In honor of the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals' brave experiment to see just how many nihilists a regularly scheduled single-elimination game will make out of otherwise well-adjusted baseball fans, royhobbs of Talking Chop—you may remember him from some very gracious visiting-St.-Louis fanposts—and I traded five questions about our respective Wild Card teams. You can find my answers to his Pete Kozma-related inquiries over there.
Holy cow, Kris Medlen. How would you explain the Medlen story to an especially provincial NL Central blogger?
First off, I'd say to not believe all the hype ESPN has heaped upon Kris Medlen, or even the Braves themselves with what they stated was his "recovery plan," conveniently brought up during the hulabaloo behind the Nationals shutting down Stephen Strasburg.
Prior to the season, there was very little mention of Kris Medlen being in the rotation at all; with the massive depth chart in Spring Training consisting of Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, with prospects such as Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado waiting in the wings. Jair Jurrjens eventually forgot how to play baseball, Tommy Hanson was hampered by nagging injuries and inconsistencies and Brandon Beachy blew out his elbow. Patchwork like Ben Sheets worked temporarily, but eventually the ball fell into Kris Medlen's hand out of necessity for starting pitching, not out of some carefully-prepared master plan.
Medlen was an effective starter before he required Tommy John in 2010, but the way he's pitched for the Braves this year is still awe-inspiring to the fans now. He may be short and baby-faced, but he exudes a confidence about him and is unafraid to pound the strike zone. His changeup has been his primary weapons when dealing with lefties, and he's one of those quirky pitchers that switch-hits for some reason.
Chipper Jones has had a remarkable career, and will retire a deserving All-Star. Are you glad he's gone out on top, or do you wish he would stick around?
Personally, I'm glad Chipper Jones is going out on his own terms, because I hate to see when athletes stick around way longer than they should have, and occasionally play their last games in some other teams' uniforms. In 2012, Chipper hasn't exactly been channeling 1999 all over again, but he has been productive, and has given Braves fans many more great memories with two notable walk-off homers against the Phillies. The only thing that would make the Chipper Jones story perfect is retiring a champion.
What's behind Brian McCann's off year?
McCann has been hampered with shoulder and knee woes all year, and will have surgery on his right shoulder to address fraying in his labrum. Additionally, throughout his career, McCann has had a tendency to tire come September, so in the offseason there will likely be continuous efforts to improve his stamina. The Braves will without uncertainty pick up the 2013 option, but personally, I have to question what lies beyond 2013, when McCann becomes eligible for free agency. It all really depends on the development of catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, who will likely be in AAA next year.
Medlen aside, who's been the most pleasant surprise of the Braves' season?
Andrelton Simmons. Throughout his minor league career, he was more seen as a solid glove guy than someone known for his bat. But after the parade of errors caused by Tyler Pastornicky forced the Braves to switch shortstops, Simmons came up and not only flashed the amazing D that was expected of him, but also hit far better than anybody could have imagined. If not for an unfortunate hand injury that derailed him for six weeks, who knows if the Braves couldn't have taken the division?
If the Braves move on to the NLDS, what's their biggest weakness in a short-but-not-sudden-death series?
The Braves have the pitching to compete with any of the playoff teams, but it's the offense that has been susceptible to spontaneous droughts that will be the worry of Braves fans all around. A lot of people haven't noticed it during the sentimental love fest for the departing Chipper Jones, but hasn't been hitting very well, with a 2/25 streak going into Friday's Wild Card game. If Michael Bourn and the top of the order don't do their job adequately, it will be yet another short trip to the playoffs for the Braves.