Another road trip has mercifully come to an end with a 2-2 finish at Colorado and Texas. The Mariners came into town on Friday having fired both their GM and manager, and the Braves battled through injuries to win two of three, finishing the week at 4-3.
Going back to the series win in Anaheim, the Braves actually have a winning record over their last 10 games, which is more than the Phillies (3-7) and Marlins (4-6) can say. An optimist might say there’s actually a chance that the Braves could still win the division, now that they are only four games out. Fourth place is still the reality, but at least no one’s run away with it yet.
This Week’s Stats
Check the Braves WPA home page for a description of some of the more unique stats. Information from fangraphs.com is used in preparing these reports.
Five best Braves plays of the week
- Greg Norton doubled home the tying run against his former Seattle teammates on Saturday in the 9th inning, possibly keeping the Braves from losing a series to baseball’s worst team (+.471).
- Omar Infante drove in the go-ahead run against Texas closer C.J. Wilson in the 9th inning on Wednesday (+.288).
- Chipper Jones singled home the first two runs in the 5th inning of Monday’s win at Colorado (+.177).
- C.J. Wilson committed an error, allowing Jeff Francoeur to reach second while leading off the 9th inning on Wednesday (+.170).
- Jorge Campillo got out of a jam when Ichiro grounded out to first and Yuniesky Betancourt was tagged out at home in the 5th inning on Friday (+.163).
Five best Opponent plays of the week
- Michael Young drove in the game-winning run with a one-out single off Jeff Bennett in Thursday’s rubber game against Texas (-.295).
- Brandon Boggs turned a one-run deficit into a 2-run Rangers lead with a 3-run shot off Jeff Ridgway in the 6th inning on Thursday (-.282).
- Jeremy Reed doubled home a run against Jorge Campillo in the 7th inning of Friday’s eventual blowout loss (-.210)
- Ian Kinsler hit a leadoff double against Blaine Boyer with the game tied in the 9th on Thursday (-.171).
- Brandon Boggs singled home the tying run off Jo-Jo Reyes in the 6th inning on Wednesday (-.154).
- Jair Jurrjens actually had an outstanding week, but he had a negative WPA in Saturday’s start because of a few costly errors. He allowed three unearned runs and not a single earned run in 13 2/3 innings of work. At this point, he’s actually looking more consistent than ace Tim Hudson, although not as unhittable when he’s “on.”
- Hudson had one of those starts where he just couldn’t find the strike zone on Tuesday in Texas, but he righted the ship yesterday against the Mariners after more control problems in the first few innings. He’ll have to keep things under control if the Braves are to seriously contend.
- Beyond those two, the rest of the starters are actually starting to keep the team in games. Reyes has strung together several good starts, and Campillo has been decent enough. Morton has fought some control issues, just like Reyes did last year, except without getting mercilessly beaten around each start.
- The Braves newest problem is that they can’t hit enough, which is understandable given all the injuries to starters like Jones, Escobar, and now Francoeur. All are expected to play this week, which is a good sign, but with Chipper you have to suspect this will happen all year.
- Mark Teixeira broke out in a huge way on Sunday, hitting 3 homers that provided most of the offense against Carlos Silva and the Mariners. That pushes him over +1.000 for the year in WPA, although he was just +.121 for the week.
- Omar Infante had the best WPA performance this week, thanks to some clutch hitting, but I have to point out that he also didn’t receive credit for his defensive play. It’s hard to fault him for defense, though, when he’s playing all over the field and OPS-ing .963 for the week.
- Greg Norton got some at-bats of his own this week due to all the injuries, and he had 4 doubles and a single in 14 trips to the plate.
- Chipper Jones and Kelly Johnson can count themselves among Braves hitters who were solidly in the black this week in WPA, coming in at +.193 and +.173 respectively
- Yunel Escobar, Brandon Jones, and Jeff Francoeur struggled through the week. Frenchy hit 10 grounders among 17 batted balls (with just 3 line drives and no homers), and he just doesn’t have the speed for that to work out well.
- Mike Gonzalez looked impressive in a token 3-run save in his debut against Texas, but he labored through an inning yesterday against Seattle in a blowout. Hopefully the latter was more a case of the “closer lets up a little while pitching in a blowout” syndrome than the “not effective because he’s just returned from Tommy John surgery” syndrome.
A Guide To The 2008 Atlanta Braves
This section exists for Braves fans to get a summary of the team’s play up to this point, but it could also be viewed as an “opponent’s guide” for fans of opposing teams who may not be following the Braves on an everyday basis. Parts of this section will remain the same from week to week, but other parts will change.
The “Opponent’s Guide” has its own page now. You can find it here.
The Road Ahead
The short homestand ends with three against the Brewers, starting tonight. They’re six games out in the Central, but with a 41-34 record, they actually are percentage points better than the East-leading Phillies despite having been outscored by their opponents. Yovani Gallardo is out for the year, but the Braves get to face a healthy Ben Sheets in the series’ first matchup. Dave Bush will start Tuesday’s game, and he carried a no-hitter into the eighth his last time out.
Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder deservedly get star billing in their lineup, although Braun has shown virtually no plate discipline this year. He does have 20 homers to fall back on, though. Russell Branyan is having an unprecedented run of success by his standards, as he’s actually hit for average the entire season, between AAA and the big leagues, displacing Bill Hall as the Brewers’ 3B in the process. He still can’t hit lefties, but that’s not as big a problem in the NL Central as it would be in the East.
Another road trip begins Friday in Toronto, where the teams will relive the 1992 World Series from a managerial standpoint. The Blue Jays re-hired Cito Gaston (who managed both of their championship teams) this week in one of three MLB managerial moves. He’ll be managing a team that’s being led in offensive WPA by the dynamic duo of Joe Inglett and Gregg Zaun, which should be some indication of how their offense is working out so far. Only the Royals and Mariners have scored fewer runs among AL clubs.
The Jays are still hanging in there though, thanks to the contributions of all their starters not named A.J. Burnett. Roy Halladay is in full Cy Young form, but Shaun Marcum actually leads the team in ERA at 2.65. The Braves will miss Halladay’s turn, but not Marcum’s. Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch have been adequate AL starters, keeping their ERAs around 4.00. Burnett has been way too hittable, and I’m sure J.P. Ricciardi is kicking himself everyday for signing him to that fat contract (at least when he’s not ripping Adam Dunn for no reason on local talk radio).
All in all, that’s six games against two middling teams, so a winning week shouldn’t be too much to ask for.
These are the probable starters according to MLB.com and my own best judgment (for the rest of the week):
Monday: Reyes vs. Ben Sheets
Tuesday: Morton vs. Dave Bush
Wednesday: Campillo vs. Jeff Suppan
Friday: Jurrjens vs. Dustin McGowan
Saturday: Hudson vs. Shaun Marcum
Sunday: Reyes vs. A.J. Burnett
Friday’s game will mark the halfway point of the season, so I might take a broader look at things sometime later this week. I’d really like to compare 2008 performance to historical norms and/or preseason projections so I have a better feel for what to expect later this season.
The Braves have to be at least 4 games better than the Phillies for the rest of the season, and if you split the difference between the Phils’ actual performance and their expected performance based on run scoring, the Braves might need to go 54-31 over the 85 remaining games in order to pull even. That’s going to be tough even under the best of circumstances, so it’s something to keep in perspective. Now is the time to start winning 2-out-of-3 on a regular basis.