The Braves played the whole week in California against two solid NL West teams: the Dodgers and Padres. I’ll give my wife the credit. Since she was in California this week, her good vibes must have spread south to cover the Braves and lead them to a few tough wins. It certainly wasn’t because I was watching. Until this weekend, I only caught a few innings of action because of the late-night starts.
This Week’s Stats
Scores and FanGraphs summaries:
7/2: Dodgers 8, Braves 2
7/3: Dodgers 7, Braves 6
7/4: Braves 5, Dodgers 2
7/5: Braves 8, Dodgers 6
7/6: Braves 7, Padres 4
7/7: Padres 8, Braves 5
7/8: Braves 5, Padres 4
Stats for the week:
Best plays of the week:
- Andruw Jones tripled to right off Heath Bell, driving in two runs and tying Saturday’s game at 5 in the 7th inning (+.301).
- Chipper Jones hit a 2-run single off Mark Hendrickson in the 5th inning of Wednesday’s game, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead (+.214).
- Jeff Francoeur homered off David Wells in the fourth inning of Saturday’s game, giving the Braves a 3-1 lead and prompting Wells to start an argument that would finish with his ejection (+.183, bonus for chasing the pitcher).
- Andruw Jones hit a 2-run homer off Justin Germano in the 4th inning of Friday’s game, tying the game at 2 (+.182).
- Bob Wickman struck out Marcus Giles after allowing four straight hits that almost lost the game in the ninth inning yesterday. I will reluctantly give him credit for this accomplishment (+.182).
If Andruw Jones doesn’t re-sign with the Braves this offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him give the Padres a hometown-like discount so that he can play in Petco Park. He obviously sees the ball very well there, and the space in center field would let him keep showing off his defensive skills. Jones was +.675 this week in WPA to lead all hitters, finally getting things back on track and getting himself out of the cellar in season WPA. He was 9-for-25 with 2 homers and 2 steals (both off Greg Maddux, so take that with a grain of salt).
Chipper had the only other particularly strong week in WPA, going 10-for-29 with a couple of homers that helped the Braves win on Thursday. Diaz, McCann, Francoeur, Renteria, and Escobar were all in the +.1 to +.2 range, so their above-average contributions also helped the team get through some key situations during the week. Kelly Johnson and two pitchers (Carlyle and James) rounded out the names in the positive contribution range.
A couple of Braves role players struggled through the week. Harris, Thorman, and Salty all finished in the -.24 to -.3 range. Salty’s week was actually not that bad (5-for-20 with 2 doubles), but his hits were untimely. Harris and Thorman simply struggled, combining on a 3-for-31 week while starting against the right-handed pitchers.
Bobby Cox continues to use Salty in a 1B platoon with Thorman, which means he’s only getting left-handed at-bats when he starts at catcher. I’m grateful that he’s getting in the lineup regularly, but I wonder how many more weeks the Braves can afford to start a left-handed platoon first baseman with a .643-and-declining OPS (Thorman) in place of the top-notch prospect.
Saturday marked the not-so-triumphant debut of Jo-Jo Reyes, who lasted just 3+ innings before losing his composure. I’m not sold on Reyes as a top-notch prospect because of his command issues entering this season. Combine that with a fast-tracked 2007, and I think he’ll struggle through the year if he remains in Atlanta. That’s not to say he won’t be better than Kyle Davies, and he’ll certainly improve upon Saturday’s performance.
Kyle Davies was pitching for his rotation spot on Sunday night, and he didn’t disappoint with six solid innings after a rough outing earlier in the week against the Dodgers. His WPA was still negative for the week, though, and it looks like he’ll need at least one more good start to keep his rotation spot (over Reyes) when John Smoltz returns.
Tim Hudson clearly didn’t have his best stuff on Thursday against the Dodgers, and he brought up the rear in pitching WPA for the week at -.588, more than a full win below zero. How does that happen, you ask? Well, he squandered all the runs of support the Braves were giving him, enough to lose more than one game all on his own.
Chuck James and Buddy Carlyle provided solid starts, although the difference in innings pitched probably makes Carlyle’s game on Friday a bit more impressive despite the three earned runs. The bullpen pitched as if they were on their last legs, so it was very important that someone deliver more than 5-6 innings in a start, as James and Davies have repeatedly failed to do over the course of the season.
Tyler Yates will probably be the main beneficiary from the All-Star Break, as he appeared to be most affected by fatigue, allowing seven runs (five earned) in 3 IP over five appearances. Pete Moylan also appeared in five games, allowing two unearned runs in 5 2/3 IP. The Braves had 26 relief appearances in seven games, which is not a sustainable pace at all. Joey Devine was called up to relieve some of the bullpen stress, and he pitched a scoreless inning, which had to feel awfully good. Rafael Soriano and Chad Paronto combined for 5 2/3 scoreless innings of work, although Paronto’s WPA was negative.
Bob Wickman is another story this week. Bobby Cox left him in Sunday’s game even though he was one batter away from completely blowing the game, and Wickman struck out Marcus Giles to end it. As a result, he had a positive WPA for the week, and he’ll probably retain the closer’s role until further notice. I would imagine that a fresh start after the All-Star Break will help him as well, but if his struggles continue, it may be time to use someone else (Soriano! Yates! Moylan! Mark Redman! Homer Simpson!) in crucial situations.
So, the Braves finish the week two games behind the Mets for first place in the division. At some point, they’ll need to make a run and actually take the top spot instead of simply holding serve with the Mets, who will get Pedro Martinez back in a month. I’m cautiously optimistic that the starting pitching will hold up and keep the Braves in games. I expect Renteria and the LF duo to fall off a bit in the second half (Harris has already started), but hopefully McCann and especially Andruw Jones can make up for that, and maybe Chipper can stay healthy enough to keep the Braves in the race. John Smoltz’ health will obviously be a huge factor as well.
The Road Ahead
The road ahead is a short one this week. Only McCann will make the trip to San Francisco, and then the team will head back to Atlanta for a weekend series against the Pirates. I’ll be in attendance at Friday’s game, which looks like a good pitching matchup with Hudson against Ian Snell, who has been the Pirates’ best starter this year. The other matchups haven’t been announced, but I would expect James and Carlyle to start the other games against Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm.