Braves Check: June 22, 2009

For a World Series champ that didn’t gut its roster after winning, the Phillies have been very, very bad lately.  The Braves have been nearly as bad, though, finishing their road trip at 3-6 and losing all three series 2-1.  They played well enough to have taken two of three in Boston, which would have been impressive, but former Brave Nick Green sent them home losers with a walk-off homer in yesterday’s series finale.

The Marlins have again overtaken the Braves for third place, leaving the Braves with three teams to pass in the East, but still only 4.5 games out.  Even though they’re not playing well enough to feel good about themselves right now, the Braves are certainly not out of the race.

Last Week’s Stats

Tommy Hanson had the first great start of his young career this week in Cincinnati, pitching six shutout innings to get his second career win.  The rest of the rotation was fairly solid, although in recent weeks they haven’t seemed quite as good as they did in April and May.

Javy Vazquez gave up a three-run homer to his mound opponent (and inexplicable Braves Killer) Micah Owings, a hit which proved to be the difference on Wednesday, but he was very good otherwise and actually threw a complete game (8 innings) despite allowing four runs.  Jair Jurrjens had his Tuesday start washed out and struggled on Sunday against the Red Sox.  He gave up six runs (3 ER) in 8 1/3 innings between the two starts.  Kenshin Kawakami outlasted his struggling fellow countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka in Friday’s win over the Sox, and Derek Lowe turned in a somewhat typical 6 1/3-inning, 3-run game on Saturday.

Mike Gonzalez gave up four unearned runs in four innings out of the bullpen in a week where not many Braves relievers actually got a lot of work (especially after Tuesday’s rain).  Jeff Bennett gave up 3 runs in 4 2/3 innings, including Nick Green’s homer on Sunday.  He walked five and gave up six hits, so he was actually lucky not to have allowed even more runs.

Peter Moylan, Rafael Soriano, and Eric O’Flaherty were virtually untouchable all week.  Moylan and O’Flaherty each allowed a hit (and no runs) in 2 2/3 and 2 innings, respectively.  Soriano pitched two perfect innings, striking out five.

The offense was partially carried by Nate McLouth this week, his first great week as a Brave.  He “only” hit .308, but Nate had 2 doubles and 2 homers to push his OPS near 1.000 for the week.  Garret Anderson arguably had a better week than McLouth at 8-for-19, although he had just one extra-base hit.  His season line of .280/.313/.385 is beginning to look more respectable as his poor BABIP luck corrects itself.  If Anderson would hit for a little more power, learn to draw a few more walks, or try on defense (none of which is likely at this stage in his career), he might be a decent player, or at least passable at LF for a supposedly contending team.

Jeff Francoeur was along for the ride again this week and amazingly drew two walks (and stole a base!), but three singles made up the rest of his contribution, and his OPS slipped closer to .600.  Matt Diaz contributed more value than Francoeur in fewer plate appearances, going 3-for-11 with a double and a homer.  Gregor Blanco started for Frenchy on Sunday and got his first hit of the year, a ground ball single that barely squirted through the middle.

Brian McCann and Chipper Jones were merely average at the plate this week, while Yunel Escobar was more predictably mediocre.  Escobar also had another mental error in Sunday’s game, allowing a pop-up to fall in the middle of his territory at SS, eventually leading to a run.  It’s not like the Braves have anyone good to replace him, but he’s been frustrating lately.

On the other hand, the Braves do have a potential replacement for Kelly Johnson, who had yet another awful week at the plate: 1-for-15 with 2 walks.  Martin Prado, who has a solid .789 OPS for the year, had a good week filling in around the diamond.  Rounding out the infield performances, Casey Kotchman had just 4 hits, all singles, in 21 at bats.

The Road Ahead

This week will be the toughest of the entire season, a full 7 games against three tough teams: the Cubs, Yankees, and Red Sox.  Six will be against the Yanks and Red Sox, but the Braves are fortunate enough to avoid both Sabathia and Burnett.  They also will avoid Lester this weekend, although they will face both Beckett and Wakefield again.

Here are the matchups:

Mon vsCHC: Vazquez vs. Ryan Dempster
Tue vsNYY: Hanson vs. Chien-Ming Wang
Wed vsNYY: Kawakami vs. Joba Chamberlain
Thu vsNYY: Lowe vs. Andy Pettitte
Fri vsBOS: Jurrjens vs. Josh Beckett
Sat vsBOS: Vazquez vs. Tim Wakefield
Sun vsBOS: Hanson vs. Brad Penny

If any of Boston’s games are rained out early this week, the Braves will see John Smoltz on Friday for his Sox debut.

Let’s hope the home team can hold their own this week and at least pass the Marlins in the standings.  The Phillies aren’t going to be this bad all year, and the Braves will eventually have to improve in order to stay in the race.

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