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What A Difference A Year Makes

Sep 15, 2014 -- 8:09pm

It really is amazing what a difference one year makes. 365 days ago the Braves were flat out running away with the NL East. After 149 games, Atlanta had an 11 game lead over the second place Nationals and were sitting at an even 30 games over .500 (89-59). However, the 2014 club hasn't had the same fortunes. Fresh off arguably the worst road trip of the season to Miami, Washington and Texas, the Braves find themselves 4 games back of the Pirates for the second Wild Card spot. Yes, I realize the squad had an 0-for-8 West Coast trip, but looking at the timing and more importantly opponents, I'll say that this was the most frustrating trip of the season. Last season, the Braves boasted one of the best offenses in all of baseball as they averaged 4.24 runs per game. After 149 in 2014, Atlanta's offense is averaging nearly a run less per contest.

Two outstanding pitching performances from Alex Wood and Julio Teheran went for naught, and the Braves struggles with RISP. But really, unfortunately, that's been a recurring theme all season long. Losing Medlen and Beachy within a few days of each other in March could have been crippling. However, the additions of veterans Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang have helped carry the Atlanta pitching staff to the 4th best ERA in the NL (6th in the Majors) entering play on Monday. 

Many of you have asked what changes need to be made if the 2014 Braves find themselves on the outside looking in come October. But honestly, take a look at the rosters and you'll find that this is nearly the same team returning from a 96 win season just one year ago. It truly can be mind boggling the difference one short year can make. 

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for @680_The_Fan. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Another Setback for Jonny Venters

Aug 26, 2014 -- 7:58pm

Braves reliever Jonny Venters is headed to see Dr James Andrews. Again. The 29 year old lefty has already undergone two Tommy John surgeries and as of a few weeks ago, was headed in the right direction. Venters had been throwing bullpen sessions and as of ten days ago, hoped to start facing hitters in live BPs in the coming days. However, during a recent session, Venters had to cut things short after experiencing even more soreness in his elbow. During his pre game media session on Monday, Fredi Gonzalez said he’d exchanged texts with Venters and he felt like the southpaw was in a relatively upbeat frame of mind. All along, Venters has understood the setbacks that come with not one, but two major surgeries on his pitching elbow.

Meanwhile, the Braves have officially entered the home stretch. As they opened play on Tuesday night in New York, they trailed the first place Nationals by seven-and-a-half games. However, they find themselves just one game out of the second Wild Card spot. While a Wild Card berth seems increasingly more likely, with two series head to head against Washington ahead in the coming weeks, Atlanta could make up ground in a hurry.

Looking ahead, the Braves won’t see a team north of .500 for two more weeks when they travel to Washington. Just for fun, let’s imagine the Braves earning a one of the two Wild Cards. They go into San Francisco and beat the Giants. They’d likely get the Nationals  in the NLDS. Based on recent history, that sure seems like a favorable and entertaining matchup in October. Now, all they’ve got to do is get there.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin.

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After Rough Road, Time For Braves To Make A Statement

Aug 07, 2014 -- 6:23pm

The Braves just completed a historic road trip…but it wasn’t the type of history they hoped to make here in early August. Atlanta went winless on an 8 game West Coast swing to Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle. In those 8 games, they had the lead for just 12 of the 77 innings. 7 of those came in the same game (Saturday in San Diego). So, what exactly went wrong? For starters, the Braves had back to back games where they loaded the bases and came up empty. Starters struggled to get the shutdown inning, and once again, the issues with runners in scoring position reared its ugly head.

While it’s still only the second week of August, the upcoming homestand against Washington, Los Angeles and Oakland sure could be a “do or die” type moment in their season. Atlanta will open a 10 game set on Friday, trailing the first place Nationals by four-and-a-half games. When it comes to the Wild Card standings, the Braves are three games back of the second spot. The Nationals suddenly hold the largest lead in any division in baseball, yet, they’re just 11-9 since the All Star Break. Washington has struggled with consistency since losing Ryan Zimmerman and that’s helped keep the Braves alive in the NL East race.

Can the Braves make the playoffs? They absolutely can. We will certainly have a much clearer understanding of their odds once this ten game stretch wraps up. The month of September is extremely favorable for the Braves. Now they need to make a statement at home, get through another long road trip and finish strong. While it may look bleak, there’s still nearly seven weeks to right the ship, finish strong and head into October with a head of steam.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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The End of the Uggla Era

Jul 18, 2014 -- 9:57pm

Friday afternoon, the inevitable became reality as the Braves cut ties with Dan Uggla, giving him his unconditional release. The 34 year old Uggla was one of the most beloved and well respected players in the Braves clubhouse, and news of his release hit his teammates hard. The consensus on Uggla was that he handled his demotion and limited playing time with the utmost professionalism and was always there to support the other 24 guys in the Atlanta locker room. Freddie Freeman said Friday night’s opener against the Phillies was going to be tough. Jason Heyward said he appreciated the fact that Uggla was always there for him. Gerald Laird he understands the business of baseball. BJ Upton told me he fully expects Uggla to be a productive member of whatever team decides to sign him. Somebody will take a flyer on Uggla. The Giants have already expressed interest. What about his former team, the Marlins? How about a couple contenders in the AL like Baltimore or Oakland? Either way, a change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for the three time All Star second baseman.

Since finishing the 2011 season on a 33 game hit streak, Uggla has hit just .196 over the next two and a half seasons with 379 strikeouts in 1101 at bats. Playing time has been extremely limited for Uggla, who’s appeared in just  three games in the month of July. Since his two home run/five RBI game in Philly on April 14, Uggla had just one extra base hit with no homers and no RBI in the 96 plate appearances that have followed.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Another Braves Starter Gets Bitten By The Injury Bug

Jun 21, 2014 -- 9:42pm

On Thursday night, Gavin Floyd had it all going on. His curveball was literally unhittable…that is…until the last one he threw in the 7th inning. Jason Werth hit it a mile foul into the stands, and he could step back into the batters box, time was called so trainer Jim Lovell and manager Fredi Gonzalez could come check on their starter. Floyd immediately knew something was wrong, as he heard a something in his elbow pop. However, there wasn’t much pain sohe was confident it had nothing to do with his surgically repaired elbow that was fixed 13 months ago. X-Rays revealed a fractured elbow which had nothing to do with the tendons that were repaired during last years Tommy John surgery.

Floyd, who flew back to Atlanta on Friday, underwent an MRI and is set to see doctors on Monday or Tuesday to find out his next step. While we don’t have a timetable for when we could see Floyd on a mound again, given the severity of his injury, it’s likely his season is over after just nine starts. As for who takes his spot, Alex Wood will join the club in Houston and get the nod on Wednesday in the second of three against the Astros. Wood, who was sent down to Triple-A to get stretched out as a starter, allowed just one run over two starts for the G-Braves.

Longterm, I don’t think Floyd’s injury changes the course of action for the Braves as they inch towards the trade deadline. However, as Fredi Gonzalez always says, you can never have too much starting pitching. Over the last three months, the Braves have seen three depart with major injuries to their pitching elbows.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Wood to Gwinnett...but for how long?

Jun 13, 2014 -- 7:29pm

On Tuesday, the Braves activated reliever Jordan Walden off the disabled list. The big question all along was who’s spot he’d take once he was healthy. Well, Alex Wood got the word that he was heading to Triple-A to once again serve as a starter. Wood is expected to make his first start with Gwinnett on Friday night and go three innings or 60 pitches. Wood told me he didn’t think he’d need more than three starts to be stretched out enough to be good to go close to 100 pitches.

Don’t expect Wood to be in Gwinnett long. From what I gather, the Braves will look to strengthen a bullpen that has certainly been vulnerable the last few weeks. The back end of the pen isn’t the issue. Shae Simmons has been outstanding since being called up from Mississippi two weeks ago, and of course, Craig Kimbrel isn’t going anywhere.

David Carpenter & Luis Avilan, two of the most reliable arms in the Braves pen last season haven’t been nearly as sharp as they were last season. Anthony Varvaro’s last few appearances have been shaky to say the least. And, Jordan Walden is certainly showing signs of rust from missing nearly six weeks of the season with a left hamstring strain.

So, this means the Braves will likely look to move either Gavin Floyd or Aaron Harang via trade in search of some help for a bullpen that once boasted the best ERA in all of baseball. In my opinion, Floyd would seem like the most logical candidate. His one year deal is loaded with incentives and will likely make him the odd man out once Alex Wood is ready. Like I said, he won’t be with Gwinnett long. The Braves picture him as a starter at the Major League level and have not seen him adapt to the role of reliever like they would have liked. The date on the calendar I’m keeping my eye on is Saturday June 28th. The Braves will be at the tail end of a 11 game road trip with a double header in Philly. With the rules, Atlanta can use the “26th man” which would give Wood one extra day of rest after making three starts at Triple-A.

All that said, a lot can change between now and then. As Fredi likes to always say, these things always take care of themselves. But, it would shock me if both Harang and Floyd aare on the team come July 1.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin.

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