Escobar or no Escobar, Braves are the team to beat

Now that Alex Gonzalez has been acquired in exchange for Yunel Escobar, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan says the Phillies must react by making a move.ESPN’s Buster Olney says the Braves made a great trade with the Blue Jays and labels them as the “team to beat in the National League East.” 

While these beliefs certainly make sense, I’m not sure the Escobar trade significantly altered the NL’s landscape. Sure the Braves got rid of a negative clubhouse presence who hadn’t produced offensively and replaced him with a capable veteran shortstop who is enjoying one of his finest seasons at the plate. 

But regardless of who was playing shortstop in Atlanta, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro was going to spend these next couple of weeks attempting to improve his rotation and bullpen with the hope that his club would become strong enough to kill the optimism that currently rests in Atlanta. 

The Braves improved the strength of their organization yesterday by using two pieces they didn’t want (Jo-Jo Reyes and Escobar)  to gain a Major League-ready shortstop and two respected prospects, who certainly have a chance to get to Atlanta.

But my belief that the Braves enter this season’s second half as the favorites to represent the NL in the World Series, has little to do with the fact that Escobar is no longer around.  It has much more to do with what happened last week, when they took four of six on the road against the Phillies and Mets.

This small stretch legitimized everything that they had accomplished over the course of the previous two months.  While going 39-18 since the start of play on May 10, they have recorded a better winning percentage (.684) than any other Major League club and proven to be four games better than the Dodgers who have compiled the NL’s second-best record (35-22) during this span. 

While gaining eight games on the Mets and 10 1/2 games on the Phillies during this two-month span, the Braves showed their greatest strength — their depth.  Jair Jurrjens and Matt Diaz were sidelined during most of this stretch and after sparking this torrid run Jason Heyward did very little while battling a sore left thumb in June. 

Heyward will be evaluated once he arrives at Turner Field this afternoon and if the medical staff clears him he’ll be in tonight’s lineup against the Brewers.  If this transpires, the Braves will essentially be whole for the first time since April 29, the day they suffered a ninth consecutive loss and also lost both Jurrjens and Escobar to injures that required stints on the disabled list.

As long as Gonzalez stays healthy, this Braves lineup certainly has a chance to be more productive than the one that was saddled by Escobar’s surprising struggles.

Given that he entered this season with a .301 BA and .426 slugging percentage, it’s hard to imagine that Escobar will continue to be the guy who has slugged .284 this year and totaled 12 extra-base hits, none of which have been home runs. 

But as the Braves smelled the chance to win this year, they couldn’t risk remaining patient with Escobar at the expense of seeing his lackadaisical approach or mental mistakes prove detrimental to what they were trying to accomplish. 

It’s obviously no secret that Escobar wasn’t a popular figure among his teammates.  During Spring Training while talking about the team’s chemistry one player said, “We really only have one (jerk) in here.”

There was no reason to ask who he was referencing.

Andy Martino of the New York Daily News wondered if this trade was the product of another example of a culture clash between white and Latino players. It’s a justifiable question.  But within this blog entry, Martino concludes by pointing out the essential fact, which was that Escobar’s problems stemmed from a personality flaw, not cultural differences. 

Just like there are plenty of white players (John Rocker, Bob Wickman Robert Fick) who have drawn the ire of Braves management and seen their time in Atlanta cut short, there are a number of Latin players (Andruw Jones, Eddie Perez and Martin Prado to name just a few) who have drawn admiration and appreciation from the club’s decision makers.

In the classic movie Rudy,  the man playing Notre Dame head football coach Dan Devine said to an uninspired player, “If you had half the heart of Ruettiger’s you would’ve made
All-American.”

Well if Escobar had the heart and drive of his boyhood friend Brayan Pena, he would have already legitimized his potential to be one of the game’s top two or three shortstops.  He also would have escaped the All-Star break without learning that he’ll be spending most of the next couple of months in Canada. 

 

58 Comments

Like I’ve said before, I don’t think another OF will solve anything. We have Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske platooning LF, which is already a nasty enough combo, The J-Hey kid in RF, and we can ride out Blanco until McLouth is back, and if McLouth doesn’t wok out, use Blanco as our every day CF. In my eyes, Melky has barley more room on our team as Garrett Anderson did. Just a waste of money and space. If McLouth can even finish hitting .250/.340/.420 with a few SB and about 6-7 more homers, that’s a pretty good 8 hitter. This may be just a dream, but this is how I think the lineup should be:

Martin Prado
Chipper Jones
Brian McCann
Troy Glaus
Jason Heyward
Diaz/Hinske(not for every RHP, just the tough ones)
Gonzalez
McLouth/Blanco/Cabrera

I also read the Andy Martino piece. The comments really ripped into Martino. My favorite:

“More importantly, it’s pretty naive and bush league for you to almost insist that this was somehow racially motivated when the Braves traded a latino shortstop for… wait for it… a latino shortstop.”

Well said, Mark. Anyone who reads this an still thinks this was a bad move is just poorly mistaken.
I’m curious though – are we done improving our team? If we don’t get that much more production from our outfield, and we still have pitching prospects to offer, do you think Cody Ross or another outfielder would be a move that Wren would make?
I’m just not ready to side with Buster Olney about being the NL team to beat… but that’s probably because I don’t want to get too excited. I love this team right now. Would love to hear your thoughts!

I read that Andy Martino piece. He just brought the point up to bring it up. I’m sure it’s an issue, but has nothing to do with Escobar’s situation.

I heard the Braves were gonna trade him i just didnt see him being traded there i thought maybe to the Brewers for Hart or to Tampa for Upton and maybe to the Dodgers or Arizona for Kemp or Chris Young. I mean this trade is like the Javy trade were we get a decent player in Agone but we get better in the future with the propsects we get in Collins and Pastornicky.

I had a feeling when he was first brought up that yuni is gonna replace Chipper so whos gonna do that now?

I am in (partial) agreement with Brandon. I think we will be fine without a deal for an outfielder. That said, I understand that Marlon Byrd might be available. For the right player (like a Byrd) I could see making a deal if it were not too expensive if minor league pitching talent.

Reminding everyone again that the strength of this team is its bench, and it’s depth – all the way through AAA. We have had more than our share of injuries. Yet we start the second half healthy. I am excited to see what the next few weeks hold.

Ok i wanna know now that Yuni is gone who is going to be the 3rd baseman of the future? Is it Omar Infante, Brandon Hicks Brooks Conrad or Troy Glaus? I mean if it was up to me i would give Infante the shot bc he most deserving of it bc he has been a fine bench player so why not give him a starting job?

I would say none of the above. And that is assuming Chipper actually retires.

Jurrjens, Hanson, Hudson, Lowe, Medlen – that’s why I feel we are the frontrunners at this point. However, teams may look a lot different in a couple of weeks.
Oh and I can’t possibly forget about the dark horse for the MVP (IMO), Martin Prado.
Anyone suggesting the Escobar situation is racial is looking for spotlight of their own and should not even considered a serious journalist.

This week is going to be interested, I’m pretty sure the brew crew is bringing two southpaws against us this series. We should be able to tell pretty quickly if our weakness against LHP will result in another trade….

Wow, Now if we had gotten Hart over the break………

Man Glaus is struggling. He is batting .142 for the last month with 1 HR. Boy we need to get that Donkey going again.

Just heard from someone on staff in Gwinnett that Eric O’Flahertty was put on the 15 day dl today. Can you confirm that, Mark?

AJC just confirmed that O’Flaherty has a nasty virus that has put him out of commission. That sounds fun…

nc, that was actually a very thoughtful comment and question. Are you in rehab?

NC – I think they are projecting Salcedo, the Dominican prospect that they signed this year, to play either SS or 3rd base in the next couple of years.

Well, we also have the kid we got from the Blue Jays who has a ton of speed apparently, and Lipko is ****. I wonder if these guys will be converted to OF due to their speed…
Oh by the way, MVPrado….and yes Bill, would have been nice to have Hart already, maybe tonight is an audition? Remember the Neagle trade where he dealt one night and was on our team the next….

wow, this blog edits lots of words that aren’t even close to vulgar, interesting

I’m watching via gameday on website, it noted an injury delay in the top of the 3rd, what happened?

Heyward collided with the fair pole. He is ok, just winded.

Thanks for the update Barry, Is the fair pole ok?

There is no such thing as a “fair” pole.

Can’t seem to get that clutch RBI hit tonight, I would have liked to see Matty Diaz come up instead of Melky, but oh well…

Why not, Bill. It is in FAIR territory. You see, you are always negative.

it’s like “military intelligence” or “jumbo shrimp”. I think Yogi Berra coined the phrase. I mean have you ever actually seen a player “steal” a base?

Glaus has his 1st multi hit game in a month. Hope, hope.

Bill, the fact that you quoted Yogi made me bust out laughing…thank you

Wagner is amazing…wow. Sad to hear he is hanging up the spikes at the end of the year…but at least he is going out on his own terms

I want to nominate Jonny Venters for the Braves closing role for 2011. It doesn’t hurt that his middle is William. This is a startling example of a guy who didn’t perform all that well in the minors, but has become a monster, when he arrived at the show. I say bring Kimbrell up to pitch the eighth and make Jonny the closer. Right and Left handed, thunder and lightning. They are gonna be fun to watch.

Or vice versa. I would be fine with either. Kimbrel’s numbers in Gwinnett are astounding. 47 Ks, 18 BBs in 34 innings. Though if Wags is just short of Franco’s LHP save record, I find it hard to believe that he won’t come back next year to break it. Another reason to get a big CF bat if McLouth keeps suckin. Cut down on those close games.

I just have one question is Freeman going to be the power hitting firstbaseman or are they gonna make a deal after someone like Fielder or maybe trade for one?

We’re not gonna get Fielder, buddy. He’s gonna make a fortune in free agency and will go to one of the bigger market teams. Boras keeps comparing him to Teixiera.

Was ‘Big Donkey’ actually Glaus’ nickname before he came to Atlanta or is it just something that Smoltz came up with?

The Big Donkey might take a bit of a discount since we ressurrected his career. He is likely gonna want 3 years. don’t know if anyone will give him that but he will want it.

Viva,It’s a common term of endearment for the big guys, kinda old school, but thats what you guys count on me for. If you recall BMac was on base at the same time and smoltzie called them a”couple of Big Donkies” running the bases. Since then I’ve heard one of the road announcers call Glaus that, too though.

UMM i hate to break it to Boras but tex he aint ok the big differences from mark and prince are that Tex hits for a better average and doesnt strike out and is a switch hitter and fielder just hits Nuclear bombs for homeruns so Boras should compare him to a better hitting Big Mac.

“UMM i hate to break it to Boras but tex he aint”
Yeah no sh*t, NC Sherlock. It’s a marketing scheme to get a bigger contract.

Phillies just lost to the Cubs and the Mets gotta face Zito today. It’s a good time to show that we can beat lefty pitching.

Two lefties for the next two games….going to give us an answer as to whether we need that RH bat. The time is now to figure it out.

yeah, maybe we can getHart’s plane ticket and cash it in for him. As much as he has said he want to stay in Milwaukee, I can imagine a Kentucky boy dropping in here like distant relatives at a rich cousins funeral. To go from Milwaukee and that fire sale to a contender playing for Bobby Cox, well I think he could learn to love that.

2nd inning: Did Cabrera’s throw to the plate hit a sprinkler or something to make it bounce like that? Terrible luck.

Lovely 2nd inning Gonzalez goofballs a throw to 1st. Melky airmails one to the plate(no out) and a sac fly. Make the score 2-0 Milwaukee. Let’s see if we can score more than 2.

We blew it in the bottom of 7th. We’ve got to do something about this inability to get the big hit. At least McCann and Brooksy didn’t get the memo. Also, I wonder if KK was lost in translation somewhere with the idea of getting people out. This isn’t Japan, if you throw it down the middle, you will pay. And one final note, how in the world does Prince Fielder even see the ball when he swings, so much crazy motion going on….

Maybe the philosophy behind having Chavez is he never is out there when it counts. The kids in Gwinnett can get experience in real games, not the blowouts. But I agree, Chavez and KK are equally effective (uneffective).

One thing I love about Bobby is what he did with Dunn tonite. The kid just came up, throw him in the game. Don’t let him sit and think, just trot him out there.

KK, looks like sh*t. He is throwing frisbees out there.

When they put KK in, I wondered to myself, “are they giving up on this game?”

now, they are warming up Chavez, why do we have these clowns on our roster? As good as our minors pitching talent is right now, we are pitching Chavez and Kawakami, come on Frank, admit you scr*wed up.

When they put KK in, I wondered to myself, “are they giving up on this game?”

Apparently this server is as effective as a Kawakami fastball…

Melky’s throw to the plate, was not good, IT WAS GREAT. The throw hit something and caused it to bounce high – not his fault.

KK really looked awful. I know he does not get regular work, but that is how it is going to be for him the rest of the year so he needs to figure it out. He could have given up 6 runs if not for a baserunning error by Milwakee.

Anyhow, they have now lost two out of three so hopefully they can get Heyward and Glaus going. They need to beat up on teams like Milwakee.

well if Chipper does retire how bout giving it to Hinkse and keep Glaus our firstbase man and keeping Freeman in the minors til he can prove that he can be a homerun hitter and not a kotchman ripoff. Now i wonder if we can trade KK and melky to the Dodgers for whoever they are willing to part with.

Is Venters gonna be the closer for next year bc i heard that papelbon is gonna be available for arbitration next year along with Elsbury so i was wondering what the Braves would do to get those 2 players.

I wish I could get credit for a “great” throw that is 12 feet wide and 2 seconds late. I guess I would be a major leaguer, too!!!! Get the chubby guy out of center, trade now!!!

Bill, aside from that crazy bounce, that throw had McGehee beat, and he would have been out by 2 seconds. I don’t know what you saw, but it seems everyone else in the world saw it different from you. Even the Brewers announcers said it was a “fortunate bounce” and that the throw “would have gotten Casey easily.”

I know Melky is Chubby, but so is Hinske. If they could figure out a way to get TP in the OF, the entire braves OF could compete next year in the hot dog eating contest on the 4th of July.

Bill – please see if you can watch the replay again. Melky may not be an all star OF, but he is quite serviceable, unlike McClouth and Schaeffer have been showing. Ever since Melky’s poor start, he has played well and unless they can trade for a Kemp, they need him. Plus he is a switch hitter which really helps coming off the bench.

Hinske is not fat, he’s jacked…He’s built like a tree trunk. His neck is thicker than his head. But to add to your point, he is a large load, and i’m sure he can pack away some food. As someone noted before the season started, we have some huge guys on this team…. At least if we cannot win the world series, we could at least win a real fight against any team.

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