Braves hope their offensive woes stayed in Atlanta
It’s early, but based on the frustration I could sense in the clubhouse after last night’s loss to Jamie Moyer and the Phillies, I’d have to say the Braves players and coaches share many of the worries you developed while watching them split this recent homestand.
Yes, the Braves managed to win win three of six on this past homestand. But at the same
time, they needed two dramatic ninth-inning comebacks to prevent going
1-5 during this stretch against the Rockies and Phillies.
It will be a homestand remembered for the two clutch hits that Jason Heyward provided to erase deficits with two outs in the ninth inning. But even Heyward encountered struggles during this homestand, hitting .211 (4-for-19) with seven strikeouts.
During this six-game stretch at Turner Field, the Braves hit .225, which is actually better than the .214 mark they have compiled over the previous 10 games entering tonight’s series opener against the Mets.
Yes, the Braves were burdened by the fact that they faced Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Ubaldo No-No Jimenez during this stretch. But in the seven games that they didn’t face these elite hurlers, they managed to hit just .249, a mark that would rank as the 11th-best in the 16-team National League this year.
J.D. Drew, Aramis Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and reigning National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan have provided the reminder that many talented players can find their batting averages resting below the Mendoza line during this early stage of the season.
But as Braves manager Bobby Cox will certainly attest, you can’t have too many key players falling into this category at one time.
Through the first 15 games of the season, Nate McLouth (.171), Troy Glaus (.170), Matt Diaz (.167) and Melky Cabrera (.125) all find themselves serving as the holes that Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Schafer and Kelly Johnson were during the early portion of the 2009 season.
McLouth has shown some recent promise and at least provided indication that it’s time for him to play everyday and prove he can be the leadoff hitter the Braves envisioned entering Spring Training. Yes, he hit just .200 (3-for-15) during the homestand.
But he followed Tuesday’s walk-off homer with what I thought was a solid 0-for-4 effort against Halladay. He put good wood on the ball with each of the four balls he put in play.
As for Glaus, I haven’t exactly seen him benefit from the clutch two-run homer he hit in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s thrilling victory. That stands as the only hit he’s tallied in his past 23 at-bats – a span that includes eight strikeouts.
Last impressions are always the strongest and the fact that I think there’s more reason to worry about Glaus than McLouth, might just be a product of the fact that the Braves first baseman accounted for two of the 11 strikeouts Jamie Moyer has posted in 18 innings this year.
Diaz’s early-season struggles aren’t anything new. On the way to hitting .313 last year, he hit .216 in April.
Cabrera’s early struggles only seemingly confirm the belief that he will be best utilized as a fourth outfielder, whose versatility will allow him to platoon with Diaz and occasionally give McLouth or Jason Heyward a breather.
Making matters worse for the Braves is the fact that Yunel Escobar is hitting .203 and has totaled just three RBIs since driving in a career-high five runs on Opening Day. His offensive woes have seemingly affected his body language.
But as I mentioned in last night’s game story, if the Braves do indeed decide to put Omar Infante at shortstop for tonight’s series opener against the Mets, it won’t be solely because Escobar has struggled from an offensive standpoint.
During Wednesday night’s game against Halladay, the Braves loaded the bases with one out and then saw Escobar rip a sharp grounder that hit the mound and landing in the glove of a diving Chase Utley, who flipped to first base to begin the run-preventing, inning-ending double play.
Escobar appeared to be pacing himself down the first base line and a National League scout later told me that he had him clocked at 4.54 going down the line. Just to give you an idea of what that means, I mentioned that to one of the Braves coaches and they playfully responded, “isn’t that what Eddie (Perez) ran?”
Then Escobar played a role in the three-run third inning the Phillies constructed against Derek Lowe on Thursday night. While the official scorer gave Martin Prado the error, there were some in the Braves clubhouse who felt that his double-play feed to Escobar was certainly good enough for a double-play to have been turned.
My thought was that Prado’s feed was certainly good enough to account for at least one out. But seemingly preparing to leap over the oncoming runner, Escobar dropped the feed and consequently allowed the Phillies to score two of the three runs they tallied that inning.
Escobar is a tremendous talent, who has the capability of proving to be one of the game’s best shortstops. But as the Braves leaned last year while benching him at least three times, there are times when it’s best to make him sit and think about things for at least one game.
As for Glaus, some of you have suggested that the Braves platoon him at first base with Eric Hinske. I haven’t gained a sense Cox is ready to do this. But the career numbers indicate this is something that might work if Glaus continues to struggle.
vs. LHP 1267 ABs .275 BA 87 HRs .949 OPS
vs. RHP 3784 ABs .247 219 HRs .820 OPS
vs. LHP 673 ABs .221 19 HRs .667 OPS
vs. RHP 2439 ABs .263 BA 94 HRs .805 OPS
With Glaus having basically missed all of last year, the Braves are
certainly going to give him more than 15 games to get re-acquainted to
the speed of the game. But this might be an arrangement that Cox occasionally at least toys with over the next couple days and weeks.