Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nate Who? Jesse Who?

A depressing series loss gets a depressing blog post. The Braves dropped two of three to the Marlins in a series that realistically could have been swept by the good guys. Billy Wagner blew his second save in as many chances on Friday and the Braves wasted numerous chances on Sunday to grab the lead (the Braves had just 1 RBI in 5 bases loaded plate appearances..that included two GIDP). A clutch pinch-hit grand slam by Brooks Conrad on Saturday allowed Atlanta to snag at least one game in Florida.

The Braves are now just 5-5 since the All-Star break and are 23-28 on the road (compared to an MLB-best 34-13 at Turner Field). The Marlins series exposed (proved?) the need for an outfielder and possibly some changes in the bullpen. Outside of a couple Melky Cabrera hits and an Eric Hinske solo homer on Sunday, Braves CF and LF brought nothing to the series. Billy Wagner’s blown save on Friday combined with Jesse Chavez and Kenshin Kawakami serving as dead-weight in the bullpen did little to help Bobby Cox manage through tough late-inning situations.

Late last week I wrote that Nate McLouth’s defensive ability would allow him to produce a basic second-half line of .250, 8 HR, 30 RBI (similar to Chipper Jones’ first half totals) in order to prove his worth. Apparently Nate didn't read my post because he's gone just 1-15 since his return from the DL. His last out on Sunday, a crushing bases loaded double play with the game tied in the top of the 11th, should probably be the last straw for Bobby and Frank Wren. The Braves have less than a week to make a move before the trade deadline and Nate’s spot on the roster should be on the chopping block. With an off day on Monday, even calling up Gregor Blanco in time for the Washington series seems like a good idea at this point. Whatever the Braves’ front office decides, Nate McLouth can’t be allowed to kill the Braves any more.

As bad as Nate McLouth has been for Atlanta this season, Jesse Chavez might be even worse. He earned the loss on Sunday after allowing 4 consecutive Marlins to reach base in the 11th (including an intentional walk) without getting an out. Chavez has given up 4 ER in just 6 appearances this month (4.2 IP), continuing his season long worthlessness. For the most part, Cox only uses Chavez in blow outs or late in games when other relievers have already been used or aren’t available. Chris Resop has made a few rehab starts in the minors recently, so if the team plans on replacing Chavez with him when he’s ready, that time can’t come soon enough. Further, Kenshin Kawakami has been used just ONCE in the past MONTH (a 1IP, 3ER performance on 7/16). What are the Braves’ plans for him?? While his 4.75 ERA isn’t exactly appealing, he’s certainly been better than Chavez. If he’s not going to be used, he’s also unnecessarily taking up a valuable spot in the bullpen.

While McLouth and Chavez have been awful, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann have been tearing up the second half. J-Hey’s at a scorching .436 since his return from the DL and is currently riding a 9-game hitting streak. He hasn’t shown much power (2 2B, 0 HR), but has raised both his BA and OBP by over 20 points to serve as an important table setter. Brian McCann’s put up a .333, 3 HR, 14 RBI (!) line in just 9 games since his All-Star MVP performance. The two of them, combined with Alex Gonzalez (hitting .325 as a Brave), have picked up the offensive slack as Troy Glaus (.207, 0 HR, 5 RBI) and Eric Hinske (.211, though 3 HR and 8 RBI) have mostly slumped in July.

The Braves begin a three-game series Tuesday in Washington versus the Nationals. Though unannounced yet by the Braves, we’ll presumably see Hanson, Hudson and Lowe against Strasburg, Hernandez and Stammen, respectively.

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