Thursday, June 30, 2011

Braves Status Report: 82 Games (47-35)

Any week where you can defeat Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez in consecutive games is something to be pleased with. Atlanta's sweep of the Mariners in Seattle gave the team a 4-2 week, after starting off by dropping two of three at San Diego. Despite the winning road trip and the major's fourth best record (PHI, NYY, BOS), the Braves find themselves exactly where they started one week ago: four games behind the Phillies. Their performance did give them a three game Wild Card lead entering play on Thursday, however.

While the past week saw some commendable starting pitching performance by Braves hurlers, the Atlanta offense continued to struggle (.209/.286/.342). Some timely home runs allowed for a 4.3 R/G average, but it's tough for the team to be consistently successful when hitters are getting on base in well less than a third of their plate appearances. As the calendar turns to July, the trade talk will begin to heat up even more (if that's possible). The Braves are likely to be looking for an OBP-minded outfielder, an infield bench option and possibly a dependable right-handed reliever. With a stocked minor league system, Frank Wren & Co. certainly have the chips to make some notable improvements, if desired.

Despite the challenges, the team sits at an impressive twelve games above .500. They begin a three-game series against the Orioles in Atlanta on Friday, immediately followed by a four-game battle with the Rockies. Here are the individual 'Cheers' and 'Jeers' over the past week...


Brian McCann - The 27-year-old catcher finished his impressive June on a torrid pace, collecting nine hits in twenty-one at-bats. The week also included one homer, four RBI and four runs. Fredi Gonzalez has moved McCann into the three-hole as Chipper's now often hitting clean-up. Perhaps the only thing that kept McCann from driving in more runs was Jordan Schafer's inability to consistently get on base. Baring the world ending before then, he will be named as a starter in next month's All-Star game this weekend.

Freddie Freeman - After a myriad of strikeouts over the past couple weeks, the rookie first baseman put up some impressive numbers at the plate over the past two series. His 7-22, 1.011 OPS performance included two HR and a team-high seven RBI. Perhaps most notably, Freeman struck out just twice. Outside of his strikeout total, my NL ROY pick put up a solid .287/.330/.487 slash with four HR and seventeen RBI over twenty-four games in June.

Craig Kimbrel - Another member of Atlanta's stock of impressive rookies in 2011, Kimbrel was nearly flawless in three appearances over the past week. He earned the save in each game of the Braves' sweep over the Mariners, striking out seven while allowing no runs, no walks and just one hit. In fact, since June 14th (9 G), Kimbrel's line looks like this: 9 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 17 K, 3 BB, 5 SV. Wow.

Honorable Mention: Starting Rotation (4-1, 35.2 IP, 2.78 ERA, 35 K); Jason Heyward (7-25, 3 2B, 5 R); Nate McLouth (.476 OBP, 3 2B, 0 K)


Alex Gonzalez - For a guy who was at least consistently mediocre at the plate until mid-June, Gonzo was simply atrocious this past week. He finished 1-21, needing a single in Wednesday's win over Seattle to snap an 0-19 streak. His (only) five strikeouts surprised me a bit, as it's seemed the veteran shortstop can't lay-off the multitude of un-hittable sliders low and away that he sees. Gonzo's not the focal point of the offense, but his .179/.219/.308 line in June is beginning to outweigh what he offers defensively and has some fans hoping Frank Wren has his eyes open for a SS come trade time.

Jonny Venters - It pains me to list Venters here, considering the stellar season he's had. But the 'Cheers and Jeers' list looks solely at the past week and the sophomore's performance was about as forgettable as they come. Over four games and 3.2 IP, Venters surrendered six runs on six hits, three walks and one home run. The homer was the only one he's allowed all season and the first in nearly an entire calendar year. He's seen action of 46 of the team's 82 games (it's felt like a lot more than that!) and it took Wednesday's HR to prompt the Braves manager to suggest that he might be overused. Thanks, Fredi.

Chipper Jones - The Braves legend put up his second consecutive sub-par week, going just 3-22 (1 XBH) with five strikeouts against the Padres and Mariners. I understand he's aging, but a June OPS of .293 from a guy with a career mark of .403 (and even .381 last season) is troubling. The reasonable guess is that his partially-torn meniscus is bothering him more than he might be letting on. If that's the case, don't be surprised to see the Braves opt for surgery (2-3 week recovery) when Martin Prado returns from the DL.

Dishonorable Mention: Jordan Schafer (4-22, 8 K); David Ross (0-7, 4 K); Jairo Asencio (0.2 IP, 6 R, 3 ER, 4 H, 2 HR, 1 K, 2BB)

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