You just knew that eventually Mark Teixeira was going to emerge as one of the team’s top hitters. That wasn’t supposed to require injuries to the rest of the lineup, although that appears to be the way it’s going down. Oh, and the Braves are 0-8 in one-run games. Sometimes, baseball can just be cruel.
The Mets cooled the Braves off over the weekend, and now Atlanta is under .500 and in fourth place at 12-13, three games behind the Marlins for first and 1.5 games behind the Mets and Phillies for second.
This Week’s Stats
Top five plays of the week:
- Kelly Johnson hit a 2-run homer off Mike Pelfrey to break a 3-3 tie in the 6th inning of Friday night’s win (+.257).
- Carlos Beltran doubled in two runs off Tim Hudson, tying the game in the 3rd inning of Saturday’s loss (-.200).
- Mike Jacobs put the Marlins up 3-0 with a 2-run homer in the first inning on Wednesday against Jeff Bennett (+.166).
- Raul Casanova hit a 2-run homer off John Smoltz, giving the Mets a 3-0 lead in the second inning of Sunday’s loss (-.150).
- Jeff Francoeur doubled home a pair of runs against Burke Badenhop in the first inning of Thursday’s game against the Marlins (+.149).
- The close-game lack of performance from the Braves’ lineup is almost becoming comical. After a half-decent week statistically (.286/.341/.395), the hitters bumbled their way through the higher-leverage situations and put up a -.741 CP (clutch performance) total.
- Remember that 1.00 is the baseline for Leverage Index, where a 1.00 situation is your average situation. A situation with LI of 0.50 is half as crucial as the average situation, while 2.00 is twice as important as average. In situations with LI below 0.50, the Braves had a leverage-neutral WPA per plate appearance of +0.25 (that’s pWPA/LI on my stat pages, and I multiply by 100 to make the numbers more legible). That’s solidly above average. Between 0.50 and 1.00, that figure was +0.16. Between 1.0 and 1.5: -0.15 (below average). Higher than 1.5: -0.45. That’s not a good progression.
- Negative clutch MVP (or is it LVP?): Brian McCann at -1.144 overall, -1.13 pCP (per plate appearance). That doesn’t even account for the clutch credit that he undeservedly got for getting on base when Jason Bay dropped a potential game-ending fly ball during the season’s opening week. No regular position player is measurably above zero in this category.
- The pitching staff has held together in the clutch, even though they haven’t been quite as strong objectively (pWPA/LI of +0.13 vs. +0.21 for hitters, though both are good figures). There’s not a big difference between starters and relievers, either.
- I’m still not sure what all this clutch/anti-clutch mess says about this year’s Braves team, so I prefer to fall back on performance measures that can actually be proven to have an effect on the outcome of games. Objectively, Matt Diaz had a strong week, creating about 5 runs at the plate in 24 chances. Chipper Jones and Brian McCann were not far behind him.
- Mark Kotsay probably had the worst week at the plate, hitting .250/.294/.250 while fighting some injuries (and Gregor Blanco’s hot streak).
- Tim Hudson and John Smoltz each had two starts this week, but neither could manage to finish at the top of the pitching WPA leaderboard: that spot belonged to Manny Acosta, with a mere +.147. Hudson and Smoltz combined for two of the team’s four quality starts, with the other two belonging to Jeff Bennett and Jair Jurrjens.
- Jurrjens’ strong start to the season continued this week despite getting his strike zone squeezed by Tim McClelland in his only start of the week. Jair will learn that McClelland does that to everyone and hopefully adjust the next time he sees him. Jurrjens’ emotions got the best of him for a few batters during one inning, and he walked in a couple of runs before settling down and earning his team a win. With the questions surrounding both Smoltz’ and Hudson’s health, he might already be the team’s most reliable starter, and that’s somewhat scary.
- Royce Ring had the ultimate LOOGY week: 4 appearances, 1.3 IP, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 ER. When will Bobby Cox notice that Ring actually gets right-handed batters out too? He’s never been used like this in the past, and I don’t see how this would help stave off any potential injuries like the ones he’s had in previous seasons, so consider me baffled. How can he justify using a reliever like this when the staff is already stretched so thin?
- Brent Lillibridge made his major league debut this week after Yunel Escobar’s finger injury sidelined him (hopefully just for a few days). Lillibridge has been one of my favorite Braves prospects since he came over from the Pirates in the Adam LaRoche deal, but he was off to a slow start in AAA before getting this call-up. I’m guessing that he’s getting an audition for two reasons: 1) the Braves can continue to give him everyday playing time, and 2) they can show him off to other teams as possible trade bait, since Escobar blocks him at SS for the foreseeable future. If (2) is actually correct, he’s not exactly showing off with an 0-for-8 start.
The Road Ahead
The Braves have a two-game series against the Nationals starting today, and they head home this weekend to host the Reds. Trying to guess the probable pitchers is kind of a mess, but here goes:
Tuesday: Glavine vs. Tim Redding
Wednesday: Jurrjens vs. Shawn Hill
Friday: Hudson vs. Edinson Volquez
Saturday: ??? vs. Bronson Arroyo
Sunday: ??? vs. Johnny Cueto
Smoltz is still scheduled for Saturday according to most places I looked for probable starters, but it’s looking more and more like he’ll be scratched this time around. Today is Chuck James’ scheduled day to start in Richmond, if he stays on five days’ rest. That means he could possibly go Sunday, but that is problematic because it would also be Glavine’s day. The R-Braves could probably let James work out of the bullpen today and then start Saturday, or they could just give him the whole time off. Jeff Bennett and Buddy Carlyle would also be options for Saturday if the Braves decide to let James stay in one place for a couple of days.
If you ask me, the pitching staff has been remarkable, given all the juggling around they’ve had to endure in the season’s early weeks. With the over-40 duo of Smoltz and Glavine, the ever-present-but-never-pitching Mike Hampton, and the recent Hudson injury concern, the Braves have needed every inning from Bennett (initially supposed to be a long reliever), Carlyle (started in AAA), and James (AAA).
Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar are both scheduled to return from their weekend injuries today, which should spell the end of Brent Lillibridge’s time in Atlanta (which was actually in New York, I guess). Elsewhere on the injury front, Rafael Soriano is still feeling elbow “discomfort,” which is usually an ominous sign. Mike Hampton has one more rehab start on Wednesday before he can be cleared to return to the rotation, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for him to start next week.
It’s time for the contenders to make a move on the Marlins, and the Braves will need to keep pace. Let’s hope for a good week.