St. Louis Cardinals

The Injury Bug

By: TJ Hartnett news services

The playoffs begin this week and the Atlanta Braves await either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Suntrust Park.

Both will provide unique challenges and Atlanta shouldn’t breathe easy simply because they don’t have the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round (it is, I will say, massively impressive how the Brewers have clinched a playoff spot and have stayed within striking distance of the NL Central title even after losing last year’s MVP Christian Yelich to injury just a few weeks ago).

It isn’t as though the Braves can rest easy knowing they’re at the height of their powers, either. The team was healthy for so much of the 2019 season, with the exception of injuries to Nick Markakis and Dansby Swanson; both of which took them out of the game for significant periods of time.

However, as I’ve pointed out before, the backups and new acquisitions stepped up and showed out in the absence of the two Atlanta lineup mainstays.

But now, at the worst possible time, the injury bug has started to bite. The Charlie Culberson hit by pitch was a freak accident, nothing really to say about that. But it took out a reliable bench player and pinch hitter that would have doubtlessly gotten huge opportunities to make a difference in October.

The other side of that same coin is Johan Camargo, who has had a fairly miserable season but showed signs of turning things around in the minor leagues, who offers the same defensive versatility as Culberson.

Camargo would have been the obvious choice to make the roster as a super utilityman in Charlie’s place, but it looks like he’s down for the count as well.

That brings us to the other two (three, sort of) injuries, all due respect to Culberson and Camargo, the minor injuries to Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. are more major.

Freeman was benched for a few games to heal a wrist injury from last week. He returned for the season finale series against New York, but that nagging wrist had really been doing on number on Freddie’s production at the plate. He may be playing through it, but the 3-hole hitter is playing at a disadvantage.

Of equal (maybe greater?) concern is Ronald Acuna, Jr., who hurt his hip during the two-game set against Kansas City last week and was benched for the rest of the regular season so that he could heal up.

This did, disappointingly, prevent Acuna from getting the three steals necessary for him to be the fifth player ever to go 40-40 in a season. The leadoff hitter is the dynamic sparkplug that sets the Braves off and they need him as close to 100% as possible for the playoffs.

Piggybacking off of that is something that probably didn’t seem like it would be as important a week ago as it is now. That is Ender Inciarte being ruled out for the NLDS.

Inciarte has been hurt a lot in 2019, his first stint on the IL coming after a disappointing start to the year and his second coming at an equally disappointing time: just as he seemed to have found his stroke and was hitting well.

Him not being on the DS roster doesn’t seem like it changes much, since the team played so much of the season without him, but the Acuna injury makes Ender’s inability to play hugely significant.

A healthy Ender is a multiple-time Gold Glove winner and could patrol center field while Acuna strains himself less in left but it’s not to be.

The Braves seem confident that Freeman and Acuna will be ready to roll on Thursday. Having an additional three days off can’t hurt. Atlanta has to be aware of their ongoing concerns and can’t afford to underestimate the Brewers or the Cards.

Garcia Trade Favors Braves?

By: TJ Hartnett news services

Left-handed pitcher Jaime Garcia has spent his entire MLB career with the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Atlanta Braves announced they acquired the southpaw in exchange for prospects John Gant, Chris Ellis and Luke Dykstra. Gant and Ellis are each right-handed pitchers, while Dykstra is an infielder. ranked Ellis, Gant and Dykstra as Atlanta’s 17th-, 21st- and 29th-best prospects, respectively, in 2016.

Garcia is the headliner in the trade, though he had mixed results in 2016. On one hand, he appeared in 32 games, which tied for his career high and represented significant strides after an injury-marred stretch. He made 20 starts in 2012, nine in 2013, seven in 2014 and 20 in 2015.

He underwent season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome and suffered partial labrum and rotator cuff tears during that span. He also dealt with groin issues in 2015.

While Garcia proved he can handle the rigors of an entire season in 2016, he was nowhere near as effective as he was in 2010 and 2011, when he posted 2.70 and 3.56 ERAs, respectively.

He finished the 2016 campaign with a 4.67 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, which were his highest marks since he made 10 appearances as a rookie in 2008. Home runs were one of the biggest problems for the southpaw, who allowed 26 on a Cardinals team that finished 86-76 and missed out on the playoffs.

Garcia represents the latest veteran addition for the Braves pitching staff, which has also added 43-year-old Bartolo Colon and 42-year-old R.A. Dickey in the offseason.

At 30 years old, Garcia is younger than those two righties, but injuries have to be a concern as he racks up additional mileage on his arm.

Still, Atlanta needed to make changes to its starting rotation after finishing 28th in the big leagues with a 4.87 ERA. Atlanta has plenty of ground to make up in the National League East after finishing in last place at 68-93, but addressing the woeful starting rotation was an ideal place to start.

Garcia comes with risks, but he also has a track record that includes a handful of notable seasons.

For the Braves’ part, they’re starting to flip their recent trend: this time they trading prospects for a Major League player. After building up their farm system following the 2014 season, the Braves are starting to make these kinds of moves.

It remains to be seen whether or not they’ll offer up enough for Chris Sale, but if it took these three prospects to acquire an oft-injured lefty coming off his worst season, it will surely take a king’s ransom to bring Sale to Atlanta.

However, Braves fans shouldn’t cry out too much over what they had to give up for Garcia. Gant contributed to the 2016 squad and would likely have done the same in 2017 if he were on the roster, but weighing the best case scenarios against each other: Gant might have been a decent fifth starter at best, whereas if Garcia shows up he could be a great number two.

Ellis was unlikely to make much of a Dent in Atlanta, and after Sean Rodriguez joined the team this week Dykstra had too many people in his way.

Teams hate to trade prospects away, and fans certainly hate to see it, but given Garcia’s potential versus Gant’s, Ellis’ and Dykstra’s, it’s no great loss. More specifically, if the Braves miss these prospects, even if Garcia can’t stay on the field, something has gone very wrong with the many other even more highly-rated pitching prospects.