With the mini-series sweep the Braves suffered at the hands of the Diamondbacks, a week that began with promise ended on a bit of a sour note. Atlanta started the past week going 4-1, including a series win against the Phillies and a two-game sweep of the Astros. But a shaky bullpen and the lack of offensive support resulted in a 4-3 record for the Braves over the past 7 games. Atlanta's now 2.5 G behind the Phillies in the NL East.
The team's making this blog sound like a broken record, as the Braves' starting rotation battled to overcome a mediocre-at-best offense, fan-frustrating decisions by Fredi Gonzalez and a couple bullpen hiccups. Atlanta hitters got on base at a comparatively reasonable rate, but had no ability to convert with runners in scoring position, hitting .140 (8-57) over the 7 game span. During the two series against the the Astros and Dbacks, that number managed to drop even further to .107 (3-28). When those stats are considered, it's actually kind of impressive that the team was able to win the majority of those games.
The other persistent problem has been Fredi Gonzalez. While the offense has had trouble scoring runs, he's certainly not helping. The Braves' first-year manager bunts in nearly every situation conceivable. Now I admit - I was definitely more of a fan of the sac bunt in the past than I am now, but a quick look at this analysis should put those thoughts to rest for any objective fan. Playing devil's advocate, you might argue that it's difficult for the matrix to address specific in-game scenarios (which I can agree with), but for a team with little-to-no speed and an apparent difficulty hitting with runners in scoring position, giving up outs like Fredi does on a regular basis is only exacerbating the issue. In the interests of blog time/space, I won't really dig into Fredi's use of the bullpen, but will leave you with this one stat: Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel are all in the top 12 in the NL in appearances so far this season. Yikes.
As the Braves head off to Anaheim to begin a three-game interleague play series, followed by another brief two-game series at Pittsburgh, here are this past week's cheers and jeers....
Starting Rotation - The Braves pitching staff just continues to impress. While the Atlanta hitters struggle to drive in runs, the Braves rotation has successfully kept the team in games. In 7 starts this week (Jurrjens x2, Lowe, Hudson, Hanson, Beachy, Teheran) the starters put up a 2.85 ERA with 28 K and 11 BB over 41 IP. Despite those stellar numbers, the group went just 2-1. With the offense fighting to score runs, many leads weren't picked up until late in the game and one was notably given up by the bullpen on Wednesday. While there were a number of strong candidates, the top performance was likely Hanson's 7 IP, 1 ER, 10 K, 1 BB outing on Monday. The other rotation news, this one negative, was Brandon Beachy's oblique strain that limited him to just 2 innings against the Phillies last Friday and earned him a trip to the DL. Julio Teheran (I will continue to push 'The Ayatollah' as a nickname!) made his second career start in Beachy's spot on Wednesday and will likely fill-in again when a 5th starter is next needed on May 31st.
Martin Prado - The Braves lead-off hitter put up another great week, going 10-30 with 1 2B, 1 HR and 4 RBI. He's managed to find gaps, fight from behind in the count and set the plate for the Braves (would be) run producers. The one knock on Martin recently has been his addiction to hitting into double plays. His 4 GIDP over the past week gives him 10 so far this season. As a comparison, the 2010 All-Star hit into just 13 all last year. It doesn't help that Prado has no where near the speed of your 'average' lead-off hitter, but he really has been unlucky in those situations up to this point this season. His 28 RBI this season are good for 7th in the NL.
Eric Hinske - Hinske earned 4 starts this past week, following injuries to Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones (Prado played 3B), and certainly made the most of them. Big Damage went 7-18 with a double and a run driven in. That RBI proved to be the game-winner on Monday at Turner Field against the Astros. More than a quarter of the way through the season, Hinske's hitting a red hot .343/.368/.578.
Honorable Mention: Alex Gonzalez (8-26, 3 R); Freddie Freeman (7-22, 2 RBI); Joe Mather (4-9, 2 2B, 2 RBI)
Jeers: (I'm thinking of renaming this either 'Ugglas' or 'Fredis'..thoughts?)
Jason Heyward - While J-Hey returned to the line-up from a sore shoulder, he hasn't yet found his swing again. Heyward went 2-13 with 0 XBH over 4 starts this past week. He continues to swing at too many pitches outside of the zone and hasn't yet consistently worked to go the other way with pitches on the outside of the plate. It's difficult to know whether or not Heyward is still experiencing discomfort in his shoulder, but it hasn't looked like he's made any real adjustments to his approach at the plate over the past few weeks.
Dan Uggla - This is really getting old. Uggla put up another pitiful week, going just 3-25 with 1 XBH and 6 K. His 5 walks managed to help out his OBP some, but he's still hitting below .200 with a sub .300 OBP on the season. As May slowly comes to an end, it's becoming more and more likely that this will be a career-worst season for Uggla. Unless he begins to seriously turn it around soon, the only real question will be how much worse does he have to do before Fredi Gonzalez moves him out of a run-producing spot in the line-up?
Nate McLouth - McLouth continues to struggle, going 3-22 with 5 K over the past 7 games. It likely hasn't helped that Fredi has essentially used him as a designated-bunter recently. McLouth's probably one of the better bunters on the team (though that isn't exactly saying much), but too many of his plate appearances are resulting in a sacrifice, at best, or a botched-bunt force out, at worst. It's really impressive Prado's been able to drive in as many runs as he has, given the fact that McLouth and the pitcher's spot are in front of him.
Dishonorable Mention: Brian McCann (3-22)