July 2009

Braves not looking to move Escobar

Jeff Francoeur is out of the lineup for a third straight game.  Tim Hudson felt fine while throwing an 18-pitch live batting practice session.  And, Martin Prado was named the National League’s Player of the Week.  

But before digging into today’s events, it seems more important to at least quiet the Yunel Escobar rumors that are circulating. 

Look I understand the entertainment value of the rumor market that will swirl over the next few weeks leading up to the trade deadline.  But at the same time, I think it’s time to take Yunel Escobar’s name out of the mix. 

Teams have certainly called to express interest in Escobar and with his stubborn personality the talented shortstop has given the Braves at least reason to ponder the possibility of moving him.

But from what I’ve gathered, the Braves have zero desire to move Escobar.  He’s simply not the kind of player that you move because you’ve found another warm body to fill the shortstop position.  

While his mental mistakes have sometimes been maddening, Escobar is a top-flight defensive shortstop, whose offensive production will grow as he continues to increase his power.   He ranks second in the National League with a .405 batting average with runners in scoring position and his team-leading 42 RBIs have been gathered at a cost of $425,000.  

Still one year away from becoming arbitration eligible, Escobar will once again prove cheap again next year, when he’ll once again be with the Braves.

Huddy update: The five-minute, 18-pitch live batting practice session that Hudson threw today was essentially what he would have completed had this been the first day of Spring Training.  He will throw another short session again on Tuesday and then steadily work to increase his arm strength in preparation for his for Minor League rehab start with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach on July 19. 

“It’s going to take some time for me to get used to pitching in a game, seeing hitters out there and having that added adrenaline rush,” said Hudson, who likely won’t be able to rejoin the Atlanta rotation before Aug. 25. 

Francoeur sits again:  Not to long ago, it was noteworthy whenever Jeff Francoeur was out of the lineup.  Thus, it was certainly newsworthy to see Cox leave Francoeur out of his lineup for a third straight game on Monday.

It’s near impossible to keep Matt Diaz’s bat out of the lineup right now and with the Cubs throwing right-hander Randy Wells tonight, Cox wanted to keep Garret Anderson’s bat in the mix.

When asked if he’d like to be traded Francoeur said, “It’s not something that I want.  I just want to play. You can take that however you want to.”

Prado POW:  When asked what he thought about being named the NL’s Player of the Week, Martin Prado talked about how surprised he was to win an honor that could have gone to the likes of Albert Pujols.

But while hitting .577 (15-for-26) with a .621 on-base percentage and 1.000 slugging percentage last week Prado deservedly earned this award over the likes of Pujols, who hit .429 (9-for-21) with a .571 on-base percentage and .952 slugging percentage.

 

Johnson placed on the disabled list

Kelly Johnson will have to wait until after the All-Star break to attempt regain regular playing time.  The Braves have placed him on the 15-day disabled list with right wrist tendinitis.  

Brooks Conrad has been promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett to take Johnson’s roster spot.  Conrad has hit .259 with nine homers and a .769 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 73 games this year. 

After Martin Prado produced a four-hit, four-RBI performance during Tuesday night’s win over the Phillies, he learned that he had earned the opportunity to serve as the Braves everyday second baseman.  He’d spent most of the previous month platooning with Johnson.

Johnson, who has hit .198 with three homers and a .590 OPS in his past 63 games, began this season as Atlanta’s everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter.

Conrad, who was acquired by the Braves as a six-year free agent this offseason, made his Major League debut with the A’s last year.  During his brief six-game stint in the Majors, he recorded three hits, including a double, in 19 at-bats. 

While Prado will continue to serve as the everyday second baseman, Conrad will provide the Braves bench with right-handed power potential.   He combined for 95 homers while spending each of the past four seasons at the Triple-A level with the Astros and A’s.     

Where will this three-game winning streak lead?

Welcome back to Braves Mountain.  We once again ask you to keep your hands and feet inside the car as we continue this ride includes both quick ascents and frustrating descents.   And we are happy to announce that the early portion of this week’s journey has provided more reason to believe that the light at the end of the tunnel will still be lit after the All-Star break.
 
With last night’s win over the Phillies, the Braves once again matched a season-best three-game winning streak and if this year’s trend continues, you may want to put your hands in the air and at least attempt to enjoy the rush created by the descent that could follow. 

“We’ve proven both ways that momentum doesn’t help us or hurt us,” Matt Diaz said after highlighting his three-hit performance with a homer and two RBIs last night. 

After sweeping the Nationals (April 10-12) to move to 5-1 on the season, the Braves immediately followed with a five-game losing streak and an eight-game stretch that included just one win. 

When the Braves gained another three-game losing streak April 22-25, they soured those positive vibes by enduring a nine-game stretch that included just two wins. 

How about that inspiring three-game sweep of the then-American League East leading Blue Jays in May?  Well as you likely painfully remember, that was followed by an 11-game stretch that included just three wins. 

But providing reason at least some reason for optimism is the 7-4 stretch that followed the three-game winning streak achieved (May 9-11) against the Mets and Phillies. 

“We’ve gotten excited before and then went on a losing streak,” Brian McCann said. “So we’ve just got to keep playing and see what happens.  We can’t worry about what we have or haven’t done.” 

While taking the first two games of this week’s three-game series against the front -running Phillies, the Braves are now just three games out of first place for the first time since May 27.  Considering that they’ve gone 14-17 since that date, they have to be greatly appreciative of the generosity provided by the Phillies and Mets.
  
Dating back to May 28, the Mets have gone 12-19 and the Phillies have gone 14-16. 

Regardless of what happens against the Phillies tonight, Braves fans should guard against saying anything like, “this is a great time to be playing the Nationals.”  This was a popular cry after the Braves lost of five of six to the Marlins and Pirates in April. 

Then we all watched as the Braves managed to lose two of three games in Washington D.C.  But this wasn’t anything new.  They’ve lost nine of the first 12 games they’ve played at Nationals Park and seven of the 12 games they’ve played against the Nationals since last year’s All-Star break.

Remember when the Braves lost 14 of the first 16 games they played against the Phillies last year?  Well, while winning six of the first eight games played against the defending world champions this year, they’ve moved to 10-16 against them since the start of the 2008 season.   During this same span, they’ve gone 10-14 against the Nationals.
 
All-Star stuff:  With All-Star voting set to close tonight at 11:59 p.m. ET, it would be nice to see Braves fans show some final-hour support by voting  for Brian McCann, who has seen Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina take a more commanding lead when results have been updated both of the past two weeks.

McCann leads all NL catchers in batting average (.310) and OPS (.906) and despite battling left-eye vision problems throughout the season’s first five weeks, he ranks second and both homers (8) and RBIs (33).  With 44 more at-bats, Molina has totaled five homers, tallied 24 RBIs and compiled a .728 OPS. 

While the St. Louis fans have taken advantage of the opportunity to see Molina behind the plate for the start of the July 14 All-Star Game at their own Busch Stadium, McCann seems to still be a lock to gain his fourth consecutive All-Star selection in what is his fourth full Major League season. 

Whether he’ll be joined by Javier Vazquez, Jurrjens and/or Rafael Soriano remains to be seen.  But all deserving pitchers were given more reason for hope on Wednesday, when Major League Baseball announced that the rosters would be expanded to 33 players to accommodate a manager’s selection for one extra pitcher.

Player balloting will determine eight reserve position player and eight pitchers (five starters and three relievers) for both rosters.  Eight more selections, including the extra pitcher, will be made by the managers, with input provided from league officials.

Soriano has actually produced the best credentials among Braves pitchers to pitch in this year’s Midsummer Classic.  
Along with being perfect in his six save opportunities, Soriano ranks third among NL relievers with a 1.23 ERA, third in OPS (.457) surrendered, fifth in both batting average allowed (.160) and slugging percentage allowed (.216),  and sixth with a 0.90 WHIP.  

Having watched Jurrjens limit his Phillies to a two-out, seventh-inning single on Wednesday night, NL manager Charlie Manuel might be further persuaded to include the 23-year-old right-hander, who ranks fifth in the NL with a 2.73 ERA. 
 
Jurrjens’ 6-6 record is a product of the same inconsistent support that has saddled the 5-7 Vazquez, who will get his own opportunity to audition in front of Manuel while attempting to retake the NL strikeouts lead during tonight’s series finale against the Phillies.
 
Along with currently being just seven strikeouts shy of the NL-leading mark posted by Tim Lincecum, Vazquez also ranks second in the NL with a 1.06 WHIP (walks plus hits/innings pitched).  His 3.03 ERA ranks eighth and with 11 quality starts, he’s and Jurrjens both rank eighth among the Senior Circuit hurlers.

Along with his losing record, Vazquez’s candidacy could be further burdened by the fact that he’s scheduled to start just two days before the All-Star Game.  Jurrjens is slated to go one day earlier. 

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