August 2012

Braves had good reason to go with the 6-man rotation

So the Braves are three days away from beginning that 13-day stretch of utilizing a six-man starting rotation.  As a result, for the first time since the Opening Day roster was announced, some fans are once again expressing a concern about the 24th or 25th man on the active roster.

As Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez mentioned multiple times while debating this decision last week, there are some drawbacks to utilizing a six-man rotation.  One of the primary problems is the fact that it requires a team to carry one less bench player or reliever while carrying six starting pitchers on the roster.

Over the course of the past 13 days, you likely can not remember once saying it’s a good thing the Braves had either Tyler Pastornicky or Eric Hinske around.   With this being said, you can almost guarantee somewhere during the course of the 13 games the Braves use the six-man arrangement, the often cruel baseball gods will make sure there is at least one instance when the absence of one bench player or a reliever will prove pivotal in a loss.

But when looking at the makeup of this Atlanta rotation and evaluating the options, I’ll take the risk of losing a game over the risk of losing one of the starting pitchers for the final weeks of the regular season and potentially the postseason.

When the Braves did not make the playoffs last year, fans blamed the September struggles of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel on the way manager Fredi Gonzalez utilized them during the season’s final five months.

Now Gonzalez has opted to spend the next two weeks protecting the members of his starting rotation with the hope that they will be strong down the stretch.

Makes sense to me. And truth be told, Kris Medlen left the Braves with no other choice once he joined the rotation.

But let’s look beyond the presence of Medlen and focus on the fact that there is no a single member of the rotation who could not benefit from pitching with an extra day of rest at this point.

Had the Braves removed Medlen from the rotation to make room for Tommy Hanson’s return on Friday night, each of their starting pitchers would have received an extra day of rest before their next turn.  In fact, Ben Sheets and Mike Minor would have been the only members of the rotation who would have needed to make a start on regular rest before the next scheduled offday on Aug. 30.

But Sheets and Minor need that offday every bit as much as the 37-year-old Tim Hudson or Tommy  Hanson, who is coming off the disabled list on Friday with the hope of being able to complete the season  — something he did not do last year.

With the benefit of September’s expanded rosters, the Braves will likely be in a position where Sheets will not need to make another start on regular rest the remainder of this season.   While his arm has remained sound and his velocity consistent, the 34-year-old pitcher will need at least one and occasionally two extra days of rest before each of his remaining starts.

Hudson’s determination carried him through another strong outing last night and while keeping the Padres off base, he did not have to deal with some of he problems he has had pitching out of the stretch this year.  He says his left ankle is much better.  But the fact that Gonzalez has continued to reference the ankle provides reason to believe the club still views it as a concern.

Though Minor is still approximately 50 innings away from matching last year’s total, his workload down the stretch will be monitored. As for Hanson, his back seems to be fine.  But the decline in velocity that has been a focus throughout this season continues to provide reason for concern.

Like I said, there will likely be some point during the next two weeks when the Braves will wish they had that extra reliever or bench player.  But that is better than going through the season’s final weeks wishing that they still had the services of one of those starting pitchers who obviously could have benefited from one extra day of rest.

Sheets set to add to success against the Mets

When Ben Sheets gained the sense that he might have a chance to pitch in the Majors again, he first and foremost wanted to be with a team that could reach the playoffs.  The Braves fit this description and had the geographic advantage of being relatively close to his family’s residence in Louisiana.

While spending nearly two years under the assumption he was retired, Sheets developed an even stronger bond with his 10-year-old son Seaver and five-year-old son Miller.  Leaving them would be tough.  But the two young boys have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of their father’s improbable comeback.

Well everything but that one loss Sheets suffered when he allowed the Marlins three runs in 6 2/3 innings on Aug. 1.

“They’re pumped up,” Sheets said. “My oldest one cried after that one loss.  I was like dude, I went 4-10 in Oakland. Really dude? You’re going to cry over that one?”

Much has happened since Sheets endured his painful surgery-shortened season in Oakland in 2010. If you need a refresher click here.

As the Braves attempt to sweep the Mets tonight, a national television audience will be watching Sheets attempt to add to the wonder of this year’s most inspiring comeback story.

In his first five starts since the 2010 concluded, Sheets has posted a 1.41 ERA and compiled 32 innings.  While working into the eighth inning against the Phillies on Monday, he did not record a strikeout.  It marked the second time in his career that he has pitched at least five innings without recording a strikeout.

“Maybe it was luck,” Sheets said. “Maybe it was learning to pitch.  I don’t care.  I’m not going to question it. I struck out eight the game before.”

Sheets’ comeback began on July 15 when he limited the Mets to two hits over six scoreless innings.  As a matter of fact, the last run he surrendered against the Mets came courtesy of a Carlos Delgado sacrifice fly on April 12, 2008.    He enters tonight having not allowed a run in his past 17 2/3 innings against the Mets.

 

 

both of his sons might have been a little too young to understand exactly what they were experiencing.  But Seaver has certainly

Looking back on Maholm’s memorable gem

If one would have been discussing Paul Maholm leading up to Friday night’s start, they might have pointed out that his first start with the Braves had ended in a loss against an Astros team that he had dominated over the past few years.  Or they might have pointed out that he had allowed exactly seven runs in his only three previous starts at Citi Field.

So much for small sample size garbage.

By the time Maholm was done with his three-hit shutout on Friday night, there was reason to debate where it ranks among some of the best starts turned in by a Braves pitcher over the past few years.  The one that immediately came to mind was the one-hit shutout Tim Hudson tossed against the Brewers last year.  Some might also consider the one-hit shutout that Jair Jurrjens tossed against the Orioles just before his promising 2011 season turned into a disaster.

Whatever the case, Maholm’s masterpiece was one that solidified the Braves’ beliefs that they gained  a hidden gem at this year’s Trade Deadline.  Most of the trade buzz surrounding starting pitchers focused on Zack Greinke and Ryan Dempster.  As the power of Twitter revealed last night, Braves fans remain quite thankful that Dempster balked at the opportunity to pitch in Atlanta.

Maholm’s 95-pitch outing against the Mets was simply a continuation of the dominance he has displayed over the past six weeks.  In his past eight starts, he has posted a 1.20 ERA and limited opponents to a .194 batting average.  With one fewer start , Milwaukee’s Mike Fiers is the only other Major League pitcher with a lower ERA (1.16) and batting average allowed (.195) during this span that dates back to June 29.

In case you were wondering, Greinke has posted a 5.67 ERA dating back to June 27. Dempster has constructed a 3.93 ERA in the six starts he has made since coming off the disabled list in July.

OK, let’s halt this small sample size analysis for at least a few more graphs.

Maholm’s performance on Friday marked the 33rd time since the start of the 1990 season that a Braves pitcher has allowed three hits or fewer in a shutout consisting of at least nine innings  (erases a five-inning shutout Greg Maddux notched in 1997).    John Smoltz and Greg Maddux were the only members of this group to need fewer than the 95 pitches Maholm threw against the Mets.

Smoltz threw 94 pitches in a three-hit shutout against the Dodgers in 1990.  Maddux threw four shutouts that consisted of 94 pitches or fewer for the Braves.  His most efficient outing was an 86-pitch outing at old Yankee Stadium on July 2, 1997.

Maholm, who has allowed exactly three hits in each of his four career shutouts, said after Friday’s game that as he progresses toward a shutout he sets a goal to throw 10 pitches or fewer per inning.  Looking back nearly a decade, I’m thinking this was never one of Russ Ortiz’s goals.

Braves general manager Frank Wren and his staff deserve to be praised for the moves that they have made while working within tight financial constraints.  There was obviously some luck involved with Ben Sheets.  But if Wren, assistant general manager Bruce Manno and director of professional scouting John Coppolella had not pushed to sign Sheets, this year’s best feel-good story would be evolving in another team’s clubhouse.   (If you have not read Thursday’s story about Sheets, do yourself a favor and click on the link above to read the comments made by his surgeon.)

Then when it came time to get a starting pitcher before the Trade Deadline, they landed one of the game’s hottest pitchers (Maholm) and Reed Johnson, a right-handed bench veteran that they had attempted to acquire in the past.  Yes the Braves were forced to part ways with highly-regarded prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who has a chance to be a closer in the Majors.  But this was the price needed to get the Cubs to pay for the remainder of the salaries owed to Maholm and Johnson this year.

Johnson has essentially filled the role previously reserved for Matt Diaz, who is still hoping to avoid surgery to repair his bothersome right thumb ailment.  In fact Johnson appears to be quite capable of filling Diaz’s role as Johan Santana’s top nemesis.

Santana will return tonight for the first time since going on the disabled list in late July with what was described as a right ankle sprain.  The veteran left-hander made two starts after he suffered the sprain when Johnson stepped on his twisted ankle while playing for the Cubs on July 6.

This incident only added to the damage Johnson has done to Santana over the years.  Entering tonight’s game, he has batted .516 (16-for-31) with two home runs, a .545 on-base percentage and .839 slugging percentage against the former Cy Young Award winner.

Kendrick stands in the way of a series win

Most teams would welcome the opportunity to not have to face either Cliff Lee of Roy Halladay in a three-game series against the Phillies.  The Braves have this luxury this week.  But unlike most teams, they also have reason to react to this by saying, “Yeah, but we still have to see Kendrick.”

Entering tonight’s matchup against Tim Hudson, Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick is 5-1 with a 2.31 ERA in 11 career starts against the Braves.  He scattered four hits over seven scoreless innings and got a no decision while making his only start against them this year on July 6.

Kendrick has gone 35-36 with a 4.76 ERA in the 101 career starts that he has made against every Major League team not based in Atlanta.  He has allowed at least five earned runs or lasted four innings or fewer in six of his last seven starts. If you need to be reminded of what he did in that other start, please return to previous paragraph.

So as the Braves attempt to win a third consecutive series against the Phillies tonight, their offense could certainly be challenged for a second straight night.  But it’s pretty hard to imagine Kendrick will come close to matching the excellence Cole Hamels showed while tossing a five-hit shutout and preventing the Braves from advancing a runner past first base on Tuesday night.

Minor impresses again: If there were any lingering questions about the increased confidence and poise Mike Minor has gained this year, they should have been answered on Tuesday night when Minor faced a 3-0 deficit with one out in the first inning and then limited the Phillies to those three runs over seven innings.

Minor completely turned his season around in July, a month in which he led all Major League pitchers in on-base percentage allowed (.206) and all National League pitchers in batting average allowed (.172).  But the manner in which he handled early adversity on Tuesday night, Minor seemingly gave the Braves even more reason to feel good about his future.

Offense producing without spark from the top: When the Braves entered the All-Star break, it appeared much of their offensive success came courtesy of the production Michael Bourn and Martin Prado were providing while consistently manning the lineup’s top two spots.  But as both have struggled over the past couple of weeks, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and others have kept the offense productive.

Before the All-Star break:

Bourn .311 BA .366 OBP .451 SLG

Prado .321 BA  .382 OBP .457 SLG

Since the break:

Bourn .200 BA .263 OBP .286 SLG

Prado .218 .277 OBP .287 SLG

The Braves averaged 4.6 runs in the 85 games played before the break and have matched that same figure in the 25 games played since the break.  But there is no doubt that they will need Bourn and Prado to prove much more productive over the remainder of the season.

More comedy courtesy of @RickyMast:  Some of you have likely seen the hilarious Chipper Jones “Go Yicketty” YouTube clip produced by talented Braves fan Ricky Mast.  After Tuesday’s game, I asked Jones if he had seen it.  His response, “I saw it last night and laughed my (butt) off.  That was great.”

Looking back at Monday’s no-K rarity

As many of you have likely heard by now, the rarity of Monday night’s game extended beyond the fact that Dan Uggla had his second multi-hit game in exactly two months and the Braves won a seventh consecutive game against the Phillies for the first time since 1997.

For those of you who have not heard, the Braves recorded Monday night’s 6-1 win over the Phillies without any of their pitchers recording a strikeout.  The last time they had done so, they had notched just three of their 14 consecutive division titles and Tom Glavine had notched just 119 of his 305 career wins.

Before Ben Sheets, Eric O’Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez combined to turn the trick on Monday, the last time the Braves went through a game without recording a strikeout was against the Marlins on Aug. 15, 1995.  Glavine allowed four hits over eight innings and Mark Wohlers secured a 4-1 win with a scoreless ninth inning.

The Marlins’ lone run that day came courtesy of a second-inning home run hit by long-time Braves coach and former National League MVP Terry Pendleton.  The Braves’ third baseman that day was an impressive rookie named Chipper Jones, who had hit just 17 of his 464 career home runs.

Now let’s take a closer look at just how rare last night’s no-strikeout game was:

This marked the fifth time this year that a Major League team has gone through a game without any of their pitchers recording a strikeout.  The only other team to win while doing so was the Indians with the benefit of Derek Lowe’s six-hit shutout against the Twins on May 15. 

The recently-released Lowe has not recorded a strikeout in 14 of his 377 career starts.  Last night marked just the third time Sheets has gone K-free in 246 starts.  The other two instances were a injury-shortened one-inning stint against the Astros on Sept. 18, 2007 and a five-inning effort against the Mets on Sept. 1, 2008.

This marked the 20th time  since the start of the 2010 season that a Major League team has gone through a game without their pitching staff registering a strikeout.  Just five of those teams have won, with the Braves being the only National League club to do so. 

Dating back to the start of the 1990 season, the Braves are 3-2 in games in which their pitchers have not recorded a strikeout.  Glavine started three of those five games and won two.  Sheets and Charlie Leibrandt started the other two games. 

Glavine did not record a strikeout in 37 of his 682 career starts.   He went 10-10 with a 4.90 ERA in the 26 starts he made for the Braves while doing so.

While there is a lot of focus on the no-strikeouts theme, Sheets’ effort last night strengthened the belief that he could continue to find success while learning to pitch without the dominant fastball and knee-buckling change he had in the past.  He has adapted to his new fastball, which now sits around 90-91 mph, and learned how to pitch with a curveball that does not have the drastic 12-to-6 movement he had created in the past.

Sheets has completed at least six innings in each of his first five starts and steadily increased his workload in his past two starts.   When asked about pitching into the seventh inning last week against the Marlins and then into the eighth inning last night he said, “Maybe I’ll get in the 11th or 12th soon.”

A little less than a month into his stint with the Braves, Sheets has proven to be both good on the mound and witty in the clubhouse.  It is easy to see why the folks in Milwaukee always spoke so highly of him.

NOTES:  With a pair of singles on Monday night, Uggla notched his second multi-hit game since his four-hit performance against the Marlins on June 5.   Instead of focusing on his .212 batting average, the Braves will look at the fact he has a hit in seven of his last nine games with the hope that it is the start of one of his hot streaks.

As you might have seen in last night’s game story, the Braves have now won seven straight games against the Phillies for the first time since taking nine straight against them from Aug. 15, 1996-July 14, 1997.  The winning pitchers during that nine-game run were Terrell Wade, Brad Clontz, Glavine, Greg Maddux (2 wins), Denny Neagle, John Smoltz, Mike Bielecki and Kevin Millwood

 

This trip to Philly has a different feel

Four years ago, the Braves came to Philadelphia in late July with their postseason hopes on life support.  They were 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets in the National League East race and 10 1/2 games behind a Brewers team that was leading the Wild Card race with the help of a guy named Ben Sheets.

If there was any question about what the Braves should do before the 2008 Trade Deadline, it was answered as they went 1-2 while scoring at least eight runs in each of those three games against the Phillies.

After the series concluded, the <i> Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s </i> Carroll Rogers told veteran Philadelphia scribe Paul Hagen, “I would hate to cover 81 games in this ballpark.”

Hagan, who is now with MLB.com, smiled and replied, “I would hate to cover 162 games with your team’s bullpen.”

A few days later, the Braves traded Mark Teixeira to the Angels and a few months later, the Phillies were celebrating a World Series title.

In the three years that has since followed, every Braves-Phillies series has been viewed as one that could have a significant influence on the NL East race or Atlanta’s postseason hopes.  With the Braves fighting hard to catch the Nationals, the same could be said about this week’s series in Philadelphia. But it will feel a little different than the ones we have witnessed over the past few years.

Since getting swept by the Braves for the second time in a span of three weeks, the Phillies have won four of six games and lost three veterans  — Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton  — via trades and their most valuable player  — Carlos Ruiz  –via injury.  Sitting 16 games back in the division race and 12 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race, the Phillies are likely going to be left out of the postseason for the first time since 2006.  But that does not mean they can not spend the next two months playing the spoiler role.

This week’s pitching matchups certainly do not create much cause for concern.  The Braves will not have to deal with Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee.

TONIGHT:  Sheets (3-1, 1.46) vs. Vance Worley (6-6,3.63)

TUESDAY:  Mike Minor (6-7, 5.01) vs. Cole Hamels (11-6, 3.34)

WEDNESDAY: Tim Hudson (11-4,3.45) vs. Kyle Kendrick (4-9, 4.45)

Sheets limited the Phillies to one run in six innings on July 27 and then ran into some bad luck during a three-run first inning against the Marlins last Wednesday.  He ended up allowing four runs (three earned) in six innings during that 104-pitch effort against Miami.

Understandably many fans and critics around the baseball world were interested to see how durable Sheets was when he ended his two-year retirement to join the Braves since the All-Star break.  Well, he has completed at least six innings in each of his four starts and already established himself as a key part of the Atlanta rotation.

Hudson has completed at least seven innings in three of his past four starts and 5 2/3 innings in the other.  Hudson (May 4-25) and Brandon Beachy (April 15-May 22) are the only other Braves pitcher to complete at least six innings in at least four straight starts this year.

When Worley last faced the Braves on July 8, he surrendered a two-run home run to Dan Uggla and was charged with three runs in six innings.

SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT:  Uggla has three hits, including two home runs, in seven career at-bats against Worley.
UGLY SIGNIFICANT SAMPLE SIZE ALERT:  As many of you likely remember, Uggla was hitting .174 before begging a 33-game hitting streak in early July last year.  This year, he is trending in a different direction.  But the numbers are not all that much different than they were around this time last year.

Uggla’s statistics through the Braves’ first  108 games:

2011: .206 BA .278 OBP .402 SLG  20 home runs

2012: .209 BA .342 OBP .360 SLG 12 home runs

If you want to get a sense about how maddening Uggla’s season has been, he has recorded a hit in six of his past eight games and batted .208 (6-for-29) with four doubles during this span.

Struggling Prado could benefit from some rest

Michael Bourn got his chance to catch his breath by being out of the Braves’ lineup for just the second time this season on Wednesday night.  When the Braves conclude their four-game series against the Marlins tonight, it will be Martin Prado’s turn to rest.

Prado’s bat looked slow as he grounded into a pair of double plays and went 0-for-5 in Wednesday night’s loss.  He has hit .235 with a .272 on-base percentage and .296 slugging percentage in the 27 games he has played since the beginning of July.

Prado has started 75 of the 76 games the Braves have played dating back to when the flu kept him out of the lineup for the first two games of a series played against the Rockies in early May. With this in mind Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to place Reed Johnson in left field on Thursday.

The rejuvenated Mike Minor will take the mound tonight to oppose Nathan Eovaldi and the Marlins.  As June neared its end, there was still some reason to wonder how much longer the Braves could afford to keep Minor in their rotation.  But as we look toward the season’s final two months there is reason to be excited about what this young left-handed pitcher will do.

Since the start of Spring Training it has been apparent that Minor is much more confident and comfortable than he had been in the past.  That genuine confidence helped him keep his sanity as he compiled a 6.20 ERA in the 15 starts he made through the end of June.  In addition, it put him in position to do what he did over the past four weeks.  <p>

During the month of July, Minor led all National League pitchers in batting average allowed (.172) and all Major League pitchers in on-base percentage allowed (.206).  He might have gained even more consideration for NL Pitcher of the Month had he not completed 10 fewer innings than the favorite Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmerman.

This marks the second time that Minor has been paired against Eovaldi, who was acquired by the Marlins from the Dodgers last week in exchange for Hanley Ramirez.

When Minor last opposed Eovaldi on Sept. 3, both pitchers allowed one run in six innings.  The Dodgers won the game courtesy of Juan Rivera’s 10th inning sacrifice fly against Anthony Varvaro.  Dan Uggla’s second-inning home run accounted for one of the three hits the Braves recorded against Eovaldi.

Since the start of Spring Training there has been a lot of discussion about the drop in velocity of Tommy Hanson’s fastball.  Courtesy of Fangraphs.com here is the breakdown of this average velocity over the past four seasons:

2009: 92.9 mph

2010: 92.7 mph

2011: 91.1 mph

2012: 89.8 mph

Some of you have asked about how hard he was throwing when he came to the Majors midway through the 2009 season as the game’s top pitching prospect.

According to BrooksBaseball.net, the average velocity of his four-seam fastball during his Major League debut on June 7, 2009 was 93.56 mph and he topped out at 96.1 mph that afternoon against the Brewers.

During the first five starts of his career, the average velocity of his fastball was 92.9 mph and his average max velocity was 95.3 mph.

During the starts made in  July (data available for just five of the six starts), the average velocity of his fastball was 89.58 mph and his average max velocity was 91.68 mph.

To Hanson’s credit, he has made necessary adjustments and managed to find some success while relying more heavily on his curveball and other offspeed pitches.  The opportunity to rest while currently on the disabled list with a lower back strain might help him regain the command he has lacked since the All-Star break.

But one year after seeing his season cut short by a sore right shoulder, there is definite reason to wonder if Hanson will ever be the pitcher the Braves envisioned when he reached the Major Leagues with such promise just three years ago.

Braves taking advantage of a friendly stretch

As this baseball season entered June, it appeared the National League East race might be one of the game’s tightest this year.  At that point, there was still reason to believe the Phillies might get healthy in time to win a sixth consecutive division title.  But as we enter August, we’re looking at a two-team race in the NL East and the strong possibility that the Phillies will become just the sixth team in Major League history to follow a 100-win season with a losing record.

The Braves significantly altered the division race this past weekend when they completed a three-game sweep of the Phillies, who have since traded both Shane Victorino (Dodgers) and Hunter Pence (Giants).  It’s safe to say the final nine games scheduled against the Phillies this year suddenly appear a little less daunting.

With this being said, the Nationals are scheduled to play the depleted Phillies 11 more times this season.  Of course, not having to deal with Victorino  or Pence did not necessarily help Washington’s Stephen Strasburg as he allowed six runs in four innings of Tuesday night’s loss to the Phillies.

The Braves have won seven in a row and sit just 2 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the division race.  The third-place Mets are four games under .500 and 9 1/2 games (sorry, that number just continues to appear) behind the Braves.  As for the fourth-place Marlins, well Carlos Lee can obviously think of worse teams to be a part of.

Since ending a four-game series against the Nationals on July 22, the Braves have been taking advantage of a friendly part of their schedule.  They are eight games into a stretch of 20 consecutive games against teams with a losing record.  Once they get done with what is left of the Marlins, they will begin a three-game series against the Astros, who have won three of their last 30 games. (Think about that the next time you’re having a bad day.)

As a welcoming gift to Atlanta, newly-acquired left-hander Paul Maholm will make his Braves debut on Saturday against the Astros.  He limited the Astros to four hits in 8 1/3 scoreless innings on June 29 and has a 1.89 ERA in his last 14 starts against the Astros dating back to June 5, 2008.

Some of you may not like pointing out what a pitcher has done against a team over a five-season span because that team has likely taken on a couple different looks during that time.   If you fit in this category, I also apologize for pointing out what Maholm did against the group of players that once made up the Astros just one month ago.

Reed Johnson, the other player acquired with Maholm from the Cubs on Monday night, will make his Braves debut tonight.  The versatile outfielder is expected to start in place of left fielder Martin Prado or center fielder Michael Bourn, both of whom are in need of a break.  Since the All-Star break that he did not get, Bourn has hit .210 with a .247 on-base percentage.

Unfortunately for the Braves, Dan Uggla’s numbers over the past two months look much worse than those produced by Bourn over the past two weeks.  Uggla has batted .116 with a .184 slugging percentage in the 45 games he has played dating back to June 6.  Tyler Pastornicky has been taking some ground balls at second base during batting practice and there is no doubt Uggla could benefit from a chance to clear his head for a few days.  But for now, it appears manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to keep putting Uggla in his lineup with the hope he suddenly catches fire.

Brian McCann ended up hitting nine home runs in his final 64 at-bats during the month of July.  This marked the first time he has hit nine home runs in a month.  Just to point out how hot McCann has been in this short stretch and to give you a reason to discuss the Steroid Era again, let’s point out that McCann has homered once every 7.22 at-bats dating back to July 5.   Barry Bonds homered once every 6.52 at-bats when he hit 73 home runs in 2001.  Mark McGwire homered once every 7.27 at-bats when he hit 70 home runs in 1998.

When the Braves acquired Juan Francisco from the Reds at the end of Spring Training, the book on him was that he was a physically gifted player who was unmotivated.  As June neared its end, an influential member of the Braves organization got in Francisco’s ear and seemingly motivated him to put in the extra hours that he has over the past couple weeks with hitting coach Greg Walker.

Francisco has reaped the benefits as he has recorded a multi-hit game in each of his past two starts and a three-hit performance in both of his past two starts.  He has 11 hits, including three home runs, and nine RBIs in his past 26 at-bats.

 

 

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