Thursday, August 22, 2013

Braves dropping like flies

The Braves list of injuries continued to mount today as Brandon Beachy received the call to visit Dr. James Andrews.  With Jason Heyward going down yesterday with a broken jaw, Tim Hudson's ankle getting crushed, Tyler Pastornicky's ACL, and Dan Uggla's eyesight, the last several weeks haven't been kind.  However, the team continues to win and is in little danger of missing the playoffs.

But this injury thing has just gotten silly.  It was bad early with Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Christian Martinez, and Ramiro Pena going down with serious injuries.  Then the injury bug calmed down a bit, but Paul Maholm, Evan Gattis, Jordan Schafer, and Reed Johnson still missed some time.

These latest injuries have been the worst of the bunch, but this Braves team seems has been good all year at picking each other up.  The rotation still has Mike Minor and Julio Teheran at the top and rookie Alex Wood has been dominant in his August starts.  The team really needs Maholm to regain his April form and team up with Kris Medlen to solidify the rotation.

The bats can overcome the Heyward loss for a while, and maybe he can return before the end of September since his jaw didn't need to be wired shut.  If anything, these injuries will give guys like Schafer, Gattis, and others more playing time as the team prepares for the postseason.

This years version of the Braves has looked like a dangerous October team all year.  Their overall depth and dominant bullpen still make them a threat in a series against anyone.  Having a 15 game lead gives you options and time to rest.

The Braves won 12 postseason series from 1991-2001 but are 0-5 since plus last years Wild Card debacle.  This needs to be the team to break the drought.  Let's just hope there are enough healthy players to field a team this fall.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Rise of Craig Kimbrel

Every MLB team wants a great closer.  A guy the manager can call on in the 9th inning in a tight game and everyone in the parks knows the game is all but done.  

When the Braves drafted Craig Kimbrel in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft out of Wallace State CC, his initial dominance was such that he quickly moved up in the Braves farm system.   Assigned to Danville after signing, he posted a 0.47 ERA in 12 games and picked up 6 saves.  After a brief stop in Rome with 10 more appearances with a sub 1 ERA and a ton of K's, Craig was already in Myrtle Beach.

The 2009 season saw Kimbrel end in AAA Gwinnett, but not before some trouble with control came up early in the 09 season in Myrtle Beach.  He allowed 28 walks in 26 innings, leading to a career high 5.47 ERA, but straightened things out in time to complete 12 dominant innings in AA Mississippi before his AAA debut.

However, the 2010 season was when Kimbrel went from prospect to legend.  His AAA numbers that year included a 1.62 ERA, 23 saves, and 83 K's in 55 innings.  Kimbrel made his MLB debut on May 7th and although control was an issue at times, he still finished 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA.

Those numbers turned a few heads, but most scouts didn't think he could go through an entire MLB season with similar numbers.  He was on the radar as an up and coming closer, but not many predicted the Rookie of the Year season Craig put together in 2011.  He had ridiculous numbers - 127 K's, 46 saves, 64 games, and was one of the best closers in the game.

So after an All-Star rookie season, most Braves fans hoped he could stay healthy and maybe produce similar numbers the next year.  Little did we know then, his 2011 season was just the beginning.

Craig Kimbrel in 2012 posted one of the best relief pitcher seasons of all-time.  The legendary Dennis Eckersley posted 7-1/1.91/51S/93 K's in his 1992 MVP season.  Eric Gagne in his 2003 Cy Young season put up 2-3/1.20/55S/137 K's.

Kimbrel's 2012 season was right up there with those 2 recent examples.   Craig finished the year 3-1/1.01/42S/117 K's - and he did all this in 62 innings while the other 2 worked 80+ in their seasons.

Also in 2012, Kimbrel worked 17 straight scoreless innings and then finished the season on another 13.1 inning streak.  An incredible year, one that certainly wouldn't be topped by Kimbrel, or anyone else, in the near future.

But then 2013 happened.  After pitching his first 8.2 innings in '13 without giving up a run, it appeared Craig Kimbrel was human after all.  A Dexter Fowler double led to the seasons first blown save and a David Wright home run gave Craig back-to-back blown saves.  Just 4 days later, Devin Mesoraco and Shin-Soo Choo both left the park against the Braves closer and there was now some worry across Braves nation.

But not that much worry.

The only blemish on Kimbrel's last 31 appearances since the blown save in Cincinnati on May 7th is a Texas-Leaguer to right by Donovan Solano that tied the game in the game in Miami on July 4th.

Kimbrel has lowered his ERA from 3.38 to 1.22 in this current stretch and has picked up a save in his last 12 appearances, putting him on a 50 save pace at this point.

His 1.41 career ERA, 124 saves, 353 K's in 204 innings are too large of a sample size to dismiss as a guy the league hasn't "figured out.". Mariano Rivera is without a doubt the greates closer of all time, but Kimbrel's performance from 2011-13 is one that no reliever in MLB history can match.

Every MLB team wants a great closer, that reassurance that if it's close late, there is no worry.  The Atlanta Braves don't just have a great closer - they have an all-timer at the closer position...and he's only 25 years old.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

2013 Preseason College Football Poll

The coaches poll comes out today at noon, appropriate because it's August today and college football is right around the corner.  Check back to some July posts on here for top returning players, sleeper Hesiman picks, and national title contenders.

As for today, I'll be listing who I think are the top 25 teams heading into the season.  This is based on how good I think the are, not what I think the poll will look like today or at the end of the season.

1). Alabama
2). Stanford
3). Georgia
4). Oklahoma St
5). Ohio State
6). Florida
7). Clemson
8). LSU
9). Texas
10) Oregon
11) Nebraska
12) South Carolina
13) Florida St
14). Louisville
15) Notre Dame
16) Texas A&M
17). Virginia Tech
18). Michigan
19). Oklahoma
20) TCU
21). Oregon State
22). Miami
23). Vanderbilt
24)  UCLA
25). Northwestern

This will not likely be the first or final poll as many teams will rank different from my prediction.  Certain teams like Ohio State and Florida State play cupcake schedules while teams like LSU have quite a gauntlet.

It's also quite intriguing that week 1 features UGA-Clemson, TCU-LSU, and Virginia Tech-Alabama.  These matchups will give us an instant snapshot at what some of these teams will look like in 2013.

I also think this is the year the SEC gets left out of the BCS title game.  The SEC finished with 6 of the top 14 teams in the final AP Poll last year, and all these teams will be strong again.  Throw in what should be much improved Auburn and Mississippi teams and it's unlikely any SEC team finished unbeaten.

One loss SEC teams (and 2) have made it before, but there's too many other talented teams in 2013 that only have a game or 2 to challenge them.  I could easily see unbeaten teams in the ACC, Big 10, and PAC-12 title games.  Also, Oklahoma State has a great shot at getting to at least mid-November without a loss.

If it happens, it will certainly be a good thing for college football that the new plus 1 system goes into place next season because there will be a lot of unhappy campers in this situation.

BCS Predictions

Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma St vs Florida
Rose Bowl - Oregon vs Michigan
Sugar Bowl - Alabama vs Texas
Orange Bowl - Louisville vs Florida St

BCS title game - Ohio State vs Stanford