New Year’s Prediction: Braves Lose the Wild-Card Game

It’s still early January, which means that there’s plenty of time left in the offseason for a few more major deals — Michael Bourn will sign somewhere, Arizona will probably trade an outfielder, and Washington will either sign Adam LaRoche and trade Michael Morse, or LaRoche will sign somewhere else and free up another potential corner trade target. Doubtless there will be one or two other things that come out of the blue.

Still, enough has happened that I thought I would write a long, rambling piece about what I think will happen this year.

I think that we’ll see a lot of familiar faces in the playoffs next year. I’ll predict the following 10 playoff teams:

In the AL, the Blue Jays, Rays, Yankees, White Sox, and Rangers.
In the NL, the Nationals, Braves, Reds, Cardinals, and Dodgers.

I think that the Indians and Cubs (and maybe the Royals and Pirates) will look like they’re in reasonably good shape in June, and maybe even by the All-Star break, but I think they’ll fade after that; they’re iffy organizations that lately have been unreliable at restocking the major leagues from the farm system in midseason. Among last year’s teams, in my opinion, the Tigers and Giants are too old to make it back to the playoffs, and the Athletics and Orioles are too fluky.

I think the Braves are basically an 86-88 win team, as per usual. They’ve averaged 86 wins a year over the past eight years. (That’s also the average over the past five years. And over the past six years. They’re consistent.) They replaced Chipper, Bourn, and David Ross with B.J. Upton, Gerald Laird, and increased playing time for Reed Johnson and Juan Francisco.

That’s a downgrade, at least a couple of wins’ worth; they’re basically counting across-the-board improvements from every young player in the offense, which is damn near most of them. But the Braves won 94 games last year (outperforming their 92 Pythagorean Wins); they probably have a few wins to spare, even accounting for regression to the mean, because it probably will only take about 88 wins to secure a wild card spot.

It stands to reason that Heyward and Freeman will probably improve in the aggregate; even if one of them takes a step back the other is likely to take a slightly larger step forward, but they’re 23, and aging curves are not linear. Andrelton Simmons is also 23, and he’s unlikely to hit better than he did last year. If he’s healthy all year, of course, he’s likely to exceed the production of last year’s Pastornicky/Janish/Prado/Simmons platoon, but most of that improvement will come on defense.

Juan Francisco is a platoon player, pure and simple. He only has 319 career PA against righties and just 67 against lefties, but even still, the story is pretty clear: .806 OPS against righties, .446 against lefties. Reed Johnson has a much longer track record, but fortunately his split is in the opposite direction: .703 against righties, .828 against lefties. Then again, he’s 37, and the end cannot be far off; the Braves will have to hope that Gattis can fill in if he falters.

Even combined, Gatciscohnson won’t be able to make up for the loss of Zombie Chipper Jones, but that combined production is at least probably a reasonable major leaguer, by which I mean, “better than Garret Anderson.”

Martin Prado’s 29, so he’s probably done improving as a hitter. Still, he’s had four full seasons in the major leagues, and despite his injury-plagued 2011, his average numbers in those four seasons are astonishing: .294/.342/.436 with 36 doubles and 12 homers over an average of 138 games a year.

He’s basically the National League Ben Zobrist: considering his positional flexibility, that makes him an All-Star level player, and if he has a fluky power spike and hits 20 homers some year, he could be a dark horse MVP candidate. Barring that sort of fluke, Prado won’t get any better than he is now.

Nor will Brian McCann. There are two problems: one, it’s unclear how much injuries have sapped his offense, and two, it’s almost certain that he’s gone after 2013.

McCann is still valuable; even during his worst offensive year in the majors, he was still worth two wins, because it’s so hard to find catchers who can hit their weight. He may still be the cleanup hitter, but he’s a lion in winter, and unless the Braves find $50-$60 million under a mattress, he’s gone after October. (But the Braves may be able to get an extra draft pick if they offer him a qualifying offer and he turns them down.)

Of the two free agent veterans, I think Dan Uggla will likely continue his decline, though I think he will remain at least a serviceable major leaguer for another year or two. But Upton has more potential, obviously.

I think that it’s very possible that the reason that Upton’s walks have declined in recent years is that he was pressing to live up to expectations, and so he sold out for power. If that is the case, then he may have less pressure in Atlanta to do the same. Obviously, an Upton who walks and hits 15 homers is more valuable than an Upton who hits 25 homers but doesn’t walk. Either way, he will be a good player, perhaps not as good as 2012 Michael Bourn but likely better than 2013 Michael Bourn.

The rotation, at least in the rosy glow of the offseason, looks like it could be pretty good. Medlen looks like a real frontline starter, and Minor looks like he could be a real #2. Despite outperforming their components in 2012, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm form a reasonable #3/#4 tandem, until injuries intervene, and Brandon Beachy will likely return in the second half.

Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado will begin 2013 in the same place as they were a year ago: they’ll fight for the final spot in the rotation in spring training, and then the loser of that battle will stay ready to drive from Gwinnett to make injury-necessitated spot starts. There will undoubtedly be more than enough opportunities for that, and if both of them can prove that they can reliably throw strikes in the major leagues, then Maholm could easily be Wally Pipped.

Here’s the thing: someone will blow out their arm this year. Beachy, Medlen, and Hudson have all had Tommy John surgery within the last five years. And unfortunately, I have a guess as to who may be next. The Braves will need to be very careful with Minor. His first-half struggles last year smacked of an injury, and even if he was perfectly healthy, the fact remains that very few young left-handed pitchers avoid the knife altogether.

Injuries will be a bit tough to manage, especially to position players, because there just isn’t much in the upper minors. That’s why the Braves had to swing an emergency trade for Paul Janish last year, and that’s why they re-signed him this year. The Braves don’t really have any impact talent left on the farm, but they have a bunch of guys who could fill the last few spots on a roster.

The best prospects on the farm are all pitchers, like Sean Gilmartin and J.R. Graham. Both of them will probably manage to do something in the majors. Among the hitters, they’ve got a bunch of guys who could probably make it to a major league bench. Between Ahmed/Terdoslavich/Salcedo/Bethancourt/La Stella/ Cunningham/Beckwith/Peraza, they’ve got a reasonable mixture of medium-floor and medium-ceiling guys. Depending on whether Bethancourt or Salcedo ever figures out how to hit, they could get at least one starting player and two or three utility players out of that mix, but none of them are likely to help in 2013.

Moreover, Gattis is by no means a sure thing, but I think he could be a Garrett Jones, and have a couple decent years in his late 20s. The lack of farm depth means that it will be harder to find injury replacements if any of the major players go down, especially if Teheran and Delgado still struggle with their command.

This team is not built to win 95 games, and the Braves will probably finish behind the Nationals for the next few years. Of course, after Philadelphia got Lee, Halladay, and Oswalt to go with Hamels, I thought we’d finish behind the Phillies in 2012 and 2013. That shows what I know — but still, this is not a dominant team. Just a very good one.

Now that there are two Wild Cards, the Braves are a strong contender for a playoff spot every year, but the team hasn’t gotten past the first round of the playoffs in over a decade (the last time was 2001). I’m not quite sure why that is, but there’s no doubt that Fredi shares some of Bobby’s in-game management flaws.

I think that the Braves will make it to the playoffs, though. And the Nats could always stumble. This is not a go-big-or-go-home team like the Blue Jays or Dodgers. This is a second-place Wild Card team. We used to be good at winning first place. But I think we’ll be just as good at winning second. It’s not as fun to watch, but every ticket to October is golden.

141 thoughts on “New Year’s Prediction: Braves Lose the Wild-Card Game”

  1. The problem and the wonder of a team that wins 86-88 games on an average for numerous years is, depending on injury or no, it could win 8-10 more or 8-10 fewer. Hopefully this team will repeat ’10-12 successes and not fall into the abyss like ’08. Cheers guys! My blue and red tinted glass is half full.

  2. Good write up. I think the Phillies will be much better and will push us for a Wild Card spot

  3. A fair assessment, especially in the knowledge that something unexpected always goes wrong, and you have to build that into your expectations.

    I say again, if you have a guy who needs to be strictly platooned, he needs to be better than an OBP-light 806 OPS against the pitchers he can hit.

  4. @Bethany
    Gus is putting together a good crew on the Plains. Getting Dameyune Craig from FSU and Rodney Garner from UGA is a boost. Not to mention Rich Bisaccia from the Chargers.

  5. I’ll go on record & say that I’m wishing for a Josh Hamilton-lite type season/career for Gattis. If you look at their stories – especially the time they spent away from baseball, and then came back and pounded the ball, I think there are some eerie similarities.

    Obviously, it is not likely to happen – lightning does not usually strike twice (or pick your other cliche of choice). But if it does, you can bet I’ll bring up this post early & often :-) (and I’ll be in a position to say that I was one of the first – maybe even the driver! – on the White Bear Bandwagon)

  6. Im guessing odds are that the Nats, Reds, and Dodgers are your division winners. Meanwhile Atlanta, San Fran, St Louis, Mil, and Philly are fighting for the two wild card spots.

  7. @4 Yeah, I can’t believe Craig flip-flopped and decided to accept the offer, and Bisaccia is a fantastic hire. Gus has made some out of the box hires and I think that shows he’s got a clear idea of what he wants to do with the program.It’s definitely lifted my spirits.

  8. Reasonable or unreasonable pitch for Upton: Delgado, J. Francisco, Ahmed and Gilmartin?

    Also, does anyone know anything about Adam Eaton? He’s only 5’8 but seems like an interesting candidate for leadoff: hits for average, high contact rate, gap power, sb threat, and evidently a baseball rat. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind Parra, Eaton or Upton in a Braves uniform.

    We could get Eaton for a reliever like Avilan.
    We could get Parra for a back-end starter.
    We could get Upton for a few relievers, a back end starter, and others.

  9. Great write up Alex, its the most likely scenario. And while I am happy and proud to be a fan of a team that consistently can compete it’s kind of depressing to think how tenuous that status is.

    That slash line for Prado is astonishing.

  10. I think trading Avilan could be a very good idea. A lot of teams would be interested in a cheap, cost-controlled, hardthrowing lefty reliever whom they could slot in as a setup man and future closer. A player like that has serious value on the trade market. Considering that the top two starters on the farm, Teheran and Delgado, weren’t awesome in 2012, Avilan is probably near a peak in his value while they’re at a relative lull.

  11. Agreed with Dan @8. I think the Dodgers are more like the Lakers than they are like the Clippers.

  12. The two places in which I may have been unreasonably optimistic: left field could be fine but it could just wind up being an unmitigated disaster, and everyone in the minor league group could wind up profiling as a bench guy or worse. If neither Bethancourt nor Salcedo learns how to hit, the Braves may not have a starting position player in the minor leagues. (The jury’s still out on Gattis.)

  13. @5- The biggest difference is their pedigree as prospects. Hamilton was always an other-worldly talent. Gattis was regarded, but nowhere near as highly. Hamilton was a #1 overall guy that had prospect folks salivating. Gattis was a college guy who probably had folks excited but not near on the level of Hamilton.

    I’ll say if his career is 80% of Hamilton’s, it’s an amazing success.

  14. 14—Bisaccia would have gone to Auburn even if Gruden were coaching, IMO. His daughter is a student there.

  15. Ill take 20% and call him Ludwick

    The Dodgers may or may not be able to put it all together, but I dont see how their rotation wont win a ton of games for them.

    Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Billingsley, Beckett, Capuano, Harang, Lilly

  16. My hopeful-yet-(hopefully)realistic projection for Gattis is something in the range of Kevin Millar and Josh Willingham. Neither really broke in until their age 27 seasons, neither ever provided a lick of value on defense, but both ended up posting several years of 2+ WAR based solely on their bats (which isn’t half bad given the replacement level for 1B/LF offense). If Gattis managed to post 10 WAR during his cost-cotrolled years, that would be pretty good for what is basically found money.

  17. We could get Eaton for a reliever like Avilan.

    All due respect, Eaton was the PCL Rookie Of The Year and it’s MVP. He more than held his own against big league pitching in his first callup. He’s a slugging CF. He’s not going to be moved for Avilan.

  18. I really dont see why they would move Eaton. Didnt they trade Chris Young in order to make room for him? It seems like either Upton or Kubel will be moved.

  19. Very good and honest assessment, Alex. Looking at the team, the farm and the NL east has me wondering why the braves don’t push all in for the next season or two. Yeah he Nats are very good but the marlins are in dumpster fire mode and the mets are down. However it’s not hard to see this division get a lot tougher in 2-3 years and since the braves minor league system isn’t exactly overflowing with talent why no make a push? I guess the obvious answer is they don’t have the $$. Guess I’d better get used to repeating that for the next 25 years. Ugh

  20. @25-
    That’s actually…. Wow, that’s a really good rotation. Or at least that was my first impression. But Beckett and Billingsley are kinda over the hill, and I’m not sure what to expect from Ryu. After that, you’re just talking journeymen. Don’t get me wrong, the top end is elite, and that alone probably pushes it to the equal of Philly. But that back end is a lot more shaky than one (eg, me) might think on initial inspectino.

  21. Thanks, Dusty! Mike, I think that the problem is that the Braves don’t have much to go all-in with. We don’t have the kind of farm system we had when we traded for Teixeira – just not enough blue-chip prospects to go out and get a real difference-maker.

    Then again, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The playoffs are such a crapshoot that I think it’s better for us to build a team capable of making the playoffs than a team that looks dominant on paper. Teams like that can get upset, and then they have an awfully rough time of it after that.

  22. Atlanta Braves – The Braves have a great young right fielder in Jason Heyward, but I’m sure Stanton could adapt to left field just fine. There’s always the obstacle of trading a star within the division, but the Marlins don’t appear to have a whole lot in the way of morals so I don’t know why they’d care about haivng Stanton come back and beat their brains in every season. The Braves farm system isn’t as deep as it once was, but I’m sure they’d take Julio Teheran off of the Braves hand as a nice centerpiece to a Stanton deal and I’m sure they wouldn’t object to Christian Bethancourt as well. That’s a nice start to a deal. -MLBProspectWatch

  23. Do we really match up with Arizona in a trade for Upton? @10 IMHO I don’t think that mixture of players does it but what do the Dbacks want?

    For Stanton you start with Teheran and then throw in the kitchen sink.

  24. Was wondering if anyone has done any work adjusting statistics for strength of opposition? Was thinking about it today and they adjust for Park-Effects and Era-Effects to neutralize the stats but it seems to me that it’s entirely possible say for a pitcher to have a season where the average batter he faces has a .310 wOBA where another could face on average a .350 wOBA hitter. It may not wind up being statistically relevant and may somehow be indirectly accounted for through park effects but I was just curious if anyone knew of anything.

  25. Dusty, that’s basically the league effect. Most adjusted stats adjust for park and league, which is to say, the park the batter plays in and the context of the league that year, by looking at the combined performance of everyone in the league, or the combined performance of the other 15 teams in the league.

  26. I was thinking that could account for part of what I’m talking about, however I think about a pitcher getting to start against Houston 6 times and completely missing the Phillies or for example the year Felix won the Cy with vastly superior stats even though he didn’t get to face the Mariners dreadful offense. Just seems like with all the context related stats, someone would compile (using wOBA or whatever) the average ability of the actual batters you faced in a given year. Kind of like strength of schedule.

  27. Braves win 101 games, but only get into the Wild Card. The Cardinals get in with 86 wins, and beat them.

  28. @37 – Projected to lose because, of all the NL teams Alex predicted to make the playoffs, the Braves have the weakest line-up (I’d put Atlanta’s batting order ahead of Tampa and Chicago, but I think the Tigers will win the central). Today’s line-up is worse than the one that scored all of 2 runs off Kyle Lohse. Read that out loud and try not to cry.

    Also, our Ace(TM) pitcher who would start the play-in game (Medlen? Hudson?) probably ranks 4th out of the #1’s of those 5 teams.

    I think you’re right, Alex. This team is at the top of the middle tier of the national league as it is constructed and will have to hope for more things to go right than wrong and to catch a little luck in the playoffs. Not exactly the most exciting position to be in but it could be lots worse. Hey, it worked well for the Twins in the 2000’s, right?

  29. Got to get to the playoffs first. This team has to find a way to turn themselves from an 88 win team to a 94 win team again.

  30. When projecting what might or might not land Stanton, please keep in mind the fact that most of MLB front offices think the Rays-Royals trade was a win for the Royals.

  31. I am an idiot. Not that anyone cares, but Rich B’s daughter goes to Bama.

    Same thing, right?

  32. Just saw Trouble With the Curve. I have to give the filmmakers credit: they managed to make Amy Adams thoroughly unenjoyable, something I didn’t think was possible. A pretty near terrible film.

  33. Conspiracy theory I’ve concocted: It seems to me that, rather than measuring for first downs on any play that’s marked close to the yard to gain, college football refs have begun presuming first down yardage without measuring. Time and time again recently, I’ve seen spots that should be measured but aren’t.

    And I think this directive (and I do think it’s a directive) has bled into the actual spotting of the ball. How many times this season have you seen a ball spotted a half-yard or more ahead of what looked right to you? The exception, somewhat, is on goal-line plays, as these are assiduously reviewed — but, even then, the presumption seems to be to call the TD and let review sort it out.

    Further, I think the networks are in cahoots. The announcers turn a blind eye to this tendency, and even play into it sometimes, saying that a play that looked clearly short to me would likely result in a first down. Sure enough, they’re right and my lyin’ eyes are wrong.

    If true, I can understand why it’s happening — they have to do something to speed up the games, and reducing the number of times they drag out the chains is an obvious way to do so that is under the refs’ control. But it seems to me that they’re sacrificing gross accuracy in one aspect of the game in service of pinpoint accuracy in another (albeit more determinative) aspect.

    Not only that, it favors a particular style of play to an absurd extent. The frantic, no-huddle offenses are taking full advantage of the refs’ new tendency to get the ball spotted, call first downs, and keep the clock running. It is unquestionably more exciting to watch this style of play, but I feel like the balance is getting skewed. Success or failure of drives is coming to depend less on offensive talent versus defensive talent and more on offensive ingenuity versus defensive exhaustion.

    OK, I’m going on too long. Is this being talked about somewhere and I’ve just missed it?

  34. Watching Johnny Manziel is like playing one of those old Coleco handheld electronic football games, where the ballcarrier is the little red dot that can go forward, backward & side-to-side.

    I’d guess that he’s gonna get his head knocked off one of these days, but for the moment, he’s like Wayne Gretzky–can’t get a good lick on him. He dances thru the raindrops.

  35. The practice of dragging out the chains has always been ridiculous to me. You take an absolute guess everytime you spot the ball, but then you’re going to run these guys out there with a chain and two poles to give some illusion of pinpoint accuracy?

  36. NBC just played the Meat Puppets during an NFL broadcast. #mayanswrongbylessthanthreeweeks

  37. Wren said the door “has never been closed” on Bourn and also he hasn’t talked to Dbacks GM since Christmas. Hmmm…how can we trade Uggla, extend Prado, and re-sign Bourn? Sounds like a plan!

  38. Trade Uggla for Dee Gordon, re-sign Bourn, move Prado to 3rd The Braves become LH heavy again, but freaking unreal on defense.

  39. stolen from a fellow Auburn grad’s FB – “Every tree on Notre Dame’s campus is secretly pulling for Bama.”

  40. You say that the offensive/defensive changes are a slight downgrade so far, but I think the rotation/bullpen changes are a slight improvement. I agree that the Braves are roughly an 88-win team, plus or minus a couple depending on which way the ball bounces here and there (hopefully it doesn’t bounce into left field as an infield fly again).

    I hope a full year of Medlen and second-half Minor mean good things. The youth of this team combined with a couple of veterans resembles the makeup of the 1991-1996 teams, so I hope they finish more like one of those teams… 1995, if I get to choose!

    Also, if Scott Boras realizes that Michael Bourn’s 155 strikeouts, reduced stolen base total, and terrible second half (offensively) mean Bourn’s not the hot commodity he would have been a year ago, then I’d love to see the Braves re-sign Bourn and let their last major roster problem be… which centerfield plays left?

  41. If we could bring Bourn back on a one-year “pillow contract,” designed to help him built his value for next year’s free agent class, I’d love to do it, so that we could move Prado full-time to third. But I just doubt that will be a possibility. Bourn is the best free agent available, and Scott Boras has an incredibly long track record of getting top dollar when he has the best free agent available.

  42. Who would still be in the market for him? His suitors have certainly diminished, but as long as one team wants him, they’ll probably be willing to give him a higher commitment than Atlanta would be willing to give. A one-year for Bourn is just simply too good to be true.

  43. Also, Jack Reacher was a pretty dang good movie. The gnashing of teeth of Reacher novel fans about Tom Cruise’s casting reminds of the short-sighted people who couldn’t imagine Daniel Craig being James Bond (this link being a supreme example), and many of those people have come off it. I’m sure after a few movies people will embrace Tom Cruise’s tough acting over their impression of a 6’5″, 250 lb brute.

  44. I saw the movie and liked it, so I read the first book. Reacher is described as basically being huge, so the casting of Cruz comes up short in that regard at least. And maybe he was supposed to be blonde? I dunno. But I enjoyed both.

  45. NHL returns, yay; Aaron Murray returns, yee-haw.

    My not-so-bold prediction: Alabama 27 Notre Dame 10, like one of those boring ’70s/’80s Super Bowls.

    The main intrigue for me will be seeing how well Notre Dame’s d-line holds up throughout the game. Also, if you haven’t seen him already, ND’s tight end Eifert is quite a player. But ultimately, I just don’t see how ND scores enough to win. Their QB’s gonna have to do something we really haven’t seen against the kind of defense he hasn’t seen.

    Not that I’m really rooting for a close game or anything…

  46. Few things i take exception to:

    -Braves are not a middle of the pack NL team, and you dont have to hide in fear of the team falling out of contention.

    -Medlin 0.97 era over 12 starts, best pitcher in MLB, nobodys #4

    -94 wins is a strong season, not a reason to predict mediocrity

    -the Nats found lighting in a bottle then benched their ace, one good regular season does not make a dynasty

    -The Braves have a history of making it to the playoffs, just to shrivel and play like a crappy team. The attitude going into the playoffs has to change if anyone expects to win anything. Chipper is my favorite player ever, but when the playoffs came around he was happy to let things fall as they may. Winners need to step it up. The young guys have a chance to show what they are really made of, and Im looking forward to a future even brighter than the success of 2012.

  47. Twelve starts doesn’t tell you a whole lot. Medlen’s clearly a strong pitcher, but he’s never made more than 14 starts or pitched more than 138 innings in a single season. We just don’t know what he’ll do over 32 starts.

  48. We should all be excited if Medlen comes close to Bill James projections for him next season

    14-7 2.94ERA 190IP 169H 36BB 173K

  49. Interesting to compare how the Washington Nationals handled Strasburg vs. how the Washington Redskins handled Robert Griffin.

  50. @72 – Let me clarify a bit.

    I think, of the 5 NL playoff teams Alex predicted, that Medlen is the 4th best Ace, not a #4 starter. I put him behind Kershaw, Strasburg and Wainwright, but that may be selling Cueto short.

    I certainly don’t think Braves are middle of the pack this year. But I also don’t think they are in the top tier of NL teams (an arbitrary group that I define as the teams for whom most agree it would be a failure to not make the playoffs). I think the top tier teams in the NL are the Dodgers, Nationals and Reds, then a gap, then Braves, Cardinals, Phillies, Giants, etc.

  51. @76 After listening to the radio this morning it sounds like Coach Shanahan ignored the doctors advice. I’m sure RG3 wanted to play and asked to play, but with a capable backup like Kirk Cousins I think he made a poor choice in letting him play. Hopefully RG3 can get healthy again before next season.

  52. After Washington went up 14-0 and you could clearly see RG3 struggling on some of the read option/bootleg type plays, Shanahan needed to make a move. You dont lost games with a clearly injured QB. It also would help if some of their receivers could catch a football. Seemed like there were more drops last night by Washington than I recall seeing all year.

  53. Is there anybody on the Dodgers (other than Ryu) about whom you could say the best is yet to come, though? I agree they’re contenders, but they have an awful lot of guys who are more famous than recently productive. As with any team put together in this manner, I’ll be rooting against them heartily. It’ll be nice to actively hate the Dodgers again, actually. It’s been a while. 25 years since their last World Series.

  54. @72

    I agree with just about everything there.

    However, I do think the Nats are the team to beat. It wasn’t like they were picked to finish below .500 last year. Most people thought they would be pretty strong.

  55. Shannahan’s decision was bad and, IMO, cowardly. But also fairly typical of what most NFL (and college) coaches would’ve done. If he made the switch and still lost, the headlines would read, “RG3: ‘I wanted to play'”.

    I’m just annoyed that the Seahawks now get, basically, the easiest route to the NFC Championship Game. (No offense to Atlanta.) You get a ‘Skins team that has a broken QB for 60% of the game and manage to dodge the two other best teams….

    Oh well. If they can not-upset-because-they’re-favored the Falcons, it means SF will have a shot at a second home game! And I’d really like to see a 3rd matchup between those West Coast teams, this team back in SF with a healthy Justin Smith.

    Regardless, the Packers come first. Week 1 was a long time ago, but this time the game’ll be in SF. Here’s hoping its a windy one. :-)

  56. The Falcons opened as a two-point favorite and are currently -2.5 (-115), which means it might be going to 3.

  57. Oh. Hmm. I read earlier that the Seahawks were favored. Guess Grantland needs to do a better job with their editing. >_<

  58. ububba: I’m in a bowl pool in which we pick, at the start of the bowls, all 35 bowls with the then-current spread. Going into tonight, I am tied for first with someone else who has Alabama, as do I. The tiebreaker is total points scored. I put in 38, my opponent put in 49, so it’s a 43.5 over/under for all the marbles. Your low scoring vibes should put me over the top.

    (Going into tonight, I am 22-10-2. I was thinking of giving up my day job until I found out the guy I’m tied with didn’t have time to pick so he just had his daughter pick randomly.)

  59. #86
    I like your chances. Expect lotsa clock-chewing runs, and I’d be surprised if ND scored more than 14 points.

    But even if it somehow ends 23-20, you’re still in clover.

  60. @86 – I used to do bowl picks and spent a lot of time analyzing based on run/pass tendencies and match ups. When my 5 year old daughter out picked me using the tried and true system of who has the cooler nicknames, I decided to give up prognosticating on bowls.

  61. @89,


    I suspect you could find the same at Alabama or any other big-time football school. I doubt any of the SEC schools have clean hands in this regard.

  62. @90 Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t,but most schools don’t have the… “ethical standards”… of ND. I read that story awhile back and its horrifying.

  63. It’s best not to mix morality with football viewership. This is especially true when it comes to college football viewership. My advice is to root for whomever you want based on the completely subjective, largely sentimental reasons that are already leading you towards a preference anyway. Everything else is just rationalization. All of the programs are inherently awful.

  64. @89 – I read the same article, and thought it might have been titled “Why I Don’t Watch NCAA Sports.”

  65. I don’t believe it will happen anyway, but at what point does even a 1-yr deal with Bourn become to expensive, when you consider the lost sandwich round pick that I’m sure the Braves are counting on especially having given up one for Upton? I honestly wouldn’t go higher than $16.5 million and I doubt the Braves have that much available anyway.

  66. For the Braves, I don’t think there is such a thing as a 1-year contract for Bourn that is too expensive, provided that the cost doesn’t force you to get rid of players.

    If we believe that the Braves are a 88-90 win team, then the extra couple wins a player like Bourn would provide are huge. If you’re ever going to open up the purse strings, now is the time because you get the best return on that money.

    This line-up is one bat short (assuming healthy Mccann). Start rosterbating with a Bourn or Stanton in the line-up and things look pretty good.

  67. Dusty, according to DOB we only have about $8-10 available. Seems like we are getting mixed signals about players and money.

  68. I read somewhere that it’s also the draft $ you are allotted based on where you pick that teams are valuing. Not sure if that’s right but having no first round pick would seem to seriously put a dent in the $ you can spend on the draft (though would also remove a high-priced draftee to balance). Does this make sense?

  69. I’m officially rooting for Notre Dame (though not very hard). I finde this SEC pride thing dumb. I hate Alabama, therefore I’m not rooting for them. Notre Dame hasn’t been relevant in 20 years and is one of the best programs in all of Division I football at graduating players, which is admirable. I’m sure you can find something to dislike about them if you’re so inclined, but “they were really annoying 20-40 years ago” and “bad things happened on their campus that may or may not have anything to do with the football team” isn’t really swaying me very much.

    We’ll see if the Seahawks’ path is so “easy” on Sunday. They only have to win in the home of the No. 1 seed, who hasn’t lost a meaningful home game all year. I can’t remember the last time I wanted any victory as much as I want the Falcons to beat the Seahawks on Sunday. (Yes, I think I’ll be even more upset if we lose this than I was when the Braves lost to the Cardinals in October.) It’s time to recalibrate some of the idiocy surrounding the Falcons. The team with the best record in the NFL is seen as a mediocre team that is inferior to all the other teams still alive in the playoffs. If we can’t win this game and have to deal with this BS for at least another calendar year, I’m not sure I’ll be able to take it.

  70. I mean, that perception is only based on the numbers they’ve put up this year, the quality of their opponents, and the history of their QB. ^_^

    My real point is that at SF and at GB would be tougher games for the Seahawks. I’m actually unsure who to root for. If the Falcons win, then SF has to go there if they win. If the Seahawks win, it could be a home game for the 49ers, but at the same time, the Seahawks just whipped ’em, albeit in SEA, which is the best home field in the league.

    Guess I’ll just root for a good game. And on the other hand, if the Falcons win, it would be a nice shot to some of the narratives the sports media seems to like these days.

  71. This might be the best Falcons team ever and if they win their last game, I’ll be as happy as anyone. But they can’t break my heart anymore.

    Like my experiences with the Hawks, I’ve been thru too much with them to ever actually expect a Lombardi Trophy. Having said that, I think they’ll beat Seattle on Sunday. They have a better QB, a better team top-to-bottom.

    And FWIW, I’m rooting for the Niners to beat Green Bay.

  72. 90/98. I am an Auburn man. My Alabama hate is at a level few can even comprehend, let alone share. The Notre Dame article was of interest not because SEC teams have never done terrible things, but because the fans of programs like Notre Dame and PSU constantly tell you that their teams have not.

  73. @97

    Any team that signs a free agent who turned down a qualifying offer loses their first round pick, UNLESS that first round pick is in the first 10 selections (what they call a protected pick.)

    That team also loses the slot money assigned to the draft position of that pick.

    By signing BJ Upton the Braves committed $15m per year to Upton AND forfeited the 28th pick of the 2013 draft AND forfeited the slot money for that draft pick (1.65m.) That means that they have 1.65 mil less to spend on all of their other draft signings as well.

  74. That’s the calculus. The Braves decided that losing $1.65m out of this year’s draft budget and losing the 28th pick was worthwhile for them. Basically, they gave up a first rounder (to the Rays) and paid $16.5m for the first year of Upton, though he won’t see that extra mil and a half.

    I suspect they were also banking on getting a first rounder back from whomever signed Bourn. (Which explains, somewhat, why other teams are reticent to sign him.)

    If the Phils had signed Bourn instead of trading for Denard Span, they would have paid the cost of the contract, plus $2.125m (the 2012 slot value for the #16 draft pick), and also have given their #16 pick to Atlanta. So, in that exchange, the Braves would have traded Bourn for Upton, lost three quarter million dollars less than Philly in the draft compensation pool, AND have essentially traded up in the draft order from #28 to #16.

    This is the sort of bartering Boras doesn’t seem to have accounted for in his free agent strategies with the his three QO clients.

  75. The two primary suitors for Bourn, currently, seem to be the Mariners (#12 pick, 2.5mil slot value in 2012) and the Rangers (#25 pick, 1.725mil slot value in 2012.)

    I’m not sure if the slot value from the signing team is given back to the team that loses the FA. (That is to say, I’m not sure if the Rays get the signing pool money for the #28 pick, in addition to that pick, for losing Upton to Atlanta.)

  76. I didn’t understand it as the team “loses” the amount of money that is attached to their pick, but rather they lose the right to SPEND that money.

    This is all related to the CBA creating a slot system, where each numbered-pick is given a recommended dollar amount, and the dollar amounts for a given team’s actual pick-numbers is summed, and the team is then allowed to spend that amount on all picks, but does not have to spend the slot amount on each individual pick.

    And that the issue here is, teams with low picks in the draft have sometimes might like to utilize a strategy of going under-slot, so they can save budget-dollars to offer lottery tickets in late rounds who would have gone higher except for college commitments, injury he hopes to prove he’s past, etc.

    Thus, at, say, 28 and with 1.6m, the Braves might offer 1.1, say “Look, we made you a first-rounder. You want to waste a year? Sign your contract.” Then they have .5m to offer some two-sport kid in the sixth round that everyone likes, but no one would waste a 1 or 2 on.

    Thus, losing the 28 pick can cost you two chances to add talent to your minor leagues.

    I don’t think the actual 1.6m goes anywhere. The team just isn’t allowed to spend it in the draft.

  77. @109- that, of course, is a specific example. But it is a more general problem for the simple fact that your first round slot is obviously your largest dollar amount. So a team with 1.6m added to their budget in round 1 might have, just spit balling here, only 6.2m total. Take that 1.6 out, even with removing the obligation of drafting a first rounder, and you can really effect that teams draft day options throughout the draft.

  78. That’s the way I understand it to work too, JJ. So we’re in agreement. The Braves don’t have to cut a 1.6m dollar check to Tampa, they just lose that money from their possible signing budget in 2013. I am unclear if Tampa has their original signing pool budget + the 1.6mil from Atlanta’s #28 pick or not.

  79. @101

    Rooting is a bit strong, but I would certainly rather play SF or GB (so take that, mravery).

    Also, Matt Ryan is pretty clearly the second-best QB of the six NFC playoff teams, behind only Aaron Rodgers. I have absolutely no trepidation about him in this game whatsoever. If we lose, it won’t be because of him.

  80. Gotta be a fun game for Bama fans so far.

    My point was that the $1.65M that we are not allowed to spend should find its way back into our annual budget.

  81. @117 We will probably end up needing to spend similar amount of money if Boras finds a deal for Bourn and we are getting a pick back.

  82. I think our compensation pick is in the supplemental round, but I originally suggested spending the extra on Bourn. If we do that, there is no compensation pick coming our way.

    Wow. 28-0.

  83. Before this game, I was laughed at (elsewhere) when suggesting that there were 3 SEC teams that could beat ND head to head. I was wrong. There are at least 5.

  84. I actually don’t think this Falcons team is much better than last year’s… Well, except for the D Cootdinator. My one hope is that Nolan comes up with something crazy for an opposing rookie QB. But doubt Russell Wilson at your own risk.

    Personally, I think the Seahawks are the best team in the NFL at home. They’re a top 5 team on the road, at this point. I’ll be elated if the Falcons win, but I’m not holding my breath.

  85. I don’t like Alabama, and this result cost me money (see above) but the embarrassment to ND is worth it.

  86. No surprise that Notre Dame was exposed as a paper tiger, really. I mean, they did a great job winning all those games with no offense, but that was as dramatic a physical mismatch as you’ll see in this game.

    Yeah, I figured Notre Dame would put up some kind of resistance & tackle just a little bit. You could tell that they were out of their league about 4 plays into the game. You could’ve driven a Metro-North train thru some of those holes.

    It’s funny. I was having that very conversation with some people today. (Makes that SEC title game in the Dome a little more painful, I guess, but maybe we’ll get those 4 yards next year.)

  87. It’s not an injustice I’ll lose any sleep over, but it’s very, very silly that Notre Dame ended up ranked ahead of UGA and Texas A&M.

  88. How bad is Notre Dame’s weight-training program? I mean, that’s a team loaded with 4- and 5-star-caliber players, just like Bama. And this isn’t the old days, where their guys got their ratings bump after committing to ND — if anyone still benefits from that practice, it’s Bama. These are guys they beat other major national programs for. Why were they so utterly feeble against Alabama?

  89. People complain about SEC and hype, but anyone who honestly looked through the Irish’s results from 2012 realized they were more lucky than good. I thought they would hang in during the first half and then fade when Bama’s big o-line took over in the 2nd, but that was before GT manhandled a USC team that took ND to the wire (both games were without Matt Barkley.)

  90. My point being that the only reason ND was ranked high enough to get into the MNC game at all was because Lou Holtz had good teams in the early 90s.

  91. Stu, the primary difference between the SEC and other conferences/programs are the speed and depth of their defense, and the size of their linemen. Alabama, in particular, is stacked with gigantic o-linemen who just pushed around ND’s undersized front all night long.

  92. Yes, I’m quite familiar with the SEC — but my question is how these kids got so much bigger and faster, because ND and Bama recruits were, generally speaking, all similarly-talented and -sized when they were entering college.

  93. When there’s only one undefeated (and eligible) major program in the country, there’s not a lot you can do in the current system about putting them in the championship game. But yeah, I saw a lot of skinny arms out there in blue. Alabama had different sized people.

  94. I mean, I understand that ND is never going to have the JUCO defensive tackles that the Bamas and LSUs have, but the results on the field should not be that different, considering the inputs.

    I think there are several possible factors: SEC coaches are better at identifying which of those 4- and 5-stars are legit, SEC teams are tested against better weekly/yearly competition (iron sharpening iron), and weight training.

    But it’s still a little weird that last night’s game was so lopsided. (Even though I fully expected it.)

  95. Yes, I’m quite familiar with the SEC — but my question is how these kids got so much bigger and faster, because ND and Bama recruits were, generally speaking, all similarly-talented and -sized when they were entering college.

    Isn’t one of the big selling points of the SEC their “facilities?” Isn’t that the big build out at Arkansas that is supposed to push them from “another SEC school” to “SEC powerhouse?”

    I assume SEC schools have better training facilities, spend more on training staff and secondary coaches, and require their scholarship athletes to spend less time in the classroom so they can dedicate themselves to their minor league football training program.

  96. Yeah, I guess. But VU’s athletes have to work in the classroom, and our weight-training is awesome, too. Will be interesting to see, as we start recruiting better and better players, whether they get Alabama-sized. We currently have a bunch of 2- and 3-stars who are as big as Notre Dame’s guys.

  97. Yeah, I guess. But VU’s athletes have to work in the classroom, and our weight-training is awesome, too. Will be interesting to see, as we start recruiting better and better players, whether they get Alabama-sized. We currently have a bunch of 2- and 3-stars who are as big as Notre Dame’s guys.

    I think ND and Vandy are good comps, actually. I also seriously doubt Vandy ever pushes into the “big boy” ranks of SEC football without seriously undermining their academic reputation. Both are programs that could compete at the top of any of the second tier conferences (ACC, B1G, BE) but not in the SEC or XII.

  98. Can of worms here…maybe their classes are easier? I mean, while I was at Auburn, the “athletes” (seemingly just the football players) didn’t have much to balance out as it was pretty easy for them to get out of class. Maybe things have changed, maybe not. I will not reveal the football player, but I had a friend that was an up and coming DL player until both his knees required surgery. He and I took all the same classes and he was, well…not intelligent. We worked together on projects and he was rarely in class but always seemed to pull grades at least equivalent to mine. When I inquired about his absences, he always replied “workouts”. More time to work out, less time committed to academics would make a huge difference in a football player, physically and mentally. Many might as well had been majoring in football as academics seemed the last priority. Maybe it’s the same outside the SEC, maybe not. Maybe it’s different now, maybe not.

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