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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

September 16, 2003

Sam predicts Atlanta’s playoff roster.

So, in case you haven?t noticed, the end game quickly cometh.  In select cities, playoff tickets went on sale today.  In a little over 10 days the 2003 major league baseball regular season will be history.  Gone.  Kaput.  I?ll give you a moment?


Okay, now put the hankies away, it?s time to start truly hacking into the second season?s internal organs.  The question to start with is the most basic of them all.  Who do you take?  If you?re the management, what players make it onto your roster for the Divisional Series?  This is the sort of thing I live for. 


I?m going to start with the Braves, (1) because they?re one of three or so teams that are absolutely guaranteed of playing into October and (2) because that?s what I know best.  Of the 25 available spots, some are obvious.  Position players will include the following starters:


C ? Javy Lopez

1B ? Robert Fick

2B ? Marcus Giles

3B ? Vinny Castilla

SS ? Rafael Furcal

LF ? Chipper Jones

CF ? Andruw Jones

RF ? Gary Sheffield


The bench will include:


1B ? Julio Franco

1B/OF ? Matt Franco

2B/SS/3B/OF ? Mark Derosa

LF/CF/RF ? Darren Bragg


Only an act from God will keep Henry Blanco off the post-season squad, regardless of logic or reason.  And being that this is Bobby Cox we?re predicting, you can almost certainly pen in Johnny Estrada.  Cox isn?t going into a post-season series without three catchers.  So, knock 14 spots off the list, leaving 11 empties to fill with arms. 


Pitching, you can ink in:


SP ? Greg Maddux

SP ? Russ Ortiz

SP ? Mike Hampton

RP ? John Smoltz*


And here?s where it gets interesting.  The Braves? pitching staff really is this Indiana-to-Nebraska-skyline open after those four.  And to make it even better, John Smoltz is still on the DL.  Let?s assume that Smoltz will be activated and put on the list.  That leaves us with seven slots to fill.  Your contenders:








Jung Keun Bong








Will Cunnane








Kevin Gryboski








Roberto Hernandez








Trey Hodges








Darren Holmes








Ray King








Jason Marquis








Kent Mercker








Horacio Ramirez








Shane Reynolds








Jaret Wright









I?ve taken the liberty of removing Joe Dawley from considerations. 


Now, I?m guessing Cox will only take one more starting pitcher into the five game DLS.  (He?ll add the fifth starter back onto the roster for the LCS should the Braves advance.)  Taking only performance into consideration, that fourth slot really has to go to Horatio Ramirez.  He?s been battling Maddux and Hampton down the stretch for the title of "Braves best starter".  Shane Reynolds is exactly what his numbers suggest.  His last few starts have been as atrocious as any of his previous.  But Ramirez has options, and there was rumor of him being the shuffle victim because he could be removed from the 40-man roster without any chance of being claimed on waivers.  (This begs the question, of course, that if someone were to actually claim Shane Reynolds on waivers, why on Earth would you not give him to them?)  Still, I?m going to pencil Ramirez into the fourth starter slot and just be prepared to scream and yell should Reynolds take it instead.


The bullpen is a completely open ended equation.  I think we can reasonably remove Jason Marquis and Jung Keun Bong from the hunt for those last six spots.  Neither has pitched well this year, a few early season relief appearances for Bong notwithstanding.  Marquis has the added weight of having squabbled publicly about his usage, alienating Cox and Mazzone earlier this year.  Last year his versatility and athleticism (he was often used as a pinch runner down the stretch in 2002) earned him a spot in the DLS.  With Mike "A Great All Around Athlete" Hampton around this year, he won?t get those special bonus points, and that 6.06 ERA isn?t making much of a case either.


Ray King, on the other hand, will be there.  He?s horrible when he inherits runners, but his work as a setup guy starting his own innings is superb. ($1 to Colin William and asb.ab.)  King will be the primary LH setup guy out of the pen.  Similarly, Kevin Gryboski will be on the roster so long as he?s healthy.  He?s just off of the DL and hasn?t been used since being activated, so he is still a question mark, but if he?s not hurting Cox will take him as the designated "need a ground ball double play" go to guy.  His tendency to give up gopher balls could make him either hero or goat, depending on how his sinker works in pivotal playoff situations, but he?s on the team regardless.  So we?re down to four slots.


Roberto Hernandez is a frontrunner for one of them, simply because he?s old.  If he makes it onto the roster it will be his veteran moxie that got him there, because he has pitched abysmally in the second half.  Jimmy Haynes bad.  There?s no way I?d let him anywhere near the post-season, personally, but I fear Cox and Mazzone?s fascination with relievers who can relate to Julio Franco, generationally.


Speaking of pitchers who have just sucked wazzoo after the break, there?s no way in hell Trey Hodges makes my team.  I have faith that the real management will come to a similar conclusion.  Hodges has either been hurt (one theory) or the league has simply caught up to him the second and third time around (my theory), but regardless, since the All-Star break he has been beaten around worse than Ann Coulter at a logician?s convention.  No way he?s going to make a single pitch in elimination tourney play.  Nuh-uh.  Not a chance.


Darren Holmes presents Cox with another opportunity to veteranize his pen.  But like Gryboski, Holmes hasn?t pitched in a long time, has been on the DL for a while, and would have to be activated and prove his worth again.  He doesn?t make my pen in a perfect world, though he might make the Braves?.  In his stead I take Will Cunnane, but I think, as long as Holmes can pitch, the Braves have to take both.  It?s either that or Hernandez, and I?d personally take my chances on Holmes.  That leaves us with two spots.  Kent Mercker gets one.  He throws hard, is left-handed, and is the anti-Ray King.  Mercker?s numbers when coming in with men on base are stupendous this year.  His numbers while starting an inning are pretty bad. (Another $1 to Colin and asb.ab.  I?ll owe him beer soon.) 


The last spot, you ask?  The answer to that question depends on your preference of devils.  Do you prefer the devil you know or the devil you don?t?  The devil you know is the aforementioned Roberto Hernandez.  I would not pitch him in a boat; I would not pitch him with a goat.  But that leaves me to slot in Jaret Wright as the last guy in the pen.  If we assume San Diego doesn?t really count, Wright is the devil I don?t know.  Of course, San Diego does count and I?m just trying to make myself feel better about taking him.  Still, if I?m making the call I go with Wright.  Wright pitched horribly early, only managing to put something together after the Braves waiver-wired him away from the Padres.  But at least his short burst of goodness is recent.  Hernandez used up all of his pixie dust in May, as far as I can tell, and I?d rather have the questionable flame throwing righty recently on a roll than the questionable flame throwing righty recently on the DL.


So, there you go.  My DLS roster for Atlanta reads thusly:


C ? Javy Lopez

C ? Henry Blanco

C ? Johnny Estrada

1B ? Robert Fick

1B ? Julio Franco

1B/OF ? Matt Franco

2B ? Marcus Giles

3B ? Vinny Castilla

SS ? Rafael Furcal

2B/SS/3B/OF ? Mark Derosa

LF ? Chipper Jones

CF ? Andruw Jones

RF ? Gary Sheffield

LF/CF/RF ? Darren Bragg


SP-R ? Greg Maddux

SP-R ? Russ Ortiz

SP-L ? Mike Hampton

SP-L ? Horatio Ramirez

RP-L ? Ray King

RP-R ? Kevin Gryboski*

RP-L ? Kent Mercker

RP-R ? Will Cunnane

RP-R ? Darren Holmes*

RP-R ? Jaret Wright

RP-R ? John Smoltz*


The asterisks denote players recently or currently on the DL, and thus questionable, but still I?d argue the best available talent.  Horatio Ramirez provides and extra lefty to somewhat balance out an otherwise RH dominated pen.  (And yet another reason to drop Shane Reynolds!)  And really, considering the talent available for the 25th spot, I?m not sure Johnny Estrada isn?t as good a guy to have as anyone.  Actually, given my druthers I?d take Estrada, drop Henry Blanco (who is useless) and add Jesse Garcia as a pinch runner and backup middle infielder.  Garcia wouldn?t be less of a threat offensively than Blanco, and he can at least steal a base.  He would also provide here-comes-Mark-Prior insurance should something terrible happen to an infielder.  He can even shag flies in the OF if absolutely necessary, and Robert Fick is as good an emergency third catcher as anyone will ever need.


The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: September 16, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 13 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:39 AM (#612922)
Watching a Braves game on TBS a couple of weeks ago, the announcers (Pete and Don, I think) suggested that Fick would be the emergency 3rd catcher since he played the position in Detroit, giving the Braves room to take 12(!) pitchers. Not sure if this was their own speculation of if they were reporting some inside info. The former, I think.
   2. dlf Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:39 AM (#612923)
If I recall correctly, the Braves roster on August 31st included 10 pitchers and 15 position players. I know there are a lot of shenanigans that can go on with roster composition, but I understand (correctly or not) that a team can replace hitters with hitters and pitchers with pitchers.

I suspect that one of the group of Holmes, Gryboski, or (god forbid) Smoltz will not be healthy enough to go. Instead an extra player (either Michael Hessman or Jesse Garcia) will join the club for October. Garcia gives middle infield defense and pinch running; Hessman right handed power and (limited) ability to man the corners.
   3. Gromit45 Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:39 AM (#612924)
Cunnane? Are you insane? A couple of weeks of good pitching does not a good pitcher make. Mr. Bonds, Mr. Bagwell, and Friends will enjoy having him to knock around.

Might as well go ahead and pick up Coulter and she's done kicking butt at the logician's convention.
   4. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612926)
I can't say I'm opposed to the idea of carrying 15 hitters and just trying to pound the opponent into oblivion. The last spot in an 11 man bullpen would be occupied by someone like Jaret Wright or Roberto Hernandez, who really shouldn't be used unless things are truly ugly anyway, so why not just give that spot to Garcia or whomever. Honestly, if the Braves have to pull one of their starters prior to the 6th or 7th, they're in trouble already, and that 11th pitcher really isn't going to make that much of a difference.

As for Will Cunnane, laugh all you want monkey boy, but Cunnane is the best reliever not named Smoltz the club has right now, and Smoltz is on the DL.
   5. Bangkok9 eschews 1 from Column A Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612928)
If you speak a bit of gutter German, the juxtaposition of "Fick" and "dish" is very, well, juvenile and... Never mind.
   6. Colin Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612930)
I'll take that beer next time I'm in GA, Hutcheson.

as for the bullpen, I'd bet Roberto will be in there. I shudder at the though, but he had a disastrous outing August 12, and since then has had 7 outings, 6 scoreless. i don't buy it as anything other than luck, but Cox really doesn't have much more than "who's the hot hand" to go on as he puts together his roster.
   7. Gromit45 Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612931)
If Cunnane is the best they've got after seeing what he has done in Friar-ville and Brew Town, then the Braves are in a heap-a-trouble.

(Let's not insult the monkeys)
   8. Too Much Coffee Man Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612932)
Regarding Fick as the 3rd catcher.
This seems logical, but I doubt it will happen. It seems to me that once a player moves to a new (particularly less demanding) defensive position, managers act as if they forgot the player ever played somewhere else. Did Biggio see any action at 2B this year when Kent was injured and Houston was scrambling for middle infielders?
   9. Pennants fly forever Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612937)
Jeez, until I read this article, I didn't quite fathom just how incredibly weak this pen is. Brave fans are probably shuddering to think of what happens if Smoltz isn't 100%. With their questionable starting pitching on top of this, they really are depending on the overperformance by guys like Lopez to continue..meanwhile the Giants went out and got guys like Herges?
   10. Colin Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612940)
Moose - we Braves fans are in fact worried about the pen. While Cunnane is in fact showing good stuff, and doesn't simply seem to be a fluke (he had a strong richmond performance also), he is, after all is said and done, Will Cunnane. And if Smoltz doesn't return - and my bet is he doesn't, at least not 100% - then Cunnane is the closer.

A pen that has Smoltz at closer, Cunnane at righty setup, Mercker at lefty setup, and maybe King or someone else in front of them isn't necessarily _terrible_. But it's not the ideal pen when you're only getting 6 innings from your starters. And the Braves starters just can't be relied on to give you 7 innings all the time, let alone 8-9. Ortiz throws a tone of pitches just to go 5-6.

So yes, it could get darned ugly.
   11. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: September 16, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612943)
Colin, something to keep in mind:

Mike Hampton hasn't gone less than 6 innings since July 1. Only once since then has he gone only less than 6.2.

Prior to the shelling he took September 11 Greg Maddux had strung together 5 starts where he went 6 or more.

Russ Ortiz is the weak link of late. He's not going more than 5 with any regularity. But...

Horatio Ramirez has run off five starts in a row where he's pitched 7 or more innings.
   12. Colin Posted: September 18, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612973)
Colin, something to keep in mind:

Thanks, sam. With all the nontelevised games lately (on TBS, anyway), I completely failed to notice the increased endurance of the starters.
   13. Barry Bonds Posted: September 18, 2003 at 02:40 AM (#612985)
Gosh, I sure hope they don't keep Mercker. Or Ray King.

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