Thursday, April 21, 2011

Braves Status Report: 20 Games (8-12)

So this losing thing is already getting old. The Braves went 3-4 over the past week and now sit at 8-12 on the season. The same issues seem to be persisting: great pitching, solid defense and near-nonexistent offense. Yes, it’s still ‘early’ in the season, but these games count and the team’s already 4.5 games behind the division-leading Phillies (pending their game tonight at San Diego). With the Giants pitching staff getting ready to face the Braves next, it’s not going to get easier any time soon.

Outside of Jair Jurrjens missing his first start and a Peter Moylan DL-stint, the team’s been essentially injury free, so they should be putting their best product on the field. Weaknesses are already becoming clear, including some bullpens roles and hitting options off the bench. Again, it’s still ‘early’ (when exactly is it no longer ‘early?’), but Fredi Gonzalez , Frank Wren & Co. should not be afraid to tap into the successful farm system when some tweaking becomes necessary. That time may be nearer than we think.

With all that being said, here are some highlights over the past week (7 games, beginning with the doubleheader on 4/16). With so many blogs using the “who’s hot, who’s not” categories, I’m going to switch it up to the amazingly original “cheers and jeers.” They are….


Freddie Freeman – Freddie has continued on his tear. Moving up to the 6th/7th spot in the line-up, he’s beginning to show the power he displayed at Gwinnett last year. The rookie first baseman went 6-17 with 3 HR and 5 RBI this week. Surprisingly, he’s actually hitting lefties better than righties. He battles LHP well, staying in against tough off-speed pitches, already much better than other LHB throughout the league. While he’s still getting comfortable fielding his position, he’s already made a myriad of impressive scoops on throws from his fellow infielders. Let’s hope he keeps it all up!

Nate McLouth – Nate’s really turned it around over the past 7-10 days. While he’s still the only starter without a HR this season, he’s getting on base and showing some doubles power, going 7-22 with 3 2B. He was bumped down to the 8th spot in the order, so while conventional wisdom says he should be getting fewer pitches to hit, perhaps some pressure may now be off of him, allowing him to do what he’s capable of. With Jordan Schafer doing well at Gwinnett, it’s important for Nate to continue to produce.

Eric Hinske – After starting off the season 0-9, Hinske seems to have found his swing. He has 6 hits (including 1 HR) in his last 11 AB between a couple starts and some pinch-hitting opportunities, while also chipping in 4 RBI. As the veteran bat off the bench, it’s important for Hinske to be successful when given the chance.

Jair Jurrjens – Jair returned from his slight oblique injury this week, looking much more like his 2009 self than last season’s. During two starts, Jurrjens gave up just 1 ER and 9 H over 13 IP, while adding in 10 K to just 3 BB. He’s locating his pitches well with an effective amount of movement. A successful Jurrjens will be important for the Braves, especially if they might be in a position to trade him later in the season to improve the offense, should some of the team’s higher-level pitching prospects continue to develop.

Honorable Mention: Brandon Beachy (first career win, 6 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 7 K, 2BB); Bullpen (23.1 IP, 2.31 ERA, 30 K, 8 BB)


Offense –
The Braves offense is on this list for the third week in a row. The team’s hitters continue to struggle to consistently score runs. They went 56-232 over the past 7 games while putting up just 26 runs (3.7 R/G). Take out the 10 run game on Tuesday and that average drops to 2.7 R/G. Even a great pitching staff can’t cover that on a regular basis. Hitters aren’t getting on base, aren’t having success when running (3SB/4CS) and aren’t succeeding in situational hitting. The team did manage to hit an impressive 10 HR over the past week, but with their struggles to get on base, the overwhelming majority of them have been solo shots. Taking a look at their numbers so far this season, the problem becomes more pressing. They’re averaging less than 3.5 R/G on the season. Removing just their 11 and 10 run games on 4/3 and 4/19, respectively, that average drops to 2.7 R/G. The team has actually scored more than 20% of their 69 total runs this season in JUST the 8th inning on 4/3 and the 9th inning on 4/19.

Fredi Gonzalez – Sure, Fredi’s not of the field, but he certainly deserves to be listed here. Exhibit A: his suicide squeeze call in the opening game in Los Angeles on Monday. With the bases loaded (Eric Hinske on 3rd), 1 out and Tommy Hanson at the plate with a 2-2 count, Fredi called on the worst hitter on the team to perform one of the riskiest offensive plays in baseball, with likely the slowest person on the team attempting to come home. Even non-sabermetricians, such as me, had their jaw hit the floor with that call. Hanson ended up missing the bunt altogether, allowing Hinske to be tagged out for a double play. The Braves lost by 1 in that game. A number of decisions (or lack thereof) on Thursday didn’t help the team’s cause either: why bring in McCann in the bottom of the 9th to replace David Ross when Ross is the better defensive catcher?...why not intentional walk Matt Kemp in the bottom of the 12th with the game tied, 1 out and a runner on 2nd? It’s only 20 games into the season, but Fredi’s not exactly gaining a lot of fans. What’s Ned Yost doing?

Jason Heyward – It must pain Braves fans to see J-Hey listed here, but the sophomore star has been struggling mightily over the past week. 3-26 with 4 K and 0 BB over the past 7 games isn’t exactly what Fredi was hoping for when he moved Heyward up to the 2 hole for the LAD series. He simply looks out of whack at the plate. He’s attacking bad pitches, often swinging at the first pitch and just doesn’t seem to be sure of what pitches he’s looking for. Heyward’s putting the ball in play, but is regularly grounding out to the right side of the infield or popping up. Perhaps a focused effort on going the other way (as he was so successful doing last year) might help him find his swing again?

Hudson/Hanson/Lowe – The top 3 of the rotation did not have an enjoyable week. Over 4 starts, they gave up a combined 14 ER during 20 IP (6.30 ERA), leaving them with a 1-3 record. I’m not too concerned with the past week and expect them all to get back on track soon. The tough part, with the way the offense has been performing, is that the team needs near-stellar performances from them day and in day out. That’s unrealistic to expect and must be taxing on the rotation.

Dishonorable Mention: Chipper Jones (5-23, 1 XBH, 4 K)

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