Friday, June 24, 2011

Braves Status Report: 76 Games (43-33)

After starting out by dropping two games to the Rangers, Atlanta finished up a solid week with four consecutive wins, including an impressive sweep of the Blue Jays. That 4-2 performance helped the Braves gain some ground on Philadelphia in the NL East, as they now sit four games behind the division-leading Phillies. The six games were fairly representative of the team's overall season. Outside of 8 home runs, the offensive continued to struggle, tallying less than 3.7 runs per game. Fortunately, the pitching staff was up to the task. Braves hurlers allowed just 2.5 R/G over the past week, while allowing a total of just 2 runs against Toronto during their most-recent three-game series.

The week also included some notable personnel moves. Randall Delgado made the spot start in place of Tommy Hanson. While his line wasn't anything exciting (4 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 7 H, 2 K, 2 BB), he certainly looked poised out on the mound. Hanson is scheduled to return from the DL for his scheduled start next week. Brandon Beachy returned from the DL with a great performance on Wednesday. Diory Hernandez was sent back down to Gwinnett as veteran SS Julio Lugo was brought up to Atlanta. Nate McLouth was also activated from the DL this past week, which resulted in Joe Mather being placed on waivers (the team decided to keep Wilkin Ramirez on the roster). Mather has since cleared waivers, but opted for free agency instead of an assignment to Gwinnett. This would suggest that Jordan Schafer will remain with the team upon Martin Prado's eventual return from the DL. Schafer over Mather removes some defensive flexibility and means another LHB, but Mather was flat out not contributing to this team.

The Braves begin a three-game series Friday night in San Diego before making the trip north to Seattle for a three-game interleague tilt to finish out the month of June. Here are the team's 'cheers' and 'jeers' over the past week...


Tim Hudson - It really doesn't get much better than Huddy's start on Monday to open up the Toronto series. On the mound, the veteran was near dominant in picking up the win with a 8+ IP, 0 R, 2 H, 8 K, 1 BB line. When the offense failed to provide him any support (including a missed squeeze sign by Diory Hernandez), Hudson took matters into his own hands in the 7th inning with a two-run no-doubter over the left field fence. The night also included the RHP's 1,600th career strikeout. Not bad for a ground ball pitcher!

Brian McCann - The Atlanta catcher continues to put up impressive numbers, especially on the power front. He went 7-20 in five starts this past week, including 2 HR and 6 RBI. And he didn't just drive in runs, adding four walks and four runs. After nearly a singles-only first month of the season, McCann's SLG% is now up to .523, leading to a .903 OPS. He leads the team in HR and RBI and qualified Braves in AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS. He's well on his way to his sixth-straight All-Star game.

Craig Kimbrel - It was a great week for the rookie closer. In four appearances, Kimbrel put up four shut out, hitless innings. His seven strikeouts against just one walk leave him with season rates of 13.2 K/9 and 3.22 K/BB. Perhaps most impressively, Kimbrel relieved Hudson on Monday in the 9th with a slim 2-0 lead, no outs, runners on first and second and Patterson, Bautista and Lind coming up to the plate. All three would head back to the dugout after striking out, securing one of Kimbrel's two saves during the week. Kimbrel is the only rookie to record at least 20 saves before the All-Star break.

Honorable Mention: Brandon Beachy (1 W, 6 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 11 K, 1 BB); Jonny Venters (4 G, 4.1 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 5 K, 3 BB)


Jordan Schafer - Yes, Schafer is exciting when he gets on base. He can steal bases, go from 1st to 3rd on singles and tag up on shallow fly balls. But the last five words of the first sentence are most import... "when he gets on base." His 3-26, 5 R performance over the past week is perfectly representative of this issue. He has the skills (glove and speed) where he doesn't necessarily need a .400 OBP, but .310 isn't going to cut it when setting the table for the rest of the line-up.

Nate McLouth - Nate's return from the DL didn't go as well as he would have probably liked. He picked up just two hits (both singles) in fourteen at-bats. I don't think most Braves fans expect McLouth to hit anywhere near .300, but his average has now dropped nearly 50 points over his past 20 games as he now sits at a soft .233. With Schafer playing an impressive CF, McLouth returned from the DL to play LF. It will be interesting to see what happens to him when Prado (hopefully) returns in a few weeks. Does he turn into the fourth OF or does he bump Schafer?

Alex Gonzalez - Gonzo has had an interesting year at the plate. He has never gotten too hot, but conversely hasn't really put up any lengthy slumps. Well, this week resulted in a bit of a slump as he went just 3-20. His walk rate is near non-existent (just 13 in 73 games), so his offensive value results from the balls that he actually puts in play. 

Dishonorable Mention: Chipper Jones (1-8, 1 RBI); Jason Heyward (5-25, 2 XBH)

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