Thursday, July 7, 2011

Braves Status Report: 89 Games (53-36)

Well, that was a fun week! The Braves used a four-game sweep of the Rockies to finish off a 6-1 week and were a Scott Proctorization away from a perfect 7-0. The team finally made up some ground on the Phillies, now sitting 2.5 games behind the division leader. They make the trek up to the City of Brotherly Love to begin an exciting three-game series at Citizens Bank Park. If you don't enjoy math, I'll do it for you: an Atlanta sweep would mean the Braves head into the All-Star break with the NL East lead.

The past seven games represent the best of the Braves. The pitching staff excelled, surrendering less than two and a half runs per game. We also began to see glimpses of what this team's offense is capable of. A .281 AVG with 5.3 R/G is what Atlanta fans have been waiting for. While it's unrealistic to expect both the pitching and offense to continue to perform as well as they did over the past seven games, it's nice to see what the team can do when they're firing on all cylinders.

The other big news from the week was this past Sunday's All-Star selections. Brian McCann was indeed selected as the National League's starting catcher. No brainer. Jair Jurrjens was selected and is neck-and-neck with Roy Halladay to be named the NL's starter. Jonny Venters was picked in just his second major league season, defeating the 'set-up man' monicker. Chipper Jones was a bit of a surprise selection, but he's having a solid enough season and probably got some legacy votes from the players. The two clear snubs were/are Tommy Hanson and Craig Kimbrel. Hanson is among league leaders in nearly every major pitching category and is likely a top-five Cy Young candidate. Kimbrel has put up some insanely jaw-dropping numbers and is battling with Venters for the 'best reliever in the NL' title. Either or both may still get in if current All-Stars can't/don't play, but the fact that the best pitching staff in baseball only had two pitchers selected really leaves me dumbfounded.

Ok, on to the 'cheers' and jeers' for the past week (7 games)...


Freddie Freeman - The 21-year-old first baseman continues to add to a Rookie of the Year-caliber season. He discovered his power stroke during the Colorado series, mashing four homers over the four games, including his first career multi-home run game. The homers helped Freeman compile a 8-22 week to go along with 8 RBI. He again kept his strikeout total down, K-ing just five times against six walks. He pushed his OPS up to an encouraging .826 and is now on pace for 24 HR and 76 RBI. Both would be better than Jason Heyward's 2010 rookie season totals. Not bad at all.

Jair Jurrjens - I think it's pretty clear Jurrjens hates sabermetricians. The vast majority of his peripherals and other advanced stats suggest his numbers should regress some. Not enough so as to make him just an average pitcher, but certainly enough drop him from his arguable Cy Young lead. Despite all of that, Jurrjens continues to impress. His 15 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 10 K, 3 BB week earned him two wins and his first career complete game one hit shutout. He's now 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA on the season. Again, not bad at all.

Craig Kimbrel - Wasn't this the same guy who fans were calling to be replaced by Jonny Venters as the team's closer not a two months ago? The 23-year-old rookie put up another near-flawless week, earning the save in all four of his appearances while allowing no runs and only two hits. His five strikeouts against no walks are helping fans forget his control issues in the minors. Kimbrel's 27th save on Thursday was good enough for the rookie record for saves before the All-Star break, while his scoreless appearance (and inning) streak sits at thirteen. Pretty good, huh? Well, I guess not All-Star good, but you know what I mean.

Honorable Mention: Dan Uggla (6-24, 2 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI); Chipper Jones (7-24, HR, 3 RBI); Jason Heyward (7-26, 2 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI); Tommy Hanson (1 W, 7 IP, 4 H, 6 K, 1 BB, not All-Star)


Alex Gonzalez - Gonzo's really the only starter who had a 'bad' week, offensively. He did manage 2 RBI, but could only muster four hits in twenty-five at bats. That 4-25 performance went along with 5 K and just 1 BB. Despite those stats, Fredi has the veteran shortstop hitting out of the two hole. While that Fredecision makes no sense, the team does happen to be playing well as a whole when he's there, so expect to see Gonzo hitting second until Martin Prado returns from the DL immediately after the All-Star break.

Scott Proctor - Proctor only made two appearances this past week, but his performance on Sunday was frustrating enough to make this list. The home run he allowed to Mark Reynolds that afternoon blew the late Atlanta lead and ruined the team's shot at a perfect week. The fact that Cristhian Martinez was sent down to Gwinnett when Cory Gearrin was called-up while Proctor remains in Atlanta makes me seriously question whether the coaching staff/front office's neurons are firing correctly.

Brooks Conrad - Brooksy's 1-6, 4 K week obviously wouldn't be confused for anything 'good,' but I'm not sure his five outs over seven games is was seriously damaging to the team. Unfortunately the 'cheers' and 'jeers' lists each include three players, so Raw Dog's taking up the spot for the week. He's been making an occasional start with Chipper battling knee issues and Uggla (previously) struggling, but those may fade when Prado is activated, dropping Conrad back into a pure pinch-hitting role. 

Dishonorable Mention: None. Seriously, none!

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