Getting back to work
If you are not complaining, then you are not watching. Or is it more appropriate to say, if you are not complaining, then you are not blogging?
Whatever the case, even if the Braves had started this season 11-4 (as opposed to 7-8), we’d all still be voicing our concerns about a specific aspect or aspects of the club. To truly enjoy the splendor of a 162-game season, you basically have to treat every day like a new episode of “24”.
Of course in relation to “24”, we all know that Jack Bauer is going to eventually escape or overcome any and every terrorist attack that he encounters. In the baseball world, we’re not so sure about tomorrow will bring.
The suspense of this current season has us wondering when Brian McCann might regain his optimal vision and help the slumbering Braves offense to awake.
During the last nine games, the Braves have scored 24 runs (11 in one game), batted .229, recorded a .312 on-base percentage and produced a .345 slugging percentage. The sample size is too small to provide reason to worry. But it is somewhat telling to see that left-handed hitters have batted just .181 during this span.
That number is a direct reflection of the recent struggles encountered by McCann, who has just one hit in the 19 at-bats he’s totaled over the past nine games. The Braves can only hope that his vision continues to improve to the point that he’s able to prove why many believe he’s the game’s top offensive catchers.
We’ve all discussed how losing Chipper Jones for an extended period would be a crushing blow to this club’s postseason aspirations. While this is true, you could argue that McCann’s presence is even more important because his absence directly affects Jones’ potential production.
As long as opponents are fearing McCann in the cleanup spot, Jones is going to have the necessary protection that will allow him to see good pitches on a regular basis.
If McCann continues to struggle or is forced to miss time, you’ll either see Jones’ walk total rise or his impatience grow to the point that he’s chasing bad pitches far too often.
In the event that McCann is forced to miss an extended period, Jeff Francoeur might be the best option to fill the cleanup spot. It would be interesting to see how often opposing pitchers would be willing to challenge him to find out if he truly has turned things around.
In a team-high 60 at-bats, Francoeur has batted .317 with a .795 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). As long as he stays patient, the power numbers will increase as the summer progresses and you’ll likely once again see him produce another 100-RBI season.
The most encouraging aspect about Francoeur’s start stems from the fact that he’s hit .471 (8-for-17) with runners in scoring position. While the sample size is small, there’s at least indication that he’s no longer pressing like he did when he hit .193 with RISP last year.
(While looking for Francoeur’s stats, I noticed Andruw Jones has five hits in his first six at-bats with RISP. It’s still amazing to think that Andruw had 128 RBIs while hitting just .207 with RISP in 2005.)
Rotation producing optimism: Most of the optimism the Braves possessed entering the season centered around their reconstucted rotation. So far this new group of starters has lived up to expectations. They rank second in the National Leauge with a 3.27 ERA and the 88 innings they’ve completed are five fewer than the League-leading total completed by the Pirates.
Javier Vazquez could have won each of his first three starts and Jair Jurrjens has been nothing but impressive since proving fortunate to win his first two outings. Derek Lowe showed his potential dominance on Opening Night and provided more reason to believe he’s at his best during big games.
The only two losses Lowe has incurred during his past 14 starts have occurred at excitement-starved Nationals Park. But it should be noted that he pitched effectively during both of those outings.
The Braves haven’t provided any indication that they’re going to promote Tommy Hanson within the next week. They are in position where they can continue to let the 22-year-old right-hander gain more season at the Minor League level.
Obviously Hanson has the potential to be a valuable asset during the stretch run and because of this, the Braves haven’t allowed him to exceed the 100-pitch limit during his first three starts with Triple-A Gwinnnett. Unfortunately because of high pitch counts during the early innings, this has prevented him from completing at least five innings during two of those outings.
Once Hanson is promoted to the Majors (my best guess remains first week of June), the Braves should have a rotation that would rival the Marlins for the division’s finest. The Mets haven’t found any consistency behind Johan Santana and the entire Phillies rotation is going to have neck problems before the season is complete.
Philadelphia’s starters have accounted for 22 of the 31 homers the club has surrendered this year. Kenshin Kawakami has accounted for three of the seven homers the Braves pitching staff has surrendered this year.
It was nice to have a few days to visit family and relax this week. But it’s time to get back to work and see if the Braves can alter the mood of this road trip, which has so far proven to be forgettable.