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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8:25 AM–MLB Deadline Day

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Let’s take a brief look at the trades that have been completed up to now, at 8:25 AM EST.

White Sox acquire Francisco Liriano from the Twins

It’s increasingly looking as if Twins’ “interim” GM Terry Ryan probably should’ve stayed retired. Getting Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez for a lefty arm in Liriano—even one who’s a pending free agent—is a nonexistent return on a potential difference-maker down the stretch. And why trade him 3 days before the deadline? Why not wait? The only situation in which to jump at a trade that early is when there’s an offer on the table not to be refused. This was a deal that the Twins should’ve refused, or at least waited to see if anything else came up.

Blue Jays trade OF Travis Snider to the Pirates for RHP Brad Lincoln

Snider was a 1st round draft pick of then-Blue Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi in 2006 and is the prototypical lefty masher with pop that the supposedly stat-savvy once coveted. He’s gotten chances to play with the Blue Jays and shown flashes of being a 15-20 homer man, but has also endured horrific slumps. Snider’s more of a Matt Stairs-type than an everyday player.

Lincoln was also a 1st round pick in 2006 who failed as a starter—amid blame being doled on former Pirates’ pitching coach Joe Kerrigan for changing his mechanics—and has found a home in the bullpen. Perhaps the Blue Jays are going to try him as a starter; perhaps the Pirates will give Snider a legitimate chance to play.

Neither is a kid anymore with Lincoln 27 and Snider 24. Both could use a change.

Cubs trade LHP Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson to the Braves for RHP Arodys Vizcaino and RHP Jaye Chapman

Vizcaino is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but had a 100-mph fastball before he got hurt. Chapman is 25 and stagnating at Triple A. He strikes out a batter-per-inning. Johnson is a speedy and useful extra outfielder who can play all three positions.

I’ve always liked Maholm and felt it was a drastic mistake for the Pirates to turn down his contract option when they could’ve held onto him and used/traded him. Maholm is not a rental for the Braves as he has a contract option for 2013 at $6.5 million. That said, this trade is in line with the Braves looking for an “impact” starter such as Zack Greinke, but also placing the likes of Jason Vargas in the category of “impact”. Vargas is not that and nor is Maholm, although Maholm is better than Vargas. It’s a useful and not earth-shattering pickup.

If it were a team president/GM combo in Chicago that was the target of ridicule by the self-proclaimed “experts” in the media and clever purveyors of snark, does anyone doubt that the joke would be made that the Cubs are under the mistaken impression that the combination of an Arodys and a Chapman means they’re getting a 200-mph fastball in some weird Frankenstein mixing and matching of human parts?

Cubs trade C Geovany Soto to the Rangers for RHP Jacob Brigham

Brigham’s numbers in Double A haven’t been impressive over the past two seasons, but Cubs’ boss Theo Epstein is cleaning house and accumulating arms. Soto was a burgeoning star once, but injuries and apparent apathy from playing with a team spiraling so far, so fast appears to have affected him negatively. The change to a contender with a very friendly home part for hitters is a good move for him.

In a corresponding move, the Rangers designated Yorvit Torrealba for assignment. Is there anyone, anywhere who doubts Torrealba’s going to wind up with the Mets?

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The Pirates, Andrew McCutchen and the Crocodile Arm Snap

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With the Pirates, there’s always been a reluctance to believe that they’re doing something smart without doing something foolish immediately thereafter.

It’s like feeding a crocodile—arm extended, cringing, hoping that the only thing taken is the food and not the arm up to the elbow.

In retrospect the Pirates maneuvers of perpetual housecleanings and bargain basement payrolls didn’t turn out as badly as they looked upon their completion. Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouthAdam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Octavio Dotel and Freddy Sanchez were all dealt away in recent years. Most didn’t perform up to expectations with their new clubs and the Pirates got some usable pieces for them after savage critiques in their immediate aftermath.

The deals may not have worked out as hoped for the Pirates and they probably could’ve gotten more for than they did for some of the above-listed players, but apart from Bay, most were total disappointments in their new venues in one way or another.

Of course there are the things like non-tendering Matt Capps and declining the option on Paul Maholm, but potholes of idiocy will continue to exist no matter how desperately they’re patched over.

From those trades, they have James McDonald, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens and a couple of minor leaguers that might eventually be of use.

Now the Pirates have signed star center fielder Andrew McCutchen to a 6-year, $51.5 million contract to buy out his arbitration years and first two seasons of free agency—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

After the Pirates had implied that they’d be willing to listen to offers on McCutchen, the crocodile-cringe became more pronounced.

“Uh oh, the Pirates are about to do something stupid.”

The entire “we’ll listen on anyone including McCutchen” rhetoric was like something out of The Onion. “You can call and we’ll listen. Then we’ll laugh and tell you to take a hike.”

The “stupid” was ever-present, but for now it’s gone.

McCutchen is a foundational star at a hard-to-fill position and only getting better at age 25. He’s exactly the type of player a club either spends their money to keep or gives up the majority of their farm system to get.

With him onboard, the Pirates are turning their attention to signing Pittsburgh native and second baseman Neil Walker to a contract extension.

With the young stars in the fold for the long-term; Clint Hurdle—a manager who doesn’t take crap or “we’re the Pirates” as an excuse for losing; and an improved farm system, the Pirates are capable—you’re reading it here first—of a .500 season in 2012 and finishing as high as third place in their division.

Keeping McCutchen is a great decision and indicative that the Pirates’ front office is no longer content to be the big league talent mill for the bullies and are looking to follow the lead of clubs like the Rays who develop and try to win simultaneously.

The Pirates have an advantage the Rays don’t: a beautiful, fan friendly ballpark.

Believe it or not, the Pirates are on the way to getting much, much better.

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Chris Iannetta for Tyler Chatwood

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Angels manager Mike Scioscia is rough on his catchers. First and foremost, their responsibility is to handle the pitchers. In acquiring Chris Iannetta from the Rockies, the Angels get a defensively solid receiver who can throw and hit for some pop. He’s signed cheaply through 2012 at $3.55 million with an option at $5 million for 2013. Iannetta was never given the chance to play every single day with the Rockies and presumably in Anaheim he’ll share time with Hank Conger.

Jeff Mathis is a non-tender candidate and Bobby Wilson is a backup.

For the Rockies, young Wilin Rosario has shown in the minors he can do the same things that Iannetta does and, accompanying this trade, they signed Ramon Hernandez to a 2-year, $6.5 million contract. Hernandez has power, is adequate defensively, has handled young pitchers well and is willing to play part-time without complaint. The Rockies split their catching duties.

Tyler Chatwood is a fastball, curve, changeup, control-type pitcher who can lose the strike zone and doesn’t strike anyone out.

It’s not good to have a control pitcher who sometimes has trouble throwing strikes; but Chatwood doesn’t allow many homers and, given their hitter-friendly ballpark, that’s what the Rockies look for when they import pitchers.

The Angels are going to need another starting pitcher after dealing Chatwood. C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle, Hiroki Kuroda, Paul Maholm and Roy Oswalt are on the free agent market and Matt Garza, James Shields among others possibly available by trade.

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The Hits Keep On Coming For The Red Sox

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Judging by the stipulation in his contract that says the 2015 option turns into a league minimum paycheck if he requires surgery due to a pre-existing elbow condition between 2010 and 2014, the Red Sox can’t be surprised that John Lackey is having Tommy John surgery. Presumably, they weren’t expecting it in the third year of his deal; nor did they foresee his results to be mediocre in year one and atrocious in year two.

Now Lackey joins Daisuke Matsuzaka from the 2011 Red Sox staff—the team that was supposed to challenge the 1927 Yankees as the greatest in history—as needing the surgery on his elbow.

I’m trying to imagine the amount of abuse that would be heaped down on a team with a spotty medical history and the perception of ineptitude like the Mets if they had two high-priced imported arms that needed Tommy John; another young stud, Clay Buchholz, who was repeatedly misdiagnosed in treating a back injury; and had their supposed “aces” Josh Beckett and Jon Lester putting on weight as the season moved forward along with the embarrassing beer drinking allegations.

It would be fodder for ridicule for months on end.

Added to the departures of general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, the Red Sox winter and 2012 hopes are looking more and more daunting.

They officially named Ben Cherington as the new GM yesterday; he’s a qualified baseball man and prepared for the job. He has to hire a manager and then decide what direction to take in improving the club.

Before Lackey got hurt, the starting pitching was still in relatively good shape if everyone came to spring training ready to pitch and healthy. Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Lackey and a 5th starter from the system, acquired via trade or in a reasonable free agent contract would’ve been solid.

Now they have to replace those 200 innings expected from Lackey.

Can they get it from Kyle Weiland? He can be a big league contributor, but he’s not going to give them 200 innings in 2012.

There’s been discussion of moving Daniel Bard into the starting rotation, but even if they do that he’s not going to be able to give them more than 160 innings at the most. And that’s pushing it. He began his professional career as a starter and was terrible, but that shouldn’t matter.

They have to make up the innings from somewhere and if they do shift Bard into the rotation, they’re going to need bullpen help.

The litany of issues facing the Red Sox aren’t being fully grasped by their fan base; a fan base that is misunderstanding the fallout from a season of failed expectations; a collapse; off-field turmoil and turnover; and relentless competition.

The American League East is a torture chamber. The owner has clearly stated his reluctance to delve into the free agent market and after the disastrous Lackey signing, they’re not going after C.J. Wilson, CC Sabathia or Edwin Jackson. The Matsuzaka nightmare probably leaves them out of the Yu Darvish sweepstakes.

The other names floating around won’t want the years the above pitchers will; they’ll accept a shorter term deal, but Mark Buehrle would prefer a Mid-West venue and don’t be surprised to see him wind up with Epstein and the Cubs; Roy Oswalt would accept a 1 or 2 year contract, but he’d want no part of Boston or New York.

If they want to make a trade, there are names available. Paul Maholm, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Wandy Rodriguez are quality arms, but the Red Sox system has been gutted by previous trades for Adrian Gonzalez.

Would they be willing to trade Josh Reddick or Jose Iglesias?

They could take a heavy contract (and old friends) Derek Lowe or Bronson Arroyo and wouldn’t have to give up much to get them; Lowe’s been awful; Arroyo would provide innings and is a known, popular commodity in Boston.

They also have to decide what they’re going to do with Jonathan Papelbon and how to replace him if they let him leave; David Ortiz is a free agent as well.

For so long the Red Sox off-seasons were spent trying to improve the club in the interests of contending for a championship. It had become a situation where they continually competed with the Yankees to win the Hot Stove title along with the crown to be the “favorites” in the preseason predictions. Now they’re going to be reorganizing their management team in addition to assessing and addressing all the other problems—on and off the field—while still maintaining relevance.

Tradition, foundation and and competence aside, things spiral after a collapse. And ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

Cherington’s got a lot of work ahead of him and right now there are more questions than answers; the circumstances are dire whether their fans admit it to themselves or not.

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Prince Fielder’s Free Agent Possibilities

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Prince Fielder will not be back with the Brewers.

And I don’t want to hear how he’d “love” to stay in Milwaukee; if he truly wants to stay in Milwaukee, I’m sure he could find a way to live on the $100 million or whatever amount of deranged sum they offer. Part of the reason players generally shun their original, mid-market home is due to union pressure to take the largest offer; and that they want to outdo their peers in terms of zeroes on the check.

It’s the same form of egomania that was evident in Moneyball as Billy Beane wants a monetary value on what it is he does. (And what it is he does is becoming increasingly mysterious as time passes; it’s an existential question: what does Billy Beane do? I dunno—he’s becoming Kim Kardashian; he’s famous and we don’t really know why.)

You can forget about the Yankees and Red Sox being in on Fielder despite fan greed about bringing in another $140 million bat. Fielder won’t want to DH, the Yankees have a first baseman and don’t want to clog up the DH spot with another immobile body and onerous contract. They have to re-sign CC Sabathia and/or bring in some better starting pitching.

With the Red Sox, owner John Henry openly regretted the Carl Crawford contract and expressed his wariness at the whole free agent process—do you really think they’re going to bring in an $140 million DH? Really? They, like the Yankees, need pitching.

With that established, let’s handicap and eliminate Fielder’s possible landing spots based on who could use him and who can afford him.

Teams that could use him, but can’t pay him.

Oakland Athletics: It’s pretty funny (no, it’s very funny) that Fielder was singled out in Moneyball as being “too fat” for the team that was portrayed as openly looking for fat players, and Fielder wound up being the most productive bat in the draft.

He’s not going to Oakland and it’s not because of the ballpark or that he doesn’t appreciate the value of being around “genius”; it’s because they can’t pay him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: After their mid-summer flirtation with contention, it only took a few short weeks for whatever spell had been aiding them to wear off and they reverted back into being…the Pirates.

They were 14th in runs scored in the National League in 2011, but they’re supposedly about to ridiculously repeat the same mistake they made with Matt Capps (they non-tendered him) and decline the option on a useful arm in Paul Maholm.

Um, he’s a guy you can trade, y’know? Sort of the way the Nationals traded Capps for a starting catcher they’ll have for the next 10 years in Wilson Ramos? Get it?

Why would anyone with options want to go to Pittsburgh?

San Francisco Giants: There’s a bit of an upheaval and apparent tightening of the pursestrings with Bill Neukom forced out as CEO. They’re more likely to keep Carlos Beltran than bring in any difference-making free agent. They also have to sign Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson in the coming years, so forget Fielder.

San Diego Padres: They just traded a better all-around player in Adrian Gonzalez because they weren’t going to be able to pay him, so it would make zero sense to sign Fielder.

Teams that could use him, pay him and won’t pursue him.

Los Angeles Angels: The Vernon Wells contract is now their problem and it got Tony Reagins ousted. They have two first basemen with Mark Trumbo, the (hopefully) returning Kendrys Morales and Fielder doesn’t want to DH. I would expect them to pursue a trade for the likes of David Wright or chase Jose Reyes instead of jumping in on Fielder.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein has enough problems; they’ve got Carlos Pena, who’s okay; and you can find a first baseman relatively easily.

Baltimore Orioles: Buck Showalter is running things and prefers to have a more versatile, defensively-balanced club with interchangeable parts. Offense wasn’t the Orioles problem, the pitching was.

Teams that could pay him, use him and go after him.

Washington Nationals: Are they agent Scott Boras’s new “go-to guys”? He somehow managed to get them to give Jayson Werth $126 million, are looking to make a splash and rapid leap into contention and have the money.

Adam LaRoche is owed a guaranteed $9 million, but missed most of the 2011 season; the Nats desperately need a bat; they’re better off going after Reyes, but don’t discount them on Fielder.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The McCourts are now divorced and Frank has the Dodgers; but the legal red tape requires a machete to cut through and they have to sign Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier and must begin considering locking up Clayton Kershaw.

I don’t see Fielder going to the Dodgers, but they spent last winter when no one thought they had any money; they have to be considered.

Seattle Mariners: They were last in the AL in runs scored. It’s ironic that the double-dealing they pulled on the Yankees with Cliff Lee looks like they wound up with a worse deal from the Rangers. Will ownership interfere and force GM Jack Zduriencik to keep Ichiro Suzuki rather than look for a legitimate offensive force like Fielder?

Zduriencik drafted Fielder with the Brewers.

They do have the money to sign him and their young pitching can’t go on with a team that simply doesn’t score any runs.

Florida Marlins: They’re repeatedly referenced as teams that are going to go all-in for players in free agency. Albert Pujols has been talked about, but he’s not leaving the Cardinals. One drawback of the Marlins pursuing and getting Fielder would be the homers he’d hit in Florida would be accompanied by this monstrosity.


Here’s my guess: Fielder goes to Seattle for 7-years and $148 million.

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