NLDS Playoffs Preview and Predictions – Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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Atlanta Braves (96-66) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)

Keys for the Braves: Their young starting pitchers must handle the pressure; get the ball to Craig Kimbrel; hope that B.J. Upton continues his past playoff performances; don’t let etiquette get in the way.

Tim Hudson was lost for the year when his ankle was stepped on by Eric Young Jr. of the Mets. Paul Maholm was left off the division series roster entirely. That leaves the Braves with a preliminary starting rotation for the NLDS of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and…Freddy Garcia(?). Yes. The Braves left Maholm off the roster in favor of Garcia. In truth, Garcia might actually be a better bet than Maholm. He’s got the experience and won’t be rattled, plus he pitched well in his time with the Braves. We’ll see if the Braves follow through with the decision if they’re down two games to one in Los Angeles.

For the record, I’d have started Teheran in the opening game.

The young pitchers have to pitch well. It sounds simplistic, but it’s true. The Braves offense is shaky and they’ve taken one of the primary home run hitters, Dan Uggla, off the roster in favor of Elliot Johnson. If they don’t get serviceable starting pitching, they’re not going to win.

Kimbrel is a machine in the closer’s role and the rest of the bullpen has been solid. One thing manager Fredi Gonzalez has truly improved upon is how he handles his relievers.

B.J. Upton found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated along with his brother Justin Upton and Kate Upton. The only reason I can see for this is to sell a few more magazines because Kate Upton is on the cover. If that was the idea, then perhaps they should have put her in a bikini and had her lounging around the batting cage in various states of undress. Otherwise, you can download much racier images of her from the internet and not spend the money to get SI.

On the field, B.J. Upton had a history of doing well in the playoffs with the Rays when he had seven career homers in 25 post-season games. It was also B.J. who didn’t hustle on a double play ball in the World Series against the Phillies five years ago, so either or both of his on-field M.O. – the lazy player or the playoff masher – could show up.

I didn’t discuss this when it happened, but now is as good a time as any: precisely who do the Braves think they are? For the second time in September, the Braves got into a confrontation with the opposing team because of a breach of etiquette. First it was with the Marlins after pitcher Jose Fernandez homered and stood admiring it. The second was with Brewers’ outfielder Carlos Gomez for doing the same thing and yelled at Maholm as he was running around the bases. There was history between the two following a hit by pitcher earlier in the season. Freddie Freeman had a fit, Brian McCann intercepted Gomez before he got to the plate and gave him a loud, red-faced lecture and Reed Johnson took a swing at Gomez.

In both cases, for some inexplicable reason, the opposing teams and players apologized to the Braves.

Why?

This attitude is bringing back memories of the days before Chipper Jones became a respected and popular player throughout baseball and his mouth and overt love for himself made him one of the most reviled players in the game. The Braves of the 1990s were arrogant, condescending and obnoxious. It wasn’t done in a blustery, cocky way either. It was a smug, “we’re better bred than you” type of attitude you might see at Georgia Republican fundraiser where Newt Gingrich was the guest of honor.

Who elected them as keepers of etiquette? And why don’t they pull that stuff with a team like the Phillies who would tell them to go screw themselves if they did?

I’d like to see what the Braves are going to do if Yasiel Puig does a little showboating in the playoffs. Are they going to pull the same nonsense? If they do, someone’s going to get drilled because Zack Greinke doesn’t put up with that stuff and the Dodgers have a few tough guys of their own. Suffice it to say there won’t be an apology.

Keys for the Dodgers: Get good starting pitching; hand the game straight to Kenley Jansen; don’t change their game plan.

With Clayton Kershaw, Greinke an Hyun-Jin Ryu in the first three games of the series, the Dodgers have a distinct advantage over their younger counterparts. Kershaw has been all-but unhittable; Greinke not far behind; and Ryu is the type of pitcher who shines in the post-season with his crafty lefty stuff. All three are mean and all three will only have to worry about certain segments of the Braves lineup.

The Dodgers set-up men have been inconsistent, but their closer is dominating. It’s important to get depth from the starters and try to hand it right over to Jansen.

There has been concern about the potency of the Dodgers’ offense because Matt Kemp is out and Andre Ethier is hurting. It’s not something to worry about. They have enough power with Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe, a player who has hit some big homers in the post-season. They shouldn’t worry about making up for the power that’s missing. They have enough to get by.

What will happen:

The Braves clearly looked at the pluses and minuses of playing Uggla at second base. He’s become like Carlos Pena without the defense. He either hits a home run, walks or strikes out and is a defensive liability. With both Uggla and B.J. Upton batting under .200 this season, much has been made of the combined amounts of money they’re making – over $25 million in 2013 – for that dreadful production. Suffice it to say that if the Braves didn’t win and hadn’t been so adept at developing prospects, GM Frank Wren would have a lot to answer for.

Johnson isn’t a particularly strong defensive second baseman either and he doesn’t hit much. This says more about Uggla at this juncture than it does about Johnson. It’s a risky move to pull and if the other bats don’t hit, they’re going to regret it.

What it comes down to for the Braves is if the Upton brothers hit and Jason Heyward is completely recovered from his beaning. The Braves are notoriously vulnerable to lefties and the Dodgers have two lefty starters and two lefties in the bullpen.

Ramirez has been on a mission this season; Gonzalez is back to the player he was before he joined the Red Sox; Puig is the kind of player who might use the post-season as his grand stage and hit five homers in the series; and the Dodgers starting pitching is simply better.

The Braves have too many holes in the lineup, too many vulnerabilities, too many questions surrounding their young starters and too much animosity has been built up against them throughout baseball for a veteran team like the Dodgers to back down.

The Dodgers will send the Braves back to charm school.

PREDICTION: DODGERS IN FOUR




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2019: A Beane Odyssey

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I hadn’t realized that running the Oakland Athletics had become the equivalent of a Federal job where you can’t get fired no matter how poorly you perform.

Or does Billy Beane have tenure like a slacking college professor who can’t be fired no matter what he does?

Here’s an idea for the Moneyball sequel: A sci-fi fantasy with President Newt Gingrich helping the Athletics get their new park…on his moon colony.

It would be just as realistic as Moneyball.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that the Athletics made the decision to extend Beane’s contract to the absurd length that he’ll be there until 2019 since he’s pretty much their only marketable commodity. It’s beside the point that the market is the brainless and agenda-driven that either believe the fantasy of Moneyball or have interests coinciding with the story being seen as accurate.

The prototypical perception has become reality. The phrase, “the man must know what he’s doing to have stayed so long and to have had the success he’s had” only fits if you ignore the facts out of convenience or because you don’t know any better.

Beane’s success was limited to a brief time in the early part of this century when few if any other clubs were using the same strategies that he implemented out of necessity. Once the rest of baseball caught onto what he was doing and started spending for that which he once got for nothing, he could no longer “card count” or trick other clubs into giving him valuable pieces for his refuse.

Only Beane knows whether he actually believes the nonsense in Moneyball the book and movie. Has he become so delusional, drunk with adulation and blind worship that he can look into the mirror like a hopelessly arrogant and narcissistic personality and think that there’s always a reason why he’s faltered and remains a brilliant baseball mind in spite of his team’s decline into irrelevance?

He has to be smart enough to realize that, in other clubs’ front offices, he’s a running joke who’s gotten his comeuppance for taking part in Michael Lewis’s self-indulgent fantasy and profiting from it in terms of a Teflon persona where, in a large segment of the baseball watching population, he can still do no wrong; that he’s a worldwide phenomenon everywhere but where it truly matters: in building a successful baseball team.

How about a stat guy endeavor to create a formula for Wins Above Replacement for GMs? Would that give a gauge on Beane? Would they be willing to make it public if it was calculated accurately and reflected his mediocrity and worse since 2006?

The new pompous and condescending dismissal of anyone and everyone who tries to debate the merits of Moneyball and Beane is to say something snide like, “Yah, Beane wrote Moneyball…” as if all who criticize the book and movie think that.

It’s a strawman.

Only the incurably stupid or total neophyte baseball fan thinks Beane wrote Moneyball.

Well, there’s Joe Morgan—another frequent and easy target for their vitriol because, as great a player as he was on the field with uncanny instincts, he’s one of the typical formerly great players who can do, but not explain. Someone made the mistake of putting Morgan in a broadcast booth and things spiraled from there to him being the totem for the “non-analytical” wing in baseball.

Morgan doesn’t represent me. I represent me.

Beane didn’t write Moneyball. But does that acquit him of all charges that he took part in the book and didn’t clarify the reality of the situation? Or did he go with the flow and choose not to correct his fictional biography and plan of attack because he was making a lot of money away from the field and found himself achieving the fame and fortune that eluded him in his failed career as a player?

And what of the future? What of the next seven years that Beane is now under contract with the Athletics?

Let’s say that at some point in those seven years, the Athletics get a new park; the young players they accrued from this latest rebuild pan out and they’re again contenders; or they even win a championship by (let’s be realistic) 2016.

Then what?

Will his “genius” be validated? Or will the context be applied to say he hadn’t made the playoffs for 10 years, didn’t make it back because everyone else was aware of and using the same techniques that he’d applied and that he only managed to win again once he had a new park and some money to spend on players.

He can’t win if he does win.

When Beane turned down the Red Sox after initially accepting the job in 2002, he did so because, as the movie says, he wanted to stay near his young daughter. But he also stayed in Oakland because it was easier to stay in Oakland and work without the inherent pressure and expectations that would’ve been present from day 1 in Boston. Those pressures would’ve swallowed him up and disproven Moneyball by 2003.

Then what?

So he’s staying in Oakland and it’s not because he’s “happy” there—he wanted the Cubs job this past winter and the Cubs didn’t want him—no one wants him.

Except of course, the A’s.

He’ll be there through 2019.

Maybe by then the bandwagon jumpers will have abandoned him and moved onto something else.

Maybe by then the masses will accept the truth.

Or they’ll have found another way to shift the goalposts to suit themselves, their demagogue and his chronicler.

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