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2011 Atlanta Braves Offense: What Fredi Gonzalez Learned from Charlie Manuel

The 2011 Opening Day lineup is out, and it’s a little surprising.

1. Martin Prado (R/LF)

2. Nate McLouth (L/CF)

3. Chipper Jones (B/3B)

4. Brian McCann (L/C)

5. Dan Uggla (R/2B)

6. Jason Heyward (L/RF)

7. Alex Gonzalez (R/SS)

8. Freddie Freeman (L/1B)

To see McLouth batting second and Heyward batting sixth was unexpected to me. I expect McCann to move back a spot since he has an off day every five days. Uggla was to be in the fourth spot, allowing the Braves to have a set top four.

Still, the lineup is fairly balanced, and the constant changing of right to left minimizes the effects of opposing teams platooning their bullpens. I could have sworn I’d seen something similar before.

So you have two guys with average power, some speed and okay OBPs leading off. Following them are four plus hitters that one bad pitch could cost you three or four runs in a single inning. Hey that sounds like the…Phillies?

Now, do not get me wrong, I do not expect the Braves to have a guy steal 40 bases in a season, nor do I expect anyone to rack up 45 HRs (well, not this season at least). The Phillies had a frightening offense in the past seasons, and it would be ridiculous to expect the Braves to score almost 900 runs in a season.

On the other hand, the Braves’ top six are good enough to make the plan work. Think about how much stress a pitcher is going to be under if he’s got less than two outs with either Prado or McLouth on base and the heart of the lineup coming to bat. I can just see Jonathan Sanchez spazzing out on the mound again.

The amount of pitches alone, going from Jones to Heyward, is going to raise pitch counts severely. To make up for that, you can expect Gonzalez and Freeman to see a few more fastballs. If that happens, then the Braves could see nice production from the bottom of the lineup as well.

On the same note, you can expect the Braves to see more middle relief arms. The Braves could end up scoring quite a few runs in the sixth or seventh inning.

If this lineup performs up to its expectations, Fredi Gonzalez should send Charlie Manual a box of fine cigars and a 20-year-old single malt.

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The 2010 Atlanta Braves: Playing Through Injuries

Over the season, I’ve had to hear the media lament over key injuries. Surprisingly, when the unlucky injury-bugged teams are mentioned, the Atlanta Braves are normally overlooked.

For most baseball fans, they would look at you as if you were crazy if you mentioned that Braves have battled through several key injuries.  The Braves are believed to be lucky when it comes to the injury bug, with the exception of Chipper Jones.

I can’t blame them, since little has been mentioned about the Braves’ injuries. So far, they’ve lost Chipper Jones and Kris Medlen to season-ending injuries.  Jair Jurrjens, Eric O’Flaherty, and Matt Diaz have spent over a combined five months on the DL.  Those are pretty big losses for a team that relies heavily on pitching and situational hitting. 

Don’t forget that the Braves have lost production from players playing through injuries as well.  Jason Heyward and Troy Glaus are the best examples in this regard.  Key support players, such as David Ross and Takahashi Saito, have had to take time to heal as well.

This loss of quality pitching and offensive production is a pretty big challenge for any team. How well a team deals with these challenges is normally what separates great teams from good teams.

The 2010 Braves have faced these types of challenges better than anyone else in the NL.  That’s why they’ve been sitting in first place for the past two-and-a-half months.  It’s also why I feel we’ve yet to see the Atlanta Braves play their best baseball. 



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Baseball vs. Soccer: Seven Reasons Why the MLB Is Better Than FIFA

My two favorite sports when I was growing up were Baseball and Soccer. Today, I went the extra mile. I simultaneously watched the Braves game and the World Cup Final.  After both were over, I realized I was happier while concentrating on a game that the Braves were losing than watching the Championship game.

Similar to past lists why Baseball is better than Football, I composed a list why the MLB is better than FIFA.

1. MLB Umpires are better than FIFA Refs.

CB Buckner’s strike zone is more consistent than what constituted a foul in the World Cup Final.  Even with bad umpires, they will call a strike if its in the middle of the strike zone. FIFA Refs seem so busy looking at dives and minor physical interactions that they miss a lot blatant fouls around them.

2. MLB Managers have more stones than FIFA coaches.

MLB Managers are not afraid to be removed from a game when it comes to protecting their players, it’s actually expected for a manager to stick up for his guys. FIFA coaches seem to stay out of the way no matter what happens. I understand that FIFA has rules and such, but as a coach, your guys are more important than the rule book.

3. Baseball is an equal oportunity game.

I’m not speaking in the politically correct sense.  I mean that both teams have an equal amount of opportunities score. Also, in Baseball you will not play a man down simply because one guy screwed up.  Each team will field nine people. Unless for some reason, they choose not to.  The Yankees are not going to win the World Series because the other team had to play without a Left Fielder.

4. ‘It’s not over till it’s over.’

Baseball games do not end in ties (unless the Commissioner makes a bone head decision). You play until an inning past the eighth ends with one team having a higher score than the other.  There is no limited over time, nor is their a home run derby to decide the winner.  You play the game till it’s finished.

5. The other team doesn’t score for you.

Of course, with every sport there is a way to score on the opposing teams mistakes.  Still, in baseball you have to physically do the work to get to home plate.  You do not sit idly by while an opposing player tags home by mistake.

6. MLB players are professional athletes.  FIFA players are amateur athletes

This is not a knock against the physical demands of Soccer.  I’ll be the first to admit that it’s the most demanding physically with the exception of Aussie rules football.  It’s not physical ability that separates a professional from an amateur.

My point is that Professional players, when they fall down, dust themselves off and get back in the game.  A amateur will lay on the ground crying and wailing like a two-year-old at a Wal-mart toy section.

On a side note, I know there are exceptions in both cases, it’s just that taking a dive is not a norm in MLB.

7. Sportsmanship is a hallowed thing on the field for MLB.

Don’t believe me on this? MLB is more aggressive against PED’s, gambling, and unfair conduct than any other sport organization I can think of.  If you still don’t believe me, just look at Pete Rose and Carlos Zambrono.

Both teams in the World Cup Final should be ashamed of their play.  Baseball players do not push and shove when the umpire has his back turned.  You don’t see a first baseman grabbing onto a base runner.  Most of the time, you see the first baseman give the opposing a player a ‘good game’ after he gets a single.  

In conclusion

While I still like soccer, I’m less likely to watch FIFA events.  I hope that no kid was watching the World Cup Final and decides to emulate the players in that game. That’s probably the biggest tragedy of all.

Remember, if a team wins the World Series they did it through team work and physical effort, regardless of how they put the team together.  Any team that wins the World Cup did it by crying, whining, and were the best at not being caught by the ref.

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