Braves Check: August 31, 2009

I missed last week and will have to do an abbreviated version this week.  I just have too many irons in the fire right now to devote much time to blogging, and the Braves’ uninspiring play hasn’t helped.  They lost both series last week, both crippling losses given their standing in the division, but the Rockies have now lost 5 in a row, so they’re still within reach (3.5 games) of the Wild Card.

Last Two Weeks’ Stats

Matt Diaz has carried the offense for the last 2 weeks with his own extreme brand of “see the ball, hit the ball,” which works as long as he’s hitting the ball where there are no fielders.  He’s hit .471 in that time and over .500 on balls in play.  He’s also taken 3 walks and been hit by a pitch three times.  On the other side of the ledger, he’s been caught in all three of his SB attempts.  I don’t know how much longer the leadoff thing is going to work out for him, since he’s not a good on-base guy if he’s hitting any less than .330, but it seems to be working at the moment.

Still providing his trademarked late-season power surge is Adam LaRoche, who has five homers in the last 2 weeks and checks in not far behind Diaz with a .475 wOBA.  Garret Anderson and Yunel Escobar have also been quite strong, with Brian McCann doing his usual good work.

Martin Prado and Chipper Jones have been less-than-stellar, although Chipper has been more valuable than he’s seemed because he’s still drawing a ton of walks.

The Braves’ ace relief duo hasn’t allowed a run since I last checked in, totaling 11 2/3 shutout innings with just 10 baserunners allowed between them, compared to 15 strikeouts.  They’ve both stayed remarkably strong this year despite Bobby’s tendency to wear relievers into the ground.  We’ll see if they can make it through September and bounce back again next year.

The best Braves starter over the last 2 weeks has been Jair Jurrjens, who has a 2.18 ERA in 3 starts.  Everyone has been pretty good, though, with the exception of “ace” Derek Lowe, who has had a pretty rough stretch of 15 starts since mid-June (5.38 ERA).  He hasn’t been particularly unlucky on balls in play this year, either.

Minors and other notes

Jason Heyward has been sitting out with an injury for a few games, and I’ve read some discussion that they may shut him down for the season to prepare for the Arizona Fall League.  It’s looking increasingly unlikely that he will make his major-league debut this season, when you consider what Matt Diaz has been doing.

Tim Hudson is scheduled to return for Tuesday’s game against the Marlins, allowing everyone else to get an extra day’s rest.  I doubt that the Braves plan to use a six-man rotation to finish the season, but they haven’t shown their hand yet.  Sending Kawakami to the bullpen would be a defensible strategy, but it’s a risky move any way you look at it, since Hudson is still probably going to face some rough patches in the early stages of his return.  Sunday will be decision day, since that would be Kawakami’s next turn.

The Road Ahead

The upcoming series at Florida could effectively end a realistic shot at reaching the postseason for either the Braves or the Marlins.  The division rivals open the series tied at 68-62, 8 games back of the Phillies in the East.  They’re behind co-Wild-Card leaders San Francisco and Colorado by 3.5, with the latter having kept the hopes alive for both teams by losing their last five in a row.

These are the probable starters for what could be the last important week of the season if the Braves don’t win at least 4-5 games:

Mon @FLA: Kawakami vs. Josh Johnson
Tue @FLA: Hudson vs. Anibal Sanchez
Wed @FLA: Vazquez vs. Rick Vanden Hurk
Thu @FLA: Hanson vs. Ricky Nolasco
Fri vsCIN: Lowe vs. Matt Maloney
Sat vsCIN: Jurrjens vs. Bronson Arroyo
Sun vsCIN: Hudson vs. Johnny Cueto

Let’s win some games this week.

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