Thursday, August 11, 2011

Braves Status Report: 118 Games (69-49)

The Braves reversed their past couple weeks' performance over the last six games, going 5-1 in the two series against the Mets and the Marlins. While Atlanta performed well, they weren't able to make up any ground on the Phillies, who lead the NL East by eight and a half games going into Friday. Even though the division race doesn't look appealing, the successful week did help the team push their Wild Card lead out to five games over the Giants and still own the majors' fourth-best record.

While the team's pitching has propped up the offense nearly the entire season, roles were reversed this past week. Atlanta pitchers were tagged for an uncharacteristic 4.5 R/G (4.42 ERA), but the bats came through with 5.8 R/G and a .291/.363/.419 of the better weeks we've seen all season. The offensive prowess was highlighted by Dan Uggla, who is currently riding a 31 game hitting streak. The month-plus long performance is tied for the longest in Atlanta history and second longest in franchise history. The week also saw the end of Scott Proctor. Despite being a consensus "good guy," he simply no longer has a major-league caliber arm, especially for a potential playoff team. Proctor's release meant Arodys Vizcaino, the last of the 'Big 4' was tapped to begin his tenure with Atlanta. While his debut didn't go as planned (0.2 IP, K, 2 BB, HBP), he immediately improves the 'pen for the remainder of the season.

Atlanta heads back to Turner Field Friday for an extended home stand, beginning a three game series against the Cubs. The team will then take on the defending World Series champion Giants Tuesday for an important four-game match-up. Now for the 'cheers' and 'jeers' for the past week....


Jose Constanza - Ok, this is going to be tricky. Constanza is on par with religion and politics among items that are dangerous to discuss. But, taking a look at just the past week, here are his stats: 10-23, 3B, HR, 3 RBI, 3 SB, 6 R..good for a .438/.480/.652 line. He's been near mind-boggingly successful at beating out ground balls, using his impressive speed. Conversely, balls hit in the air have been near automatic outs. He's clearly been playing over his head, but I'd rather be puzzled why someone is playing 'too' well than confused as to why someone is underwhelming us. Regardless of who it is, play like this is bound to cool off and while Fredi's been taking advantage of Constanza over the past couple weeks, you just hope Fredi doesn't keep him out there well past his usefulness.

Martin Prado - Prado had been scuffling the past few weeks, but really turned it on over the past six games. In twenty-six at bats, he knocked out ten hits, including a double, triple, a homer and four runs driven in. While those numbers are impressive, perhaps his four walks might have been the most important part of his success. Fredi seems locked in with Prado hitting out of the two-hole, so the Braves will need Prado to keep getting on base.

Tim Hudson - While Jurrjens, Hanson, Beachy and Lowe have all experienced recent hiccups, Hudson has been a consistent bright spot for the Atlanta starting rotation. The Auburn graduate made two starts this past week, picking up the win in both. His 14.1 IP, 3 ER, 9 H, 9 K, 3 BB line helped push him to 12-7 with a 3.18 ERA on the season. Those totals quietly put him sixth in the league in wins and thirteenth in ERA. When Hudson's command is in check and he's keeping his sinker down, his team has a great chance to win.

Honorable Mention: Dan Uggla (10-28, HR, 6 RBI); Craig Kimbrel (4 G, 4 SV, 3.2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 3 K, 2 BB); Jonny Venters (4 G, 1 SV, 3.1 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 4 K, 3 BB)


Jason Heyward - Just like with Constanza, Heyward is a touchy subject for a lot of fans. Unfortunately, the past couple weeks have turned the vast majority of fans into either Heyward apologists or Heyward haters, with very little in between. Again, let's take a straight-forward look at his stats from the past week: 1-11, HR, 5 K, 2 BB. He earned only three starts and saw playing time in two more. In defense of Heyward, his .313 OBA and .396 SLG are actually better than the team averages of .312 and .392, respectively. However, those team averages do include pitchers' numbers and you'd like to see more production from a corner outfielder generally and him specifically. While I do think he's been sitting a bit too much, I am pleased that there has been production despite his lack of playing time. Basically, I'm pleading the fifth on the Heyward/Constanza debate!

David Ross - The Atlanta super back-up catcher put up another sub-par week in place of the injured Brian McCann. His 4-18, 1 XBH, 8 K week ran his totals since McCann went down to 9-52 (.173) and has seen his season average drop more than 40 points. He's seen nearly as many at bats over the past two weeks as he had the entire season prior (52 vs. 71), so he's very likely just tired. He's swung threw a frustratingly high number of belt high fastballs, leading to higher strikeout totals..though he has managed to keep his walk rate relatively consistent. With McCann scheduled to return in the next few days, Ross will transition back to the role he's been successful in.

Tommy Hanson - Tommy made one start this past week against the Mets (which I was able to make the couple hour trip down to NYC for) and was absolutely torched. He lasted just three and a third innings, surrendering seven runs on eight hits, four of which were homers in the HR-unfriendly Citi Field. As a surprise to just about no one, Hanson was sent back to Atlanta to have his right shoulder examined, where he was diagnosed with tendinitis in the joint and given a cortisone injection. The team decided to use Thursday's off day to 'skip' his start, keeping him on schedule to take the mound again this Tuesday.

Dishonorable Mention: Freddie Freeman (5-22, 2 XBH, 6 K); Scott Proctor ( 2 G, 1.1 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, HR, 1 K, 3 BB, CUT)

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