GM Frank Wren on the 2012 Braves: ‘We can go all the way’

This is how it ended in 2011. It'll be better this time. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This is how it ended in 2011. It'll be better this time. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We start with the obvious: Yes, the Braves are in great shape, but they were in great shape a year ago and collapsed in a heap. They awoke Saturday with the same record (70-49) as they held after 119 games in 2011, and then they owned a six-game lead over St. Louis and San Francisco for the one and only wild-card berth.

This year there are two wild cards, and the Braves led Los Angeles by 5 1/2 games for the second WC entering Saturday night’s game at Turner Field. And they were 3 1/2 games closer to the first-place team in the National League East — Philadelphia last year, Washington now — than in August 2011.

Baseball Prospectus gauges the Braves’ chances of making the 2012 playoffs at 96.7 percent. So, to put it bluntly: Unless this team authors a flop of historic dimensions for the second consecutive year — and what are the odds of that? — it will qualify for the postseason. And what’s apt to happen then?

Said Frank Wren, the general manager: “[The playoffs are] a function of when do you play well, and if we’re playing well then clearly we’ve got a team that can go all the way.”

He means to a World Series championship, something the Atlanta Braves managed in 1995 but never since. Given that the Braves haven’t won a playoff series since 2001, and given that this team hasn’t had a sniff of first place in its division since May 21, that might sound ambitious. It shouldn’t.

The Braves have the second-best record in baseball since the All-Star break, just ahead of the Nationals, whom they’re chasing, and just behind the Reds, whom they might well face in the Division Series. The Braves have lost one of the past 12 series. After 81 games, they were three games above .500; they were 21 above as of Saturday afternoon.

Said Wren: “We’re playing good baseball. We’re catching the ball really well; we have speed, and our bullpen has been very good. And our starting pitching has rounded into shape. We’re seeing the consistency we didn’t see earlier in the season.”

Then this: “We’re also really good in situational hitting, the two-out hits. We’re really good in situations that are characteristic of good teams.”

Through 119 games, these Braves have been much better at scoring (558 runs) than they were a year ago (498 runs) but less good at preventing runs (464, as opposed to 435 in 2011). But the rotation that powered the Braves through the first four months of last season had begun to fray by August. Tommy Hanson worked his final start on Aug. 6, and Jair Jurrjens would throw his last pitch of 2011 on Aug. 30.

Wren: “There was more concern about our starting pitching a year ago, and our lineup had more holes. And we didn’t play as good defensively.”

By the end of August 2011, the Braves were wobbling. (Though the Cardinals’ chase wouldn’t take wings until they swept the Braves in early September.) The 2012 Braves are gathering strength. They mightn’t boast a real No. 1 starter, but they have enough rotational options that they won’t get caught short this time. Closer Craig Kimbrel, who blew three saves in September, is on pace to work 61 games, not the 79 of last season. And this offense generates enough runs that not every game is a hairbreadth thing.

With Ben Sheets and Paul Maholm and Kris Medlen in the rotation and Reed Johnson on the bench, these Braves are better than last year’s team. That doesn’t mean they still can’t blow this, but the belief here is that they won’t. (For the record, the belief here was that the 2011 Braves would still make the playoffs with two games remaining.) They’d have to fall apart even more comprehensively than they did a year ago, and I’m not sure that’s possible.

By Mark Bradley

143 comments Add your comment

Zach

August 18th, 2012
6:26 pm

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
6:29 pm

Vino Fino

August 18th, 2012
6:32 pm

Love it!!! Confidence and a winning attitude should start at the top, and I for one am thrilled to see Frank Wren set the bar high for what he expects from this team. Hard to argue with him the way they are playing right now. The next week and a half will tell us a lot, but this is a much more balanced and complete team than either of the last two seasons.

Vino Fino

August 18th, 2012
6:37 pm

…and I don’t think you can discount the Chipper / emotional factor. To a man, I think this team would stand in front of a bus to give Chipper another shot at a championship. If they can get to postseason, I’ll gladly take my chances with this squad.

Jeff

August 18th, 2012
6:37 pm

I just hate the fact that we could be leading the 2nd place wild card team by 5 games or more and if we lose the one game playoff we’re done. Not exactly a dream scenario.

Chase

August 18th, 2012
6:41 pm

What Jeff said.

Old Squid

August 18th, 2012
6:45 pm

This team may be better than last year but there is no way they are World Series winners.
Wren’s comments are what you would expect from a general manager but if he really believes what he says he needs to put down the crack pipe.

dawg4u

August 18th, 2012
6:46 pm

Good column Mark. I agree that Sheets, Maholm and Medlen in the rotation should really minimize any reoccurence of what happened last year. Heyward is much better and Chipper having a farewell season to end all farewell seasons. Kimbrel is lights out and the bullpen is strong. I see no reason for this team or it’s fans not to believe that we can go all the way. This is the second straight year that we have been in the same division with the team with the best record in baseball. I still think we could catch them but it will be tough. We should definitely have the one of the wild cards locked up though. I may have typed those same words last year but I do feel much more confident about this year’s team!

Can Of Corn

August 18th, 2012
6:47 pm

THE FREDI FACTOR

The Braves will never “go all the way” with Fredi as the manager.

Dave

August 18th, 2012
6:52 pm

Now you need to do the column that lays out the case for not blowing the playoffs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan and will be happy, kinda, if they get in and lose the first series.

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
6:54 pm

There’s a major difference between one wild card and two. I think we can all agree on that.

BigDawg

August 18th, 2012
6:58 pm

It’s time! Hope there are no ground ball errors in the World Series that cost us a game where one of our superstars still on the team says he did the best he could and if that wasn’t good enough, then…

rainman

August 18th, 2012
7:03 pm

The one-game wild card playoff is nerve-racking — Can I assume that the team with the better record plays at home?

Matt

August 18th, 2012
7:08 pm

Phhhhfffffftttt…not gonna happen. Too many questions on rotation and the offense is hit and miss, either tearing it off or struggling for hits.

Stinger 2

August 18th, 2012
7:15 pm

Can of Corn: Fredi has this team 21 games above .500 with the 4th best record in MLB and you say, with him as manager, the Braves cannot “go all the way”. Please back your words up and tell us why with specific reasons.
Please do not say because he is stupid, etc. Thank you.

rainman

August 18th, 2012
7:15 pm

I guess it would be Hudson for that one game. With the ’so called’ six man rotation – they should be able to avoid a ‘tired arm’ by the end of the season.

Stinger 2

August 18th, 2012
7:18 pm

Can of Corn: Another thought: Who would you get to take the “Braves all the way” if Fredi cannot do it? Do you want to replace him now? Great
post. NOT.

Harvey

August 18th, 2012
7:18 pm

Anybody know why Brian is not catching tonight. Hurt? Injured? Tired?

Remarkable

August 18th, 2012
7:25 pm

I’ll say something that might sound obvious to some and others might disagree with. Chipper Jones is the key. The players wanted to win for Bobby, but now they want to follow this giant of a player into the post season. If Chipper stays healthy they can go all the way. He can lead them by his tireless example. However, if he gets injured to the point that his season is over and he is relegated to a cheer leader, then I doubt that they will play up to and above their potential.
With Chipper the sky is the limit, without him, it’s going to be bumpy ride.
Stay Healthy Chipper. We are counting on you!

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
7:27 pm

Sore shoulder on McCann.

Son of Sammy Davis Jr, Jr

August 18th, 2012
7:27 pm

I’m waiting to see what they do in the post season before I give my analysis on this season.

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
7:27 pm

Team with the better record gets the wild-card game at home. And the wild-card winner gets Games 1 and 2 of the next series on its diamond.

Just Asking?

August 18th, 2012
7:29 pm

Mark, do you think that’s a problem. I don’t. Ross has been great and it will not hurt McCann to rest a little. Ross can carry the load for awhile. We don’t loose much with him in the lineup and it will do him good to get the reps.

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
7:31 pm

I think David Ross is a good No. 2 catcher. But I’d rather have McCann as my No. 1.

Bravesfan54

August 18th, 2012
7:34 pm

Old Squid – that’s not ‘homerism’. Wren said ‘could’, not would or should. Look at last year’s Cardinals – you can call them a “fluke”, but the rules of spelling have changed. Fluke is spelled “World Series Champions”. If your point is, that this team is only the 4th best in baseballs – wow, what an insight! Was your clue their current W-L percentage – means nothing, as you ought to know if you follow sports at all. It is the “hot team” who has gas in the tank and a fair wind when the shadows lengthen.

dawg4u

August 18th, 2012
7:38 pm

I didn’t type that we would get one of the two wild cards last year but the only one last year. My mistake. It was a little haunting when you reported that the record this year after 119 games was the same as last year’s – but still we have so much more this year. Bourne, Heyward and Freeman much better and if Uggla can catch some kind of streak for the last month and a half would be a bonus. That plus the guys kicking in a little extra to win one for the Chipper in his last season. We could be destiny’s darlings.

Just Asking?

August 18th, 2012
7:38 pm

McCann is not hitting and he has said that he has a cyst and a tear in his shoulder. All that says that he should rest and not push it when we do have by your statement “A good No. 2 catcher.” Right?

zing

August 18th, 2012
7:41 pm

Enter your comments here

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
7:42 pm

The Dodgers just hit back-to-back-to-back home runs off Sheets, by the way.

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
7:43 pm

Hanley Ramirez to center. James Loney to right. Luis Cruz to left. Hitting to all fields.

zing

August 18th, 2012
7:44 pm

Dagnabit…. not used to using this Nexus thing yet.

I think McCann was directing some frustration at Gonzalez for being out of the lineup that he’s really feeling because his season has kind of derailed on him. I also think that he keenly (and correctly) feels extra pressure with contract negotiations upcoming. He’s slumping at the wrong time, I.e.

Just Asking?

August 18th, 2012
7:45 pm

Is this just a bad inning or is it going to be a bad game?

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
7:47 pm

Well, if I knew that, I’d be … a lot smarter than I am.

George

August 18th, 2012
7:49 pm

Never say “never.” It’s been my experience having watched the Braves since their arrival in Atlanta that absolutely anything is possible. They are better than most major league teams right now.

Mr. Mike

August 18th, 2012
7:50 pm

The shine is starting to come off of Ben Sheets here lately. I still like him in the rotatation but no spring training and starting halfway through the season – after two years of not playing at all is starting to show.

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
7:55 pm

If Sheets doesn’t win another game, he has already helped the Braves big-time.

Old Squid

August 18th, 2012
7:57 pm

Bravesfan54 – You’re right about one thing. It’s the hot team at the end that gets it done. This team has had a hot streak in the second half but it is very unlikely that they will keep this pace for the rest of the season. Chipper’s work has been impressive but it will be surprising if he stays healthy to the end.
I still don’t think they would handle the Reds or the Nationals in the playoffs.

Pay Martin Prado

August 18th, 2012
7:58 pm

Pay the man please. 5 year contract.

George Stein

August 18th, 2012
7:59 pm

The Braves have experienced a twenty point increase in OBP; it might be that that’s driving the increased offensive performance.

Mr. Mike

August 18th, 2012
8:01 pm

The Braves can absolutely be World Series winners. Once you get to the playoffs it just takes the right guys getting hot and staying hot- and a little luck.

Mr. Mike

August 18th, 2012
8:03 pm

No doubt Sheets has helped the Braves bigtime. Is he under contract for next year?

OldFart

August 18th, 2012
8:14 pm

See the disgusted look on Chipper’s face when Freddie hit the grounder with a 3-0 count.

Larry

August 18th, 2012
8:29 pm

Not with this manager, second only to Ozzie Guillen as the dumbest manager in professional sports.

Larry

August 18th, 2012
8:29 pm

Not with this manager, second only to Ozzie Guillen as the dumbest manager in professional sports.

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
8:36 pm

When last I checked, Ozzie G. had won a World Series.

Supes

August 18th, 2012
8:46 pm

Wild card 2 is what worries me…if the Braves can’t catch the Nationals…they could theoretically finish with the 2nd best record in the NL and still get “punished” by the cruel baseball gods in a “1 game playoff” of a charade…I’ve got a bad feeling about that whole wild card deal…that’s why I’m hoping that the Nationals hit a “cool spell” here sometime in the future and the Braves can overtake them for first place in the NL East.

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
8:51 pm

Fun with numbers: The Dodgers’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against Sheets tonight is .000. They lead 6-1.

Mark Bradley

August 18th, 2012
8:51 pm

From Charles Odum of the Associated Press: “Sheets’ BABIP is better than his ba-boom (four homers).”

COOPER

August 18th, 2012
8:52 pm

That was some stupid D@@@ pitching right there.

NORRIS CHUCK

August 18th, 2012
8:52 pm

Supes,

I know what you mean. Im also not happy with that 1 game playoff. MLB needs to change that. I just dont think its fair for a team to finally get to the playoffs and go home after one game. At least let them play a 3 game playoff.