Will daunting stretch be the turnaround point?

As the Braves prepare for this 13-game stretch that will pit them against the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Phillies, we can either focus on the tone of “Taps” or take the optimistic approach by taking the belief that this will be the two-week stretch that will turn the whole season around. 

While taking two of three against the Yankees this week, the Nationals provided hope or  at least made Herm Edwards proud by proving that “you play to win the game.”

With their starting rotation, the Braves will at least enter this stretch with the confidence that they’ll have at least be in every game that is played.  But as Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez will be the first to attest, mound dominance will only lead to utter frustration when backed by an offense that has habitually provided minimal support. 

But we’re going to keep things positive and take the assumption that Thursday’s seven-run uprising in Cincinnati was a sign of things to come for Bobby Cox’s offense.  With his four-RBI performance, Nate McLouth showed what he could do at the top of the lineup and at the same time provided himself more reason to feel comfortable within his new enviroment. 

In addition, we were reminded that things seem to click when Martin Prado and Matt Diaz are in the lineup.  Unfortunately the Braves are scheduled to face right-handed starters during each of their next five games and thus we may find ourselves watching much more of Garret Anderson and Kelly Johnson than Diaz and Prado. 

The Braves are 14-11 in the games that Prado has started and 15-13 in the games started by Diaz.  They are 14-10 in games against a left-handed starting pitcher and 17-24 in games during which the opponents starts a right-hander.

During Thursday’s win, Diaz certainly made an impressive bid to earn more time in left field.  His fourth-inning solo homer provided cushion and his sixth-inning leadoff double led to a three-run inning that allowed Tommy Hanson to cruise toward his second straight win. 

But Diaz’s bid to earn more playing time was most significantly enhanced with his fifth-inning diving grab in left-center field with one out and runners on first and second base.  If Anderson had been in left field, that ball gets to the wall, at least one run scores and there’s no guarantee that Hanson would have been able to once again wiggle out of the ensuing jam.

While finding himself in a platoon, Anderson certainly hasn’t provided the offensive production the Braves envisioned.    In 108 at-bats against right-handers, he has hit .231 with a .612 OPS.   In 43 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, he has hit .326 with a .774 OPS. 

Then of course, while hitting .238 with a .670 OPS in June, Anderson hasn’t recently found consistent success against anybody.  At the same time, 2ith a .267 batting average and .746 OPS this month, Diaz hasn’t exactly set the word on fire.

But with his defense and further proof that he is capable of finding equal success against right-handers and left-handers,  Diaz at least provided further reason to argue that he should be seeing more time in left field.

In 60 at-bats against right-handed pitchers this year, Diaz has hit .267 with a .777 OPS.  In 58 at-bats against lefties, he has hit .293 with an .812 OPS. 

Prado’s case: While hitting .306 (15-for-49) against lefties and .238 (15-for-63) against righties, Prado has made it a little harder to argue that he should be seeing more time at second base. 

But his argument proves to be much stronger when you account for the fact that Johnson has hit .148 with an abysmal .402 OPS in 14 games this month.  If a bigger sample size is needed, Johnson has hit .216 with a .630 OPS in his past 27 games. 

Statistically, Johnson has once again proven that he doesn’t necessarily benefit from the platoon that puts him in the lineup against right-handers.   He is hitting .196 with a .569 OPS in 148 at-bats against righties and .303 with a .948 OPS in 66 at-bats against lefties.

Weekend prediction:  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will be a productive weekend for Jeff Francoeur.  Playing in front of his Boston-area relatives, Frenchy is once again going to prove that he’s one of those guys who can rise to the occasion.  During his only previous three-game series at Fenway Park, he had eight hits, including a double and a homer, in 15 at-bats.

Lowe’s blog is live:  On Saturday, Derek Lowe will be making his first start in Boston since helping the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series.  He talks about some of those memories in the first installment of his new blog.    

45 Comments

Mark – nail on the head about Diaz! If Anderson is playing left field yesterday in Cincy, it’s a whole other ball game! Diaz has been one of the most consistent producers offensively for Atlanta the last 3 seasons… and I often wonder what more he has to do to earn an every day spot. Right on about Prado too. Anything is an improvement over Kelly Johnson. I love Bobby but he holds on to the righy vs lefty and left vs. righty match ups too much! Prado is an improvement over Kelly no matter who is pitching. Same goes for Diaz in left field.
I hope you’re right in your prediction of Frenchy. Hopefully he can catch some breaks and gain some momentum. I’ll say it again – Frenchy shoulders a lot of blame that should go to players who consistently under achieve like Kelly Johnson. GA is nearly there too. He needs to start hitting the ball. Hell – we need EVERYONE hitting the next two weeks. I consider it success if we make it out at .500 after this schedule.

One of the dudes that writes for Firebrand did a Q&A for me. This was the last question, I thought it was hilarious:

?Q: What is Papelbon going to destroy at Turner Field if he blows a save?

A: The OBP display when Franceour is batting the next day??

Diaz needs to play every day. So does Prado. I don’t care what corner Diaz plays or if Prado plays 3B (with Chipper injured or DHing) or 2B, but they both need to play every day.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Prado and Johnson are playing at the same level offensively (which they are not, Prado gets the nod there). Shouldn’t his defense give him the edge for more playing time over Johnson? I’m just asking.

As for Diaz, there’s no question…defensively and offensively he blows Anderson out of the water. I can’t understand, for the life of me, why he’s not out there everyday and we’re still having this discussion. Trade Frenchy, play Diaz everyday, Anderson and Johnson come off the bench…end of discussion.

Part of me feels like all the platooning is a detriment to the team because it doesn’t allow the better players (in this case, Prado/Infante and Diaz) to get comfortable and into grooves. It’s always back and forth, back and forth. This is my beef with Bobby, God love him—he’s too patient with his players, even when the writing has been on the wall for some time.

I don’t think Prado is a better defensive player than KJ. KJ isn’t as bad a defender as everyone thinks. He screws up easy plays pretty frequently, but he makes his share of good plays. Not a plus defender, but not a significantly below average defender either. Prado frequently doesn’t get to balls that other 2B, or even 1B when he’s playing there, would get to. Prado may not make as many gross errors, but playing Prado over Johnson will probably cost you a few fielding runs over the course of a season. Prado’s best defensive position is actually 3B because he has one heck of an arm and pretty good instincts, but he’s not the best reciever (which is a necesity at 1B and a plus at the MI’s) and he has below-average range. Of course Prado can hit and Johnson can’t this year, so this discussion isn’t really relevant and Prado should be playing anyway.

I actually like the lineup tonight, and I think if Dice-K doesn’t completely turnaround his season against us(a possibility) or Kawakami doesn’t regress, we could pull off a win, which would be a GREAT start to this stretch.

While Kawakami isn’t the guy I hoped, he has been pitching much better than he started. So if he pitches like himself and not the Dice-K of the last few weeks…

I’ve been saying for weeks that Prado and Diaz need to be in the lineup, somewhere, every day. And when Infante gets back, I’d like to see an outfield of Prado, McClouth and Diaz with Infante at second unless KJ gets his act together. With Kotch, Chipper, McCann and Escobar, that lineup will produce. With our outfield productivity so bad, I don’t understand the Braves’ reluctance to start Prado out there. That’s where he’s always played in winter ball.

If anything it’d be Infante in the OF and Prado at 2B. No way Prado can play the OF.

With all do respect, why can’t Prado get some time at 2nd, while Kelly is struggling. He is not having a good year and did not have a good year last year. All of Kelly’s hits last year came after the Braves were no longer in contention. Let’s start Prado for a week straight at the same position and see what happens. Kelly has really hurt us and he does is not a differnce maker defensively (like Franceour).
Mark – please provide Kelly’s stats for September last year to prove my point.

Amen. Can a brother get an Amen? Diaz earns starting spot. Diaz gets hurt. Braves sign another slow foot, defensively challenged “hitter” (left handed of course) and Matt gets relegated to backup duty. This guy is the epitomy of hustle. Granted he looks somewhat challenged in left field sometimes, but there is no guy on this team that I would rather have running into the catcher for a deciding run in the World Series than Matt Diaz. All this guy has ever done is hit, hit in the clutch, hit righties and lefties and play 120 % on every play every day. That’s why he got hurt last year. Trying to get to an impossible ball.
Prado get’s my unqualified support as well. His natural position is third, and he would play third for half the teams in baseball. He is certainly an improvement at 2nd ove KJ. Johnson’s one attribute was his bat and it really hasn’t ever proved out.

Before throwing a first-pitch strike to Diaz, Dice-K had thrown 16 pitches and his only three strikes equated to hits….and the press box announcement is that Justin Masterson is warming in the Boston bulllpen.

As for Kawakami, his first 16 pitches equated to three strikeouts. Now which of these Japanese hurlers was acquired with the $51 million posting fee?

Clearly KK should just pitch exclusively versus A.L. teams.

Why have we used our top three relievers two days in a row in non-save situations?

I get why he used Gonzalez and Soriano. It’s probably going to rain tomorrow, it’s unlikely we’ll be in a save situation against Beckett anyway, no lead is safe in Fenway Park, and no lead is safe when you’re playing the Red Sox. I wouldn’t have done it, but I get why he did.

Garret did a great job of running the bases tonight. It was like he isn’t lazy. I think he just hates the Red Sox because they crush the Angels in the post-season every year and he’ll go back to being lazy when we’re not facing them.

Mark,

You must admit, every time you write off Anderson he responds. Again, it’s too early to say his signing was a mistake. He is a notorious 2nd half hitter.

Chris from MD (a braves not a reds fan)

Mark,

You must admit, every time you write off Anderson he responds with a great game or a streak. Again, too early to say his signing was a bad move.

Chris from MD

i would love to buy into the GA is coming around talk, but what we saw tonight is more likely akin to cleaning up your rome when your mom comes over. Garrett has a level of respect in the American League and he wouldn’t be caught dead dogging it against a team he hopes he’ll get traded to when September roles around.
I don’t mean to be that cynical, but he will have to go a long way to prove it otherwise.

…nice proofreading job on my part, I apologize.

I agree rother. I want to see more before I approve.

Glad to see the Braves are only 4.5 games back. With the Phillies losing Ibanez and the Mets still a team of back-ups while the starters are on the DL, I think we can have agood run and go into the ASB 0-3 games back. The Phillies, Mets, and Marlins have NO depth and this could be where we make our move.

Yeah, I’m not going to go overboard by saying that Anderson has found his groove or anything like that. But it was eye-opening to see hustle on the base paths tonight. Nor am I going to make the claim that he was simply auditioning for a trade to an American League team. I’m just going to call it a good night. And if the Braves are going to win tomorrow, it will likely be because he’s had another. He’s hit .471 in his career against Beckett, who has allowed two runs in his past 31.2 innings against the Braves.

I’m really hoping Beckett and Lowe can give us a show tomorrow. I live for the pitching, and it could really be an interesting match if they are both on.

I hope Anderson turns it around just long enough for us to trade him. He is hurting in the NL without the ability to DH, I think. I don’t dislike him, and he has done some good things at good times this year, like tonight, I just think he isn’t the answer.

Tonight was a great game. While I am still not going to get my hopes up, I’d love to see the Braves take a series win away, at the very least.

The interesting thing, to me, about this series is that while we usually face teams with mediocre pitching and decent hitting, and thus our anemic offense loses despite our pitchers attempts, we are facing a team with both an amazing rotation and a great lineup. Therefore I won’t rest my hopes in what I consider to be one of the best one-two punches in baseball right now, and definitely the best in the NL East, Lowe-Jurrjens. I’ll hope Chipper can “chip” one over the wall and that will be enough, but I don’t count on it. Yet.

Why has McCann been getting so many days off lately? I don’t seem to remember him getting this many off last year. Though, that could be because we actually have a competent backup, Ross, who from all appearances should be a starter on a team WITHOUT an every year all-star Catcher….

Anyone catch Furman Bisher’s article on the need for the Braves to trade Chipper Jones and restock their farm system? He even wondered aloud whether or not he had a no-trade clause in his contract that would allow the Braves to do so. I kept thinking to myself, “10 and 5, 10 and 5, surely he knows about that.” But, alas, to no avail.

I can understand the line of thinking. I mean, if we can trade Dale Murphy, we can trade anyone. But, I think, trading Chipper would be a media relations disaster. The seats are empty now, imagine what they would be like without Larry Wayne on the left side of the diamond. I think it could net us some solid prospects, perhaps a young and budding 3B, but I still don’t like the idea.

One other question: Does anyone know if we addressed the left side of our infield in this year’s draft?

Who knows anything about this Jordan Kreke guy?

It seemed like we picked about 30 SS or 3B… I kid, but in all honesty, we selected quite a few. None very high, but they could turn out to be solid.

Ya we took a ton of toolsy HS SS. Not all of them will stick at short. SS is the most common position drafted. After that CF and C. Because the people that play those positions are the most athletic, but a lot of them don’t stick at SS or CF. Pitchers excluded, of course.

Billreef, from the last thread, you just keep making yourself look worse and worse. Furcal would have played 2B if he signed with the Braves. His agent even cited that iamanda official statement as a reason he wanted to sign with the Dodgers–not wanting to move to 2nd. Just quit while you’re behind. You have no clue what you’re talking about. You’re in way over your head.

*in an. I can’t type worth a crap.

Does anyone know whether the make up game against the Cubs will be televised on fox sports south or peachtree tv.

It’s on SportSouth.

Any thoughts on why Lowe wasn’t effective last time out and if he can fix it this time? With Gonzo and Soriano unavailable we need him to last 7 innings and pitch damn near perfect for a win. And while I think Jurrjens is the future of this pitching staff, even more than Hanson(laugh if you want but Jurrjens is solid), I don’t think he can beat the seemingly unbeatable Wakefield and I’d like a win this series.

Wakefield started the year off in an amazing fashion, but has tempered down considerably the last several outings. I like our chances if JJ can pitch well. In fact, I like our chances better tomorrow than today, simply due to our lack of productivity in the past against Beckett.

You have to think that it is unlikely that will happen. I am sure Derek will be motivated to pitch well against his former team, but as they said last night it is beginning to look on the forecast as if mother nature is not going to cooperate. If they get it in, it will not be without a few delays.

I have a theory why Lowe was ineffective. He’s 36 years old and will have a bad game here and there. Get ready for more of them as he ages. We’re eventually going to regret that contract.

Well I’m hoping they have a game today and that they win, because it’s my birthday. While Lowe might slowly lose effectiveness I doubt he’ll be totally ineffective even in the last year of his contract. He’s a good pitcher and I don’t think he needs power… and the only thing that COULD cause a problem is the need for surgery, which I could see happening. Lowe, I think, was bought as a bridge from now until we could bring in Hanson and a few others who will be our future rotation.

What are your guys thoughts on picking up Craig Monroe? He was just DFA, and could be a cheap addition if/when the braves decide to send Francoeur down to the minors.

craig monroe? he’s batting .215 why would you get rid of frenchy for him, monroe isnt half the defender that frenchy is and hes much older! as for this up coming stretch of games, i was very pleased to see it start with such an impressive win as last night i just hope lowe can beat beckett tonight, but if the top of our order mcclouth and escobar keep playing the way they have the last few games i think our offensive woes will start to be overcome! i hope last night was the spark we needed to make a run at the NL east!

Monroe is useless. He was DFA by the Tigers as well. He hit a wave of home runs in Spring Training and bought himself a contract like Blanco did to the Braves last year. He will not help anyone. The Tigers tried to give him leftfield for a couple years and wasted a season or two in the process. Marcus Thames, the guy they kept when they dumped Monroe and Sheffield, is the guy that would help the Braves if pure cheap power is the goal. That is a trade we could make and afford. Of course, they have to handle the Ordonez situation first.

The Red Sox fans gave Lowe a nice ovation as he was walking toward the bullpen to warm up. Fittingly, they haven’t forgotten the significant contributions during the 2004 postseason.

I’m glad they are showing respect, something some in Atlanta don’t do. I remember someone getting booed the last time I was there, though I don’t remember who… it was in 2006?

Hows the weather, Mark? I can look at weather channel but I don’t know how that translates to the stadium.

Bill let’s kill this argument. The primary reason that Furcal opted to return to the Dodgers was because the Braves were going to have him play second base. Kelly Johnson was going to go to left field.

Geez PeeWee.

You were claiming MLB Trade Rumors was an unreliable source and now you are quoting player agents. What will be next, are you going to have a Shaman preside oover your baby’s christening? You will do anything to try to win an argument, but I’ll just let it die here. I have no desire to continue my winning argument from thread to thread.

Oh and that player agent, isn’t he the one who said “send over the contract so we can sign it”?

As Mark said, Bill, he’s right. No offense or anything but thats why Furcal didn’t come. No one wants to move positions late career, especially if they enjoy a position or are considered one of the best at it. It was a very screwed up situation, but I don’t think it ended up too badly for us.

Let’s carry this over to the new entry that I posted earlier tonight.

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