Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Better Late Than Never!

I may not be able to physically make it through the rest of the season at this pace..and I’m not even playing! The Cardiac Braves waited until the bottom of the 9th to claim the series victory against the Dodgers with their 20th last at-bat win of the season (as an aside, games like THAT are why I have MLB.tv!). With the exception of a 13-1 offensive explosion on Sunday, each game was low-scoring and decided by just one run. The starting pitching continues its torrid August as Hudson, Lowe, Jurrjens and Hanson put up an amazing 0.96 ERA (3 ER in 28 IP) during the four game series. Atlanta's now 2.5 games up on the Phillies in the NL East, a major league best 42-16 at home and are 1.5 games behind the Padres for the best record in the National League. But while the pitching has been flat out AMAZING and the wins are piling up, there is still plenty of room for improvement with this team.

Outside of the rare 13-run outburst in game three, the Braves averaged just 2 runs per game during the series. The team went 0-fer with RISP in the first two games and then waited until Melky’s walk-off hit to get their first base knock with runners in scoring position on Monday (they went 7-14 in those situations on Sunday, thanks in part to the ageless Vincente Padilla). The pitching has been strong enough recently to cover-up most of that ineffectiveness, but we have to assume the pitching will at least regress some. If the Braves make it to the play-offs, we’ll need to see more offense and better situational hitting. On average, the team would see stronger pitching and stronger offenses. Squeezing out walk-off wins after your starting pitcher gives up one earned through seven innings won’t always cut it. This week’s anticipated return of Martin Prado should help (where will he hit in the line-up?..lead-off, third?), but the current 3-4-5 string of Alex Gonzalez, Brian McCann and Troy Glaus isn’t the most frightening middle of the line-up for opposing pitchers.

Speaking of Troy Glaus, how much longer is Bobby Cox going to run him out there? His two recent home runs have been nice (isn’t that what middle of the order ‘power’ hitters should at least be doing?) and he’s looked a tad bit more mobile at first base, but he’s still really hurting this team offensively. Glaus popped out in foul territory in the bottom of the 9th Monday with runners on second and third and none out to cap off a 0-4 night that included a strike out, a GIDP and 4 LOB. Even in August with his two home runs, he’s hitting just .209 in 13 games. His 16 GIDPs this season match his 16 home runs. All this while Freddie Freeman and Barbaro Canizares are tearing-up Triple A Gwinnett. Freeman has a .311/.371/.516 season line to along with 16 homers and 75 RBI. His August has been even more impressive at .415/.448/.660. Meanwhile, Canizares (the reigning IL Player of the Week) is putting up a .333/.399/.485 season with 9 HR and 63 RBI. His August has been even stronger with a crazy .429/.556/.629. That’s A LOT of production to keep down while Glaus continues to struggle mightily.

I can understand (and mostly agree with) keeping Freeman down to continue his development. But what’s the downside with placing Glaus on the DL to rest his rough knees and calling up Canizares? The 30 year-old has been a consistent hitter throughout all levels of the minors and has hit .310/.372/.451 in 3+ seasons at the AAA level. He’s played first base his entire career while splitting time at the position with Freeman this season. Canizares had a cup of coffee with the Braves last year picking up 4 hits (1 2B) in 21 ABs. He’s a right-handed hitter (hits RHP and LHP for average equally, but shows more power against LHP), so it could make sense for him to platoon with lefty Eric Hinske at first while he’s up. It’s a relatively save bet he wouldn’t hit the same at the major-league level as he has with Gwinnett, but I think he still produces more than what Glaus has shown since mid-June. I do believe Troy still has some swing left, so let him rest his knees for a good 2-3 weeks to get ready for the stretch run while Canizares fills in. We shall see…

The Braves remain at Turner Field to begin a three-game series with their NL East rival Washington Nationals. Mike Minor (2nd career start), Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe will go up against Olsen, Hernandez and Lannan (Upstate, NY - Siena College alum).

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