Colby Wilson’s Braves Report: Closing Time
Clarksville, TN – The 2015 regular season has whimpered to a close. Let’s hand out some fake awards for an Atlanta Braves season that was all too real.
The Jermaine Dye Award for best season by a former Brave: This seems like one of those insanely stacked categories like the 1994 Best Picture Oscar nominees. In fact, lets draw some half-cocked parallels between baseball players and 20-year old movies!
Forrest Gump: Gets all the headlines and maybe (maybe!) it’s not the best, only everyone gets irrationally mad at you for suggesting that? Oh, this is so Justin Upton.
Four Weddings and a Funeral: Everybody always seems to forget about this movie… kinda like everyone forgets that Mark Teixeira used to play for the Braves.
Pulp Fiction: The coolest, the slickest, the baddest. If all five of these movies are playing at the same time, most people are picking this one. Sounds like Jason Heyward to me.
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Shelby Miller (17) pitches against the New York Mets during the second inning at Citi Field. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
Quiz Show: Workmanlike. Underrated. In the shadows. Has a niche appreciation similar to Brian McCann. Probably takes itself a little too seriously sometimes too.
The Shawshank Redemption: Exiled for reasons that really had nothing to do with him… could this be anyone other than Craig Kimbrel?
All five players had arguments for this spot. Kimbrel was a rock for an awful San Diego team, Upton its lone All-Star rep. McCann and Tex rolled the clock back to help the Yankees get to the playoffs. But could it be anyone other than Heyward? A 6.0 WAR player, his defense was again otherworldly, posting the third-best dWAR among all outfielders and buffeted that with a bounce-back year at the dish that included a frighteningly good second half (.318, 37 RBI, a dozen steals).
(That Frank Wren, newly minted Senior VP of Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox, got a job in baseball again after so badly misjudging Jason Heyward that he torpedoed his relationship with the franchise with a lowball contract extension is a truly remarkable achievement.)
The Kevin Costner in ‘For Love of the Game’ Award for suddenly unhittable pitching: Few players in baseball had a more tumultuous few years than Arodys Vizcaino—broke in the bigs young, struggled, trade, trade, suspension. So his second half (1.76 ERA, nine saves, 9.98 K/9) was nice. And he’s not quite 25 years old yet.
Worst Moment: Every time Shelby Miller took the mound in June, July and August. There was a prevailing sense that things weren’t going to go well, that if he didn’t get some run support early he was, at best, looking at a no-decision. I’ll never see a stretch of starts that heart-rendingly futile again in my lifetime. I felt terrible for the man.
Best Moment: Which made his very last start on Sunday so satisfying. Nobody wanted Shelby Miller to head into next season looking for his first win in 11 months. Against his old team, with Heyward—the two are inextricably linked now, regardless of how their careers turn out—in the lineup, Miller scattered three hits over eight innings to notch the win. And in a season from hell, the pure and unbridled joy that emanated from the dugout was a sight to behold.
The Andrelton Simmons Award for Best Defender: Despite a nice push by sure-handed and surprisingly nimble (for a guy who had just had neck surgery) Nick Markakis, your winner is Andrelton Simmons.
The Dan Uggla Award for Hopelessly Lost Defender: Nick Swisher, bless his heart to the end of time and back, played first base like a man who hadn’t held the mitt in two seasons and left field like a 34-year old whose entire lower-body was made out of granite. Lots of tread off the tires there.
MVP: Hoooooo… now we come to the hard part. Who stood out on the most disappointing Braves team in 25 years? Freddie Freeman’s bum wrist rendered him merely good in 2015. Simba remains all-D, no-stick. Give me Cameron Maybin’s first half and Markakis’ second-half and you’ve really got something there.
But instead, we’ll hand some fake hardware to the most unlikely of sources—A.J. Pierzynski. Known far and wide to bring a higher risk of cancer to a clubhouse than four cases of Red Man, Pierzynski wrested the starting job away from Christian Bethancourt in the spring and never looked back, hitting .300 for the first time in six seasons and held together a young pitching staff and bullpen that needed all the veteran help it could get in 2015. I may regret saying it this time next season, but I hope they bring the big galoot back.
Best Pitcher: Miller. For taking the ball every five days with a decreasing likelihood that things would turn out well for him, knowing that he could pitch the game of his life and walk away with the no-decision. And sometimes that would happen. It takes a certain level of courage to go out and do a job to the best of your ability with no confidence there will be any tangible reward or pay-off at the end. Miller did that, and for that he should be applauded.
Best Bounceback Candidate in 2016: With so few players with long-term experience, it’s hard to say. Freeman should be back to form in 2016, although even with his wrist issues (which lingered far longer than I would’ve liked), he hit .276 with 18 homers in a lineup where he was the only consistent power threat.
Instead, let’s hope for a rejuvenated Julio Teheran, who pitched a solid second-half (3.42 ERA, 8.32 K/9, line drive rate four percent lower than the first half) that looked similar to his 2013-14. He doesn’t have to be the No. 1 anymore—that’s Miller’s job. So with the pressure off, maybe a return to form isn’t out of the question?
Playoff Predictions: Sadly, it’s shaping up to be a World Series only the state of Missouri will love. In the National League, it’s the Cardinals world and we all just occupy a tiny corner of it, while the Royals have looked like the team to beat in the AL. I’ve got it as a Royals-Blue Jays ALCS (Royals in five) and Cardinals against Mets in the NLCS (Cards in six), with KC bringing home its first World Series in 30 years. So enjoy that Pirates-Rangers Fall Classic, everybody.
But that’ll do it for another year. Thanks for joining me. You’ll hear from me during the offseason from time-to-time (although they’re just about out of recognizable faces to trade away), and then we’ll ramp back up next spring. Enjoy the offseason and pray for Shelby Miller to have a better 2016.