Atlanta Braves' World Series Design Is Fatally Flawed
If the Atlanta Braves are serious about completing the championship journey they supposedly started during the offseason, they're going to need some help.
Preferably, that help will come in the form of a top-of-the-lineup bat that doesn't strike out at an eye-bulging pace. Another front-line starter for the rotation wouldn't be a bad option, either. Brandon Beachy is on his way back from Tommy John surgery, though, so Atlanta should be covered there.
The Braves' recent trip to AT&T Park showed that their grand plan of stocking an offense full of dangerous hitters who happen to swing and miss a lot isn't so grand.
Atlanta came into San Francisco and dropped three of four, managing to beat only the struggling Ryan Vogelsong—and even Vogey fanned seven members of the opposition.
That stat was even more impressive (or troubling) considering the right-hander recorded only 13 outs total. Put it another way, Vogelsong got tuned up and still had a nice pile of strikeouts when the mushroom cloud cleared.
As for the other three starters?
Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum each matched Vogelsong's seven strikeouts while Madison Bumgarner one-upped everyone by fanning a whopping 11 Braves. All three won their starts.
Dig deeper into the numbers and you'll see the trio combined for 22 innings pitched, 16 baserunners allowed, three earned runs allowed and surrendered only a single home run by Cainer to Brian McCann immediately after being staked a six-run lead.
No big deal, right?
Bumgarner has been holding steady through the early going, but after the 23-year-old, San Francisco's next-best starter has been none other than Barry Zito, who was the only starting arm Atlanta didn't see.
Vogelsong has been downright awful as the wheels may have finally come off his magical ride.
In truth, the Braves came to The City and got shredded by a talented pitching staff that's a bit unsteady at the moment. Although worrisome, it's only May and Atlanta has cooled off of late after a scorching start to its 2013 campaign. The series might be easily, and justifiably, dismissed as a minor blip in a long season.
Furthermore, take a gander at the other teams giving Atlanta a run for its strikeout money. The Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox look solid, but they're both mired in extended slumps. The rest aren't exactly a Who's Who of World Series hopefuls until you get down to the Washington Nationals.
Of course, the A's defy logic while the Red Sox and Nats have bona fide aces atop their rotations.
The thing is, nobody strikes out 150 times in the span of 600 plate appearances by accident. If you're failing to put the ball in play that often, it's because you have a hole in your swing and/or poor plate discipline.
At the moment, the Atlanta Braves have six players on such a pace and that doesn't include the injured Jason Heyward, who eclipsed the mark in 2012.
Granted, these are not the sort of problems that slow down a team much over the regular season. Lots of strikeouts usually accompany lots of power and those elements tend to even out in the long run. A quick look through the history books supports this notion.
In 2012, the A's, Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Braves and Cincinnati Reds were all in the top 10 as far as whiffs and all made the playoffs. In 2011, the Arizona Diamondbacks were in the top 10 while the Tampa Bay Rays were knocking on the door, and both made the postseason. The year before, the Rays and Reds were again among the MLB leaders and both were back in the playoffs.
That's a list of nine teams and not a single one made it to a championship series.
That brings us back to the pitching. For a good or confident pitcher, either a hole in a batter's swing or poor plate discipline is like an invitation to steal. Combined, they're a direct order.
I'd bet good money that when a major league hurler is feeling right, he'd rather see a swing-from-the-heels-in-all-counts type like Dan Uggla instead of a pesky little gnat like Marco Scutaro, who's going to shorten up and protect once he loses count leverage.
Uggla's certainly the bigger threat to go yard, but if a pitcher makes his pitches, he's heading back to the dugout swearing under his breath. A slappy hitter like Scutaro will work the pitch count by spoiling a number of nasty offerings and can beat a pitcher for a hit without needing a mistake to do so.
Under the right circumstances, the high-strikeout sluggers are low-hanging fruit.
How will the Braves' season end?
Well, guess what you see an awful lot of in the postseason? Good pitchers who are also confident.
Whether they've been so all year or got hot at the right time, it's often superlative pitching that carries a team into and through the postseason. As the saying goes, good pitching beats good hitting every time. Admittedly, the saying is wrong because good hitting does win from time to time, but it's close enough.
That's no good for Atlanta because it is World Series or bust at Turner Field.
The Upton moves were not made to add a few wins and advance a level deeper into the playoffs. They were made to turn visions of the Commissioner's Trophy into a reality.
According to the current plan, however, that's not happening.
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