The Atlanta Braves failed to make the postseason in 2009 for the fourth consecutive season. Long gone are the days of Maddox, Glavine, and Smoltz – days when Fred McGriff, Andruw Jones, and Javy Lopez were sending balls into orbit. Long ago the Braves faithful were counting up the Divisional Pennants, year after year, from 1991 to 2005. For some time the National League East was really the Atlanta Braves and a few other teams, one of which was once called the Expos. (Remember them?)
At first, the fall from grace was easy for the fans to cope with and rationalize; we all knew the streak would come to an end eventually. There were, of course, the usual grumblings about “14 consecutive pennants and only one championship”, but I digress. I don’t think that the Braves community expected the “down year” of 2006 to turn into four. Last years team, though not particularly flashy, proved to be very competitive and finished with an 86-76 record. 86 wins were not enough to reach the postseason, however.
The 2009 Atlanta Braves (stats were taken from ESPN.com):
Record: 86-76 (third place, NL East)
NL Rankings (batting):
• HR – 10th
• RBI – 6th
• Runs – 6th
• BA – 4th
• SLG – 10th
NL Rankings (pitching):
• ERA – 3rd
• Shutouts – 6th
• Quality Starts – 1st
• SO – 5th
• BAA – 4th
NL Rankings (Fielding):
• E – 7th highest
• FPCT – tied for 6th highest
As you can see, they were a statistically balanced team last year. Who were “they”, you ask? I’ll give you the names worth ‘memberin’: Individual Statistics (Team Rankings):
• HR – McCann (21), Jones (18), Escobar (14)
• RBI – McCann (94), Escobar (76), Jones (71)
• Runs – Escobar (89), Jones (80), Prado (64)
• BB – Jones (101), Escobar (57), McCann (49)
• SB – Diaz / McLouth (12 ea.)
• BA (min 350 AB) – Diaz (.313), Prado (.307), Escobar (.299) • Wins – Lowe / Vazquez (15), Jurrjens (14)
• Sv – Soriano (27), Gonzalez (10)
• Hld – Moylan (25), Gonzalez (17), O’Flaherty (15)
• ERA (min 100 IP) – Jurrjens (2.60), Vazquez (2.87), Hanson (2.89) • WHIP (min 100 IP) – Vazquez (1.03), Hanson (1.18), Jurrjens (1.21)
My take on the 2009 season:
The Braves have been in this quasi-rebuilding phase for several years now. They add or keep a multitude of veterans who are arguably past their prime while trying to mix in some really raw talent. In 2009, some of it worked, i.e. Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Javier Vazquez. Some of it didn’t, i.e. Jordan Schafer, Kenshin Kawakami, and Casey Kotchman.“Well hey”, thinks the reader, “doesn’t every team have bang and bust acquisitions?”
Sure. The key is to find the right mix of guys at the right times in their careers, and I think the Braves came very close last year. The addition of Nate McLouth wasn’t an instant splash in the proverbial sense, but I believe it was a step in the right direction. The emergence of Martin Prado and Yunel Escobar (91 extra base hits, 93 BBs between them) really made the Braves a formidable opponent. Oh yeah, it also helped that Adam LaRoche, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann brought that “power” element to the plate. This is why I think McLouth was a nice addition; he brought a different dynamic to the lineup – speed. I think that they are one fast player away from having the capability to adapt and/or react to any variable game-time scenario.
I showed you the stats; the pitching staff was nearly excellent in 2009, even with Tim Hudson lost for most of the season to injury. As stated before, Jurrjens and Hanson were “scary good”. Kawakami seemed to “rise to the occasion” when facing tougher opposition. Kawakami was effective as a #4 or 5 starter, posting a 3.86 ERA. Derek Lowe did more than prove me right in 2010 – he turned back into a pumpkin. Not literally, of course, but you get my point. Lowe posted an ERA of 4.67 and a WHIP of 1.52. The oddity is that Lowe also logged 21 quality starts.
The bullpen really came together in 2010, anchored by Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez. Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, and Kris Medlen rounded out a relief corps that was very underrated, if not at times dominant.
The 2009 Atlanta Braves were a good team. No one will remember that. All they’re going to remember is that ’09 was year number four without Braves baseball in October. What’s going to happen in 2010? I’ll detail my expectations and predictions in the next post. Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?