Fredi Gonzalez began the year with a strong group of starters—even with Tim Hudson on the disabled list—and plenty of possible reinforcements. When Jair Jurrjens coughed up five home runs and 10 walks in his first four starts, Atlanta had the luxury of sending him down, because Hudson was finally healthy and Randall Delgado was emerging as a reliable rotation piece.
Fredi Gonzalez's bullpen usage has had a major overhaul, but one reliever is resisting the change.
Fredi Gonzalez swore he would change, and he has. Dusty Baker never learned to love Mark Bellhorn, and Joe Torre never became a young player’s manager, but Gonzalez took the bullpen pedal off the floor. The Braves' manager started the 2011 season racing his bullpen around every turn, and by September the team was left with bald tires and in need of a pit-stop just sort of the finish line, blowing an eight-game lead to lose the wild card to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the biggest collapse in National League history. When the season ended, Gonzalez promised that next year would be different, and he changed… but perhaps he isn’t the only Brave who needs to adjust his strategy.
Gonzalez’s mantra in early 2011 was win early and win often, seemingly viewing nearly every game as an opportunity to use one of his big relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and closer Craig Kimbrel—a three-headed, three-armed force of despair and dashed hopes for a comeback. If the Vikings sacked villages and carried off its riches, the VOK-ings sacked opposing hitters and carried off their manhoods. Gonzalez went to them even if the situation didn’t follow the conventional wisdom as to when a manager should deploy his best relievers. This resulted in an unrealistically heavy workload for the trio, with the number of one-run games the Braves had in the first half (24) only serving to exacerbate an-already unrealistic pace for the pitchers.
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Every bloop, bleeder, and swinging bunt that has contributed toward the Braves setup man's .458 BABIP in 2012.
A few days ago, I got an email from someone who wanted to know why Jonny Venters isn’t dominating people like he did last year. He speculated that there’s something wrong with his stuff, or that his mechanics might be off.
I started formulating an answer even before I looked at the numbers. Well, it’s too small a sample to draw conclusions. Well, Venters was so good in 2011 that it’s unfair to expect a repeat performance. Well, he led the league in appearances last year, so maybe he’s feeling some fatigue.
A brutal eight-game losing streak has taken the Atlanta Braves from first to worst in the NL East.
The Weekend Takeaway
It’s not all that hard to go from first to last in nine days this early in the season. To do so as resoundingly as the Braves have, though, takes a special kind of awfulness.
At the end of play on May 20, Fredi Gonzalez’s team was 26-16 and enjoyed a 1 ½-game lead in the National League East. At the close of shop last night, the Braves had slipped to 26-24 and sat in a last-place tie with the Phillies, four games behind the first-place Nationals.
Michael Bourn had a career day playing at Great American Ballpark.
The Tuesday Takeaway Brandon Beachy came into yesterday’s game against the Reds having allowed just one home run in 54 innings this season. Great American Ball Park took care of that. Michael Bourn came into yesterday’s game against the Reds having hit just one home run in 201 plate appearances this season. Great American Ball Park took care of that, too.
By the time the Reds were celebrating their 4-3 win, Beachy had served up three long balls—a pair to Brandon Phillips and one to Zack Cozart—and Bourn had mashed two. Beachy’s home-runs-allowed figure had quadrupled. Bourn’s home-runs-hit mark had tripled.
But, in 2008, I would have known even less about Brandon Beachy, who wasn’t drafted at all. Thirty teams, 50 rounds, 1,504 picks, and Beachy was untouched. Major-league baseball teams thought that at least 1,504 amateurs were better than he was in 2008, but for all we know they thought 1,504,000 amateurs were better than him. They might have thought he was the very worst baseball player in the world. There is no limit to how bad they might have thought he was, because he was drafted just as much as a non-physical entity, like, say, senioritis was drafted. Brandon Beachy has a 1.60 ERA.
Yesterday's games included three walk-offs and a no-hitter.
The Wednesday Takeaway
Trying to choose one takeaway from a night like last night is like being a 5-year-old at Baskin Robbins deciding between ice cream flavors. It might be doable, but whichever one you pick, you’ll be slighting other, equally worthy choices.
Two players over the age of 40 hit walk-off home runs last night.
Last month, when the NL West preview I wrote with Geoff Young got under the skin of a few readers who found our jibes directed at the Giants to be unfair, I made a half-in-jest promise on Twitter: "[A]nybody got a favorite team? I promise to hate on them unreasonably tomorrow. I will rain down bias." Persistent problems in locating myself along the space-time continuum have prevented that promise from being fulfilled, until now.
Jason Heyward takes a step forward, while Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez are looking to get the ball rolling with their new clubs.
The Wednesday Takeaway
The Braves are counting on bounce-back campaigns from their corner outfielders and contributions from their high-ceiling pitching prospects as they look to return to the top of the NL East standings for the first time since 2005. If Wednesday night’s 6-3 victory over the Astros is any indication, they may get them.
Starter Randall Delgado earned the win for Atlanta, tossing five innings of two-run ball and striking out six. But the bigger story was right fielder Jason Heyward, who made his presence felt throughout the game and might be ready to resume his rise to stardom.
Though they're down two stars, the Phillies believe they have the support they need to make it through the season.
The Phillies certainly aren't going to begin the season with a bullpen-by-committee approach. They are paying Jonathan Papelbon $50 million over the next four seasons to serve as their closer. It is the largest contract ever given a relief pitcher and a deal that been criticized for overpaying someone who will likely pitch no more than four percent of the team's innings this season.