With Thursday's loss to the Pirates, the Braves finished with a losing week, going 3-4 over the seven game span (CIN 1-2, PIT 2-2). The offense went from bad to anemic, managing just 2.86 R/G. Even that number is better than it looks as the team effectively played more than eight games inning-wise, with Tuesday's 19 inning affair. If your home run production is down and you're not hitting with runners in scoring position, it's kind of tough to score. Atlanta has now been treading water since the All-Star break, going 8-9 over their past seventeen games. Fortunately, the Phillies had a rougher than usual week, so the Braves still sit five games back in the NL East. The week did cause the team to lose some ground in the Wild Card race, though. They're three and a half games above the Diamondbacks with about two months to play.
While Tuesday's game was already tough enough, the night also saw All-Star catcher Brian McCann go down with an oblique strain. He was immediately placed on the DL, pushing David Ross into the starting role. Ross is easily the best back-up catcher in baseball, and would be the starter on a number of teams, but the loss of McCann certainly leaves a void in the Atlanta line-up. That leads to our next subject, more trade talk...
This past week saw Carlos Beltran dealt to the Giants, Colby Rasmus dealt to the Blue Jays and Jonny Gomes dealt to the Nationals. Rumors continue to swirl around a possible Hunter Pence deal with the Astros and talk about a move to acquire Carlos Quentin from the White Sox. Those might be better bats, when speaking generically, but don't necessarily fit into the specific situational needs for the Braves. I'd still prefer Wren to make a move for a high-ish OBA/plus defense type center fielder. Michael Bourn, BJ Upton and even Coco Crisp would work for me. Houston will be asking too much for Pence (and he'll cost A LOT over the next year or two) and Quentin leaves Schafer/McLouth in CF. They would help if Chipper's quad injury ends up being more than just day-to-day, but that could be a very expensive assumption to make. It would also be help to add a late-inning right-hander. If something is going to happen, we'll know about it soon. The trade deadline is Sunday at 4pm.
The Marlins visit Turner Field Friday to begin a three game series in Atlanta. From there, the Braves will make the trip up to the nation's capital to face the Nationals for another three game set. Here are this week's 'cheers' and 'jeers'....
Freddie Freeman - The Braves rookie continues to build upon his Rookie of the Year caliber season (but is he even the best rookie on the team?). He collected thirteen hits in twenty-nine at bats while adding five walks and a stolen base, pushing his hitting streak to twelve games. His three extra base hits in more than thirty plate appearances might be a bit less than usual, but it's hard to be critical when he's getting on base at such a high rate (pushing .370 OBA on the season). With McCann being placed on the DL, Freeman's bat will become even more important. Case in point, Fredi moved the twenty-one year-old to the three-spot in the order.
Dan Uggla - For a guy who was arguably the worst hitter in baseball over the first few months of the season, Uggla's been one of the team's top two hitters in the month of July (the other being Freeman). He went 10-27 over the past week, mashing a double, a homer and three runs batted in, extending his hitting streak to nineteen games. His turnaround couldn't have come at a better time with the team dealing with injuries to two middle-of-the-order hitters. He's been missing good pitches less often and has done a better job laying off those unhittable breaking balls.
Bullpen - The Atlanta 'pen was about as impressive as it gets this past week. Aided by Tuesday's never-ending game, the relievers saw plenty of action. In a combined twenty-one appearances (23.1 IP), the 'pen allowed just seven earned runs, good for a 2.70 ERA, with twelve hits, thirty-one strikeouts and fourteen walks. They picked up three wins, just one loss and a save. Of those seven runs, four were allowed by Scott Proctor in just one inning on Saturday, July 23. The collective performance was capped off by Christian Martinez throwing six scoreless innings on Tuesday.
Honorable Mention: David Ross (4-12, 2B, 2 RBI); Pitchers at the plate (4-13, 2B, 3 RBI, 7 sacrifices)
Jason Heyward - Heyward has been back from the DL for nearly a month and a half now, but still hasn't been able to find his swing. He did hit his eleventh home run, but managed just five total hits in twenty-nine at bats while striking out four times. Fredi has given him a number of days off over the past few weeks, especially when facing a left-handed starter. There's been a lot of talk around the blogosphere about a possible demotion or benching of Heyward. While I'm probably not a 'I love Heyward no matter what' guy, talk of a demotion is just unwarranted. Sure he could be playing MUCH better and his swing is certainly screwed up, but his OBA and SLG (and, of course, OPS) are still higher than team average. Why would you demote someone like that? Giving him regular rest against LHP if they team were to trade for a RHB corner outfielder isn't something I wouldn't immediately object to, though.
Martin Prado - Atlanta's LF/3B/wherever the Braves want to play him has hit a bit of a rough patch recently. His 8-37 week included a near historic 0-9 performance in Tuesday night's marathon. He did manage two extra base hits and only struck out three times, but his walk rate is near non-existent, so if he's not hitting then he's just not contributing to the offense. His defensive flexibility is certainly a plus, but the team needs his bat.
Alex Gonzalez - At first glance, Gonzo's 9-29 performance this past week certainly looks respectable. But when you factor in just one extra base hit, five strikeouts and zero walks, it becomes clear why he's on the jeers list for the fifth time in the past six weeks. Coming into the season, I envisioned the Braves signing Alex to a one-year deal for the 2012 season, but as Tyler Pastornicky rakes at Gwinnett and Gonzo's average dips closer and closer to the Mendoza line, his defense likely won't be enough to save him at the end of the season. At least Fredi has smartened up and buried him at the eight spot in the line-up.
Dishonorable Mention: Derek Lowe (2 G, 2 L, 10 IP, 7 ER, 14 H, 6 K, 5 BB)