Braves hoping to build off of June’s encouraging signs
Beginning with tonight’s series opener at Turner Field, the Braves will play six of their next nine games against the Marlins. Just seven of the 26 games scheduled for this month will come against teams that currently have a winning record. And after quickly evaluating what this means, I have come up within nothing better to say than…So what?
Yeah, the Marlins are coming to town tonight with a National League-worst .370 winning percentage. But is it more relevant to point out that they lost 47 of the first 67 games they played or that they have won 10 of the 14 games that have followed. Not surprisingly, Miami’s surge has coincided with the recent returns of Giancarlo Stanton, who missed six weeks with a hamstring injury, and Logan Morrison, who missed last year’s final two months and this year’s first two months while recovering from knee surgery.
While compiling a 2.30 ERA in their past 14 games, the Marlins have benefited from the greatness of rookie phenom Jose Fernandez and the emergence of Jacob Turner. It appears the Braves will not have to face Fernandez this week or next week in Miami. But they’ll get two looks at Turner, who has posted a 1.76 ERA in the six starts he has made this season.
But before seeing Turner on Thursday, the Braves will open this week’s series against Tom Koehler, who has failed to complete five innings in two of his past three outings. Koehler surrendered nine eanred runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Cardinals on June 15 and then limited the Giants to one run in seven innings during his next outing. The 27-year-old right-hander issued four walks and needed 85 pitches to complete four innings in his most recent start against the Twins.
Speaking of walks, the Braves lead the NL with a walk in every 10.45 plate appearances. Since the beginning of June, the Braves lead the Majors with their 9.23 plate appearances per walk ratio. The next-best NL club during this span has been the D-backs (12.14).
The increased frequency of walks drawn by the Braves has been influenced by the fact teams have been unwilling to pitch to Freddie Freeman in certain situations. But the most encouraging development comes from the frequency in which Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton have walked over the past month.
Uggla leads the Majors with the 5.20 plate appearances per walk ratio he has compiled since the beginning of June. Upton ranks seventh with 6.06 ratio, a mark vastly different from the 11.25 ratio he had compiled through the end of May.
Jason Heyward made the most significant strides as he hit .312 with a team-leading .865 OPS and raised his batting average from .146 to .231 in June. Uggla
hit .250 in this past month to raise his batting average from .182 to .205. Now it is Upton’s turn to cross the Mendoza Line.
While hitting .238 with a respectable .359 on-base percentage and four home runs in June, Upton distanced himself from the frustration he felt as he hit .145 with a Major League-worst .476 OPS during the season’s first two months.
Upton struck out once every 4.12 plate appearance this past month. While that number might not look encouraging, it is when you consider he entered June having struck out once every 2.86 plate appearances.
Now that Heyward has provided the reminder that he is a difference maker and both Upton and Uggla are showing signs of encouragement, the Braves simply have to hope this month is one in which Justin Upton starts showing some signs of life. Since hitting .298 with 12 home runs in April, he has batted .218 with three home runs over his past 51 games.
But we have already seen some signs that this month could prove to be different for the younger of the two Upton brothers. He hit .296, compiled a .424 on-base percentage and struck out five times in his final 33 plate appearances in June.
Yeah, three of those five strikeouts were registered during Sunday’s series finale against the D-backs. But my hunch says that was simply a product of trying to do too much in what was the last scheduled game this year against his former club.
The trade market will obviously heat up over the next couple weeks as the Braves continue their search for at least one reliever and attempt to solidify their defense at third base. Read more about this and keep up with all of this buzz from around the Majors on MLB.com’s Trade Deadline blog.