Braves Check: July 20, 2009

At long last, the Braves have returned to .500, but the Phillies are on such a roll that they’re still losing ground in the playoff race.  At least they only have one team to catch in the East now, having overtaken the Marlins for second place.

There are still three teams between the Braves and the Wild Card-leading Giants, so even though there’s just a 4.5-game difference to make up, winning the WC is actually more far-fetched than winning the division.  Right now, Baseball Prospectus gives the Braves a 21% chance of reaching the playoffs: 16% for winning the NL East, and 5% for winning the Wild Card.

If that’s still a little disheartening for you as a Braves fan, you can take solace in BP’s Mets projection, which has dropped to a 5% playoff chance.

Last Week’s Stats

It was a short four-game week, but a few bats really showed up against the depleted Mets.  Chief among them was Yunel Escobar, who had 7 hits, including two homers and three doubles, as well as two walks.  Garret Anderson, Brian McCann, and Casey Kotchman all topped a 1.000 OPS, and Chipper Jones was close.

Ryan Church walked a few times and had 2 hits, so his series was a fairly good one.  Martin Prado also had a decent series at 5-for-19 with a walk.  For what it’s worth, Prado has overtaken Chipper in total Wins Above Replacement because of Chipper’s subpar defense and less-stellar-than-usual hitting.  That places him second on the team among hitters, only behind McCann.

Nate McLouth was the only regular who truly struggled throughout the Mets series, going 0-for-16.  He did have four walks on Sunday alone, though, so perhaps that will help him get back on track.  So far with the Braves, he’s hitting .257/.331/.446, which would be just fine if he were playing solid CF defense, but as he’s shown in his short career, he doesn’t have the range to play solid CF defense.  I think it’s just poor instincts off the ball, because his speed is excellent.  The bottom line, however, is that he needs to hit much better than your average CF to provide plus value.

Moving along to the pitchers, the Braves got four solid starts over the weekend.  The starters went 2-1, and as if to demonstrate the uselessness of pitching wins and losses, Manny Acosta picked up the other win, despite being the team’s worst pitcher.  He allowed 3 runs in 1 2/3 innings.  Kenshin Kawakami had the loss in an effective 6 2/3 inning, 2-run start in which he was outdueled by Johan Santana.

Jair Jurrjens allowed just two hits in six shutout innings during Friday night’s game, and I suppose Bobby decided to save his energy for another day, because he took him out after he’d thrown just 85 pitches.  He had a 10-run lead, and it was a good chance to let some of the lesser bullpen arms get some work.  This should happen more often.

Javier Vazquez got the win on Sunday with seven excellent innings.  He allowed one run and struck out five, continuing his revival as one of the top 4-5 starters in the National League.

The bullpen was outstanding, with Acosta as the lone exception.  Seven other relievers combined for 8 2/3 shutout innings.  Granted, they were facing the Mets’ B and C lineups, because of all their injuries, but it’s still good to see success.

The Road Ahead

Two fellow contenders are on the schedule this week.  The Braves will get a chance to put a huge dent in the gap between themselves and the Giants, who come to town for four games starting tonight.  After that, they’ll start a week-long road trip with three games in Milwaukee.  The Brewers have a one-game edge on the Braves for fourth place in the Wild Card.

Here are your pitching matchups:

Mon vsSF: Hanson vs. Jonathan Sanchez
Tue vsSF: Lowe vs. Ryan Sadowski
Wed vsSF: Jurrjens vs. Tim Lincecum
Thu vsSF: Kawakami vs. Barry Zito
Fri @MIL: Vazquez vs. Manny Parra
Sat @MIL: Hanson vs. Yovani Gallardo
Sun @MIL: Lowe vs. Mike Burns

Hopefully Sanchez doesn’t carry over any of the magic from his near-perfect game tonight against Hanson, who will eventually be tagged with a loss at some point in his career.  His peripheral numbers suggest that will be sooner, rather than later, but we’ll try to delay that as long as possible.

Wednesday’s matchup looks like it will be fun to watch, and thank goodness it’s a night game.  Most of the opposing pitchers are recognizable names, except for both of Lowe’s opponents.  Hopefully he’ll get some runs to work with and keep turning his season around.

The games keep getting more and more important this week as the Braves try to get back in serious contention.  If they can’t win these series and the Phillies keep rolling, they may fall out of the playoff picture very quickly.

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2 thoughts on “Braves Check: July 20, 2009

  1. Why are the Braves keeping a flat tire like Norton around much less using him as a pinch hitter (avg .117) with the game on the line?

  2. Good question. I’m never confident that he’s going to do something good at the plate, and it’s not like they need him to back up 1B/OF positions, given the other players they have. Prado and Diaz can both play there if necessary. I suppose they like his power off the bench, but Brooks Conrad is doing a pretty good job with that right now. Perhaps he’ll be the one who goes when Infante comes back, but I’d bet it’s Conrad who gets sent down then.

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