Clutch hits have provided rotation more consistent support
While discussing the different feeling that has existed in the Braves clubhouse over the course of the past few weeks, Derek Lowe said, “We believe that we’re going to win every day instead of just hoping that we’re going to win.”
During the first three months of this season, Lowe and the rest of the Braves rotation simply hoped that the offense could manufacture enough to support their efforts on the mound. But over the course of the past month, they’ve had the opportunity to toe the rubber with the confidence that their efforts won’t be wasted by a slumbering offense.
While there’s no disputing just how important it was for the Braves to take the three of four from the Dodgers this past weekend, it might be more appropriate to say that this season’s turning point actually occurred with the 2-1 win at Wrigley Field on July 7.
Coming off of three consecutive losses that had killed the momentum they’d gained by sweeping the Phillies the previous week, the Braves gained that one-run victory with a pair of RBIs from Brian McCann and Javier Vazquez’s ability to outduel Carlos Zambrano.
Dating back to that July 7 game, the Braves have hit .277 with a .355 on-base percentage, a .440 slugging percentage and 34 homers (1.10 per game). In the process of going 20-11 during this stretch, they have hit .302 with runners in scoring position.
In the 82 games they played leading up to that date, they’d hit .261 with a .331 on-base percentage, a .396 slugging percentage and 66 homers (.80 per game). During this 39-43 stretch, they hit .266 with runners in scoring position.
Obviously the biggest difference in these stretches comes from the fact that they’re now generating homers and clutch hits with much more frequency.
During those first 82 games, Yunel Escobar hit .408 (31-fo-76) with runners in scoring position and over the course of the past 31 games, the talented shortstop has hit .450 (9-for-20) in these situations.
That rough early stretch was hindered by the fact that Kelly Johnson hit just .188 (9-for-48) with runners in scoring position before experiencing his Minor League stint. Since unseating Johnson at second base and becoming an everyday member of the lineup, Martin Prado has hit .370 (17-for-46) with runners in scoring position.
Jordan Schafer also obviously hindered the offense during the first two months in numerous ways, including the fact that he recorded just five hits in his 46 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Jeff Francoeur actually hit .250 with runners in scoring position during the season’s first 82 games. Still while that stat looks good compared to the .192 mark he compiled last year, it’s not the one you want to see generated from a guy who had 12 more at-bats in that situation than any of your other players during that span.
Since joining the Mets, Francoeur has hit .314 with runners in scoring position. But this is just one of the many of his statistics that look better than the ones he compiled in Atlanta.
In his first 33 games with the Mets, Francouer has hit .303 with five homers (equal to the mark he compiled in 82 games with the Braves) 20 RBIs and a .820 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).
Still like Francoeur has proven to be better off away from the undue stress he placed upon himself in Atlanta, the Braves are certainly better in right field without his presence.
In the 85 games they played with Francoeur primarily in the lineup on a daily basis, the Braves saw their right fielders hit .255 with a .286 on-base percentage, a .355 slugging percentage, five homers and 37 RBIs.
In the 28 games that Matt Diaz and Ryan Church have shared the position, the Braves right fielders have hit .257 with a .348 on-base percentage, a .396 slugging percentage, three homers and 15 RBIs.
There’s not a drastic difference in these numbers. But the improved on-base percentage has provided a greater flow to a lineup that has obviously been upgraded since those days when Schafer and Johnson were providing daily frustration.
McLouth update: Nate McLouth felt better while chasing down some fly balls during Wednesday’s batting practice and vowed that he’ll definitely be in the lineup for Friday night’s series opener against the Phillies.
McLouth was excited to tell me that he got a shipment of Michigan gear today and that Derek Lowe, another Wolverines fan, immediately dug into the box and dressed himself from head to toe in maize and blue.
It’s certainly nice to talk to somebody else that’s excited about the start of the college football season. But I guess McLouth forgot my feelings about Rich Rodriguez are on par with the way many of you feel about Bill Hohn.