Braves have slumbered since hurricane break
If the Braves hold on to clinch the National League Wild Card, they should feel fortunate that there will be just two days separating their regular season finale and the first game of the Division Series. As the past couple months have proven, this club does not exactly perform well after getting a few days to rest during the regular season.
The Braves stumbled out of the All-Star break and they have obviously not been too impressive while losing five of the eight games played since Hurricane Irene forced them to remain idle for three days. Had they not manufactured Sunday’s seventh inning comeback against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, they could be entering tonight’s matchup against Roy Oswalt and the Phillies in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
With six losses in their past nine games, the Braves should feel fortunate that they still own a 7 1/2-game lead in the Wild Card chase over the Cardinals and Giants. Of course if their struggles continue through tonight’s series finale against the Phillies and during Thursday’s doubleheader against the Mets, things could get very interesting when they head into St. Louis this weekend for a three-game series against the Cardinals.
Over the past couple weeks, it has seemed unthinkable that the Braves could actually lose their lead in the Wild Card race. But while hitting .236 with a .292 on-base percentage and producing a 5.01 ERA in their past nine games, they haven’t looked like a team primed for October.
Yes the Braves are hurting now that their starting rotation is no longer benefiting from the consistent value Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson provided before the All-Star break. But the offense has to burden much of the blame for the current struggles.
Like the pitching staff carried the load during the first few months, this is a stretch where the offense has needed to pick up the slack.
As he assessed the state of the team after Tuesday night’s loss to the Phillies, Chipper Jones referenced the fact that the top of the lineup has provided little spark lately.
In between his four-hit game on Aug. 25 and Tuesday night’s three-hit game, leadoff hitter Michael Bourn (6-for-34) hit .176 with a .200 on-base percentage over an eight-game stretch. In the 10 games before the aforementioned four-hit game, he had batted .244 with a .295 on-base percentage.
The Braves could certainly benefit if Bourn proves to be a little more consistent down the stretch. But they really need Martin Prado to start playing up to his capabilities once again.
When Prado stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game against the Dodgers, there was reason to ignore his recent struggles and believe he was the guy the Braves needed at the plate in that situation. Yet while he proved clutch again in that situation, Prado has spent this entire season trying to find a groove.
Last week I mentioned that Prado had spent more than an hour hitting in the indoor batting cage at Turner Field last week while his mother sat across the hall watching television. His mother was the one who had told him to stay in the cage as long as necessary to get his swing right.
Well it’s safe to say Prado still has some work to be done. He has batted .217 with a .279 on-base percentage and a .302 slugging percentage in the 31 games played dating back to Aug. 1. In the 48 games played since returning from a one-month absence caused by a staph infection, he has batted .244 with a .291 on-base percentage and .330 slugging percentage.
To maximize the benefit of gaining a legitimate leadoff hitter like Bourn, the Braves need Prado to prove much more consistent in the second spot of their lineup.
WORTH NOTING: The Braves will have rookie starting pitchers start each of their next four games. Brandon Beachy will face Oswalt in tonight’s series finale against the Phillies. Mike Minor will start the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Mets and Julio Teheran will start the nightcap. Randall Delgado will start Friday’s series opener against the Cardinals.
Beachy, Minor, Teheran and Delgado have combined for 48 career starts. Beachy has accounted for exactly half of that total.
It was great to see Luis Salazar join the Braves yesterday to serve as an extra coach over the next week. As he passionately talked about the players he had managed with Class A Advanced Lynchburg, he wore a pair of clear Oakley sunglasses to protect the glass eye he has worn since losing his left eye after getting hit by a Brian McCann foul ball in March.
Salazar was thrilled to talk about how his switch-hitting first baseman Joey Terdoslavich had set a new Carolina League record by notching his 52nd double during Monday’s regular season finale. He was also excited to point out his shortstop Andrelton Simmons won the league’s batting title while hitting more than 20 points better than the runner up. Simmons hit .311 with a .351 on-base percentage and .408 slugging percentage.
Brandon Drury also tied for the Appalachian League’s batting title with the .347 batting average he produced for the Rookie Level Danville Braves. Drury, who recently celebrated his 19th birthday, recorded a .367 on-base percentage and .525 slugging percentage.
When the Braves were in Denver playing after the All-Star break, Rockies All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki approached Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and told him, “take care of (Drury), he’s like my little brother.”
Drury spent this past offseason training with Tulowitzki and he’ll likely do the same this year.