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Atlanta Braves' Win Over Twins Highlights Team Depth, Frank Wren's Brilliance

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Atlanta Braves' Win Over Twins Highlights Team Depth, Frank Wren's Brilliance
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When Frank Wren replaced John Schuerholz as General Manager a couple of years ago, Braves’ fans were undoubtedly skeptical that he could come in and make such a difference. I think now that even the skeptics can be silenced by the performance of Frank Wren in building a ballclub that can be defined by words like "deep," "versatile," and "talented."

Tonight showed just how those words ring true about the 2010 Atlanta Braves.

In Bobby Cox’s last season, the Braves wanted to make a run for the pennant. The roster at the start looked tentatively good, but it remained to be seen if this club could do well. The first month of the season was atrocious for the Braves. No one could seem to hit, pitching fell through more times than not, and a couple of guys carried the load for keeping this Braves squad from hitting the bottom of the pond. Boy, has that changed.

Flash to tonight’s game against the Minnesota Twins. Derek Lowe, a pickup by Frank Wren in the free agent market in January 2009, came out of the gate strong, giving up two runs and keeping the big bashers of the Minnesota lineup subdued. His official line was 7.1 innings, six hits, two runs (both of them earned), three walks, and four strikeouts. He left with the game tied at two runs apiece, with Eric O’Flaherty entering and retiring Justin Morneau.

Then Peter Moylan, who owns a nearly 9.00 ERA in his last 10 appearances (8.57), entered and walked Michael Cuddyer, and displayed his frustration by barking at home plate umpire Jerry Layne on a pitch that was proven to be a ball low and inside. The next pitcher to enter could arguably be considered the best middle reliever the Braves have in their bullpen—Jonny Venters.

Venters came on to face the lefty Jason Kubel and, after running the count to 2-2 and Kubel fouling a couple of balls off, Venters whizzed a 94 mph fastball by Kubel middle of the belt and away to end the inning. The top of the ninth held all of the suspense as the Braves sought to take the lead and keep the game from going into extras. The Braves did not fail to deliver.

After Melky Cabrera popped out, Gregor Blanco walked on four straight pitches. With Martin Prado hitting, Bobby Cox pulled a trick out of his hat and called for a hit-and-run. Prado singled to left and the hustling speedster Gregor Blanco went from first to third easily.

The next play displayed the genius of the man who is calling it quits after this season and shows just why Bobby Cox will be sorely missed next year.

With emerging star Brooks Conrad hitting, Bobby Cox called for a suicide squeeze, sending Blanco from third; Conrad made the perfect bunt and got on base himself, preserving the inning and scoring the go-ahead run from third. Jason Heyward, nursing a sore left thumb, fouled out to third and Brian McCann was blown away by an angry Jose Mijares.

Billy Wagner closed out the ninth to pick up the save and to preserve the win by Jonny Venters.

Key elements to the game included Eric Hinske (free agent this year), Eric O’Flaherty (waiver, 2009), Melky Cabrera [home run] (trade, offseason), Jonny Venters (draft, 2003 [Wren was the senior assistant GM]), Martin Prado (undrafted free agent, 2001), Brooks Conrad (free agent, offseason), Gregor Blanco (undrafted free agent, 2000), and Billy Wagner (free agent, offseason).

This team is chock full of talent that Frank Wren has either directly or indirectly been instrumental in bringing to Atlanta. Wren signed Troy Glaus, who has been exceptional for Atlanta. He signed Eric Hinske, whose clutch performances have vastly improved this Braves’ ballclub.

Brooks Conrad was mired in a Houston Astros organization that just had no room for him; he has since proven the Astros wrong. Eric O’Flaherty was left to die in the Seattle Mariners organization and then placed on the waiver wires; Atlanta deftly snagged this talented lefty at no cost to them. Billy Wagner has bounced back from surgery to regain his fastball and his dominance, going 11 for 13 in save opportunities.

This isn’t Wren’s first rodeo. He was instrumental, with Dave Dombrowski, in constructing the Marlins farm system and the 1997 team that won the World Series. Under Dombrowski, the Marlins’ front office was considered the best in baseball for several years (completely blameless in the firesale by Wayne Huizenga).

Wren was demonized in Baltimore for signing Albert Belle to such a massive contract, but Belle carried a reputation that warranted such a contract. All in all, Frank Wren has amassed a team that is rich in talent, incredibly deep, and, if all elements stay working together as they are now, just might give Bobby Cox the going away present of a lifetime: a World Series ring.

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