Man in the Stands

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Braves: The Final 53

With the calendar flipping to August and the Colorado series coming to an end with an awesome offensive showing, the Braves are just 10 games away from being in the final quarter of the regular season.

We’ve seen first year Braves kill it, old Braves come back, a nickname become a legend, brothers collide, brothers tie and walk-off, fans unite to #VoteFreddie, a veteran pitcher go down for the count, and a part-time player become an everyday player and take aim at a batting title.

The first 109 games have been, believe it or not, fun. The final 53 games are looking to be just as good.

Now with the last two months coming to a head, fans wonder: “What team will we see down the stretch?”

That is a legitimate question to ask as a Braves fan. Myself, I grew up with the Braves being champions. I was born in ‘91 and so was the 14 consecutive division champion streak. When I was old enough to actually follow the team, the players, their stats, like, say, at the age 15 in 2006, it was the start of something almost upsetting.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Atlanta reached the postseason again, only to get beat by San Francisco in four games.

In the final 53 games of the 2010 season, Atlanta went 29-24. The team was strong. Offensively, the Braves outscored their opponents 243-214. It wasn’t good enough to take the division, but it was good enough to win the Wild Card by one game over San Diego.

Then 2011 rolls around. The Braves are seven games behind Philadelphia in the NL East but up three games for the Wild Card over Arizona, seven games over St. Louis. Going into the last three games of the season, the WC race is down to Atlanta and the Cardinals.

With a one-game lead, the Braves headed into a three-game home series with the NL East leading Phillies and the Cardinals headed to Houston to face the Astros. Atlanta needed just two home wins to clinch the Wild Card and go to the postseason.

St. Louis took 2-of-3 from the Astros and the Braves were swept by the Phillies to lose the Wild Card spot by one game. The Cardinals went on to beat the Rangers in the World Series.

Last season, seemed like destiny. Chipper Jones’ 19-year career as a Brave was coming to an end and the Braves were making a push for the postseason once again.

With 53 games left, Atlanta was one-game ahead of the 2nd Wild Card team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and three games ahead of the Cardinals.

Down the stretch the Braves went into battle mode and came out with 31 wins and 22 losses. They had a run differential of +33 over their opponents in that time.

The MLB had a newly developed schedule that allowed for a second Wild Card team, which the Cardinals clinched over Pittsburgh. Because Atlanta had the better record, the two teams met at Turner Field.

The game now has been more infamous for a call rather than the result. The infield fly rule was questionably applied in the eighth inning, Braves fans showered the field with trash, and the rest of the game was played under protest by the home team.

The protest was later denied by the MLB front office and the Cardinals won the game 6-3 to advance to the NLDS. St. Louis beat the Nationals before losing to the, would be, World Series Champion Giants in the NLCS.

Here we are again, looking at what is forthcoming in the final 53 games of the 2013 season, and the picture is much different from the previous three years.

Atlanta is 12 games ahead of the Washington Nationals and is the only team above the .500 mark in the National League East.

Here are the final match-ups of the regular season and the results from the previous three seasons when playing the same teams in the last 53 games of the season:

  • Philadelphia (50-58): Braves have 13 games left in 2013 against the Phillies. The Phils have beaten up on Atlanta the last three seasons inside of the 53 game mark, winning 15-of-20 games and outscoring the Braves 105-66. This season the series is split with each team winning three games.
  • Washington (52-56): Nine games are left against the Nationals on the regular season docket. The two have split the 24 games played in the final stretch of the season from 2010-2012. The Braves are 7-3 in 2013 against D.C.’s team.
  • New York (48-58): The Mets and the Braves have played 25 games within the final 53 games in the last three seasons. Atlanta owns that series 18-7 with a +28 run differential. The clubs are even through the 14-game series this year.
  • St. Louis (63-44): Only seven games have been played between these two this late in any season since 2010. The Cardinals have taken five of those games. In 2013, St. Louis is on the schedule twice and the only series played so far belongs to Atlanta in a three-game sweep.
  • Miami (42-65): Atlanta is 6-3 against the Marlins this season and has control of the previous three season’s series’ as well with 17-of-24 wins.
  • Chicago (49-59): Only nine match-ups in the latter part of the season after 2010 have been played between the two. The Braves are one game up in that time and three games to none so far this year.
  • Cleveland (60-48): The last time the Braves played the Indians was in the 2007 season when Atlanta took two games of the three in Cleveland. The two teams have not yet met this season.
  • San Diego (50-59): Last year, the two teams met for seven games in the final 53 games of the Braves regular season. Atlanta won four of the games.
  • Milwaukee (46-62): Last season was also the only season of the past three that Atlanta met Milwaukee in the last stretch of the year. The Brewers outscored the Braves 17-3 and swept the series.

The Braves have an excellent chance of winning 35-to-40 of the last 53 games that they will play in the 2013 regular season.

They have 28 home games left and hold the best home record (38-15) in Major League Baseball. Six of those are against the Miami Marlins, which is 21 games back in the NL East, and seven are against Philadelphia. The Nationals, Indians, Mets, Padres and Brewers each have three games to play at Turner Field.

The shortest home-stand for the Braves will be the three game series with the Padres. No other time at the Ted is shorter than seven games, the length of their longest away trip.

Atlanta has to visit Philly and Washington for six games at each stop. The Braves will be in, both, St. Louis and Miami for four-game series’. Wrigley Field and Citi Field are also stops along the way.

Nothing about the left-over home schedule screams difficulty. The Indians are the only team that is coming into Atlanta with a record of .500 or better at this point. Maybe the hardest thing will be concentrating and staying focused with, what is currently, a double-digit lead in the division.

The toughest away stint will easily be the seven games between the four-game series with the Cardinals and the three-games against the Phillies. The Cardinals are the only team left to play on the road with a .500 or better record right now.

The Phillies match-up, looking at it right now, isn’t a tough one, but after battling with the Cardinals, it will be. Honestly, it might be the most important series to watch. It could tell us what kind of team we’re looking at for the postseason. Is it one who will fight series after series or one wear down after a tough series?

That’s the question that every team is asking, or will be soon, going into the last bit of the schedule. Only time will tell, and it starts with the final 53.

Atlanta’s alarming numbers

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The Atlanta Braves are sitting pretty with 13 games left before the All-Star Break.

The club has compiled a 48-34 record through 82 games played this season, including a six-game lead in the National League East, largest division lead in the Majors.

Atlanta is coming off of its second best month so far, including the current three-game winning streak after sweeping Arizona.

Though the team is having a successful season, there are reasons for concern when September and October arrive.

Sure, the Braves are third in the league in home runs (102), 10th in OPS, and 13th in runs, but other offensive categories are alarming.

The Braves were shutout four times in June making the team the most shutout team in the MLB with 11. Ranking 20th of the 30 teams in hits, Atlanta has struck out 723 times this season, second only to Houston.

The worries don’t stop there. Pitchers Tim Hudson and Julio Teheran both have batting averages higher than center fielder B.J. Upton. Teheran is only .011 points lower than the average of second baseman Dan Uggla.

Uggla, whose contract runs through the 2015 season, is on pace to have the worst season of his career. Only 254 at-bats into this season, Uggla already has a team-high 102 strikeouts. He is also on his way to career-lows in hits, runs scored, and RBIs. His struggles do not end at the plate. With a team-high 10 errors, he is on path to a career-high.

Combine all of these issues with the fact that the Braves have $9.25 million in salary on the disabled list right now. Two of the players, Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, on the DL currently were major pieces to the bullpen in 2012. Both are out for the rest of the year after having Tommy John surgery.

It is hard to see a team with the strikeout numbers, low number of hits, and high profile players being out-hit by pitchers that the Braves are seeing make a late season run. Hopefully, the team can make a change in the statistics for the better and keep the success rolling.

After the 14 straight division championships, the last in 2005, Braves fans are ready to see them get back to that position, as well as making it to the World Series. Atlanta hasn’t seen the team reach the World Series since the ’99 season, despite having the talent year after year.

This season seems to be something special, but there is still a lot of baseball left to be played. As a fan, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Unbelievable year comes to a close

The 2012 Major League Baseball regular season has come to an end and 10 teams, and their fans, look forward to the postseason.

This season saw the first MLB Triple Crown winner in 45 years, an Orioles team come from worst to battling for first in game 162, the Nationals win the division for the first time, and Oakland sweep the Rangers to take the AL West in the last series of the season.

Miguel Cabrera is the king of baseball! The Triple Crown winner drove in more runs (139), went yard  more times (44), and hit for a better average (.330) than anyone in the American League on the way to the AL Central title.

1967 was the last season the award was won and Carl Yastrzemski was the last man to do it. The Red Sox outfielder finished that season with 121 RBIs, 44 home runs, and a .326 batting average.

Baltimore (93-69) skipper Buck Showalter turned the O’s around in just his second year with the club. Last season, the team finished in last place in the AL East with a 69-93 record and 28 games out of first.

Showalter’s squad fought to the last game as they faced the Rays in Tampa. They were in a race with the New York Yankees for the division title but a 4-1 loss and a 14-2 Yankee win made the finish line disappear. The team will be one of the AL’s Wild Card teams for the 2012 postseason, the Orioles’ first postseason since they clinched the division 15 years ago. Baltimore will face the Rangers at 8:30 on Friday, Oct. 6 on TBS.

The Washington Nationals put on a show this season and finished with a 98-64 record, its best since posting an 81-81 (.500) record in 2005. That season was the team’s first season in D.C. Before this season, the city’s last first place baseball team goes all the way back to 1933 with the Washington Senators.

The Oakland Athletics went into the last series of the year down two games to their on-field opponents, the Texas Rangers. With a 4-3 win in game one and a 3-1 victory in game two, the A’s looked to be pulling off the improbable division takeover. A third matchup would prove the improbable to be reality. The Athletics not only beat the Rangers in that game, they thrashed them by 7 runs to become AL West Champions.

The American League was home to most of this drama, leaving the National League to fall into the place it seemed that it would for the past month or so. The Braves gave chase to Washington for first place, sitting three games out with three to play, but lost their steam with a loss to the Pirates in game one of the last series of the year for the two teams.

The Dodgers tried to catch the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot but were unsuccessful.

AL East Champion New York awaits the winner of the Orioles vs. Rangers Wild Card matchup to start its postseason run on Sunday, Oct. 7.

The AL West Champion will face the AL Central Champion on Saturday night at 6:00 p.m.

The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals will face off in a Wild Card game on Friday, Oct. 5 at 5:00 p.m.

The winner of the Wild Card game will face the Nationals on Oct. 7 in the National League Division Series.

The Cincinnati Reds, NL Central champions, will meet the NL West champion San Francisco Giants Oct. 9 at 9:30 p.m.

All games will be held on TBS.

Welcome to the 2012 MLB Postseason, everyone!

Braves finally wake up before heading home

It took five games for the Atlanta Braves to realize that the season had started and that the wins actually counted as opposed to the previous weeks of Spring Training.

Out of the gate, the Bravos lost a three-game series to the New York Mets. The first game of the series saw Tommy Hanson pick up his first loss of the season in a close 1-0 battle. Game two pitted Jair Jurrjens against R.A. Dickey, which handed the Braves their second loss of the season in as many games with a final score of 4-2. The final game of the season opening series put Mike Minor on the mound against Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese. Again, fans watched as Atlanta’s team dropped to 0-3 on the season in another two-run loss.

After being swept by their rivals, the Braves headed to Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas to face another National League foe: the Houston Astros. The Braves came out swinging early, posting two runs in the second inning and one in the top of the third. The Astros’ bats came alive in the bottom of the inning, scoring three runs to tie the ball game up before adding another run the following inning and two runs in both the sixth and eighth innings to beat the Braves. The 8-3 loss pushed Atlanta back to 0-4 to start the 2012 season.

The next night was one of Braves firsts, for the season and for a career. Chipper Jones made his first start of his final season after having surgery to fix a torn meniscus in his left knee on March 26. In his first game, Jones hit his first homer of the season. Other firsts on the night: rookie Tyler Pastornicky put his first major league home run into the stands, reigning National League Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel made his first appearance and picked up his first save of the season. These firsts led to another: the Braves first ‘W’ in the win-column of the 2012 season. Kimbrel picked up his second save in Atlanta’s second win 24 hours later.

Now it’s Turner Field’s turn to host a few ball games as the Braves open up at home against last season’s NL MVP Ryan Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night! This game brings a lot of excitement for baseball fans in the ATL, especially since the home team is coming off of two wins in a row. Jurrjens will be on the mound for a shot at his first win on the season against 35-year-old lefty Randy Wolf, who is also in search of his first victory this year.

Braves fans will have a chance to fill The Ted for six straight games. A Friday through Sunday series against the Brewers leads into a Monday through Wednesday series, for a chance at revenge, against the Mets before the team heads back out for a long seven-game road trip.

Time to get that Tomahawk Chop going again! Braves baseball is back, Atlanta!

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