Thursday, May 26, 2011

Braves Status Report: 51 Games (28-23)

With the two-game sweep of the Pirates at Pittsburgh, the Braves managed to go 3-2 over their 5 games during the past week. The pitching staff struggled during inter-league play against the Angels in Los Angeles and the offense had nowhere near the capability of getting the team back in the game when they fell behind early. The offense's .235/.276/.342 line was even below their season average and their HR frequency has dropped off some (3 in 5 games) since the first 6 weeks of the season. Considering the team's 2.4 R/G average, it's impressive they were able to win the majority of their games during that time frame (I feel like I type that a lot).

Despite the relatively successful end to the road trip, the emergence of the injury bug was the big story of the week. In addition to Brandon Beachy suffering an oblique strain earlier this month, Tim Hudson was diagnosed with a stiff back and was held out of his scheduled start on Wednesday. Mike Minor effectively filled in and will also make a spot start on May 31. Jason Heyward was also placed on the DL on Sunday, after the Braves spent much too long testing to see if his shoulder inflammation would heal itself with a day or two off at at time. Hopefully he comes back healthy and proves that the discomfort played a major part of his near-ineffectiveness at the plate so far this season. Jordan Schafer was called-up from Gwinnett to fill his spot, making his first return to Atlanta since May 2009. Nate McLouth also went down on Sunday, suffering an oblique strain while leading off the game against the Angels. Wilkin Ramirez was brought up to take McLouth's place. I liked what the former-Tigers prospect showed in Spring Training and I think he brings a unique skill set to the team, so hopefully makes the most of his time in Atlanta.

The Braves sit 3.5 G behind the Phillies in the NL East and will begin a three-game home series against the Reds on Friday, immediately followed by another three-game series at Turner Field against the Padres (who may actually be more offensively-challenged than the Braves). Now for the 'cheers' and 'jeers' from the past week (5 games)....


Joe Mather - With McLouth and Heyward both on the DL, Mather has certainly made the most out of his playing time. The OF went 7-17 with a double, a homer and 5 RBI. His .412/.44/.647 slash over the past 5 games is about as good as it gets and he almost single-handedly earned the Braves' only win over the Angels. While he's certainly been playing over his head for the past couple weeks, it will be important for him to continue to be productive until Heyward and/or McLouth return.

Alex Gonzalez - The veteran shortstop had an impressive week, going 7-20 with a double and 3 runs over the past 5 games while raising his batting average by more than 20 points over the past 10 days. In addition to his production at the plate, Gonzo continues to play Gold Glove-type defense at short. With an aging Chipper at third and a range-challenged Uggla at second, Alex's defense will continue to be necessary with the prevalence of the team's ground ball pitchers.

Craig Kimbrel - The rookie closer was perfect this past week. He converted all three of his save opportunities without allowing a run or even a hit. Kimbrel picked up another 2 K while walking just one over three innings. He's now notched 14 saves (in 18 chances), good for third-best in the league and is on pace for a would-be major-league rookie record 44 saves this season (Neftali Feliz put up 40 last year).

Honorable Mention: Eric Hinske (6-20, HR, RBI); Brooks Conrad (1-3, BB, HR, 3 RBI); Jair Jurrjens (1 W, 7.2 IP, 0 R, 6 H, 4 K, 1 BB)


Dan Uggla - The former Marlin somehow manages to continually get worse as the season progresses. In 18 AB over the past 5 games, Uggla knocked out just one single while striking out 6 times. A .111 OPS isn't good, right? After being listed in the 'jeers' section so many times, I tried to find something positive or optimistic about the second baseman. He was supposed to just be a slow starter, but is hitting .163/.250/.279. He was brought in to help hit LHP, but at .118/.211/.157, he's actually hitting them worse than RHP. I was only able to find one split with positive numbers. Believe it or not, in the 11 games ( 48 PA) he's hit out of the clean-up spot this season, Uggla has a .359/.479/.667 line. Too small of a sample-size for it to really mean anything, but kind of interesting nonetheless.

Nate McLouth - McLouth was placed on the DL on Monday with an oblique strain, but wasn't hitting well anyway. In his 10 AB over the past week, he had just one single. He only struck out once, so he's been putting the ball in play, but hasn't seen results from those plate appearances. McLouth's injury provided Schafer with an opportunity to prove he can overcome his struggles the past two years and audition for the CF spot as McLouth enters a club-option year at the end of the season.

Tim Hudson - Huddy's solid season hit a serious pot hole this past week. Hudson lost his one start, going just 3.2 innings against the Angels before Fredi went to the bullpen. Hudson's 8 ER, 7 H, 2 K, 3 BB (1 IBB), 3 HBP was one of his worst lines over the past few seasons. Considering the results, news of his stiff back wasn't too much of a surprise. With Minor picking up Tim's regularly scheduled start this past Wednesday, hopefully Hudson will be ready to take the mound again on May 30, as projected.

Dishonorable Mention: Chipper Jones (3-17, 2 XBH, 4 K); Brian McCann (4-20, 2 XBH)

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