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Colby Wilson’s Atlanta Braves Report: Long September

 

Atlanta BravesClarksville, TN – As the calendar readies a turn to September and the Braves postseason chances officially dwindle to zero, it’s time to take stock of what’s important.

The Atlanta Braves are in third place in the National League East, but need a telescope to see the top of the division and are somehow even further back in the Wild Card hunt. Barring a season-ending run the likes of which have never been seen (to reach 85 wins, Atlanta would need to go 31-4 the rest of the way as of Wednesday, and even that may not be enough to garner a postseason bid), the competitive part of the season is over.

Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons (19) is congratulated by first baseman Nick Swisher (23) after scoring a run against the Colorado Rockies in the fifth inning at Turner Field. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons (19) is congratulated by first baseman Nick Swisher (23) after scoring a run against the Colorado Rockies in the fifth inning at Turner Field. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

But for Mississippi and Gwinnett, that is not the case. The Triple-A Braves from just outside the perimeter are 70-60, two-and-a-half games out in the International League South race and 3.5 behind Columbus for the lone International League Wild Card spot (four teams advance to the postseason—three division winners and a wild card, which is only strange when you consider that the North division has six teams and the South and West have four each).

Mississippi is in a similar boat; at 32-25 in the second half of the season, the Pearl, Miss.-based club leads the second-half race by a half-game, which would snare them a postseason bid. The Southern League sends the first-half division leaders and the second half division leaders to the postseason, which is definitely stranger than anything the IL has going on.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz (48) throws a pitch against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning at Turner Field. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz (48) throws a pitch against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning at Turner Field. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a unique scenario; Arizona’s Triple-A (Reno) and Double-A (Mobile) teams pulled the trick in 2012, the only instance in this decade that a parent club has had its top-two minor league affiliates win championships in the same season. And sure, current Arizona mainstays like Nick Ahmed, Ender Inciarte, Chase Anderson and former Brave Randall Delgado were significant contributors to those championships; they’re also significant contributors to a team that’s currently 62-63, so it’s not like that’s a harbinger to big-league success either.

Beginning September 1st, when rosters expand to 40, Atlanta could bring up to 15 young players out of high-leverage, learning situations in the minor league play-offs to low-stakes learning situations against the best players in the world. If Gwinnett advanced to the Triple-A Championship, they would be playing until September 22nd; winning the championship could have Mississippi playing until September 20th.

It’s an interesting dilemma, and it’s probably player-specific; Rio Ruiz may need the high-pressure at-bats in the Southern League play-off, but Mallex Smith may need the opportunity to prove himself in chances, however limited, against the Nationals, Mets and Cardinals—three of the best pitching staffs, top to bottom, in baseball.

Selfishly, I want to see Ruiz, Smith and the rest of the future headliners with the big club; I don’t live in Mississippi or Gwinnett, those teams don’t pass through my area and like most fans, I’m eager to see flashes of the future from tomorrow’s stars. I don’t know that Smith or Tyrell Jenkins have a single thing left to prove in the minors; if you want them to stay and win a championship, that’s fine, but those guys deserve a big-league uniform in September.

What to Read

Duh. So, so duh.

Stat o’ the Week

As we (okay, I) continue to bemoan the general incompetence or inconsistency (choose your own adventure there, gang) of the pitching staff, it’s important to remember the following: the average age of Atlanta’s pitcher’s this season has been 26.9 years old—the youngest Braves staff since Bobby Cox’s third year in 1993.

(Yeah, that team won 104 games and lost in the NLCS; Greg Maddux was in his seventh season, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz their sixth and even Steve Avery and Mike Stanton were fourth-year veterans. They also didn’t have a 38-year old Jason Grilli to skew the age curve and the rotation veteran wasn’t a 24-year old who struggled with his command for three months like Julio Teheran. Also, Fred McGriff, Ron Gant, David Justice, Jeff Blauser—all better than most any hitter, non-Freddie Freeman Division, the 2015 Braves employ.)

If you only catch one game of the Yankees series, make it…

When interleague play was introduced in 1997, a Yankees and Braves matchup was appointment viewing; it always felt like an October preview and it was for the 1999 season. Then the Braves got old, the Yankees started throwing money at all the wrong people and it lost some of its shine. This year’s Yankees are experiencing a renaissance as multiple old-timer’s have turned back the clock to give New York a four-game Wild Card lead and put them squarely in a dogfight against Toronto for the AL East crown.

Since I hate the Yankees with a passion that rivals only how I feel about dog abuse, I am obviously hoping the Braves can figure out how to suck less this weekend. From a purely baseball standpoint, Saturday’s matchup between Luis Severino and Matt Wisler represents a glimpse into the future for both teams and should be watched. Wisler has been homer-happy of late, but maybe getting a home start (he’s made just one of his last six starts at the Ted) will turn him around.

Complementary Old-Timey Baseball Quote

“Without Ernie Banks, the Cubs would finish in Albuquerque.” – Jimmy Dykes; quoted by Bert Randolph Sugar in The Book of Sports Quotes

Best Performance by a former Brave last week

Charlie Morton has quietly become one of the staples in the Pittsburgh rotation, and helped the Pirates take three of four from San Francisco last week with 6.2 innings of four-hit, shutout ball that included eight strikeouts—one off his season high. In 2008, the Braves had Morton, Jair Jurrjens and JoJo Reyes—seven years later, only Morton is still in the majors. Heck, that was the year Glavine threw his final major-league pitch, as a beyond-washed up 42-year old, and he has as good of a chance being on a big-league roster this season as Jair Jurrjens.


About Colby Wilson

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