Braves Check: April 27, 2009

There’s not a really good way to spin a 4-5 road trip against the Pirates, Nationals, and Reds, but the Braves did at least win the last series.  They finished the week at 3-3, two games behind the reeling Marlins for first place in the division.

Florida has lost their last six games, which shouldn’t come as  a huge surprise to anyone who is familiar with the term “small sample size.”  The Phillies are a half-game up on the Braves for second, and the Mets are a full game behind Atlanta in fourth.

This Week’s Stats

Last 7 days’ batting stats (FanGraphs)

The Braves only scored 22 runs all week, and 10 of them came on Saturday, so it’s tough to find a real offensive star for the week. Despite getting just 3 hits in 22 trips to the plate, Jordan Schafer led the hitters in WPA this week (+0.22).  Eight of his plate appearances resulted in walks (two of the intentional variety), and all three hits went for extra bases.

Chipper Jones and David Ross helped carry the offensive load, with the latter now sporting an impressive .389/.542/.833 slash line in 24 PAs.  The Braves will need him to keep that up, since Brian McCann was put on the DL to deal with his vision problems.

Even though he had a bit of a rough week, Jeff Francoeur is still the team leader for the season in batting WPA at +0.35.  He’s sporting a decent-not-good OPS of .778, which is virtually league average.  At least he’s hitting for average, because he’s still not taking many walks, despite the refined approach.

Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar both had rough weeks at the plate.  Streaks like this have become the norm for Kelly, who ought to be feeling a little pressure from Martin Prado and his 1.035 OPS.  Prado is continuing to prove that he has a major-league bat, and it’s not like Kelly’s leadoff skills should be holding the Braves back.

Brandon Jones came up this weekend to replace an ailing Garret Anderson and immediately began showing that he’s the better player, going 2-for-3 with a walk.

The pitching staff was solid all week, with the exception of Kenshin Kawakami’s implosion on Sunday.  The bullpen threw 14 2/3 innings and gave up just a single run (by Rafael Soriano).  Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez looked outstanding in single starts, while Derek Lowe was simply “good.”  Each of those three starters has kept both his ERA and FIP under 4.00, which is a good sign for the future.  The Braves have had precious few poor starts this season, and that trend mostly continued through Week 3.

Tommy Hanson Watch

Regardless of how well they’re performing right now, the current members of the Braves rotation have to look over their shoulder at one of baseball’s best pitching prospects (TINSTAAPP?), Tommy Hanson.

Hanson has been kept on a strict pitch count thus far, but he lasted six innings in his only start this week, allowing one earned run and recording six Ks.  He’s still not getting a ton of outs on the ground, which means his mistakes in the majors will turn into homers.  That’s about the only potential downside at this point, though.  He has struck out 29 batters (and walked 7) in 20 2/3 innings, allowing just 16 hits and five earned runs.

Right now, it looks like Jo-Jo Reyes would get the boot when Hanson is deemed ready for The Show, but I wouldn’t rule out a demotion of Kawakami (at least to the bullpen) if he continues to have trouble keeping the ball in the park.  He’s allowed five homers so far this year, the same total as the rest of the staff combined.

The Road Ahead

The Road Ahead is actually at home for the next three series, but the schedule is getting more difficult.  The Braves start tonight with the Cardinals, and they’ll get the Astros over the weekend.  The Mets will conclude the homestand next week before an important NL East road trip.

These are the projected starters for the coming week:

Mon vsSTL: Jurrjens vs. Joel Pineiro
Tue vsSTL: Reyes vs. Kyle Lohse
Wed vsSTL: Vazquez vs. Adam Wainwright
Fri vsHOU: Lowe vs. Mike Hampton
Sat vsHOU: Kawakami vs. Russ Ortiz
Sun vsHOU: Jurrjens vs. Roy Oswalt

I was half-expecting to see Phil Niekro scheduled for Sunday after seeing those first two names.


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