Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Braves Blog: Cincinnati Series Preview

We’ve all seen the standings change dramatically over a short period of time before. But it has still been a bit alarming for Braves fans to see just how quickly the lead in the NL East has shrunk in recent days. A couple of weeks ago the Braves were fairly comfortable atop the division. Now it seems all but inevitable that the Braves will lose their hold on 1st place.

So what the hell’s gone so badly wrong? It’s not that the Braves are playing terribly. To be sure they are struggling in a way that they haven’t in months. They are 6-8 in their last 14 games. They have lost their last 2 series and they’ve won only 1 of 4 series since the All-Star break. On the other hand, they haven’t lost more than 2 games in a row for over a month. The problem is that Atlanta’s stumble has coincided with Philly catching fire. The Phils have won 8 straight and now they have added Roy Oswalt for virtually nothing.

This isn’t exactly the best time for the Braves to be playing another 1st place team on the road. The Braves are 58-43 but their lead in the NL East is now down to 2.5 games. They are just 15-14 in 1-run games and 24-30 on the road. Over the last couple of weeks the Braves have struggled in just about every area of the game at one time or another. Against the Brewers their starters were off. Their closer blew back to back saves in 2 different series. Against the Nats this week the Braves scored just 6 runs in 3 games. There have been costly defensive mistakes in several losses. And now they go to Cincinnati where they will face 3 tough pitchers and the best offensive club in the league.

Cincinnati Series Preview

If not for the Padres, the Reds would be the biggest surprise in baseball this season. For me, it’s not that the Reds are in 1st place that is so surprising; it’s that it all seems to be completely legit. The Reds don’t have a lot of glaring weaknesses and they’ve been consistent. After a disastrous 4 game sweep at the hands of the Phillies in the last series before the All-Star break, I really thought the Reds might wilt in the 2nd half. That hasn’t happened yet. They are now 57-46 (.553) and in 1st place in the NL Central by percentage points over the Cardinals. At this point, I would say they look like a safer bet than St. Louis to hang in the race to the finish.

The Reds are 31-22 (.585) at home and they come into this series 8-5 in their last 13 games. They haven’t had great luck in close games, as they are 7-6 in extra innings and 17-18 in 1-run games. Back in May, the Braves won both games of a 2 game series with the Reds in Atlanta, taking each game by 1 run. The Braves could easily have lost both of those games. In the first game they blew a 4-0 lead, allowing 3 runs in the 8th and 1 in the 9th, before winning on a 2 out RBI double by Jason Heyward in the bottom of the 9th. The second game was of course the Brooks Conrad walk off grand slam game, when the Braves scored 7 runs in the 9th to win 10-9. The comeback could not have happened without the 4 errors committed by the Reds, along with several other defensive miscues that were not ruled errors.

For years now the Reds have commonly been among the highest scoring teams in the NL. The band box of a stadium that they play their home games in has helped in that regard, and they have usually had boppers spread throughout their lineup. The difference this season is that the Reds are not just among the best offensive clubs in the NL, they are clearly the very best. The Reds lead the NL in runs per game, average, slugging, and OPS. They are 2nd in homers and OBP. They are even 4th in stolen bases, although they have a low success rate of just 68% (hey, it’s Dusty Baker’s team. What do you expect?). They are below average in walks and strikeouts, but they aren’t at the very bottom in either of those categories. They are just solid and tough to pitch against.

Another difference for the Reds is that this season their great hitting has not been negated by terrible pitching. The Reds aren’t a great pitching team but they’ve done well enough to make the offensive support stand up. They are 10th in the NL in ERA and 8th in WHIP. They are 10th in both starting pitching ERA and bullpen ERA. The Reds have been amassing a stable of quality young pitchers for some time now and it’s starting to pay off. But the biggest difference has been in the defense. While 10th in the NL in ERA, the Reds are 7th in runs allowed per game. That’s largely due to the great glove work, as they are tied 2nd in the NL in errors; 2nd in Fielding Percentage; and 3rd in Defensive Efficiency.

For the third straight series the Braves will be going into a place where they have flat out struggled over the years. Since it’s opening in 2003, the Braves are just 12-17 at The Great American Ballpark. Actually, the Braves are 23-28 against the Reds overall during that time. With the notable exception of 2005, the Reds have been a major stumbling block for the Braves in recent years, often tripping up the Braves at the most inopportune time. Back in 2005 it was a 4 game series at the GAB in June that the Braves used as a spring board to get them rolling and on their way to a 14th consecutive division title (though even in that series the Braves blew a lead in the finale and lost a chance for a 4-game sweep). The Braves were 5-2 in Cinci that season and 7-3 against the Reds overall. In the other 6 seasons since the GAB opened in ’03, the Braves are just 7-15 against the Reds on the road and 16-25 overall.

Worse than the record has been the way that the Braves have lost many of those games. Consider, in 2007 the Braves played 4 games in Cinci and outscored the Reds 30-25, yet they lost 3 of the 4 games. At home or on the road, the Braves have lost a ton of close games to Cincinnati over the last few years. That’s one of the reasons it was so gratifying to burn the Reds in back to back games earlier this season. From 2003-2009, the Braves went 4-11 against the Reds in 1-run games and 3-7 against them in extra inning games. From 2007 to 2009 alone, the Braves went 1-6 against the Reds in 1-run games and 0-5 in extra inning affairs.


Kris Medlen vs. Johnny Cueto

The Braves have tinkered with Medlen lately, taking him in and out of the rotation, apparently in an attempt to limit his innings. While I fully understand the desire to be careful with the young righty, it’s been a bit annoying because he hasn’t responded well to the changes, and he had been one of the most consistent starting pitchers for the Braves this season. Medlen has pitched in 29 games in 2010, 12 as a starter and 17 as a reliever. He is 6-2 overall with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. In 12 starts Medlen is 5-0 with a 3.74 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. He has thrown 7 Quality Starts and the Braves are 11-1 in his 12 starts.

On the road, Medlen has a 4.05 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 15 appearances, 7 as a starter. He has a 4-1 record on the road. Medlen is coming off of his worst start of the season. Last week in Florida, Medlen went 6 and allowed 5 runs on 8 hits and a walk with 8 K. He got a no-decision in a game the Braves eventually came back to win 10-5.

Cueto doesn’t blow anyone away, mostly because, well, he doesn’t blow that many hitters away. But he has been very good in 2010. He is 10-2 in 20 starts with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. He has 11 QS and the Reds are 13-7 with him on the mound. Cueto has 1 complete game shutout this season. His numbers at home are not quite as good as on the road but that’s to be expected. He is 5-1 in 9 starts at the GAB with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. He has thrown QS in 6 of his 9 home starts and the Reds are 6-3 in those games.

Cueto has really been on a roll over his last 7 starts. Since June 18th, Cueto is 4-1 with a 0.96 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP over 46.2 innings. Cueto has thrown 5 QS over those last 7 starts, though the Reds are just 4-3 in those games.


Jair Jurrjens vs. Bronson Arroyo

Jurrjens was not great in his last outing but he has been pretty solid since coming back from the DL. In 10 starts overall this year he is 3-3 with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. He has 5 QS and the Braves are 6-4 with him on the mound. In his 5 starts since returning from the DL, Jurrjens is 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 31.2 innings. He has made 3 QS over that stretch and the Braves are 4-1 in those 5 games. Jurrjens’ numbers on the road still look awful, as he is 0-3 with a 7.88 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP in 5 starts away from Turner Field. He’s pitched 2 QS on the road this year and the Braves are only 1-4 in his 5 road starts.

Arroyo is a hard guy to figure out. At times he looks like an average pitcher at best. He is also capable of going through stretches of dominance. Fortunately for the Reds, Arroyo has been good more often than not in 2010. He is 10-6 in 21 starts with a 4.21 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. He has tossed 2 CG and 12 QS. The Reds are 13-8 with Arroyo on the mound.

Like Cueto, Arroyo’s numbers are not quite as good at home due to the GAB being such a hitter’s park. He is 4-3 in 10 home starts and the Reds are just 5-5 in those games. He has a 4.61 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP at home. Arroyo has thrown 5 QS and 1 CG at home in 2010. Arroyo has also been very hot lately. In fact, Arroyo’s hot stretch began on June 17th, a day before Cueto really got rolling. Over his last 8 starts, Arroyo is 5-3 with a 3.29 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. 6 of his last 8 starts have been QS.


Tommy Hanson vs. Edinson Volquez

Ugh. Watching Hanson pitch lately has been almost as unpleasant as watching Derek Lowe pitch. He’s very frustrating. He can’t quite put it all together and shut the opposition down like you think he’s capable of doing. He struggles to put hitters away at times. He loses control out of the blue. He makes mistakes that always seem to come back to bite.

Hanson is now just 8-7 in 21 starts with a 3.99 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. He has made 10 QS and the Braves are 13-8 in his 21 appearances. On the road Hanson is 4-3 in 10 starts with a 3.59 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. He has 5 QS on the road and the Braves are 7-3 in his 10 road starts. Since July 3rd Hanson is just 1-2 in 5 starts, but he has pitched fairly well during that stretch, posting a 2.43 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP over 29.2 innings. He has thrown 3 QS over those last 5 starts but the Braves have managed only a 2-3 record in those games.

Hanson is the only Braves starter other than Kenshin Kawakami who has faced the Reds in 2010. Hanson has had a number of awful appearances this season but his start against the Reds back on May 20th was his worst of all. He lasted only 1.2 innings and allowed 8 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks with 2 K. Amazingly, Hanson ended up taking a no-decision in that game, as Conrad and the Braves shocked Dusty’s boys with a miracle 10-9 win.

It was the 2nd inning that did Hanson in that day, and if his 2010 season has been a bit of a disappointment so far, the 2nd inning has been the cause. To be honest about the situation, Hanson’s 2nd inning problem has gotten close to ridiculous. Outside of the 2nd inning, Hanson has pitched pretty darn well this year. In 99 innings of work excluding the 2nd inning, Hanson has a 2.82 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP, with opposing batters hitting just .240/.311/.335/.646 off him. He has allowed 5 homers and hit 8 batters in those 99 innings while averaging 9.64 K/9.

And then there are his 2nd inning numbers. Over 20.2 innings of work, Hanson has allowed 26 runs (22 earned) on 36 hits and 6 walks for a 9.58 ERA and a 2.52 WHIP. Batters have hit .391/.452/.543/.995 off of him with 3 homers in the 2nd inning. He has plunked 5 batters in the 2nd inning and has averaged just 6.97 K/9. Those are pretty amazing numbers.

And the fact that his problem has been the 2nd inning makes it all the more weird. Lots of pitchers have problems in later innings, especially when they are young, as they start to lose some of their stuff after a certain number of pitchers. Some pitchers have consistently had trouble in the 1st inning but would then get loose and settled in. Tom Glavine often had difficulty in the 1st inning, particularly during the first half of his career. I’ve even heard of guys struggling in the 4th inning, as they go through the lineup for a 2nd time. But I’ve never heard of anyone consistently sucking in the 2nd inning. Nor does there appear to be any logical reason for it. In fact, the 2nd inning is usually a low scoring inning, as it’s normally the lower part of the batting order at the plate. The only inning that has averaged less runs than the 2nd in the MLB this season is the 9th. Yet for Hanson it’s been a nightmare. It’s like he’s been pitching at Coors Field pre-humidor during the 2nd inning this season.

Edinson Volquez has just recently come back from elbow surgery but he is probably the most talented pitcher on the Reds staff. In 3 starts since returning on July 17th, Volquez is 1-1, having allowed 11 runs on 14 hits and 10 walks with 16 K over just 12 innings. He has not been very effective in either of his last 2 starts. Hopefully he will not find his best stuff on Sunday.


I’m not overly confident. You could probably say that I’m scared. I’m a little bit worried that we might all lie awake in bed on Sunday night, unable to sleep, realizing that the entire lead is gone and we are now behind the Phillies in the East. For that to happen the Braves would have to lose all 3 games, and the Phils would have to sweep the Nats. It’s not hard to imagine, is it? We need to get a win. A series win would be awesome. But at the very least we need to avoid a sweep.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Braves Blog: Stats and Trends

A Stat-tastic Little Number

So things have gotten tighter in the NL East. The deadline is approaching. We’ve blown some leads and we’re in a bit of a rut. Oh yeah, and tonight we have to face Strasburg. But while we wait to see what comes next, here are some mostly positive numbers for Braves people to consume.

Bats heating up on Cue

The Braves bats normally spring to life around the All-Star break, and so far in the 2nd half Atlanta’s hitters are having quite a bit of success. Check out these post-break numbers.

Jason Heyward: 10 games, 17 for 39 (.436/.522/.487/1.009) with 2 doubles, 10 runs, 3 RBI, 6 BB, 7 K, and 2 SB in 3 attempts.

Matt Diaz: 9 games, 8 for 21 (.381) with 2 doubles, 3 homers, 6 runs, 9 RBI, 1 BB, and 3 K.

Brian McCann: 9 games, 11 for 33 (.333/.421/.606/1.027) with 3 homers, 3 runs, 14 RBI, 4 BB, and 9 K.

Eric Hinske: 9 games, 6 for 18 (.333) with a double, 2 homers, 5 RBI, 4 BB, and 4 K.

Alex Gonzalez: 10 games, 13 for 40 (.325) with 4 doubles, a triple, 4 runs, 2 RBI, 3 BB, and 7 K.

Melky Cabrera: 10 games, 8 for 27 (.296) with 3 doubles, a triple, 3 runs, 2 RBI, 3 BB, and 3 K.

Chipper Jones: 9 games, 7 for 25 (.280) with a double, a homer, 6 RBI, 5 BB, and 4 K.

Martin Prado: 10 games, 13 for 48 (.271) with 3 doubles, a triple, 3 homers, 10 runs, 3 RBI, 3 BB, and 4 K.

Other Batting Numbers

Brian McCann has once again become a feared and productive bat in the Atlanta lineup. Since May 11th, Mac has played in 58 games and has hit .293/.378/.512/.890 with 12 doubles, 11 homers, 42 RBI, 24 BB, and 44 K.

Chipper continues to battle injuries, but after looking totally finished for much of the first half, CJ has been much better since mid-June, even showing occasional power. Since June 15th, Chipper has played in 30 games, hitting .300/.388/.490/.878 with 7 doubles, 4 homers, 17 RBI, 15 BB, and 17 K.

No doubt Martin Prado has cooled off a bit; it was inevitable. But while Tino’s average has slipped, he has hit with power more often in recent games. And Martin’s “slump” has been more apparent due to the fact that he comes to the plate more often than anyone else in the Braves lineup. Even still, since June 10th, Prado has played in 38 games and has hit .319/.365/.566/.931 with 11 doubles, 3 triples, 8 homers, 27 runs, 14 RBI, 12 BB, 22 K, and 3 SB in 3 attempts. Pretty damn impressive. I’d like to seem him walk more, but that’s being a little picky at this point.

Troy Glaus is the one Braves hitter who is still locked in a bit of a mid-season slump (Excluding Nate McLouth of course because he just sucks). The strange thing is that Glausy is still walking and he isn’t striking out all that much. He just isn’t hitting for any power at all. The lack of power also takes a toll on the number of hits he gets, as he is mostly a fly ball hitter and he doesn’t have the speed to beat out anything on the ground. Since June 24th, Glaus has played in 23 games, hitting just .175/.323/.238/.561 with 5 doubles, 0 homers, 6 RBI, 15 BB, and 12 K. Clearly the average, the slugging, and the lack of a single homer are all discouraging. On the other hand, Glaus is still taking walks which keeps him from totally wrecking the lineup like, say, Jeff Francoeur. Hopefully Glaus will find his power stroke again soon. He could use some time off but we don’t have many other options.

Our Relief could use some Help

It’s obvious that the Braves bullpen is struggling and scrambling at this point. Unfortunately, the 2 guys with the stuff to come in and help out right now—Mike Dunn and Craig Kimbrel--are both struggling from the same inescapable problem: they simply cannot throw strikes with anywhere near enough consistency to pitch with success in the Majors.

Dunn is now 25 and is still clearly not over the control problems which led the Yankees to send him our way. Dunn’s control has been an issue in the minors and it’s a virtual cop killer-on-the-loose road block at the Major League level. In 4 appearances with the Braves this season Dunn has thrown 2.1 innings and has yet to allow a run. Good, right? Well, yes, except that he’s averaging 19.3 walks per 9 innings. He’s allowed 3 hits and 5 walks with 2 K over 2.1 innings. In his last appearance, with the Braves leading 9-0 in the 8th, Dunn came on and threw 19 pitches, with only 4 going for strikes. He walked 3 and recorded only 1 out before being pulled. In his 4 games, Dunn has thrown 29 strikes and 32 balls. I have 2 pieces of advice for the Bravos concerning Mr. Dunn. Number 1: he should be sent down now and replaced by someone who can at least make the other team swing. Number 2: the Braves should trade him to the next team that shows interest or puts any value in him. I’m sure I’m totally wrong on this, but it doesn’t seem like many guys with big arms who are too wild to pitch in the Majors at 25 end up making it.

Kimbrel’s situation is not nearly as bleak. He’s just 22 and he isn’t quite as wild. Still, he is walking too many guys at AAA, and in the Majors it has been an even bigger issue. In 8 games with the big club this season, Kimbrel has allowed 2 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits and 10 walks with 15 K over 8.1 innings. Obviously he has fared better than Dunn, and once Eric O’Flaherty is healthy, I believe it would make more sense to have Kimbrel in the pen than Dunn. However, in 4 of Kimbrel’s 8 appearances with the Braves he gave up at least 2 free passes. He had just a 95-87 strike-to-ball ratio during his 8 outings. And again, the problem has persisted even at AAA.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Braves Blog: Washington Series Preview

Okay, so I was a little bit too optimistic about the Braves’ chances in Florida last weekend. But only a little bit. They won 1 game by 5 runs and lost the other 2 games in extra innings, so they very well could have swept. The problem is that they didn’t, they lost 2 of 3, and now they’re in a bit of a rut.

The Braves are still 16 games over .500 at 57-41 (.582) but they are just 23-28 (.451) on the road. They are now just 4-5 in extra inning games and 15-14 in 1-run affairs. Most importantly, the Braves are just 4.5 games in front of the 2nd place Phillies, who have now won 5 straight. The Braves are 5-5 in the 2nd half and just 5-6 over their last 11. With the trade deadline nearing, the Braves now go from one troublesome location (South Florida) to another (Washington D.C.).

Washington Series Preview

If the Marlins and Joe Robbie Stadium have been troublesome for the Braves in recent seasons, the Nationals and Washington D.C. have been torturous. The main reason that the problems with the Nationals have been a bigger deal is that the Nationals have always been worse than the Marlins. The Nats have been an annoying stumbling block for Atlanta since the Expos moved to Washington in 2005. The Braves are just 50-47 overall against the Nats, and they are just 21-27 in D.C.

In 2 series against the Nationals in 2010 things have gone pretty much as usual. The Braves are 3-3 against Washington, with each team scoring 23 runs. In early May, the Braves lost 2 of 3 in Washington, winning the middle game, 7-6 in 10 innings, and losing the finale by 1 run. In late June, the Braves took 2 of 3 from the Nats at Turner Field.

Washington is making progress as a franchise, primarily due to the phenom Stephen Strasburg, whom the Braves have already seen once and will see again in this series. The Nats are 42-57 (.424) and in last place in the East, 15.5 games out of 1st. Despite having been outscored by 14 runs they are 25-21 (.543) at home. They have struggled in close games, as they are 1-6 in extra inning affairs and just 16-19 in 1-run games. But as we saw with the Marlins last weekend, those sorts of things can turn around in a hurry.
Washington has lost 3 straight and they are just 3-7 since the All-Star break. They are 3-9 in their last 12.

The Nats are similar to the Marlins, in that they don’t score as many runs as you might expect. They are 14th in the NL in runs per game; 10th in homers; 10th in batting average; 9th in OBP; 10th in Slugging; and 11th in OPS. Also like the Marlins, the Nationals do a lot of running, as they are 3rd in the NL with 72 SB. They have a 71.3% success rate which is about average.

Strasburg has been better than advertised but the Nationals are still lacking in the pitching department. They are 12th in the NL runs allowed per game; 12th in ERA; and 12th in WHIP. They have been especially weak in the starting pitching department, as they are 13th in starter’s ERA and tied 14th in quality starts. Unlike the Marlins, the Nationals have actually had a solid bullpen, as they are 6th in the NL in BP ERA. They have a save success rate of 65% which is middle of the pack in the NL.

Like Florida, the Nationals are consistently among the worst in defense. 2010 has not been an exception, as the Nationals are among the worst fielding teams in the NL. They are last in errors and fielding percentage, and 11th in defensive efficiency. Poor defense and an overworked bullpen have contributed to the Nats struggles in close games. But again, you can’t merely assume those trends will continue, as the Braves saw last weekend in Florida.


Tommy Hanson vs. Stephen Strasburg

I’m still not sure how sold I am on Hanson as future Cy Young/staff ace. His numbers are nowhere near as impressive as they were last season. It’s not at all unusual for a pitcher to take a step back in his 2nd season. But Hanson just doesn’t seem as tough-minded this season. He hasn’t handled rough spots and adversity as well as I would have liked to see. And what about the fact that Hanson recently switched agents to Scott Boras? Kind of an odd time don’t you think? Anyway, Hanson is now 8-6 in 20 starts with a 4.12 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. He has 9 QS and the Braves are 13-7 in his 20 starts.

The road has been a mixed bag for Hanson. He is 4-2 in 9 road starts and the Braves are 7-2 in those games. He has thrown 4 QS on the road and has a 3.83 ERA. On the other hand, his WHIP in 9 road starts is an alarming 1.51. Hanson’s only previous appearance against the Nats this year was typical of his 2010 season. On May 5th at Washington, Hanson allowed 4 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks with 5 K over 6 innings, taking a no-decision in a game the Braves eventually won in extra innings, 7-6.

Hanson’s year has been a grind from the start. However, he has hit a particularly rough stretch over the last month. In his last 6 starts, Hanson is just 1-3 and the Braves are 2-4 in those games. He has tossed 2 QS over those last 6 starts, but in 31 innings he has posted a 6.10 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP, while opposing batters have hit .346 with an .839 OPS off of him.

Stephen Strasburg still isn’t pitching deep into games, and he won’t start pitching deep into games until next spring at the earliest. But while he has been in the game the kid has been fairly dominant. Through 9 starts, Strasburg is 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. He has posted 6 QS and fanned 75 in 54.1 innings. The Nats are 6-3 in his 9 starts.

In 5 starts at Nationals Park, Strasburg is 2-1 with a 2.03 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. He has thrown a QS in 4 of his 5 home starts, and the Nationals are 2-3 in those 5 games. The Braves have already seen Strasburg and they faired as well as any team has against him, though they couldn’t do anything for most of the night and it was the Nationals bullpen that allowed most of the damage. On June 28th in Atlanta, Strasburg went 6.1 innings against the Braves, allowing 4 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits and 2 walks with 7 K. He wound up taking the loss as the Braves won 5-0.


Tim Hudson vs. Livan Hernandez

Timmy Hudson continues to be the ace of the Braves’ inconsistent starting rotation. He is 10-5 in 20 starts with a 2.47 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. Despite 16 QS from Huddy, the Braves are just 11-9 with him on the mound. Hudson has been just slightly less stellar on the road than at home this season. He is 4-2 with a 2.60 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in 11 road starts. He has thrown a QS in 8 of those 11 starts away from home, yet the Braves are just 5-6 in those games.

Huddy has already faced Washington twice in 2010. On May 6th at Washington, Hudson allowed just 2 runs on 5 hits and no walks with 5 K but took a no-decision as the Braves lost 3-2. On June 28th, Hudson faced Strasburg at the Ted and tossed 7 scoreless, allowing just 5 hits and 3 walks while fanning 6 to get the win in the Braves 5-0 victory.

Perhaps no team or fan base is as familiar with Livan Hernandez as Atlanta is. But Livan’s performance this season has surprised everyone. The aging Cuban right hander is 7-6 in 20 starts with a 3.12 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. He has thrown 14 QS and the Nats are 12-8 with him on the mound. He has thrown 2 CG and a Shutout.

Hernandez has been especially good in 11 home starts in 2010. He is 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP at home. He has thrown a complete game shutout and 8 QS in 11 games at Nationals Park, and the Nationals are 9-2 in those games. He is coming off of a complete game win at Cincinnati during which he allowed just 1 run. The Braves have seen Hernandez once in 2010. Back on May 4th in Atlanta, Hernandez allowed 5 hits and 5 walks and struck out just 1 batter, but he gave up just 2 runs (1 earned) over 5.1 innings, getting the win in a 6-3 Nats victory.


Derek Lowe vs. Craig Stammen

Lowe continues to be a tossup. He is now 10-8 in 21 starts with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. He has thrown 9 QS and the Braves are 11-10 in his 21 appearances. On the road, Lowe is 3-5 with a 4.78 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP in 11 games. The Braves are just 4-7 in those 11 games. He has thrown 5 QS on the road.

Lowe pitched against the Nats in Atlanta on June 29th, allowing 4 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks with 5 K over 5.2 innings. He took the loss as the Braves fell 7-2. Lowe’s inability to pitch deep into games is becoming annoying. He has no QS over his last 3 appearances and did not complete 6 innings in any of those starts. He threw 114 pitches on Friday so he could struggle again to pitch 6+ innings this week.

Craig Stammen is a rarity among crap pitchers, in that he doesn’t even eat innings. In 17 starts this season, the righty is 2-4 with a 5.50 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP over 93.1 innings. He has averaged less than 5.2 innings per start. He has 7 QS in 17 tries and the Nats are just 5-12 with him on the mound.

Stammen has been better at home than on the road. He is 1-1 with a 4.94 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in 8 starts at Nationals Park. He has thrown a QS in 4 of 8 home starts and the Nats are 3-5 in those games. The bad news for the Braves is that when they saw Stammen earlier this season he had one of his best starts of the year against them. On June 29th at Atlanta, Stammen held the Braves to just 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks with 4 K over 7.1 innings to get the win as the Nats won 7-2.


This is another tricky series for the Braves. I really don’t like the pitching matchups very much to be honest. On the one hand, the Braves will not have to face a lefty starter in this series. However, they will see the young ace Strasburg, as well as Livan, who has given them problems over the years, and Stammen, who shut them down earlier this season. Plus, the Braves always struggle in Washington. The Braves really, really need to win this series. Realistically, winning 2 out of 3 would be great.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Braves Blog: Florida Series Preview

The Braves passed another test this week, taking 2 out of 3 from the Padres to move in front of San Diego in the race for the best record in the National League. Sure, the Braves could easily have come away with a sweep, but the fact that they were able to rebound from Wednesday night’s extra inning loss by winning 8-0 on Thursday is another good sign. Now it’s back on the road and back to NL East play.

The Braves will go into the series with Florida a season high 17 games over .500 at 56-39. They are 7 games up on the Phils and 7.5 ahead of the Mets. The Marlins are 9 games back. Despite increasing the lead in the division, we really haven’t gotten on a roll yet in the second half. The Braves are 4-3 since the All-Star break and just 4-4 over their last 8.

The teams behind the Braves in the standings are struggling, but there is still a long way to go in the 2010 season. The Braves need to add to their lead in the division while the teams chasing them are down. In some ways the upcoming series in Florida doesn’t look too daunting. On the other hand, Florida has never been an easy place for the Braves to win. The Marlins are also playing better than they were when we last saw them.

Still, the pitching matchups are mostly favorable for Atlanta this weekend. And in general the Marlins are a pretty good matchup for the Braves. Their lineup, which can be potent, is full of slumping and slumbering bats. Their weaknesses are relief pitching and defense, making it no surprise that they struggle in close games. Florida’s biggest strength at this point—their starting pitching—is significantly nullified this series, as the Braves will not face either of their 10-game winners. Of course results on the field often vary from what you would expect looking at the series on paper.

Florida Series Preview

The Marlins are rarely hyped as contenders and they tend to be ignored by most fans and media members. In that sense, Florida’s season might not seem like a disappointment to this point. Fans of NL East teams, on the other hand, understand that the Marlins are always dangerous, and in any given year they have a chance to be one of the “surprise” contenders. The Marlins as an organization were hoping and expecting to be contenders in 2010. For fans of NL East teams and the Marlins themselves, Florida has underperformed this year.

They got off to a pretty good start, but since falling to 28-29 on June 5th the Marlins have been chasing .500. It looked for a time like they might go into a complete tailspin. They fired manager Fredi Gonzalez and when the Braves beat them on July 3rd they dropped a season worst 6 games below .500 at 37-43. Florida hung on for a 1-run win the next day to avoid a sweep, and they have been playing better ever since. They’ve won 10 of 15 and 5 of their last 6. The managerial change was silly but at least they have a winning record now under Edwin Rodriguez (13-12). They come into this series a game under at 47-48, the first time they’ve been within 1 win of .500 since June 23rd.

Winning close games has been a problem for the Fish this year. They are 14-17 in 1-run games and 1-5 in extra innings. This helps explain how they are under .500 despite a +14 run differential. However, the Marlins are coming off of one of their biggest wins of the season, a 3-2 victory over the Rockies on a walk off hit. Another issue Florida has had this season is that they haven’t been as good as usual at home. They are just 26-25 at Joe Robbie Stadium so far this year, after going 88-74 there over the previous 2 seasons.

Braves fans are quite familiar with the makeup of the Marlins. This year’s roster is very similar to the teams of previous seasons, but for some reason the Fish have played differently. It seems like the Marlins can never get all phases of the game going well in the same season. Last year, the Marlins were in the top 5 in the NL in runs, batting average, OBP, slugging, and OPS. They were in the top half in homers. But this season several of their good hitters are basically having off years. Currently the Marlins are 9th in runs per game, tied 9th in homers, 10th in batting average, 13th in OBP, and 12th in OPS. That’s quite a change from last season.

Another difference is in their use of the stolen base. Last season the Marlins were tied for 11th in the NL with 75 SB. Going into Thursday’s games the Marlins were 6th in stolen bases with 59. They have a solid 78.7% success rate. One thing that hasn’t changed much is that the Marlins hitters strikeout a lot and don’t walk very much. They are 15th in strikeouts and 13th in walks. Obviously Florida is not getting the power and the timely hitting that they got last season, and the increase in base stealing is probably an attempt to make up for that drop off.

Just about every regular in the Florida lineup has been struggling this month, even as the Marlins have started to play better. However, many of those same hitters appear to be coming out of their slumps. Florida’s lineup is always dangerous. The key is to keep them in the park. When the Marlins do score runs they can be tough because their pitching is normally solid. They are 7th in the NL in runs allowed, 6th in ERA, and 7th in WHIP. Florida’s starting pitching is their real strength, as Josh Johnson leads a group that has the 5th best ERA in the NL.

The bullpen has been another story. Relief pitching has often been a problem for Florida and this season has been no different. They are 11th in the NL in bullpen ERA and they have just a 64% save success rate. This has hurt them in close games. Poor defense, another Marlins staple, has also led to struggles in tight games. They are 15th in both errors and fielding percentage, and 13th in defensive efficiency.

So far this season the Braves are 4-2 against Florida and they have outscored the Marlins 29-19. They have played 3 against the Marlins at home and 3 in Florida and they won 2 of 3 in both of those series. In late May, the Braves lost the opener of 3 at Joe Robbie, 6-4, but then came back to win 7-3 and 8-3 in the next 2 games to take the series. During the July 4th holidays the Braves won 4-3 in 11 innings and 4-1 in the first 2 games to clinch a series win, before losing on Independence Day, 3-2.


Derek Lowe vs. Alejandro Sanabia

Braves fans have learned not to expect much from Lowe. Sometimes he gives the team a good chance to win, but you always know there’s a chance that he’ll have a bad night and be done early. And at least since coming to Atlanta, Lowe has rarely been outstanding. It’s basically a 50-50 shot with Lowe. He’s 10-8 in 20 starts with a 4.39 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP. He has 9 quality starts and the Braves are 11-9 with him on the mound.

On the road, Lowe has struggled most of the time. In 10 starts on the road he is 3-5 with a 4.63 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. He’s thrown 5 quality starts and the Braves are 4-6 in Lowe’s 10 starts away from Turner Field. Lowe has been slightly better over the last 4 or 5 weeks (emphasis on “slightly”). In his last 7 starts Lowe is just 2-3 and the Braves are just 3-4 in those games, but he has posted a 3.27 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP over 44 innings. Lowe has not faced Florida this year.

I must admit that I had never heard of Alejandro Sanabia before this week. A right hander, Sanabia was drafted by Florida in the 32nd round of the 2006 draft. He had never pitched above high-A level until this year when he pitched in AA. His minor league stats are really not that impressive but he has been decent in his few appearances with the big club so far.

Sanabia has pitched in 5 games for the Fish, making 2 starts. Overall he is 1-1 with a 2.12 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP, having allowed 5 runs (4 earned) on 19 hits and 4 walks with 17 K over 17 innings. Those stats look fairly impressive, particularly the strikeouts and the walks. However, the high strikeout rate appears to be an aberration, as he was never a strikeout pitcher in the minors. Sanabia has hit 2 batters and allowed 2 homers.

Sanabia will be making just his 3rd start on Friday. His first start came at Arizona and he lasted only 3.1 innings, though he held the Snakes scoreless on 5 hits and a walk with 2 K’s, taking a no-decision in the Marlins 2-0 win. He got his first career win in his last start at home against the Nats, holding them scoreless over 5.1 innings on 4 hits and 2 walks with 5 K in the Marlins 1-0 win.

Kris Medlen vs. Anibal Sanchez

Braves fans will be interested to see how Medlen performs in his start on Saturday. He hasn’t started since the final game of the first half on July 11th. You have to wonder if his confidence has fallen after a couple of rough relief outings. I understand the Braves wanting to take the opportunity to limit Medlen’s innings, but he was really rolling before the break.

In 28 games overall, Medlen is 6-2 with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. As a starter Medlen is 5-0 in 11 starts and the Braves are 10-1 in those games. Medlen has a 3.41 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP as a starter. He has made 7 quality starts. Medlen faced the Marlins back on July 2nd at Turner Field, going 6.1 innings and allowing just 1 run on 6 hits and a walk with 5 K. The only run scored due to a solo homer but he wound up getting a no-decision in the Braves 4-3 win.

Braves fans need no introduction to Anibal Sanchez. It seems like the Braves have faced Sanchez in every series they’ve played against the Marlins since he arrived in the big leagues. Sanchez is a slightly above average pitcher having a slightly above average year. In 18 starts he is 7-6 with a 3.62 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. Sanchez has produced 11 quality starts out of 18 tries, but the Marlins are just 9-9 with him on the mound.

Sanchez has been a much tougher pitcher at home this year. In 9 home starts he is 3-2 with a 2.56 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. 7 of his 9 home starts have been quality starts. Still, Florida is just 5-4 in those games. The Braves have already faced Sanchez twice in 2010. Back on May 25th at Joe Robbie, Sanchez gave up 5 hits and 4 walks but he struck out 6 and yielded only 2 runs over 6.1 innings, getting the win in the 6-4 Florida victory. On July 3rd at Turner, Sanchez again pitched around trouble before the Braves finally managed to break through. He ended up allowing 4 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks with 4 K over 6 innings, taking the loss as the Braves won 4-1. In 11 career starts against Atlanta, Sanchez is 4-6 with a 4.65 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. As always, the Braves will have to cash in on their run scoring chances or else Sanchez will likely keep Florida in the game.


Jair Jurrjens vs. Chris Volstad

Jurrjens’ overall numbers are finally starting to look a little better. He is now 3-3 in 9 starts with a 4.25 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. JJ has 5 quality starts and the Braves are 6-3 with him on the mound. Jurrjens road numbers do not look good. He is 0-3 in 4 starts away from home with a 9.00 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. He has pitched a quality start in 2 of those games, but the Braves have gone just 1-3 in his 4 road starts.

Double-J has been very good since coming back from the long stint on the DL. It seemed like everybody was being pretty cautious in their optimism, but he’s gotten right back to pitching like he did last season. In his 4 starts since recovering from the hamstring injury, Jurrjens is 3-0 with a 2.19 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. He has fanned 20 over 24.2 innings and has held opposing hitters to a .216 average. The Braves have won all 4 of those games. Jurrjens has not yet faced Florida this season.

Volstad will be making his first start for the Marlins in 3 weeks on Sunday. He was sent down to AAA earlier this month and will be recalled after making 3 successful starts in the minors. He didn’t exactly dominant at AAA, going 1-0 in 3 starts with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP over 17 innings. However, he hasn’t exactly been horrible in the majors this year either. He was just 4-8 in 17 starts and the Fish were just 4-13 with him on the mound, but he threw 9 quality starts, including a complete game, and he had a 4.78 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP.

Volstad hasn’t lived up to expectations that the Marlins had for him when he was coming up a few years ago, but he’s a decent pitcher. He’s been better than decent at home this year. In 9 starts at home he is just 2-4 and the Marlins are 2-7 in those games, but he has posted a 3.56 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. 5 of his 9 home starts have been quality starts, including his complete game performance. The Braves haven’t seen Volstad in 2010 but they know him well.


I don’t want to jinx us but I like the Braves chances in this series. I wouldn’t be shocked if we win all 3 games. We would appear to have the edge in the starting pitching matchup in all 3 games. None of the starters the Braves will face are left handed or among the top 20 starters in the NL. The youngster making his 3rd career start and Volstad coming back from the minors sounds a lot better than Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco.

The Marlins have been playing better, but their lineup still has a number of guys who are struggling and are wondering if they may be traded at any minute. Atlanta starting pitchers should be able to hold down the Florida offensive attack, and I don’t see the Braves getting shutdown by Florida’s starters. The Braves have been a good late game team this season and they should be able to take advantage of a shaky Marlins pen.

Perhaps I’m over confident. While the Marlins haven’t been a great home team in 2010, the Braves are still just 22-26 on the road this year. The one thing that worries me any time we play the Marlins on the road is the memory of all the difficult games the Braves have had in Florida over the years. It’s just never been an easy place for the Braves to go and get wins. In the 10 seasons prior to this one the Braves’ best record on the road against the Marlins in any season was 5-4. The Braves record at Joe Robbie Stadium since the start of the 2000 season is just 43-49 (.467). At all other opponent sites during that time the Braves have a 404-361 record (.528).

This could be another series of close games that are decided late. But in this case I like the Braves chances in that type of situation. This is definitely a series the Braves could and should win. They may even be able to pull off a sweep.

Other Notes

This could be a big series for Braves left handed batters. Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann are all going pretty good right now and they will see 3 right handed starters. It’s unfortunate that Eric Hinske hurt his foot on Thursday, as he would be the best option to play left this weekend and maybe even start a game at first to give Troy Glaus a day off. He wants to play but I find it hard to believe Bobby won’t keep him out for at least Friday’s game.

The trade deadline is one week away, and while there have been plenty of rumors out there, the Braves haven’t been mentioned many times in potential deals. It could be that the trade for Alex Gonzalez will end up being the only move the Braves make. There was hope that Nate McLouth would come back and turn his season around, but I haven’t seen anything to make me think that he’s primed for a return to 2008 form. I know that he hasn’t had many opportunities yet but he’s just 1 for 6 with a strikeout so far. And for me the results are less important than the way he looked at bat and in the field. He has looked exactly the same at the plate, pulling off the ball, lunging, and chasing. And in the field he once again allowed a runner to advance on a fly ball without even offering a throw. I don’t know what’s going on with that but someone needs to get on him about it.

Much of the trade talk that there has been concerning the Braves has focused on the acquisition of an outfielder. At this point I really don’t think the Braves need an upgrade in the outfield. Sure it would help, but there are other areas of need. In my opinion, the bullpen is the part of the roster that could use help the most. The Atlanta pen has been very good, but it’s also been worked a lot and a few of the relievers are banged up. Plus, some of the key relievers are up there in years. 3 of the relievers currently in the pen are serious liabilities (Mike Dunn, Jessie Chavez, Kenshin Kawakami), another is on the DL (Eric O’Flaherty), and Takashi Saito is 40 and has battled injuries off and on all season. The problem is that there really don’t seem to be that many guys who we could acquire without paying a steep price.

At this point I’ve come to believe that if the Braves do make another deal, the best thing would be to go after a left handed starter. They could use a southpaw in the rotation. Plus, if they get another guy for the rotation, Medlen could then go back to the bullpen fulltime, which would keep his innings down, and it would give the Braves another solid righty for the middle innings which they need.

I won’t be upset if the Braves stand pat. I just hope that they don’t make a trade just to do something and end up making a mistake. Honestly, unless they are getting a player or players that will definitely make an impact, I’d rather they keep the team as is rather than give up a part of the future or risk disrupting the team.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Braves Blog: San Diego Series Preview

The second half of the season got off to a bit of a bumpy start for the Braves, as they split a 4-game series with the struggling Brewers at home, losing the middle 2 games by a total of 9 runs. However, while the Braves stumbled a bit out of the gates, the Phillies and Mets have fallen on their faces. Now the Braves head into a crucial 3 game series at home against the Padres with a lot on the line.

This will be a big series. To begin with, the Mets and Phillies are floundering a bit and the Braves want to keep the pressure on them. The Phils are playing the Cardinals and the Mets are on the road, and both teams are slumping. But both teams stand to get healthier from this point on, and they may be aided by trades at the upcoming deadline. The Braves need to get as many licks in now while they can.

This will also be a bit of a test of this Braves team’s mettle, as they will be going up against the team with the NL’s best record. I certainly didn’t see this season coming from the Padres and we keep expecting them to fade away, but I’m starting to think they may just be for real. No team has played better on the road. They have been the toughest team to score on this season and the Braves have not been scoring a lot of runs lately. The Braves bullpen is a bit banged up, so this could be a challenging series for Atlanta.

San Diego Series Preview

The Braves faced the Padres early in the season in a 3 game series at Petco Park. The opener of that series on April 12th has ended up having a fairly dramatic affect on the standings as San Diego comes to Atlanta this week. Had the Braves won that game—say by the score of 3-1—Atlanta would have the best record in the NL over the Padres by a half of a game, and they would have the best run differential in the National League at +83, 11 runs better than San Diego at +71. But the Braves did not win 3-1; they lost, 17-2. As a result, the Padres have the NL’s best record, a half game better than the Braves, and they have the NL’s best run differential at +88, 22 runs better than the Braves at +66. Due to a quirk in the early season schedule, the Braves had to sit on that horrible loss during an off day in San Diego before playing the final 2 games of the series. Fortunately, the Braves won each of the next 2 games handedly (6-1 and 6-2) to take 2 of 3 in the series.

Looking back, that series win in San Diego is fairly impressive. The Padres come into this series in Atlanta 54-37 (.593) and 4 games up in 1st place in the NL West. As stated before, the Padres are a half game up on the Braves for the best record in the NL. While the Braves have the NL’s best home record at 32-12 (.727), the Padres have been the NL’s best road team this season, compiling a 24-18 (.571) record away from home. The Braves have been quite successful in 1-run games this season, going 15-12 in those contests so far, but the Padres have been the NL’s best in 1-run games, going 19-12 in those games to this point. San Diego comes into this game riding a 4 game win streak, having won their first 3 games of the second half.

The Padres are not a particularly strong offensive team, but they’ve been much, much better than expected. They are 10th in the NL in runs per game, 12th in homers, and 13th in batting. They are 14th in Slugging and in OPS and 10th in strikeouts; however, they are 7th in walks and 10th in OBP. Their best offensive attribute is their speed, as they are 2nd in the NL in steals and have been successful over 71% of the time. The Padres are no offensive juggernaut, but their run production to this point has been more than enough for their pitching staff to work with.

Led by a staff of promising youngsters and a shutdown bullpen, the Padres have been the class of the NL in the pitching department this year. They are 1st in the NL in runs allowed per game, ERA, and WHIP. They are also 2nd in the NL in team shutouts. They are 2nd in the NL in starter ERA. The bullpen has been absolutely dominant. They have the top bullpen ERA in the NL by a mile and they are tied for 2nd in saves. A stellar defensive lineup has also helped the Padres become the toughest team to score on this year. They have committed the fewest errors in the NL, they are 2nd in Fielding%, and they are 1st in Defensive Efficiency.

Having moved on from Trevor Hoffman, the Padres now have another trusted, right handed anchor at the back of the pen in Heath Bell. Bell doesn’t always breeze through the 9th, but he invariably gets the job done by coming up with a strikeout when he needs it. Bell’s 1.34 WHIP is relatively pedestrian for a top notch closer, but he has struck out 52 and allowed only 1 homer over 40.1 innings, helping him convert 26 of 29 save tries. But Bell is only the final piece in an almost impregnable San Diego relief core. In front of Bell there are 4 righty setup men having outstanding seasons, and they are all high strikeout guys. And then they have a situational lefty who has been untouchable in 2010. San Diego has 6 relief pitchers with sub-3.00 ERA’s over at least 28 appearances. 5 of those 6 also have WHIP’s under 1.11!!!

The Padres rotation is solid, if not dominant, and they have several southpaw starters. The only major threat in their lineup is Adrian Gonzalez, but they have been getting enough contribution from other batters in the order to be okay offensively. If you can avoid giving up the random homer and keep the fast guys off the bases, their lineup is manageable. The key, obviously, is to hold down the offense, scratch out a few runs off their starter, and then hang on, as you don’t want to find yourself trailing these guys in the later innings.


Wade Leblanc vs. Jair Jurrjens

In the opener the Braves will be facing a lefty who they have never seen before. That has proven to be a bad combination in the past. One reason to be positive is that Leblanc is not especially tough on left handed batters. In 16 starts in 2010 Leblanc is 4-7 with a 3.30 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. He has thrown 9 Quality Starts and the Padres are 9-7 with him on the mound.

Leblanc has struggled away from Petco Park, going 2-3 with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP in 6 road starts this season. He has allowed 7 homers in 31.2 innings on the road in 2010. 2 of his 6 starts away from home have been QS and the Padres are 3-3 in those 6 games. Leblanc has been struggling over the last few weeks. In his last 4 starts, the lefty is 0-3 and has allowed 12 runs on 25 hits and 9 walks over 24 innings. The Padres are just 1-3 in Leblanc’s last 4 appearances, and he has allowed 7 dingers in those 4 games, posting a 4.50 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP.

Jair Jurrjens has been solid as a rock since coming off the DL a few weeks ago. JJ is 2-0 in his 3 starts since returning from the hamstring injury and the Braves have won all 3 of those games. He has allowed 5 runs on 14 hits and 7 walks with 13 K over 17.2 innings in those 3 outings for a 2.55 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He has given up a pair of homers over that stretch. The only thing to worry about is that the Padres knocked Jurrjens all around the park earlier this season in San Diego. JJ was the losing pitcher in that 17-2 massacre at Petco Park on April 12th, giving up 8 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks with only 1 K over 3.1 innings.


Jon Garland vs. Tommy Hanson

The veteran Garland has been a solid member of the Padres rotation this year, making 19 starts, and going 9-6 with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. He has tossed 10 QS and the Padres are 11-8 with him on the mound. Like Leblanc, Garland has not been as good away from home, as he is 4-5 in 9 road starts with a 4.53 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP, posting QS in 4 of those 9 starts.

Garland has not been pitching as well lately. The innings eating right is 3-4 over his last 8 starts with a 5.29 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. The Padres are 3-5 in those 8 games. Garland faced the Braves as a member of the D-Backs last season and got pounded, allowing 9 runs (8 earned) on 9 hits, a homer, 3 walks, and just 1 K over 2.2 innings. The Braves won that game in Arizona, 10-6, on May 29th of last year.

Tommy Hanson did not start the second half on a positive note, getting hit hard by the Brewers last Friday to continue his mediocre sophomore campaign. Hanson is now just 8-6 in 19starts with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. The Braves are still 13-6 with Hanson on the mound but he has only 8 QS. Pitching at home has not been a major boost for Tommy. He is 4-4 with a 4.53 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 10 starts at Turner Field. He has 4 QS at home in 2010 and the Braves are 6-4 with Hanson on the mound at the Ted.

Tommy has been very good at times but he’s actually been mediocre or below mediocre more often than not. Hanson’s numbers in his last 5 starts are a bit distressing. The Braves are 2-3 in those games, with Hanson going 1-3, but he has allowed 22 runs (19 earned) on 39 hits, 2 homers, 7 BB, and 4 HBP with 23 K over 24.2 innings, amounting to a 6.93 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP. Batters have hit .368 with a .882 OPS over that stretch.

Hanson got the win against the Padres in San Diego back on April 14th, but his performance was typical of his 2010 season, as he was shaky throughout. He allowed only 1 run over 6 innings but he gave up 4 hits, 4 walks, and a HBP while fanning 7. The Braves won 6-1.


Clayton Richard vs. Tim Hudson

Richard is the toughest starter the Braves will face in this series. The lefty has been remarkably consistent in 2010. While not dominant against left handed batters, he is tougher on left handed hitters than Leblanc. No left handed batter has homered off of Richard this year. In 19 starts Richard is 7-4 with a 3.53 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. Despite the fact that Richard has tossed QS in 11 of 19 appearances, the Padres are just 10-9 with him on the mound.

Richard hasn’t been as strong on the road as he has been at home in 2010, but he’s been solid. In 8 starts away from Petco, Richard is 3-1 with a 3.71 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP. Again, though Richard has 5 QS in 8 games on the road, the Padres are just 4-4 in those 8 games.

The Braves have a few reasons to be confident facing Richard in the finale. Over his last 3 starts Richard has struggled, giving up 16 runs on 24 hits, 3 homers, and 9 BB with 15 K over 18 innings for an 8.00 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP. On the other hand, he has gone 1-0 over that stretch and the Padres are 2-1 in those 3 games. Still, the Braves faired pretty well against Richard earlier this season. On April 14th in San Diego, the Braves to score 3 runs on 6 hits off Richard, though he did fan 5 with only 1 walk over 5.1 innings. Richard took the loss in that game, as the Braves won it 6-1.

As usual, Tim Hudson will draw the toughest mound opponent in the series. Huddy is 9-5 with a 2.60 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 19 starts this season, but despite tossing QS in 15 of those 19 outings, the Braves are now just 10-9 with him on the mound. Huddy is 5-3 with a 2.60 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 8 starts at Turner Field this year, posting QS in 7 of those 8 appearances. His only home start that did not go down as a QS was his last start, when he allowed 6 runs in 6.2 innings against the Brewers, as the Braves lost last Saturday’s game 6-3. However, Huddy was rolling along as usual until late in the game, and even after he got into trouble he could still have easily ended up with a QS and a no-decision.

Hudson held the Brewers to just 1 run through the first 6 innings, but he started to struggle in the 7th. Cox left him in to try and work out of it but he left with the game tied and 2 outs with the bases loaded. Had Peter Moylan retired the next batter Hudson would have ended up allowing 3 runs in 6.2 innings, but Moylan gave up a 3 run triple, thus Hudson’s final line was 6 runs in 6.2 innings.

It’s understandable for Cox to want to give Hudson a chance to pitch deep into games, as he is really the only Braves starter who has been consistently able to do so in 2010, and the Braves have been relying on their pen a lot. Hopefully this time if Hudson needs help the pen will be there to pick him up. That’s actually what happened earlier this season when Timmy faced the Padres. Huddy pitched the rubber match of the series in San Diego back in April and he was the winning pitcher in the Braves 6-2 victory, but it wasn’t his best performance. He gave up just 2 runs over 5.2 innings, but he allowed 6 hits, 5 walks, and a homer, and did not strike anyone out.


This is going to be a tough series. I hate to say it, but I’m a little worried heading into this one. It just reminds me of the White Sox series. We’re catching a team that could be started on an extended run. They are throwing 2 lefty starters in the series. They have a lights out bullpen. They are a base stealing team. And we are coming into the series a little bit banged up. If Chipper cannot go we could struggle to score runs, especially against the lefties. In our pen, Kris Medlin and Kenshin Kawakami are trying to readapt to relief roles, Eric O’Flaherty is on the shelf, and Johnny Venters may or may not be serving a suspension. Jessie Chavez has been getting hit hard recently and Mike Dunn still struggles with his control. Making matters worse, Peter Moylan and Billy Wagner have been pitching a lot and could use some rest. I think winning 2 of 3 in this series would be excellent. What the Braves really have to do is avoid a sweep. A 3-4 home stand to begin the second half would be disappointing but it would be a lot better than 2-5.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Braves Blog: Ready to Start the Second Half

And Now We’re Gonna See What Comes Next

What a first half it was. The baseball season is always an emotional ride for the fanatic. For so many years, Braves fanatics were taken on wild swings but the regular season ride always ended with a sliding stop into satisfaction and joy. You know over the 4 seasons prior to this one, riding along with the Braves was much more frustrating than it had been in a long time. There were occasional moments of elation, and some periods of hope, but most of the time there was disappointment, anger, and despair. Each season ended unhappily. And now this 2010 season has come along and reminded us Braves fanatics of what the ride used to be like. It’s been pretty neat. If the second half of this season is anything like the first half, this could be one of the most special seasons in Atlanta Braves history. Let it be so.

It’s all in the Hands of the Baseball Gods

Before you look at what sorts of things might lead your team to a division title or a postseason appearance, you think about what has already gone well and what sorts of things could suddenly go wrong. It’s pretty simple: you just have to hope to avoid health problems, and hope that the players who have been going well so far keep doing what they’ve been doing. There’s no sense in worrying about it anymore than that because it’ll all be determined on the Wheels of Fate, and more importantly, it’s just not really an enjoyable topic.

A Preemptive Strike Before the Start of the Second Half

It’s been discussed on this blog and on message boards for several years now, and the day before the start of the second half the Braves finally decided to rule on the issue of Yunel Escobar. For me, he had become so irritating and had become so difficult to root for, I had gotten to the point where I was just hoping the Braves would get rid of him. It seems that he had become just as difficult to play with and just as displeasing to coach and manage as he had been to watch for fans. The Braves went ahead and removed the one awkward piece in an other wise perfectly blended mix of team chemistry. And they made out okay on the trade at the same time.

Now that the deal has been done, I just hope it doesn’t somehow come back to negatively affect the team more than keeping Escobar around might have. I’m not talking about the future. Honestly, I think the small amount of hand wringing over the Escobar trade and what it could mean for the future of the team is a bit silly. This has all been pointed out on this blog several times but it’s worth discussing again now that the deal has been done. Yunel Escobar is not a prospect or a young player yet to reach his potential. He’ll be 28 in November. This is his 6th season in pro ball and his 4th in the Majors. While he may very well blossom into a borderline star shortstop at some point, he hasn’t been able to consistently put everything together on the field as of yet. Furthermore, his abilities are limited, talented though he may be. He’s not very fast for a middle infielder, nor does he possess much power. He makes a lot of contact, he can battle, and he will draw walks from time to time, but he also makes a lot of easy outs. Anything he gets under at all is going to be caught because he doesn’t have the power to drive the ball over the heads of the outfielders or over the wall. He hits a lot of ground balls and unless he finds a hole he is an easy out because he doesn’t run well. That makes him a serious ground ball double play liability. He has shown some power as a pull hitter but he rarely pulls the ball in the air. Defensively he doesn’t make many poor throws and his strong arm can take away infield hits. On the other hand, he doesn’t get to as many balls as you might expect.

And that’s just dealing with his purely physical traits. When you bring the mental part of the game into the discussion his prospects drop significantly. Every once in a while Yunel will surprise you with some seemingly instinctual play of brilliance (i.e. stealing 2nd when the pitcher was walking around the mound and no one was covering in Arizona). But for the most part Escobar is a liability due to his not so infrequent mental lapses (forgetting how many outs there are and screwing up on the bases; not calling someone off or covering; not making the right decision quickly as to where the easiest out is or anticipating the next development, etc). At times Escobar just appears to have his head up his ass.

But what about emotionally and personality wise? This is most certainly his biggest area of weakness. He can go from cocky to pouty in the matter of an inning. He rarely runs hard to first base on a ground ball. He was afraid of contact when covering second on a stolen base attempt. He frequently pouted and complained when charged with an error by the official scorer. Recently, when Escobar made a poor play in the field or heard any sort of instruction or criticism from his teammates he would attempt to defend himself or explain his actions while still on the field during the inning. His denials and explanations continued afterwards in the dugout. These were the sorts of actions which made him difficult to play with and impossible to root for. Whatever comes out of this trade, I’m glad he has been removed from the team.

Some Key Issues Which Must be Addressed

Well, unfortunately I’m a bit pressed for time. The second half begins in 20 minutes and I haven’t been able to deliver the sort of review/preview that I hoped. With this in mind, I will wrap up this aborted entry with a few of the key questions that the Braves will need to find answers for as we continue on into the second half.

What exactly will Kenshin Kawakami’s role be? Is he going to be an active member of the bullpen? Or is he just going to be shelved and only carted out when the team is either ahead or behind by a bunch?

Will the Braves acquire a veteran relief pitcher who can help carry the load?

What happens when Nate McLouth is healthy? Will the Braves try and trade him or try and work him back into the lineup?

If Glaus’ body continues to ail him and his power slump carries on into the second half, will the Braves begin to give Eric Hinske more playing time at first base, in order to keep Glaus fresh and healthy?

Is there a need to go out and acquire another every day outfielder to improve the lineup or can the Braves make do with the options they have currently on the roster? Is it worth shaking up the chemistry and make-up of the team that has played so well to this point?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Baseball Blog: Mid-Season Musings

2010 MLB at the All-Star Break

We’ve reached the traditional midway point of one of the quieter Major League Baseball seasons in recent memory. I would say it’s been a great year so far, except that I really can’t claim objectivity in that area, as the success of the Braves has prevented me from seeing this MLB season as anything other than great. There’s no denying that Major League Baseball’s first half has been particularly muted this year. Both internal and external issues have led to the Boys of Summer being held mostly out of the spotlight so far in 2010. The initial reaction might be to view that as a problem for Baseball. That’s not the way I see it, however. To be honest, Baseball could use a little time under the radar.

The Mid-Summer Classic marks the point in the year when baseball takes over the sporting spotlight. There are always other things to draw our attention in the late spring and early summer months. But this year was different. No matter what happened on the field during the first half of this year’s MLB season, Baseball would probably have been overshadowed. Two types of external forces combined to keep baseball on the back burner of the sporting world this spring/early summer: unusually intriguing annual events and surprise/unusual stories.

This year’s non-baseball sporting events of the late spring and early summer months were all more interesting than usual. Spring training is, by nature, fairly boring, and March Madness always drowns out baseball for a few weeks. Usually, however, by the time of the Final Four and the National Championship Game, things taper off as brackets are busted just as MLB opening day arrives. But this year the NCAA Basketball Final had more national interest than usual, as Duke (the most polarizing team in the country, and the only college basketball team that has any affect on ratings) was playing a team being billed as “Cinderella.” The annual major golf tournaments always draw attention, but perhaps never more so than this year, with Tiger Woods coming back from perhaps the most publicized sex scandal in the history of American athletics. Golf fans were not the only ones paying attention to the Masters this year during the first full week of MLB games. The NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs always garner part of the spotlight during late spring/early summer, but this year’s playoffs were more intriguing than usual. The Stanley Cup Finals featured teams from two of the biggest American sports cities (Chicago and Philadelphia) and the series went 6 games. The NBA Finals featured by far the two biggest and most famous franchises in basketball (the Lakers and Celtics) and it went 7 games. These two events hogged much of the attention in June.

Then there were the “other” happenings in sports this summer which were either unusual or unexpected. The late spring/early summer is usually a dead time for College Football. In 2010, however, CFB was front page fodder as the sport was wrapped up in a frantic “realignment” craze. The World Cup only comes around once every 4 years but this year’s WC became a bigger event among traditional American sports fans than ever before. The biggest reason for this was probably ESPN’s vigorous promotion and non-stop coverage of the event. In addition, the USA team went into the tournament with momentum and that carried over through the first few weeks, as the Yanks advanced to the knockout stage. The presence of the vuvuzelas and the World’s Game were constant throughout June and the first couple of weeks of this month. Lastly, even after the NBA season finally came to a close in late June, attention only increased on the sport. This was due to the most anticipated and intensely covered free agency period in history, culminating with Lebron James’ bizarre “selection show.”

The external forces probably had more to do with baseball being relegated to the back pages than anything that occurred within MLB. But there were some internal forces that had an impact on that as well. For starters, the New York Yankees were coming off of a World Series Championship, meaning there was less pressure on the most polarizing franchise in the sport. The Chicago Cubs, perhaps MLB’s most popular team, have been a disappointment this season. The surprise teams (Cincinnati and San Diego) come from “small markets” and haven’t generated much interest nationally. Pitching has dominated hitting, and no matter what anyone says, homeruns and offense are just more exciting than pitcher’s duels. And as the sport has transitioned out of the juiced area, the milestones and records are just not there to be chased. Many of the game’s best known players have faded this season. While these developments may be troubling at the moment, there is one thing which has kept MLB out of the spotlight which has been unquestionably positive: the lack of performance enhancing drug stories.

First Half Memories

When I look back at the 2010 first half in 5 years, I have no idea what I’ll recall, because all the seasons tend to run together for me, and I certainly can’t differentiate between halves. However, as I look back at the 2010 first half today, 3 days after its conclusion, these are the things I remember.

The Year of the No-Hit Bid: We’ve seen 4 no-hitters, including a pair of perfect games, as well as an “imperfect game” that remains the biggest moment of the season to date. There have been scores of near no-hitters and legitimate no-hit bids.

Vets MIA: This has been the year of the disappearing former star. Across the Majors, aging stars have seen their declines hastened. This development was epitomized in Junior Griffey’s mid-game nap and aborted swan song with the Mariners.

Advantage Swings Back to the Pitchers: For the first time in decades, the pitchers hold the upper hand in baseball. Pitching came back with a vengeance this spring. The leader boards are flooded with great young pitchers. Pitchers thought to be washed up or never has beens have found success.

The Strasburg Phenomenon: The most hyped rookie pitcher of all-time has turned in a rare feat: he has been as good as advertised.

Celebration Scale Back: It was only a matter of time before enough players of value were injured in post-game celebrations to cause a sport wide backlash. The only surprise was that the change came about due to one devastating casualty of celebration rather than several smaller ones.

Bad Umping: There have been several highly publicized errors by umpires, most notably the missed call at first base that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Much of this has been due to the fact that every play of every game is now recorded by multiple cameras, and every missed call becomes part of the 24-hour sports media cycle. But in general, it seems to me that umpiring across the board has been as bad as or worse than ever this year. Particularly in the area of calling balls and strikes, I have never seen it worse than it has been so far in 2010. Of course the behavior of certain umps has drawn more negative attention to the situation than mere blown calls would have.

Where are the Rhubarbs?: Where have all the brawls gone? Where is the bad blood? There are a lot of factors at play here but I just have to ask: are there any teams or players on opposing teams that don’t like each other?

Mid-Season Awards

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera. I’ll take Miguel by a smidge over Justin Morneau. MC leads the AL in hitting and OPS; is 2nd in Runs Created and RC27; and tied 2nd in homers.

NL MVP: Joey Votto. I’ll take Votto by a nano-smidge over Albert Pujols. Votto leads the NL in OPS, RC, and RC27; and he’s tied for 1st in homers.

AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee. I guess. Too much is still undetermined at this point.

NL Cy Young: Josh Johnson. I basically ignore W-L records for pitchers, so JJ has passed by Ubaldo Jimenez in my opinion. He leads the NL in ERA and WHIP, and has 123 K in 122 innings.

AL ROY: Brennan Boesch. He leads all qualified rookies in average, OBP, Slugging, OPS, homers, and RBI.

NL ROY: Gaby Sanchez. I have to go with Sanchez at the moment due to Jason Heyward’s injuries and the small number of games pitched by Stephen Strasburg.

Most Surprising Team: San Diego Padres. Absolutely stunning. I had them losing well over 100 games.

Most Disappointing Team: Chicago Cubs. The Cubs (happily) are the train wreck of the 2010 season to this point.

I also think that the world will come to an end before the year 2010…wait

Yeah, so I actually thought that my predictions were going pretty well as I looked back to see what exactly my picks had been in early April. I mean I knew I had been off on a few things (way off on some things) but I thought I was looking pretty good in general. I am not looking good, and I guess I never was. At the All-Star break only 1 of my 6 predicted division winners is in 1st place (New York Yankees), and if the season ended today I would have predicted just 2 of the 8 teams to make the playoffs (Yanks and Braves). On the plus side, of the 19 teams I picked to have winning records, 15 are currently over .500. That’s about all the good news that there is about my picks at this point.

It’s not looking good for my predictions. 13 teams are currently on pace to win at least 10 games more or 10 games less than I predicted. Here’s a quick look at my most errant picks at this point.

Kansas City: Predicted Wins: 62. Projected Wins: 72. Margin of Error: 10

Milwaukee: Predicted Wins: 83. Projected Wins: 73. Margin of Error: 10

Tampa Bay: Predicted Wins: 88. Projected Wins: 99. Margin of Error: 11

Anaheim: Predicted Wins: 95. Projected Wins: 84. Margin of Error: 11

Florida: Predicted Wins: 88. Projected Wins: 77. Margin of Error: 11

Philadelphia: Predicted Wins: 100. Projected Wins: 87. Margin of Error: 13

Toronto: Predicted Wins: 66. Projected Wins: 80. Margin of Error: 14

Baltimore: Predicted Wins: 68. Projected Wins: 53. Margin of Error: 15

Cincinnati: Predicted Wins: 73. Projected Wins: 88. Margin of Error: 15

Chicago Cubs: Predicted Wins: 87. Projected Wins: 71. Margin of Error: 16

Arizona: Predicted Wins: 81. Projected Wins: 62. Margin of Error: 19

Seattle: Predicted Wins: 84. Projected Wins: 64. Margin of Error: 20

San Diego: Predicted Wins: 60. Projected Wins: 94. Margin of Error: 34

I don’t feel too bad about Seattle. I always screw up on Seattle and my prediction was much more modest than what many others were claiming. But the San Diego prediction is hard to defend. The thing is, I was absolutely sure that the Padres were one of the worst teams in baseball. There was nothing I felt more certain about going into this season. I wrote that, “if they don’t lose at least 100 games I’ll be surprised.” They have a shot to win 100 games. So color me shocked and awed.

A Look at the Mid-Summer Standings

Currently 8 of 14 AL teams are over .500 (3 AL East; 3 AL Central; 2 AL West) and 9 of 16 NL teams are over .500 (3 NL East; 2 NL Central; 4 NL West). Last season, 8 AL teams finished the year with winning records (3 AL East; 2 AL Central; 3 AL West) and 8 NL teams finished with winning records (3 NL East; 2 NL Central; 3 NL West).

There are 2 AL teams with winning percentages of at least .600 (Yanks and Rays), while no NL team has a winning percentage of .600. Last season, the Yanks were the only team in the MLB with a .600 winning percentage or better. The Yanks led the Majors with 103 wins last year and they are on pace to win 103 again in 2010. Baltimore had the worst record in the AL last season at 64-98; they have the worst record in the AL again this year, only now they are on pace to finish 53-109.

The Dodgers led the NL last season with 95 wins; the Braves are on pace to win the NL with 96 wins in 2010. The Pirates were 62-99 in 2009 and they are on pace to finish 55-107 with the worst NL record in 2010. Washington had the worst record in the Majors last season at 59-103 and they were the only team in the bigs to lose 100 games. There are currently 3 teams on pace to lose 100 in 2010, including the D-Backs, who are on pace to finish 62-100.

Uncomfortably Close

The tightness of the division races in each league has been obvious to all baseball fans. Comments have been made about how competitive things are in each division. I must admit, however, I had no real conception of exactly how narrow the leads are at the midway point across baseball in comparison to the recent past, until I went back and checked things out.

At the All-Star break, the biggest lead for any 1st place team is 4.5 games (Texas over Anaheim). The 1st place teams in the NL Central, NL West, AL East, and AL Central hold leads of 2 games or less. There is a tie atop the NL Wild Card standings, and the lead for the current AL Wild Card leader (Tampa) is 3 games. The 3rd place team in the NL East is within 4.5 games; the 3rd place team in the NL West is just 4 games back; the 3rd place team in the AL East is only 5 games back; and the 3rd place team in the AL Central is just 3.5 games out of 1st. Nothing is over, to be sure.

This is the first time under the modern alignment (the teams were separated into 6 divisions in 1994) that the largest lead for any 1st place team at the All-Star break is less than 5 games. You have to go back to 1992, when there were 2 divisions in each league, to find the last year in which the largest lead for a 1st place team at the midway point was just 4.5 games. In the strike shortened season of 1994, the first year under the current alignment, the biggest lead for any division leader at the break was 5 games. From 1995-2009, at least 1 division leader had a lead of 6 games or more at the All-Star break each season.

Along with the lack of cushion for the division leaders, there has also been a fair amount of change atop the divisions throughout the first half of this season. Boston had the first lead in the AL East (0.5 games); then the Jays took a 1 game lead; then Tampa held 1st for 68 days through June 19th, leading by as many as 6 games; now the Yanks have taken over and have led by as many as 3 games. The Twins held the AL Central lead for 88 days through July 4th, building a 4.5 game lead at one point; then the Tigers led by a game; now the White Sox have a 0.5 game lead after being 9.5 games out of 1st earlier in the year. The Oakland A’s held the lead in the AL West for 34 days through June 3rd, leading by as many as 2.5 games; then the Angels led by a half game; the Rangers have led for 70 days, with their biggest lead being 5.5 games.

The story has been no different in the National League. The Mets led the NL East by a game early in the year; the Phillies then took over the lead as expected, holding it for 52 days, and building a 5 game cushion; the Braves, once 6.5 games out of 1st, have held the lead for 48 days, claiming a 5.5 game lead at one point. The Cardinals led the Central for 65 days, building a 5 game lead at one point. The Reds have led for 45 days, never by more than 3 games. In the NL West, the Giants led early on by 2 games; then the Dodgers took over briefly; the Padres have led for 79 days, with their biggest lead being 4.5 games. Of the teams 17 teams currently over .500 in the MLB, only the Rockies have failed to be alone in 1st place atop their division at the end of at least 1 day this season.

Power Down; Scoring Off; Offense Out

Halfway through 2010, offensive production league wide is at its lowest point in many years. The team average runs per game is 4.46, down from 4.61 last season. This will be the 4th straight year that the average has gone down. A team average R/G of 4.46 would be the lowest since 1992. The average has been at least 4.59 every year since 1993.

Following that exact process, the team average hits per game is 8.82, down from 8.96 last season. This would be the 4th straight year that the average has gone down, and it would be the lowest average since 1992. Since 1993, the average team H/G has been at least 8.92 every season.

The drop in power has been impossible to ignore. The team average homeruns per game is 0.94, down from 1.04 last season. This would be the lowest team average HR/G since 1993. Since 1994, the team average per game has been at least 1.00 each season. For those 80’s nerds giddy over the prospect of stolen bases taking over the sport again, there is some bad news. While stolen bases are increasing, the rise of steals has not matched the decline of homers. The team average SB per game so far in 2010 is 0.62, up from 0.61 last year. That would be the highest average since 2001. But while homerun frequency is approaching the levels of the pre-juiced era, stolen base frequency is nowhere near the 80’s/Astroturf levels.

In addition to the above numbers, team batting average; OBP; Slugging Percentage; and OPS are also all down. The average team batting average at the midway point is .259, down from .262 last season. This would be the 4th straight season of decline, and it would be the lowest mark since 1992. OBP is at .329, down from .333 last year. This would be the lowest mark since 1992. The average team SLG is at .406, down from .418 last season. This would be the lowest mark since 1993. Since 1994, the average team SLG has been at least .416 each year. The average team OPS is at .735, down from .751 last season. This would be the lowest mark since 1992.

It is interesting and perhaps very telling that while power has gone down across the board, strikeouts have not. At the All-Star break, the average team strikeout/game mark is at 6.94, up from 6.91 last season. This would be the 5th straight year of a rising average, and would break last season’s record high average.

The decline in offense is not as obvious at the top or bottom of the league in runs scored/runs allowed. The Yankees led MLB in R/G last year, averaging 5.65 runs per game; this year the Red Sox are leading at 5.47 runs per game. The Yankees led all teams in homers last season with 244; the Blue Jays are on pace to hit 248 in 2010. Baltimore allowed 5.41 runs per game last year; the D-Backs are allowing 5.66 runs per game this year. Baltimore had the worst ERA in baseball last year at 5.15; the D-Backs currently hold the league’s worst ERA at 5.27.

Individually, the homerun leaders have picked up the pace a bit lately. For a while there it was looking like the league leaders in homers would have some of the smallest totals in 25 or 30 years. It still could end up that way. As for now, 2 NL players are on pace for at least 40 homers, and 3 AL players are on pace to hit 40 or more dingers. No player is currently on pace to reach the 45 homer mark. Jose Bautista leads the ML with 24 homers and is on pace to hit just 44 all season. That would be the lowest total for the ML leader in homers since 1994, and the lowest in a non-strike season since 1992. Think about this: in 1994, Matt Williams had hit 43 homers when the season was canceled in August due to the strike.

So, Logically, if She Weighs as Much as a Duck…

Of course as offense has continued to decrease this season, pitching has risen to control the game. The team average ERA is currently 4.16, down from 4.32 last season, and on pace for the lowest average since 1992. Team average WHIP at the All-Star break is 1.364, down from 1.390 last season, and on pace for the best mark since 1992. The individual leader boards are chalked full of pitchers posting very low ERA’s and WHIP’s.

There are currently 18 qualified pitchers with ERA’s below 3.00; 9 of those have ERA’s under 2.50. Josh Johnson leads all qualified MLB pitchers with a 1.70 ERA. Obviously there is a lot of baseball left to be played, but if those numbers remain the same they would be dramatically different from even last season, when 11 pitchers finished with ERA’s under 3.00; 4 had ERA’s under 2.50; and no qualified pitcher had a sub-2.00 ERA.

Similarly, there are 5 qualified pitchers who currently boast WHIP’s under 1.05, and 3 of those have sub-1.00 WHIP’s. Cliff Lee leads all qualified pitchers with a 0.95 WHIP. Last season only 3 pitchers had WHIP’s under 1.05, and no qualified pitcher had a sub-1.00 WHIP at season’s end.

Ubaldo Jimenez appeared well on his way to a runaway NL Cy Young Award earlier this season. While Jimenez has cooled off some and would no longer be the favorite to win the award, he is none the less 15-1 and on pace to win 28 games. While Jimenez is unlikely to become the first pitcher to reach the 25-win mark since Bob Welch won 27 in 1990, if he were to win 28 in this age of 5-man rotations, I believe it would really be a more impressive total than the now unreachable 31 victories posted by Denny McLain in 1968, the last “Year of the Pitcher.”

As great as Jimenez and Josh Johnson have been, they are not on the level of Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay when it comes to going the distance and dominating over 9 innings. Complete Games and Complete Game Shutouts have become increasingly rare in baseball. Halladay and Lee are two pitchers who are still willing and able (and allowed) to get the job done alone on a somewhat regular basis. At the break, Halladay leads the NL with 7 CG, while Lee holds the AL lead with 6 CG. Both have a chance to join CC Sabathia as the only pitchers to reach double digits in CG since the turn of the millennium. Even more impressive, Halladay has already tossed 3 CG shutouts this season, putting him 1 away from his total of all of last season, and giving him a chance to become the first pitcher since the 1980’s to throw more than 5 shutouts in a single season.

Milestones within Reach if anyone cares

There have been few career milestones reached so far this season, and the ones that have been reached have been summarily ignored. Andruw Jones’ 400th homerun got less coverage than an exhibition WNBA game. Billy Wagner’s 400th save similarly passed with little fanfare. Jim Thome’s rise up the ranks of the all-time homerun leader board has gone virtually unnoticed. It has gotten to the point now that career homerun milestones are viewed to be as insignificant as Duke beating an unranked non-conference opponent at Cameron Indoor Stadium. What’s most annoying about this is that it was obvious 10 years ago--to anyone with knowledge and understanding of the history of baseball--that due to the increase in power across the sport during the modern era, the all-time homerun records needed to be viewed with the realities of different eras kept in mind. Nobody thought that Eddie Murray was a superior slugger to Lou Gehrig when he surpassed the Iron Horse’s homerun total, yet Murray’s breakthrough into the 500 club was still noted and celebrated as some sort of praiseworthy accomplishment. Now, because of all of the PED fallout and rehashing and hand wringing, no movement along the all-time homer leader board is allowed to be noticed unless it is for the purpose of pointing out that it doesn’t mean anything because of PED’s. This absolutely includes the feats of Jim Thome, a guy who has managed to escape the steroid stigma entirely to this point.

The most celebrated milestone of the first half of the 2010 season was Jamie Moyer’s dubious distinction as the all-time leader in homers allowed. Many spun it as a badge of honor and a testament to the fact that Moyer has been able to survive and pitch so many games in this hitter’s era. I’ll buy that, but Jamie Moyer’s greatest feat has been to tally up all of the wins, innings, appearances, starts, strikeouts, and homers allowed over all of these seasons without ever being one of the top 30 pitchers in the game at any point in his entire career.

Another of Moyer’s great achievements has been to do all of these things, and play a game for all of these years, making all of this money, all the while appearing as if suffering through a horrible bout of constipation, while pouring over financial data and listening to a rusty nail rake up and down a chalkboard. He puts in his 90 minutes of “work” once a week for one of the best teams in baseball, making thousands with every lobbed pitch, and whether he gives up 8 runs or 0 runs, the expression on his face as he walks off the mound at the end of his outing will convey the same exact message: “No, this is really no fun for me. No, thanks, but this is really not fun for me. I’m having no fun at all. This is no fun.”

Hopefully Moyer’s milestones are over. There are some other player milestones to look for in the 2nd half. Although it will no doubt be ignored or even derided, Jim Thome is 9 homeruns away from tying Mark McGwire for 9th place on the all-time list, and 12 homers away from Frank Robinson (another no fun guy) for 8th. Continuing on this track, Alex Rodriguez is almost certain to hit number 600 in the coming weeks, as he is just 3 shy of that once hallowed mark. A-Rod is 12 homers away from tying Sammy Sosa for 6th all-time. Manny Ramirez is just 9 homers away from tying Reggie Jackson for 13th on the list, but that seems less and less likely to occur as the season goes on, and Manny either underwhelms at the plate or doesn’t play.

Amazingly, Albert Pujols is just 13 homeruns away from hitting career #400. To be at that mark this soon, while also holding a career batting average well over .300 is quite impressive, regardless of era. CC Sabathia is just 2 wins shy of 150 for his career. While I don’t value wins and losses for pitchers very highly, in this day and age, winning 150 over a relatively short period of time is something to appreciate. If people are going to ignore Jim Thome’s HR totals because of the era he played in, then CC’s 150th win should be cause for a parade, as clearly his 150 wins and Cy Young’s 511 wins must be viewed through the context of their respective eras.

Barring a catastrophic injury, the Great Mariano Rivera will reach the 550 save mark early in the 2nd half, as he is now just 4 off of that mark. Billy Wagner will need 19 saves during the rest of what he claims will be his final season in order to catch John Franco for 4th on the all-time saves list and tie him for 1st among lefties. Then there is the somewhat sad story of Trevor Hoffman, who needs only 4 saves to reach 600, but has lost his closer’s job in Milwaukee and hasn’t notched a save since May 7th.

Other Things to Watch for in the Second Half

Can the Braves unseat the 3-time defending NL East Champion Phillies in Bobby Cox’s final season?

Will the Reds fade behind Dusty Baker’s multiple Manager of the Year Award tactics of panic?

Will the Padres emerge from the annual NL West free for all, and if not, will Adrian Gonzalez soon be gone from San Diego despite their surprise success this season?

Can Boston get healthy enough to challenge the Yanks? Can the Rays avoid last year’s slide?

Are the White Sox really, really hot; or really, really good?

Can Texas survive the heat and the sale of the franchise amid bankruptcy?

With Cliff Lee already off the market and so many teams still in the hunt for the postseason, will this be the quietest trade deadline ever?

When will the Nationals shutdown Stephen Strasburg?

Will Lebron James hold a one-hour special to announce to Jim Gray that he will be taking his talents to the Bronx come playoff time because, like all Miami sports fans, he is a front running Yankees fan who still wants to be a New Yorker?

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Braves Blog: New York Mutts Series Preview

The Braves keep on getting it done. After winning 2 of 3 in a very exciting series in Philadelphia, the Braves are now back to 15 games over .500 at 50-35. They’ve had a tremendous run and they have just one series left before they can finally take a well deserved (and much needed) break. The Braves enter the final series of the “first half” 3 games ahead of the Mets in 1st place in the East, with the Phils now 5.5 back. It’s good to have the Braves/Mets rivalry back on the stage where it belongs. Though I still wish we were playing in that shithole called Shea.

New York Mets Series Preview

We’re going to be playing the Mutts a bunch over the next few months. While I always relish the chance to squash the Mess, I kind of wish we had gotten to play them more in the 1st half. Jose Reyes is back from his injuries, and at some point they are going to get Carlos Beltran back. That will make their lineup much better. But will their pitching hold up?

New York is 47-38 and they have been down right dominant at home, going 29-14 at whatever you want to call their new stadium this year so far. They’ve outscored opponents 202-129 at home this season. The Braves are still just 20-25 on the road, but they have outscored opponents 198-189 away from home, so their record could easily be better. Neither team comes in red hot. The Mets are just 8-10 over their last 18, while the Braves are 8-7 over their last 15.

So far this season the Mets have gotten the better of the rivalry. They’ve won 4 of the 5 games between the teams in 2010, including the first 4. If this weekend’s series is anything like the first 2 between the teams this year, it will be close and low scoring. In the first series in Queens back in April, the Braves lost all 3 games, going down 5-2, 3-1, and then 1-0 in a game that was called after just 5 innings. In May, the Braves dropped the first game of a quick 2 game series against the Mets at home, 3-2, before taking the second game by the same score. The Mets have pitched an impressive 12 shutouts this year. However, they are just 10-15 in 1-run games and 3-5 in extra innings, while the Braves are 14-12 in 1-run games and 4-3 in extras.

The Mets are obviously comfortable playing at their new park now, though it still seems to be having an effect on their power and run scoring numbers. They are 9th in the NL runs per game and 11th in homers. In addition, the Mets are 13th in walks, 12th in OBP, and 12th in OPS. What they have done well is put the ball in play and steal bases. And they aren’t just stealing a lot of bases; they’re doing it efficiently, swiping 80 bases in 99 tries as a team this year (80.8%).

The Mets pitching has led them to their good record to this point. They are 5th in the NL in runs allowed per game and 5th in ERA. They are tied for 1st in team shutouts and 6th in both starter ERA and reliever ERA. However, some of their pitching success seems a bit shaky. They are 14th in walks and 11th in WHIP in the NL. They have blown 10 saves.
The Mets have been a solid defensive team this year. They are 4th in errors and 4th in Fielding%.


Tommy Hanson vs. RA Dickey

Dickey has been the surprise success in the rotation that the Mets have needed for a few years now. The knuckler had never had much success prior to coming to the National League this season. In 7 seasons in the AL, Dickey pitched in 144 games, making 48 starts, with a 22-28 record, a 5.43 ERA, and a 1.57 WHIP. Not very impressive. 2010, however, has been a totally different story. In 9 starts with the Mets, Dickey is 6-1 with a 2.62 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. The Mets are 6-3 with him on the mound and he has posted a Quality Start in 7 of 9 appearances. Dickey has allowed just 2 homers in 58.1 innings this season.

Dickey has only pitched 3 games at home this year but he has won all 3, posting a 1.33 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP with 15 K over 20.1 innings. All 3 of his home starts have been quality starts and he has yet to yield a homer at whatever you want to call their stadium. Knucklers are tricky and the Braves haven’t seen him yet.

Hanson got back on the right track in his previous start against the Marlins. But that came after back to back rough outings that did a number on his…numbers. Hanson is 8-5 in 17 starts this year. He has a 4.19 ERA and has struck out 98 over 96.2 innings, but his WHIP is up to 1.37, and he has allowed 7 homers and hit 10 batters. Still, the Braves are 12-5 with Tommy on the mound. He has made 8 Quality Starts.

On the road, Tommy is 4-2 with a 3.91 ERA in 8 starts this year, fanning 48 over 46 innings. However, his WHIP on the road is 1.52, and batters have hit .288 with a .774 OPS against him away from Turner. Again though, the Braves have had success with him on the mound, going 6-2 in Hanson’s 8 road starts. 4 of his 8 road starts have been QS. Hanson pitched in the rain shortened 5 inning game in New York back in April, taking a cheap 1-0 loss. He allowed 5 hits and 2 walks over 5 innings in that game, but he struck out 8 and gave up just 1 unearned run.


Tim Hudson vs. Mike Pelfrey

Pelfrey got off to a tremendous start this year, but lately he has struggled. He is 10-3 in 17 starts and picked up a Save in his only relief appearance of the year. Pelfrey has a 3.39 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. He has pitched 11 QS and the Mets are 13-4 in his starts. Pelfrey has been at his best at home, where he is 6-1 in 10 starts with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. 7 of his 10 home starts have been quality starts, and the Mets are 8-2 in those games.

Earlier this season it looked like Pelfrey might be on the verge of ace status. But in his last 13 starts, going back to early May, Pelfrey has been merely decent, going 6-3 with a 4.23 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP over 83 innings. He has yielded 7 dingers in those 13 games, and opposing hitters have batted .291 with a .769 OPS against him. In Pelfrey’s last 5 starts he is 2-2 with a 6.67 ERA and a 1.91 WHIP, having allowed 4 homers in 28.1 innings. This will be Pelfrey’s 3rd start of the season against the Braves. He was on the winning end of the 5-inning game back in April, holding the Braves scoreless over 5 innings for the 1-0 win, despite allowing 5 hits and 5 walks. His start in Atlanta on May 17th was more legit, as he gave up just 2 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks with 3 K over 7.2 innings for the win in the 3-2 Mets victory. In his 2 starts so far against the Braves this year, Pelfrey has allowed 12 hits and walked 7 batters over 12.2 innings, but has allowed just 2 runs and is 2-0.

Timmy Hudson continues to pitch tremendously well, even if the Braves can’t match his performance at the plate with him in the game. Huddy is 8-4 with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 17 starts, but the Braves are just 9-8 in those games. Hudson has notched 14 QS. The only worrisome stat is 9 homers allowed now over 114.1 innings. On the road, Huddy is just 3-2 in 10 starts this year, but he has a solid 2.88 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP over 65.2 innings in those 10 starts. The Braves are just 4-6 with Huddy on the mound in his 10 road starts, despite the fact that he has thrown Quality Starts in 7 of those games. 7 of the 9 homers Huddy has allowed this season have come on the road.


Derek Lowe vs. Johan Santana

Too bad we have to face Santana in the last game before the break. He’s also coming off his best start of the season. Santana is not the pitcher he was 3 or 4 years ago. He’s just not that guy anymore. But he’s still damn good. In 18 starts in 2010, Santana is 6-5 with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. He is coming off a complete game shutout over the Reds. However, Santana has just 78 K in 120 innings this year. In his final season in Minnesota (2007), Santana stuck out 9.7 men per 9 innings; so far this year he has averaged 5.9 K/9. That’s a fairly alarming drop off.

Santana has made 11 QS starts in 2010 but the Mets are only 8-10 with him on the mound. He is 5-3 in 9 home starts this year, posting a 3.13 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in those 9 games. The Mets are 6-3 with Santana pitching at home this year, and he has made 5 QS in 9 tries. Santana has allowed only 1 homer at home all season. Santana has allowed just 1 run on 9 hits and 5 walks over 16 innings in his previous 2 starts.

The Braves only win of the season against the Mets came with Santana on the mound. In the last game played between the two teams back on May 18th, Santana went 7 innings at Turner Field, holding the Braves to 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks, but he took a no-decision in a game the Braves won 3-2. Having tough luck against the Braves are hardly anything new for the left hander. In his career, Santana has made 9 starts against Atlanta, posting a 2.25 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP over 60 innings, yet his W-L record against the Braves is just 1-5.

It would be nice if Derek Lowe could have a solid start to end the first half. He has a chance to go into the break with QS in 5 of his last 6 appearances. Lowe is 9-7 in 18 starts this year with a 4.40 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. Those numbers are much better than they were a month and a half ago. The Braves are 10-8 with Lowe on the mound, and he has made 9 QS. Unfortunately, Lowe has mostly been rocked on the road. He is 3-4 in 9 road starts with a 4.75 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP over 53 innings. 5 of his 9 QS have been on the road, but the Braves are just 4-5 in his 9 starts away from Turner Field. Opposing hitters have batted .276 with a .757 OPS against Lowe on the road in 2010.

Lowe was decent but not great in his first start against the Mets earlier this year. On May 17th at the Ted, Lowe went 7 and allowed 3 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks, also hitting a batter, to take the loss in a 3-2 defeat to the Mutts. But Lowe has been pretty solid recently. Over his previous 5 starts he is 1-2 with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP over 33.1 innings.


This could be a tough series because the Mets are so hard to beat at home, and because the Braves won’t face any pushovers on the mound. Fortunately, only 1 of the 3 starters the Mets will send out in this series is a lefty. The biggest thing is that the Braves really only have to win 1 of 3 in this series. Even if they lose the series, as long as they take 1 of the games they will go into the All-Star Break with a 2 game lead. On the other hand, a 3-game sweep isn’t out of the question, and that would be a tough way to end a great first half. The way things have been going, however, the Braves may very well take the series and go to the break up 4 games.