Braves Check: August 17, 2009

The two-game sweep of Washington was a nice start to the week, but it hurts to lose two of three from the Phillies.  The Braves are now in third place, six games back of the Phils for the division lead, with six games remaining against them.

The Wild Card race is getting closer, but the Braves remain 3.5 back of the Rockies in that contest.  The Giants and Marlins are also ahead of them by 2 and 1.5 games, respectively, and the Cubs are ahead of them for 4th by percentage points.

Last Week’s Stats

Five wins was not out of the realm of possibility in last week’s short set of games, but Ryan Howard claimed two games for himself on three homers.  Two mistake pitches from Javier Vazquez and one from Rafael Soriano made the difference.  On the other side of things, the Braves couldn’t seem to get the ball past the warning track when they needed hits the most.

Tommy Hanson had the week’s best start on Tuesday against the Nats, lasting 6 2/3 with one earned run allowed and 9 Ks.  Jurrjens and Lowe each lasted 1/3 of an inning longer in their starts and allowed two runs each, but Lowe generally looked worse, giving up 7 hits and 4 walks.  Kawakami allowed 3 runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Phils, and his command was a little sharper than usual, as he didn’t walk a batter.  As noted, Vazquez gave up two long balls to Howard, amounting to 4 runs in his 7 innings of otherwise solid work after the rain delay last night.

Soriano’s big fly was the anti-highlight of his one inning of work and the only sore spot on a week’s worth of great work out of the ‘pen.  Gonzalez and O’Flaherty each pitched three scoreless innings, although O’Flaherty generally looked sharper and allowed just a hit and a walk in total.  Acosta, Moylan, and Medlen combined for the other four scoreless innings of relief, rounding out the week.

Adam LaRoche and Matt Diaz were the hitting stars last week, accounting for more than a full win in positive WPA value (effectively two wins, since you start the game at .500).  LaRoche was on base 10 times in just 4 games, with 5 walks and 5 hits, including 2 homers.  Diaz also homered, but his biggest play was Brad Lidge’s failed attempt to field a bunt, costing the Phillies a win on Saturday.  Chipper, Prado, and McCann all homered and had otherwise solid weeks at the plate.

Injuries appeared to be taking a toll on the lineup this week, though.  Nate McLouth can’t seem to run yet, and Prado was suffering from dizziness on Sunday.  It wouldn’t be the end of the world if McLouth went on the DL to get some real rest for September.  Chipper appeared to have strained something after a swing on Sunday, so Omar Infante may have to step into the role that Prado had been filling for most of the year if both of those guys are hurt.  He had two hits, including Saturday’s game-winning ground ball.  McCann played in every game but looked generally fatigued, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he got today’s afternoon game off.

Garret Anderson homered, but he only reached base five times last week, including his seventh career HBP.  It’s amazing to see Chase Utley getting beaned upwards of 20 times a year, while a guy who’s been around as long as Garret has only been hit seven times.

Ryan Church and Yunel Escobar struggled through the week, but Escobar’s struggles were especially odd, given that the Braves saw four left-handed starters.  McLouth’s injuries forced Church into action when he probably would have sat against some of the lefties.

Chipper still has a comfortable lead in batting WPA at 2.48, followed by Diaz, Escobar, Prado, and now LaRoche.  Brian McCann is in the red after dropping 0.22 points this week to -0.15.  Jurrjens (2.26) took the lead from Vazquez this week on the pitching side, and Gonzalez overtook Rafael Soriano among relievers on the Howard HR.

Jason Heyward Watch

The Braves would be short an outfielder if McLouth went on the DL, but would that signal a call-up for the Braves’ top prospect?  His week wouldn’t indicate that, since he had a couple of 0-fers and saw his OPS drop to “only” 1.127.  I’m still hoping to see him soon, either in Atlanta, or in Chattanooga this coming weekend if he’s still in AA.

The Road Ahead

Rain remains in the forecast this afternoon, but hopefully they’ll get in today’s homestand finale against the D-Backs, which is itself a make-up game for an earlier rainout.  The Braves see the rest of the division on the road this week, traveling to New York and Florida for three games each.

Probable starters:

Mon vsARI: Hanson vs. Max Scherzer
Tue @NYM: Lowe vs. Oliver Perez
Wed @NYM: Jurrjens vs. Bobby Parnell
Thu @NYM: Kawakami vs. Johan Santana
Fri @FLA: Vazquez vs. Rick Vanden Hurk
Sat @FLA: Hanson vs. Chris Volstad
Sun @FLA: Lowe vs. Ricky Nolasco

The D-Backs don’t have a particularly scary lineup without Justin Upton, but Scherzer is a solid pitcher.  Hanson has been great, though, and the Braves have to expect a win today.  They should also expect to win at least 2 of 3 against the Mets, although they do draw Santana on Thursday.  The Mets will be without their four best hitters now that David Wright is on the DL.  The Braves also get to avoid Josh Johnson in the Marlins series, which is nice.

The rest of the schedule is pretty important for a team that’s teetering on the edge of contention like the Braves are, but next week will finish with another big series in Philadelphia, the Braves’ next-to-last chance to put a dent in the Phillies’ division lead.  Of course, the upcoming Marlins series is also very important since the Braves are in third place behind them, so it’s hard to look too far ahead.

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8 thoughts on “Braves Check: August 17, 2009

  1. I have to disagree with you when you say Lowe looked worse than Jurrjens. Lowe got a win this week and Jurrjens didn’t, and wins and losses are the name of the game for pitchers. Jurrjens just doesn’t have the right mindset to be a consistent #2 guy in the rotation.

    The biggest play of the week was definitely Matt Diaz’s bunt. It probably would have been a better play if Diaz had actually been out on the play, because giving up outs to move runners over is usually what wins games consistently.

    I think Adam LaRoche is taking too many walks. He hit two home runs this week, so I’d say he needs to get the bat off his shoulder more and produce more consistently.

    I haven’t seen Jason Heyward play, but based on what I’ve heard, he’s a pretty consistent RBI guy. He probably needs to work on his fundamentals, like bat control and hitting behind runners. Frank Wren needs to make sure he can be consistent before giving him a shot in the major leagues.

    I will definitely not disagree that that Braves have a chance to contend for the wild card. They’re headed in the right direction and starting to be more consistent. But a lot of other teams are playing very well too.

  2. Joe,

    First of all, whose job is it at ESPN to handwrite each of my posts into a notebook for you? I can’t even imagine doing that, and I’m the one coming up with stuff to write here.

    I suppose I’m still grateful that you’ve chosen to comment here, though. This is probably a great year for you, right? It’s the 20th year of Sunday Night Baseball, and bunts are winning games for teams like the Braves. You must be enjoying watching your hometown A’s struggle this year, with that nasty liar of an author running the team.

    I guess the Reds aren’t doing as well, but at least you have some great memories to fall back on. You’ll have to share some more stories next time the Braves are on the Sunday night game.

  3. Side note: In case any first-time readers out there are confused at that little exchange, let me assure you that Joe Morgan is not really commenting on my blog.

    I won’t divulge the commenter’s identity, but let’s just say I’m pretty certain it’s not Joe. Well, unless Joe has started kidnapping my friends and using their e-mail addresses. That would be sad.

  4. BTW, John. In last night’s telecast your friend Joe Morgan used the phrase “he knows how to win” about 6-7 times. Would you mind asking him what he means by that? Especially when he is referencing a player with an OPS in the low .700s

  5. I guess “knowing how to win” involves “knowing how to sign with a team that surrounds you with superior talent,” because a .700 OPS and average pitching wouldn’t win you much more than 3rd place.

    Maybe Gorecki’s call-up is a sign that the Braves don’t think Ryan Church is over his recent injuries, at least not enough to play CF every day. Church is probably at least McLouth’s defensive equal, and if he slid over to center, that would free up RF for Heyward. Of course, I’m just coming up with excuses to bring Jason up at this point.

  6. I don’t disagree that Church could play CF, in fact I think I’d rather him play CF and put McLouth in LF. But for a manager that is extremely reluctant to use his backup catcher as a pinch hitter for “just in case” purposes, it doesn’t sound very “Bobbyish” to have only 1 player on the roster that can play that position (granted, I think Infante has played there before and Diaz could probably hold his own better than some think he could).

    I’m excited about Jason as well. Wish I was there to see him in Chattanooga with you.

    It’s probably a waste of time to ask Morgan that question because it is doubtful he knows what OPS is.

  7. I have to disagree with Mr. Morgan about Diaz’s bunt. I mean, can he be serious? Better to make an out than for Lidge to make the error? That doesn’t even make sense.

    Meanwhile, as far as Heyward, well, his week might not indicate his call-up is nigh, but the only reason his OPS dropped as much as it did from the oh-fers is because it was so high to begin with. Look at it this way: The longer they make everyone wait for Heyward, the more we’ll enjoy it once he gets here, right? Right? Kind of like waiting to open a really exciting present? (Except that the present is getting Heyward up to the bigs just in time to be too late to help much in his team’s first legitimate pennant race in four years. Surprise!)

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