Braves offense providing reminders of April
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Braves offense looked rusty while the club was splitting a four-against the Brewers. A little more than two weeks later, their offense alarmingly looks like the one that struggled through the early weeks of this season.
The 8-10 record the Braves have posted since the All-Star break matches the mark they had when they won eight of their first 18 games to start the season. Fortunately, their most recent inconsistencies were experienced while they already had gained a somewhat comfortable lead in the National League East race.
But based on what you’ve seen over the past two weeks, can you really find much comfort in the fact that the Braves still own a two-game lead over the injury-depleted Phillies in the division standings?
Through the first 18 games of this season, the Braves hit .228, compiled a .683 OPS and averaged 3.8 runs. Through their first 18 games after the break, they have hit .254, compiled a .749 OPS and averaged 4.2 runs.
So the offense hasn’t necessarily been as bad as the one that slumbered through April. But it seems pretty apparent that the Braves couldn’t have picked a worse time to go through a 4-7 stretch that has been plagued by the fact that they’ve hit just .167 (18-for-108) with runners in scoring position.
These squandered opportunities have come while the Phillies have managed to add to the star power of the club’s disabled list (Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley) and simultaneously win 10 of 12. Oh yeah, this stretch also coincided with their acquisition of front-line starter Roy Oswalt.
Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Braves this weekend when they attempt to break out of their offensive funk while facing San Francisco’s quartet of Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez.
Lincecum, Zito, Cain and Sanchez all rank among the top 20 NL pitchers in ERA. During the early portion of this season, Mets right-hander Mike Pelfrey ranked at the top of this list.
But as they head into tonight’s series finale against the Mets, the Braves have a chance to take advantage of a struggling Pelfrey, who has gone 0-3 with a 9.59 ERA in his past six starts. Opponents have hit .446 and compiled a .504 on-base percentage against him during this span.
Pelfrey surrendered a season-high 12 hits (all singles) and allowed four earned runs while lasting just four innings against the Braves one July 10. He is 1-2 with an 8.18 ERA in the four starts he’s made at Turner Field since the start of the 2008 season. The lone win came on May 17, when he limited the Braves to two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings.
RISP struggles: With the Braves once again squandering far too many scoring opportunities, there has once again been a lot of chatter from fans who want to see Jason Heyward moved into the third spot of the lineup.
Unfortunately for Heyward, he hasn’t been immune from the bug that has been afflicting his teammates in recent clutch situations. The talented rookie has hit .333 (5-for-15) with runners in scoring position since returning from the disabled list. But he has just two hits in his past 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Sitting in his customary third spot of the lineup, Chipper Jones has hit a respectable .303 with runners in scoring position. With 11 more at-bats in these situations this season, Heyward has compiled a .310 batting average.
Despite the fact that Jones has at least managed to produce a .449 slugging percentage since June 15 (retirement day), there is certainly reason to argue that Heyward is more suited to provide the kind of power potential a club would want from its three-hole hitter.
If Heyward was providing the pop that was present when he was slugging .596 through May 30, there wouldn’t even be reason to debate whether he should bat in the three hole. But within the small sample size that accounts for what he’s done since he returned from the DL, he has slugged at a .443 clip (8 doubles, no homers).
With the assumption that Heyward is going to start showing more power, there’s definitely reason to believe the Braves could benefit from flip-flopping him and Jones in the lineup. But the present offensive woes have much more to do with the fact that Troy Glaus has recorded just four hits in the 28 at-bats he’s compiled w/ RISP dating back to June 22.
If you’re one of those people who actually enjoy being nauseated with Brett Favre’s retirement talk, then I suggest you allow yourself to once again read one of the countless stories that have recently been written about Glaus’ struggles.
TIDBITS: Nate McLouth went deep again last night for Triple-A Gwinnett. In the six games he’s played since being optioned to Gwinnett, McLouth has batted .375 with three homers…After seeming him hit just .119 in 17 games for Gwinnett, the Braves opted to release Willy Taveras. They took a gamble by signing him last month with the thought he might provide insurance in the event that McLouth didn’t rebound. Once they acquired Rick Ankiel from the Royals Saturday, they no longer needed Taveras.