Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brought To You By The Letters R, I, S and P

Another poor start from Derek Lowe helped the Nationals take the series today in Washington by a 5-3 score. It was only thanks to a gem from Tim Hudson on Wednesday that saved the Braves from being swept by the last place Nats. The Braves went 2-4 and lost consecutive series to the 4th and 5th place teams in the NL East. The Braves are now just 9-15 in three-year-old Nationals Park and the loss drops them to 24-30 (.444) on the road this year. Something tells me the team is looking forward to returning to Turner Field on August 2nd.

Over the last 14 games (post All-Star break and last game of the 7/8-10 Mets series in New York), the Braves are a worrisome 6-8. That’s not exactly how a first place team should be playing deep into a pennant race, especially as the Phillies offense is quickly awakening from its two-month slumber. Add in the fact that our NL East rivals picked up Roy Oswalt in a lopsided trade with the Astros, you begin to see that the Braves need to right this ship…and fast.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past couple weeks, you know that the Braves are struggling mightily with runners in scoring position. SB Nation Atlanta takes a detailed look at the team’s performance (or lack thereof) in these ‘clutch’ situations, but to make it clear in just a few words, the Braves are hitting a paltry .217 with RISP over their past 14 games. Even worse, in those 8 loses, they’re at a McLouth-esque .158. That’s compared to a .276 mark in their 6 wins. The team’s leaving a number of runners on base, true, but as some have noted, that’s at least partially due to their NL-leading .344 OBP. And it’s not as if the Braves aren’t getting their chances; they’ve averaged more than 8 ABs per game with runners in scoring position during that span.

Outside of Brian McCann, the middle of the Braves’ line-up just isn’t getting it done. Troy Glaus has just 5 RBI in the month of July and Chipper Jones has just 9 (decent for him, bad for a hitter in the 3-hole). Alex Gonzalez while hitting for a decent average since his trade to Atlanta, hasn’t shown the pop the Braves need. In 12 games (47 ABs), he’s added exactly zero home runs and just 2 RBI to a line of .277/.346/.404. The team doesn’t have the home run power to dilute the need for hits with runners on. They have just one player with more than 14 home runs..and he’s the aforementioned ‘no-home-runs-with-the-Braves’ Alex Gonzalez (with 17). Something like this is hard to solve with a quick manager’s decision. Like with basketball (non-baseball sports analogy ALERT), sometimes a team gets great shots, but for whatever reason they just can’t make them. But in the meantime, it could make sense for Bobby to do things to help manufacture a few more runs. With the Braves losing some of their recent games by just a run or two, perhaps a little more bunting and/or hit-and-runs would make sense. Sending Nate McLouth down to Gwinnett (where he hit a HR in his first AB Thursday) is a good first step, but with only two days left before the trade deadline, Frank Wren has to find a power bat for the middle of this line-up. The starting pitchers can only do so much; they need the support behind them.

The Braves start a three-game weekend series against the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds on Friday. Medlen, Jurrjens and Hanson will be facing off against Cueto, Arroyo and Volquez, respectively.

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