August 2011

Jurrjens’ decline has magnified velocity drop

After surrendering three homers and getting battered by the Nationals for the third time in the past six weeks,  Jair Jurrjens stood in front of his locker Tuesday night and said his right knee is fine.  But at the same time, Jurrjens indicated the knee is still causing him to experience some hesitance.  <p>

“The knee is fine,” Jurrjens said. “I just need to clear my mind up and start trusting it again.”

This seemed to be the most telling line delivered after Jurrjens allowed the Nationals six earned runs and eight hits in six innings.

Jurrjens missed the final two weeks of last year’s regular season because of a torn meniscus in his right knee.  The ailment was  that repaired via arthroscopic surgery in October and all seemed fine until the beginning of this month when he exited a third consecutive disappointing outing and revealed he did not feel he had regained all of his strength in his leg.

There have been reasons for concern during each of the three starts Jurrjens has made since returning from the All-Star break.  Yes, this includes last week’s Houdini act against the Cubs.  Now the 25-year-old hurler is admitting that he feels he has been hesitant and unable to trust his body through his delivery.

When Jurrjens was posting a National League-best 1.87 ERA before the All-Star break, it was easy to ignore the signs that would have indicated he was not necessarily pitching at full strength.  But as he has posted a 5.86 ERA in his seven starts since the break and surrendered nine home runs in his past 36 1/3 innings, the 25-year-old right-hander has certainly brought attention to the fact that his velocity has been down throughout this season.

With assistance from baseball-reference.com, brooksbaseball.netFanGraphs.com  and PITCHf/x, we get a sense of the difference Jurrjens has realized with the velocity of both his fastball and slider this year.

FanGraphs.com shows the average velocity of Jurrjens’ fastball from 2007-10 was 91.55 mph.     Through his first 23 starts this year, his fastball has averaged 89.1 mph.   His highest average fastball velocity during any one game this year was 91.01 mph  — set May 2, in his fourth start of the season.

In fact his fastball has averaged 90 mph or better in just four starts, with the most recent being his June 19 outing against the Rangers.

Concerns regarding the velocity of his slider seemed pretty minimal until he experienced an even greater decrease since the All-Star break.   The average velocity of Jurrjens’ slider entering this year was 80.23 mph.   This year it sits at 79.19 mph.

Before plotting where Jurrjens’ velocity has stood at certain points this season, it should be reiterated that his velocity has been down all season.  But while he posted a 1.87 ERA through his first 16 starts, scouts and talent evaluators saw him create greater movement with his pitches.

This could certainly be a product of concerns he has about his right knee when it comes time to push off the rubber and make his pitches.   As one evaluator pointed out this morning, “he certainly didn’t seem to be hesitant when he gave up that (fifth-inning homer to Ryan Zimmerman) and then struck (Mike) Morse out with three pitches.  He looked (ticked) off.”

With five starts remaining this year, there is still time for Jurrjens to right himself before the postseason and reintroduce himself to the success he had when he impressively pitched himself through the season’s first half without his normal velocity.

Jurrjens’ Average Velocity from 2007-2010:  Fastball –  91. 6 mph /Slider 80.2 mph

Average Velocity in 2011Fastball 89.1 mph / Slider 79.2  mph

Average Velocity Through the All-Star BreakFastball 89.3 mph/Slider  79.4 mph

Average Velocity Since All-Star Break: Fastball 88.6 mph/Slider 78.5 mph

Obviously Jurrjens’ velocity has dropped even further since the All-Star break.  But the increasing decline seemed to truly start after he labored through a 116-pitch, 5 1/3-inning victorious effort against the Rangers under a hot sun on June 19.  His fastball averaged 90.49 mph that afternoon.

When Jurrjens faced the Padres later that week, his fastball averaged just 87. 67 mph.  His only lower average velocity  in a game this year was  87.59 mph, posted during last week’s outing against the Cubs.

Average Velocity Through the Rangers StartFastball 89.4 mph / Slider  79.6 mph

Average Velocity Since Rangers Start:  Fastball 88.7 / Slider 78.6 mph

When Jurrjens rested his knee while spending the first two weeks of this month on the disabled list, he hoped to return with fresh legs.  But while he is not feeling any discomfort, he has really seen no change in the velocity he has produced since that Rangers start.

Average Velocity Since Being Activated This MonthFastball  88.6 mph  / Slider 78.3 mph

Before he endured last year’s injury-plagued season, Jurrjens’ fastball usually sat in the low 90s and occasionally jumped a few ticks when he needed to record a strikeout in certain situations.    In other words, he has never been considered a pitcher who relies heavily on his velocity.

But as he has continued to struggle to regain the velocity he has had in the past, Jurrjens has created even more reason to question his health and ability to prove dependable again down the stretch.

 

Braves ready to return to action

Since Hurricane Irene forced them to leave New York earlier than expected this past weekend, the Braves have spent the past three days idle and gaining a half-game lead in the National League Wild Card standings.

While the Braves were twirling their thumbs in Atlanta these past three days, the Giants were in San Francisco losing two of three and falling nine games back in the National League Wild Card Standings.   With the defending World Series champs having lost 20 of their past 30 games and 11 of their past 18, it might be time for their Braves to be more concerned about where the Cardinals sit in their rear view mirror.

Losers of 11 of their past 19 games, the Cardinals sit 9 1/2 games back in the Wild Card standings.   They will host the Braves in St. Louis Sept. 9-11.

So 46 years after leaving Milwaukee to come to Atlanta, it looks like the Braves will be returning this October to face the Brewers in the playoffs for the first time. This would leave the Nationals/Expos as the only National League team the Braves have never faced in a playoff series.

As things currently stand, the Braves will open their National League Division Series against the Brewers and the top-seeded Phillies would face the D-backs in the other.

For those of you still clinging to hope that the Braves might make a miraculous run that nets them a division title, the Phillies own a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL East standings.    If the Braves are going to make this race interesting, they may have to sweep next week’s three-game series in Philadelphia.

It appears the pitching matchups for next week’s series will be Derek Lowe-Cliff Lee  Tim Hudson-Vance Worley and  Brandon Beachy-Roy Oswalt (if healthy).

The rotation the Braves set coming out of this weekend’s unexpected break was not too surprising.   Jair Jurrjens will take the mound tonight with three days of extra rest.  Derek Lowe will take the mound Wednesday with two days of extra rest and Tim Hudson will have just one extra day of rest when he starts Thursday’s series finale against the Nationals.

The Braves needed to get Jurrjens back to the mound as soon as possible with the hope he will find some consistency before the postseason arrives.   With Lowe and Hudson, they have a pair of veterans, a.k.a. creatures of habit, who don’t like to have the schedules altered in a drastic manner.

As Beachy nears the end of his first full season as a starter, he could benefit from the three extra days of rest he will carry into Friday’s start.  Unfortunately for Minor, he was the pitcher most affected by these changes.   He’ll be working with 10 days of rest when he opposes the Dodgers Saturday.

The Braves were unable to send Minor to the Minors to make a start over the past couple days.   Had they done so, he would have had to remain in the Minors for 10 days or until the affiliate’s season.  With each of the Braves’ affiliates ending their seasons Sept. 5, this was not going to work.

When Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said last week that Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are expected to be among the Minor Leaguers promoted when the rosters expand in September, he said they would likely  remain with the Triple-A Gwinnett club until it concludes its season, including the playoffs.   The G-Braves are tied for the lead in the International League’s Wild Card race and they are just 2 1/2 games behind Durham in the division standings.

Of course Gonzalez said this before he knew he would have to align his rotation for a doubleheader against the Mets on Sept. 8.   Minor would be on schedule to start one of those games and there is certainly a chance Teheran or Delgado could start the other game.

Teheran was named the IL’s Most Valuable Pitcher and Rookie of the Year.   Freddie Freeman won the same ROY award last year.   Outfielder/DH Stefan Gartrell was the only other G-Brave selected to the IL’s postseason All-Star team.

Teheran has gone 15-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 24 games (23 starts) for Gwinnett this year.  The 20-year-old right-hander has recorded 121 strikeouts in 141 2/3 innings and allowed opponents to hit .227 against him this year.

With Teheran and Minor showing signs that they are both ready to be part of a Major League rotation, the Braves have a problem that many clubs would like to have.   This overabundance of quality starters will likely lead us to spend at least a portion of third consecutive offseason wondering if Derek Lowe will be traded.

Even with another splendid September, I’d say there is still a slim chance teams will be willing to assume the $15 million salary he has remaining on his contract next year.

Heading into the All-Star break, it would have seemed much more likely that they would have attempted to trade either Jurrjens or Tommy Hanson this winter.  Now with Hanson’s shoulder ailing and Jurrjens trying to get back on track, they might not be able to get the return they desire.

Of course this is all just speculation at this point.

When general manager Frank Wren was in a somewhat similar position a couple years ago, he managed to get Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn and a Super-Sized Melky Cabrera in exchange for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan.

Anybody who has ever served as a general manager has been forced to hide somebody like  Kenshin Kawakami in his closet.  But when it has come time for Wren to make a significant offseason trade, he has proven to be quite successful.

See Jair Jurrjens/Gorkys Hernandez for Edgar Renteria or Omar Infante/Will Ohman for Jose Ascanio.

 

 

 

 

Braves, Mets postpone final two games of this weekend’s series

With Hurricane Irene making its way toward New York City, the Braves and Mets have postponed the final two games of this weekend’s series at Citi Field.   Friday night’s game will be played as scheduled.
There has not been an announcement about when Saturday and Sunday’s scheduled games could be played.  The teams share a common offday on Sept. 8.  There is a chance both games could be played as part of a doubleheader that day.
The Braves would be able to make the short trip to New York after concluding a three-game series in Philadelphia on Sept. 7.  They are scheduled to begin a three-game series in St. Louis on Sept. 9.
With the possibility that heavy rain and winds could begin early Saturday evening, New York City officials have announced the Subway will shut down at noon Saturday.

Odds and ends from New York

With Hurricane Irene making its way toward New York City, the Braves and Mets have postponed the final two games of this weekend’s series at Citi Field.  The teams will play as scheduled Friday night.

There has not been an official announcement regarding when Saturday and Sunday’s games will be made up.  At least one will likely be played at Citi Field on Sept. 8, which stands as the two teams’ only remaining common offday.    More details will follow.

Earlier this week, Tim Hudson playfully suggested they just play all three games tonight.  David Ross responded by saying, he felt it was a good idea and that Brian McCann should catch all three games.

Hudson will face Chris Capuano and the Mets tonight.

Since Hudson lasted just four innings against the Mets in two of his first three  starts of June, he has gone 8-1 with an 1.91 ERA.  During this 12-start span, he has limited opponents to a .201 batting average, a .267 on-base percentage and a .290 slugging percentage.

Tim Lincecum (1.34) and Clayton Kershaw (1.68) are the only Major Leaguers with lower ERAs during this span.   Hudson’s 1.91 ERA trumps the 1.92 mark Justin Verlander has posted during this span.

Lincecum (.180), Vance Worley (.190) and Verlander have posted the three best opponents batting average during this span.   But Hudson ranks a respectable eighth in that category.

Since overcoming the lower back discomfort that plagued him near the end of May and during the early portion of June, Hudson has pitched like he did for most of last season’s first five months.

Brandon Beachy needs to find more consistency with his breaking pitches and fight through some of the road blocks he has encountered during the middle innings.  But now that I’m done nitpicking about a guy who many of you had never heard of at this time last year, it’s pretty safe to say the kid has compiled impressive results during the initiation phase.

As I was flying to New York this morning and reading the paper, I looked at yesterday’s box score and saw Beachy with a 7-2 record and 3.31 ERA.  Even while knowing the numbers, seeing them together on paper while knowing his meteoric rise certainly made them stand out.

Regardless of the value that should be put on wins and losses, these numbers combined with his story are quite impressive.  He’s posted very impressive strikeout totals and showed composure like he did yesterday  after squandering a three-run lead by the end of the second inning.

There’s no reason to put any ridiculous expectations on him at this point in his career.  But it’s seemingly safe to say he’s at le

But as he proved again yesterday when he bounced back from a couple second inning mistakes and tossed six solid innings, Beachy is a special competitor.   He’s been doing this long enough to prove he’s not something like the next Kyle Davies.

George Sherrill definitely hasn’t received a lot of love in this forum this year and this seems to be a good time to apologize.   While scouring some stats this afternoon, I noticed that Sherrill has allowed just 11.4 percent (4 of 35) of his inherited runners to score this year.

Sherrill’s percentage ranks as the fifth-best mark in the game this year and the four relievers in front of him have all encountered fewer inherited runners.    They are Royals right-hander Greg Holland  3.8 percent (1 of 26), Phillies left-hander Antonio Bastardo 6.9 percent (2 of 29), Tigers right-hander Al Alburquerque  7.4  (2 of 27) and Red Sox right-hander Daniel Bard 10.3 percent (3 of 29).

There aren’t too many of Sherrill’s other stats that will jump off the page.  But that one seemed to be worth mentioning.

 

Odds and ends: Heyward staying positive; Freeman and Kimbrel approaching records

The Braves widened their lead in the National League Wild Card standings to 9 1/2 games  last night.   If their advantage remains about the same, there is a chance they could be celebrating their second consecutive postseason berth while playing the Marlins in Florida.

Just wondering how some members of the Marlins’ brass would feel if the manager (Fredi Gonzalez) they fired a year ago finds himself taking a champagne bath in their stadium next month?

While winning the first two games of this week’s series at Wrigley Field, the Braves have lived dangerous.  The Cubs have gone just 3-for-27 with runners in scoring position and stranded 24 runners.

As for Jason Heyward, he took full advantage of the opportunity that was presented after Cubs starter Casey Coleman allowed four straight Braves to reach base with two outs in Tuesday’s fourth inning.   The 22-year-old outfielder stayed on Coleman’s 1-2 curveball and drove it the other way over the left-centerfield fence for his first career grand slam.

While Heyward’s playing time has been significantly reduced this month because of Jose Constanza, he has recorded a number of promising at-bats over the past week or so and maintained a positive approach.  But he did admit after last night’s game that these past couple weeks have not been easy.

“There’s no way of getting around it, it’s not easy when you’re not playing every day,” Heyward said. “I understand the situation we have at hand.  I want to win games. I want to go to the playoffs and experience that again.  We want to go as far as possible.   I definitely understand I’m not going to be in there every day.”

Kimbrel and Freeman posting impressive numbers: There is still plenty of time to debate which Brave should be named the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award?  But over the past couple weeks it has remained clear that the award will go to either Freddie Freeman or Craig Kimbrel, who matched a Major League rookie record with his 40th save last night.

Kimbrel endured some minor growing pains during the season’s first couple months and has since proven to be simply dominant.   In his past 32 appearances, the 23-year-old right-hander has worked 31 2/3 scoreless innings, limited opponents to a .114 batting average, recorded 55 strikeouts and issued just 10 walks.  In the process he has converted each of his 22 save opportunities.   <p>

Some other interesting Kimbrel notes:

He is averaging 14.56 strikeouts per nine innings this season. Among pitchers that have logged at least 50 innings, only five — Carlos Marmol (15.99), Eric Gagne (14.98), Billy Wagner (14.95), Brad Lidge (14.93) and Armando Benitez (14.77)– in the history of the game have finished a season with a strikeout per nine average of at least 14.56.

Kimbrel has had 18 one-run save opportunities this year.  He blew three of the first seven and has successfully converted each of his past 11.   Three of his past four opportunities have been of the one-run variety.

With the 32 games remaining, Kimbrel has a shot to reach 50 saves.  But it might be a stretch for him to match the franchise and National League record of 55 saves that Smoltz set in 2002.   Eric Gagne matched the NL record in 2003.

Kimbrel has obviously racked up some credentials that will certainly influence many of the ROY voters.  But Freeman is also in the midst of producing some numbers that will rank among the best recorded by an Braves rookie in the Atlanta era (since 1966).

Freeman will likely set a new Atlanta rookie record for hits and doubles. He entered Wednesday ranking fifth with 135 hits.  Sitting in front of him are Ron Gant (146),  Heyward (144) Dusty Baker (143), Chipper Jones (139). 

Freeman’s 28 doubles leave him one shy of the Atlanta rookie record Heyward posted last year.

Earl Williams owns the Atlanta rookie record with 33 homers.  While that record seems safe for at least another year, Freeman could certainly pass Chipper Jones and Bob Horner, who both hit 23 homers in their rookie season.  David Justice ranks second with 28. 

Freeman’s .293 batting average ranks as the third-best mark posted by an Atlanta rookie.  Baker owns the record with a .321 mark and Rafael Furcal ranks second with a .295 average.

Heyward set the franchise rookie record with 128 strikeouts last year.  Freeman currently has 116 strikeouts and should take ownership of that record as well over the course of the next couple weeks. 

Jurrjens’ oddity:  Jair Jurrjens joined some rare company as he kept the Cubs scoreless while allowing eight hits and issuing five walks in 6 1/3 innings Monday night.  According to STATS, he became just the 31st Major League pitcher and third Braves’ pitcher since 1946 to throw at least six scoreless innings while allowing at least eight hits and issuing at least five walks.

Expos’ pitcher Woodie Fryman  was the only member of this group who qualified while throwing just six innings during a July 28, 1976 game against the Cardinals.  Mike Hampton (1998) and Shane Rawley (1987) were the only other members of this group who qualified while throwing fewer than nine innings.

The other Braves pitcher who qualified for this list were Vern Bickford (9 IP, 8 hits, 6 BB on Oct. 1, 1949) and Ed Wright (9 IP, 9 hits, 5 BBs on Sept. 16, 1946).

 

 

 

 

 

After Dan Uggla reached the 30-homer mark for the fifth consecutive season last night, some fans wondered, what his season would  have been had he not struggled to find consistency during its first three months.

It’s understood it would be quite unrealistic to assume Uggla could maintain the pace he has produced over the past seven weeks over the course of an entire season.  But just for fun, we’ll glance at what might have been.

Dating back to July 5, the start of his 33-game hitting streak, Uggla has batted .348 with 18 homers, 37 RBIs,  a .412 on-base percentage and a .727 slugging percentage.   He has homered once every 8.9 at-bats during this span.

Had he carried this pace throughout the entire season, Uggla would have already hit 53 homers and compiled 110 RBIs.  In other words, Ryan Braun,  Prince Fielder and Justin Upton would not currently stand as the favorites to win the National League MVP Award and the Braves would likely feel even better about their odds to clinch a postseason berth.

Before the start of the hitting streak, Uggla hit .173 with 12 homers, 29 RBIs, a .241 on-base percentage and .327 slugging percentage.   He homered once every 26.5 at-bats and his BAbip was .187.

Had he maintained the pace he carried through July 4, Uggla would currently have 18 homers, or the same amount he has totaled since July 5.

Simply pointing out Uggla leads the Majors in homers and slugging percentage since July 5 provides just a fraction of the overall picture.  He has hit four more homers than any other Major Leaguer during his span and his .727 slugging percentage is .043 points better than Mike Napoli, who ranks second during this stretch.   Troy Tulowitzki ranks third with a .634 mark.

Last year Uggla became the first second baseman in Major League history with four 30-homer seasons.  Now he’s got five straight 30-homer seasons

Rogers Hornsby, Alfonso Soriano, Jeff Kent and Chase Utley are the only other Major Leaguers to have totaled three different 30 homer seasons as a second baseman.  This has nothing to do with consecutive seasons.

Uggla has reached the 30-homer mark earlier (not necessarily faster) than he did in any of the previous four seasons.   This year,  his 30th came in his 478th at-bat and in his team’s 129th game of the season.  He had never previously reached this mark before his team’s 142nd game of the season.  But in 2008, it took him just 461 ABs to hit No. 30

Here’s a look at when Uggla reached has 30 HRs:

2007  —   596 ABs and team’s 152nd game

2008  — 461 ABs and team’s 142nd game

2009  —  527 ABs and team’s 152nd game

2010  —  520 ABs and team’s 143rd game

2011 — 478 ABs and team’s 129th game

According to the Elias Sports Bureau,  Uggla joins  Wally Berger (1930), Davey Johnson (1973),  Jeff Burroghs (1977), Andres Galarraga (1998) and J.D. Drew (2004)  as the only players in franchise history to hit 30 homers in their first season with the Braves.

This was just one of the early nuggets provided this morning by Braves media relations coordinator Jim Misudek.   He also pointed out that the Braves have gone 18-1 since June 1 in games in which Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel have each made an appearance.

During these  19 games, the trio has totaled  54.1 innings, allowed just nine runs (1.49 ERA) issued 19 walks and registered  81 strikeouts.

Kimbrel has not allowed a run in his past 30 2/ innings and Venters has held opponents scoreless in his past 22 2/3 innings.  These stand as the longest current scoreless streaks in the Majors.  Phillies left-handed starter Cliff Lee posted this year’s longest scoreless streak when he did not allow a run over 34 innings from June 11-July 3.

Odds and ends:  Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said the club has not discussed monitoring Brandon Beachy’s workload as he nears the end of the first full season of his life as a starting pitcher.  Beachy totaled professional highs with 134 1/3 innings and 16 starts last year.  This year he has worked 108 1/3 innings in 19 starts.   He did have the benefit of resting for a month after straining his oblique muscle in June.

Peter Moylan threw 18 pitches while allowing a hit and issuing a walk in a scoreless inning for Triple-A Gwinnett Monday night.   Pitching in a game for the first time since April 14, he sent a text saying, “it wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.”

I thought he was referring to his brief rehab appearance.  But by the end of the night, I was wondering if he was just giving a line to describe Jair Jurrjens’ performance last night.

 

 

 

Lots of uncertainty within Braves rotation

After the Braves swept the first two games of last week’s series against the Giants, one of the club’s veterans was casually talking about how they had entered the week thinking they would be in good position if they could split that four-game series against the defending World Series and then take two of three from the D-backs.

At this time last week, the Braves owned a four-game advantage over the second-place Giants in the National League Wild Card race and they were two games better than the D-backs, who stood as the other most likely Wild Card threat in the event that the Giants overtook them in the NL West standings.

Well after taking three of four from the Giants and sweeping the D-backs, the Braves enter tonight’s series opener against the Cubs with an eight-game lead over the Giants.   The D-backs now stand just 1 1/2 games in front of the Giants, but are 6 1/2 games behind the Braves.

Things could certainly turn crazy over the season’s final 34 games and you definitely aren’t going to hear anybody in the Braves clubhouse saying they have clinched anything yet.  But it’s been a little while since they have been able to be this comfortable this late in a season.

As you likely remember, the Braves clinched last year’s playoff spot a few hours after they had played their 162nd and final scheduled game of the regular season.    On the way to winning the last of their 14 consecutive division titles in 2005, the Braves owned a 2 1/2-game division lead over the Phillies, who were leading the Wild Card at that point.

Through the 128th games of the 2003 and ’04 seasons, the Braves possessed division leads of 11 1/2 and 9 1/2 games, respectively.   So in essence it has been seven years since you the fan has entered August’s final week feeling this confident that you will see the Braves in October.

As the Braves continue to fight to secure a second straight playoff spot, the focus will be on their once reliable starting rotation.  Tim Hudson has gone 8-1 with a 1.91 ERA over his past 12 starts and as things stand today, he seemingly stands as the only current Atlanta starter who will definitely get a postseason start.

Brandon Beachy has certainly pitched well enough to earn a playoff start.  But it will be interesting to see how the 24-year-old reacts down the stretch as he nears the end of the first full season of his life as a starting pitcher.   Looking back, it might have been a blessing that he missed a little more than a month with a strained oblique muscle earlier this year.

But Beachy, who became a full-time starter about 14 months ago, has already thrown 108 1/3 (113 1/3 if you include rehab start w/ Gwinnett)  innings in 19 starts this season.  He set professional highs last year with 119 1/3 innings and 13 starts.

If the Braves are able to keep their comfortable advantage, Beachy is certainly somebody who could benefit from the chance to rest a little bit in September.  But right now, there is no way to confidently predict how he might perform down the stretch.

Tommy Hanson has certainly benefited from the fact the Braves have gained an even more comfortable advantage in the Wild Card race.  But given that he was still feeling tightness when he returned from the disabled list to face the Mariners in June 28, the Braves needed to give him as much time as necessary this time to calm the tendinitis in his right shoulder.

It now sounds like the Braves might wait until at least the first week of September to bring Hanson back.

Speaking of September, Derek Lowe will once again have a chance to make a surprising run through September and suddenly become a no-doubt member of the postseason rotation.   He did it last year and in 2008 for the Dodgers.

Of course he was also removed from the Red Sox rotation in late September of 2004.  But he did still manage to record the win in each of the three postseason series during that magical year for Boston fans.

So you can’t completely remove Lowe from the mix yet.  Nor can you be certain what you will think of Jair Jurrjens by the time October arrives.

Over the past few seasons fans have pointed out Jurrjens’ BaBIP (Batting Average Balls in Play) and other statistics while arguing that he was not as good as his ERA might indicate.    I understand the arguments and believe they have at least some merit.

But instead of crunching those numbers right now, it’s quite safe to assume most knew Jurrjens was not going to maintain the sub 2.00 ERA he carried into the All-Star break.  At the same time, I don’t think anybody expected he would post a 6.52 ERA and allow opponents to construct a .939 OPS in his first five starts back from the break.

As long as Jurrjens proves to be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes over the remainder of the season, there’s a good chance he will be part of that postseason rotation.

After his last start Jurrjens and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he looked a little rusty while pitching for the first time in a little more than two weeks.

Well if that essentially served as his Minor League rehab start then tonight’s outing against the Cubs might be a better indicator of what to expect from Jurrjens down the stretch.

 

Heyward starts while Constanza rests

Now that Team Schafer and Team McLouth are a thing of the past will they be remembered as fondly as the Orlando Rage, Las Vegas Outlaws and other former members of the defunct XFL?

I’m guess some of the the members of those teams have recently joined Team Constanza, an expansion club that came out of nowhere to enrage members of Team Heyward.

Well with the Braves getting ready to face Tim Lincecum during tonight’s series finale against the Giants, manager Fredi Gonzalez has opted to put Heyward in the lineup and rest Constanza, who had started every game the Braves had played dating back to his July 29 Major League debut.

Before we go any further, I’ll have to say the hot-hand fallacy has provided great entertainment while Constanza has routinely started instead of Heyward over the past couple of weeks.  Yes, I understand why some of you have brought this up in this situation.

But seriously did it really make sense especially after Constanza continued to stay hot past his first week in the Majors.  I mean are you going to leave a perfectly good ski slope simply because you know the snow is going to eventually melt?

As mentioned countless times, Constanza did more than the Braves could have ever imagined over the past couple

weeks.  Had they known he was going to hit .385 with a .420 on-base percentage, they could have comfortably sent Heyward down to the Minors to fix his broken offensive approach and be ready to produce when Constanza cooled.

No, I’m not ready to say Constanza has “cooled” simply because he has been retired in each of his past six plate appearances.  But at the same time, the Braves have to be prepared for that stretch when he is unable to duplicate the magic he has created over the past couple weeks.

In other words, they have to make sure Heyward gets regular at-bats and at least has a chance to be a productive asset down the stretch.   Over the past couple days, the 22-year-old outfielder has shown some reason for optimism.

Heyward hit the ball hard the opposite way in two plate appearances against left-hander Madison Bumgarner Monday night and recorded an RBI single in Wednesday’s ninth inning against left-handed reliever Dan Runzler.

Scouts have said hitting coach Larry Parrish knew he was was facing a challenge the first time he saw Heyward swing in the indoor batting cages at Turner Field.  At first the young outfielder was reluctant to make some of the adjustments Parrish suggested.

As mentioned nearly a month ago when it was first mentioned he could return to the Minors, Heyward felt more comfortable listening to C.J. Stewart, who had served as his hitting coach dating back to his youth.   This seemed like an understandable reaction from a 21-year-old player who had already earned an All-Star selection and breezed through a Minor League career with his old approach.

But showing his maturity, Heyward has seemingly shown more willingness to make adjustments over the past month.  At the same time, he has not sulked while Constanza has continued to produce.  Instead he has waited patiently and spent more time in the batting cage with the hope of producing when he does get these opportunities to return to the lineup.

 

 

Braves have righted themselves since stumbling out of the break

About a month ago, I referenced a recent conversation with John Smoltz and wrote about how you usually get a sense of where a team is going based on how they play coming out of the All-Star break.   It was a simple theory I had possessed until watching this year’s Braves over the past month.   (Hopefully this provides some clarity.)

During the first two weeks coming out of this year’s break, the Braves couldn’t get out of their own way.  Their starting rotation fell apart and they had taking advantage of scoring opportunities while utilizing lineups that were depleted while Chipper Jones and Brian McCann dealt with injuries.

But while they were trending in the wrong direction through the earliest days of August, the Braves have won 18 of 31 since the break and widened their lead in the National League Wild Card race to six games — one game better than the advantage they had entering the break.

The Braves were fortunate Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman provided middle-of-the-lineup production in the absence of McCann and Jones.  At the same time, they were wise to bolster their lineup with Michael Bourn without having to give up any of their top four pitching prospects.

And of course they have proven lucky with the production Jose Constanza has provided them.  You really can’t call it anything but luck.  If anybody in the Braves front office thought  Constanza could provide just half of what he has produced during his first 2 1/2 weeks, then you obviously have to ask why he was aiding Dave Brundage and not Fredi Gonzalez for the season’s first four months.

The Braves have also seemingly positioned themselves to benefit from a calculated gamble they took when they opted not to get a reliever at the Trade Deadline, partly because they felt Arodys Vizcaino could serve as the extra right-handed reliever they have needed for a couple months.

At this time last week, I was writing something about they were taking a great risk with a 20-year-old prospect, who had 56 2/3 innings above the Class A-Advanced level and also made a grand total of nine relief appearances since moving to a relief role about a month ago.

Vizcaino was obviously battling nerves when he made his big league debut Aug. 10.   While recording just two outs in the ninth inning with the Braves holding a four-run lead, he walked two and hit a batter.   In his past three appearances, he has allowed just three of the 17 batters he has faced to reach safely.

Vizcaino’s two scoreless innings at the end of last night’s game earned him his first victory and preserved the impressive effort produced by Randall Delgado, who was bidding for a no-hitter until Cody Ross opened the seventh inning with a solo shot.

Even more composed than he was when he made his Major League debut against the Rangers in June, Delgado certainly took advantage of an injury-depleted lineup last night.  But at the same time, he proved he is nearly ready to compete on a consistent basis at the big league level.

Delgado has great confidence in his changeup and has shown good command in his first two big league starts.  It will be interesting to see how much better he could prove to be if he starts gaining more confidence in his breaking ball.

With Jair Jurrjens returning from the disabled list tonight, Delgado has returned to Triple-A Gwinnett to continue his development.   There’s a chance he could return later this season.  But even if he doesn’t, he has given the Braves even more reason to feel good about the future.

Constanza continues to surprise

As the past couple weeks passed, there certainly didn’t seem reason to believe Dan Uggla’s hitting streak would not obviously rank as the most surprising development surrounding the Braves recently.

But now that the unexpected march toward history is complete, is it more surprising that Uggla hit in 33 consecutive games or that Jose Constanza has batted .414 with a .452 on-base percentage and .569 slugging percentage through the first 16 games of his Major League career.

The 27-year-old Constanza got his first call to the Majors on July 29 and quite honestly I wondered if he would would stick around for more than a couple days.  Jordan Schafer and Nate McLouth had just gone on the DL and the Braves simply needed somebody who could play center and bat leadoff.

They filled that need on the morning of July 31, when they acquired Michael Bourn from the Astros.  Then a few hours later Constanza enhanced his resume with the first of the three, three-hit games he has produced during his first couple weeks in the Majors.

As Constanza dazzled with his speed and continued to find good fortune through his first week in the Majors, you had to wonder, OK, when is this going to end?    But as time has passed, he has made it clear that he is not necessarily the typical 27-year-old midseason roster addition.

Constanza spent three seasons playing at the Class A and Class A-Advanced levels for the Indians.  Since then, he has steadily improved his numbers with each promotion.    While spending all of last year with the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate and the first four months of this season with Triple-A Gwinnett,  the lightning-fast outfielder combined to hit .316 with a .368 on-base percentage and a .374 slugging percentage.

In other words, maybe we shouldn’t be shocked to see Constanza enjoy this kind of immediate success. Yes, you should be surprised he has proven this productive over two weeks.  But maybe it’s unfitting to describe the reaction as “shocking.”

This certainly wasn’t what was expected in late April when it seemed Constanza should have gotten the call to the Majors in front of 40-man Joe Mather.  But with his speed, this rookie outfielder has proven he’s always capable of providing a surprise.

When Constanza began last night’s stirring ninth-inning comeback with an infield single, you could almost sense the frustration felt by Giants closer.   After The Jet burned the The Beard, Eric Hinske showed his veteran patience by drawing a key walk.   Then of course you know the rest of the story right up until the point where Freddie Freeman hit 3-2 fastball up the middle for a two-out, two-run single that gave the Braves a walk off victory.

Constanza has registered 10 infield singles through his first 16 games, moving him to within six of Uggla’s team-high total.  This is an absolutely incredible pace that nobody would ever be able to sustain over the course of an entire season.

But just for fun, let’s point out that Constanza’s current pace would equate to 101 infield hits over the course of an entire 162-game season.   Brett Butler set the Major League record in 1992 with 72 infield hits for the Dodgers.

As he has continued to experience a charmed life over the past couple weeks, Constanza has provided much more than speed.  Dating back to the outfielder’s  July 29 debut, Uggla is the only Braves player to compile a higher slugging percentage and more homers.

Uggla actually leads all Major Leaguers in those two categories over that short span and also dating back to July 5, when his hitting streak started.

After beginning a new hit streak with a double last night Uggla now owns a .231 batting average.   It still seems quite doubtful that he will  match the .263 career batting average he carried into this season.  But that number was also slightly skewed after he surprisingly produced a .287 average last year.

If Uggla maintains his current pace and completes the season with 604 at-bats, he would need to hit . 362 (54-for-149) the rest of the way to match .263.     But he could hit a more manageable .309 (46-for-149) the rest of the way and end the season with a .250 batting average.

Whatever the case, it’s seemingly a lock Uggla will post his fifth consecutive 30-homer season  quite possibly better his career-high total of 33 set last year.    He enters tonight with 27 homers, puttting him on pace for 35.   <p>

Remembering Ernie:   It was certainly sad to hear of Ernie Johnson Sr.’s passing during the late innings of Friday night’s win over the Cubs.  But maybe it was fitting that he was given a chance to rest and look over Turner Field as his beloved Braves put an end to a day reserved to celebrate Bobby Cox’s career.

When I spoke to Johnson’s longtime broadcast partner Pete Van Wieren Saturday evening, you could still hear the hurt in his voice.  But he was very thankful that he had taken advantage of one more chance to see his close friend last Wednesday.

While I didn’t get to work with Ernie Sr. on a daily basis, it has been a privilege to have gotten to know his son Ernie Johnson Jr. and hear how much both Van Wieren and Skip Caray loved him.

Over the past few days many of you have expressed what Ernie meant to you.  So let’s end this with a song that might stir some great memories you shared with him.    It’s called “I Watched It All On My Radio” by Lionel Cartwright, who just happens to be from my neck of the woods in Glen Dale, WV, or you might better know it as Brad Paisley’s hometown.

 

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