The Braves got in a full week of games despite the rain at home this week, splitting four with the Rockies before sweeping the former AL East-leading Blue Jays. The Phillies remain a game and a half up on the Braves in the division, but the Mets have fallen back into a tie with Atlanta for second place.
Last Week’s Stats
The line that jumps out from last week’s stats is Kenshin Kawakami’s performance against Roy Halladay and the Jays, outlasting the Toronto starter by going 8 scoreless innings in the best outing of his short MLB career. He needed that kind of performance to bring his season ERA under five, and his 4.73 mark is still the worst among the Braves’ top four starters.
Javy Vazquez continued his good work this week with a short five-inning shutout performance, while Jair Jurrjens and Derek Lowe made two good starts apiece. Jurrjens allowed three runs over 13 innings, while Lowe allowed four over 15 1/3. Derek had a good week at the plate as well, going 3-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI.
Kris Medlen made the week’s only poor start in his major league debut, totally (and uncharacteristically) losing the strike zone in the fourth inning of Thursday’s game against the Rockies. That inning turned into a big one that chased Medlen, but it didn’t really matter the way that Aaron Cook was pitching against him that night. Medlen only got one plate appearance in this game, but his hitting could be something to watch. He was a shortstop in college and could have been drafted as a hitter. In a limited sample of 32 minor-league PAs, he hit .333/.355/.567. He may not have long to prove himself, though, with Tom Glavine on the mend.
Brian McCann’s two-homer outburst on Sunday gave him the best hitting line of the week: 6-for-20 with 2 homers, 2 walks, and a shift-beating infield hit. His season OPS is up to .922, and you have to believe it would be higher were it not for his vision issues.
Chipper Jones and Kelly Johnson had solid weeks as well, the latter getting a bit of help out of his platoon situation thanks to injuries to Omar Infante and the aforementioned Jones. Martin Prado cooled off a little bit in full-time action this week, so we may be back to seeing Kelly as the everyday second baseman for a while.
Jeff Francoeur went another week without a walk, but his eight hits pushed him ahead of the other two offensively in the Braves’ outfield mess. His .662 OPS is the best among the team’s starting three, with Schafer right behind him at .641 and Garret Anderson lagging behind at .598. Like Francoeur, Anderson’s value has been mostly in empty batting average, with the occasional single propping up his numbers just enough to keep allowing Joe Simpson to say good things about him. The truth is that he’s an awful defender and a below-average hitter, which was the case when the Braves signed him.
What’s the solution to the Braves’ outfield woes? Mark Bowman began preparing his MLB.com readers for the possible trade or release of Jeff Francoeur, although I don’t really see either happening in the near future. His trade value is too low to return much of anything at this point, and he’s on the hook for too much salary for the Braves to want to let him walk away. Matt Diaz and Brandon Jones, the team’s internal options, aren’t exactly awe-inspiring, so the reality is that the Braves will probably have to give up someone from their surplus of arms in order to improve the offense. They’re said to be shopping for a right-handed bat.
Not much else was notable in this week’s stats. Rafael Soriano, Jeff Bennett, and fresh call-up Manny Acosta combined for six shutout innings of relief. It’s nice to see that Bennett didn’t allow a baserunner in his work, too. Peter Moylan battled some persistent wildness in one of his appearances, which may cause him to move farther down the ladder of late-inning preference. Mike Gonzalez struggled similarly, leading to Soriano’s save. The back end of the bullpen was predictably rough, with Parr, Carlyle, and Reyes allowing seven runs over six innings. Parr also gave up the big blow on Thursday, allowing several runs he inherited from Medlen to score on a Todd Helton grand slam.
Tommy Hanson Watch
With Medlen now starting in Atlanta, the watch returns its focus to the Braves’ most prized prospect, Tommy Hanson. Tom Glavine’s impending return complicates Hanson’s (and Medlen’s) situation in the short term, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the tall 22-year-old is major-league ready.
In one start this week, Hanson pitched six shutout innings, allowing a walk and a single hit while striking out nine against Toledo. He’s pitched 53 2/3 innings this season for Gwinnett, allowing less than a baserunner per inning (30 hits, 15 walks) while striking out 73. He has allowed zero or one run in 7 of 9 AAA starts and has lasted at least six innings in his last six starts.
The Road Ahead
I probably won’t be watching much Braves baseball this week, since the Braves travel to the left coast for three at San Fran and four at Arizona. After today’s game, they don’t play another day game until Saturday (and if we’re lucky, maybe Fox will show the whole game in the Braves’ regular TV footprint, unlike last time).
These are the pitching matchups for the week:
Mon @SF: Vazquez vs. Jonathan Sanchez
Tue @SF: Medlen vs. Tim Lincecum
Wed @SF: Kawakami vs. Randy Johnson
Thu @ARI: Lowe vs. Dan Haren
Fri @ARI: Jurrjens vs. Jon Garland
Sat @ARI: Vazquez vs. Doug Davis
Sun @ARI: Medlen vs. Max Scherzer
There are several good matchups in that group, particularly Wednesday and Thursday. Kawakami will probably have a decent contingent of fans at the game as he tries to match his career-best performance from this past week. Lowe and Haren should be a nice matchup of team aces, and Haren has been among the league’s best this year.