Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nine Reasons To Be Optimistic About The Braves

Now that I have had a day to mull over the Braves' collapse (not a choke, by the way), I am on a more even keel, making me less likely to write something akin to the stupidity I have seen from some of the message board basement dwellers.  Had I attempted to write my thoughts last night, my effort to explain why the Braves stopped hitting and Fredi Gonzalez mostly stopped managing during the month of September would have been no better than those who are, shall we say, a little too intimate with their computers.  In the light of almost 24 hours for the painful end to the season to sink in, I am very optimistic about America's Team next year.

I would publish this on a message board, but someone whose closest form of human contact is tapping the letter 'p' on their keyboard would likely respond with something that I couldn't repeat to my daughters unless I substituted food names for the offending words.  "You lemon meringue fritter.  Who the haggis do you think you are, defending these pieces of sausage patties who filberted the farfalle, fajita, flaming minestrone caramel sucking playoff spot down the mojita fava beaned drain?  Shallot, man!"

While we watch the playoffs and wonder what could have been, here are nine reasons for Braves' fans to keep their chins up and look forward to next season.

9. At least one more year of Michael Bourn.  Although the incessant blabbery from the Atlanta sports writers that the Braves finally got "their first legitimate leadoff hitter since Rafael Furcal" when they obtained Bourn from Houston, that didn't really help them get into the playoffs, did it?  Like many on the team, Bourn slumped with the bat over the last couple weeks of the season.  Still, he's the best defensive center fielder in the National League, and while having "a legitimate leadoff hitter" isn't necessary to win a championship any more than having a "legitimate closer" or "chemistry", a full season of Bourn certainly won't hurt.  At least as long as doesn't always have the green light to steal third - even though he was safe, he shouldn't have tried that steal Wednesday in which the ump missed the call.

8. Another year of Manly Man Dan Uggla.  Finally, a big leaguer who looks like a lot of the big leaguers of the 70's when some of us were growing up.  He doesn't have the body of a Men's Health cover model like so many guys do - not that there's anything wrong with that.  Dan has big, Popeye forearms and a big wad of chaw in his cheek, at least I think its chaw (I'll save my rant over talk that MLB is looking to ban chewing tobacco for another day).  Uggla isn't built like a second baseman, and even though he isn't the greatest fielder, he can hold his own with the glove and more than makes up for it with the pop in his bat.

7. Jason Heyward.  A lot of people were down on Jason including, apparently, his manager judging by the ridiculous way Jason was used for much of the last month of the season.  Sure, he had a rough go this year and, after the way the media built him up during Spring Training of 2010, this was the season he was supposed to hit 80 homers, slug about .950, cool the planet and slow the rise of the oceans (wait, that was another guy), and solve Rubik's cube using only his gluteus maximus.   Come on, folks.  He's only 22 - a chunk of the low A Savannah Sand Gnats roster this year was at least as old as Mr. Heyward.  I still believe he's too good not to come around, unless....

6. Watching how Fredi Gonzalez responds to this season.  Were Jason Heyward's struggles entirely his fault, or does some of the blame lie in Mr. Gonzalez and his hitting coach, Larry Parrish?  I think the work of hitting coaches is sometimes overrated (as is the work of managers), but besides Jason's horrible year, Alex Gonzalez went from being a decent hitting shortstop to one of the worst offensive players in the National League.  The fine seasons that Melky Cabrera, Yunel Escobar and (crow eating time for me) Jeff Francoeur had in the American League after hitting the skids in Atlanta also doesn't speak well for the folks in the ATL, so it will interesting to watch how Mr. Gonzalez handles Mr. Parrish.  A lot of people in and out of Atlanta are also questioning whether Gonzalez overworked his young relievers since Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel struggled down the stretch, but we really won't know that until next season, when....

5. We get to watch a ton of young, talented pitchers begin to blossom.  I think Venters and Kimbrel will ultimately be okay (and I bet they won't pitch in nearly as many games next year).  I also can't wait to see a full year of guys like Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran.  Yes, the pressure will still be there to give Derek Lowe a chance because, even though he appears to be washed up, he is making enough to fund about 13 minutes of operations for the federal government.  My guess is that the Braves will find a way to part ways amicably with Mr. Lowe.

4. Freddie Freeman.  No one in the Braves' organization thought this guy would hit 20 homers in a season - there might have been some who thought he wouldn't hit that for his career.  But Mr. Freeman came out and more than made up for Jason Heyward's struggles.  The onus is on him to keep it up, but he certainly was a pleasant surprise for the Braves this year.

3. L. V. Ware.  No, my pal Leonardo will probably not be on the major league roster, but this Braves' minor leaguer is one of the nicest, most fun guys in all of Twitterdom.  Some of us were living vicariously through him as he sat in the stands at the Ted, Tweeting painfully through the final innings of Wednesday's loss.  L.V. is also extremely bright and will make a hell of a coach someday.  That'll be $29.95, Mr. Ware.  I'll send you my PayPal.

2.  We aren't the Marlins.  First, Ozzie Guillen is their manager now.  While it's nice to have colorful personalities in MLB - there are far too few, I think - he will be an easy target now that he's in our division.  More importantly, we don't have a logo that was lifted from Electra Woman and Dyna Girl in 1976.  I suppose you could also say we aren't the Tampa Bay Rays, going the playoffs again as the dozens......and dozens of their fans chant their name (with apologies to Mick Foley for the gimmick infringement).

And the number one reason to be optimistic about the Braves next season...

Hey, has my wife been sneaking in here?  Yes, I was going to say Chipper Jones was coming back for another year, but I wasn't going there?  That happened a long time ago.  Chipper has matured, like a fine blue cheese, into an outstanding team leader. I'm even of the mind that, when he hangs up his spikes and is ready to sit down for some hot wings and a cold one, he should be considered for the managing job.  He has the eyes of an owl, and is still quite perky for a guy who is his (and my) age.  Seriously, I will feel incredibly old when it is time for Chipper to retire, so get the duct tape ready for his various body parts that will keep peeling off as the year goes on, and let's keep him in the lineup as much as possible.

Pitchers and catchers report in four months!!

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