Braves Check: July 6, 2009

Last week was up-and-down, in that order.  “Up” was a three-game sweep of the division-leading Phillies and a five-game win streak, while “Down” was losing the last two to the Nationals, with an increasingly rare bullpen meltdown to blame for the end of the winning streak.

The 4-2 week left the Braves four games back of the Phillies, although they were only two back after the sweep.  The Phillies swept the Mets over the weekend to get 2 of those games back.  The Marlins are just one behind Philly, while the Mets are tied with the Braves for third.  There are seven teams and five games standing between the Braves and the wild card, so we’ll focus on the division for now.  Better yet, let’s just focus on getting to .500.

Last Week’s Stats

Martin Prado had an unbelievable week, taking the second base job from Kelly Johnson before Kelly went on the DL.  Martin had 15 hits, including eight doubles and a homer, plus three walks, totaling a whole mess of runs created.  He’s now hitting .329 for the season with plus power, at least to the gaps.

Matt Diaz wasn’t far behind Martin.  He started most of the week, although the Braves did face an inordinate number of left-handed starters.  Diaz had 13 hits, including 3 doubles and a homer, and two walks.  His average is up to .320, also with some power, and he can’t be terribly far away from wrestling everyday ABs away from (at least) Jeff Francoeur.  Frenchy had just 17 trips to the plate and only 3 hits.  His OPS is an intolerable-for-a-regular .618.

Kotchman, Escobar, and McLouth also had productive weeks at the plate.  They were overshadowed this week, but their performances would have been enough for top billing some weeks this year.  Chipper, Blanco, and Anderson were passable this week.

Diory Hernandez did well in limited chances last week, hitting his first career homer.  Brooks Conrad did the same in his Braves debut, filling in as Kelly’s replacement.

Brian McCann joined Jeff Francoeur on the naughty list with a .490 OPS for the week, although he did receive a deserving All-Star nod.  He’d probably be the starter if more Atlanta fans cared and the game wasn’t in St. Louis (Cards catcher Yadier Molina won the fan ballot).

Javier Vazquez deserved to make the All-Star team probably more than any other Brave, but he didn’t make the roster because he just doesn’t know how to win, if you know what I mean.  If you believe that, I know someone who’s trying to sell a bridge in Brooklyn.  Vazquez, lacking that killer instinct, again failed to pick up a win in his only start this week, but he only allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings.  He has a 3.05 ERA in 112 innings this season, with 130 strikeouts and just 23 walks, but he has an unsightly 5-7 record.

Tommy Hanson continued getting excellent results this week, although his peripherals haven’t been spectacular at the major-league level yet.  With just 23 strikeouts and 18 walks in 36 innings, he’s going to have to show better command to keep his ERA under 3.

The best start this week was by Jair Jurrjens, who allowed just one hit in 7 innings (but walked four).  Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami both struggled, although the latter probably has an injury to blame for his performance.  Lowe just can’t find his sinker, which is an enormous problem if it persists.

Out of the bullpen, Mike Gonzalez had a terribly rough week, allowing six baserunners in 3 1/3 innings, and he saw five of them score.  Combine that with pitching in some crucial situations, and you have a WPA of -0.46, which is essentially a full loss credited to Gonzalez alone.  Moylan and Soriano also gave up some runs, although they were not quite as damaging.

Acosta, O’Flaherty, and Logan emerged from the week unscathed, although Eric left the team with negative WPA from his appearances.  Kris Medlen gave up one run in 3 innings of long-relief work.

The Road Ahead

It’s a full road slate this week.  The Braves play three in Chicago, starting tonight, and four in Colorado to wrap up the week.  Sunday’s game will be the last before the All-Star Break, and they’ll resume the following week at home on Thursday.

I’m not sure how Bobby Cox plans to re-tool the rotation at that point, but if neither Jurrjens nor Vazquez gets called to St. Louis as a replacement All-Star, it’s possible that he would turn back to them (being the two best Braves starters so far this year) to start the following Thursday and Friday on normal rest.

Pitching matchups:
Mon @CHC: Jurrjens vs. Randy Wells
Tue @CHC: Vazquez vs. Ryan Dempster
Wed @CHC: Kawakami vs. Carlos Zambrano
Thu @COL: Hanson vs. Aaron Cook
Fri @COL: Lowe vs. Ubaldo Jimenez
Sat @COL: Jurrjens vs. Jason Marquis
Sun @COL: Vazquez vs. Jason Hammel

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