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.