The Braves are flat-out struggling. The rotation has held up very well and is certainly playoff-caliber, but they can’t seem to put anything together offensively. This week was especially frustrating, with a 3-4 record against the Pirates and Orioles, two teams that really don’t have playoff aspirations. The Braves are now fourth in the NL East, 6.5 games behind the Phillies, and they’re 4 games out of the Wild Card race, with seven teams ahead of them.
Last Week’s Stats
In 7 games last week, the Braves scored 27 runs, which isn’t enough to consistently win games. The catching tandem of McCann and Ross continued to pull most of that load, accounting for 10.4 runs created between them. The infield, by comparison, created 7.2, while the outfielders seemingly outdid themselves with 9.3.
It’s tempting to look at the outfielders’ stats this week and think that Garret Anderson and Jeff Francoeur have simultaneously turned the corner. I’m a little more confident in Anderson, whose .300/.364/.450 line this week might be somewhat sustainable, but Francoeur’s .304 average for the week shouldn’t confuse anyone into thinking that he’s somehow a decent player again. His OPS this week was still just .732, and that only qualifies as good when we’re talking specifically about Frenchy. The Braves need another upgrade in the outfield if they plan to seriously compete in 2009, and Jeff Francoeur should be the player who gets booted from the lineup.
Elsewhere in the outfield, Nate McLouth had an on-and-off week offensively. Gregor Blanco and Matt Diaz provided a little baserunning action during their time in the lineup. Diaz stole two bases, and Blanco stole one this week (in just two real chances). Collectively, the Braves stole five bases this week without being caught.
The infield was dreadful this week, and Chipper Jones surprisingly led the dreadfulness, hitting just 4-for-29 with a handful of walks and one home run. Barbaro Canizares can be forgiven somewhat, having just made his debut this week after the entire 1B corps went down. Kelly Johnson continued his downward slide, hitting .200/.276/.240, and Prado and Escobar were merely average. Prado, however, is probably making a case to become the everyday second baseman when Kotchman returns (and when he fully recovers from his own injuries).
Javy Vazquez wins the hard luck award on the pitching staff this week, turning in one of the best starting pitching performances the Braves have had all year. He struck out 12 Pirates over 8 innings on Thursday, allowing a solo home run, one other hit, and no walks. He didn’t factor into the decision, and the Braves lost the game.
Jair Jurrjens had an effective start and received a loss for his effort, while Tommy Hanson fit the old “effectively wild” cliche and picked up his first major league win. Kawakami was a prototypical fourth starter, allowing five runs in 11 innings in his two starts, and Derek Lowe was awful, allowing 10 runs in his two starts. Lowe’s ERA is up over 4 now, leaving Vazquez and Jurrjens the only Braves starters below that mark.
Rafael Soriano showed that he was human this week, offering up two runs in 5 innings of work. Manny Acosta, Mike Gonzalez, and Jeff Bennett combined for 10 1/3 shutout innings of relief. Acosta and Bennett were generally less effective, essentially walking a batter per inning, but Gonzalez managed to keep things mostly under control (he did issue a wild pitch).
Moylan and O’Flaherty were this week’s bullpen goats. They served up 10 runs in under 5 combined innings, including one horrific inning against Baltimore. Kris Medlen allowed 4 runs and 13 baserunners in 7 mop-up innings, probably hurting his chances to step back into the rotation if the wheels fall off for any of the current starters.
The Road Ahead
Not that the Braves are a lock to win two in Cincinnati, but the going really gets tough this weekend. On Friday, the Braves begin a 13-game stretch at Boston (3), vs. the Yankees (3), vs. Boston (3), vs. the Cubs (1), and vs. the Phillies (3). You could argue that no MLB team faces a tougher two weeks all year. The Braves needed to make another upgrade tomorrow if they plan to emerge from this stretch with a winning record by virtue of anything other than dumb luck (something the Braves haven’t had a lot of since 2005).
Now that everyone’s optimistic, let’s look at the starting pitchers:
Tue: Jurrjens vs. Aaron Harang
Wed: Vazquez vs. Micah Owings
Thu: Hanson vs. Matt Maloney
Fri: Kawakami vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka
Sat: Lowe vs. Josh Beckett
Sun: Jurrjens vs. Tim Wakefield
Assuming Dice-K doesn’t get booted from the rotation in favor of John Smoltz, do you think the Japanese media might be watching Friday’s game closely? The Atlanta media will have fun with it regardless, I suppose.