MLB

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Play Ball

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Now that baseball seems to be a reality in late July. Let’s take a good look at the Atlanta Braves for 2020.

The 2020 season will be 60 games and the season will feel like a prolonged playoff instead of the 162-game grind.

Let’s take a look at your Atlanta Braves:

Ronald Acuna Jr. is, in my opinion, the best young player in baseball. Acuna will be in the NL MVP discussion this year. Freddie Freeman is also an MVP candidate and at age 30 still has a lot left in the tank. Acuna and Freeman give the Atlanta roster two superstars in the lineup every day.

Marcell Ozuna was added in free agency from St. Louis. Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson will be up the middle, with what should be an above average bench featuring Nick Markakis and Austin Riley.

The team did lose Josh Donaldson and his 37 HR’s in free agency, Can Ozuna offset that production?

 

My Projected Starting Lineup:

Ronald Acuna (RF)

Ozzie Albies (2B)

Freddie Freeman (1B)

Marcell Ozuna (LF)

Johan Camargo (3B)

Nick Markakis (DH)

Dansby Swanson (SS)

Travis d’Arnaud (C)

Ender Inciarte (CF)

 

I’m assuming Johan Camargo will win the third base job for Atlanta in my lineup card.

Austin Riley may be the future at 3B, but I am betting on a good season for Camargo in 2020.

This batting order is as good as any in baseball in my opinion. Universal DH in the shortened season will be adopted in the National League will give the Braves the opportunity to let Markakis get swings every day to protect his body from the daily grind of the outfield.

Starting Pitching: Alex Anthopoulos went out and signed veteran, lefty Cole Hamels to a one-year deal and signed former Mariner Felix Hernandez also.

Hernandez could be the wild card here if he looks like he did in Seattle. This addition will put the Braves in the World Series discussion. Hamels, who was set to start the regular season on the injured list, should be rested and ready to go now that the season has been delayed.

Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, who was brilliant down the stretch until getting blistered in Game 5 of the NLDS, Max Fried and Sean Newcomb will be your starters. Soroka will win a Cy Young Award in Atlanta.

Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint both got big league innings in 2019.

I like this rotation talent wise, and in a 60-game season, the pickup of Hamels and Hernandez could be looked upon as two of the best moves in Braves history.

Relief Pitching: Going into the 2019 season the Braves bullpen was a big issue. Going into a shortened 2020 season it could be the best in baseball.

The bullen will be anchored by Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin. They re-signed Martin this offseason before he tested free agency.

Atlanta signed former Giants closer Will Smith to maybe form a duo with Melancon at the back end of the bullpen. Darren O’Day, who missed almost all of the 2019 season with a forearm injury, returns healthy. Quality arms are everywhere.

Manager: Brian Snitker has something to prove in 2020.

Snitker has been with the Braves organization since 1977. The roster is there for a trip to the World Series. Can Snitker get this team over the hump and erase those awful Game 5 NLDS memories from 2019?

Predicted Record: 38-22. NL East Champions, National League Champions, Lose in 7 games to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Biggest potential hurdle in 2020: Covid-19 wipes out the proposed season.

A Brave Future

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

There may not be any actual baseball being played right now but the march of business continues on, as the 2020 MLB Draft has come and gone.

For the Atlanta Braves, it’s a chance to restock the farm system as more and more of their highly touted prospects show up to the big-league club.

All signs were pointing to Alex Anthopoulos aiming for high school pitching as his focus – let’s see how that played out and what kind of potential gold Atlanta struck last week.

The first pick for Atlanta, and the number 25 pick overall, was Wake Forest lefty Jared Shuster.

An interesting pick, without a particularly long track record. Shuster broke out last summer during the Cape Cod League and continued to impress during (an albeit shortened) spring.

He may not end up being an ace, but the potential is there for a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy. The kind of draft pick that’s not very sexy, but one that could pay out in a big way.

Quick note: what would have been Atlanta’s second pick was given to the Cardinals after the Braves signed Marcel Ozuna.

It’s always a calculated risk when a team signs a player that costs them a draft pick, but this one will sting a little extra since at best Ozuna will play about half-a-season’s worth of games or at worst won’t play a single game for the Bravos.

So, with what should have been their third, but in reality, was their second pick, Anthopoulos and company took outfielder Jesse Franklin from Michigan.

An injury that COVID-19 never left Franklin recover from might be the only thing that kept this power and speed guy from going top 50 in the draft (a skiing accident shut him down for a month or two, and had Michigan played their whole season he would have been able to show off his recovery).

He’s shown the ability to hit for power, but he’ll need to couple that with a higher average to sniff the Majors.

Spencer Strider, a right-handed pitcher from Clemson, came off the board as the Braves’ fourth-round pick. Yet another guy who could be seen as a risk, Strider was a huge recruiting get for Clemson and played a lot as a freshman, though he struggled with his command.

Tommy John surgery took him out of the game last year, though he did make it back to show off in a short sample size this season before it was shut down.

Strider didn’t appear to be on a lot of radars since he hit the college circuit, but the Braves liked his live arm enough to pull the trigger and hope he shows more of what made him so highly-sought-after in high school.

Lastly, we have Bryce Elder right-handed pitcher from Texas. He’s been the Longhorns’ ace despite not being an overpowering-type pitcher.

However, he’s got a good mix of all of the things that made a good pitcher and could be a rotation mainstay for a lot of years if he develops right.

So, as you’ve probably noticed, there were no high school pitchers drafted.

This is a very interesting class; it’s not a flashy group, and a couple might have needed more time to prove themselves, but given the situation baseball is in, a lot of teams had to take leaps of faith in this draft.

It isn’t the greatest class Atlanta has ever seen, but there’s potential here to supply the Braves with valuable pieces in the future.

Bottom Line

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Right now, we should be two months deep into the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

We should all be assessing which teams are overperforming or underperforming and talking about who’s deserving of an All-Star appearance.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. The MLB owners and the MLB Players Association are doing everything they can to ensure that baseball is started safely and reasonably, and as soon as possible. Or maybe they aren’t.

If you scour the internet for baseball news these days, instead of the aforementioned articles and arguments and debates about standings and stats, you’ll be treated to an ongoing back and forth between the billionaires that populate the fraternity of team owners and the millionaires that make up the MLBPA. It’s been contentious, to say the least.

The players agreed to take a pay cut when the season was originally suspended way back in March. Then the owners composed a proposal on how to get the season started and presented it to the players, which asked for a second pay cut. The players were apparently very unhappy about it.

Ever since then it’s been headline after headline about the players being upset about the owners’ various proposals and amendments. Some players, like Tampa Bay Rays pitchers Blake Snell, even going on the record and saying they’d refuse to play for a (further) reduced salary.

Snell’s rationale was that he and the rest of the players would be assuming all of the COVID-19-related risk. Which is, of course, true.

Regardless of how the logistics work, the players would be exposed to each other by necessity. That would come in the game, obviously, but also wherever they’d be holed up to live for however long the season lasts.

Assuming they’d want to see their families, ever, they’d also be adding risk to their wives and children too. The owners, by virtue of not having a role that requires them to attend the ballgames, ever, would not need to change a thing about their socially distanced status quo.

It’s a reasonable concern, and it’s true, the owners assume no risk to their health and the players basically throw what the CDC recommends to the wind.

But in a way it still feels like both parties are being greedy. The world desperately needs sports right now.

The amount of money that the already-very-wealthy make during the season isn’t going to lessen their risk of contracting COVID, so it feels like they’re just squabbling over riches.

For a game that falls further behind football every year in terms of national popularity, this is a bad look.

The last time players and owners had a spat like this was the players’ strike of 94-95, and the vocal members of the union, like the Braves’ own Tom Glavine, were voraciously booed when play finally resumed.

Fans, many of them working class, had no patience for millionaires pinching pennies.

In fact, it took Cal Ripken completing a journey he had started over a decade before as well as two over-juiced sluggers competing for a home run record to earn back the adoration of the fans.

It’s worse now because of the state of the world. We’re starved for something unifying, and MLB has the chance to be that unifier. Regardless of who’s right or wrong in the ongoing battle between owners and players, they’re blowing the chance.

I’m not saying there’s an easy solution, or that the players should just concede to whatever the owners demand. That’s ridiculous and the owners are just as seemingly greedy in this situation.

It’s disappointing, nonetheless, that the two groups of people can’t come together when it would be a huge feather in their cap to do so.

The Extra Guy

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

This might just be unwarranted optimism, but it is kind of starting to feel like January again.

Not in terms of weather, but in terms of baseball. There seems to be a feeling that a truncated MLB season could start as soon as early July, with about half as many games as normal, expanded playoffs, modified divisions, and – our subject for today – a universal designated hitter.

I’m starting to get that anticipatory excitement I always feel right before spring training. We’ve all felt it once this year, only for COVID to pull the rug out from under us; but that feeling is back and baseball just might be on the horizon.

What could this mean for the Atlanta Braves?

For one thing, it could mean that neither Austin Riley nor Johan Camargo sees any time in whatever the minor leagues look like this season.

They had begun battling it out for the starting third base job before spring training was suspended, but that suspension could very well mean that neither of them needs to worry about not being on the big-league club.

Now, there’s likely going to be a significantly expanded roster at the major league level this season, which might factor into the Braves hanging on to both third basemen more than the DH would. Having that extra spot in the lineup could potentially mean that both guys are essentially starting.

Camargo might get the majority of the starts at third while Riley DHs, with a switch whenever necessary.

On the other hand, a DH could mean that Camargo and Riley platoon and Nick Markakis or Adam Duvall get the DH spot instead. The righty/lefty matchup works out, in a traditional sense, and it would keep both bats from getting stale, especially with Ronald Acuna, Jr., Marcell Ozuna, and Ender Inciarte likely keeping them on the bench otherwise.

There’s also the option of not having a consistent DH (or platoon). Having the extra spot in the lineup would allow manager Brian Snitker to rotate his starting eight through the designated hitter position throughout the week. That would allow rest for the likes of Freddie Freeman every half inning and replacing them on the field with their backup.

That also serves the purpose of providing relatively consistent at bats for the backups, who normally only see pinch hits and a start once every week or two.

The last option would be for the Braves to go out and get themselves a designated designated hitter (not a typo).

There are actually some intriguing options still on the market. For example, the Braves might not have wanted to risk the money or the potential headache of signing Yasiel Puig to a whole season for a whole season’s worth of money. However, with a much shorter risk period, Atlanta could now go out and sign the outfielder to a fraction of what he’s worth and make him their DH with occasional starts in the outfield.

Mark Trumbo is another guy who can be signed for cheap. He’d likely be exclusively a DH. He has lots of strikeouts but a ton of pop, too.

The point is, maybe the Braves will want a guy to show up and mash and not be required to do anything else.

Those are the kinds of possibilities having a DH for the entire season in the National League will bring for the Braves.

Waiting to see which way they go is just a part of the pre-spring-mid-summer training excitement.

Brave Title

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Fox Sports recently satiated our collective thirst for baseball, albeit briefly, by airing the Atlanta Braves’ greatest triumph: the 1995 World Series against the Cleveland Indians.

For six straight nights, Braves Country was treated to a Braves squad at the height of their powers, barely a third of the way into their 14-straight division titles. I don’t usually go for reruns – I never watch the next-day replays during the season – but this was compelling television, despite knowing the outcome.

The 90s and early 00s Braves went through little eras within those 14 years, but that 1995 team’s pitching staff and batting lineup is usually the one people could name.

Sure, the early 90s had Otis Nixon, Terry Pendleton, and Steve Avery in his prime, but no Chipper. The early 2000s had Andruw Jones and Rafael Furcal, but that scrappy Jeff Blauser/Mark Lemke tandem was gone (and then, eventually, so was Tom Glavine).

I think the 1995 team was almost perfectly constructed. Ironically, I don’t think they were the best team the Braves fielded in the 90s, but they’re the one that won it all. So, since they’re fresh on our minds, let’s look back at what made that team special.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the starting pitching was firing on all cylinders. Greg Maddux captured his 4th straight Cy Young award in 1995 (going 19-2 with a freaking 1.63 ERA), and Glavine and Smoltz were in their primes (they both had sub-3.20 ERAs, plus  Glavine was World Series MVP and the next season Smoltz would be the first Cy Young winner in five years who wasn’t Mad Dog).

Avery was on the downside of his short career and Kent Mercker put up serviceable but not great numbers in the five spot. The three-headed monster at the top of the rotation made up for any deficiencies.

The bullpen gets little credit, but Mark Wohlers had a 2.09 ERA and led a stellar group of relievers with Greg McMichael, Brad Clontz, and Pedro Borbon. All of those guys had fantastic years on the bump.

The starting lineup was a classic baseball lineup. You had speed at the top of the order in Marquis Grissom, who won a Gold Glove in center field in 1995, followed by a scrapper in the two-hole in Lemke.

Then came the bashers: Bobby Cox thrust the weight of the three-hole onto rookie Chipper Jones, who rose to the occasion and was protected by sluggers Fred McGriff and David Justice hitting fourth and fifth, respectively.

Underrated slugger, Ryan Klesko was up next (he hit .310 along with his 23 homers in 1995), then catcher Javy Lopez, who hit .315 (the two highest averages on the team, for those keeping track at home).

Bringing up the end of the batting order was light-hitting (unless it was a contract year) shortstop Jeff Blauser (who I didn’t remember not playing the Series in ’95 due to an injury – Rafael Belliard took over in his place.)

The interesting thing about this lineup was that it was well-constructed enough that no one really needed to rise above the rest – note that McGriff led the team with 27 home runs and 93 RBIs that year.

McGriff and Klesko were the only members of the team that slugged over .500 (in just 107 games, mind you). But the offense worked and coupled with the pitching, they won 90 games.

More impressive is how that offense got the job done when stacked up against a Cleveland Indians team that was for the ages. A young Manny Ramirez was hitting 7th. And I’m not talking about a green, unproven Manny Ramirez; this guy hit .308 with 31 home runs and 107 RBIs. From the 7-spot.

But they couldn’t get it done. The 1995 Braves were a team of destiny but they were also a team of immense talent.

The Bravest

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As this long stretch of time without any baseball games continues stretching out even longer, we’ve got time to look back on games, players, and teams of the past, and reflect.

The Atlanta Braves are one of the most celebrated franchises in baseball, with three World Series championships across three cities (a record), a run of 14-straight division titles (a record), and some of the greatest players the game has ever seen donning an Atlanta uniform.

It’s those players I want to look back on today and try to figure out the best ever player at each position for the Braves.

That is, I’m going to make up an all-time Braves roster – the greatest to ever suit up at each position, with one starter and one reliever.

Some of these will be easy. You’ve already thought them up after reading these first few sentences; some of them will be tough to single out just one player; and some of them will seem like I’m bending the rules, which I will be, because there are no rules. I’m making this up with impunity.

Let’s do the position players first.

Catcher: there are actually a few good options here, beyond what you may think of off the top of your head: Brian McCann, Javy Lopez, Joe Torre, even Dale Murphy, if you felt like it.

I, however, don’t feel like it, and therefore I’m going with Javy Lopez.

Lopez caught the best pitching trio of all time in Atlanta (ironically the only no-hitter he caught was thrown by Kent Mercker), and won the division every year he was on the team, compared to 3 out of 10 for Mac. Javy also had some of the biggest seasons at the plate when he was behind it.

First Base: Fred McGriff should be in the Hall of Fame, but Freddie Freeman is the guy here. He’s in the top 10 all-time for the franchise in WAR and he’s 30.

Second Base: There are a lot fewer options here than most other positions: Marcus Giles and Glenn Hubbard are the only two with long and memorable stints in the past few decades, and while both were notable, I’m going to jump the gun a little and go with Ozzie Albies.

Albies is locked up to a long-term deal, so I’m looking ahead here and assuming that if his production at least stays consistent to what it has been, he’ll be the obvious choice.

Shortstop: here’s one where the Braves keep almost having a franchise player, but then don’t: Andrelton Simmons being the most recent example (jury’s out on Dansby). I’m going to go with Rafael Furcal. He was an above-average defender and a better hitter than he has ever been given credit for.

Third Base: Eddie Mathews. The only guy to play for the Braves in all three cities. Hall of Famer. 512 home runs. He gets overshadowed in the Braves lore a lot by another Hall of Fame third baseman, but Matthews was the real deal.

And before you riot…

Left Field: Before you accuse me of riding a crazy train, keep in mind that Chipper Jones was the full-time left fielder for two and a half seasons. Yes, he’s a third basemen by trade, but the years he spent patrolling the outfield were enough to allow me to squeeze both him and Mathews onto this roster (if I weren’t allowed to put Chipper in left? He’d be the third baseman. Sorry, Eddie).

Center Field: Andrew Jones. Duh.

Right Field: Hank Aaron. Duh.

Starting Pitcher: Okay so originally I was going to provide a full starting five, but I decided to make myself pick one guy from the wealth of starting pitching legends the Braves have employed dating back to Hall of Famer Kid Nichols (who played 11 season with the Boston freakin’ Beaneaters and was apparently never replaced by a relief pitching in his entire career).

So, given the limitation I placed upon myself, I narrowed it down to Nichols, Warren Spahn, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Mike Hampton (just kidding).

Maddux is the guy. Spahn is close, but Maddux gets the edge because I got to watch him play and I could rarely believe what I was seeing.

Closer: I could go Smoltz here and include two of the three greats of the 90s, but in truth the best closer the Braves have ever had is Craig Kimbrel. The stats back it up.

There you have it! Disagree? I’m sure you might.

Time Waits For No One

By: Mike Anthony

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

There is still plenty of speculation about how much of the 2020 Major League Baseball season – if any – will be played.

But one sure thing is that when play resumes the Atlanta Braves will still be one of the better teams in baseball, with every reason to believe that a World Series title is within their grasp.

However, the agreement reached by MLB and its players’ association regarding pay and service time could put a dent in the length of the Braves’ current run of great play.

Over the last decade, many baseball teams have adopted a roller-coaster philosophy to competing. They will ride out success for a while, but are now more apt to trade off aging and expensive talent.

The rebuilding process can be painful for fans and is done for financial benefit of the club – the thought being that there’s no reason to pay top dollar for declining veteran talent that won’t make the playoffs when a roster full of marginal veterans and young players can lose just the same at a much smaller price.

That’s where the current pandemic and suspension of play is hurting the Braves. If play resumes this season, all will be fine. Atlanta will contend for a third consecutive NL East title, although a shortened season figures to be a disadvantage for more talented teams better suited to handle the grind of a full schedule.

If a shorter 2020 hampers the Braves’ competitiveness or the worst case scenario happens and there is no baseball until next spring, that’s when the numbers will start working against them.

The biggest item in the agreement is that, in the event of a total cancellation of the current season, all players will receive an identical credit of their MLB service time accrued in 2019.

That would mean the Braves’ big offseason adds of Cole Hamels and Marcel Ozuna would again be free agents as both are signed to one-year deals.

Mark Melancon would also be a free agent as the contract he signed before being traded to Atlanta expires this year.

There is also the issue of age as Freddie Freeman will turn 31 this season and has just one year remaining on his deal.

Losing players is one issue, but adding on payroll seems to be an even bigger concern for Braves ownership group Liberty Media, which had often been criticized for being tight with money prior two the last two seasons of winning baseball.

The wave of youth that has been instrumental in the Braves’ rise is about to get a considerable pay raise. Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, A.J. Minter and Chad Sobotka will all be arbitration-eligible next season, guaranteeing a pay raise for all and increasing in accordance with their performance over their first three seasons.

Star outfielder Ronald Acuna will be the biggest hit on the payroll. Acuna is slated to make just $1 million in 2020, but the contract extension he signed last year bumps that to $15 million in 2021 and levels out at $17 million per year after that.

Ozzie Albies will also be breaking the bank as he will make an additional $2 million in 2021.

The Braves’ roster, as currently constructed, will remain relatively young, even if no baseball is played this season. But the contract structure of the team shows that 2020 is definitely the year Atlanta thinks it can make a World Series push.

If the Braves don’t see any action this year and want to be in a similar spot for 2021, they’ll have to make tough decisions on free agents while the payroll begins to soar.

Hollywood Baseball

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It should have been Opening Day 2020.

Unfortunately, global circumstances beyond MLB’s control led them to delay the start of the baseball season. While there’s still hope that we will all get to hear “play ball” before too long, there is currently no end in sight for our collective lack of professional baseball.

If you’re like me, this has been a frankly depressing couple of days but, if you’re like me, you’ve turned to the best substitute available for the hole in your life (outside of re-watching actual games, which for whatever reason I don’t find all that enjoyable): baseball movies.

There have been dozens of baseball movies made and several of them are wonderful and remind me of why I love the game so much. So, in lieu of being able to write about actual baseball, I’m going to provide you with my top 5 favorite baseball movies.

5. A League of Their Own: You know the line. You’ve said the line. Despite the fact that I’ve seen plenty of baseball players cry and in fact I’ve cried over baseball before. Stripping the ideology that “there’s no crying in baseball” of any semblance of truth, the late Penny Marshall’s love letter to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is a warm blanket of baseball goodness any time you watch it.

Tom Hanks is great, but the focus of the movie is the team of women (not girls), led by Geena Davis. It’s a joyful and funny movie and a notable one. Sports movies starring women continues to be a hole in Hollywood’s resume.

4. Bull Durham: This one feels the most like inside knowledge. Probably because writer/director Ron Shelton actually played minor league ball in the Baltimore farm system.

The main plot of this movie, a love triangle between Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, doesn’t actually do much for me. However, the on field stuff, like meetings on the mound and Costner’s catcher Crash Davis telling the opposing batter what’s coming is why this movie is in the top 5.

3. The Sandlot: Is this movie great? Probably not. But I’m 32 years old and I dare you to find a single baseball fan anywhere near my age who doesn’t absolutely love this movie. You won’t.

This movie is childhood for so many kids who just loved playing pickup ball anywhere they could. It’s top 3 and I won’t apologize for it.

2. Field of Dreams: I’m a sap. You don’t know me well enough to know that, so I’m telling you.

This movie is sentimental, probably to a fault, but this movie celebrates baseball as a pastoral, innocent, and elegant miracle of a game.

Going to an MLB game early and watching players take batting practice and shag fly balls, while the grounds crew puts the chalk down the first and third base lines is the purest form of contentment imaginable to me.

That’s what this movie strives for (it notably doesn’t strive for accuracy – could they not find a lefty to play Shoeless Joe?!) and often succeeds.

It’s always one that I like to revisit during spring training in order to get reacclimated with the love of the game. So, I may have to watch it a few times this year.

1. Major League: Surprised, perhaps? Major League is neither the most acclaimed work of cinema, nor the most celebrated baseball flick by baseball fans. However, it’s a classic sports movie.

It’s still really funny after 31 years (see: literally everything Bob Uecker says) and believe it or not it’s really the only movie on this list that’s actually about a baseball team playing baseball.

My friends and I quote this one constantly; from opposing teams’ home runs being “too high” to the rapid-fire monologue of “hell of a situation we got here,” Major League is full of joy and it’s my favorite baseball movie.

And right now, that’s all we’ve got.

 

The Shorter The Better

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a shadow over the entire world for weeks, forcing people into quarantine and changing the way people live and work.

One of the most publicized effects of the pandemic has been that of the sports world and the now lack of its existence.

First, it was a few basketball and soccer games being played without fans in the arenas and stadiums, followed by March Madness being cancelled. Then, after Utah Jazz Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, the NBA suspended their season.

The NHL followed suit, as well as just about every other sport going on and suddenly ESPN was showing replays of bowling instead of SportsCenter (this may be an exaggeration).

Major League Baseball hadn’t yet begun their 2020 season and instead was about halfway through Spring Training when they decided to call it and delay Opening Day.

At first, MLB was going to delay two weeks. As time has gone on, the rumors have swirled about when baseball will be played again. Memorial Day maybe? Sometime in June?

Like pretty much everything else, when baseball starts is up in the air right now but the owners and players seem intent on getting a season in. This is, of course, happy news.

Whenever “play ball” is finally called for the season, it will certainly be the start of a diminished calendar. Even if the schedule is loaded with double headers, there’s really no way of getting a 162-game season in and still having playoffs at a time of year in which baseball is still playable.

That is, and bear with me here, good news for the Atlanta Braves. Continue bearing with me, because I’m about to make an argument based on an incredibly small sample size of evidence, but you don’t have any actual sports to read about so what else are you going to do?

The Braves are famous for winning 14 straight division championships, a record. They are equally notorious for winning only one World Series in that 15-year stretch.

Did anyone catch the math?

14 consecutive championships in 15 years doesn’t make sense; unless you know that in 1994, there were no division championships.

There was also no World Series. That’s because the players went on strike and the season was called. They were still on strike in the spring of 1995. Eventually, the union went back to work and 18 days after the season should have started, baseball began.

If that year sticks out to you, it’s because that’s the year Atlanta won it all.

That’s significant, because in all the rest of Atlanta’s postseason stints, that world-class pitching in the regular season often couldn’t meet its own high standards in the playoffs but with (slightly) less wear-and-tear on their arms, the Braves were able to run through their opponents and win the big prize at the end of the season.

The baseball gods tend to abandon Atlanta come October but maybe it’s just that the Braves run out of gas after a grueling full schedule.

Granted, every team plays the same number of games, but the Braves always seem a little more beaten down than their opponents do, with the exception of the shortened ’95 season.

Maybe, with a guaranteed shorter season on the horizon, the Braves will get a little of that 1995 mojo working.

Maybe two less months of regular season games will put life into Mike Foltynewicz’s arm come the fall. Maybe four months of games instead of six will keep Freddie Freeman healthier than he’s ever been in October.

Maybe, it’s a small sample size, but hey, the track record is there.

Talking Braves

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

More than a week has passed since Spring Training games officially rang in the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

In that time, the Atlanta Braves have won three games, lost five, and ended one in a tie (a Spring-only event).

Win/loss record aside (a meaningless ratio at this point anyway), there’s plenty from the past week to unpack as we roll merrily along towards the first pitch of Opening Day at the end of the month.

First, to briefly follow up on my article last week, Felix Hernandez has gotten off on the right foot. With two solid starts under his belt and Cole Hamels expected to start the season on the Injured List, Hernandez has begun to make believers out of a lot of folks who maybe didn’t think he had anything left.

It’s too early to make a true judgement call, but if he keeps it up, King Felix will be holding court at Truist Park to start the season.

Next, we have to talk about Freddie Freeman. After spending nearly the whole back half of the 2019 season playing hurt, Freddie healed himself up during the offseason and said he felt great when he reported to Florida.

However, he was scratched from a game early in the week and hasn’t played since. Everyone and their mother has told the press that they aren’t worried and that the extra rest is merely precautionary. We’d better hope that’s true.

A healthy Freddie means everything to this team, so we’ll be on the lookout for him to start getting more spring at-bats here in the coming days.

Mike Soroka seems to have picked up where he left off. The Braves lost his one start so far 5-3, but Soroka pitched two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut, scattering three hits.

The real proof that he’s seemingly in mid-season form already is that after the game he talked about inducing a ground ball thanks to a scouting report. A scouting report. In his first Spring game.

Moving on. The biggest positional battle (fielding-wise, anyway) in Braves’ camp this year is that for third base. In which, once and hopeful future Johan Camargo is competing for at bats with erstwhile left fielder and early-on slugger Austin Riley.

So far, both have come on figuratively and literally swinging, with each prospective operator of the hot corner hitting over .300 in this brief period of judged time.

Next, beloved Brave, Charlie Culberson has disappointingly failed to get a hit in 10 Abs. Culberson has managed four bases on balls.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that all of Braves Country is rooting for Charlie Clutch to make the MLB roster out of Spring Training this year, especially given the cruel end to his season in 2019.

His path to the team isn’t cleared for him and therefore he’ll need to start turning heads beyond pulling walks out of pitchers, who are just getting their mechanics in order.

Lastly, let’s talk about the future: top prospects Christian Pache, Drew Waters, and Ian Anderson have all seen game time. The hype may very well be real.

Sure, Waters and Pache don’t have the sexiest stat lines in the game, but they’ve looked good enough to instill excitement in the hearts of those paying attention.

Anderson got into two games over the course of the week, pitching 2 and 1/3 innings and allowing one run. That isn’t not too shabby for the kid.

Overall, with these three, who we already know won’t make the roster at the start of the season, things are looking good. We might even prepare ourselves for their debuts sometime before September.

 

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