2010 Atlanta Braves

Welcome to Brave Journal’s 10 for 10’s, where for each season of the past decade we relive the thrill of victory:

And the agony of defeat:

Today’s episode: the 2010 Atlanta Braves Season

The decade of the Aughts saw the last of Atlanta’s amazing run of division titles in 2005, and the franchise spent the next 4 years wandering in the desert of also rans. Near the end of his 24th season (over two separate stints) as field general in 2009, Bobby Cox signed a final one year contract and announced that 2010 would be his final curtain call. The end of an era loomed.

2009 Offseason

Frank Wren, kicking off his third season as Braves GM, signed Tim Hudson to a three-year $27M contract extension with a $9M club option for 2013. He also added Billy Wagner to serve as closer on a one year $6.75M deal with a $6.5M club option for 2012, Takashi Saito as set-up man to a one-year $3.2M deal (with additonal performance incentives), Troy Glaus to primarily play 1st base on a one year $1.75M deal (with additional performance incentives), and Eric Hinske as bench depth on a one year $1.5M deal.

In his most significant (and controversial) trade of the offseason, Wren sent pitcher Javier Vazquez (coming off a season where he finished 4th in the NL Cy Young vote) and reliever Boone Logan to the Yankees for outfielder Melky Cabrera and relievers Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino. The reaction around these parts was, shall we say, not favorable.

2010 Atlanta Braves Opening Day Lineup

  • SP – Derek Lowe – was mostly mediocre in 2010 (4.00 ERA, 1.37 WHIP), but took the ball every 5th day and averaged just under 6 innings per start. He was very good down the stretch, going 5-0 in September to help secure a wild card berth and pitched well in the postseason (more on this later).
  • C – Brian McCann – a very good season (.269/.375/.453, 3.4 WAR). Led the team with 21 HR and 77 RBI. Made the all star team as a reserve and named MVP after his bases-clearing double drove in all the NL runs in their 3-1 victory, the first over the AL since 1996. Remarkably stole 5 bases. David Ross was excellent in a backup role.
  • 1B – Troy Glaus – awful in the early season, rebounded to have a great May, but overall was just barely above replacement level. His performance (or lack thereof) led to the acquisition of Derek Lee in mid-August, who played well and saw the majority of the action at 1B for the remainder of the season. Should also mention that Freddie Freeman was a September call up, and saw limited action where his performance did not portend what was to come.
  • 2B – Martin Prado – had a wonderful season (.307/.350/.459, 4.9 WAR), and was named an all star starter. Led the team with 599 AB, 189 hits, 40 doubles, and 275 total bases.
  • 3B – Chipper Jones – was in his zombie Chipper phase (.265/.381/.426, 2.2 WAR). Only played in 95 games, and his season was cut short by a torn ACL in August.
  • SS – Yunel Escobar – a talented but frustratingly undisciplined player, he was ultimately traded along with pitcher Jo Jo Reyes in mid-July to the Blue Jays for SS Alex Gonzales (the other one), pitcher Tim Collins (who was flipped shortly afterward as part of the trade that landed Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth from KC), and IF Tyler Pastornicky.
  • LF – Melky Cabrera – Blech. These clips speak for themselves (warning: not safe for small children or the infirm).
  • CF – Nate McLouth – suffered a disastrous injury-plagued season (.190/.298/.322, -2.8 WAR in only 242 AB). Less said the better.
  • RF – Jason Heyward – See below.

2010 Atlanta Braves Season Highlights

Debut of Jason Heyward

The Braves drafted Jason out of Georgia’s Henry County High School with the 14th overall selection in the 2007 MLB draft, and he rocketed through the system, finishing 2009 at Gwinnett. He was the consensus top MLB prospect entering 2010, and earned an invitation to spring training where he led the team in OBP and SLG. The Braves chose not to play games with his service time (see Acuna, Ronald), and he broke camp with the big league club as the opening day right fielder. He did not disappoint, hitting a 3-run homer to right field off the Cub’s Carlos Zambrano on his very first swing of the bat.

Jason had a great rookie campaign (.277/.393/.456, 18 HR, 91 walks, 6.3 WAR). He led the team in OBP and OPS among qualifying hitters, and was pretty clearly the team MVP. He did miss some time with a thumb injury incurred while sliding, and he had to sit out the all star game (to which he had been named a starter). He ended up finishing second to Buster (he was out) Posey in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. It sure looked like Jason was destined to be a superstar and the face of the franchise for many years to come. It didn’t quite work out that way.

The Comeback of Tim Hudson

Hudson had Tommy John surgery in August 2008, and due to the typical recovery period did not return to the lineup until September 2009. After signing an extension in the offseason, he led the starters in 2010 with 228.2 IP, 17 wins, 2.83 ERA, and 1.15 WHIP. Credited with 5.5 WAR, he was named the 2010 Comeback Player of the Year.

Brooks Conrad, Folk Hero

Brooks was a minor league free agent of no distinction when he was signed by the Braves to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training in 2009. He spent most of the year in Gwinnett, but appeared in 30 games with the Braves. He did hit a 3-run pinch hit homer against the Nats in a 9-8 Braves victory in his debut on July 3 of that season, but otherwise did little of note, finishing with an uninspiring slash line of .204/.259/.407.

Then during the offseason, Brooks made a secret trip to New Orleans to consult with the descendants of Marie Laveau. In a ritual that rumor has it involved clippings of Bobby Cox‘s hair and shards from one of Chipper Jones‘ broken bats, he was endowed with magical (although temporary) powers. Don’t believe me? Consider the evidence:

  • April: he breaks camp with the big league club as bench depth
  • May 20 – hits a walk-off grand slam against the Reds, capping off an eight-run comeback
  • June 12 – drops a game-winning suicide squeeze in the 9th against the Twins
  • July 24 – hits a go-ahead grand slam against the Marlins in the 8th
  • August 10 – hits a go-ahead 2-run homer in the 9th against the Astros
  • August 13 – hits a game winning homer in the 7th against the Dodgers

Unfortunately for Brooks and the Braves, the spell wore off at just the wrong time. I suspect that somehow a lace from Bill Buckner‘s glove was in the room at incantation time.

Return to the Postseason

As the season drew to a close, the Phillies were solidly in first place in the East divison (in year 3 of 5 consecutive divison championships). The Braves entered the final day of the regular season on October 3 tied with the Padres for a wild card berth. Atlanta sent Tim Hudson to the mound against the Phils at Turner Field to try to clinch at least a tie for the wild card. A 2-run homer staked Philly to an early lead, but the Braves scored in four consecutive innings to take an 8-2 lead into the 7th. Hudson allowed another 2-run homer, then Venters and Wagner combined to allow 3 more in the 8th thanks to some shoddy defense. Wagner took matters into his own hands in the 9th, striking out all three Philly batters to seal the victory. Meanwhile, the Giants defeated the Padres, and the postseason drought was finally over. The Braves finished the season with a 91-71 record. Mac’s recap.

The End

The Braves faced the Giants in a best of 5 division series, ultimately falling in four games all decided by one run. The Braves pitched well enough to win, but the offense and defense both let the team down.

Game 1: Giants 1, Braves 0

Derek Lowe and the Brave’s bullpen were good, but Lincecum was even better, striking out 14 Braves in a complete game shutout.

The Giants scored the game’s only run thanks to umpire malfeasance. Here’s the proof. Mac’s recap.

Game 2: Braves 5, Giants 4 (11 innings)

The Braves rallied from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game in the 8th, then won it in the 11th on a Rick Ankiel home run. Wagner hurt himself trying to make a play on a bunt in the 10th inning, and would not appear again in the series. He would be missed. Mac’s recap.

Game 3: Giants 3, Braves 2

This one really hurt. Brooks Conrad was the goat, dropping a pop-up to let one run score, then let a grounder go through the wickets in the top of the 9th that let the winning run score after the Braves had taken the lead in the bottom of the 8th. Mac’s recap.

Game 4: Giants 3, Braves 2

Derek Lowe was again effective and the Braves took a 2-1 lead into the 7th, but the Giants scored 2 to take the lead and their bullpen held on to end the Braves season and Bobby’s managerial career. Mac’s recap.

Do yourself a favor and go back and read some of Mac’s work. The quantity and quality of material he produced was astonishing. He was the best. We miss you Mac. Here is where his 2009 & 2010 recaps can be found.

Thanks for reading on the 2010 Atlanta Braves!

Long live Braves Journal!