occurred when the team had a losing record. (They have fired seven managers with winning records!) In five of those eleven cases, the new manager produced a worse record, and in six cases, he produced a better record. On average, new managers achieved a winning percentage about .010 higher than their predecessors.

But that’s mostly because of a massive outlier in 1966. Bobby Bragan was fired after 111 games, his team having limped to a 52-59 record, a winning percentage of .468. Billy Hitchcock came in and finished the year with a 33-18 record, a .647 winning percentage that was .179 points higher than Bobby Bragan’s .468 mark.

If you exclude the 1966 season, the average change in winning percentage was actually -0.058 — in other words, the replacement manager usually fared worse than the man he replaced.

Over the six instances where the new manager improved on his predecessor’s mark, the new man’s winning percentage was .053 higher. Take out 1966, and the average increase in the other five cases was just .029. For the five instances when the successor manager’s team posted a worse winning mark, the average decrease totaled .041.

So, had Snitker followed precedent, his team might have been expected to have a record between 25-99 (a .201 record) and 37-87 (a .298 record). Instead, his Braves went 59-65, a .476 record, an increase in winning percentage of .233 over Gonzalez’ mark after May 18. This represents the largest change between managers in any instance of change in the dugout and only the 4th instance of a winning percentage increase exceeding .100.

What Snitker Overcame
Despite the monumental increase in winning percentage under Snitker, the Braves still finished in last place, of course, the same spot they were in on May 18. That’s a familiar story in franchise history. Only twice did a Braves team with a losing record at the time of the managerial change improve their position in the standings — 1945, when Warren Spahn and many of the league’s top stars were at war, and the aforementioned 1966.

Of all the obstacles Snitker faced, a few jump out immediately. For starters — no pun intended — the Braves ran out 14 different starting pitchers in his 124 games. For example, Jhoulys Chacin started five games before being traded on May 11, a week before Fredi was axed. Another five pitchers were traded after Snitker became manager, and Alexi Ogando got his outright release.

The Braves had a total of 35 pitchers make at least one appearance during the season, but none spent the entire season on the active roster. Everyone either spent time on the injured list, time in Triple-A, or time with another franchise. Teheran led the starters with 188 innings pitched. Williams Perez had the fifth most innings as a starter, with just 53.2 innings pitched.

On the field, 25 different men stepped between the foul lines at some point during the season. They ranged from the regulars like Freeman and Markakis to part-timers like Jace Peterson, Gordon Beckham, and the quickly forgotten Reid Brignac and Matt Tuiasosopo. After Snitker arrived, five players were traded, beginning with Kelly Johnson on June 8, and ending with Beckham on September 27. While Freeman and Markakis appeared in 158 games each, only three others had more than 100 appearances.

The Braves had 13 players make their Major League debut in 2016, ten of whom were pitchers. Four debuted under Gonzalez (Mallex Smith and three hurlers) while Snitker introduced seven pitchers and two infielders, including Dansby Swanson.

What He Accomplished
With all of the roster turmoil, it’s instructive to compare the first 37 games of the season with the final 37 games of the season.

In the first 37 games, the Braves played 21 games against teams who qualified for the playoffs, going 4-17 against them. In the final 37 games, the Braves played 15 games against teams qualifying for the playoffs, and went 7-8 against them.

Some more numbers to compare:

  Runs/gm BA OBP GIDP/gm
First 37 3.08 .230 .323 .89
Last 37 5.35 .288 .409 .59

Scoring improved by over two runs per game as the batting average jumped. Extra base hits almost doubled, going from 66 XBH and only 10 HR during the initial part of the season, to 118 XBH, including 36 HR, at the end. Interestingly, the number of strikeouts per game hovered around 8.25 in both parts of the season. The most significant changes were the addition of Matt Kemp on July 30, and trading away Jeff Francoeur on August 24, when just 34 games remained.

The pitching record was more mixed.

Starters Runs/gm Go < 5 IP ≥ 5 runs /start
First 37 2.95 9 8
Last 37 3.19 13 13
Relievers Runs/gm Sv BSv
First 37 1.95 6 6
Last 37 1.54 12 4

While the starters’ record improved significantly, from 5-17 to 14-9, by other metrics, such as runs allowed per game, the number of games where the starter didn’t make it past the 5th inning, and giving up five or more runs in a start, the starters did worse at the end of the year than they had at the beginning. The pen got better, though. Their record improved from 4-11 to 9-5, the number of saves doubled, and runs per game and walks decreased, though the number of games when the pen held the opposition hitless decreased slightly.

Other than the improvements in batting, particularly with power, it’s difficult to identify why Snitker got such dramatically improved results over Gonzalez.

Looking Ahead
With the naming of Snitker as the manager for the 2017 season, history offers both hope and caution. First: Bobby Cox totally destroys any meaningful statistical analysis, since he returned to the dugout 65 games into the 1990 season, then won 15 division championships. But Fred Haney also replaced Charlie Grimm a third of the way into the 1956 season, then managed Milwaukee into the World Series in both 1957 and 1958. And in the 19th century, John Morrill (who managed Boston to first place in 1882 and then stepped down), replaced Jack Burdock halfway through the 1883 season and took the team to first place. Morrill then kept the Boston in first in both the 1884 and 1885 seasons.

However, in most instances, the replacement manager’s success was fleeting. In 1951, Tommy Holmes replaced Billy Southworth, but Holmes lasted just 35 games in the 1952 season before Charlie Grimm took his job. In 1961, Birdie Tebbets replaced Charlie Dressen, but Tebbets was replaced at the end of the 1962 season. And in the Braves’ first season in Atlanta, 1966, Billy Hitchcock replaced Bobby Bragan in August, but then got pink-slipped fired with just three games to go in 1967.

Other Atlanta changes include Eddie Mathews replacing Luman Harris about two-thirds of the way through the 1972 season. Mathews himself got replaced by Clyde King in the middle of 1974. King didn’t complete the 1975 season, getting the axe with 27 games left on the schedule. Finally, Russ Nixon replaced Chuck Tanner 39 games into the 1988 season, only to be replaced by Cox just before the mid-point of the 1990 season. Replacements often get replaced by replacements.

One can be hopeful, but experience shouldn’t lead to great expectations. Even if Brian Snitker is the best Atlanta manager since Bobby Cox, there are plenty of other positions that badly need an upgrade. The Johns have their work cut out for them.

14 Oct

Trade Recap: The Justin Upton Trade (by Rob Cope)

The Braves were in the middle of their teardown in the 2014-2015 offseason when they decided to deal one of their most valuable players: Justin Upton. Upton had one year remaining until free agency, and after trading Jason Heyward, they decided to go all the way and deal off Upton as well. This would pave the way for the eventual trades of Melvin Upton Jr., Craig Kimbrel, and Evan Gattis.

But the Justin deal would be the trade with the biggest prospect haul, as they weren’t looking to shed payroll (Kimbrel/M. Upton), nor were they looking to get back an established player (like Shelby Miller), or even a stopgap (Cameron Maybin). They were rebuilding, they wanted prospects, and that’s exactly what they got. They traded Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft for Max Fried, Dustin Peterson, Jace Peterson, and Mallex Smith.

What we gave up:
Justin Upton: Upton had a power outage in his last year in Arizona (only 24 doubles, 17 home runs, and a .430 slugging percentage in a full season’s duty). His power rebounded in Atlanta where he hit 27 and 29 home runs in his two seasons, with a combined SLG of .478. Fine as he was, however, his overall production never quite reached the All-Star level many expected of him. His OPS never returned to its highest levels in Arizona, he stopped stealing bases, and his defense was still below-average-to-average.

He was still a valuable piece because of his contract, as he would only make $14.5M in his one season in San Diego, while generating 3.5 fWAR. Again, a very good player, but not quite a cornerstone. (He did make the All-Star team, but as a charity case: he was the only Padre chosen.)

He didn’t have the ideal “walk year” in San Diego, as he would have his second-worst OPS of his career in the cavernous park. Nonetheless, Detroit signed him to a 6-year contract at a $22M AAV. (In 2016, he had a lower OPS than he’d had in 2015, and Detroit may be ruing their generosity.) Atlanta would never have the resources nor the desire to sign him to that level of a deal.

Aaron Northcraft: Northcraft was a filler piece in the deal. A former 10th-round pick, he had a couple decent seasons in high-A and double-A, but he is now 26 and has yet to reach the big leagues. It doesn’t appear he ever will.

What we received:
Mallex Smith: Mallex is a burner. In the season before being traded for Atlanta, Smith hustled to 88 SBs, but also provided a .834 OPS and positively graded centerfield defense in A- and A+. Mallex spent 2015 in AA and AAA, and made his way to Atlanta in 2016. The jury is still out on him: it appears he can hit, run, and play defense, but how much of each remains to be seen. At worst, he’s a 4th OF at the major league level, but if he hits better than he did in 2016 and takes better routes to balls, he could be an above-average centerfielder as soon as next year. With Ender Inciarte anchored in center, his future in Atlanta is undetermined.

Jace Peterson: Peterson was the first player to reach Atlanta. He was mostly the age of his peers at his minor league stops, and he produced around an .800 OPS at most of his stops in the minor leagues. He graded out as average in most prospect reports as he progressed through San Diego’s system. His first big league season was one to forget as he was Atlanta’s primary second baseman and produced a .239/.314/.335 line in almost 600 PAs. (It was a tale of two seasons for him: in the first half, he put up a decent .255/.334/.358, but in the second half, he hit .220/.290/.311. That won’t cut it.)

When he began the 2016 season in a horrible funk (.182/.260/.205), he was sent to AAA. Upon returning, he showed some promise, hitting .265/.362/.389 while spending time at 2B, 3B, LF, and CF. He had some stretches where he was an above-average major leaguer, and based on what we saw in the second half of 2016, it’s possible that Jace could have a solid career as a super-utility player. But if his offense falls below his second half performance, he will struggle to remain on a major league roster. Still, he’s someone that will be penciled into the 2017 roster unless he’s traded.

Dustin Peterson: This particular Peterson — no relation to Jace, he’s the brother of Mariners prospect D.J. Peterson — was a third baseman when he was traded for, but the Braves moved him to left field before he ever played an inning for them. His 2015 was a forgettable season, but that can be said for many players who were involved in the Carolina Mudcats bus crash. Peterson turned a huge corner in 2016 at AA, where as a 21-year old, he improved his walk rate, power, and batting average while putting up on the best seasons of the Braves’ minor league hitters. He finished with a .282/.343/.431 line with a whopping 38 doubles to add to his 12 home runs. Since he was three years younger than his contemporaries, it’s easy to say that he’ll continue to mature and could see some time in Atlanta in 2017.

Max Fried: Max also took a huge step forward in 2016. Considered a “buy low” candidate because of his recent Tommy John surgery, Fried missed all of 2015 as his elbow recovered. He understandably started the season slow in single-A Rome as he had an ERA near 6 after 7 starts. However, he significantly improved his stock with a 2.74 ERA in 15 starts to close the year. During that period, the lefty had 108 strike outs in 85.2 innings, and he’ll likely move quickly through the Braves’ system going forward. It’s debatable whether Dustin Peterson or Fried have improved their value more since being acquired, but I’d give the edge to Fried considering he has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter while throwing from the left side.

So what?
There aren’t always winners and losers in trades, but it’s clear Atlanta got more value back in this trade. Though Upton had a very good single season in San Diego, it wasn’t enough to prevent an 88-loss season, and the once again rebuilding Padres will regret giving up so much talent. But credit the Braves scouting and player development departments: each of the four players have taken strides forward since the trade. Mallex and Jace are already in Atlanta, Fried is demonstrating major league talent, and Dustin Peterson could be a starting left fielder at some point in the near future.

08 Oct

The Mostly Terrible 2016 Braves


After all of that, the Braves actually won one more game than they did in 2015, back when Andrelton Simmons was our starting shortstop, and our five-man rotation included Shelby Miller and Alex Wood. When Fredi Gonzalez got canned on May 16, the team was 9-28, a .243 winning percentage and a 39-win pace. From then on, they went 59-65.

It was a terrible year, and this year and the last made for the first consecutive 90-loss seasons since 1989-1990. But it was so much less bad than it could have been. That ambivalence — broad disgust tinged with mild hope — marked the year better than any individual moment ever could.

But there were still a few memorable moments. There was this:

And there was this:

Freddie Freeman had a magnificent year, one of the best anyone’s had in an Atlanta uniform since Zombie Chipper won the batting title in 2008 for a 72-90 team. Many of us vividly remembered Mac saying “this team doesn’t deserve him” about Chipper, and realizing it applies equally well to Freddie.

And then there were the fruits of the Shelby Miller trade. The jury’s still out on Aaron Blair, but he’s an afterthought. Despite missing a month due to injury, Ender Inciarte was the center fielder we’ve been looking for since Michael Bourn left, an outstanding defender who also served as an effective tablesetter at the top of the lineup. He’s also under club control until 2020. And Dansby, in a little over a month of work, demonstrated that he’s capable of being a league-average shortstop at 22. He’s pretty good at everything and isn’t bad at anything. One of these years, he could be an All-Star.

Barring the extraordinary, the Braves know who they can pencil in at shortstop, center field, and first base through the end of the decade. But there are question marks everywhere else. If Ozzie Albies comes back from his injury as the player he was before, he could be our second baseman. Mike Foltynewicz and Julio Teheran could very well be fixtures in the rotation for the same period of time.

But there are so many other questions. In all charity, it’s difficult to see Adonis Garcia, Jace Peterson, and Mallex Smith as anything other than bench depth, and the jury’s out as to whether Rio Ruiz can be anything better than a second-division starter. But corner infield and corner outfield are a lot easier to fill than the two most gaping holes on the field: the battery, pitcher and catcher. Matt Wisler, Tyrell Jenkins, Williams Perez, John Gant, and Ryan Weber each got a shot, and each finished with an ERA above 4.80.

Here’s a depressing stat: of all of the pitchers who took at least one start with the Braves, only three had an ERA under 4.00 with the team: Julio Teheran; Josh Collmenter, whom the Braves signed as a free agent on August 10; and Lucas Harrell, whom the Braves traded away on July 27.

Roger McDowell is out of a job because the starting rotation was a flaming disaster, and the Braves are going to need to find someone who can take the best collection of pitching prospects in the minor leagues and turn them into a real staff.

Oh, and I didn’t mention catchers because there really aren’t any to speak of. Tyler Flowers had better have as good a 2017 as you did in 2016, because there is no plan B.

This is a strange offseason, but not quite as bad as last year’s. Last year, we were looking over a cliff and wondering just how deep it was. As terrible a year as the Braves had, there is an enduring sense that it could have been worse, and with Dansby, there’s a glimpse of a brighter future, no matter how bad of a traffic jam we’ll have to sit through before we get there.

As I mentioned in the thread a couple of days ago, we’ll count down the days till April in the usual fashion: a series of “Where Do We Go From Here?” articles, player previews, probably a Keltner List, and whatever else may come to mind.

Anyone who’d like to write, whether you’d like to do one of those or to propose your own idea, PLEASE email me!

02 Oct

Braves 1, Tigers 0 (by coop)

Your Cobb County Braves beat the Detroit Tigers 1-0, and the 2016 Atlanta Braves are history. Turner Field is a thing of the Braves’ past. The Braves will never play another game at the Ted.

Julio Teheran pitched. Freddie Freeman drove Ender Inciarte in with a first inning sacrifice fly. Julio was nigh unhittable through seven, fanning 12. He also got two hits off Justin Verlander, who matched Julio pitch for pitch after the first.

Jose Ramirez pitched the eighth, yielding nothing thanks to another Dansby Swanson-started double play. Jose can bring it, and Dansby can play. He can dance too.
Newly extended Jim Johnson pitched the ninth. He gave up a hit to Miguel Cabrera – Miggy can hit — but he struck out the final two hitters at Turner Field. That’s how you play the spoiler.

The Braves ended the year with a record of 68 and 93. They’re better than that.

Wait ’til next year. You’ll see.

01 Oct

Braves 5, Tigers 3

If we can’t enjoy watching our team in the playoffs, at least we can break everyone else’s toys. The Braves are on an incredible 11-2 run in which they swept the Mets and took two of three from the Nationals, who were assured of a playoff spot but not of home field advantage, and two of three from the Marlins, who still had slim mathematical hopes of the second wild card. Tonight, we dealt a grievous and likely fatal blow to the Detroit Tigers’ playoff hopes.

(As I write this, they are now tied with the Mariners, 1.5 games out of the second wild card with two games to play. The Mariners are still playing a late west coast game right now. If they win, they’ll be one game back with one to play; if they lose, they’ll be two back with two to play.)

The Tigers made an elementary mistake: they pitched to Freddie Freeman with a man on. In the fourth inning, Adonis Garcia led off with a single, and then Jordan Zimmermann threw a low change-up to Freddie, who promptly deposited it in the center field bleachers. There’s just one game left in the Braves’ season, and the Tigers may just want to intentionally walk him for the duration.

But the real story of the game is Little Handsome himself, Aaron Blair. To say that he had the best start of his major league career would be, if anything, an understatement. Flashing a low-90s fastball but largely relying on a curveball and a truly nasty slider, he struck out ten men in six innings, only walking one. I don’t have a count, but he may have thrown more breaking balls than fastballs. And if he can do what he did tonight — throw his breaking balls for called strikes, then move them off the plate and get swinging strikes — he just might have a future as a starter.

Batting 8th, Dansby Swanson got two hits and a walk, and helped to ice the game with a truly gorgeous double play in the eighth inning. After Mauricio Cabrera walked the Bases loaded and Chaz Roe struck out Miguel Cabrera, Swanson laid out to his right to stop a hotshot off the bat of J.D. Martinez, then made a long throw from his knees to Jace Peterson at second, who then threw on to Freddie at first to nail Martinez by a couple of steps, end the inning, and keep a run from scoring.

If that ball had gotten through, it would have been a 5-4 game with a men on first and second; if he hadn’t been able to release it as quickly as he did, it would have been 5-3 with men on first and third. Instead, the Braves took a 5-2 lead to the bottom of the eighth.

Dansby is really, really good. Aaron Blair might even be pretty good. This team is starting to look like it could be interesting.

01 Oct

Detroit 6, Atlanta 2

Annnd THAT’S the difference between playing a team just running out the schedule (*cough* Phillies *cough*) and playing a team that is desparate for a win like the Tiggers.

Miguel Cabrera was bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun – with two absolute bombs off Matt Wisler, and Pooh and Piglet (Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton) also homered. The game really wasn’t in much doubt, although The Heffalump (Matt Kemp) made it interesting with an 8th inning homer of his own, but it wasn’t enough on this blustery night to find our way out of the 100 Acre Woods.

It has been an interesting season, and the last month has sparked some hope for next year. I’m looking forward to it.

Caio, y’all!

30 Sep

Braves 5, IWOTP 2

The Phillies aren’t good. They’re 70-88 this year, and over the last five years — the five years since they traded for Cliff Lee and won 102 games in 2011 — they’re 360-467. They are bad. They’re ahead of us in the standings this year, but they’re closing out the year by getting swept by us, and that’s a very gratifying way to close out the year. Our boys may be bums, but as long as they’re better than Philly, there’s at least a bit of pride salvaged.

So tonight, Josh Collmenter had another remarkably effective night. He’s had three starts in a Braves uniform, and they’ve all been good: 5 IP, 2 ER; 7 IP, 2 ER; 7 IP, 1 ER, with a combined 16 strikeouts and 5 walks. I don’t get it — he’s 30, has an 85-mile an hour fastball, and was literally released outright by the Diamondbacks in August after spending his entire pro career in that organization. Then he spent a month in the minors with the Cubs, who then released him, and then he came here.

TD may be right: he’s the second or third best starter we have right now. And as welcome as the second-half offensive resurgence has been, that’s clearly the biggest concern for the Johns in the front office.

But the offense has been legitimately nice. Dansby Swanson hit a homer; he’s now hitting .300/.353/.442. And then there was the eighth inning. Dansby got a leadoff walk. Kemp doubled him home. Nick Markakis got an intentional walk, Anthony Recker got himself hit by a pitch, Jace Peterson hit an RBI single, and Rio Ruiz got a two-run single. That four-run inning broke the Phillies’ backs.

By the way, Kemp before the trade: .262/.285/.489
After the trade: .289/.343/.525

Getting out of Petco really helps.

Mauricio Cabrera came on in the top of the eighth with Freddy Galvis on first, a 1-1 tie score, and two outs, and I wouldn’t have thought that would have been the situation for a rookie with a massive control problem. He came on, threw two straight balls to Caleb Joseph, and Galvis stole second. At that point, he threw a slider for a strike, buried another slider in the dirt and got his man to swing and miss, and then he threw a high 99-mile an hour fastball that Joseph fouled straight back.

Finally, he threw a 99-mile an hour fastball more or less down the middle, and Joseph hit it pretty well, but right to Mallex Smith in left, and the inning was over. He didn’t blow him away on three straight pitches, but if anything, he did something even more gratifying to see: he got into a tricky situation, threw strikes, and something good happened. I like this kid a lot.

29 Sep

Barves 12, Phils 2

The boys are on a roll. The Phillies are no great shakes, but after a big comeback win, it’s really nice to beat the snot out of them. The Phillies are in a similar spot with us, and knocking around their starting pitchers makes me feel bad about our plight.

Mike Foltynewicz did ok. He went 5, gave up a run on a wild pitch, and but only allowed 5 base runners and got himself 5 K’s in his first start back and last start of the season. He should be penciled into any 2017 rotation. Jose De La Cruz and John Gant provided some long relief, and Chaz Roe closed it out. I’m sure we’d have seen Folty go more than 81 pitches if he didn’t have so much time off, but it was good to get some guys some work in a blowout.

The offense, of course, beat them like a drum. Daniel Castro got a rare start and made the best of it with 3 hits. Mallex got another start in the outfield, this time for Nick Markakis, and while he didn’t get a hit, he worked a walk and scored a run. He did have a call overturned on a ball that he almost beat out. Dansby freakin’ Swanson got another two XBHs with a double and a triple, and he’s pretty dreamy. Matt Kemp went yack city again. Ya know, pretty much everyone did something positive offensively.

Rio Ruiz got his first career hit on a triple that was misplayed in center. This was my first good look at his athleticism. He runs pretty well for a third basemen, and he appears to be in such good shape that it’s hard to believe that there was a time where John Hart had to tell him to shed a few.

That makes it 15-9 in September. Go Barves.

28 Sep

Braves Most Comebackiest Game of the Year

Julio Teheran just did not have it. Kicking off the final homestand at Turner Field against the Phillies, he surrendered a first inning grand slam to Ryan Howard (yes, he of the .192 batting average this year, who always finds a way to kill the Braves), and then allowed two doubles and two singles in the second inning for two more Phillie runs. With the run support (or lack thereof) that Teheran has gotten this year, a 6-0 deficit after two innings pretty much means you can turn the game off, confident in the outcome.

On the other side of the diamond, Jerad Eickhoff was doing his best to make that outcome a reality. He retired the first 11 batters he faced, and seemed to be rolling merrily along. Freddie Freeman finally got to him in the 4th inning with a solo home run to extend his hitting streak to 29 games, the longest in the majors this season. I’ve said it once but I’ll say it again: this team does not deserve him. He’s on such a roll right now the end of the season will be quite inconvenient for his personal stats (although with a new baby at home, I’m sure he’ll welcome the family time).

Mother Nature then stepped in and handed the Braves a great favor—a nearly two-hour rain delay that knocked both starting pitchers out and breathed new life into the home nine. When the teams returned to the field, the Braves bullpen dominated and did not allow a run over the last five innings. Their efforts gave the team the chance to make a most improbable comeback.

In the 6th inning, Inciarte and Freeman both drew walks, and with two outs, Markakis singled to knock Inciarte in. Tyler Flowers followed with a three-tun home run, a no-doubter to center field, to get the Braves to within one run of their foes.

Following an uneventful 7th inning, the Braves offense kicked it into gear again. Freeman led off the 8th with his second hit of the game, and moved to third when Flowers doubled with one out. Daniel Castro drew an intentional walk to load the bases, and then Dansby Swanson struck out for the second out and it looked like the Phillies might wiggle out of the jam. Mallex Smith, making his first start since his return from the DL, ensured that would not be the case and came through with a base hit to tie the game on Freeman’s third run scored on the evening.

Bonifacio then got in on the fun with an infield hit to short to push across go-ahead run, and suddenly a most improbable comeback was complete. Jim Johnson came in and closed out the game with a perfect 9th, and the Braves secured their eighth win over their last nine games, a 7-6 victory over the Phillies.

Who is this team, and what have they done to the real 2016 Braves?

Well, that’s a wrap for me for the 2016 season. I was convinced after the first inning I was only going to have a tale of woe to relate for the Braves final Tuesday game, but instead they gave me gold. It’s been real and it’s been fun, but I can’t say the 2016 season has been real fun. Let’s do it all over again next year, only maybe with a few more Ws and a lot fewer Ls. If the Braves can pick up next season where they are leaving off this season, that could actually become reality. What fun a winning season would be!

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