Braves Check: May 11, 2009

The NL East has been an up-and-down mess for a couple of weeks now, but the Braves have stayed mostly on the “down” side.  They stretched a two-game losing skid into four against the Mets last week before closing with 4 wins in 5 tries against the Marlins and Phillies.  That wasn’t enough to pull out of fourth place, but the Braves are still just 2.5 games back of the division-leading Mets.

This Week’s Stats

2009 Standard Batting

The Braves’ infield (and catchers) propped up the rest of the team this week.  Chipper Jones didn’t see a ton of pitches to hit, but he did well enough to post an .873 OPS in 26 plate appearances.  Of course, he got hurt during Sunday’s game and is day-to-day heading into this week.

Casey Kotchman and the McCann/Ross duo led the way behind Jones.  Kotchman finally showed some extra-base power, slugging .769 for the week with a .385 average, which raised his season average to .312.  McCann returned from his eye troubles to go 5-for-13 with a homer, and Ross pretty much matched that line earlier in the week.

The new second base platoon was a bit below average this week, but at least Kelly Johnson started showing some signs of life, going 5-for-18 with a double and only one strikeout.  Yunel Escobar had a fairly standard .276/.344/.379 line, which included one huge home run.

The outfield was another story altogether.  Jordan Schafer looked like he was already on the bus to Gwinnett, striking out 12 times in 25 ABs, against just three hits.  Francoeur had a walk-less week and was 7-for-30.  Garret Anderson made his triumphant return, only to disappear for the rest of the week.  His OPS is now .527 for the year (38 OPS+), which doesn’t even qualify him to hit eighth, much less cleanup.  Indeed, Kenshin Kawakami has a higher OPS this year.

In fairness to Garret, he hasn’t posted an OPS+ worse than 94 since 1997, and for what the Braves paid for him, they would be perfectly fine with that level of production.  You can expect a 37-year-old to tail off somewhat, but probably not this much.  He improved over the course of last season, so the Braves just need to hope he does the same this year.  Having said that, it shouldn’t be much trouble to move him down in the lineup until he actually does start hitting.

The rotation was merely average this week, with Jurrjens and Kawakami outperforming Lowe, Reyes, and Vazquez.  The former two seem to have perfected their own brand of organized chaos, frequently falling behind in the count and allowing men on base, only to later get out of the inning without much harm.  Jurrjens has been performing this act all year, and Kawakami is only now catching on.

Lowe’s start was a bit of an aberration, and Vazquez continues to look very good without the good results to validate the strong peripheral numbers.  That’s pretty much been the story of his career, which has been baffling.

Reyes’ starts are just chaos, with very little organization to speak of.  He allowed eight runs in five innings during his only start, and the gap between his AAA and ML numbers is starting to look more comical by the day.  I think he’ll figure things out eventually, but the Braves have enough rotation depth not to have to throw him to the wolves every fifth day.

The bullpen surrendered just 3 runs in 19 2/3 innings this week, led by Eric O’Flaherty’s 4 2/3 shutout innings.  This is what the Braves have come to expect out of the Gonzalez-Soriano-Moylan trio when they’re healthy, so to get lights-out pitching even further down the line is just a bonus.  Jeff Bennett (2) and Gonzalez (1) allowed the runs.

Tommy Hanson (and Kris Medlen?) Watch

Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen have been the best 1-2 punch in the minors this year, and one or both should get the call before long.  Even Charlie Morton has looked good lately, but he’s had the same results as Reyes when he’s been in Atlanta.  Then again, he’s on the 40-man roster, and Hanson and Medlen are not.

Hanson had two starts this week:
Tue vsSYR: 6 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 10 K
Sun vsDUR: 8 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 9 K, ERA up to 1.99

Medlen had just one start, on Wednesday vs. Syracuse: a 7 two-hit IP, 10 K masterpiece to lower his ERA to 1.17.

The Road Ahead

The tough NL East stretch ends this week with three more in New York.  After a day off, they’ll start another long stretch of games with 10 at home against Arizona, Colorado, and Toronto.  Right now it looks like they’ll avoid Dan Haren this weekend, but they’ll have to go against Johan Santana tonight.

Pitching Probables:
Mon @NYN: Lowe vs. Johan “at least he’s not Greinke” Santana
Tue @NYN: Jurrjens vs. Mike Pelfrey
Wed @NYN: Reyes vs. Jon Niese
Fri vsARI: Vazquez vs. Doug Davis
Sat vsARI: Kawakami vs. Max Scherzer
Sun vsARI: Lowe vs. Garland

They’ll need some help from the Dodgers and Brewers, but it’s within the realm of possibility for the Braves to be in first place by the weekend.  That should be enough motivation for them to show up against the red-hot Mets.

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