Will Kimbrel be Atlanta’s only All-Star selection?
When this year’s All-Star rosters are announced on Saturday, Craig Kimbrel will almost assuredly gain his third consecutive selection. But despite the success the Braves have had this year, one has to wonder if Kimbrel will be the club’s only selection.
Justin Upton will obviously be selected and be in the National League’s starting lineup if he holds one of the top three outfield spots in the fan balloting process that concludes on Thursday. First baseman Freddie Freeman certainly deserves consideration, but his candidacy is hindered by the fact he plays the same position as three other very deserving candidates — Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt and Allen Craig.
Despite missing the season’s first month recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Brian McCann has at least positioned himself for what would be his seventh and likely last All-Star selection while playing for the Braves. McCann ranks fourth in OPS among all NL catchers who have compiled at least 150 plate appearances. The top three players in this statistical category are Buster Posey, Evan Gattis and Yadier Molina.
Given Gattis’ oblique strain might sideline him until after the All-Star break, there is virtually no reason to believe he will gain a selection. But if he was healthy, it could be argued that he would be every bit as deserving as Dodgers rookie phenom Yasiel Puig.
Over the next few days we’ll hear plenty more debate about the the candidacy of Puig, who has hit .443 with eight home runs and a 1.218 OPS through the first 112 plate appearances of his career. If you believe he has done enough to earn a selection, you can’t discount what would have been the candidacy of Gattis, who has hit .252 with 14 home runs (most among NL catchers) and a .894 OPS through his first 183 plate appearances at the big league level.
Just for fun, maybe I should pop in the Phillies clubhouse on Friday to ask Jonathan Papelbon if he feels Gattis is more deserving of a selection than Puig.
Three weeks ago, it seemed a given that Mike Minor would be part of the NL’s pitching staff. But the Braves southpaw might have to make one last solid impression during tonight’s scheduled start against the Marlins.
While allowing 11 earned runs in the 18 innings compiled in his last three starts, Minor has seen his ERA rise from 2.44 to 2.98 — the 14th best mark among qualified NL pitchers. Even with his recent struggles, Minor has posted the game’s sixth-best ERA (2.67) dating back to July 5 of last year, when he began transforming himself into a legitimate front line starter.
Unfortunately all that Minor did during last year’s second half will not factor into his All-Star candidacy. At least I don’t think it does. But I’ll check with Papelbon for clarification.
ODDS AND ENDS
Along with notching a new season high with 16 hits and matching season-high in runs during Tuesday’s win over the Marlins, the Braves also set new season highs in hits with runners in scoring position (8) and at-bats with runners in scoring position (22).
There is no doubt that I have been as guilty as anybody when it comes to pointing out the struggles the Braves have had with runners in scoring position. They ranked last in the Majors three days ago and now rank 26th with a .232 mark. But you have to question the true significance of this stat when four teams (Rangers, Pirates, Braves and Yankees) that rank in the bottom 10 all have winning records.
But while we’re on the subject, Justin Upton has recorded five hits in his last nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. The only real significance to this comes from the fact that he had recorded just seven hits in the previous 46 at-bats he had recorded in these situations this year.
Yesterday we noted Upton has shown some recent signs of encouragement and then he provided some more as he notched his second three-hit game of this homestand last night. The Braves can only hope this is just the start of streak that rivals the one he produced during the season’s first three weeks.
Upton hit .328 with nine home runs and a 1.256 OPS in the 15 games he played through April 18. During the 51 games he played from April 19-June 19, he hit .213 with six home runs and a .675 OPS. In the eight games that have followed, he has hit .355 with no home runs and a .925 OPS.
“As of late, I’m putting the barrel on the ball,” Upton said. “I haven’t been able to do that for a while. That’s the goal every day. Whether you get four or five at-bats, you just want to be a tough out. I’ve been able to do that for the last week or so.”
Now that Upton, Heyward and Freddie Freeman are all hitting at the same time, the Braves could truly benefit from the presence of a legitimate catalyst at the top of their lineup. Like there is little doubt that Andrelton Simmons is the game’s best defensive shortstop, there is also no doubt that he has provided plenty of reason for the Braves to end the experiment of using him in the leadoff role.
The .257 on-base percentage Simmons has recorded while manning the leadoff roleranks 45th among the 47 Major Leaguers who have recorded at least 100 plate appearances in the lineup’s top spot.
With the club’s only legitimate leadoff hitter Jordan Schafer bound to a backup role, the most likely candidates to replace Simmons in the leadoff spot are B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward.
I’m not sure what Papelbon thinks, but my suggestion would be to simply flip-flop Heyward and Simmons in the top two spots of the order. While Upton has more experience in the leadoff role, I would lean toward Heyward, who has compiled a .372 on-base percentage in his past 27 games.
While Simmons has struggled in the leadoff role, he has hit .313 (20-for-64) with a .328 on-base percentage in the 15 career games he has totaled while batting second. The talented shortstop has shown the ability to move runners over while consistently putting the ball in play.
Simmons ranks seventh in the Majors this year in two statistical categories that support this belief. They are fewest strikeouts per plate appearance (10.81) and percentage of swings put in play (55.3).