The Braves aren’t in this World Series, but they’ll make it soon

It didn't end well for Michael Bourn and the Braves, but there's always next year. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

It didn't end well for Michael Bourn's team, but there's next year. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

A World Series is set to begin Wednesday without the Atlanta Braves, which has been the case with every World Series this millennium. And I know some among you were so disgusted by the Braves’ collapse that you can’t see this team reaching the Fall Classic for the next thousand years, but that’s just disappointment talking. In truth, the Braves aren’t far away.

Last October, the Braves were one out from taking a 2-1 Division Series lead over San Francisco, which would win the World Series. This fall the Braves were two outs from forcing a play-in game against St. Louis, which just won the National League pennant. I know most of you wouldn’t have given a farthing for the Braves’ chances in such a game, but consider: The Cardinals would have started Kyle Lohse in Game No. 163, and in his two postseason appearances he’s 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA.

That said, the two seasons were different. In 2010, it was a wonder the diminished Braves steadied enough to slip into the playoffs. In 2011, the wonder was that they didn’t steady. The chief reason — well, that and the 8 1/2-game lead — that the Braves’ flop was so stunning was the composition of the club itself. From April through August, this looked every bit a playoff team.

Come February, it will look like one again. Relative to the other NL contenders, the Braves enter the offseason without much to do. The Cardinals have to re-sign Albert Pujols, and the Brewers need to keep Prince Fielder, neither of which might be possible. And the Phillies, who have won five division titles in succession, but who were gone in Round 1 this October, face the impending loss of Raul Ibanez and perhaps Jimmy Rollins and the injury rehab of Ryan Howard, who tore his Achilles on the final play of the final game.

The Braves? They need to secure a shortstop — Alex Gonzalez is a free agent and the prospect Tyler Pastornicky isn’t quite ready — but that’s about it. The bulk of this team’s decisions have to do with projection: Will Chipper Jones be healthy enough to play 100 games? Will Tommy Hanson’s shoulder be OK? Will Martin Prado remember how to hit? Will Jason Heyward remember he’s Jason Heyward?

The Braves didn’t really challenge Philly this season — they finished 13 games back — but that day is coming. Among the Phillies’ everyday eight, only Hunter Pence is under 30, and the touted outfield prospect Domonic Brown hasn’t done much. (If he had, the Phils wouldn’t have needed Pence.) The great rotation likewise has some age on it: Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt 34; Cliff Lee is 32. The Phillies weren’t built to win in 2015; they were built to win in it all in 2011, and they failed.

The Braves’ failure wasn’t one of composition — on paper, they had enough good players — as of follow-through. Some excellent hitters stopped hitting for bewildering stretches. The team has moved to help correct that by firing Larry Parrish, whose season as hitting coach was a bad idea that turned out worse, and next year we should get at least a partial answer to that great imponderable: Does a hitting coach really matter?

There wouldn’t seem to be a Braves’ buying spree coming this winter. Kenshin Kawakami is finally off the payroll, but Derek Lowe remains — for one year more at $15 million. The Braves might have enough money to re-sign Gonzalez for a short term at a modest price, but they surely can’t afford the big-name shortstops (Rollins or Jose Reyes) who’ll become free agents. Even so, will keeping Gonzalez and hoping for better elsewhere be enough to turn this team, which has won 180 games the past two seasons, into a bigger winner?

Yes, because they have a phalanx of young pitchers who are big-league ready. That’s the greatest currency there is, and Wren was right to hoard it at the trading deadline. But there will come a time when one or two of these pitchers will need to be moved — can’t really have a seven-man rotation — as simple asset management.

The Braves, believe it or not, are very close to a World Series. They’ll need to get beyond the memory of this season’s fold, but that’s why there’s an offseason. They had enough talent to win 89 games in a season when they didn’t hit a lick, and they have enough to offer in trade that they can go buy whatever they lack. If even a few of those hitters return to form, they won’t lack much. Why, they even have a leadoff man now. Can world domination be far behind?

By Mark Bradley

383 comments Add your comment

The fix is in

October 19th, 2011
4:15 pm

Now that Geathers and Williams are suspended for a half every time any football player gets a personal foul they will be suspended as well for the teams next first half/

Right ??

Not just Georgia players right ????

I expect this precedent to be enforced across the board without exception.

VolsFan

October 19th, 2011
4:16 pm

Mark B.: “What are you going to do this season, Chipper?” Chipper J.: “The same thing I do every season, Mark. Try to take over the world!” Mark B.: “Narf!”

ramble

October 19th, 2011
4:16 pm

Would be great. Though sadly I say it’s not happening…

Ricky

October 19th, 2011
4:17 pm

They aren’t as close as you think. Organization is too archaic on the way it values offensive performance. Angels, Twins, and Braves are all on the downturn because other teams have learned how to find better value for offensive players. Hopefully a new owner will come in and hire thinkers who aren’t so stuck in the old times valuing such poor information as batting average.

ramble

October 19th, 2011
4:18 pm

come on fix… there is no way that that “scuffle” as doggies like to call it was simply 2 personal fouls. You’re lucky that you still have a defensive coordinator after all of his classy acts. Typical Thugs…

Trrey

October 19th, 2011
4:26 pm

Yeah right Mark. Maybe if they get new ownership and fire the inept manager they will. In about 20 years.

jerry

October 19th, 2011
4:27 pm

How do you know they can’t afford a big name shortstop? Are you an accountant and have you audited Liberty Media’s books?

Tastes Like Chicken

October 19th, 2011
4:28 pm

Mark,

I want some of what you’re inhaling today.

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2011
4:29 pm

I am an accountant, and I have just completed a full audit of Liberty Media and all its assets.

Curious George

October 19th, 2011
4:31 pm

Mark,

What should we make of these increasing rumors out of Boston that Red Sox ownership is looking to coax Bobby Cox out of retirement to come be their new manager as well as to “stabilize” their now-turbulent clubhouse?

SC Ace

October 19th, 2011
4:32 pm

The Braves seem to do better in trades than with free agents (the Texeira thing being the glaring counter-example — how are the Rangers doing?) The forgettable offseason in 2008/9 brought desperate moves to sign Derek Lowe (oops) and Kenshin Kawakami (bigger oops). Trades brought Michael Bourn (for Jordan deadhead Shaefer!), Aroldys Vizaino (for Javier Vazquez!).

They need to figure out if Jason Heyward is Jeff Francouer or not. Prado will be fine, but I say trade JJ or Hanson for a legit major league left-fielder with power (if such a man is available in a trade) and use Prado as a “super utility” guy. Replace Brooks Conrad with a younger guy with a better glove from the farm, replace Eric Hinske with someone more versatile. Get a decent veteran set up man.

Easy, right?

TheAntiMe

October 19th, 2011
4:33 pm

Gee thanks, Mark. lol – I was hoping to see the Bravos back in the World Series at least once before I die. :)

SC Ace

October 19th, 2011
4:35 pm

Hey it could be worse…. we could be the Red Sox. Can you imagine if Lowe was throwing down a bucket of KFC and knocking back a six pack or two in the clubhouse with Jurrjens and Hanson?

Tami

October 19th, 2011
4:36 pm

I’d like to believe all of this. I’m a HUGE Chipper fan, but I think it’s monumentally wrong to count on Chipper as a full-time player next season. In fact, the coaching, management, and player staff need to treat the 2012 season as Chipper’s gradual fade-off to retirement. I’d personally be shocked if he decided to come back for the 2013 season. Not to make his decisions for him per se, but all indications are that this coming season is very likely his last.

Additionally, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves on the pitching. Lowe needs to go to the bullpen — period. He’s only effective in short-game situations, which could make him a good candidate for short, mid-game relief as well as short-game spot-starter. How well will Huddy pitch next season? He’ll be in his late 30s, I believe. I think Fredi needs to limit his innings from the beginning of the season and s t r e t c h him out over the season to preserve his strength and effectiveness. He’s on the decline now.

That leaves Medlen, JJ, Tommy, Beach, and Minor. As well as the three Big Kids who debuted during the last half of the 2011 season. Unless we can use one of them to trade for a SS and/or a 3B (although, Prado is projected to take over, who does that leave if Prado’s down??), don’t let them out of your sight — yet. Hoard them as long as possible. I don’t agree with Ricky completely. The Braves organization has done a good job of honing the talents of pitchers. Now they need to do the same with position players and hitters. We’ve got to hope that Freddie doesn’t go through the same sophomore “jinx” as Heyward just did. Hopefully, the new hitting coach — whoever he is — will be effective.

I’m hopeful that Constanza is still on the radar and that he’s utilized a lot more over the course of the season than he was towards the end of this season. Martin, Jose, Michael, Freddie and Jason can flat out RUN. I’d like to see them placed just right in the hitting order so as to utilize their speed and base-running prowess better. Is it wise to say “goodbye” to McLouth? Perhaps. I’d definitely like to see Hinske back for the bench. Let’s see….we got Diaz back for the stretch run. Do we need him? Maybe. A lot of decisions to make. Glad I’m not Wren or Fredi.

Mike#1

October 19th, 2011
4:38 pm

Not with Fredi Gonzalez at the helm, they won’t. His managing is too inconsistent for a team under him to maintain performance for an entire season…let alone the postseason.

Greg

October 19th, 2011
4:42 pm

You’re forgetting about the nationals mark. Use your brain for once.

Appalachia Brave

October 19th, 2011
4:42 pm

I’ll have some of what he’s smokin……

BBQ MAN

October 19th, 2011
4:43 pm

agreed, need a good defensive SS that can contribute offensively on occasion., avoid injuries, be more consistent and we’ll see the WS soon.

Mike Honcho

October 19th, 2011
4:43 pm

Mark, you just can’t win can ya? If you write something bad about the Braves then you’re labeled Captain Bringdown. But if you write something positive then you’re a jinx. But I say keep up the positive stuff, especially since the Braves do have a positive future ahead of them.

Bobbys' Booger

October 19th, 2011
4:46 pm

rriiigghhhttttt…back slowly away from the crack pipe Mark.

BOB

October 19th, 2011
4:47 pm

Two words sum up the Braves chances for future post season success: Super Star. Until management gets at least one, there will be none- championships that is.

MJT

October 19th, 2011
4:49 pm

Why is it always said that Pasternicky it not ready? He has hit at all levels it seems, I have never seen him play in the Minors, but I am just wondering, whe is he not ready?

worn out

October 19th, 2011
4:51 pm

we should have kept infante… and any trades for offensive player should be made with speed and ability to play small ball in mind, and have freddie gonzalez brush up on when to move players over and play for a run when needed,,, its not a sin to ask chipper,bryan or dan to lay down a bunt if the situation calls for it…if only the braves manager and front office would listen to us pros, its world series wins every year….

GT

October 19th, 2011
4:51 pm

We ever had a negative season like this one under the modern day Braves? The Phillies own us and then go nowhere. Seems they need a little talking to too. Maybe the best position is that wildcard bid, it may win two series in a row.

jimmya

October 19th, 2011
4:53 pm

hey the pitching didnt keep us from winning in september its the lack of hitters we have fire WREN get at least some 260 hitters plezzzzzzzz

Cdpridg

October 19th, 2011
4:54 pm

Braves cannot even compete in dividion much less make an appearance in the WS. Phillies have money and interest to sign big time players…they are the yanks of the NL…and will be dominant for awhile. Going to be like our run of 14…comparable and they are alre as dy half way there

jimmya

October 19th, 2011
4:54 pm

how many years has it been since we had any hitters at all

jimmya

October 19th, 2011
4:55 pm

Entnot since WREN took over GM huh

Rowsdower

October 19th, 2011
4:55 pm

@Mike#1 – Not sure I agree with your assessment of Fruiti. Seems the Braves were pretty consistent until the hurricane knocked them off schedule. Fruiti didn’t stop hitting in September. The guys in the lineup did. With the exception of bLowe (and Hanson and JJ trying to be heroes), the Braves pitched great all year. Just need another stick and for guys to hit to their potential for this team to get to the Series.

Not even Fruiti can screw that up…

Floyd the Barber

October 19th, 2011
4:55 pm

The Phillies are still the team to beat and Washington is getting better in a hurry. Meanwhile the Braves are a bunch of question marks: Heyward, Prado, D Lowe,Hanson and JJ. Then there is the front of the bullpen and shortstop. MB, you are a bit optimistic at this point.

HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAH

October 19th, 2011
4:57 pm

“but they’ll make it soon”

Didn’t you say that 5 years ago?

PTC DAWG

October 19th, 2011
4:57 pm

HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAH

October 19th, 2011
4:57 pm

“The Phillies are still the team to beat ”

In the first round, yes.

reckingball

October 19th, 2011
4:58 pm

The Braves are going to win it all next year, WS Champs 2012.
GO BRAVES!!!!!

Heisenberg

October 19th, 2011
4:59 pm

I hate to admit it but I am beginning to lean towards those not on the Heyward bandwagon. 2 years in the bigs and injury issues on par with an aging future HoF 3B. Loosing confidence he can stay healthy. And what is the real J-Hey when healthy? Is it 2010? Or 2011? I am not ready to proclaim a trade for a RF in the offseason, but year 3 is make or break for the kid and it needs to be a short leash. Can always use that pitching currency to get what is needed for RF production during the season.

Rowsdower

October 19th, 2011
4:59 pm

@Cdpridg – The Phillies may be the Yankees of the NL, but they are certainly no shoo-in for Championships. They got runover by the Cardinals (how ironic) and failed to deliver on their hype yet again.

Oh, and i’m no rocket surgeon, but 5 in a row is not halfway to 14 straight…

reckingball

October 19th, 2011
5:00 pm

The mighty Phillies are turning into 1st round chokers.

Heisenberg

October 19th, 2011
5:05 pm

Wonder if Howard’s injury puts the Phillies in play for Pujols/Fielder? They have shown a willingness to spend and Howard could be traded when healthy. Or play Pujols at 3B.

Not with Fredi, Chipper or Zero Heyward

October 19th, 2011
5:07 pm

Won’t make it with Fredi G as the manager, Gimp Jones at 3rd, or Zero Heyward in the outfield – all three big time losers.

JoeFan

October 19th, 2011
5:08 pm

Couldn’t help but laugh at the prospect of the Braves being close to a WS. I guess they are close if you consider St. Louis is not to distant. Doubt they could get tickets though. The Braves are full of questions and holes. Far to many to satisfactorily answer and close in one off season. Unless the Braves find an offense, have their starters go at least 7 innings most nights and employ a coaching staff with drive and intensity, next season will be more of the same.

Jeff R

October 19th, 2011
5:09 pm

“Does a hitting coach really matter?” – Mark Bradley

Highly overrated, like managers.

Comebacks will be key to the Braves moving ahead. Hanson past his injury? Does Jurrjens break his jinx or suffer another injury-hampered season? Can the Braves offload Lowe and open up a rotation spot for one of their talented pitching prospects?

If 40-year-old Chipper Jones plays more than one hundred games – bonus time! Does Heyward’s potential finally turn into production? Does Prado rebound? Do the Braves find a younger defense-capable shortstop to replace Gonzo, or will the left side of the infield feature a 40-year-old third baseman (injury prone) and a 35-year-old shortstop who might just be losing a step?

Questions.

Rowsdower

October 19th, 2011
5:10 pm

The Phillies are in play for every big time free agent because they have to buy their regular season championships. They either bankrupt their farm system knowing they can just buy another player or spend huge on the free agent market. Must be nice having a $200M payroll.

bvillebaron

October 19th, 2011
5:10 pm

Mark:

Your optimism was appreciated. As someone who subscribes to the theory that pitching is the key to success, especially in the playoffs, I agree that this team is not that far off. Whether that can happen in 2012 may be problematic since the team will be paying $29 million to Chipper and Lowe on what last year was a reported total team salary of $87 million so you are right that signing a big free agent does not appear likely.

Hopefully, the team’s new hitting coach can remedy two of the team’s major offensive problems last year: the regression of Jason Heyward and terrible plate discipline and situational hitting generally on the entire team. I also think that some of the workload on the terrific bullpen can be lessened with the return of Medlen and the hoped for improvement in the young starters to pitch more efficiently with more experience and thus pitch deeper into games.

Personnel wise, I think the team’s biggest and perhaps only glaring need is at shortstop. Gonzalez is great defensively, but he strikes out a ton, was one of the worst situational hitters on the team and his continual trotting to first base is maddening. A proven, veteran outfielder may also be useful, but is not critical if Heyward returns to form. Nevertheless, as you point out, the Braves’ offseason needs are much less than every other NL East contender and most of the other contendes in the NL as well.

Hedley Lamarr

October 19th, 2011
5:11 pm

10 Start
20 Print: “We’re getting closer. Wait until next year!”
30 Go to 10

JoeFan

October 19th, 2011
5:15 pm

The Braves are close to the WS if you consider they want have to travel that far to see the Cardinals and Rangers play. With the many holes and questions the Braves have, getting to the WS in 2012 is a pipe dream. Lets see they need offensive improvement from practically every position. They need starting pitching that can go at least 7 innings most nights and they need a coaching staff with drive and intensity. Not going to happen in one offseason.

igotbigballs

October 19th, 2011
5:16 pm

Mark, you must be a fuçking moron.

Arkie

October 19th, 2011
5:19 pm

Mark, I read all your sports collums available. I live in Arkansas and have been a Braves fan for years. You should know more than we do since you have inside info not available to us – but. My thoughts are you win strong up the middle – We have an outstanding CF. Uggla and Gonzo are good defense – not great. Third base Martin and Chipper, Is Heyward another Frenchy. (I think we gave up on him much to soon.) Speed, Defense, Pitching and better hitting will put us in the world series next year. Left and Right fielders will determine where we go next year. We need a 40 home run man.

TN Jeff

October 19th, 2011
5:24 pm

Perhaps the most idiotic thing you’ve ever written and that’s a remarkable achievement.

WhoCares?

October 19th, 2011
5:25 pm

Wish I could agree, MB. But I see lots of problems: physical problems for pitching staff, mismanagement of bullpen, Heyward flopping, Gonzo inadequate, Chipper only a part-timer, McCann’s plate woes…. etc. A lot of questions. And I;m not so sure those Phils’ pitchers are THAT old. I think they can still be winning big in 2015. Less sure about our guys. Hope you’re right.

Kent

October 19th, 2011
5:26 pm

Wonder if Howard’s injury puts the Phillies in play for Pujols/Fielder? They have shown a willingness to spend and Howard could be traded when healthy. Or play Pujols at 3B.

Heisenberg a village is missiing their idiot.