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Atlanta Braves

NLDS Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates & Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves

Should we even mess around with the narrative? The MLB Playoffs officially began on Tuesday with the first of two single elimination Wild Card play-in games, but starting our MAMBINO previews with those contests can be an exercise in futility. We’ve waited until the Elite Eight were set in order to unleash our full swath of previews onto an unsuspecting, undemanding, unrelenting public.
 
Now that at least the National League picture is settled, let’s take a look, MAMBINO style, on the matchups at hand. If you’ve been delinquent on your baseball watching for the first 162 (or 163) of the season, you’ve come to the right place to catch up. First, the best of five games National League Division Series.
 
Pittsburgh Pirates (Wild Card) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (Central Division champion)
 
Why will the Cardinals prevail in 4?
 
Anything the Pirates do, the Cards can do better. Well, almost.
 
Starting pitching? Pittsburgh will have a fearsome trio in A.J. Burnett (3.30 ERA, 209 Ks in 191 innings), Gerrit Cole (3.22 ERA, 100 Ks in 117 innings) and Wild Card game winner Francisco Liriano (3.02 ERA, 161 Ks in 163 innings). More than fearsome, maybe. Devastating.
 
To counter, St. Louis throws out a probable top-3 Cy Young vote getter in Adam Wainwright (2.94 ERA, 219 Ks in 241 innings) and a probable top-5 Rookie of the Year vote getter in Shelby Miller (3.06 ERA, 169 Ks in 173 innings). They’ll be accompanied by Lance Lynn (3.97 ERA, 198 Ks in 201 innings) and probably rookie Michael Wacha (2.78 ERA, 65 Ks in 64 innings), who merely threw a damn near no-hitter in his last outing. … Read more...

NL East Preview: A Nationals Division to Lose

The Washington Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, Gio Gonzalez, Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. What does that mean?  It means they have the best pitcher in the NL East, the second-best young hitter, the deepest rotation and the most potent front five in any line-up. They are extremely well managed and maybe more important than anything, feel like it’s their time to dominate. They have no discernible weaknesses. The Washington Nationals are going to win this division. Besides the Detroit Tigers winning the AL Central, this might be the easiest call of the entire MLB preseason.
 
Can any team even challenge them? What would have to go right for any other squad to penetrate the seemingly predestined playoff spot for the Nats?… Read more...

Instant Trade Analysis: Justin Upton to the Braves

Atlanta Braves get: OF Justin Upton, 3B Chris Johnson

Arizona Diamondbacks get: 3B/OF Martin Prado, SP Randall Delgado and minor leaguers SS Nick Ahmed, 1B Brandon Drury and SP Zeke Spruill

Since Ted Turner sold the Braves several seasons ago, Atlanta management has subtly turned a team with a nine figure payroll into shrewd, budget conscious operation with an eye always towards the future. Instead of spending multi-millions to sign or retain high-salaried veterans, the Braves have kept a healthy mix of older players with young, emerging prospects, which seem to sprout from their minor league system as steadily as Milton Bradley felony charges.

Although we had a couple initial thoughts here at MAMBINO HQ regarding this trade, we turned to resident Braves fan and writer The King for his thoughts. Let’s get to it:

  1. The Braves have the best bullpen in the game, one of the best rotations and stellar defense. The lineup was the weak part of this team not because of depth, but because of a  lack of superstars (a problem that has worsened with Chipper Jones’ retirement).  Justin Upton gives them a hitter that has the potential to be a superstar. 

 

The King is right in his assessment; the Braves have one of the best young starting rotations and bullpens in the game, a raft of twenty-something pitchers with tremendous upside. More to the point, they’re all on controllable rookie contracts, increasing their value tenfold–look at what 22 year-old pitcher Randall Delgado fetched, after all. The Braves absolutely need more stability in their line-up with a departing Chipper Jones (a legitimate All-Star in his age 40 season) as well as the departing free agent Michael Bourn. Grabbing a five-tool 25 year-old outfielder with a top-5 MVP finish to his credit should do the trick, right?… Read more...

Instant Trade Analysis: Tommy Hanson to the Anaheim Angels

Atlanta Braves get: RP Jordan Walden

Anaheim Angels get: SP Tommy Hanson

On first glance…what the hell are the Braves thinking? Hanson is a 25 year-old starting pitcher, who’s still under team control for four more years. Though coming off his worst season yet (4.48 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and his lowest SO/BB ratio of his career), the now former Atlanta starter owns some sterling numbers of a 3.61 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.4 SO/9, and a 110 ERA+ over his three and a half Major League seasons.

In return? Jordan Walden, a relief pitching strikeout machine with palpable flaws. Once christened the opening day closer for Mike Scioscia’s squad, Walden soon feel out of grace with the team, posting a brutal April ERA of 8.31. However, after being quickly demoted in favor of Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri, the young fireballer settled down, posting a 2.46 ERA with 42 punchouts in 34 innings. Walden still allows too many hits (though mostly line drives, not homers), he’s pumping pure gas up there and simply over-powering hitters. There’s no doubt that he’d be one of the any team’s better relievers if he looked more like the guy from May to September rather than the the Byung Hyung Kim lookalike he was in April.

However, the bottom line is that Walden is a hard-throwing reliever and Hanson is a potential #2 starter. By the very principle of value, trading a reliever for such a high-ceiling starter makes no sense. On the surface, it looks like Frank Wren is spending a little too much “extracurricular time” with Atlanta hawks forward Josh Smith.

So to make sense of this, we deferred to Braves fan and friend of the blog The King. According to my man who I talked to on the phone today, Hanson, who was not so secretly terrible in 2012, but also was noticeably terrible in his last few starts of 2011…and then was out the rest of the year with injury. In his last five 2011 games, he allowed 24 earned runs, 36 hits and 8 homers in 26 innings (though he still struck out 33!). Hanson was later diagnosed with a slight tear in rotator cuff, and quite frankly, hasn’t looked the same since then. There’s a sense amongst Braves fan that perhaps Tommy has been irreparably changed by the operation, and even though he’s been able to strike out batters with pure speed, the control that once existed is no longer there. The shine, it would seem, has definitely worn off a bit from when Hanson was the organization’s number one prospect.

Going back to Walden, it doesn’t speak well of the trade that the Braves already have several extremely effective relievers in the historically dominant Craig Kimbrel, as well as Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. Adding another high-powered reliever seems like an unnecessary personnel move, but then again, Atlanta is also looking at a 2013 starting rotation that’s now going to feature several young pitchers, including possibly Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Mike Minor. Going deep into games isn’t going to be a preseason forte of the Braves’ starters, so having yet another potentially destructive reliever is a good idea.

Finally, the Braves were, as is well documented, trading from a source of strength. Just today, they traded away Hanson and non-tendered Jair Jurjjens, and yet, Atlanta is still six-deep in the starting rotation, seven if you include a midseason return for the dominant Brandon Beachy from Tommy John surgery.

For the Angels, this is a moderate-risk, high reward trade. The downside is that they might have just traded a you… Read more...

(Not So) Instant Trade Analysis: David Wright, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Russell Martin and BJ Upton

In the midst of the NBA’s multiple storylines right out of the opening gate, the MLB hot stove is burning. In the past 36 hours especially, there’s been a ton of action on the baseball front, so let’s take a MAMBINO-sized shot at examining the various moves with our (not-so) Instant Trade Analysis:

New York Mets get: 3B David Wright

David Wright gets: 7 years, $122 million

As much as people everywhere want to revile David Wright for signing with one of the worst ownership teams in professional sports, the truth is that on his end, the future could look pretty bright for the Mets. It certainly doesn’t start with the bats: the offense is still hugely reliant on big years from Wright and Ike Davis to merely be better than mediocre. Meanwhile, the bullpen still lists Frank Francisco…anywhere, so there’s obviously work to be done. But, the hardest task is seemingly complete–the rotation.  
Examining their 2013 roster, it’s headlined with the 2012 NL Cy Young winner, an aging but effective Johan Santana, young pitching prospects in Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey and Jenrry Meijia, and steady hands in Dillon Gee and Jon Niese. If Harvey and Wheeler emerge this year in a Lincecum/Cain-like tandem, then the Mets could potentially have the…best rotation in the NL East? It’s not crazy. 

For the Mets, there’s obviously two ways to look at this: management needed to show fans (and the team itself) that they weren’t going to completely submerge themselves in a middle-market type of free agent irrelevance. They had to keep their star player at whatever price it took. After all, what type of message would not re-signing a six-time All-Star who just finished in sixth place in the NL MVP voting? 

However, I do have concerns that as Wright reaches his 30’s (this contract will take him until his age 37 season), he’s going to wear at a high pressure, high intensity position at third base and his recent injury history is going to become even more a problem. All of Wright’s advance metrics suggest that he’s just as good as he’s ever been despite hitting for less power than in his early twenties, but he’s still a very good to elite defensive hot cornerman and a 40 doubles, 20 (maybe not 30) homer hitter. 
In regards to the contract, Wright certainly could have gotten more money playing out free agency. Anaheim, LA, the Yankees, Philadelphia and both Chicago clubs could have offered him more money. However, Wright has always proclaimed that he’s wanted to retire as a Met (the fool!), and he obviously saw the team’s future prospects ready to emerge.

The Mets had to make this deal, simply to show everyone that they weren’t turning into the Cleveland Indians. I have little doubt that Wright won’t be earning his money by the time the contract ends, mostly due to the fact that he’ll be playing first base around that time. However, re-signing with the Mets wasn’t an awful decision for his personal future, baseball-wise.

New York Yankees get: SP Andy Pettitte, RP Mariano Rivera

Andy Pettitte gets: 1-year, $12 million (plus $2.5 million in performance bonuses)

Mariano Rivera gets: 1-year, $10 million (plus performance bonuses)

The City of New York gets: A grand total of three active Yankees they’ll never boo

In both guys, there’s a strange dichotomy of knowing exactly what you’ll get, but at the same time having not knowing anything. Rivera is coming off a torn ACL, the first serious injury of his cRead more...

MAMBINO’s MLB Playoff Preview, Part 1: Wildcard and (a couple) Divisional Series

The second Wild Card slot has added in another dramatic cadence to what has been in recent years an extremely exciting last week of the season. In four out of the past five seasons, playoff spots weren’t settled until Game 162 out of 162, with the Rockies, Phillies, White Sox, Twins, Rays and Cardinals all eeking out monumental, last-second comebacks. The drama has been so fantastically unreal that the Commissioner Bud Selig, who miraculously looks like the best out of the four major sports right this moment, decided to heighten it starting in 2012 by adding another contender to the mix.

More teams than ever before were in the postseason hunt up until the final series of the year, including the freshly eliminated Dodgers, Brewers, Angels, Rays and White Sox. For the uninitiated, the playoffs begin today, when the two American League Wild Cards, the AL West deposed Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles and the two National League Wild Cards, the reigning champion St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves, face off in a sudden death game to see who goes on to play the two teams with the best records in their respective leagues. As opposed to years past, the margin of benefit between being a division titlist and a Wild Card team just became canyon-like. If you’re a divisonal winner, you’re at least guaranteed a five-game series. A Wild Card winner? All you get is a one-game playoff to play the best team in your league, and a giant choco-taco full of crap. Needless to say, it’s infinitely advantageous to win the division. But even as tenuous as this sounds for the teams playing, you know who this sucks most for? THE GREAT MAMBINO.

That’s right. US. Since the Divisional Series matchups aren’t set yet, here we are previewing two one-game playoffs and only two out of the four divisional series. What about us, Bud? Your loyal bloggers? Who do this for nothing but the love of the game and the mountains of women that come with being an amateur writer? C’mon, man. Think about us, for once. Ass.  

Regardless of my personal vendettas, we here at MAMBINO would never intentionally deprive our dozens….AND DOZENS of followers. From the hearts and minds of MAMBINO HQ are our picks for tomorrow’s playoff games and the two Divisional Series that are set:

American League Wild Card Game: Texas Rangers over Baltimore Orioles


El Miz:
The Texas Rangers have limped into the postseason, fading down the back stretch before getting swept by the Oakland A’s and losing what looked like a certain third-straight AL West crown on the last day of the season.  All is not lost, however, as the Rangers and Baltimore Orioles will square off thanks to the new one-game play-in for the Wild Card (actually, we would have had the same result even if MLB didn’t change the rules, as the Rangers and Orioles finished with the exact same 93 wins).

So how does Texas have any chance?  They are playing arguably the hottest team in baseball and the dreaded “team of destiny” thanks to Baltimore’s incredible 29-9 record in 1-run games, the best winning percentage since the Brooklyn Bridegrooms way back when President Benjamin Harrison was in the White House…you know, 1890. 

First, Texas is at home, which has got to help since Camden Yards would have been an absolute madhouse with their first taste of the postseason since 1997. Second, Texas is throwing Yu Darvish.

Texas paid $51.7 million dollars to Darvish’s former team just to be able to negotiate with him (the total deal cost $11Read more...

MAMBINO Fantasy Mondays: The Kevin Youkilis Non-Trade Fall-out

In the move that everyone saw coming, the Boston Red Sox finally traded Kevin Youkilis on Sunday. After rumors flew around fast and furious like a CC Sabathia batting practice, GM Ben Cherington shipped his third baseman to the Chicago White Sox for reliever Zach Stewart and utility man and First Team All-MLB Ugly member Brent Lillibridge.

The trade fallout has been discussed all over the internet: the deal has largely been called a great one for the White Sox, who get a former All-Star third baseman to man their MLB-worst hot corner, who hit to a combined .466 OPS. Boston has rookie Wil Middlebrooks handily playing third and mashing, so at this point, an unhappy Youkilis wasn’t doing any favors sulking in the BoSox locker room and creating an uncomfortable situation for everyone. RP Stewart was one of the main pieces Chicago got back in the Colby Rasmus/Edwin Jackson/Marc Rzepcynski deal with the Cardinals and Blue Jays last summer, but has so far not panned out on the South Side. He’ll be sent to Triple-A Pawtucket, while Lillibridge will largely serve in the same utility man capacity when on the White Sox.

The impact that this deal will have on both side is pretty clear: the White Sox get a formerly great hitter to play a position that was absolutely killing them day-to-day. On top of everything else, the Red Sox foot nearly $5.5 million of his salary, so unless Stewart turns into the next coming of Jonathan Papelbon, the White Sox largely gave up nothing for a guy who could potentially help them win the division. For Boston, this clears the way for Middlebrooks, and to a lesser extent DH David Ortiz and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, to play every day, and hopefully Stewart will be able to help a beleaguered Red Sox ‘pen down the line.

What’s more interesting though is how this trade impacts the teams that didn’t quite have enough to acquire Youkilis. According to mlbtraderumors.com, the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Indians, Pirates and Braves were all involved in talks with Boston to some extent. Let’s take a look at how this non-move will affect these teams going down the line.


Los Angeles Dodgers

How badly did they need him? Pretty badly. The Dodgers third base situation has been tenuous from the onset, with offensive millstone Juan Uribe taking his historically bad season right into 2012. Adam Kennedy (.616 OPS), Elian Herrera (.716 OPS) and Ivan DeJesus (.708 OPS) have all taken their shots at the hot corner, with only Jerry Hairston (.821 OPS, .311 average in 36 games with 11 extra base hits) having any success there. However even Hairston, a lifetime utility man, can’t be counted on for production over the long term. LA has no third base prospects in the pipeline, and considering the cheap price the White Sox paid, it’s hard to believe that another game-changing third baseman will come along in a month that could potentially replicate Youkilis’ production (especially, keeping in mind that he’d be going from the AL East to the NL West).

So what do they do now? Jerry Hairston is the answer for the next month or so, but a very expensive (prospect-wise) inter-division trade for Chase Headley could be coming down the line.

Fantasy Spin: If you’re in a deep NL-only league, you’ve already got Jerry Hairston on your roster. I do think Headley is going right out of San Diego’s door in a month, as he won’t be under team control whenever they’re ready to compete. I’d most expect him to head to the Dodgers, but wouldnt’ be surprised if he g… Read more...

MAMBINO Fantasy Monday: The Panic-Meter

On Friday, the Anaheim Angels and the Washington Nationals called up the consensus #1 and #2 prospects in the game, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout respectively. At ages 19 and 20, Harper and Trout are the two current youngest players in the major leagues. “Wayne’s World” has more experience existing than these two. Writing that bringing these two up from the minors is a “panic move” is hardly an overstatement; it might just be accurate.

It’s early in the season, but what I know is that it’s never too early for a team to freak out from underperformance. Let’s take a quick look at some early season moves made by teams across the MLB landscape, grade them 1 to 10 on the “Panic-Meter” and see what type of fantasy implications are there.
The Anaheim Angels call up OF Mike Trout
MAMBINO Panic-Meter: 7 out of 10
For the Angels, Trout’s call-up coincided with veteran Bobby Abreu’s release from the team. Now 7-15, the Halos are performing far below expectations. In fact, they’re one of the worst teams in baseball, along with the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. For Anaheim, the reason for pressing the panic button is pretty obvious: they didn’t give Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson over $300 million dollars combined to finish in last place. They did it to win a World Series.
However, it’s not like this is just a move to just shake up the team. I mean, it’s definitely that, but this is also a really simple numbers issue. Abreu had a putrid spring training, followed by hitting .208 in limited duty this year. Bobby no longer plays the same type of Gold Glove defense that he was known for and was the biggest weakness of an Angeles log-jam in the outfield with Peter Bourjos, Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, Mark Trumbo and of course, Trout.
More importantly, Trout was laying waste to the Pacific Coast League, hitting .403 with literally a billion extra base hits (I exaggerate; it’s 10 in 20 games, with 6 stolen bases, to boot).

Yes, this is a panic move for the Angels because of how quickly their season was slipping away from them, even in March, but this was also just a simple numbers move for the Halos. Abreu was bad, and Trout is good. Any team, regardless of expectations, would have made this move.


Fantasy spin:Pick up Mike Trout, right now, if he hasn’t already been snatched up.  But perhaps more realistically, this is going to change the look for the other Angels in the line-up. Unless he really stinks, Trout is staying up for good, and probably hitting in the lead-off spot for the duration. I’d buy low into Peter Bourjos, who’s hitting in the 9 spot, seeing as Trout, who has some pretty impressive power, will  be hitting directly behind him.

The Washington Nationals call up OF Bryce Harper
MAMBINO Panic-Meter: 9 out of 10
For the Nationals, the reasons are a little less clear. Harper was only hitting .250 in the minors, with just 6 extra base hits in 82 plate appearances; hardly tearing it up. The logic is that the Nats probably wanted to bring up their young phenom immediately following spring training, but didn’t want to start his “arbitration clock” (which means, quite plainly, that Washington would have to pay him more money sooner if they brought him to the majors right away rather than waiting 3 weeks). At 14-7 and leading the NL East, Washington didn’t necessarily need him anyway. Right?
Wrong.  With 1B/OF Michael Morse and 3B Ryan Zimmerman on the DL, and Roger Bernadina, Xavier Nady and Rick Ankiel Read more...

2012 Atlanta Braves Preview

No one was a bigger fan of the Boston Red Sox last year than the Atlanta Braves. That’s because the story of the Red Sox historical collapse largely overshadowed the Braves’ equally historical collapse, saving the Braves from being the main focus of the “What the hell happened?” at the end of the regular MLB season (though Atlanta received more than its fair share of criticism). The Braves’ demise is well-documented, so there isn’t a need to go into a ton of detail here. The quick summary: Atlanta had an 8.5 game lead over the eventual World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, on September 5. Due to a combination of an overworked bullpen, an anemic offense (which had struggled all year but particularly down the stretch) and injuries, the Braves had a 9-18 record for the remainder of the year, including a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Cardinals. The Braves were officially eliminated on the last day of the season when a Phillies team with nothing to play for beat them 4-3 in 13 innings after stud rookie closer Craig Kimbrel could not hold onto a 1-run lead in the bottom of the 9th. That choking act was just one of many painful defeats for the Braves during September as they loss some games in truly spectacular fashion (e.g. they lost a game to the Marlins when Chipper Jones lost a ground ball in the lights with two outs and a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. How you lose a ground ball in the lights is still beyond me but Chipper has earned the right to make excuses).


Many people have asked whether the Braves will recover from last year’s collapse or whether it will be in their heads entering this season. Personally, I don’t think they will be affected in the slightest. To me it’s a learning experience for both the Braves’ players, who are a relatively young group, and manager Fredi Gonzalez who abused his top two relievers last year, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. To me the more important question is how will the Braves compete in a much more competitive NL East this year? As a fan, you would hope that Atlanta would address some of their weaknesses, in particular the lack of a stud hitter, as a response to Miami and Washington who both greatly improved their teams this offseason. Unfortunately, Atlanta was not able to be significant players in free agency this year, nor will they be for the foreseeable future. This is due to long-term local TV contracts they’ve signed which are not nearly as lucrative as some of the recent contracts signed by big payroll teams like the Rangers and Angels (which current Braves’ ownership has admitted was a huge mistake that puts them at a significant competitive disadvantage) and some bad contracts (who would have thought the Derek Lowe contract would have come back to bite them in the butt? Note to Frank Wren – when Omar Minya is the only other person bidding on the player you want, you should probably reevaluate whether the player’s worth the money he’s asking for.) Instead, they are left to hope that their young major league talent improves and their highly-rate minor league prospects make significant major league contributions this year. So how will the Braves stack up?

Infield

• Freddie Freeman really shined as a rookie last year hitting 21 HRs while hitting .282. However, if he’s going to avoid a sophomore slump, which the Braves will need him to do if they hope to contend, he has to cut down on those strikeouts (22.4% K-rate last year). If he can do that, the rest of the National League better watch out. While he’ll never be a superstar, Freddie has the potential to be the above-… Read more...