Not nearly as bad as it might have seemed
Simply looking at everything that has transpired dating back to the beginning of the two-game series in Arizona on May 18, it’s even harder to believe the Braves enter Tuesday night’s series opener against the Mets tied with the Brewers and Cardinals for the National League’s second-best winning percentage.
During the 23-game span dating back to May 18, the Braves have placed their entire Opening Day outfield – Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth and Martin Prado — on the disabled list. They have also seen both Scott Proctor and George Sherrill both record one more win than their Opening Day starter Derek Lowe, who has gone 0-2 with a 5.27 ERA during this span.
Before you start getting too concerned about Lowe, you should take account of the fact that Tim Hudson has gone 1-2 with a 7.32 ERA during this span.
Four Major League outfielders (Matt Kemp, Mike Morse, Jay Bruce and Carlos Quentin) have tallied more RBIs than the combined total(22) of all of the Braves’ outfielders dating back to May 18.
And even though he has shown signs of life the past few days, it should be noted that Dan Uggla hit just .143 (11-for-77) with three RBIs during this 23-game stretch.
Still with Tommy Hanson and tonight’s starter Jair Jurrjens keeping the starting rotation solid and Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel anchoring the bullpen, the Braves managed to go 13-10 during this “rough” stretch. They lost just one game to the Phillies in the National League East standings and gained one game in the Wild Card standings.
More importantly as they sit just 2 1/2 games behind the Phillies and are tied for the lead in the Wild Card race, the Braves suddenly find themselves nearing full strength. Heyward began his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett Monday night.
Heyward could return within the next couple days and McLouth seems to be nearing the start of what will likely be a rather short rehab assignment. While Prado might miss another couple weeks, the Braves are at least nearing a point where they don’t have to rely so heavily on projected bench players like Eric Hinske and Joe Mather.
Hinske has delivered some clutch power and been invaluable while playing both left field and right field. But as he has batted .213 with a .263 on-base percentage during this span, he has provided the reminder that he is best utilized when he is not playing an everyday role.
With that being said, the best bench players don’t simply deliver while coming off the bench. Instead, they make timely contributions like Hinske has when he has been forced to start on a regular basis during his two years in Atlanta. The Braves have gone 19-10 when he’s in the lineup this year and 19-19 when he is not.
Super Jonny: Jonny Venters leads all Major League relievers in ERA (0.44), appearances (37), innings pitched (40 2/3) and opponents’ OPS (.396). He ranks second in WHIP (0.74), third in strikeouts (43) and fifth in both batting average allowed (.145) and opponents’ on-base percentage (.228).
There is no doubt in my mind that Venters should be a part of this year’s National League All-Star team. Heck if he keeps this up, I might at least entertain that thought shared by those of you who believe he should garner some Cy Young Award consideration.
But I’m still not sold on the belief that the Braves should use Venters as their closer and move Craig Kimbrel into the setup role. From a financial standpoint, it stinks that Venters might not have a bunch of saves on his resume when it comes time for him to go through the arbitration process at the end of the 2012 season.
Right now, it appears Venters will steadily gain more save opportunities. If Kimbrel were to continue to falter, there’s a chance he could be utilized more often in the eighth inning.
The Braves should just continue to feel fortunate that they have Kimbrel and Venters around to take care of the eighth and ninth innings. If the current mix doesn’t work, they have the luxury of giving Venters even more opportunities to close.
But for now, Kimbrel should be given every reason to believe the club still believes he has the potential to be one of the game’s top closers for many years to come.
Freeman joins Heyward: As expected Freddie Freeman has followed Jason Heyward and left Career Sports Management to join forces with agent Casey Close, whose top clients include Derek Jeter and Ryan Howard. Freeman and Heyward developed a bond with Victor Menocal, who left CSM to join Close.