Monday, August 23, 2010

See You Later Sweet Lou!

The Braves won a very important road series in Chicago this weekend with their 16-5 Sunday afternoon victory in what ended up being Lou Pinella’s last game as a manager. Jason Heyward and Omar Infante represented the offensive fire power with 2 home runs apiece. The series included just about every story line possible with the team’s 22nd last at bat win on Friday, more RISP struggles (2-11) on Saturday and a Mike Minor rookie strikeout record on Sunday.

Minor struck out 12 Cubs on Sunday with an unhittable change-up to break the Atlanta record (previously held by Tommy Hanson, who put up 11 last year) and tie the Braves’ franchise record. His name doesn’t begin with ‘Stras’ and he doesn’t have a 100mph fastball, but I wonder how much press his performance will garner. My guess is not that much (especially here in Upstate, NY). Minor’s 12 K went along with 6 IP, 3 ER, 7 H and 1 BB to earn him his second win of the season in only his third start. In those 3 starts, Minor has a 4.00 ERA but just a 1.17 WHIP, a .236 BAA and a stellar 5.5 K/BB. He definitely impressed in the minors this season, but I’m not sure many expected him to jump right into this rotation and put up those numbers in the middle of a heated pennant race. Minor’s obviously still a rookie, but if he can continue to perform like he has so far, he will provide Bobby with the option of throwing up a LHP against a line-up if/when the Braves head into the play-offs.

The series also saw the beginning on Derrek Lee’s career in a Braves uniform. Unfortunately, Lee didn’t show Braves fans much to cheer for. Before his last AB on Sunday, Lee was 0-10 with 3 K, 3 BB and 14 LOB. He broke up his hitless performance with a three-run double in the 8th inning. While it was in ‘garbage time’ (the game was pretty much over by then), hopefully that’s what Lee needed to get going. His bat, especially coming out of the clean-up spot, will be important during the final 6 weeks of the season to earn the Braves a play-off spot (preferably by way of the NL East title).

The other big story of the weekend was 2010 ALL-STAR Omar Infante. Infante’s 4-6, 2 HR outburst was the first time a Braves player had 4 hits, 4 RBI and 4 runs since Willie Harris did it against the Cardinals on 7/21/07. Omar’s now hitting .349/.381/.458 (.839 OPS) on the season and .374/.406/.582 (.989 OPS) in August. His batting average would put him in the lead for the NL batting title, but he doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify at this point. Assuming he remains in the starting line-up, Infante will end up cutting it close to the necessary 502 plate appearances (he doesn’t walk all that often). As noted, because of a unique stipulation in the rules, Infante could still win the title even if he doesn’t finish with enough Pas… IF he has a large enough lead at the end of the season. Troy Glaus will begin working on his 3B skills at Gwinnett soon, but with how well Omar’s been playing, I really can’t imagine Troy knocking him out of the starting line-up. If/when Glaus returns to Atlanta, I can’t imagine him being much more than a right-handed (hopeful power) bat off the bench.

The Braves continue their road trip on Monday with a three-game series in Colorado against the NL West Rockies. It’s important for the Braves to continue to do well as the Phillies will be hosting the sub-.500 Astros and the division lead remains at just 2.5 games. While the 16 run performance on Sunday was impressive, the Braves need more consistency from their hitters at Coors Field. It’s been either feast or famine with the team. In 21 August games, the team has scored:

• 0-4 runs – 15 times
• 5-7 runs – 2 times
• 8+ runs – 4 times

Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens will go up against Hammel, De La Rosa and Rogers.

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