Braves with the Most to Prove Down the Stretch
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The end is near. No this is not an apocalyptic warning, but the simple truth for the baseball regular season. With less than 25 games remaining, there is still plenty of time for players to make a statement. Last season the offense disappeared and the bullpen collapsed.
What will happen this season and which players have the most to prove as this year winds down?
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Michael Bourn has had a great season so far. While he isn't hitting .300 anymore, he is still crucial to the Braves success. Michael Bourn will hit the free agency waters when this season wraps up. If the habitually frugal Braves' ownership is to open up its coin purse, then Michael Bourn is going to play at such a high level that the brass throw caution to the wind and commit to the speedy centerfielder.
If he finishes this season with a whimper, then the Braves will be less likely to pursue the speedster. The ironic aspect of the whole performance situation is that if he really shines at the tail end of the season, then his asking price will go up, which in turn will lower the likelihood the Braves will be able to afford him.
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The crafty lefty acquired from the Cubs before the trade deadline will have a lot to prove as the season winds down. In his remaining starts, he has to prove that he is deserving of a spot in the playoff rotation first and foremost. After that, Maholm will have to prove that his $6M dollar team option is worth picking up.
Kris Medlen has asserted himself as a rotation staple going forward. Mike Minor's improvements are a great sign of things to come for the Braves future. Tommy Hanson is under contract for a few more years and Brandon Beachy should return at some point next year. If the Braves decide to bring back the always reliable Tim Hudson, then the number of available spots in the starting rotation begin to become more and more scarce.
The baby Braves that are knocking on the door to become future rotation starters is something the management can't ignore. Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and even Sean Gilmartin are all intriguing options for the Braves as they look to improve on the success of 2012.
Maholm will need to prove to the team that he is worthy of another shot in 2013.
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This has been the worst statistical season for Brian McCann thus far in his career. For both the Braves and McCann, it could not come at a worse time. The Braves have needed offense production to support their dominant pitching, but it has been lacking as of late. Brian McCann is struggling right before the Braves have to make a decision on who will be manning the catcher position for years to come.
McCann's body of work will probably ensure the team pulls the trigger on his $12M option for the 2013 season, but beyond that is uncertain. If McCann has another poor season next year, will the Braves be willing to commit so much money to a struggling catcher with a history of injury problems that will be entering his 30's? One of the Braves' top prospects is a talented catcher by the name of Christain Bethancourt.
Hopefully this recent offensive outburst is a sign that McCann is out of the woods and back to his old self. We will see how he performs as the rest of the season continues.
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Jonny Venters will need to shine down the stretch to prove his is still worthy to be the set-up man in this stellar bullpen. His most recent implosion against the Brewers does nothing to help his cause. Venters was the most dominant set-up man in baseball at one point in 2011. After his collapse down the stretch in 2011, he has never really regained that form.
With all of the live arms in the Braves minor league system, such as Billy Bullock and J.R. Graham, the team has other options they could give a look in the bullpen next season. Venters will need to put a string of good relief appearances in order to re-earn the confidence of the team and the fan base.
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Whether or not he has just been a victim of bad luck or not, Uggla needs to step up in a big way. As of right now, his production is laughable. With the size of his current contract and expectations when the team acquired him, his lack of production is leaving a sour taste in the mouth of fans.
No one is more aware of his struggles than Uggla. He has already lost the starting gig once this year, and if he doesn't pick it up, you may see him start games on the bench once the playoffs start. If Uggla is to reemerge as the hitter he was in Miami, then the Braves lineup becomes a lot more potent. If Uggla is unable to recapture the ability to hit as he used to, then the Braves chances of making a deep run in the playoffs greatly decreases.
Uggla has the most to prove as this season winds down. For all Braves fans, let's hope he rises to the challenge.