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Road Weary Braves Ready To Head Home

Aug 02, 2015 -- 3:16pm

PHILADELPHIA, PA – What a long, strange trip it’s been. Entering play on Sunday morning, the Braves have lost 8 of the first 9 games on their final three city road trip of the season.  When this trip began, Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe were still regular members of the lineup. Alex Wood was part of the young core rotation that looked to likely to stick together for the foreseeable future. Jim Johnson was the closer and Luis Avilan continued to give Fredi Gonzalez a reliable lefthanded setup option.

As of this morning, the Braves have used a franchise record 52 players, after needing just 39 players in all of 2014. Prior to this season, the record number of players used by Atlanta came in 2008 when 50 different players were seen in a Braves uniform through the course of the season. All these roster moves have now created new opportunities for younger players to step into larger roles. With just 11 players remaining from the 2015 Opening Day roster, guys will have to step up and fill some pretty big shoes left behind.

One guy who now has that opportunity is reliever Matt Marksberry. This weekend, Marksberry became the first member of the 2013 draft class to reach the big leagues, after starting the season with Carolina in High-A Ball. It’s been an interesting road for the young southpaw who’s season got off to a strange start as him and his teammates were involved in a bus crash in the middle of the night. Marksberry told me that an incident like that helps keep things in perspective. When situations like that arise, it helps you appreciate the little things. Marksberry is just one of a number of young players that now occupy the Braves 25 man roster. While they may not have a ton of Major League experience, the final 60 games of 2015 can be invaluable heading into Spring Training 2016. While the Braves may experience some growing pains as the season wraps up, one thing is for sure. The talent that the Front Office has brought in this offseason has the future looking extremely bright. Now some of those players will have an opportunity  to showcase themselves at the Big League level.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Freddie, Free To Begin Rehab

Jul 23, 2015 -- 9:09am

ST LOUIS, MO – It’s no secret the Braves offense has taken a step back without Freddie Freeman in the lineup. Well, the good news is that help may be on the way, as early as one week from today. Over the weekend, Freeman progressed and was able to start going through baseball activities like playing catch, taking grounders at first base, and by Tuesday afternoon, was able to hit with his teammates during BP at Turner Field. Shortly thereafter, Freeman laid out the tentative roadmap for his return.

Tuesday night, Freeman hopped on a plane to the teams Spring Training complex in Orlando where he’ll spend the next handful of days working on strength, endurance and conditioning. On Monday, Freeman will head back up to Atlanta, where he’ll join the Triple-A ballclub in Gwinnett to begin what will likely be a very brief rehab assignment. If all goes well, barring any types of setbacks, Freeman will join the team in Philadelphia next Thursday. Fredi Gonzalez said that Freeman was “half joking” about not evening needing to go out on a rehab, that he felt good enough to get back in the lineup immediately. But obviously, after missing the better part of a month, getting his timing back will certainly take a few days.

The absence of the biggest bat in the Braves order has certainly shown, as guys like Jace Peterson and Cameron Maybin have seen less pitches at the top of the order. Freeman’s presence alone will change the way pitchers attack the lineup, so, it will benefit the top table setters in the Atlanta lineup. As for what we can expect from Freeman once he does return? While it may take a day or two, Freeman’s simple approach at the plate should help him get right back to the form we’re used to seeing from the All Star first baseman. If you’ve ever spent any time around Freeman, you’ve heard him say it 100 times. His swing is the same every time he goes up to the dish. He puts his foot down and swings. It’s the same thing he’s been doing since he was six years old. Trust me, his dad showed me the photos and videos to prove it. For a guy that’s known for hugs, his return will absolutely be welcomed with open arms (ya see what I did there?!).

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Trade Deadline Rapidly Approaching

Jul 15, 2015 -- 1:38pm
With the Major League Baseball trade deadline rapidly approaching, the most common question out there is "will the Braves be buyers or sellers?" As things stand at the All Star Break, the Braves are five games under the .500 mark, seven games behind the first place Nationals in third place in the NL East. The loss of Jason Grilli can certainly change the landscape for what direction the club decides to go in, and John Hart will surely get a number of calls on a handful of veterans. Let's take a look at who may draw the most interest from contending clubs... Jim Johnson: the veteran righty has resurrected himself after a disappointing 2014. Looking back, it wasn't that long ago that Johnson logged back to back 50+ save seasons. Working with Roger McDowell has been key for Johnson, as the sinker baller has been on of the most reliable relievers from the pen. Johnson will assume the role of closer now that Grilli's season is over, but expect a number of clubs to check in on his availability. Juan Uribe: since being acquired in late May, Uribe has provided power from the right side for a Braves lineup that doesn't rely on the long ball. The 36 year old has been a great presence both on and off the field, while providing solid defense at the hot corner. Right handed power bats are always sought after by contending clubs, so again, Uribe will certainly be a guy many teams will covet. AJ Pierzynski: brought in as a mentor to young Christian Bethancourt, Pierzynski essentially became the every day catcher after Bethancourt struggled out of the gate. Pierzynski is another guy that's been around and can handle the every day responsibilities that come with catching in the big leagues. An American League club that is looking for left handed power that knows what it takes to win in October will surely show interest. Other pieces like Kelly Johnson and Pedro Ciriaco could draw interest as well, but if I had to pick, of all the names mentioned, I'd expect Jim Johnson to be the most likely trade candidate between now and the end of July. Kevin McAlpin cover the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin
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Braves Back to .500

Jul 08, 2015 -- 1:16pm

Milwaukee, WI – As the Braves pass the “official” halfway point of the season, they find themselves back to .500 (42-42), just four games back of the first place Nationals. With the All Star Break starting in just a few days, lets take a look at how the team has gotten here…

1 – Young starting pitching. Tuesday night, Manny Banuelos earned his first career victory as he defeated the Brewers here in Milwaukee. The win marked the 28th win the Braves have gotten from a starter aged 24 or younger. That’s the most in the Majors and just 12 behind the franchise mark of 40 set in 1989. We’ve already seen strong performances from Matt Wisler, Williams Perez and now Manny Banuelos. Add that to the mix of veterans like Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller and you’ve got yourself one impressive starting rotation.

2 – The “old guys”. Nobody, including AJ Pierzynski could have anticipated the work load he would take on coming out of Spring Training. Over his last 3 games, AJ has 10 hits and has posted three consecutive three hit games. Additionally, over his last 13, he’s hitting .377 with nine extra base hits. Juan Uribe has also hit safely in 9 of his last 10 games, batting .343 over that span with a 1.093 OPS. Since being acquired from the Dodgers on May 27, Uribe is batting .303 with 5 doubles, 6 homers and 14 RBI over that span. Add Jonny Gomes to that mix, and the “old guys” have helped carry the load while Freddie Freeman is out with an injured wrist.

3 – Grilli and the Pen.  Another area of the club that’s vastly improved of late has been the bullpen. When things aren’t going well, it’s easy to point fingers to the relief corps if they aren’t getting the job done. But, Grilli has been everything the Braves could have expected, and then some, while guys like jim Johnson, Luis Avilan and David Aardsma have done a nice job getting the ball to Grilli. Over his last 22 outings, Grilli has allowed just three earned runs, posting a 1.27 ERA and has retired 16 straight batters, 10 via strikeout. When Atlanta traded Craig Kimbrel just hours before the season opener, Grilli was thrust into the closers role. And the Braves can’t ask for any more than they’ve gotten from him to this point.

While the season still has a long way to go, the Braves may be surpassing fans expectations, but not their own. Coming out of camp, the team has been on a mission to prove the doubters wrong. The Braves have also been fortunate that the Nationals have had a rash of injuries and haven’t been able to pull away with the division. That said, they’re right in the thick of things in the second week of July, and that’s not so bad.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Freddie Freeman Out...But For How Long?

Jun 26, 2015 -- 3:37pm

Washington, DC – For Freddie Freeman to come out of a game, you know he’s hurting. For him to miss a handful of games and eventually land on the disabled list, it must be much more. On Tuesday, prior to the opener against the Nationals, Freeman was placed on the DL with a right wrist contusion, retroactive to June 19. Over the weekend, prior to Sunday’s finale against New York, Freeman felt like the injury still wasn’t serious enough to cause him to miss more than just a few days. But, after he was unable to take swings in the cage, the move needed to be made.

Without Freeman, the Atlanta offense takes a serious hit. As Freeman goes, is typically how the Braves offense goes. After a three game sweep of New York over the weekend without Freddie, Atlanta came to Washington just two games behind the first place Nationals. On Thursday afternoon, behind a strong performance from Doug Fister, the Nationals completed a three game sweep, pushing Atlanta to five games back in the division, and three games under .500 (35-38). It also marked the eighth straight loss for the Braves against their rivals from the Nations Capitol.

Where do the Braves go from here? We’ve seen glimpses of the offense putting things together. We’ve also seen really strong pitching performances go for naught. In addition to the lack of Freeman’s big bat in the heart of the order, Jace Peterson and Cameron Maybin have also had a rough week. While Freeman is eligible to come off the DL on July 3rd, don’t expect to see Number 5 in the lineup that soon. After receiving a PRP injection this week, the hope is that Freeman will be able to return at some point between the 3rd and the All-Star Break. But one thing is clear…Atlanta won’t rush him back until he’s 100% ready. And that could take longer than anyone had originally anticipated.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Maybin Becoming The Center Of Attention

Jun 14, 2015 -- 12:09pm

New York, NY – Fresh off a big come-from-behind win over the Mets on Saturday evening, the Braves wake up on June 14th just two and a half games out of first place. Not many experts could have imagined this club would have bene able to hang around as long as it has, but here we are, over a third of the way through the regular season, and this club is looking to prove some folks wrong. Can Atlanta sustain this for another 100 games? Perhaps. But the bigger question is, where would the Braves be without Cameron Maybin?

After being acquired on the eve of Opening Day, even the manager wasn’t exactly sure what Maybin’s role would be. Eric Young Jr. had won the job of starting center fielder coming out of Orlando. Young started 15 games in center and 7 more in left, but combined to hit just .180 with a .254 on base percentage. Fredi Gonzalez looked to Maybin to help spark the offense, and he’s done just that. Maybin enters Sunday’s series finale in New York with the best average with runners in scoring position (.444) and is hitting .365 over his last 26 games, dating to May 15th.

In addition, his five home runs is good for third on the club (Freeman 12; K Johnson 6). Between Maybin and fellow former Padre Jace Peterson, the Braves are getting more production from the top of the order than they have since 2012 with Michael Bourn and Martin Prado setting the table. Maybin also brings another veteran personality to a clubhouse that saw a big boost in vets this offseason. Can Maybin maintain the almost “video game like numbers” he’s putting up? Time will tell, but one thing is for certain, Atlanta wouldn’t be in this position had it not been for yet another brilliant trade by John Hart.

All offseason, fans questioned the direction the team was going. Most figured the Braves brass was ok with waving the white flag for the next two seasons, but all along, they reiterated how they felt this would be a fun, dynamic, entertaining club. Oh yeah, and competitive. Yes, they’re still below .500 but they find themselves just a couple games out of the top of the division.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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